Rutger Bregman is a hero

After the historian made a big splash by calling out all the billionaires at Davos who flew in on private jets to explain how committed they were to addressing global climate change, Tucker Carlson was eager to have him on his show…until the actual interview happened, Bregman called out Fox News and Carlson for their hypocrisy, and then poor little Tucker melted down in fury and announced that he wouldn’t air the the interview, said Bregman should go fuck himself, and declared him a tiny-brained moron. Sweet.

Fortunately, Bregman was clever enough to record the interview for himself.

He did ask another perceptive question, though. Why is it that all these TV pitchmen at Fox (and, to be fair, elsewhere) millionaires? Sure, they should get a fair wage for putting the work in, but face it — they’re not particularly bright or talented.

You ought to get paid more than that for speaking truth to power. Bregman is totally transparent about who is paying him.

I should have cited Ed Yong

I just submitted a proposal on Monday for in-house funding for student research this summer and next year, specifically to assemble a Spider Squad to do a local survey of spider taxa and numbers. I cited the Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys article as evidence that there are grounds for concern about declines in arthropod numbers, and argued that spiders are a good proxy for insect populations, because they’d also give us a perspective on those non-charismatic insects, not just butterflies and bumblebees, that form their food supply.

I just this morning got around to reading Ed Yong’s summary of the Insect Apocalypse, and I agree completely. The review suggests that it’s all bad news, that we should be concerned, and that we should be studying this more thoroughly, but that the panic over insect armageddon is grossly over-inflated. Nothing is going to make insects go extinct, short of a planet-sterilizing impact with a world-killing asteroid.

The Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys review is fine, it’s real data, but it’s not necessarily representative. So what do we need to do? Fund more science!

She and others hope that this newfound attention will finally persuade funding agencies to support the kind of research that has been sorely lacking—systematic, long-term, widespread censuses of all the major insect groups. “Now more than ever, we should be trying to collect baseline data,” Ware says. “That would allow us to see patterns if there really are any, and make better predictions.” Zaspel would also love to see more support for natural-history museums: The specimens pinned within their drawers can provide irreplaceable information about historical populations, but digitizing that information is expensive and laborious.

“We should get serious about figuring out how bad the situation really is,” Trautwein says. “This should be a huge wake-up call, and we should get on the ball instead of quibbling.”

What a coincidence — that’s what I said in my proposal. We need to collect baseline data, which is what I aim to do in this first year. And then, of course (hint, hint) I should get funding to keep collecting data for years. We’ll be covered with spiders!

Oh, jeez, it’s like a disease

Can you handle another tale of men getting sucked into the heady arrogance of YouTube “logic”?

“Our relationship started normally: We went for walks, saw films, went out for dinner. Most of the ‘arguments’ we’d have would be where to go out on a date. When I moved in with him after graduation, the arguments were about who would do the washing up or the cooking that night,” she says. By the end of their relationship in September, though, she found herself having to not only try to get Craig to do his share of the laundry, but to justify why people should be allowed to speak languages other than English in public, why removing taxes for tampons isn’t unfair, and more bizarrely, why being a feminist isn’t the same as being a Nazi.

“Nearly all the arguments came from YouTube videos he was watching,” Sarah tells me. “Because he’d work at night, he’d spend the day on the internet. He’d be watching them, and send them to me throughout the day on WhatsApp, over email, anywhere really.” During one work meeting in 2016, she received videos from him about a “migrant invasion into Britain, orchestrated by Angela Merkel and Barack Obama,” which showed Libyan refugees getting off a boat carrying large bags and shouting, “Thank you, Merkel!” played over dark orchestral music. Other videos supported Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigrants, diatribes on feminism “threatening traditional families” and “scientific evidence” suggesting that white people have higher IQs than black and South Asian people.

The article is a series of anecdotes about similar cases: these gentlemen start getting triumphal about reason and logic and evidence, and end up misusing reason and logic and evidence to rationalize hatred. So many of these stories sound exactly like what atheists were able to recognize as cult-like behavior, once upon a time.

Here’s a simple clue: you can be absolutely right about the nonexistence of god and the abuses of religion, and not be 100% right about everything else. That’s a logical truth, too.

Panglossian Naziism

This article, The Magical Thinking of Guys Who Love Logic, strikes a chord. You’ve probably all noticed the reverence the most irrational, horrible, repulsive people hold for “logic” and “reason” — it’s a common affliction in the atheist community.

Danskin points out that, even when their beliefs skew towards the bizarre and conspiratorial, people on the online right often identify as “rationalists.”

This will be unsurprising to those who often engage with the wider online right, whether it is with someone who identifies as alt-right, libertarian, conservative, as a fan of the “Intellectual Dark Web,” or even “moderate” or “centrist” (turns out a lot of people online are self-identifying as moderate while also believing in conspiracies about “white genocide”). Although their beliefs may not be identical, there are common, distinct patterns in the way they speak (or type) that one can’t help but notice.

Specifically, these guys — and they are usually guys — love using terms like “logic.” They will tell you, over and over, how they love to use logic, and how the people they follow online also use logic. They are also massive fans of declaring that they have “facts,” that their analysis is “unbiased,” that they only use “‘reason” and “logic” and not “emotions” to make decisions.

Oh god yes. It’s particularly bad on YouTube — search for “logic” or “reason” in the names of channels there, and you’ll turn up a collection of insufferable cocky snots who actually have no particular credentials or life experience that qualifies them to be experts in rationality, other than their own self-declared commitment to the ideology of holy reason. It’s also a wholly evangelical belief, and the people who convert to it are intolerable.

The men interviewed in the piece, once sweet and caring, started changing after going down a rabbit hole of extremist political content on YouTube and involving themselves in radical right-wing online communities. Convinced of their absolute correctness, these men became at first frustrated, then verbally abusive once they realized their female partners did not always agree with their new views. Any dialogue attempted by these men was not made — at least as far as their partners could tell — with the goal of exchanging views and opening themselves to being challenged. Their goal was to assert their beliefs as fact; to teach their partner the truth, as a Christian missionary might put it. Every woman interviewed in the article — including those who were more formally educated than their boyfriends — makes reference to their former partners belittling their intelligence and rationality. These men were certain that they were the smart ones, that they had correctly assessed the “facts” with “logic,” and that if their womenfolk did not accept this without question, they were simply too dumb to understand.

The article mentions one of the early events that led me to question my involvement with atheism at all.

Perhaps the nadir of the movement was 2011’s “Elevatorgate,” in which a prominent New Atheist woman mentioned that a man had behaved inappropriately to her at an atheist convention and advised other men to avoid this situation in future, and lots of atheist men promptly lost their shit. An over-the-top reaction to women speaking out against harassment is not unique to this movement; for every article praising #MeToo, there seems to be another from a Very Concerned Man who worries that everything is going too far and he’s afraid to even TALK to women now!

But I suspect the reason the reaction to Elevatorgate was so vitriolic was not just about general sexism, but also about the threat it posed to the New Atheist sense of moral superiority. It was much less fun for them to reckon with say, the complex social structures within the skeptic community, and the way that might affect the movement, than it was to make fun of some hick who couldn’t get his head round evolution. Those were the people who had some learning to do — for the New Atheists themselves, there was nothing more to learn. If people from marginalised groups within the movement started speaking about issues which involved listening and learning, or self-reflecting on one’s biases… well, that was unacceptable, since it would require wider reading and understanding of issues that were not immediately accessible or aesthetically pleasing to many New Atheist men.

I don’t think Rebecca Watson would like to be labeled a New Atheist now. Neither would I. That’s the movement that undercut itself by pretending that rationalizing prior prejudices is exactly the same as “logic”.

I am not saying that logic and reason and rationality are bad things, far from it. I’m saying that the Red Pill, Ben Shapiro, Atheism is Unstoppable crowd have stolen those words and abused them. For a beautiful example, look to Jordan Peterson, who uses logic to excuse Nazis.

Footage emerged this week, from a podcast recorded last year, of the professor discussing the conditions that led to the Holocaust. There was the normal equating of fascist and Antifa, on account of the latter’s “proclivity to violence” (as if violence were a moral constant); there was discussion of Hitler’s bravery during the First World War, as well as the revelation that “[he] was very sensitive to disgust”. According to Peterson (and I’ve no reason to doubt him), Hitler used Zyklon, an easy version of the gas used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, to clean rats from German factories – and this, along with the economic instability in post-Versailles Germany, to Peterson’s mind, is evidence that the Holocaust was a logical progression.

That the Holocaust followed a series of logical progressions is, in a sense, true: if one were to reverse-engineer the Final Solution, each step would appear to follow rationally from the one before.

Watch it.

The problem is that he treats history as an inevitable logical progression of events. Horrors of WWI + Postwar Economic Hardship → Holocaust. It’s like math. Perfectly “logical”. Germany was in the grip of an ineluctable rational progression, it was inevitable. We are therefore led to the conclusion that picking a scapegoat and murdering them for unconnected phenomena is a forced choice, and the Germans had to bow to the pressure of history, as we might now have to bow to the decision to imprison and kill brown-skinned immigrants. Therefore, the alt-right is justified.

But anti-semitism is an irrational belief built on centuries of myth, bigotry, religious dogma, and xenophobia, and he fails to note that many of the decisions leading to the Holocaust were bad or not at all necessary. Congratulations, red-pilled buckos, your hero has just argued that the illogical is logical.

I must also point out that if you look at creationist arguments, it’s quite common to hear them declare that atheism or evolution are illogical. If the magic word “logic” can be invoked on both sides of the argument, isn’t it obvious that you have to do more work than saying you’re logical in order to make your case?

Be it resolved

In that the 2020 election is far far away…

In that there is already a plethora of people jostling for the candidacy…

In that all of them, even pathetic Howard Schultz, are better than Trump…

In that there will be much campaigning in the next nearly two years…

In that I’m already sick of it all…

Be it resolved that:

  1. I shall consider each candidate, be they Bernie, Kamala, Amy, Kirsten, Pete, Cory, Julian, Elizabeth, yea, even Tulsi, on the merits of their policies as presented in the primary campaign,
  2. and that I shall vote my conscience in the primary election, not on the basis of mythical “electability” or “likability”,
  3. and upon the resolution of the primary process, I shall campaign for and vote for whoever is selected to represent me, no matter how lukewarm I am towards them personally.

Because Trump is a fuckwit, and he must be deposed.

So be it.

Sheep tumbling off a cliff

May I admit that I’ve given up on understanding Brexit? It sounds like stupid people stampeding after a stupid idea, with an ineffectual opposition making pointless motions in a parliamentary dance. I don’t get it. I’m lost.

The government has been defeated by MPs on propositions that they themselves backed two weeks ago. The whole edifice of blather and nonsense is coming tumbling down.

It’s commonly accepted that there’s no majority in the Commons for any given response to Brexit. But today it went a step further. It was inadequacy squared. It is clear now that there is not even a majority for the imaginary things MPs had only recently given a majority to. The whole British political system is imploding in on itself.

It might seem like reasonless chaos, but there is a moral message to what is happening here. You cannot govern on the basis of gibberish. You cannot make gurgled yearnings the basis for your negotiating posture. Because the lack of meaning in those original propositions means that they do not work as functional foundations of policy.

This is what the farce looks like when it’s untangled. May was defeated on her Brexit deal last month. It did not win the support of the opposition parties or her own MPs. They were concerned about the backstop, which would prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

I’m not picking on Great Britain — it’s the same thing happening here in the US. In our case, it’s an incompetent madman who has become the chief executive, with the conservative party backing everything he does because it keeps them in power.

So we’ve got two great countries paralyzed by idiocy, at the same time. WTF? And where’s the revolution?

KKK < Nazis?

A small-town newspaper in Linden, Alabama, the Democrat-Reporter, published a little editorial calling for the return of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s badly written and rather incoherent.

It’s also grossly ahistorical. The author seems to think the Klan was made up of ex-slaves galloping about in costumes, killing rich people.

Slaves, just freed after the Civil War, were not stupid. At times, they borrowed their former masters’ robes and horses and rode through the night to frighten some evil doer. Sometimes they had to kill one or two of them, but so what.

The author, Goodloe Sutton, is notorious for writing inflammatory garbage. He’s a good ol’ boy who is leaning heavily into the stereotype.

Other editorials have disparaged women with crude comments about their weight: Michelle Obama was labeled “a chubby chick” by the Democrat-Reporter, while Hillary Clinton was a “little fat oinker.” In January 2017, an editorial predicting that Clinton would be sent to prison stated, “Fat women are more stupid than trim women. Hillary wasn’t trim.”

This is Goodloe Sutton.

He seems to have written a lot of nonsense for publication in his paper (written poorly if the above sample is representative).

When Sutton’s comments on the Klan began getting attention on Monday, longtime readers pointed out that it wasn’t the first time that the paper’s editorial page had endorsed extreme or openly racist views. In May 2015, an editorial stated that the mayor of a city “up north” had “displayed her African heritage by not enforcing civilized law.” Another, published in June of that year, called for drug dealers, kidnappers, rapists, thieves, and murderers to be hung “on the courthouse lawn where the public can watch.”

“Dope heads know how to grow marijuana but not cotton,” one August 2014 editorial read. “They don’t pay sales taxes on what they grow so this doesn’t register with the economists who compile the statistics about jobs and employment. This market is dominated by blacks.” That same month, President Barack Obama was described by the paper as a “Kenyan orphan president” who was elected because Americans thought “it would be cool to have a colored man” in the White House. Later, amid the national controversy over football players kneeling during the national anthem, the Democrat-Reporter declared, “That’s what black folks were taught to do two hundred years ago, kneel before a white man.”

But now something has changed. Major newspapers are writing about this backwards hick in Alabama, and people are calling for his resignation. Uh, he owns the newspaper, he gets to write what he wants, and his only limitation is keeping his subscriber base. This is pure “Free Speech!” + “CAPITALISM!”

You don’t oppose limitless free speech and unfettered capitalism, do you? That would be unamerican.

OK, I’ll assume you’re an intelligent person who recognizes that otherwise good principles can be carried to an extreme — that maybe there should be some limits, that, for instance, a newspaper publisher calling for vigilante justice, declaring that a little murder is no problem, and inciting a notorious hate group to lynch and kill and burn is a bit over the line. There is a line, right? We may disagree on precisely where to draw it, but reasonable people will agree that there ought to be some constraint on what you can publish. If nothing else, I’ve noticed that the Libertarian alt-right love to sue people for libel, so there’s that restriction.

Another thing I’m noticing is that the shock-horror expressed so strongly is a clear indication that most people consider promoting the Ku Klux Klan is clearly crossing that unstated, fuzzy line (it could also be that people enjoy mocking Southern redneck attitudes, making it easier to move the line to their detriment). In general, though, we can say that civilized people agree that the KKK is an evil, hateful organization and that endorsing it is bad.

I agree that the disgust with the editorial is entirely appropriate. But then I’m curious: why don’t we see an equivalent degree of revulsion from the media at people who celebrate Nazis or eugenics or the Confederacy? Do Nazis have better PR? Nazis and the Confederacy (the KKK is only part of the ongoing damage dealt by the Civil War) killed far more people than the Klan. Why doesn’t the media, or the American people, express the same outrage at groups throwing Nazi salutes and wearing swastika arm bands, or congress people with rebel flags in their office, that we do to some podunk dipshit racist in Alabama?

Humans are really bad at assessing risk.

I wish to subscribe to your newsletter, voidmother

It’s not fair. The horrible wretched campus conservative newspaper gets shoved under my office door in multiple copies, and they threaten to sue me for throwing them out, but the local chapter of Queer Devil Worshippers for a Better Future come out with a newsletter, and I don’t know about it until I stumble across a copy in a dark hallway. I am so here for this. Here’s the letter from the Void Mother.

And here’s a sample article, “How to Ritually Consume Your Girlfriend in 10 Simple Steps” (Don’t worry, step 1 is to ask for consent).

The part about whispering into her belly button “Be the deviant and strange change you wish to see in the world.” Charming.

I hope all the parents of our students are also charmed and consider this a perfectly lovely way to live. It’s so much sweeter than the hatefests we get from the College Republicans.