Above the Drama

Apologies for the radio silence, I’ve had a rotten few weeks. Before I put the blog in “park” for a few months, though, I want to weigh in on a local controversy. That’s still brewing behind the scenes unfortunately, so the silence shall continue, but I do have a less-local controversy to discuss in the meantime.

I’m withdrawing my name, my speech, my presence, and my participation from the 2017 Mythinformation Conference.
I’m trying to discern what good might have come from the controversy surrounding MythCon. So far, the only positive is that the furor has revealed a clearer portrait of people, attitudes, arguments, and the already-frayed atheist movement.
You’ve heard of the Mythinformation thing, no doubt. Aron Ra had already pulled out (Lilandra Ra has the deets), and now Seth Andrews is vacating the premises.

I’m pro-Feminism. I’m pro-Black Lives Matter. I’m pro-Humanism. I’m pro-humanity. I’m also interested in engaging with those who respectfully disagree on the critical issues of our age, as long as those agents are operating in good faith, with respect for all, and a desire to work together not merely to win, but to see the best ideas win. The YouTubers in question don’t even come close to that mark. […]

I wrote MythCon with a formal request that it issue an apology to Sargon, Shoe and Armored for the trouble, and then withdraw their invitations to speak, giving those open slots to better, more reasonable, and more compelling names like Ron Miscavige. (I’d have also supported the inclusion of “dissenting” activists who had better reputations and a track record of better behavior.) MythCon politely declined.

Props to Seth Andrews for doing this, I think it’s the right call given how the organizers of MythCon have behaved.

And, yet …

I recently spoke with my wife about all of this. She knows how much I love people, how much I genuinely want to make the right decisions, and how hard I’ve worked to ensure that The Thinking Atheist and my own reputation stay above the drama, the fray, the internet gutters, and the social media flame wars. I haven’t always succeeded, but it’s something I have always strived for.

“Above the drama?” That’s impossible if you want to accomplish any sort of social justice, regressives always kick up drama to defend or excuse themselves. I mean, haven’t all we had this tattooed onto our eyeballs by now?

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

If you’re “above the drama” on social justice issues, you oppose social justice. Not as openly as someone who plots to commit violence, true, but this subconscious and unintentional opposition acts like rain on a mountain.

Extreme voices like Dan Arel – who broadcasts from his latest residence in the town of Oblivion – gleefully poured gasoline on every spark, going so far as to call the hotel with alarmist tales of possible disaster. (Remember that this is the same guy who thinks we should punch Nazis, and that all police officers are terrorists. We can move on, folks. Nothing to see here.)

Punching NAZIS?!?! THIS makes Dan Arel an extremist? Heaven forfend Andrews gets his hand on any video games, which delight in doing much more than punching Nazis. They’re kinda the universal villain, if you haven’t noticed. Arel’s actual views on Nazi-punching are very well argued

Nazism is an ideology based on white supremacy and the eradication, through genocide, of nonwhites (and many others).

A Christian, for example, can believe an atheist is evil for not believing in their god and punch them. Their action, however, is unfounded. They punched an atheist based on an appeal to their emotions.

We know Nazism is evil. We know their goals, we know where their ideology leads. If you punch a Nazi, especially if you’re one of those marginalized and threatened by their ideology, you’re acting in self-defense. Even if you’re a white person punching a Nazi, you’re acting in the defense of others.

So the slippery slope analogy fails immediately here.

… and as for the police as terrorists, I gotta wonder if Andrews has ever heard of “the talk,” or what black parents say to their kids about the police. Or how they discourage their kids from calling the police, for fear of what will happen to them. Or black people in the USA are less likely to call 911 after hearing of police violence against another black person. To some people in the US, police officers are a source of terror. Hence, calling them terrorists is less radical than it first appears.

Look, Seth Andrews, don’t get me wrong: I’m glad you’ve withdrawn from MythCon, it was the right thing to do. But seriously, your support of Black Lives Matter and humanism is badly undercut by your ignorance of social justice. Quit blindly playing the Golden Mean Fallacy card and learn something, dammit.

Model Failure

This may be hard to believe, but I’m not about to talk about Bayesian modeling nor CompSci. Nope, I got dragged into an argument over implicit bias with a science-loving “skeptic,” and a few people mobbed me over the “model minority.”

Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the “social-justice” brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites? Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years. In the late 19th century, as most worked in hard labor, they were subject to lynchings and violence across the American West and laws that prohibited their employment. They were banned from immigrating to the U.S. in 1924. Japanese-American citizens were forced into internment camps during the Second World War, and subjected to hideous, racist propaganda after Pearl Harbor. Yet, today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives?

What gives is simple demographics. Take it away, Jeff Guo of the Washington Post: [Read more…]

Fake Hate, Frequentism, and False Balance

This article from Kiara Alfonseca of ProPublica got me thinking.

Fake hate crimes have a huge impact despite their rarity, said Ryan Lenz, senior investigative writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project. “There aren’t many people claiming fake hate crimes, but when they do, they make massive headlines,” he said. It takes just one fake report, Lenz said, “to undermine the legitimacy of other hate crimes.”

My lizard brain could see the logic in this: learning one incident was a hoax opened up the possibility that others were hoaxes too, which was comforting if I thought that world was fundamentally moral. But with a half-second more thought, that view seemed ridiculous: if we go from a 0% hoax rate to 11% in our sample, we’ve still got good reason to think the hoax rate is low.

With a bit more thought, I realized I had enough knowledge of probability to determine who was right.

[Read more…]