Activists and Social Media

Jerry Coyne was perplexed by something that is not all that difficult to understand.  He responded to an article by Jesse Singal who tries to make the case that social media is making us all dumber.   He quotes Singal:

That’s because the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces [JAC: Why have the dynamics of these spaces become so pernicious?] hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect. On a wide and expanding range of issues, there’s no such thing as good-faith disagreement.

The online anger aimed at Mr. Pinker provides a perfect case study.

. . . It’s getting harder and harder to talk about anything controversial online without every single utterance of an opinion immediately being caricatured by opportunistic outrage-mongers, at which point everyone, afraid to be caught exposed in the skirmish that’s about to break out, rushes for the safety of their ideological battlements, where they can safely scream out their righteousness in unison. In this case: “Steven Pinker said the alt-right is good! But the alt-right is bad! We must defend this principle!”

This is making us dumber.

and then comments

As I said, I don’t agree that this is making us dumber. People like Myers are not dumb, and are no dumber than they were before they began engaging in such outrage-mongering. What social media is doing is making them more recalcitrant in their views, more tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong. I’m not exactly sure why this is so, and perhaps readers can weigh in here. I suppose if you take a very strong and public stand, it’s a lot harder to back off or apologize if you are a public figure than if you’re simply someone talking personally to someone else. With social media, everyone is to some extent a public figure, which wasn’t true in the days when controversial figures like Mencken held the stage. But I’m still not satisfied with that explanation.

Coyne is right in that social media is not making us dumber.  And he kind of gets it when he notes “social media is …. making them more recalcitrant in their views, more tribalistic, less willing to listen to opposing views, and less willing to admit they were wrong. ”  But social media is simply amplifying what is already there.

Take Myers (or any New Atheist activist).  Years ago, when the New Atheist activists routinely attacked religious people, many of us drew attention to recalcitrance, tribalism, closed-mindedness, and the arrogance of those activists.  These are all traits that defined New Atheists when they were unified in their attack on religious people.  And when religious people (or “accomodationists”) pointed them out, the New Atheists scoffed and dismissed the existence of such traits.  Thus, the only reason people like Coyne and Singal can now see what they were previously blind to is because the atheist and secular community has splintered without their common enemy.  It’s not that social media makes people more tribalistic and recalcitrant, it just makes those traits are more obvious when you no longer are part of the in-group engaging in the viral attacks.

But there is another dimension.  I think social media is both the breeding ground and playground of activists.

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Are New Atheists Wishing 2018 was Over Already?

The atheist activist community has begun the new year on the wrong foot.  First, the atheist conference designed to unite the warring factions got into a fight over the conference, causing it to be cancelled.   Then, Steven Pinker, who has always been somewhat under the radar with his New Atheism, has become to subject of a smear campaign led by various social justice atheists like PZ Myers.

What you might have overlooked is that the Friendly Atheist published a new atheist book entitled Queer Atheist back on December 17, 2017.  The author is Camille Beredjick  and it was edited by Hemant Mehta and published by the Friendly Atheist Press.  Well, it looks like another book flop.  Even though the book has been out less than a month, and Mehta has extensively promoted it, at the time of this writing, it has an Amazon sales ranking of 149,000.

What does that mean?  According to this analysis:

A single sale will cause any book to jump to a sales rank of approximately 130,000. Maybe 70,000, maybe 150,000. Two sales in a day will bring it up to around 30,000. The actual rank can be on either end of these estimates, depending on how many other books have sold that day on Amazon.

None of what I publish sells well enough for me to be able to offer personal tes­timony beyond what two copies sold in a day translates to. But the available info says that a book ranked steadily at 5,000 is selling about 11 copies per day. A book with a steady rank of 100,000 is averaging a little more than one copy per day.

Despite Mehta’s extensive internet presence, it’s selling……about a copy a day.

So two weeks into the new year, and what do we have?

Another failed conference?  Check.

Another nasty internet feud among the atheist activists?  Check.

Another atheist book flop?  Check.

But who knows.  With all the usual stuff out of the way, perhaps there is no place to go from here but up.

Posted in atheist activism, New Atheism, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Steven Pinker Reaps What He Sows

As I pointed out in the previous posting, the smear techniques being used against New Atheist Steven Pinker are just the same techniques New Atheists have been using against religious people for years.  So there is a certain element of poetic justice watching the atheist activist community lash out at each other with those very techniques.

And don’t think of Pinker as some innocent bystander who just happened to get caught in the rhetorical crossfire.  Back in 2009, he tried using the very same smear techniques against Francis Collins.  For those who don’t know, Collins was a leading scientist who also happened to be a Christian.  Obama appointed him to head the NIH and many in the New Atheist community (Harris, Coyne, Pinker, and others) attempted to derail the nomination by generating some form of outrage through their activist writings.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Pinker began by writing:

I have serious misgivings about Francis Collins being appointed director of NIH.

There you have it.  In essence Pinker and his allies were trying to “deplatform” Collins.  Told ya there isn’t that much difference between a New Atheist and a Social Justice Atheist.

It’s not that I think that there should be a religious litmus test for public science administrators, or that being a devout Christian is a disqualification.

Of course not.  😉

Here Pinker is trying to rationalize things to disguise his anti-religious bigotry.

But in Collins’s case, it is not a matter of private belief, but public advocacy.

In other words, Collins, should have kept his Christian views completely private.

The director of NIH is not just a bureaucrat who tends the money pipleline between the treasury and molecular biologists (which is how many scientists see the position). He or she is also a public face of science, someone who commands one of the major bully pulpits for science in the country. The director testifies before Congress, sets priorities, selects speakers and panelists, and is in many regards a symbol for biomedical research in the US and the world. In that regard, many of Collins’s advocacy statements are deeply disturbing.

The words of someone are “deeply disturbing.”  This is the language of a social justice atheist.  By trying to deny the nomination to Collins because of his words, how is this all that different from the way social justice atheists work?

Now, let’s get to the meaty hypocrisy. Pinker wrote:

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Posted in atheist activism, Hypocrisy, Social Justice, Steven Pinker | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Myers vs. Coyne

They’re at it again.  In a blog posting entitled, Surprise! Pinker smeared again by those who distort his words, atheist activist Jerry Coyne complains:

There is no end of the kind of cherry-picking people will go to if they want to smear New Atheists. This post gives a prime example, with the target being Steve Pinker. (It’s always either Pinker, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins.)

Oh, please.  Distorting people’s words and cherry picking have been at the foundation of the New Atheist approach to handling religion from the start.  You can’t successfully insist that “religion is evil” without distorting people’s words and relying on cherry picking.  And if you think about it, cherry picking is the bread-and-butter of anti-religious blogs like The Friendly Atheist.

So I find it both amusing and fitting that Coyne is complaining about techniques that atheists have long been using to attack religion.

The specifics of this latest flare-up are even more amusing.  For the person being accused of cherry picking is none other than PZ Myers himself.  Coyne accuses Myers of being an “Authoritarian Leftist” who “deliberately ignores Pinker’s message in order to smear him.”  Myers blocks Coyne on Twitter.  Look, it’s not like Myers has learned a whole new way of arguing when attacking people like Pinker.  He’s just using the same approach he knows, the same one that once get him cheers from fellow atheists when he focused on religious people.

Once again, two men who supposedly are led by reason and evidence, are at each other’s throats.  Take away the common enemy and reason and evidence point in opposite directions.

Look, if Myer’s had relied on cherry picking and ignoring the message to smear some theist, Coyne would not have a problem.  In fact, he’d probably be giving Myers the thumbs up.  It only becomes a sin when his side is targeted.

The New Atheists hate the taste of their own medicine.

Posted in atheist activism, atheist wars, New Atheism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Where Social Justice Leads

I recently watched a movie on Netflix called First They Killed My Father.

Here’s a description:

The film First They Killed My Father begins in 1975 Cambodia, during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. The hard-line communist regime aimed to deport an entire nation into the countryside and form an agrarian utopia — but their experiment failed. People were forced to work, and they were also tortured, starved and executed. In the end, around a quarter of the country’s population — roughly 2 million people — died.

First They Killed My Father was directed by Angelina Jolie, and it’s based on a memoir by human rights activist Loung Ung.

This movie nicely documents where a devotion to “social justice” can lead.  Torture, starvation, and execution, all in the name of social justice.

Now, you might think I am engaging in mischievous hyperbole.  But am I?

One of the Khmer Rouge’s top surviving leaders Wednesday challenged his life sentence for crimes against humanity and said he had only fought for “social justice” in Cambodia, in rare comments made to a UN-backed court.

The brutal regime’s former head of state Khieu Samphan, 84, raised his voice to a chamber in Phnom Penh that will decide whether to accept an appeal on the guilty verdict handed down to him and another senior leader, 89-year-old Nuon Chea.

The men were convicted of committing crimes against humanity in 2014 for their pivotal role in the communist government that oversaw the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979 — nearly one-quarter of the population.

“What I want to say today and what I want my countrymen to hear is that as an intellectual I have never wanted anything other than social justice for my country,” Khieu Samphan told the court’s seven judges on the final day of the appeal hearing.

Why am I not surprised that an “intellectual” devoted to “social justice” for his country is someone who committed crimes against humanity?  After all, we have seen again and again that the driving principle that guides “social justice” activism is……the end justifies the means.

Posted in Social Justice, social justice atheism, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Understanding the Failed Atheist Conference

The atheist activist community love to portray themselves as a group of people who value reason, evidence, and science.  And one of the mere byproducts of this commitment to reason, evidence, and science just happens to be their atheism.

Yet the community of people who follow Reason and Evidence can’t seem to put together a conference that showcases their commitment to reason, evidence, and science.  As one of the organizers of the failed Atheist Conference noted:

But none of this is going to happen now because the event has just been canceled. The reasons why are complicated, but it started out difficult enough. The atheist community has splintered into a million shards in recent years. There are the atheist feminists and the atheist anti-feminists, the social justice warrior atheists and the anti-social justice warrior atheists. The pro-PC atheists and the anti-PC atheists. There are pro-Trump atheists and anti pro-Trump atheists. Atheists are split over gamergate, elevatorgate, whether we should organize, or whether we should even call ourselves atheists at all. The divisions go on and on.


It all happened very quickly. I’m still in shock a little bit. Bad management, deception, inexperience, and a divided atheist community ready to tear each other apart destroyed its chances before it got started.

Now, it would seem to be that this state of affairs is incompatible with a community that follows reason, evidence, and science.  For a commitment to reason, evidence, and science should lead to consensus and some form of unity.

As I see it, we have only two possible explanations for this disconnect.  Either a commitment to reason, evidence, and science is incapable of generating consensus because it can lead to radically different conclusions or significant elements of the atheist community are not committed to reason, evidence, or science, even though they think they are.   And that would mean significant elements of the atheist community are delusional.

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A New Year and Another Failed Atheist Conference

We start the new year with yet another atheist activist conference being cancelled.  It was to be “The Atheist Conference.”

Several here have already commented on it (start here)

Years ago, I noted that the New Atheist movement was a modern day hate movement.  I was right.  As long as they were all agreed on the target of hate  – Christians – the movement was able to persist.  But once they lost the “common enemy” and began to target other groups and then each other, the unfocused hate consumed the movement.  Now, they can’t seem to unite around the topic of Atheism anymore.

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What Madness Looks Like

Social justice atheist PZ Myers once wrote, “Squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town.”

Oh, the delicious irony.  These days, it has become quite obvious that this champion of “reason and evidence” has not only taken residence in crazy town, but sits on their town council.

Consider some of his latest examples of madness.

In his posting entitled, “Twitter is kind of terrible. Why don’t you give it up for the New Year?,” he works himself into a froth about twitter:

You know who is still on Twitter? Other racist organizations, like VDare. David Duke, Ann Coulter, Mike Cernovich, Gavin McInnes. Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson. You can also search for terms like “White genocide” and “cultural marxism” or various racial slurs and find plenty of small fry who aren’t dissuaded at all.

Donald Trump is still on Twitter. I’ll believe in their commitment to principle when they ban that hatemonger, but they won’t, since their only commitment is to dollars.

Of course we see the typical authoritarianism that is inherent in social justice ideology.  And then there is the standard hypocrisy of a hatemonger railing against other “hatemongers.”  But that’s dime a dozen material when it comes to social justice atheists.

But only an inhabitant of Crazy Town would demand that Twitter ban the President of the United States for being a “hatemonger.”  To think and insist that this needs to happen is madness.

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Posted in Social Justice, social justice atheism, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Atheism’s Slippery Relationship with the Truth

Here’s a video where Richard Dawkins asserts, “What matters is what’s true.”

Yet you have to wonder if Dawkins believes this simply because he was raised in a culture that values truth and that is largely because of its theistic history.

Consider a couple of questions.

If atheism is true, does truth cease to be important?  Look at in another way – if atheism is true, why bother living as if atheism is true?

Now, from one perspective, it would seem foolhardy and nonsensical to deny the importance of truth.  For example, it is true that if you consume rat poison, you will die.  It is likewise true that if you jump off a skyscraper, without anything like a parachute,  you will die.  Ignore or deny these truths at your peril.  But these truths can be labeled as survival truths.  There are certain truths, typically linked to behavior, that must be acknowledged in order to survive.  Objective reality has a way of imposing itself on our beliefs.

But is atheism itself a survival truth?  Of course not.  One can live a happy, healthy, long life without acknowledging that atheism is true.   Millions and millions have done it.

So we have a problem.  If atheism is true, only survival truths are important.  Atheism is not a survival truth.  Thus,  atheism is not important.

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Posted in atheism, truth, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Is David Benatar’s Anti-natalism Rooted in Atheism?

From this article on Big Think:

Welcome to anti-natalism, a small but lively corner of philosophy that, in our time of climate change, prospects of nuclear war, and divisive populist politics, has been growing of late. Though David Benatar, one of the chief modern architects of this philosophy, may or may not have coined the term “anti-natalism”—he’s done “intellectual archaeology” to figure it out, and his jury of one is still debating—his recent appearance on Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast further solidified his stake in this long debated topic: Is life worth living? Benatar says no, at least for the unborn.

According to Benatar, head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town and author of Better Never to Have Been, being born is “not always a harm, but always a very serious harm.” Summating his philosophy, he continues:

We ought not to bring new people into existence, but I think the view is broader, that we ought not to bring new sentient beings into existence. It’s not just the view that it’s harmful to come into existence, but a further view that it’s wrong to bring beings into existence.

The article then notes,

Harris finds a correlation with Buddhism. According to a translation of Buddhist texts by Sir Hari Singh Gour, Buddha claimed that men are ignorant of the suffering they unleash; existence is the cause of old age and death. If man would realize this harm he would immediately stop procreating.

Harris does try to push back against Benatar’s views, but, judging from this article, doesn’t come across as being all that successful.

The question that interests me is whether Benatar is an atheist.  For this “better to not have ever existed” position is the nihilistic culmination of atheism.  It’s also where the Argument from Evil leads. A reality so evil that it supposedly negates the existence of God is a reality so evil it would be better if it had not existed.

To test my hunch that this anti-natalism is so nihilistic that only an atheist could propose and spend a lifetime advocating for it, I searched Google, but could not only any place where Benator either self-describes as an atheist or is described as an atheist.

But then I found this New Yorker article which explains how Benatar is immensely private (explaining my difficulty).  Yet during his interview, he let the cat out of the bag:

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Posted in academia, atheism, nihilsm, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 11 Comments