Not too long ago, Dan Arel, an atheist who once had a good reputation for his book on secular parenting, wrote a piece blaming Dave Rubin and me for a number of sins, including helping Trump get elected and aligning with white nationalism. It was a remarkable piece of misguided polemic, and Arel’s poor writing was exceeded only by the breathless sweep of his lies and distortions. I responded to his post by first providing a summary and a link:
Incredibly, Arel has expanded his list of Nazis and white supremacists to include “classical liberals,” who are said to include Dave Rubin—and me! In a bizarre post on his website called “How classical liberals helped normalize white nationalism and elect Donald Trump,” Arel takes the position that those of us who favor unrestricted freedom of speech (by that I mean speech that doesn’t incite immediate violence or constitute harassment in the workplace), as well as those of us who oppose the incursion of postmodernism into academic or intellectual discourse, are all not only white nationalists, but also helped elect Donald Trump.
Well, you can read my response at the link. Now, however, there are two more. The first is by Jeff Tayler at Quillette, “Free speech and the Regressive Left — the road back to reason.” I’m pleased that Jeff defended Dave and me, but he also offers up criticism of the Regressive Left, of which Arel has become a poster boy. And, self-aggrandizingly, I’ll put up one quote:
On second thought, though, a sample. Coyne and Rubin, per Arel, “welcome white nationalist speakers on campus and complain if students try and stop it, telling them to protest instead, and in turn, complain when they turn out in protest, accusing them of trying to live in a bubble and being an enemy of the free exchange of ideas.” Earlier in his piece, Arel had claimed that they “strawman the very idea of ‘safe spaces’ claiming its leftist liberals begging to be coddled in school, refusing or caring not to listen that these are nothing but the same ‘spaces’ we see in Alcoholics Anonymous, or even at private atheist meetings or gatherings.”
So, are we to see college students as the equivalents of traumatized substance abusers? That’s what Arel gives us to think. True, though, post-pubescent toddlers throwing tantrums on campus when they find themselves confronting differing opinions do cry out for diagnosis (and possibly medication). But the world is an increasingly dangerous place. If said toddlers lack what it takes to get through four years in such cossetted environs, how will they face tough, determined Islamists on either the ideological or the literal battlefield? In any case, Arel might have offered links to samples of what Rubin and Coyne have said about safe spaces and trigger warnings. But stream-of-consciousness editorializing is more easily accomplished unrestrained by facts, to say nothing of respect for the truth.
Next ensues a slipshod harangue that, as far as I can tell, casts Coyne and Rubin and other sane progressives as dastardly villains scheming to undo decades of egalitarian social advancement, destroy the American Way, and establish a sort of Yankee Third Reich, with Hillary’s “deplorables” press-ganged into serving as twenty-first-century Brownshirts. Little of this lends itself to rational rebuttal, but in essence, Arel contends that decriers of the regressive left “got into bed with the wrong crowd and moved into the far-right landscape because of a failure to evaluate Islam at the same critical level they do all other religion,” which is, he says, “a sin both the left and right share.”
If we translate this into standard American English, we get — mirabile dictu! — the point that sane progressives (including Rubin and Coyne, and Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins) have been making all along: that the left’s exculpatory doubletalk about Islam has, broadly speaking, split the movement into genuine progressives and regressive leftists. Or at least that’s how I interpret Arel’s tortured verbiage. With his concluding line he lapses into self-parody: “If atheism is to continue forward progress in the US, it must be a voice of reason, not a megaphone for racist white nationalism.”
Nonbelief as a “voice?” As a “megaphone?” There is neither a valid metaphor nor a truthful assertion lurking in his peroration’s final line.
Since Arel expends 1,400 words attacking Rubin, Coyne, et al, but offers no credible evidence against them, we might, once again, just cite Hitchensian license and punch the delete key on the entire screed.
A critique of Arel is only part of Heather Hastie’s piece on the Regressive Left, “The Authoritarian Left and misdirected animosity in the atheist community“. I’ll omit her defense of Rubin and me, and add one paragraph about data you might not have seen:
In 2009 Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College (and later founder of the Department of Secular Studies) wrote ‘Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions‘. His analyses include:
… when we actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian.
You might think about that when atheist blusterers like Arel or other bloggers (who don’t deserve naming) accuse the atheist “movement” of being especially infected by misogyny and racism. By now I must have gone to a couple dozen humanist, atheist, and secular meetings, and while of course there must be some bigots there (I haven’t seen any!), I find the atmosphere refreshingly free of prejudice and rancor, resembling many of the scientific meetings I’ve gone to (scientists also tend to be atheistic and liberal). The tendency for such people to eat their own always mystifies me, especially since, in these Times of Trouble, we should be finding common ground.
Meanwhile, Arel continues his unhinged ranting on Twi**er. This is exactly the wrong way to build a constituency, which Arel seems to want:
Extra recommended reading: The articles in today’s New York Times on the increasing violence of both anarchists and “anti-fascists”, and one on the free speech battle at Berkeley.