“There Is the Great Disappointment”

You know, I never thought I’d see the day when PZ Myers, the fire-breathing atheist whose passion for science and reason launched me full-tilt at science blogging, would despair of the atheist movement. But here that day is:

There is the great disappointment. The movement, whose whole premise demands a sweeping change of the culture, has discovered that it is far easier to defend the status quo than to change it. We’re willing to ask other people to think long and hard about their beliefs, to question and change, but all that other stuff that our culture planted in our heads, like beliefs about the sexes and races, like the rigid gender binary, like the suitability of women to thinking critically, like the automatic conferral of status by wealth, like the dehumanization of people who look like they might have had different great-grandparents than us, like the utility of simply killing people who disagree with us…oh, no, don’t ask us to change. We’re just here to promote atheism! One thing at a time! Once we’ve cleared away the deadwood of religion, then maybe we can think about encouraging a rational world that will have those nice things you’re talking about. Atheism is only about separation of church and state issues, or only about science and naturalism, or only about scholarly discussion of the accuracy of ancient texts, or only about fighting the barbarous customs of non-Western peoples…it’s only about the non-existence of gods, we can’t possibly consider side issues, like the harassment of women or the oppression of black communities or the diminishing educational opportunities of the poor, to be part of our brief!

Well, I’ve got news for the atheist movement: it all matters.

[snip]

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.

Image is a grayscale photo of a cat with its head in its paws. Caption says, "I has a sad."

And it’s not just PZ, or the people he mentions within his post, who are disillusioned. I’ve seen comments from a goodly number of people who are either walking away or walked a long time ago. These are people who could be contributing to the movement: volunteers, donors, activists that we’ve lost because the leaders of our orgs can’t extract their heads from their asses. (Perhaps they would understand what right shits they’ve been if they read this excellent poem by our own Digital Cuttlefish. I value my continued existence too much to hold my breath, thought.)

I think the current incarnation of movement atheism is going to perish. It’s too self-satisfied, too unrepentantly sexist, too hostile to people of color, too ignorant of the poor, too opposed to social justice, to survive to the next generation. The churches are losing people who are needlessly cruel to others, dogmatically refuse to change, and then wonder where all the young people went. The atheist orgs will find themselves facing the same problem. They’ll be wondering where the women, the people of color, the majority of the LGBTQ folk have gone. They’ll sneer and say “Good riddance!” when they realize we’ve ended up over here, on the opposite side of the rift. They’ll retreat to their own enclaves, and they will think they’re important, but they won’t be the ones making a difference.

We will.

Because, despite disillusionment, we know that what we’re doing is necessary. It’s important. It matters.

Listen to RQ, answering PZ’s despairing “I don’t know that we can” with a firm yes, we can:

I can’t afford to believe that we can’t. None of us can (in my opinion). That being said, it’s awfully difficult sometimes. But I refuse to give up all hope, even if I have to force myself to do so with a conscious, bull-headed effort. I can’t afford to.

Maybe I’m not old or tired or worn out enough yet, but the day I give up all hope will be a day I die a death far more meaningful than the physical one. And I don’t think I will like myself after that day.

We won’t give up. We’ll just take our activism and our dollars and our passion elsewhere.

Listen to George Wiman, who lays out some options:

I’m sure not going to start believing in gods because a bunch of atheists are sexist yobs. I’m stuck as an atheist whatever the “movement” does. So I could disavow atheism and embrace “humanism” (which is too kind to religion for my taste)

Keep my head down and still my voice.

Identify as a humanist atheist or an A+ or something else which says “Keep your gods and your oppressive culture too.”

There’s the third option. We’ll be over here, taking our atheism and building something of value. We’ll be working on a better moral foundation. We’ll be applying our critical thinking skills to our society and culture. We’ll be going beyond realizing there’s no gods, and asking what comes next.

Listen to consciousness razor, who knows that atheism is a beginning, not a finish line:

We should* all realize, as atheists, that we have to take it upon ourselves to make the world a better place. No benevolent magic being is going to do it for us, and there also aren’t demons or some such which we can blame the bad stuff on. And there are no other (not god-like) mysterious, purposeful forces at work, which guides things toward a certain end. And we don’t get second chances, because death is a real thing that happens, not only a transition to some other kind of reality. So there really is no other good option. That’s our job as good rational human beings, because we cannot consistently come up with a good excuse for not doing it. If you’re not buying into that, yet call yourself an “atheist” anyway, what legitimate reason do you actually have to justify any of it?

*But obviously, we don’t all in fact do what we should. That’s not surprising in the least, or any reason to be “disillusioned.”

I’m disappointed, but not disillusioned. I expected better of our leaders, but I’m not surprised they didn’t deliver. And there will definitely be disappointments going forward, but they won’t stop me. It’s like Jon Scalzi says:

I think internalizing the fact that no opinion/belief/enthusiasm inoculates either you or anyone else from the baser aspects of the human condition, or the larger social milieu in which we all exist, is probably a very smart thing to do. It helps manage the disappointment when the cool new group you find yourself with is eventually revealed to be full of flawed and fallible human beings, and it helps to free you from the initial desire to rationalize shitty behavior within a group merely for the sake of identity politics. And on the rare occasions when everyone in the group is actually good and decent, it allows you to appreciate just how nice that really is.

All this bullshit? It’s been a booster shot. If the people who are supposedly leading movement atheism are terrible failures, so be it. There have been terrible people in every social movement. We can brush them aside and continue the necessary work. They don’t define us, and they won’t end our good work.

PZ’s the one who inspired me all those years ago. He lit the fire. He turned me into an unapologetic atheist. He rekindled my passion for science and gave me the conviction and the courage to blog it. He showed me that we could forge a better world without gods. He gave me hope. And I’ll be damned if I let a few assholes in the movement take that away. I don’t care if we have to tear the entire movement down and rebuild it from the foundation up. I don’t care how much that makes smug assholes like Dawkins and Harris howl, I don’t care how much it makes reported serial sexual harassers like Shermer shriek. I don’t care how many fuckwads scream and whine and try to flood our channels with death and rape threats. This isn’t their movement. They don’t get to define it.

Over the next several weeks, I won’t let up on the supposed leaders who are failing so spectacularly. But I’m not here to only tear down, but to build up. I’ll be bringing people and organizations to your attention who are doing excellent work. I’ll be finding work that deserves our support. In the coming months, I’ll be tracking down books and podcasts to replace those the ones we found invaluable before their creators turned out to be such spectacular failures as human beings. I’ll be giving you some humor boosts, and hopefully helpful memes with which to illustrate your own posts about the Deep Rifts™.

We don’t need the leaders who have failed us. We have each other. And we have it within us to change the world.

Let’s do this thing.

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“There Is the Great Disappointment”
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25 thoughts on ““There Is the Great Disappointment”

  1. rq
    1

    Oh yes, we have each other, and that sense of community that I have found here (mostly online, but also in meeting a couple of people from the commentariat) has been a huge, huge support in all kinds of personal weather.
    Great summary here, Dana. Looking forward to hearing more about the positive initiatives in atheism. :)

  2. 2

    We’ll be over here, taking our atheism and building something of value. We’ll be working on a better moral foundation. We’ll be applying our critical thinking skills to our society and culture. We’ll be going beyond realizing there’s no gods, and asking what comes next.

    Hear, hear!

  3. 3

    Huzzah! A work crew!
    On the subject of new, world-view-ish books, I’m reading Kenan Malik’s “The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics,” something I got onto by following a link from Ophelia’s blog. Not very far into it, but looks promising. A whole lot of things seem to be easier to make sense of once you know their history. I’d send “The God Delusion” back to Dawkins in a minute if I knew the address, but I’m inclined to hold on to “The Ancestor’s Tale”.

  4. 6

    When I first engaged in movement atheism, I was cautiously rapt. “My people!” I thought, “I have found you! I have found a place where I can be both an atheist and someone passionate about social justice, out loud and unapologetic!” That was *right before* EG. Even then, right away when I started to engage, something in the water made me a bit uneasy. This nattering feeling kept surfacing when I would read comments and blog posts– this person doesn’t get it, that person is using my issues as a shield, what the actual fuck was that I just read? Then the boil got itself lanced and all the guck started coming to the surface, stinking, toxic. Atheism wasn’t about me and the things I cared about after all. If I wanted to participate, I had to put my perspective on my own marginalization aside and allow people with little to no experience to speak for me, to use my issues as a smokescreen of their own righteousness, as fuel for their cause, not for mine. It was the same experience I’d had with “non-denominational” social justice orgs in which I’d had to subvert my atheism in favor of religious privilege and woo in order to get anywhere, in which even when working on women’s issues the male voices would rise above all others, when working on queer issues, the Parents and Friends, the straight, allied clergy would get most of the stage.

    I don’t want anything to do with that. I’m not willing to stand idle and allow straight voices to dominate queer conversations, I’m not willing to bend to religious privilege in order to get a seat at the social justice table, I’m unwilling to be used as a prop to support movement atheism. Either I participate fully or I don’t participate at all. I’m perfectly capable of doing my own thing all by myself, it’s just… it’s nice to share community, to be understood, to cooperate. But not at the cost of my self respect, not when pay-to-play comes in the form of quieting my own voice and endlessly being told to wait my turn while my issues get lip serviced as nothing more than a marketing ploy.

    So thanks for not shutting up, Dana, and everyone else, too.

  5. 7

    Okay, I’m with you. But I feel like there’s a need for some guidance, a model or models for building a just AND godless society.

    So what’s out there? Don’t we have some pretty successful cases where that has happened / is happening? I’m thinking of the Scandinavian countries and Netherlands, but that may be too narrow a focus. I was impressed by the support from much of South America for the UN Human Rights declaration on LGBT the other day.

    Can we learn lessons from those places, or are we forging something totally new on the planet? The latter is a pretty intimidating prospect.

  6. 9

    LOVE the final LOLCat!

    OK…serious now…

    Yes, there is a third option.

    I may not be part of THEIR atheist movement. But I will still be part of AN atheist movement, one that cares about social issues as well.

  7. 10

    Cool! Now, who* is going to start, fund, and run the FtB Foundation?

    * Who is not identifying one person, but standing in place of “who of us are going to kick it off the ground, who of us are going to help fund it, who of us are going to join it and pay membership fees, and who of us are going to be active and support its mission?”

  8. 12

    I am someone who strongly calls for fundamental social change, including our gender relationships and attitudes. I have no problem saying that Dawkins and Harris say things and do things that are problematic, I am sure they do. I think we should keep front and center, that we all do or have done.
    As was discussed a couple of posts back by Libby and other commenters, much of our social discourse and structures are deeply embedded into us, in thoughts, judgments, and behaviors. Broadly changing baseline beliefs, especially of an unwieldy and difficultly measured effect (for example, think of gendered pronouns and nouns, or gendered definitives), these things can be most difficult to recognize and reflect on, and then to make active social changes. It can be easy to recognize egregious behaviors. It is more difficult to measure the intricacies of the interactions and whether it is acceptable behavior or not. We probably can blame a good deal of that on idiotic creation from evolution, in terms of structuring our behaviors, emotions, thoughts, but also in terms of our ability to self assess.
    I am someone who disdains both the singling out of individuals, in both positive and negative association. The kinds of emotions that get worked up about Harris and Dawkins are not to anyone’s benefit. Are they reproducing certain social structures that need to be dismantled? Yes, and it is fine to acknowledge and push back where they make judgments that many of us consider to be damaging to creating a better world. But their judgments, defense of others, and (general noncritical) propagation of the culture they found, are not issues to create such angst over. Changing cultural and social norms and attitudes is surely going to achieve more progress when it is done in a measured way. Some of that need comes from the complexity of the social situations themselves. Reflecting on our social world and unraveling our selves is not an easy issue. Bringing strong emotions, other than the original immediate ones that rise in us, will not move such a project forward.
    I would agree that sustained and continuous pushback against society, where far worse is found that in the broad atheist community, should continue. Where Harris, Dawkins and others stand on the wrong side of issues, then arguments should vigorously be put against them, to prod them into a better position. But the idea that some rift is necessarily, or that Dawkins, Harris, and others are not willing to come to the table of rational discourse, including reflecting on our culture and our selves, I think is wrong. I would also argue that whereas atheists have got one message spot on, say gods and naturalism, the logical next step of our best evaluation of other important facts of the world has not been as rigorously dealt with. Once religious ordering is rejected from our social world, then it is all secular, so to speak. But if society and atheist just allow standard practices from the past to shape their behaviors and judgments, then they should not be surprised that they are steeped in similar problematic behaviors that are seen in many direct religious prescriptions. However, most of our social world and the origin for most religious social prescriptions are impossibly (or stupidly) connected to religious beliefs.
    Maybe that is all just to say I am baffled by a lot of this.

  9. rq
    13

    But their judgments, defense of others, and (general noncritical) propagation of the culture they found, are not issues to create such angst over.

    The issue is that to the people who are atheists, who know these names as a part of the larger atheist community, Dawkins and Harris et al. are just people – wrong people, assholes, heroes, etc., but they’re, you know, part of the crowd. To those on the outside looking in, though, they’re leaders and figureheads, and that makes all the shit they spew a lot more meaningful, because they’re giving the rest a bad name. You can argue what you like, but when someone then says “Yes, but Dawkins says [assholish misogynistic thing] and that’s my impression of the movement so no thanks”, where do you go from there?
    Yes, offering alternatives and a sustained pushback is a good thing, but it’s an uphill battle. That’s where the problem lies. If, to the broader world (the one that needs to be, as it were, converted), these guys are the big voices, then it’s tough to get others to turn them down. Not impossible, just difficult – and yes, they choose to be assholes. People have attempted to prod them into better positions, as you so kindly put it, and they are not listening. They show a distinct lack of self-reflection, and that needs to be called out – and it has already been done politely, so let loose the dogs of rhetoric and fowl language, I say.
    There’s no need for another polite debate among atheists, to settle once and for all, whether drunk people can consent to sex or whether women’s higher estrogen vibe reduces their capacity to be confrontational, which is where you would have us return to, with all that table of rational discourse stuff. We’re well past that point, they had a chance (several) to look at themselves and draw conclusions, and they have, as you say, come down on the wrong side of progress (not just the issues). They’re not taking that logical next step, and they refuse to.
    Sadly, that is the public face of atheism, and that is not a good thing. They do need to be called out, as individuals, because that is how they are perceived in the wider world: as individual voices representing a community. Well, I don’t want that kind of representation, so yes, I will call them out and support anyone else who calls them out individually.
    Unless you have any better suggestions. :P
    (Excuse the partial ramble, it’s a bit late after a long day.)

  10. 14

    This.

    And for those who say there is no need to bring strong emotion into it when sustained push back would suffice, I say, well obviously there is need for strong emotion, because if there wasn’t, you would have noticed the massive number of concerted and individual efforts made toward sustained push back long before anyone got ragey.

  11. 15

    Hi rq. I am not trying to defend Harris. I am certainly an atheist but not sure I belong to the atheist movement. Do I need card? We can probably analyze everyone’s need to have leaders, heroes and icons-standing-for-ideas after this is all done.

    The issues surrounding innateness get mired in very complicated perception. Take the example of parents who try to interpret the natural inclinations of their babies, say for color or toy preferences. Trying to tease out how these babies have already been conditioned by gendered culture practices is fairly imperceivable (you know, that damned-black-box thing). Those parents then use such justifications to reproduce or even instill such cultural structures into the children, as all parents do to varying degrees.

    Certainly, MRA’s, conservatives and misogynist (etc.) seize on the proclaimed innateness to entrench their version of culture even more. I do think Harris is furthering that kind of thinking and procedure to some extent, certainly not as bad as the worst of MRA’s and social conservatives. But as to many innate claims, such innateness have almost won the cultural day. Like the parents thinking their babies innately prefer certain toys, they fit in well with the world we are accustomed to. They have also won much of the intellectual day, for various reasons. Furthermore, there have been plenty of feminist who have bought into or fell into different aspects of these things. I am thinking of Carol Gilligan for one, or other separate-character-but-equally-important feminists. A parallel argument is some of the wrangling over universal grammar, which again quickly falls into a similar quagmire of understanding.

    The question of “why are there fewer women in the atheist movement” requires a cultural analysis, both of an immediate relationship between the movement and women but also into the innate/cultural forces that shape our selves to begin with. In that, it is almost a loaded question for Harris. Given that he buys into a good deal of innate claims, as do many thinkers today, it makes some sense that he would look there for some kind of explanation. I think it is fair to criticize him that his answer quickly fell into the worst of those who espouse innate differences for cultural justification, as well as being in poor taste. However, Harris has no more of a substantive answer than anyone else.

    In other words, if you want to attack someone, I would suggest people like Christine Hoff Sommers over Harris. Certainly, where Harris and Dawkins are aping parts of these beliefs in problematic ways they should be criticized for such, but I also have (perhaps misgiven) confidence that people like Harris are more willing to allow evidence to give such claims fair shakes, as opposed to someone like Sommers.

    Lastly, I would argue that a great number of atheists, even those committed to cultural changes around gender, are equally incapable of piercing their own judgments about cultural issues and characteristics of individuals.

  12. 16

    A quick finish to that thought. Because many atheists, today and historically speaking, cannot judge and perceive our cultural reproductions and reflect on characters adequately, those cultures and selves get reproduced and passed onto future people. I think we need to steer clear of the idea that these are bad people or who wish to continue problematic social relations.

    Secondly, I said Sommers should be the target of strong criticism and intellectual challenge. But that is almost too easy and inconsequential. It probably instead needs to be people like Stephen Pinker (much of evo psych in general) or separate-but-equal-characters-feminists.

  13. 17

    Sommers isn’t perceived as a leader in the atheism movement. Harris and Dawkins are. And they both have proved impervious to reality whilst perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Also, that bullshit they spew infects their followers, who then go on to maximize the damage, as they have been told by the Big Names that these stereotypes are true. Ergo, they get criticized more than Sommers (not that her bs is ignored – Ophelia in particular exposes her crap often). You may not like it, but it needs to be done. And while Harris and Dawkins may never get it, some of their fans will – but not if we let it slide. There’s good reason why we do what we do.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to say, but it’s sounding like “Leave my heroes alone!” Don’t do that. Don’t come here telling women whom we should be angry at and how. Just. Don’t.

    Especially not here. I have an extremely low tolerance for it.

  14. rq
    20

    not sure I belong to the atheist movement

    Nope not talking about the atheist movement here, but the atheist community, which is something that we all, as atheists, are members of by default. This does not mean we’re active in passing that atheism on, or trying to change the world into an atheist world, it means we identify as atheists, and that, when we come out to other people as atheists, they lump us together with all the other atheists they know – which means, among other people, Harris, Dawkins, and the rest of them. The fact that they actually support Sommers? That’s kind of like… the extra cherry that really, really points to the fact that no, I don’t want their representation, whether that is by choice or default (and again, due to their prominence, it’s kind of by default at this point).

    I do think Harris is furthering that kind of thinking and procedure to some extent, certainly not as bad as the worst of MRA’s and social conservatives.

    Considering his prominence, he’s actually doing a lot more damage, because his talking points are exactly the same a those of MRAs, just clothed in much milder, more science-y sounding language. In a way, that makes it worse, because it sounds so much more rational and plausible, plus, as much as people don’t like to admit it, there’s his authoriteh, too. He must be right, since he’s so right on other things. Just look at all the MRAs that agree with Dawkins! You think that isn’t as bad? He’s providing them with the legitimacy of his name – it may be stupid, but for a lot of people (like those parents you mention), that means a lot. And that is not a good thing.

    They have also won much of the intellectual day, for various reasons.

    Seriously, I have no idea what this means in the context of the rest of that paragraph. If they’re following cultural stereotypes, and believing in the innateness of colour preference, how is that winning the intellectual day? Sounds to me that, hands down, they’ve lost it all.

    Given that he buys into a good deal of innate claims, as do many thinkers today, it makes some sense that he would look there for some kind of explanation. I think it is fair to criticize him that his answer quickly fell into the worst of those who espouse innate differences for cultural justification, as well as being in poor taste. However, Harris has no more of a substantive answer than anyone else.

    Seriously again, what are you saying? Harris gets a free pass at self-examination because… uh, I’m not sure? Look, he’s supposed to be smarter than everyone. He’s the one looking at beliefs and faith and analyzing and studying, he’s supposed to realize that all of that applies to him, too. If he can see the misogyny in other cultures, he should also be smart enough to realize that it applies to him – or else not even discuss things like why there are fewer women (in this case, yes, the atheist movement, but me previous point above was not about the movement). So if someone asks him “Why are there fewer women?” he should be smart enough to say “Well, I don’t really know, perhaps I’ll look into it” instead of making jokes and silly excuses like he did (and then doubling down). His answer is quite substantive for reasons previously mentioned, and while he is one among many, he is also one authority among a lot fewer, and that gives his words and conclusions a lot more weight and importance.
    Also, just – ‘he’s only human’? We know that, but he’s a smart human, so I damn well expect a lot better of him than the average person saying similar shit. A LOT better of him.

    Certainly, where Harris and Dawkins are aping parts of these beliefs in problematic ways they should be criticized for such, but I also have (perhaps misgiven) confidence that people like Harris are more willing to allow evidence to give such claims fair shakes, as opposed to someone like Sommers.

    Mmkay, I’m going to try and decipher your logic here, because again, I think you’re saying some pretty incorrect stuff. See bolded part. Did you read Harris’ Sexist Pig response? Did you read that?? That is not giving fair shakes to evidence against some of Sommers’ claims.
    Then there’s the fact that, by all logic, that, as a woman, Sommers should be more willing to give fair shakes to evidence that actually is to her benefit in the long run. Where do you think she is going wrong?
    And again, just the fact that Dawkins and Harris put their social weight behind people like Sommers is hugely problematic – you think they haven’t read what she writes? You think they do so blindly, without a single thought to it? Just, ‘Oh, Christina! What a nice name! I think I’ll promote her!’? Somehow I doubt it. Where ‘s all their work in viewing evidence from both sides?
    If I didn’t know any better (actually, I don’t!) I’d say you’re too enamoured of the idea of Dawkins and Harris as highly prominent, significant men to really tear into them as they deserve. Otherwise, why cut them so much slack for minimizing the impact of their words? (There are people indirectly addressed by those words who are telling you things about what those words mean… why are you not listening?)

    I think we need to steer clear of the idea that these are bad people or who wish to continue problematic social relations.

    Do you read what you are writing? These are people who have been given opportunity to do better. These are people with resources to educate themselves, to hear what people have been saying to them over and over and over and over again… IF they make a certain mistake a couple of times, I can certainly understand a learning process is difficult. But they do so deliberately, again, and venomously. This does, at this point, make them bad people. And screw that whole tradition argument you’re pulling here. These prominent people are the very ones who should be leading by example, and they’re not. Despite having the brains, opportunity and resources to do so. It’s not Sommers that is the problem – it’s giving Sommers the legitimacy that’s the problem, and she’s not doing that on her own.

  15. rq
    21

    Shorter me: How (in the practical sense, not the rhetorical) can we take down people like Sommers, if people like Dawkins and Harris keep propping her up?

    Screenplay: like retaliatory forever-edits on wikipedia
    we: Sommers is wrong as a feminist, because [ points ].
    Dawkins: Look at what a brave feminist is Sommers! Because [rape apologetic phrasing]!
    MRAs: Hey, feminists, Sommers is a feminist, too, and she agrees with us! See? Dawkins says [rape apology].
    we: Sommers is actually wrong as a feminist, because [ points ] …
    Dawkins: See Sommers battle feminazis! [ rape apologetic talking point ]!
    MRAs: Hey, feminists, Dawkins agrees with Sommers, who is a real feminist! NYAH!
    we: Well, Sommers is actually wrong as a feminist, because [ points ] …
    etc.

    Eventually, we have to start tacking on a ‘And Dawkins is an idiot, too.’ to the phrasing. It’s inescapable.

  16. 22

    Lyndon may not be aware that there is more to this than the occasional clueless comment. Michael Shermer has been accused of harassment and rape, and a number of Dawkins’ tweets, though they didn’t name him, were clearly made in defense of him.

    (As for the occasional clueless comment: it would be easy to move on from criticisms and call-outs, if those criticized didn’t react with such overwrought defensiveness.)

  17. 24

    Most of our leading trolls seem to be conservatives or libertarians. Conservatives are allied overwhelmingly with religion today, and so the goals of conservatism are advanced by dispersing the atheist movement as it is today; a small, ugly, ineffective, old, and white atheist movement is good for conservatism. Our discouragment and dispersal is not at all a bug, but the key feature and purpose of conservative activism among us. Do you ever hear a conservative tell another conservative, “Be nicer to those other atheists; they may be liberal but they’re helping advance atheism, and we need all the atheists we can get.” Very rarely if ever; they are conservatives first, last, and always. Every one of us who walks away vindicates their effort and advances their agenda. That is why Atheism Plus was and is so important; it is important to have a coherent identity and a sense of being on the same team. And that is why it was attacked so viciously–it wasn’t enough for the conservacreeps to not join it themselves. The whole point was to keep progressives from coalescing; we’re stronger and better off without them, and they know it.

  18. 25

    “The issue is that to the people who are atheists, who know these names as a part of the larger atheist community, Dawkins and Harris et al. are just people – wrong people, assholes, heroes, etc., but they’re, you know, part of the crowd. To those on the outside looking in, though, they’re leaders and figureheads, and that makes all the shit they spew a lot more meaningful, because they’re giving the rest a bad name. ”

    This means that the project is, pretty much, one of tossing Dawkins/Harris/et al off their media pedestals and replacing them. So that the go-to people for an atheist quote become PZ Myers and Greta Christina (for example).

    We’ve been through this sort of thing in feminism, more than once, dealing with deliberate monkeywrenching faux-feminists like Hoff Sommers and Paglia and Roiphe; the problem of discrediting them in the public eye is a difficult one (given that they always get support from anti-feminists), but absolutely necessary.

    It’s honestly not going to be quite as hard a problem discrediting Dawkins and Harris, because folks like Paglia and Roiphe operate as deliberate agents of sabotage — they change their “views” whenever the last set isn’t successfully confusing people — while Dawkins and Harris are just fools with fixed ideas.

    Shermer is obviously another matter. Getting the facts out to the public about the evidence of his serial raping and his ever-changing stories should help make him persona non grata. First step, I think, is to pressure Scientific American to get rid of Shermer, which they should have done long ago. That’s a pressure point which should work if enough people write in and threaten to boycott. (I have already done so.)

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