Some time ago, I wrote about how the alt-right coalition of fascists, neo-Nazis, and bigots was luring in young people by appealing to their sense of irony and fun, or ‘lulz’ as some say these days, acting as if the rhetoric of hate was not something to be believed in but was being used just to annoy and irritate those who were derisively labeled as ‘social justice warriors’ (though why that term is seen as an insult baffles me). The claim that they were ‘fighting political correctness’ was another shield used to deflect criticisms of this stance.
But Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain of Harvard and MIT, says in an interview in The Humanist magazine that the young people in the secular movement are being targeted by the alt-right using the allure of this appeal to irony.
I believe our movement currently contains far too many individuals and ideas that give comfort if not outright support to hatred and prejudice. We’ve seen clearly this past year, for example, that prominent humanist and secular leaders have been guilty of a number of the issues raised by the very important #MeToo movement, and the problem goes even beyond that. In the summer of 2016, after learning more about the secular beliefs of alt-right leader Richard Spencer, I did a sort of deep dive of research into the alt-right movement, reading or watching dozens if not hundreds of alt-right articles, books, blog posts, and videos. What I took from this experience was that the alt-right is actively courting well-educated humanists and secularists, and especially with young men it may be doing so even more effectively than the “mainstream” of our movement. As I argued in a lecture for the Humanist Hub in April 2017, the strategy of prominent alt-right leaders is to wink and nod knowingly that while few embrace the most extreme planks of their “platform” such as the ethnic cleansing of America, their cause is strengthened when we continue to normalize their other seemingly less offensive core beliefs, such as the supposed biological basis of racism or sexism. Thus I have to say here that smart, talented, and important people like Sam Harris may be doing great damage in their continued support for the racially problematic (that’s putting it mildly) ideas of people like Charles Murray. [My emphasis-MS]
This isn’t fun for me to talk about, and I fear the Humanist Hub may even lose support, even financial support, because of it. But if we keep silent, we’ll lose in the long run anyway. Look, I don’t have any magical solutions and I haven’t, despite trying, been able to come up with ways to turn the Humanist Hub into a paradise of racial or gender equity. But the idea that established (read: white) leaders are supposed to sweep problems away through the sheer power of their solitary genius is itself part of the problem. We need to take collective responsibility for our movement, cede enough ground and empower enough new leaders that our movement may not be entirely recognizable to us, even though it’ll need to hold onto so many of the core principles and values for which past generations of humanists have rightly fought. This is the challenge. I hope we’re up to it.
I am not all that surprised actually. Being anti-religion or disbelieving in gods can never, by themselves, be sufficient to serve as a working belief structure. They have to be coupled with a positive humanist philosophy. Social justice has to be part of the secularist message if we want to avoid people who leave religion being seduced into finding companionship in hate groups by the promise of ‘lulz’.