Apparently I know the solar system very well?
I attended a lecture on Carl Sagan, hosted by the Atheist Society of Calgary, and part of the event was a trivia challenge. While I wasn’t the only person at my table offering answers, my answers seemed to be the ones most consistently endorsed by the group. Assisted by some technical issues, our team wound up with a massive lead over the second-place finisher. The organizer from ASC surprised us all by saying everyone at our table could pick up a free T-shirt. I wasn’t terribly keen on wearing their logo, but I wandered over to the merch table anyway.
Sitting among the other designs was one that stopped me cold.
If you squint a bit, you can interpret this shirt as a poke at the MAGA crowd. When was atheism ever “great?” I suppose you could argue the time of Robert Ingersoll and the freethought press comes close, in the USA at least, but traveling atheists are a dime a dozen nowadays. There has never been as many vocal atheists as there are now, never the same volume of content. We really are living in the best possible time to be an atheist, so any argument for past glory is bullshit.
Alas, bigots have little respect for nuance and context. One of my favorite examples is Archie Bunker of All in the Family fame; bigots thought he was the hero, rather than the target of mockery. This cluelessness is commonly mocked as ignorance, including by me, but it’s more complex than that. A key way that bigots remain bigots is by convincing themselves that most people agree with them. Humour in particular is a potent goldmine of this. Regular people laugh at Archie for being a dinosaur, bigots laugh at the people around Archie for being crazed SJW’s, and they both think they’re laughing at the same thing. The consequence is that even if whoever designed this shirt was intending to mock the MAGA crowd, that same crowd would view the shirt as an endorsement of their bigotry.
Just my take on that famous meme with portraits from many Atheists. This time around, they are the anti-SJW atheists. The SJW’s need to get the fuck out of our movement, or at least stop trying to attribute Atheism to their political cause. The movement is about secularism, and nothing else. Fuck Atheism+ and its modern incarnations.
To this crowd, atheism’s “greatness” peaked just after 9/11, when everyone appeared to agree that Islam was the big bad and never mentioned social justice. In reality, this was just a temporary blip. You cannot sustain atheism without social justice, it is the background hum of the skeptic/atheist movement. We are forever fated to either pursue the intersection of atheism, skepticism, and social justice, or crusade for the status quo.
Shoot, sorry, I got distracted by that T-shirt. I should explain why I was reluctant to wear ASC’s logo.
On July 26th, 2017, Calgary Pride, the activist group VOICES, and the Calgary Police Service announced police officers would not be allowed to march in the parade while in uniform. Officers could march in plainclothes, and were still welcome to keep the peace from the sidelines. Similar policies were in effect in Vancouver and Toronto. Some people grumbled over this, but as I’ve explained before the decision is easily justified.
Then, for a month, nothing happened. This silence bothered me before I sat down to write this post, and with the benefit of hindsight it bothers me even more.
The newly minted United Conservative Party will not be permitted to march in this year’s Calgary Pride parade, according to a letter sent to party members. […] “As your organization does not yet have clear policy in support of the gender and sexually diverse community, we would like to encourage a collaborative learning opportunity prior to participating as parade entries,” the letter stated. The letter indicates there are three-hour training workshops available at the Calgary Sexual Health Centre that will “increase the comfort and skill of professionals to talk about sexual health, relationships and gender and sexual diversity.”
On August 20th, a political party which had and still has major issues with LGBT bigotry was denied the ability to march in Calgary Pride until they cleaned up their act. I now suspect this is what caused CFI Calgary to announce on August 21st that they were no longer marching with Calgary Pride. It’s hard to argue they were unaware of the policy change back in July, due to the number of headlines it generated at the time. The denial of the UCP didn’t generate as much news, as this was a dog-bites-person kind of thing, and mentions of police uniforms were relegated to the middle of news articles. And yet CFI Calgary’s announcement focuses only on the police uniform issue, and nothing else.
There’s a telling conversation involving CFI Calgary’s then-president, Helen. She went on a local podcast to talk about the decision, a few days after it was handed down.
[4:19] HELEN: We are not in agreement to participate because there are too many outstanding issues that we don’t- perhaps it could be we don’t understand yet, and we need to learn more – but we just don’t feel comfortable and we need some answers before we feel comfortable participating in the parade.
I happen to know a bit about the relationship between Calgary Police and the local LGBT community. That isn’t because I experienced it, or knew people who did, I picked up my knowledge by typing “calgary police gay history” into Google and looking at the first few links. I was writing in 2018, a year after the incident, but the top results contain a link to a blog post from the Calgary Gay History Project dating from July 2017. Once you know the keywords “Goliath bathhouse raid,” you can find people credibly calling the Calgary Police homophobic as recently as 2004. If CFI Calgary chose to drop out of Pride because of the police uniform issue, then you have to explain why no board member bothered to spend 30 seconds on Google researching the issue during 26 days of internal debate.
If CFI Calgary chose to drop out of Pride because the UCP wasn’t allowed to march, then 26 days becomes 24 hours. That leaves almost no time to consult with anyone from Calgary Pride, VOICES, or the Calgary Police Service. Consulting wouldn’t have been a high priority, either, if you’ve already made up your mind then gathering counter-evidence might lead you to change it. Why no mention of the UCP in the statement? Perhaps because Helen and some other board members realized most of the membership would object to defending the UCP, and felt compelled to hide the real reason.
Whether I’m right or wrong on this, we can agree it fails Allyship 101. Minorities are not obligated to educate allies, if you care enough to offer them help then you care enough to do your own homework. Just sitting and waiting for other people to spoon-feed you information a month after the decision came down speaks to a remarkable sense of entitlement. It’s astonishing that an organization that had marched with Calgary Pride for eight years was so ignorant of allyship basics.
[7:26] I mean I’m old, I’m 60, and I remember the first pride parades in Calgary. They were small, and me and nobody paid any attention. Some of the people laughed when they were walking down the street. But the police were there. They allowed a safe environment for them to have freedom of speech and that has continued on. I know there’s been accusations that the CPS are still abusing their rights with LGBTQ community- I have some concerns because the police I have spoken to say they have worked very very hard in Calgary – and Calgary is one of the best police services in Canada – they have worked very very hard to make that connection.
It’s fascinating how “I don’t know anything about the situation” can so quickly become “I know the situation, and everything you experienced didn’t happen.” Helen couldn’t have known this in 2017, but for Pride 2018 the Calgary Police acknowledged they didn’t create a safe environment.
“We have learned over time and there are things we did in the past that we would not do the same way today,” said Calgary police chief constable Roger Chaffin in a news release Friday. “This apology is a way for us to acknowledge that our relationship with gender and sexually diverse Calgarians has changed and we now know that the things we did in the past were not the right things to do.”
Chaffin said Calgary police spoke out against the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and struggled to embrace the new law when it passed. […] Chaffin also apologized for police denying permits to Pride parades in the 1980s and failing to consider the impacts of a 2002 bathhouse raid. […]
All charges were eventually dropped but many within the LGBTQ community say a lot of damage was done. Mark Randall wasn’t present at the raid but was working at the establishment during that controversial time. “I didn’t think I would see this,” Randall said. “I was employed in the bathhouse at the time of the raid and the impacts that had on the trust that was slowly building within the Calgary Police Service was submarined by that action.”
It takes bravery to publicly admit you were wrong. It takes cowardice to make up facts and ignore what other people are telling you.
[5:12] I’m waiting and just trying to learn and trying to read as much as I can, but my gut instinct is that there’s something else going on and I’m not sure what it is.
[8:18] I think a lot of these comments are coming from a global perspective of not just Calgary.
Albertans love a conspiracy theory. We’re one of the few jurisdictions that stopped fluoridating our water, thanks to activism from pseudos-scientific cranks. Our current premier was elected based on a conspiracy theory about pipelines. Just after the federal election the “Wexit” movement gained renewed life, with its leaders pushing a conspiracy theory that Justin Trudeau was normalizing pedophilia. For decades, many Albertans have harboured anger for those “out East,” so blaming “outside influences” is second nature to us. Nevermind the fact that Calgary Pride, VOICES, and the Calgary Police Service are all Albertan organizations, it’s them damn “outside influences” that are planting false memories of police discrimination in local LGBTQI+ people’s minds!
CFI Calgary’s announcement generated quite a bit of controversy within the community. So much so that CFI Canada stepped in, and on August 28th announced via CFI Calgary’s Facebook page that the Calgary chapter was retracting their statement. That was the effective time of death for CFI Calgary; between the ignorance now associated with their name, and interference from CFI “out East,” nobody wanted to loft that banner any more.
The Atheist Society of Calgary was born from CFI Calgary’s ashes, with many of the same members. Hell, for a while there ASC was even using CFI Calgary’s Facebook page to promote themselves. This put them at a crossroads: who would be in charge of this organization, those who created the CFI Calgary Pride debacle, or those who recognized it was wrong? I talked with representatives of ASC a while after, and they assured me they were all of the latter camp. Still, I hesitated. This would have been the perfect time to take stock of why the Pride debacle happened in the first place, and put in place structural supports that could prevent similar controversies from happening again. A public announcement, carefully worded to avoid tossing people under the bus, but nonetheless laying out a plan for working more closely with minority groups, would have easily swayed me to their side.
Nothing like that came. Rather than deal with the problems that created their group, from the outside it seemed that ASC’s board had instead chosen to bury them at the crossroads and move on. It didn’t inspire confidence, so I took a pass on ASC. Friends of mine who were more plugged into the local atheist/skeptic scene also didn’t see any accounting, which helped solidify my decision.
Unknown to me, Helen would join up with ASC. I have no idea when, but her familiarity with a “very private support group” ASC was running back in February 2018 suggests it could have been mere months after CFI Calgary disbanded. Now, I want to be fair here. It’s entirely possible Helen did a postmortem in the months after, and chose to become more informed in order to head off controversies like this. Even if she was only one of several people involved in the debacle, she was the leader of CFI Calgary at the time so she held the most responsibility.
If she ever did an accounting, it hasn’t shown up in her public Facebook posts.
… There is an event in Calgary Nov. 14 at Junction Theatre on “Cancel Culture” that I am attending. In my mind we all should be concerned about cancel culture. Any understanding of history and/or travel to other countries will put many of these recent Canadian cancel culture events up as a red flag that need to be dealt with.
For me, this started waaaay back when books were removed from my children’s school. (My children are now in their 30’s.) Censorship is always a bad thing.
For over a month, Helen has been excited to hear these three speakers talk. Who are they?
Caylan Ford is a former UCP candidate who was forced to resign and condemned by the UCP’s leader after it was revealed she privately wrote “I am somehow saddened by the demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands…. It’s clear that it will not be a peaceful transition.” She also didn’t see any redeeming values in Pride Parades: “I mean, they trace their origins to the Stonewall riots, then emerged as a celebration of vice and transgression. What are the redeeming values?”
- Barbara Kay has used her national newspaper column to promote fear and misinformation about transgender people for years. She believes sex is binary, transgender people are “afflicted” with gender identity, and pretends science backs her up on that, when the contrary is true.
- Lindsay Shepard became famous for using Jordan Peterson clips in the classroom, creating a hostile climate for transgender students. She has ties to white supremacists and groups fighting against LGBTQI+ rights. Shepard was banned from Twitter this year for, among other things, tweeting “at least I have a uterus you ugly fat man” at a transgender woman, though public pressure got the ban reversed.
l just don’t understand “cancel culture”. Having had an event cancelled earlier this year by MRU, it opened my eyes to how easily manipulated our lives can be. There is a dichotomy surrounding those who wish equality for everyone, something | agree with, and those people who somehow are not ok with freedom of speech.
I met Jonathan Kay, editor of Quillete, at the airport in Toronto on my way home yesterday. He is a welcoming man who was ready to have a quick chat while waiting for luggage security check (on our side as well as his) and he gave me his email encouraging me to write him. He was on his way to Vancouver to speak at this event. …
Quillette is an online magazine founded by a member of the “human biodiversity movement,” which argues that human beings can be divided into distinct biological races that differ in intelligence, criminality, and other behaviours. That magazine is so reactionary that it has sorta-kinda endorsed phrenology. When Jessie Brown wanted to talk about fearmongering around transgender people, Quillette was his prime example.
These people are who Helen listens to: white supremacists, TERFs, pseudo-scientific quacks, and people adjacent to them. They’ve convinced her that “cancel culture” exists, when it’s actually a convenient fiction that allows conservative commentators to minimize and dismiss legitimate critique.
The event in Calgary that was cancelled? It starred Meghan Murphy, who has a long record of transphobia, for instance in one article repeatedly misgendering a transgender person and calling trans women “trans-identified men.” She currently tours around the world spreading misinformation about transgender people. Helen posted a sympathetic article about Meghan Murphy to ASC’s Facebook page, which caused outrage. That post or comment was deleted and an apology put up, which was promptly deleted too. I have no idea who’s been behind that, and it’s almost certainly the handiwork of several admins working at cross-purposes, though I should also point out that Helen appears to have admin privileges on ASC’s Facebook page.
That, or at least some of that, was why I wasn’t keen on wearing ASC’s shirt after that Carl Sagan lecture. Instead, I was wearing a shirt that showed allyship with transgender people. I was hoping it would trigger an argument or at least a conversation, and maybe earn some answers about what was going on behind the scenes. No such thing happened, though. Nobody so much as flinched at the shirt, not even the organizers, and I was treated warmly and hospitably. I’ve kept my ear to the ground since, and it sounds like the board is generally more progressive than Helen.
To my atheist friends belonging to the Atheist Society of Calgary…
Please consider leaving the ASC. It has become infected with woke nonsense. In a startling display of intolerance masquerading as tolerance an incident of censorship occurred.
That’s how woke culture operates. It claims “free exchange of ideas” and then when it encounters ideas which cause self-reflection, those views get labeled with buzzwords like “words are violence”, “problematic” or the libelous “hate”. They do this to avoid the cognitive dissonance scary ideas produce, as well as to actually engage ideas. They are cowards.
The sane elements of the ASC are gone as of today. They’re out. My decision was easy. I’m not on the board, and I have a zero-tolerance policy with regard to victimhood and cancel cultures. They appall and disgust me.
They could have some accountability when their members make anti trans posts and consider that deleting the comments challenging those anti trans positions while allowing actual white supremacist TERFs space makes them complicit. This group is not a safe group for members of the LGBTQ2S community, nor for indigenous people, give[n] who they have allowed to have a platform.
I remember when this group was CFI and attended one of their meetups when I was visiting. When this page posted a ridiculous rant against cancel culture i watched as members of the Trans community were rudely engaged by a board member. Then for a brief moment someone from their leadership got it right and posted an apology.. which was quickly derailed by the same board member and a few of her advocates. There’s been a lot of negative comments circulating about ASC and their withdrawal from CFI and I’m beginning to believe every word. When I encounter people who are anti trans…. usually they are middle aged.. white with a religious background. Clearly leaving religion doesn’t make you a good person. Some end up meaner and even worse off then before they left. This page is a testament to that. There is evidently a lack of competency on the board level and those at the helm of this community.
I noticed they took down the apology. What a toxic mess this group is. You would think an Atheist Community would be a warm place to embrace those who have left the toxic life of religion. It’s like leaving one bad relationship for another! I trust the LGBTQ2S stays far from this place.
The body ASC tried to bury at those crossroads has clawed out the grave and left them worse off than before. They face some difficult choices: try to woo back the reactionaries, and piss off the LGBTQI+ community even further; make a big show of inclusion, and start the long and difficult task of regaining the LGBTQI+’s community’s trust; or try to bury the body again, and risk an even bigger controversy at a later date.
Maybe they can draw some inspiration from my own crossroads. After all, I could have looked the other way. I could have just shook my head at that ridiculous T-shirt, enjoyed the warm hospitality, and had a cute story to share in private. I could have retreated back to homework, and let another (much shorter!) blog post bake in my head instead. No-one would have known.
Instead, I took home that MAGA shirt.
Less than twenty-four hours later, I made a show of presenting the shirt to the store clerk. After a split second, I saw what I expected: a reflexive jerk backward of the head, a widening of the eyes, and a suspicious “I see what you mean, yeah.” Later they would show off the shirt to other employees, with a “can you believe THIS exists?” sort of look. After I handed over the USB drive and the clerk realized my full plan, I was treated as if that drive was a $1000 bill. Fees were waived, apologies were offered for trivial issues, but in the end I got exactly what I wanted on the first try.
The punchline is that there’s nothing impressive about the new design, it’s just a banal restatement of international, national, and provincial law. And yet in my circles that statement earns me high praise. It’s a sign of just how messed up our community is, how smitten we are with sexist pseudo-science and fearmongering from the religious far-right.
Still, as simple as that statement is, it’s a good first step past those crossroads. Helen might even agree.
 Vidmar, Neil, and Milton Rokeach. “Archie Bunker’s Bigotry: A Study in Selective Perception and Exposure.” Journal of Communication 24, no. 1 (1974): 36–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1974.tb00353.x.
 Ford, T. E., C. F. Boxer, J. Armstrong, and J. R. Edel. “More Than ‘Just a Joke’: The Prejudice-Releasing Function of Sexist Humor.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34, no. 2 (December 4, 2007): 159–70. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167207310022.