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.
Jordan Peterson argues Hitler and the Nazis were doing what was only normal and logical "given the circumstances", thus exculpating them
that's textbook Nazi apologiapic.twitter.com/Ul8nYMze3B
— ☀️👀 (@zei_nabq) November 28, 2018
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?