Steve Pinker discusses free speech, political correctness and taboos

Here is a video interview that FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) president Greg Lukianoff did with Steve Pinker about the touchy subject of whether some issues shouldn’t be discussed at all, especially on American college campuses. Some campuses actually have stricter “speech codes” than society outside the university walls. (FIRE is dedicated to fostering free speech and individual rights at American colleges and universities.)

Pinker concludes—and I agree completely—that while some subjects are appropriately off-limits in personal relationships (like the proposition in the movie “Indecent Proposal,” where Robert Redford offered Woody Harrelson money to sleep with his wife), ” it “becomes maladaptive when you apply the logic of intimate relationships to the sphere of ideas, where by entertaining a particular idea you basically entrain your solidarity with the tribe.”

But now, with tribalism on the wane, such taboos get in the way of finding the truth. Indeed, Steve even notes that his own thesis in Better Angels of Our Nature—that violence in the world has declined over time—has met with opposition from progressive scholars.

Should we be able to discuss whether there are biological differences between genders, races/ethnic groups, and individuals? Absolutely.  Yet even the skeptical Left bridles at such a conclusion, since they see invidious results from such research—indeed, from even raising such question.  I don’t agree; I guess I agree with the old saw “the truth will set you free.” That’s why I try—but perhaps don’t always succeed—in fostering free exchange of ideas on this website while avoiding the demonization of individuals who express certain opinions.

It seems to me that it’s nearly always better to know the truth (e.g., we’re going to die, you have a terminal disease, you don’t have free will, and so on), than to live in ignorance, or to suppress investigation of the truth. That said, there is a time and a place to impart truth, and that is why, as Sam Harris says in Free Will, he won’t be telling his young daughter about her lack of free will until she matures a bit!

This talk is particularly relevant to the current debates going on in the skeptical community, in which certain subjects and opinions seem to be prima facie off limits for discussion.

169 Comments

  1. Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    This talk is particularly relevant to the current debates going on in the skeptical community, in which certain subjects and opinions seem to be prima facie off limits for discussion.

    That would be what’s turned me completely off of the A+ movement. Richard Carrier, for example, has repeatedly expressed that A+ stands for feminism, LGBT rights, and the like and that, therefore, anybody who doesn’t adopt the A+ label is a misogynist homophobe. His characterization, not mine.

    Sorry, but no.

    And, no, I’m not going to answer your question about when I stopped beating my wife, either.

    And that’s why I want nothing at all to do with A+. Yes, they express support for basically the same set of progressive ideals as I myself support. But I will not be a part of any movement, even an ostensibly progressive one, that uses that sort of strong-arm tactics to ensure group cohesion.

    There is a time and a place for unlimbering the heavy artillery. William Lane Craig’s endorsement of the mass child rape in Numbers 31 would be a prime example; somebody saying it was a good thing those girls were raped* and won’t somebody think of what it did to their rapists…well, a person like that has no place in polite company.

    But when the same sort of vehemence is directed at people who’re espousing the supremacy of the same civil liberties you claim to revere but has the temerity to do so using rhetoric not officially endorsed?

    The Pharyngulite Horde is decidedly unhealthy, and it and its devotion to its particular brand of political correctness is what’s driving the new new new new new atheism movement. And, as I already wrote, I want nothing to do with the Horde or its supporters.

    Cheers,

    b&


    * Numbers, along with the rest of the Bible, is, of course, purest fiction. But that’s irrelevant. b&

    • CJ
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Well said, and a good take on “The Pharyngulite Horde”. I have no interest in taking part in a conversation with a group that all too often plays the man and not the ball.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        That’s especially true when they use every dirty debate trick in the book.

        Write something provocative or ironic in one sentence. In the next sentence, note the patent absurdity of the preceding sentence.

        The Horde will accuse you of endorsing whatever you wrote in the first sentence.

        They’re not interested in furthering progressive goals; they’re interested only in creating an environment in which failure to spout verbatim their particular interpretation of their notion of progressive goals results in shame and ostracism.

        They seem think that this means that they’re creating an environment in which only their form of progressivism will flourish and everything else will wither…but Steve explains in the video above why such attempts are doomed to horrible failure.

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          Write something provocative or ironic in one sentence. In the next sentence, note the patent absurdity of the preceding sentence…The Horde will accuse you of endorsing whatever you wrote in the first sentence.

          “The Horde” does no such thing. There is no such person.

          Some of the people in comments sometimes write before they think and some of them are a bit tone deaf to irony or satire and some of them are cantankerous and spoiling for a fight. And then, if you wait around, they usually get called on it. Then some of them sheepishly apologize, some of them angrily apologize and explain why it seemed ambiguous, some of them don’t respond for whatever reason, and a very few of them will double down because they’re cantankerous — at least at the moment.

          I think there are too many different people in what you’re calling “the Horde” to generalize like that. Problems in every group seem to get maximized when the group is very large and contains multitudes.

          • Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

            “The Horde” does no such thing. There is no such person.</blockquote.

            As I wrote below, there are multiple such people, and they're the ones shouting the loudest. Is it any surprise that they're the only ones being heard?

            That's the big difference between WEIT and FtB. When things start to get nasty here, Jerry steps in, tells people to cool it, and often insists that offenders apologize or leave. PZ and the others wait for somebody's stupidity and / or insults to become tedious before banning the offender.

            As a result, we're civilized here even when discussions get heated…but the very first response to even a hint of something not perfectly kosher at Pharyngula generally means a full-throttle blast with the flamethrowers.

            Whether intentional or simply a misguided application of First Amendment principles, the result is the Horde in all its multi-headed nasty viscousness (even if some of the heads are sometimes cuddly).

            b&

            • Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              What the hell is it with me and blockquotes today?

              Damn.

              b&

              • Strider
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                Myers and Carrier aren’t the only ones advocating for A+. Check out Episode 2.20 of “Godless Bitches”, an all-female podcast by members of the Atheist Community of Austin, for a *very* reasonable discussion of A+ without, I think, any of the things to which you’re objecting, Ben. You don’t have to, of course, but to write off the movement by the actions of *some* of its advocates seems to me shortsighted; it’ll work itself out.
                I’ve always been curious: why do you always sign off with “b&”?

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                [I]t’ll work itself out.

                It might.

                But it hasn’t, yet, and I don’t at all like the direction it’s being pulled in by its most prominent and vocal supporters.

                So, maybe cooler heads will prevail, and maybe me bitching about the libelous fighting words from Carrier and others will prompt those cooler heads to be more proactive.

                I don’t have much hope of that, though — we are talking about herding cats, after all. And the initial signs are not at all good.

                After all, this isn’t a movement born out of hope and pride but anger and frustration. Righteous anger and understandable frustration, yes, but that doesn’t mean that the anger and frustration aren’t clouding people’s judgements and damaging the foundations they’re laying.

                Can you blame me for not wanting to have anything to do with the movement as I perceive it today? Especially when it’s falling headlong for all the dangers of groupthink that Steve addresses in the video at the top of the page?

                I’ve always been curious: why do you always sign off with “b&”?

                Oh — that’s my initials.

                The “b” should be obvious.

                The ampersand glyph has the same basic shape as a treble clef, which is also known as a “G” clef because the line the lower squiggle encircles is thereby designated as the G above Middle C.

                Most non-musicians don’t know it, but all the clefs are what’re called “moveable” clefs. Violists and trombonists are most familiar with the fact, since they’re often called upon to read in alto or tenor clefs, in which the C clef (which looks something like the letter “K”) is placed on the middle or next-to-top lines, respectively, thereby designating Middle C.

                The two dots in the bass clef designate the F below Middle C. Sometimes you’ll see the clef moved so the dots are around the middle line, making it a baritone clef — or, you’ll see the same thing with the C clef on the top line. And sometimes you’ll see the G clef circle around the bottom line, making it a “Super Treble Clef,” which reads like bass clef but sounds an octave higher.

                Lastly, a small “8″ placed above or below any of the clefs indicates the part should be transposed an octave in the direction of the placement. In some extremes, you’ll even see a “16″ as well, meaning two octaves.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • mordacious1
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

                More complicated than I thought, I always thought it stood for “band”.

          • Marta
            Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            Ben’s screwed up the block quotes. But yeah.

            +1

            • Strider
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

              Nah, not so much. It’s been, what?, 2 months since A+ was proposed? How long did it take for regular A to rise to prominence? Decades. It’ll be much quicker for A+, as it’s already working (as I said ACA is very prominent in the community) in some circles.

            • gbjames
              Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

              My objection to A+ is rather more pedestrian. The identifier was already in use by Nonbelievers Giving Aid, pairing a white atheist-A with a white + on a red background. I got a tee shirt at one point for making a donation.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Ben Goren #1 wrote:

      But I will not be a part of any movement, even an ostensibly progressive one, that uses that sort of strong-arm tactics to ensure group cohesion.

      I think Richard Carrier was talking about people who don’t accept the values of A+ — not the label.

      From what I’ve seen most of the bloggers writing about the A+ movement seem to have gone out of their way to point out that they’re not trying to force anyone to join A+. It’s supposed to be “a special interest group within atheism with a focus on humanist goals” and PZ has explicitly stated

      I really don’t care what label you attach to it — secular humanism, atheism+, ethical atheism — as long as you support the values behind it.

      I don’t call myself A+ because the term seems a bit unnecessary if it’s being used outside of the A+ forum and I don’t personally put a lot of focus on specific human rights issues like feminism or racism — but I’ve no problem with those who do and am very glad they do. I’m in “the Horde” and have stated this and nobody got upset.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I think Richard Carrier was talking about people who don’t accept the values of A+ — not the label.

        Would that that were true.

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2207/comment-page-1/#comment-20538

        Do you reject any of the values stated in my article? If so, which ones, and why?

        If not, in what way aren’t you a part of Atheism+ movement?

        Either you reject some basic human values here, or you are irrationally denying what you are, like someone who said they were sure there was no god but aren’t an atheist.

        Lots more where that came from — and I don’t just mean Richard.

        <sigh />

        b&

        • Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          Uhg. Major blockquote fail. Sorry!

          b&

        • Sastra
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          Ah, but maybe all it takes to be a “part” of it is not to be overtly against the values. Try calling yourself a fan who doesn’t personally care for the label and see whether he pitches a fit about your values and differences … or just proceeds to try to persuade you that no, no, it’s a GOOD label and necessary. Carrier might. Most, I suspect, would drop it.

          I have more quotes, too, re the “opt-in you don’t have to join” side. Which means that someone or several people are confused — or there’s a deep dark plot afoot. Probably the first.

          • Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            Ah, but maybe all it takes to be a “part” of it is not to be overtly against the values. Try calling yourself a fan who doesn’t personally care for the label and see whether he pitches a fit about your values and differences … or just proceeds to try to persuade you that no, no, it’s a GOOD label and necessary.

            Sastra, that quote whose formatting I munged was in response to exactly that sort of a post — “I’m an atheist and a progressive, but I’m not interested in you trying to slap the A+ label on me,” or words to that effect.

            Carrier might. Most, I suspect, would drop it.

            The problem here is threefold: Carrier is a leading voice in the movement; he’s not alone in expressing this sentiment; and the others aren’t calling him and those like him on the carpet for this. The ones calling him on the carpet are all outsiders, like me; fellow travelers, like you, aren’t doing much more than politely distancing yourselves from this one thing he’s doing while simultaneously embracing the rest of the package.

            I have more quotes, too, re the “opt-in you don’t have to join” side. Which means that someone or several people are confused — or there’s a deep dark plot afoot. Probably the first.

            Yes, probably the first.

            But the problem is that the squeaky wheels are getting the attention, and what Richard has done has already set the tone for the whole movement — at least, he’s set the tone as perceived by outsiders like me.

            Every movement has its obnoxious authoritarian nutjobs. But when a fledgling movement is being defined and led, at least in part, by an obnoxious authoritarian nutjob…well, generally, either that’s the type of movement it becomes. Or, at best, it’s a movement that embraces obnoxious authoritarian nutjobs, which is almost as bad.

            b&

            • Sastra
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

              Reading Carrier, I think he’s applying the label more broadly than most of the other bloggers and then trying to argue for the label by arguing for the values. He’s not saying that people who dislike the term are (or must therefore be) misogynists, but that if they’re NOT misogynists then they shouldn’t dislike the term because it encompasses THEM. That’s an important distinction. If he was doing the first there would probably have been more public disagreement.

              Of course, I don’t read every blog every time on FtB, so I don’t know for sure that hasn’t happened.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

                [I]f they’re NOT misogynists then they shouldn’t dislike the term because it encompasses THEM.

                That’s a fair interpretation of Carrier, but it’s even more insidious if so.

                A+ is being sold as a package. And the implication is that you’re either for everything in the package or against everything in the package.

                Those who define the package then have enormous power over what the followers are supposed to believe.

                Take the example I’ve already used in this thread: child pornography. I’ve made clear that I’m firmly opposed to government censorship, even of child pornography. (Note: production of child pornography is evidence of child rape, and the rapist and any co-conspirators, such as willing photographers, should be prosecuted as for any other crime, with exhibit A being the pornography in question.) I’m sure there are those in the A+ movement who would insist that the current prohibitions against child pornography are just fine, thankyouverymuch.

                So: which does the A+ term encompass: full protection of civil liberties, including objectionable speech; or legal prohibitions (with dire consequences) for those who participate in a market of ideas fueled in part by the misery of children?

                And why should one’s position on such a matter have any bearing at all on whether or not one is, in Richard’s explicit terms, a “douchebag”?

                Let’s say that A+ settles on a stance on the child pornography question, and it’s not a stance you agree with. Are you supposed to change your position on child pornography? Are you supposed to leave the movement? Are you now A+-++—++++-!?

                And, to come back to the original objections with A+: what the fuck does any of this have to do with atheism and the fight to keep our society secular?

                When I want somebody’s help in keeping prayer and Creationism out of public schools, you damned well better believe I won’t be making a point of that person’s position on any of the A+ movement’s other priorities. Even the existence of gods. Sure, that sort of thing might come up in a talk over a beer, but it has no bearing on the role of religion in government.

                Same thing if I were to help protect an abortion clinic, or join a union picket line, or march in a pride parade, or walk in a breast cancer fundraiser, or attend a political rally, or anything else. (Not that I’m an activist and would be likely to do any of those things, but still.)

                And I think that’s my real problem with A+: this whole notion that it’s a package deal, and if you don’t accept the full package, then you’re somehow an enemy, or at least a lesser person.

                It’s like nobody in the A+ movement has even heard of the term, “comity.” It used to be that, no matter party affiliation, a pair of politicians could work side-by-side on one issue in the morning, go at it hammer-and-tongs on opposite sides of another issue in the afternoon, join in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for something else in the evening, and either be best buddies, hate each other’s guts, or be totally indifferent to each other.

                Whatever happened to those days?

                b&

            • gbjames
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              Ben… I am reminded of the objections raised to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s refusal to associate with the word “Atheist” even though he is one by definition. He didn’t/doesn’t want to be associated with those shrill and strident people who shall remain nameless.

              Isn’t this much the same thing here? You say you agree with the progressive goals (or at least most of them) of the A+ movement but…

              Is there a difference I’m missing?

              • gbjames
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

                Damn… forgot the check box! But at least I didn’t try to do any block quoting.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                The difference is that “atheist” has a very narrow, specific definition, one with millennia of history behind it. But “A”+ is new and nebulous with a small number of people trying to figure out what, exactly, it’s supposed to mean. Worse, the definition o “A+” is being set up such that, if you don’t wholeheartedly support each and every one of the positions you’re supposed to espouse, then you’re therefore, by definition, an enemy of all said positions.

                If Neil were to shave his head, he’d be bald, whether or not he liked that term. He’d also be hairless, shaven, depilated, and even a chrome-dome…though, granted, an anodized chrome-dome in his case. Those terms would all be accurate descriptions of him — but not necessarily endearing or respectful.

                Similarly, Neil, as he does not believe in any gods, is therefore godless; an atheist; a disbeliever; an unbeliever; a skeptic; and, because of the way he’s framed the reasons he doesn’t believe, an agnostic. Knowing what I know of him, I’d also say he’s not gullible and therefore faithless. Again, all true descriptions, but some are less flattering than others.

                But let’s take somebody who is an atheist and supports Medicare for all, same-sex marriage rights, legalized euthanasia, and ready access to birth control…but only supports abortion rights in the first and second trimesters? Or supports abortion rights at any time, but objects to same-sex marriage in favor of civil unions? Or any other combination of all-but-one? Or all-but-two?

                Richard Carrier, at least, would have you believe that said person is a douchebag and not fit for civilized company, let alone membership in his A+ club.

                The difference, in short, is that the one is a definition, while the other is a litmus test. And a political litmus test is a recipe for disaster.

                Hell, just take a look at what goes on in any political party’s platform committee. Now, imagine what party membership would be like if you had to take a loyalty oath to uphold the platform lest you be kicked out of the party.

                That’s what Grover Norquist has done, and what the Tea Partiers do. It’s also what every authoritarian regime ever has done.

                We as progressives should be better than that…except, apparently, we’re not.

                Cheer,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                I think you place far too much weight on one person’s perspective.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                I think you place far too much weight on one person’s perspective.

                Would that it were just one person!

                I’ve already posted quotes from PZ and Greta expressing the same Luke 19:27 sentiment. We both know I could come up with more examples…but that’s hardly the point.

                When a fledgling movement starts out with the most prominent member calling those who don’t align with it assholes, one of the others calling them douchebags, and a third expressing the same sentiment but without the vulgarity…well, there’s really not much hope that it’ll be anything but a lot of people being angry at the world.

                Note: “not much hope” doesn’t mean “no hope.” But can you blame people for going out of their way to distance themselves from a disaster with the proportions this one shows every sign of being?

                Indeed, the A+ movement should be thankful of the critics. It’s an echo chamber in there right now, and the critics are the only hope they have of breaking out of the feedback loop. That they react to criticism with replies of “douchebag” and “asshole” is just more reason to steer clear — again, watch Steve’s video at the top of the page for why.

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                I already watched the Pinker video. And, as always, I was impressed by him. Maybe the day has been too long, but I don’t see in it any support for your position.

      • malefue
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        i second this.
        i would also like to know where people who want to have a discussion about a+ (or don’t want to be associated with the label) were called misogynists for just saying so. typically this is something i hear from people who don’t read any of the blogs they’re complaining about, but hearing this from ben goren is disheartening, since i know he at least occasionally visits ftblogs.

        english may not be my first language, but i refuse to believe that i misunderstood the goals of the a+ people in this manner.
        they’re atheists, they have other interests than arguing with believers, people who don’t want to join them don’t have to.
        what’s the hostility about?

        [sry if all this is off topic, if it is please disregard]

        • malefue
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          also, what is it with this “horde” meme? ftblogs have a pretty diverse readership, who don’t slavishly follow some ominous leader. (as much as some people might want to imply that)
          to suggest such things is exactly the bad form of arguing you accuse the imaginary “horde” of.

        • Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          i would also like to know where people who want to have a discussion about a+ (or don’t want to be associated with the label) were called misogynists for just saying so.

          In case you missed the link above, here it is again:

          http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2207/comment-page-1/#comment-20538

          b&

          • Sastra
            Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

            Read it again. Carrier doesn’t call the person who didn’t want to be associated with the A+ label a misogynist. He argues that this person is denying what he is: he IS A+. And so he is, and so are you — given how the word is defined … by him.

            I think Carrier is too hung up on other people adopting the term. Or, maybe, on their recognizing that HE has adopted the term and is applying it the way he is applying it.

            But let’s take somebody who is an atheist and supports Medicare for all, same-sex marriage rights, legalized euthanasia, and ready access to birth control…but only supports abortion rights in the first and second trimesters? Or supports abortion rights at any time, but objects to same-sex marriage in favor of civil unions? Or any other combination of all-but-one? Or all-but-two? Richard Carrier, at least, would have you believe that said person is a douchebag and not fit for civilized company, let alone membership in his A+ club.

            No, I doubt that very much, given what I remember about his debates on those topics. He recognizes nuances pretty well. He writes too often on ethics not to.

            I think the real flash point on the A+/A- divide is whether or not someone can look at the torrent of fury and abuse following some pretty innocuous statements by women like Watson and see nothing wrong.

            • Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

              +1, Sastra

            • Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              Read it again. Carrier doesn’t call the person who didn’t want to be associated with the A+ label a misogynist.

              I’ll grant you that that’s correct.

              Carrier, in fact, labeled the person who rejected the “A+” label a “douchebag.”

              He argues that this person is denying what he is: he IS A+. And so he is, and so are you — given how the word is defined … by him.

              Can you not understand just how much it might rile up somebody’s hackles to have somebody else invent a new term and then separate the whole world into people who either fit the definition of that term or are douchebags (Carrier) and / or Assholes (PZ)?

              Here, let me give you an example: Atheism Sharp, or A#. It’s for atheists with an IQ above 120. And I’m starting it, right here, right now, because I’m tired of dealing with all those blithering fucking idiots who’re too stupid to know the difference between a straw man and a leading question.

              Now, if you’re smart, that’s great — by definition, you’re A#. That’s what you is. All I’m saying is that, if you’re not A#, you’re too dumb to be worth paying attention to.

              So, who’s on board with A#?

              …anybody…?

              Hello?

              <tap /><tap /><tap />

              Is this thing on?

              I rest my case.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Sastra
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                I think the A+ have 4 categories of atheists:

                Category #1: A+

                Category #2: Not involved or interested enough to adopt the A+ label but not against the values

                Category #3: Not involved or interested enough to adopt the label, not against the values, but under the impression that there is no Category #2 so they mistakenly assume they’re AGAINST A+

                Category #4: Against the values and against A+

                Category #2 is not being interpreted as category #4. I think you’re mistaken on this definitional issue (which was what Carrier was on about.) But your concern that what is and is not a pro-human rights stance is a somewhat tricky area — one which can too easily be simplified by group-think — is valid. I’m willing to bet that most A+’s would agree with that. They’d just point out that it’s tricky — but not completely shifty.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                If “they” are trying to build a fair list, they need another category — one for progressive atheists who are sincerely and strongly opposed to the language and manner in which many prominent self-identified leaders of the A+ community have been promoting the A+ movement, especially at the expense of those who have not self-identified with the A+ community.

                ‘Cuz that’s the category I’d put myself in — and the one that I suspect a great many others who’re objecting to A+ would put themselves in, as well.

                You’ll note that your category #3 doesn’t fit me. My opposition to A+ has nothing to do with my ignorance with category #2 and everything to do with the manner in which A+ proponents have been conducting themselves.

                I should add: I do not consider John 19:27 to be an exemplary model of progressive values, yet it’s one of the definitional values according to PZ, Greta, Carrier, and others. Were I to follow the A+ model, I would use that to label them as “Christofascists” or some such; instead, I’m simply observing that people who embrace the principle of John 19:27 on such a sweepingly broad range of topics are not people who are capable of working constructively with anybody outside of their clique…and expressing dismay that their prominence is likely to cause others to automatically associate progressive atheism (and therefore me) with A+ and John 19:27.

                …which would be why I’m inclined to make it a point that, though I’m a progressive atheist, I’m not a part of the A+ movement.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                Ben, I was going to let you have the last word, but I can’t figure this out:

                “I should add: I do not consider John 19:27 to be an exemplary model of progressive values, yet it’s one of the definitional values according to PZ, Greta, Carrier, and others.”

                Okay, I looked up ‘John 19:27′ and it was:

                “.. and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

                wtf? I don’t get it. And why would A+ advocates be using the Bible? I must be missing something here.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Sastra:

                Ben Goren:

                John 19:27</blockquoteL

                WTF?

                Gaah! Luke 19:27, not John.

                You know?

                But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before.

                So sorry! Me is idiot!

                b&

            • gbjames
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              I think you are right, Sastra, about the real flashpoint.

            • Marta
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              +1

              • Marta
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                +1 Sastra, in case I’ve been unclear.

            • Peter Beattie
              Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

              » Sastra:
              I think the real flash point on the A+/A- divide is whether or not someone can look at the torrent of fury and abuse following some pretty innocuous statements by women like Watson and see nothing wrong.

              Except that is not what happened. What has been conveniently overlooked right from the start of that whole fiasco is that RW didn’t simply say, “Guys, don’t do that”, which would have been entirely understandable. But she also said that her encounter was apropos of “blatant misogyny”—which is precisely the kind of judgemental and diluting overuse of a term that could be immensely helpful but becomes utterly useless when applied in comparatively laughable circumstances that RD was pointing out. Which means that he is concerned that a term for flagging people who actually (and even violently) hate women is made useless by people who throw it around at the drop of a hat.

              And this is a point which it would be appropriate to acknowledge on a post about a famous linguist. Instead of demonizing and alienating people for making this point—which has been the standard response by those good folks who now so piously hold forth on how they are the guardians of the disenfranchised—we should judge considerably less quickly and educate people about the reasons behind certain attitudes, which means discussing them, even if counter-arguments strike us as distasteful. Simply trying to enforce those attitudes is nothing but authoritarianism.

              • tomh
                Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                …becomes utterly useless when applied in comparatively laughable circumstances that RD was pointing out.

                What’s more interesting than the condescending lectures that you’re handing out, is that you think the circumstances were “laughable.” That explains quite a bit.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted September 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                My mistake. I meant to say “discuss” people’s arguments, not “brazenly take them out of context in order to conspiratorially impugn their motives and avoid substantive debate”.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      “That would be what’s turned me completely off of the A+ movement. ”

      Same here. The movement will die a slow death.

    • Jeremy Nel
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Bravo!

    • chascpeterson
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Carrier is just Carrier. He’s not A+. He’s not a “leader” of the “movement”, he’s a guy with a blog. Neither Myers nor ‘the Horde’ are A+.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Carrier may be a guy with a blog, but he’s more than just that.

        He’s one of the more prominent evangelists of A+…and he’s not the only one expressing these types of sentiments.

        First, his “show even one hint of disagreement with him and you’re a douchebag” sentiment is very commonly expressed amongst the Horde. That right there easily gets you to a significant vocal subset, if not an actual vocal majority, of those tagging everything they do with the A+ label.

        And, second…Carrier’s sentiments are nowhere near an isolated example, even amongst the leaders of the movement.

        PZ:

        It really isn’t a movement about exclusion, but about recognising the impact of the real nature of the universe on human affairs. And if you don’t agree with any of that – and this is the only ‘divisive’ part – then you’re an asshole. I suggest you form your own label, ‘Asshole Atheists”, and own it, proudly. I promise not to resent it or cry about joining it. I just had a thought: maybe the anti-Atheist+ people are sad because they don’t have a cool logo. So I made one for the Asshole Atheists:
        A*

        Greta echoes this “you’re with us or your’e against us” sentiment with this strawman:

        When people say, “This should be a one-size-fits-all movement,” what they ultimately mean is, “Our size should be the size it is already — the size that comfortably fits straight, white, middle-class, college educated, cisgendered men.” They may not mean that consciously or intentionally… but that is the upshot.

        Greta rails against those who she says have been dismissing A+ as divisive. That’s not my objection. My objection is with the strong echoes of Luke 19:27: if you’re not leaping up to join in the cause, then you’re an enemy and should be destroyed.

        So, there’s Richard, PZ, and Greta all saying, not unreasonably, that they only want to associate with people who share their core values. And that’s totally fine.

        But the problem is that they also, all three of them, as well as most everybody else taking up the label (Jen herself possibly excepted), that those who don’t choose to associate with them are clueless / the problem / the enemy.

        And that’s just no healthy, for anybody.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          straight, white, middle-class, college educated, cisgendered men.

          If Greta can’t give references, I call bigotry.

          Wasn’t that what they should fight?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Carrier’s posts keep popping up on feeds, and they are truly abhorrent in his exclusiveness.

      My main beef is, as usual, that it is anecdotal and so accommodationism all over again.

      To be clear, I think that this time there would be statistics of misogyny to be had. But I don’t see an effort to uncover ground facts on the problem, which should be a priority one would think.

      Skeptics and atheists are likely no better than other movements in this regard. (Ironically, the unfounded expectation that it should be so seems to drive some of the activity. You would think that shouldn’t happen among skeptics.)

      Organizations that grow should always institute policies before bad things happen. When they get large they should also take a long, hard look at themselves from time to time.

      But to go from there with atheism to what Myers labels it as and Razib of Gene Expression identifies it as, secular humanism, is to transform it into something else. (And for some reason Carrier protests that label, IIRC.)

      I’m not an organized atheist but I hope that if I want to join there will still be atheist organizations in the future. The track record of secular humanism here in Sweden is neither bad nor impressive, there are too many different interests for the latter.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Here is something funny I found out the day before yesterday. Do you remember accommodationist Phil Plait’s favorite expression, invented by his friend Wil Wheaton: “Don’t Be A Dick”?

      That is now among the official rules adopted by the A+ official website.

      How is that not:

      a) reminding of accommodationism and its problem?

      b) “Insults targeting a persons Race, Nationality, Age, Sex, Gender Identity, Mental Health, Physical ability, etc.” which “are prohibited” by their own rules?

      On b), I don’t think they see their mistake. “You should do as I say, not as I do.”

      They may straighten it out eventually. But it doesn’t look like a promising start.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        They may straighten it out eventually. But it doesn’t look like a promising start.

        …and, until they do, I reserve the right not only to not join their club and criticize them for the things they’re doing so spectacularly worngly, but to make it plain that they do not speak for me, even on the great many subjects where we’re saying the same thing.

        b&

        • JT
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

          I’m with you all the way Ben. I’m much closer to Pat Condell myself. I think they’d try to burn me at the stake if I posted on FTB. I consider most of the bloggers and regular posters over at FTB to be my enemies.

      • chascpeterson
        Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Jeez. “The A+ Official Website”? LOL. It’s a forum set up by people who wanted to talk more about it. That’s all. There is nothing official about it. There is no organization. There are no officers. Not even any self-proclaimed leaders, Carrier included as far as I can tell.
        Calling somebody a ‘dick’ or, more accurately, admonishing people to try not to be a ‘dick’ is in no way an “Insult targeting a persons Race, Nationality, Age, Sex, Gender Identity, Mental Health, Physical ability, etc.” It’s an insult targeting a person’s behavior. See the difference?
        As for reminding of accomodationism, it’s actually an extremely common expression in the USA and whoever wrote the rules (McCreight?) probably wasn’t even thinking of the Phil Plait connection. Nor will many people be reminded of him on reading it.

    • Jim Sweeney
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Jen McCreight originated the A+ distinction in How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism.

      The point is pretty simple. Nearly all organizations have traditionally been male dominated. The number of women participating has markedly increased while the culture, especially at convocations, too often retains the older norms. Suggestions that this ought to be remedied are typically greeted with outrage.

      It’s not just atheism/skepticism, of course; in the last year Maria Farrell noted an issue at ICANN and Bruce Schneier referenced something similar at DefCon. Different participants have much different experiences. Y1 meets Y2 and asks “So, what do you think about (technical issue)?” but Y1 meets X3 and asks “Hey, do you want to go back to my place?” when X3 really wants to talk about (technical issue).

      As for the rest of the liberal agenda, even our host has pointed out that religious belief is strongest in socioeconomically insecure societies and suggested that atheism won’t do as well in the U.S. as it has elsewhere until we remedy the worst of our problems.

      • Gary W
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        The point is pretty simple. Nearly all organizations have traditionally been male dominated. The number of women participating has markedly increased while the culture, especially at convocations, too often retains the older norms. Suggestions that this ought to be remedied are typically greeted with outrage.

        Doesn’t look like that to me. It looks like an effort to associate organized atheism with a left-wing political agenda and to exclude people who refuse to sign on to that agenda from the atheist movement. Not surprisingly, there is resistance to this effort.

    • kelskye
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      Just to add to your point a little bit, when I first encountered the A+ symbol in my facebook feed, I asked what it does. I was told it’s a way to #1 separate out the chauvinist pigs, and #2 to separate out the asshole atheists. When I asked how the label does that, I didn’t get any answer, though someone felt compelled to tell me that I’m just looking for excuses not to join and that my white male privilege and young age are blinding me. Had a similar experience on another blog where the grand claim of sorting out the “asshole atheists” was backtracked into that we sort out assholes in the normal way and the label does nothing. The point being is that people are making these claims.

      This is the problem I find with the A+ arguments – if A+ is just trying to co-opt the existing new atheist movement and direct it towards more social aims, then that’s surely a good thing. But my concern is that people are using A+ as an avenue for righteous outrage, and all the problems associated with moralism. It’s a shame, too, that people deny this is happening; or try to minimise the concerns of unchecked moralism with a series of convenient excuses as to why not to take the claim seriously in the first place. It was really sad to see PZ Myers straw-manning an objection that people have as if the problem is that any opponents are deniers of their being a problem to begin with.

      • darrelle
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        “It was really sad to see PZ Myers straw-manning an objection that people have as if the problem is that any opponents are deniers of their being a problem to begin with.”

        Though I don’t read PZ nearly as much these days I do admire and applaud his support of feminism and other civil rights issues. But, there are two things I have always disliked about PZ.

        1) When he dislikes someone enough, or some people, straw-manning and other less than impressive behaviors are typical of him.

        2) I don’t claim it has never happened, but I have never known him to apologize or admit any error in any case where after he has shown his ass it had become evident that he was wrong. This exasperates number 1 for me.

        But, nobody’s perfect. I enjoyed reading Pharyngula for many years and admire many of the traits PZ has displayed there. I consider what he has done / is doing with Pharyngula to be a huge plus.

        • kelskye
          Posted September 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          I used to comment on Pharyngula a lot, and I still read it. I’m not anti-PZ, I’m just anti-strawman.

    • FastLane
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      And, completely unironically, here you are, othering the ‘pharyngulite horde’ and mischaracterizing what the A+ movement is about, based on one person’s expression of what he thinks the A+ movement is about.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted September 17, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      » Ben Goren:
      I will not be a part of any movement, even an ostensibly progressive one, that uses that sort of strong-arm tactics to ensure group cohesion.

      Hear, hear!

      As Richard Carrier said: “if you mock or make fun of Atheism+ … that makes you an asshole.”

      Or as PZ said: “if you don’t agree with any of that then you’re an asshole”, which, to my knowledge, is the only universally agreed upon definition of being an asshole.

      And Richard Carrier again: “Everyone else (who doesn’t cheer or approve of what we stand for) is against us.”

      One can hardly say what is more disgusting: the arrogant self-righteousness in supposing that it takes courage to stand against “sexism and cruelty and irrationality“ and that people opposing their bullying tactics must be supporting those things, or the frankly shocking Us vs Them rhetoric used to browbeat people into falling in line. What an absolute disgrace for academics.

  2. MNb
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Exactly. Especially some fanatical and biased atheists, who for some not entirely clear reason call themselves skeptics, should remember the words of Richard Feynman:

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
    Especially applied to subjects like the historicity of Jesus, the partly imaginary “war” between religion and science and the martyrdom of Copernicus and Galilei.
    Creationists don’t have the exclusive rights on logical fallacies.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Good, I’m sure you can give references then? In the spirit of not fooling someone, I mean.

  3. Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Indeed, Steve even notes that his own thesis in Better Angels of Our Nature—that violence in the world has declined over time—has met with opposition from progressive scholars.

    But what form of opposition? I’ve seen a lot of critical reviews but none that have suggested that it be ignored or prohibited.

    One has to be careful to distinguish between criticism and suppression. There’s such a thing as being oversensitive to oversensitivity – or, in other words, that one might come to expect dismissal or attack and see legitimate opinions in an ungenerous light.

  4. Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    (On the other hand, reviews that don’t overtly state that ideas deserve to be ignored or suppressed can imply it with a selective or superficial reading, or an undeservedly flippant or hostile tone. It’s a tricky question.)

  5. Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I’m as opposed to “The Doctrine of Political Correctness” as anyone.

    But isn’t this doctrine little more than a myth invented by the political right?

    • Adam Baker
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I think there are a couple different definitions here. If you ask some conservatives what political correctness is, they are likely to say it means that you must call someone African American instead of black. In this sense, it is largely a myth, because the PC police aren’t coming after anyone for calling someone a black person.

      If you ask other conservatives, they’ll complain that political correctness means they can’t say overtly racist/sexist/etc things anymore. In this sense it’s a real thing. We really do have a PC culture where you can’t just publicly call someone a faggot (or whatever), and people will call you out for saying things like what Newt Gingrich said about the Latino community.

      I think Steven is talking about when that second kind goes too far, and people bend over backwards to deny, for example, that the idea of different races has any biological grounding. See Jerry’s post here for an example:

      https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/are-there-human-races/

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Here’s an even more sinister example.

        Child abuse is a horrible thing, something that society rightly has a highly vested interest in preventing.

        But one outcome of that is the “politically correct” reaction to the problem, and that’s something that’s even worse than the horrible disease it’s ostensibly intended to combat.

        In a healthy society, a pedophile could go to his or her doctor and say, “Doc, ya gotta help me. I can’t stop thinking of kids,” and the doctor would help the patient get appropriate counseling and what-not. But, in today’s society, you’d be nuts to do so, as it’ll land you in jail — and, once in jail, the other inmates will rape and otherwise torture you with the tacit consent of the prison management and society in general (see jokes about “pound-me-in-the-ass prison”).

        The overreaction extends to an outright ban on sexualized images of people who might appear to be under 18, including even cartoon drawings as well as innocent bathtub snapshots. The results are horrific.

        For starters, if you discover such imagery, the last thing you want to do is report it to the police; by doing so, you’re admitting to the police the heinous crime of possession of child pornography…thereby ruining your life and probably landing yourself in jail. Anybody can bring down even the most upstanding of citizens by emailing illicit images to the victim and tipping off the police. Pedophiles might as well go ahead and rape children as seek out illicit pornography as an alternative outlet; the risks and penalties for possession of child pornography are that bad.

        And all these horrors have been done to the body civic in the hopes that it’ll prevent somebody from accidentally seeing a naked child and having an inadvertent sensation of arousal that would somehow lead to a rape spree!

        That’s the type of harm that comes from going overboard with taboo and “political correctness.” And it’s exactly these sorts of horrors that the First Amendment should be protecting us against.

        Cheers,

        b&

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I used to think so, until I started paying attention to the manifestos coming out of A+ supporters.

      The link I provided above to Richard Carrier’s blog post on the topic is an excellent example, sad to say.

      b&

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Individuals objecting to what they see as offensive behavior by others, does not a “Doctrine of Political Correctness” make.

        I don’t follow Richard Carrier’s blog. After reading the first few posts (when that blog started), I quickly decided that I could not respect his opinions and judgments. So I have only heard indirectly of what he posted, relative to A+. But aren’t your public objections to what Carrier posts as much a case of political correctness, as are Carrier’s comments?

        Personally, I favor free speech. However, that does not mean that I have to always respect what people say in their exercise of free speech.

        • Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          The difference is that Richard is explicitly making a point that anybody who doesn’t buy into the sum collective of A+ values is, in his own words, a “douchebag,” thereby attempting to set himself up as a high priest of the progressive movement and shame everybody into agreeing with him wholesale.

          I’m sure I’ve called out Jerry for being a poopyhead at times on certain matters, but that certainly doesn’t make him as a whole person a douchebag.

          b&

          • Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            That is still Richard Carrier expressing his own opinion, and you disliking it. So Carrier probably thinks that you are being too politically correct by publicly criticizing it.

  6. 39joshua
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, have you actually discussed racial differences, IQ, evolution, etc. on your blog? Perhaps I’ve missed what you have said on the subject in the past; anyway I’d be curious to hear what you have to say.

  7. Sastra
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Probably one of the largest cultural taboos is saying something negative about religion/faith. Trying to change someone’s mind in that area is also frowned on. It’s supposed to be an identity: attack the idea and you attack the person — or the group.

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      +1 again. I admire people who honestly say what they are feeling. I doubt that any of the people that Goren is calling to task is dishonest, they mean what they say and they give reasons why they feel that way. Would it be better that they keep their real feelings and thoughts to themselves?

      I am too introverted to join any group, but I am glad there are people who uncompromisingly focus on challenging others’ comfort zones. That is how the Overton Window increases its size. If you do not want to do some strenuous sprying open, then don’t. But please, don’t badmouth by sneakily accusing the folks that can and do of doing something unsavoury.

      Goren may have made a few good points, but all in all, he is telling others to shut up.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        I don’t doubt that the expressions of the A+ crowd are honest. They’re too impassioned not to be.

        And I’m not telling them to shut up, and certainly not with respect to the progressive values we share.

        I’m objecting to the fact that they’re labeling those who don’t join their club as douchebags, assholes, and worse, even when the primary reason people aren’t joining their club is because they call people douchebags, assholes, and worse just for failing to join the club.

        The A+ movement could have gone much better, and I may well have signed up, had a few things been handled differently.

        First up is the name. Just like “Brights” is self-congratulatory and paints everybody not a bright as “Dim,” “Atheism Plus” is also self-congratulatory and paints everybody not A+ as F-.

        Next up is the framing of the organization in exclusionary language. A+ isn’t at all about providing a welcoming space for women, LGBTQ people, people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and the like. Rather, it’s all about excluding misogynists, homophobes, and racists. The intended end result may be the same, but the process is entirely different.

        And, lastly, more of an exclamation point on the matter than anything else, is the hostile and abusive language embraced from the start.

        Yes, women, LGBTQ people, and minorities have been shat upon endlessly. But A+ leaders have had a choice between taking the high road and being dragged down into the muck. With the exception of Jen, they’ve chosen the muck…and Jen, by failing to call out her fellow travelers, has effectively let them drag her down into the muck with her.

        What distresses me the most is that I see A+ doing real harm to both atheism and the progressive movement, thanks to guilt by association. Just as I would have liked Jen to tell her A+ associates, “Guys, don’t do that,” I’m telling them, “Guys, don’t do that.”

        Please.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Cliff Melick
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Someone is always trying to pull you down into the hole their in.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

          I agree about the names.

          “Brights”. Ouch! I would have hoped Richard Dawkins could have done much better than that. Seeing as ‘bright’ already has a colloquial meaning of ‘smart’ or intelligent. So the proposed usage is both smug and threatens to derail the meaning of an existing word.

          “A+” – same reaction, really. I’m an atheist, I do not think I will necessarily be a better atheist if I add on the rest of the A+’s causes – although some of them I may actually agree with, and some, maybe not.

          I tend to react to such things like Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

        • gbjames
          Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

          “Rather, it’s all about excluding misogynists, homophobes, and racists.”

          I guess it is hard for me to see this as a bad thing. If I’m going to be involved in an organization that works for the betterment of children I’d like to think that it has rules excluding pedophiles from membership. I can’t get too worked up about pedophiles feeling excluded.

          • Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

            Way to go, equating the people not joining A+ with child rapists.

            But the problem with, to pick just the first example of misogyny, all it takes for the A+ crowd to label you as a misogynist…

            …is to agree that propositioning a woman in an hotel elevator at oh-dark-theater isn’t a brilliant move, but to disagree over the severity of the faux-pas…

            …or to agree that female genital mutilation is a bad thing, but to agree by way of comparing it to a personal experience with a not-as-bad but far more prevalent similar procedure done to men…

            …or even to express support for any variety of rights, even in situations when many people, perhaps even you yourself, would rather not have to think about the rights being exercised.

            That last point, by the way, is a good indication that the A+ crowd doesn’t truly “get” the foundational principles of the progressive movement, and that it’s instead about, “You got yours, so now I want mine.”

            The ACLU gets it; they successfully fight on the behalf of the First Amendment rights of all people, including cases where they’ve taken the side of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Can you imagine PZ defending, in court, a Nazi asshole douchebag who does nothing but rant about the mud people?

            Médecins Sans Frontières gets it. If Saddam Hussein, Usama bin Laden, and Muammar Gaddafi had shown up in an MSF tent bearing the reanimated corpse of Adolf Hitler on a stretcher, all four would have received the utmost medical care MSF could muster. Richard Carrier would whip out his AK and mow ‘em all down.

            Hell, even Jimmy Carter gets it — but, somehow, I don’t see Greta Christina making it through an opening invocation he might offer at a Habitat for Humanity jobsite.

            It’s one thing to advocate for certain classes of disadvantaged people.

            It’s another thing entirely to truly understand the vital importance of universal human rights, even for your enemies, even for people whom you don’t want exercising those rights, even for those who already have rights, even for those who would take away your rights.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • gbjames
              Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

              “Way to go, equating the people not joining A+ with child rapists.”

              I didn’t. I equated child rapists with misogynists, racists, and homophobes.

              I’m beginning to think you have a bit of a paranoiac streak.

              • Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

                If you truly think you didn’t equate people not joining A+ with child rapists, then your rhetorical skills are severely deficient.

                The other option is that your rhetorical skills are just fine, and you’re merely engaging in the common tactic of deliberately tossing out a hand-grenade of an insult and immediately attempting to deflect the anticipated blow-back.

                Since you chose to focus only on my short opening sentence and completely ignored my impromptu 350-word essay that followed on the misapplication of the “misogynist” epithet by the A+ crowd and how it exemplifies their antipathy to the most fundamental core value of progressivism…

                …well, in that case, I’d go with door #2.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

                I made no such claim. (That not joining something is equivalent to being a rapist.) Please read more carefully.

                Nor did I toss a hand-grenade of an insult.

                It seems to me that you’ve done a fine job of presenting yourself as exactly the sort of person you are so upset about. You seem intent on assigning people who don’t agree with your A+ rant as being “the enemy” and calling you a rapist.

      • Marta
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        +1 yep.

        I loves me some Ben, but I’m with you on this.

        • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          Just for the sake of clarity, I like Ben too, and my comment was in response to the same one to which he responded.

  8. Michael Fisher
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I note Jerry [right of video frame] that Pinker, like you, is also a recipient of a lovely FFRf Emperor Has No Clothes Award/

  9. Neil
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    “…there is a time and a place to impart truth, and that is why, as Sam Harris says in Free Will, he won’t be telling his young daughter about her lack of free will until she matures a bit!”

    LOL. You mean we have a choice?

  10. chascpeterson
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    certain subjects and opinions

    Why so coy?
    Why don’t you come out and say what you’re talking about?

  11. Roo
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Aw, Steve Pinker and Jerry Coyne together in internet land, this just made my evening! :)

    I find this topic fantastically interesting, though. Is there such a thing as a ‘dangerous idea’, one that’s too dangerous to be known, or to be known ‘right now’? Also, to what degree do people who claim that this is not the case end up deceiving themselves when such dangerous ideas are explored, convincing themselves that they object on purely rational, and not emotional grounds?

    For myself, I know that there are some topics I can’t mentally get near, but I suppose it’s something to at least have that level of self-awareness. If someone wanted to read me a paper that they really thought gave convincing evidence that the Holocaust was a great idea, for example, I couldn’t hear them out with an open mind. My inner guilt would be saying that only Bad People entertain such notions. I’m not talking about agreeing, of course, I’m talking about simply considering such an argument with a truly open mind. For some topics, I couldn’t do it.

    Also, while simply discussing certain ideas should probably be free from the social biases above, do we draw a line when it comes to conclusions? Taken to an extreme, what if that person had an ‘academic’ opinion that we would typically hold morally reprehensible? Sexual selectivity makes no sense and all women should be subject to rape, or some such thing? Do you still say everything is ok because they’re just talking about ideas? Again, questions are one thing, conclusions are another.

    I have no real answers here, but I do enjoy the questions.

    • Roo
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Finally got the video to work – wow, I loves me some Steve Pinker. Some people are a joy to watch when they’re dancing, or playing sports, or making music, and for some people (you too Jerry!) you just go “Holy wow, look at that person think!” I think there’s a fine line between being so open to possible interpretations and errors in your thought process that you stay far too ‘vast’ to reach any sort of a proper conclusion (I try to err on that side.) On the other, to accurately connect the dots in a very firm sort of way (without simply stubbornly refusing to listen to competing views,) you often either have to leave out relevant competing viewpoints or produce an interpretation that is so limited in scope that it doesn’t say much of anything. Some people manage to hit the sweet spot between the two, I’m always delighted when I see it.

    • Gary W
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Taken to an extreme, what if that person had an ‘academic’ opinion that we would typically hold morally reprehensible? Sexual selectivity makes no sense and all women should be subject to rape, or some such thing? Do you still say everything is ok because they’re just talking about ideas?

      Yes, people should strive to have an open mind when evaluating other people’s ideas (or questions, conclusions, etc.), including ideas that are deeply unpopular.

      But having an open mind doesn’t mean giving equal time to all ideas. To use your example of “someone [who] wanted to read me a paper that they really thought gave convincing evidence that the Holocaust was a great idea,” I probably wouldn’t feel any obligation to listen to them, because I judge it to be extremely unlikely that the paper would make a convincing case for that claim, and extremely likely that it would just be crackpot anti-semitism or somesuch. My time and energy are limited, and it probably wouldn’t be worth the investment of time and energy to listen to them when I think the chances that I would be convinced are so small.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Or, freedom of the press means you’re free to run your own press as you see fit. It doesn’t mean that others are free to use your press — they’re free to get their own damned presses if they want to see their ideas in print.

        There are sticky problems with (necessary) state-enforced monopolies on limited broadcast resources, but we’re mostly over that technological hurdle.

        Cheers,

        b&

  12. eric
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    This talk is particularly relevant to the current debates going on in the skeptical community, in which certain subjects and opinions seem to be prima facie off limits for discussion.

    Is it really true that the folks opposed want certain intellectual subjects off limits? I pretty much thought it was types of social behavior and expression that the A+ folks want to remove from forums (er, fora?). Not research subjects.

    If one is generally opposed to making any subject off limits, then shouldn’t that person support discussions of changes to convention and blog policies as in limits? After all, its somewhat self-contradictory for anyone to say “the stuff you dislike is in limits, because every subject and every discussion should be in limits! Well, except the subject/discussion of what’s in limits – that’s off limits.”

    • eric
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Just a small follow up, but this debate seems to me to mirror, in small, the larger paradox of free speech. Which is: if you really support free speech, you must permit speakers who advocate against free speech. Not just permit – you must in fact support them in their right to speak and defend their right to speak against people who would silence them. Even if you disagree with their position.

      • Gary W
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        It’s not a “paradox” to support free speech of the view that there shouldn’t be free speech.

  13. Posted September 13, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Carrier is just Carrier. He’s not A+. He’s not a “leader” of the “movement”, he’s a guy with a blog. Neither Myers nor ‘the Horde’ are A+.

    Yup. Nobody is A+. A+ doesn’t exclude anybody, unless they are excluded. A+ evidently doesn’t exist, unless you are an enemy of A+.

    And who is the enemy? That’s the $64,000 question. Evidently misogynists are the enemy. Except that Richard Dawkins was called a misogynist by at least 100 people in the comments sections of the declared leader of the A+ movement with no counter comment by the blog owners. In fact, nearly all these comments called for Dawkins to lose his job, future speaking engagements, and for a boycott of any and all of his publications. One of the blog owners who is evidently a leader in the A+ movement wrote that she would no longer buy his books.

    Two days ago, Stephanie Zvan reiterated the serial misogyny of Richard Dawkins. When I asked her if this made Professer Dawkins a misogynist by definition and whether that implied he was not Atheism+ material, she – like other FtB bloggers – would not address the question.

    You know, when you start alienating people like Paula Kirby, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins and then never ever ever admit that you are being divisive to good people in the movement, you are doing something wrong, IMO.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      They seem to have forgotten what got Dawkins started was the weakening of the concept of abuse that was discussed at the time. The reason was, as I remember it, that he had been a childhood victim of abuse.

      I think the denigration Dawkins is subjected to on such a basis could constitute misandry.* But I don’t think mine or others playing turn-the-table is constructive. Those who go after Dawkins should just drop it.

    • Bruce
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, it’s not like Richard Dawkins wasn’t being divisive or alienating when he wrote that comment that started with “Dear Muslima”…..

      • Gary W
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        If Rebecca Watson feels “alienated” because Richard Dawkins made a comment suggesting she overreacted to something someone said to her in an elevator, she needs to grow up.

        • Bruce
          Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Well, I felt alienated by Dawkins’s comment. I’d expected a lot more from someone whom I thought had a good handle on “consciousness raising”.

          And as for it being just “something someone said to her in an elevator” I would note that context can be very important…

          http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/06/21/elisions/

          • Gary W
            Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

            Well, I felt alienated by Dawkins’s comment.

            Too bad. The way he expressed himself was a bit heavy-handed, but I agree with his basic sentiment. I think Watson’s original complaint was unreasonable, and her reaction to Dawkins’ comment was just ridiculous.

          • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            Yes, context can be important. So too can the petty inconveniences of ‘facts’. Like, say, in that piece, Stephanie is talking about people leaving out certain parts of the story and how that can reflect on the teller.

            So, what is she leaving out?

            How about Watson’s claims to suffer from prosopagnosia? Stephanie mentions all of the hours missed where EG could have spoken to Watson in the bar. And that Watson has given a speech about being tired of being hit-on, and she’d announced in the bar she wanted to go to sleep.

            Small question that Watson has refused to answer: if she’s not capable of recognizing human faces, how does she know the ‘man’ in the elevator was a.) in the bar with her earlier and b.) in attendance at her speech to have heard her talk about being tired of being hit on?

            And, if you can manage an answer (which you cannot), how then does that tool she used to identify him as having been in the bar and in attendance at her speech not a fair one to ask her to use to pick the ‘man’ out of picture taken in the bar a little while before she left?

            Call me skeptical, but if she’s going to claim to be unable to recognize people because of an extremely brain defect, then wouldn’t that seem to foreclose her saying that person X she say in place B was the same person she saw in place A?

            But asking this plain question gets me labelled as a rape apologist, a misogynist, and woman-hater (apparently, the FTB crowd don’t understand that the latter two say the same thing). So, do tell – I’m all ears.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

              Do we really want the discussion to go in this direction?

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Jerry, but when the spin starts being spun, it’s hard not to make the spinners account for their convenient revisions of facts. Bad habit of mine.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

                Personally, I don’t feel a need to rehash Elevatorgate and “Dear Muslima” and the rest…and I’d rather hope that others have had enough of those topics as well. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen anything new or newly interesting on them.

                I do appreciate the chance to discuss the real-world example of the dangers of inappropriate mental hygiene techniques as warned against by Steve and exemplified, I think, by the A+ movement…which is why I, personally, have tried to focus on the exclusionary authoritarian vibes A+ has been sending our and the manner in which they’ve been sending them. As I see it, that’s exactly what Steve is warning about in the video…and it’s disheartening in the extreme to see it happening to people I’d nominally be in near-perfect agreement with.

                There, but for the grace of…well, my own analysis of the matter, go I.

                b&

              • Screechy Monkey
                Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

                Isn’t that up to you?

                You’ve never been shy before about shutting down lines of discussion that you think are off-topic, inappropriate, uncivil, or just not what you want on your site. Which is your right. So how come now you’re acting like it’s some kind of group decision?

                You opened the door to this subject; don’t be surprised at what comes through.

              • gbjames
                Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

                No, we don’t want the discussion to go in this direction. At least I don’t.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        That was the context which he choose to discuss.

        It was sarcastic, I’ll give you that.

  14. Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    the old saw “the truth will set you free.”

    Aw, c’mon – that’s not just an old saw, that’s JESUS! John 8:32

  15. Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    The reason for certain taboos is due to the fact that the vast majority of people cannot differentiate between descriptions and prescriptions. It’s a subtle naturalistic fallacy; because a certain subgroup of people are a certain way it’s assumed that we should treat them a certain way.

  16. bsk
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    So I guess this means I’ll no longer be in perpetual moderation for finding Susan Jacoby’s views on “high brow” vs “low brow” art repulsive?
    :P

  17. Screechy Monkey
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    “This talk is particularly relevant to the current debates going on in the skeptical community, in which certain subjects and opinions seem to be prima facie off limits for discussion.”

    Exactly.

    For instance, some people will call others “slavering dogs” for expressing certain opinions about Richard Dawkins, and announce that they will delete any such opinions from their web site.

    • Bruce
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • mordacious1
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      So you’re saying Prof. Coyne pulled a Peezy?

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I guess it’s some reference to PZ Myers and how he runs his comments section? If so, it’s completely irrelevant to my point.

        Coyne is the one lamenting that certain topics and opinions are “off limits.” I’m not sure what the unnamed people he is implicitly criticizing have done that he isn’t doing himself here. Of course, that’s the problem with the vague, passive-aggressive tone that Coyne has chosen to take here: it’s impossible to tell exactly what argument he’s making. But from what I can discern, it seems like hypocrisy.

  18. DrBrydon
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I think FIRE is a great organization. I have followed their work for several years now.

    By any chance Jerry, are you aware of FIRE’s rating of UC’s speech code? (hint: Red) I was always amused that Chicago is a conservative school with a liberal student body, and Northwestern the opposite.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Pinker was good! I haven’t heard him before, but he certainly has some advances on Feynman’s “you shouldn’t be fooled”.

  20. Posted September 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    There’s another aspect to this that Steve didn’t address — at least, not in the parts that got edited into the video.

    And that’s that you’re not going to change people’s minds by shutting down discussion on the topic. Granted, you might not change their minds by engaging with them, but you’re certainly not going to change their minds if you don’t engage them.

    And that’s a problem that A+ and the horde hasn’t gotten a handle on.

    Yes, there are misogynists, homophobes, racists, and bigots of all varieties out there. And there are a lot of them. And they can be really annoying. Dangerous, even.

    And, just like the A+ crowd, I wish there weren’t, or at least that they’d recognize the deviancy of their minds and learn enough mental hygiene to keep their diseases to themselves.

    But that’s not the case. Tough shit. Life’s a beach, and then the tide comes in, and all that jazz.

    You’re not going to convince one single (self-aware or otherwise) misogynist that rape jokes aren’t funny by not engaging at all, or by only engaging with the flamethrowers.

    That’s not to suggest that responses should be dispassionate — passion is good! Anybody who’s read more than three of my posts knows I’m all about passion.

    But your response also needs to be substantive, they it needs to be on-topic, and it needs to be honest.

    “Yes but” is one excellent position to take. Agree with everything thrown on the table, but still dismiss it as inadequate and / or irrelevant.

    “Yes, I understand you’re only joking, and that you think it’s absolutely fucking hilarious the way that ‘feminazis’ go all apeshit whenever you crack a rape joke. But let me tell you about ________, who tried to laugh with this one guy’s rape jokes, until he actually went ahead and raped her. Now, every time she hears somebody tell a rape joke, she’s terrified that the teller is really saying that she’s next on his list of rape victims. So grow the fuck up, already, asswipe — that shit stopped being funny before you still had to drop your pants to count to play Blackjack. Or what would you think if I made rape jokes to your mom’s face, or your sister’s / girlfriend’s / wife’s / cousin’s face? Hell, how ’bout if I were some big burly guy making jokes about raping you?

    Is it unfair that, say, a rape victim might have to tell something like that in the first person? Is it a true travesty, an unforgivable, shameful blight on our society?

    Of course. Yes. Unquestionably.

    But tough shit.

    That’s the hand you’ve been dealt, and the only thing you can do to make the world the way you want it to be is by playing the hand out.

    Pretending you got a different hand, or trying to get a re-shuffle, or any other variation on that theme simply isn’t in the rules of the game — and not following these rules is a penalty play that costs you a round at absolute best. You see, the game is rigged…and the only way to fix the rules is to start winning, even when the dealer is dealing from the bottom of the deck.

    Cheers,

    b&

  21. Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, there’s one more point about A+ that I gotta get off my chest, and this one has rather little to do with Steve’s video.

    And that’s my more-than-annoyance at the A+ movement’s linking of atheism and progressivism. Specifically, PZ’s tendency to argue that his progressivism derives from his atheism.

    At first blush, PZ’s arguments are not unreasonable. Modern misogyny and homophobia have strong roots in today’s popular religions, so it’s not unreasonable to re-examine those positions at the same time one ditches the religions.

    But any such linkage is coincidental — and going so far as to say that it’s atheism that drives one to progressivism is pure bullshit.

    And I can prove that with just a few simple questions.

    How does lack of belief in gods inform one’s decision on public policy surrounding health care?

    How does being an atheist influence your position on how the tax codes should be structured?

    What does your atheism tell you about foreign policy?

    Bam — right there, perhaps the three biggest issues facing progressives and the rest of the country, and it’s obviously patently absurd to even hint that atheism is even tangentially relevant.

    Now, of course, all atheists can easily agree that religion should have no place in deciding how to deal with these matters — except, of course, that people must be free to make decisions for themselves however they like, even if that means casting chicken bones or commanding Jesus to answer you or reading tea leaves.

    But atheists of all stripes will agree on keeping religion out of public policy, even when they vehemently disagree on what that public policy should be. Hell, not just atheists — many religious people understand the dangers of religion and government influencing each other, and will happily work with atheists — progressive atheists, conservative atheists, and maybe even asshole douchebag atheists — to protect the First Amendment.

    But A+ precludes all that.

    PZ, Greta Christina, Richard Carrier, and others have all made it clear that they want nothing to do with people they consider misogynistic homophobic racist douchebag assholes — and who could blame somebody who doesn’t rise up to their standards from deciding the feeling is mutual?

    I don’t want the fact that I believe in Medicare for all to prevent me from standing alongside a Rand-loving Libertarian on matters of civil liberties, just as I don’t want the fact that I’m an atheist to prevent me from standing alongside a Jimmy Carter-style passionate Evangelical Christian on matters of social justice.

    But the A+ crowd has made it clear that they’re going to stand together, by themselves, and only with those who are in near-total agreement with them…on each and every single issue, up and down the line, even to the point of what type of label to self-apply.

    “Good luck with that,” as the saying goes.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • tomh
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Ben Goren wrote:

      But the A+ crowd has made it clear that they’re going to stand together, by themselves, and only with those who are in near-total agreement with them…on each and every single issue, up and down the line, even to the point of what type of label to self-apply.

      So what? Why are you so worked up about what they call themselves, or who they want to stand with, or whatever it is that has you so exercised? If you don’t want to argue with them on their own blogs, why argue with them here? Kind of like Clint debating an empty chair.

      • Posted September 14, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        Why are you so worked up about what they call themselves

        It’s not what they call themselves — it’s the gratuitous and incessant insults they toss at everybody else. Including those who would stand near them but for all the shit they’re flinging.

        Besides. The rest of the rational world is trying to have a civilized discussion on these matters and to make real progress on them. How’re we supposed to do that with the A+ crowd jumping up and down, pounding their chests, and throwing shit at anything and everything that moves?

        b&

    • Jim Sweeney
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      A country in which the average person is one paycheck away from destitution is fertile soil for the most primitive sorts of religion. Look at the world, note the sorts of places where faith is strongest, and contrast them with those where atheism flourishes. You can see the same pattern within the U.S.

      You’ll find atheists in places where people aren’t afraid that their basic needs won’t be met. Where fear is part of the fabric of their lives, people cling to whatever god they pray to, since they have nowhere else to turn.

      To the extent that we actually want to spread atheism, and I think most of us do, then we also need to make sure their lives are secure enough that heaven is not the only hope they have.

      • Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        Most people all across the spectrum at least pay lip service to the plight of those in poverty.

        Few would agree with you that spreading atheism is a significant reason why one should want to reduce poverty. Indeed, even amongst the most outspoken Gnus I know of, spreading atheism is waaaaaay down the list of reasons to reduce poverty, if it’s on there at all. Rather, atheists who care about reducing poverty are more concerned with unemployment, malnutrition, homelessness, lack of access to good health care and quality eduction, and all the rest of the problems the poor have to face. Whether or not they go to church on Sunday is the least of their problems.

        And, even amongst those who state concern about poverty, no majority agrees upon what to do about it — not even close. Not quite a quarter thinks government should play a role; not quite a quarter thinks tax cuts and trickle-down economics will float all boats; and more than half can’t be arsed to make it to the polling place in most elections. And many of those who do show up only every four years haven’t a clue about what any candidate on the ballot would try to do — in large part, of course, because the major party candidates go out of their way to avoid saying anything they can be held accountable to later.

        So, suggesting that, for example, you’re an atheist and therefore you should support expansion of unemployment insurance and job retraining benefits comes across, at least to me, as incoherent and hopelessly naïve.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • gbjames
          Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          Jim Sweeney can speak for himself but I don’t think your take on his comment is entirely correct. I _think_ the point is that those of us interested in advancing atheism need to recognize the critical factor played by poverty. This does not mean that advancing atheism is the prime or only reason for reducing poverty.

          • Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

            And my point is that, even when atheists agree that reducing poverty is important (for whatever reason), atheism itself has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing poverty.

            There is no logical path from not believing in any gods to believing that poverty is undesirable.

            There is no logical path from believing that poverty is undesirable to not believing in any gods.

            There is no logical path from not believing in any gods and also wishing to ease poverty to deciding that any particular method of easing poverty is more or less a good idea.

            There is no political advantage to advocating for reducing poverty because you’re an atheist. Well, granted, there may be a cynical advantage to promoting atheism, but only at the expense of the struggle against poverty.

            Indeed, the harm done to the anti-poverty movement would be significantly outweighed by any advantages that might be selfishly gained by making atheists look good by fighting for poverty. Can you imagine the reaction if you showed up at an anti-poverty rally and gave a speech about how you’re fighting to lift people out of poverty so they can finally grow up and abandon those foolish religious beliefs they so desperately cling to out of ignorance and fear?

            No, this is one case where precision cherry-picking of the Gospels is called for. In the Sermon on the Mount, you can carefully isolate a few passages and interpret them as an admonition that good works should be done for their own sake and any related exaltation of your private reasons for doing so should remain private. Of course, the very next passage is the Lord’s Prayer and not long after is the call to evangelism — I did mention the cherry-picking, didn’t I?

            But the point remains: do what you can do reduce poverty because the less poverty in a society the healthier it is for all, rich and poor alike.

            And leave your atheism at the door when you do so — just as you’d want Christians to leave out their sermonizing when they’re working with you against poverty for their own selfish reasons.

            (It’d be fine to trot out your atheism at the pub afterwards, but that’s a different matter entirely.)

            Cheers,

            b&

          • gbjames
            Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

            There is a logical path from “The world needs less religion” to “We need to reduce poverty and economic distress.” That was (I think) Jim Sweeney’s point.

            It seems that you are trying to distract from this basic point with a laundry list of “no path from somewhere to somewhere else” examples. They are not relevant. Nobody (I think) is saying that there aren’t other good reasons to fight poverty, at least I’m not. I think you pulling a Clint Eastwood here.

      • Gary W
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        To the extent that we actually want to spread atheism, and I think most of us do, then we also need to make sure their lives are secure enough that heaven is not the only hope they have.

        I agree that reducing global poverty is conducive to spreading atheism, but atheism doesn’t imply support for any particular set of political policies for reducing poverty. Liberal atheists tend to favor policies like increasing foreign aid. Conservative atheists tend to favor policies like increasing free trade.

    • jose
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      “the A+ crowd has made it clear that they’re going to stand together, by themselves, and only with those who are in near-total agreement with them…on each and every single issue”

      Ehh no, that isn’t true. I have disagreed with Greta Christina and Jen on issues and they have responded to me with effort and reason, hell Greta dedicated an entire post to answer a question I made in a comment. So from experience I can tell you disagreement is not the point. You’re gonna need a bigger argument.

      • jose
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Forgot to mention I have been eviscerated on Pharyngula in the past for some views I have, it’s just how the horde does things, but they’ve never sent letters to my employer or threaten to go to a convention I’m going to go to and kick me in the balls or that it’s kill bill time or anything like that.

        • Posted September 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          I have been eviscerated on Pharyngula in the past for some views I have, it’s just how the horde does things[.]

          Passionate debate is good.

          Evisceration is only very rarely called for, and then only in response to direct and immediate flame-worthy behavior — such as in response to rape threats. When it’s the first weapon in your arsenal that you always turn to, even for cases of mild disagreement…that makes you an uncivilized boor at best.

          And can you be surprised that nobody wants anything to do with a bunch of uncivilized boors, even if they’re flailing in the general direction of the defense of noble goals?

          [T]hey’ve never sent letters to my employer or threaten to go to a convention I’m going to go to and kick me in the balls or that it’s kill bill time or anything like that.

          And, while I don’t doubt that many in the A+ crowd have been personally harassed exactly as you describe, I’m also quite certain that their favorite whipping boys — Richard Dawkins, DJ Grothe, Paula Kirby, and the like — have never participated in such harassment.

          A+ is completely missing a concept of proportionality, and their aim is execrable. They’re not just the proverbial bull in a china shop, they’re a bullfight in a maternity ward.

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Posted September 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        I have disagreed with Greta Christina and Jen on issues and they have responded to me with effort and reason, hell Greta dedicated an entire post to answer a question I made in a comment.

        Good on you.

        But such has most emphatically not been my own observation or experience, especially on Pharyngula or Carrier’s blog. And it’s not just the commentariat on either — see elsewhere on this page for direct quotes from both. Perhaps A+ needs a male / female schism of its own?

        b&

        • jose
          Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          In any case, I just wanted to address the idea that they only want an echo chamber and and to isolate themselves from the ideas of others. Just not the case. Not just me, either. Another user I can think of that disagrees often on some issues with the rest of freethoughtblogs is skeptifem.

          • Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

            You might not want that, and I’m sure plenty others don’t want that.

            But PZ’s, Greta’s, Carrier’s, and the Horde’s numerous posts on what they want out of A+ are pretty much guaranteeing that that’s what you’re going to get, whether you want it or not.

            And they’ve been pretty explicit about it, too. If you think the guy in the elevator shouldn’t have done what he did but don’t express disapproval on the scale PZ, Greta, and Carrier think is called for, they’ll declare you an asshole douchebag misogynist and want nothing to do with you.

            So, fine. Is it any surprise that those who get that kind of response merely for not ranking inappropriate elevator propositioning the same also don’t want to have anything to do with the shit-flingers?

            Isn’t this exactly what the A+ crowd is all about — disassociating themselves from people they don’t like and don’t agree with, so they can have a “safe space” in which to agree upon exactly how precisely disagreeable inappropriate elevator propositioning is?

            …and that’s different from an echo chamber…how, exactly?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • jose
              Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

              I’m sorry, my experience contradicts these statements. Once again, I and others who have disagreed on things with FtB people are telling you that mere disagreement is not the point. I think you should take that into account. PZ has always done absolutely nothing about those disagreements and Greta Christina in fact encouraged it by addressing it in a whole post (she didn’t call me those things, but she did tell me I should tone down the judgmental attitude I was having, which I thought was fair). I don’t need you to change your mind or anything, just I only hope you understand why I don’t think what you said and I quoted is true.

              About the second part, it’s funny because I think the safe space idea’s goal is, in fact, exactly the opposite of what you reckon… it’s so people can have more discussions, not less! The “safe” bit means those arguments won’t be disrupted by stuff like threats of violence, cyberstalking, or letters to employers. It would mean safe from abuse rather than safe from ideas. It’s from the people who do that sort of stuff from whom they’d like to disassociate.

              • Posted September 15, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

                Fascinating.

                You know, the A+ crowd sure does make big points about paying attention to people when they say they feel like they’ve been unfairly subjected to sexualized abuse — that those complaints shouldn’t be dismissed simply because you haven’t personally experienced said abuse.

                Except, of course, when it’s the A+ crowd ironically joking about sodomizing asshole douchebags with porcupines. Then the “Well, that’s not how I see it” defense is totally legit.

                b&

              • jose
                Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

                Hi,
                if you recall, the idea I wanted to address is that they want to stand by themselves and only with those in near-total agreement with them on each and every single issue.

                Since they stand with people who disagree with them on things, it’s not true that they only want to stand with people in near-total agreement with them on each and every single issue. I have given you another example beside me and another commenter has told you here the same thing I have. If they only wanted to stand with people who agree nearly or totally with them on every issue, we could not be telling you this.

                I agree that the horde is rude and abrasive, but that isn’t the idea I wanted to comment on, I’m not sure why you bring that up.

          • tomh
            Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            I just wanted to address the idea that they only want an echo chamber and and to isolate themselves from the ideas of others. Just not the case.

            Exactly right. That angle has been way overstated. People disagree all the time on Pharyngula – I’ve had many arguments there myself. Of course it’s more rough and tumble there, that’s just the nature of the place, and if your feelings are easily hurt you’re better off to post your rants here, among polite society. Although it seems to me that if you’re sharply criticizing another blog, you really should be doing it on that blog, where your targets have a chance to respond. But that’s just me, others obviously see it differently.

              • tomh
                Posted September 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

                It might surprise you to learn that Carrier doesn’t speak for anyone else or for any “movement.” He writes his opinion just as Myers does. They are not “leaders” of anything. Beyond that, I don’t understand why you want to argue it here. There is a discussion on Pharyngula right on this very subject, with over 300 comments, comments from various sides of the issue. You should join in, there is great interest in the subject over there.

              • Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

                …and, apparently, it would surprise you that Carrier isn’t the only one saying these things — indeed, best I can tell, all the most prominent members of the movement are, just some more or less loudly than others.

                And the few who don’t seem to be saying these things (Jen springs to mind) aren’t telling their cohorts to ixnay the ouchebag-day talk, which kinda makes it seem like they’re not all that upset with it.

                Indeed, best I can tell, nobody here in this thread advocating for A+ has said anything against Carrier and his ilk (“ilk” including PZ and Greta at the least), only that he’s not the sole spokesman.

                Well?

                b&

            • Posted September 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

              Of course it’s more rough and tumble there, that’s just the nature of the place

              You know, there’s a deeply hypocritical aspect to all this.

              The A+ crowd understandably is upset by rape jokes and threats of sexual assault and other forms of violence.

              But then the Horde’s favorite tool is insults of a violent and sexual nature — “fuck that shit sideways with a rusty porcupine,” and the like.

              Please excuse me for failing to get upset when somebody who fights fire with fire gets burned in the process. And whines of “But he started it!” are neither amusing nor endearing.

              b&

              • tomh
                Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

                But then the Horde’s favorite tool is insults of a violent and sexual nature — “fuck that shit sideways with a rusty porcupine,” and the like.

                You’d probably like the new commenting rules, you can’t say that anymore.

              • Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                Those rules would be swell if anybody paid even the slightest attention to them or if PZ enforced them.

                You know what? The Soviet Union had a pretty swell constitution, too. Unfortunately, as a certain ex-President might say, it was just a goddamned piece of paper.

                Compare that with WEIT, where all Jerry has to do is post a comment and things calm down.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • tomh
                Posted September 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                Compare that with WEIT, where all Jerry has to do is post a comment and things calm down.

                Well, then, you’re wise to stay here where you’re safe.

              • gbjames
                Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

                Ben, you might check out your irony meter. I think it may be broken.

              • Posted September 15, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

                Oh — right.

                Because when some random schmuck makes a “joke” about kicking an A+ woman in the cunt, that’s misogynistic, but the A+ Horde offering unsolicited advice on the proper technique of anal porcupine insertion, that’s totally ironic.

                My irony meter is working just fine, thankyouverymuch. So is my childish brat needing a timeout detector, and it’s screeching like a banshee whenever Thunderf00t and his crowd or PZ and his crowd come close.

                Cheers,

                b&

  22. Gary W
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I propose an alternative to A+, which I shall call A++. A++ includes the basic values of A+, plus the following additional values (style patterned after Richard Carrier’s statement of the values of A+):

    We are…

    A+ plus we care about individual freedom and personal responsibility,

    A+ plus we support limited government,

    A+ plus we protest crime,

    A+ plus we fight political correctness.

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      Splitter!

      I’d like to, in turn, propose A++-+, which leaves out the call for limited government and replaces it with a recognition that a government truly of and by the people is essential in the quest to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

      …but, remind me, again: What the fuck does any of this have to do with atheism?

      And why, when protecting civil liberties, I’d want to disassociate myself from the Libertarians amongst us just because they don’t recognize the proper role of government?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Gary W
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        The “proper role of government” is a matter of preference, not fact. Therefore, it makes no sense to claim that anyone fails to “recognize” the proper role of government. This confusion of preferences with facts is common in political arguments.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

      And free donuts! All that stuff plus there should be free donuts! AAA+++++ !!

  23. Jim Sweeney
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    There’s an attitude of insouciance I find appalling. An election is coming up in which one side vehemently derides science and systematically disadvantages half of humanity, while the other side at least doesn’t work as hard at doing immediate, irreparable harm. The evidence of climate change is inescapable, the threat well understood, the science behind it well known to all of us, and half of our fellow citizens think it’s merely a plot to make us grow our own zucchini.

    Is it really that hard to figure out which corner of the garden you come from?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      You’d be an A+ then, presumably?

      I think the point is that you don’t need to be an atheist to have a social or environmental conscience. It is probably only in the USA that (much of) Christian religion is equated with climate-change-denialism. In non-fundamentalist countries I suspect the majority of Xtians are open to the ‘green’ message. I really have no idea about other religions.

      Again, there are even climate-change-deniers who choose to call themselves ‘sceptics’ and who may be non-religious.

      Equally, climate change has very little to do with feminism, which A+ apparently seems to want to attach to atheism.

      Personally I think everyone should vote for the environmentally responsible option (well, you Americans anyway, us foreigners don’t get a vote, really sharing a planet with you is a bit like sharing an elevator with a psychotic 500-pound gorilla ;) – but I wouldn’t be campaigning on an atheist platform to achieve that. I’d be campaigning on a social / environmental one.

      So conflating atheism with social policy is, I think, just a distraction.

      • elsburymk14
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 5:37 am | Permalink

        +1

    • Gary W
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      The evidence of climate change is inescapable, the threat well understood,

      The evidence for (human-caused) climate change is very strong, but the magnitude and timescale of the threat it poses is not well understood at all. That is why the IPCC reports present a wide range of possible scenarios for future climate change and the effects of climate change.

  24. Ahmet Duran
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    In b4 Satoshi kanazawa.

  25. jose
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I wonder why racist people keep saying oh absolutely, objective research and skeptical study of the differences between the races should totally be done for the sake of reality and pure knowledge… as if such studies had not been done to death back when racism was the norm.

    • gbjames
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      So those of us who think it reasonable to study variation in human populations are all racist? And there’s nothing to be learned because the investigative well ran dry in the last century?

      Makes total sense. Especially since reality and knowledge are apparently insufficient reason to study anything.

      • jose
        Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Ehh, I think you’re making a mistake. If you read carefully, you’ll see I said racist people keep saying blah blah blah.

        People who are racist do that.

        So people who aren’t racist are not the subject of my comment. If you aren’t racist, I’m not talking about you! :)

        • gbjames
          Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          In your frame, are people who do “that” racist?

          Or are they just wasting their time on investigating reality and acquiring a knowledge base that is exhausted already?

          • jose
            Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

            Already answered.

            Are you looking for something? :)

            • gbjames
              Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

              Yes, I’m looking for an answer.

              You said “racists do that” I asked if you also meant “people doing that are racist”. You didn’t answer that question.

              Nor did you answer the one about whether people “doing that” were wasting their time.

  26. Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    “So, I’m sure I’m just not seeing something here,…”

    Indeed. As an atheist since birth, I was disappointed to discover how naive I had been to assume that atheism and “social justice” were comfortable bedfellows.

    It seems many are missing the forest for the trees regarding Atheism+. Mainstreaming Atheism will entail a variety of bigger tent strategies. Personally, I find the principles of Atheism+ appealing.

  27. Sastra
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Justicar wrote:

    … 4.) Why aren’t you and other going apeshit crazy about the A+ people who did exactly this – you know, the same people who claim being invited to coffee is a high crime provided a woman doesn’t care for the room’s geometric properties?

    Someone tore down a poster with a boxcutter? It was up legitimately? I don’t know all the circumstances, but no, they probably shouldn’t have done that.

    I have other questions, while I have you here… You don’t fear and hate men, do you? DO YOU?

    Assuming you’re addressing this to me: no.

    So, I’m sure I’m just not seeing something here, and I’ll be more than happy if you could explain to me how this all super-duper-kosher.

    Sorry; you will be less than happy, but I don’t know enough about it to explain anything. From what I can tell it sounds to me like someone or some people in A+ may have stepped over some boundaries (though “brandishing weapons” is probably an exaggeration.) It also sounds more like a personal skirmish among individuals than an ideological flaw in the policy of an organization.

  28. chascpeterson
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ll try to explain it to you TJ, though I strongly suspect you are being disingenuous.
    It wasn’t “some A+ people”, it was one kid, nym of Setar (who styles hmself the Elf-Sherrif of Social Justice). Him and some anti-anti-abortion-protesting friends who were doing their thing before anybody mentioned A+ did it. So you’re attempting to tar the entirety of whatever straw-cabal you imagine when you say ‘A+’ because one kid who posts on the A+ forum did this poster-tearing-down thing. That’s stupid.
    As for Myers, he has zero to do with the A+ forum (nor do I btw), is probably completely unaware of the sordid tale you have spun, and would obviously be under no obligation or requirement to comment about it if he did.
    But it’s just another in your long parade of obsessive twisted dishonest gotcha games. You’re just trying to stir feces here.


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