Notes and Comment Blog

Joy is haram

Aug 10th, 2014 12:46 pm | By

Outlook India reports (via a Times article that is pay-walled) that Islamist bullies are hassling people in Birmingham for doing things like dancing.

In an attempt to enforce an ISIS-style interpretation of Islamic law, a group of extremists are allegedly cracking down on street parties in Britain by equating it to devil worship.

The extremists are trying to bully and intimidate British Muslims against music and dance.

According to a report in ‘The Sunday Times’, hardliners waved a “No music” banner and chanted “God is great” in Birmingham to disrupt festivities to mark the end of Ramadan.

I have friends in Birmingham who are liberal Muslims and they are not at all happy about this kind of thing.

Extremists objecting to these “Chaand Raat” festivities — based on an Indian subcontinent tradition — said they intervened at three separate locations across the city.

In London, extremists recently confronted women travelling to a family festival to celebrate the Bangladeshi new year and warned them it was “haram”, or forbidden, for them to attend.

Others were told the BBC-sponsored event encouraged “sin”, “fornication” and “drug-taking”.

It’s just a pretext for bullying people. It’s one of humans’ favorite hobbies, which doesn’t speak well for humans.

“It’s very alarming that UK-based extremists are now seeking to import an Isis-style interpretation of Islam and impose it on British citizens,” said Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank.

“Banning music and dancing is completely unacceptable in a modern democracy and goes against all British values,” he added.

Music and dancing bring people together. We can’t have that, can we.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Logic and feeling

Aug 10th, 2014 11:45 am | By

Dawkins did an interview at the Global Humanist Conference this morning, and PZ has a report-plus-dissent on it.

Dawkins spoke at #whc2014 this morning, in an interview with Samira Ahmed. Ahmed held his feet to the fire a bit, and grilled him on the recent rape comparisons on Twitter. Unfortunately, he made the same justifications all over again. Basically, his argument was that his critics are:

  1. Irrational, incapable of grasping the lucid logic of his argument.
  2. Emotional, driven entirely by a visceral reaction to rape.
  3. Suppressive, unwilling to discuss the issues calmly. They never discuss some topics, like rape and pedophilia.

He received resounding applause from a receptive audience, and he would have deserved it if there had been any truth at all to his claims. There isn’t.

Well I’m not even sure he would have deserved resounding applause if there had been a tiny bit of truth to his claims, because the truth would be incomplete and tendentious.

For one thing – it’s just not a good approach to keep announcing that “I am being flawlessly rational and everyone who disagrees with me is being irrational.” It’s really not.

It’s not good epistemology to start with the assumption that “I am flawlessly rational” period. Humans aren’t flawlessly rational; even humans who know all about the ways humans aren’t flawlessly rational can be irrational in the same ways as everyone else, and the best of them know that and point out examples of it. Daniel Kahneman does that in Thinking Fast and Slow, and Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson do it in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).

And what he was saying wasn’t formal logic anyway. It wasn’t a syllogism. It made sense, it was reasonable, but it wasn’t a syllogism. It was a tweet but it was not a syllogism.

For the other thing, he’s just wrong in this disdain for what he calls “emotional.” Morality is an emotional subject; morality makes no sense without emotion; morality is not like a blueprint or an algorithm or a recipe. You need reason and feeling to be able to talk about it sensibly.

As many many many people have pointed out, he knows that himself – he said he chose a provocative subject on purpose. Well quite! If you’re going to choose a provocative subject, it’s no good then rejecting all the provoked responses on the grounds that they are provoked.

It’s not rational to think you can discuss inherently emotive subjects like rape “calmly” and with pure logic. I suspect he would be able to see this with no problem if the subjects were different. Imagine one of those BBC round-table discussions, in which an Islamist guy very calmly and logically explained why it’s haram for a woman to participate in public life. Would Dawkins frown on a feminist ex-Muslim woman who responded with heat as well as reason? I doubt it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tipping the world

Aug 10th, 2014 10:59 am | By

Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2014 International Humanist Award yesterday evening.

I don’t know why they chose such a vertiginous photo, but they did. Zany humanists.

Photo: What a good day it was, had a wonderful panel in morning, elected as General Secretary of IHEYO (International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation) in afternoon, then shared Gala Dinner Table with Richard Dawkins and in evening was given the award "2014 International Humanist Award!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Taslima at the Sheldonian

Aug 10th, 2014 10:44 am | By

Taslima gives the closing address at the Global Humanism Conference.

Photo: "Doors of my own country shut at me because of religious bigotry" Tasleema Nasreen at #whc2014
Photo Gulalai Ismail

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Outraged in Sevenoaks

Aug 9th, 2014 6:18 pm | By

Avery at Gravity’s Wings has a good post about outraged exclamations about a putative “outrage culture” which are actually about ordinary, common-or-garden criticism directed at something the exclaimers consider Their Territory. We all know what those look like!

Three days ago, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist decided to create a book, called “God is an Abusive Boyfriend (and you should break up).” This was, all things considered, a pretty bad idea, and was criticized in many places. Chris Stedman wrote a column about it, and quoted posts by Sarah Moglia and Sarah Jones that also made criticisms. People left comments on his blog, and criticized him on Twitter. Shortly after, Mehta decided to cancel the project, saying that his “execution was poor and it upset a lot of good people.”

Cue the outrage about outrage that wasn’t even outrage.

DJ Grothe complained about “outrage culture” on his wall, and plenty of commenters agreed, because apparently criticizing tasteless and offensive jokes is “outrage culture” now. One person mentioned that she was sad that the “outrage culture” won, even though she’s glad the project was cancelled. In other words, even when she agrees with us* she’s against us!

On Dave Muscato’s wall, Grothe continued to rail against “Soap Opera Atheism”:


And Ed Clint joined in and on it went, as it does.

None of this is new. These are just a couple of examples, but people like Grothe and Clint have spent years attacking people in the movement who dare to offer criticism of offensive ideas. To them, the slightest criticism of people within the movement is “perpetually outraged overreach,” no matter how mild or respectful that criticism is. Telling someone that they had a bad idea is considered “vociferously bully[ing]… into submission,” which is “horrible.”

There are some trigger-happy people around, of course, but not all criticism is Soap Opera Atheism or outrage culture or call-out culture or any of the rest of the jargon. Plenty of criticism is just criticism. And it’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? None of these people are pillars of the Status Quo Community. They’re all reformers themselves, so what do they even mean by it? I suppose they mean “I say I say, excuse me, that’s my ox you’re goring, and I’d rather you didn’t.”

As Avery very neatly says.

It’s also interesting how none of these people have a problem with outrage over, say, school sponsored prayer, or nativity scenes on public property. They’re probably fine with being “perpetually outraged” about discrimination of nonreligious people, or about creationism and pseudoscience being taught in schools. They’re completely fine with this kind of outrage, because it benefits them and is directed at other people. But as soon as that outrage (or simple criticism, in many cases) is directed at them, they’re quick to cry “outrage culture.” Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.

These people are invested in seeing hostility where none exists. They wildly exaggerate claims of outrage, or even invent them out of whole cloth, in order to have something to complain about. It’s also a useful tool to avoid thinking about the subject, because if they can reframe legitimate criticism as “outrage culture” they have an excuse to ignore it. And so they continue to attack overblown misrepresentations of their enemies instead of listening and paying attention to reasonable criticism.

Read the whole thing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife”

Aug 9th, 2014 5:27 pm | By

This is one reason I’ve never liked Sam Harris’s writing, even before he wrote the wretched The Moral Landscape.

He does that throughout The End of Faith, and it’s maddening. You see it, right? Starting with “a Christian” and then saying “his” – as if “a Christian” is automatically a man, as if male is the default sex, as if male is normal and female is weird. That’s a bad, clumsy, confusing way to write, even if you’re indifferent to the politics of it. It’s his wife, it’s making a man invisible; it’s his his his he he he – throughout the book, every time.

There’s also of course the threadbare and suspect choice of “that his wife is cheating on him” with all its unpleasant undertones – that “his wife” is his property, that what she does is something done to him, that wives are probably sluts, all that. A good writer doesn’t do that. A good writer stops to think of an example that isn’t threadbare and loaded with nasty baggage. A good writer thinks more carefully about the words.

That’s why.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 9th, 2014 4:28 pm | By

Leo Igwe at the Global Humanist Conference with a couple of other great and useful humanists.

The other humanist is Hemley Gonzales of Responsible Charity, a humanist charity providing education to children in slum communities and villages in India and empowering women and men to overcome poverty.

And here he is with Peter Tatchell.

Photo: With Peter Tatchell in Oxford

I think y’all know who Peter is.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

When the I isn’t the I

Aug 9th, 2014 12:33 pm | By

I saw some friends on Twitter harshing on a story by Malcolm Gladwell in the Guardian, so I was curious enough to read it. I’m not a fan of Gladwell’s shtick, so I wanted to see if this was more reason to think he’s too pleased with himself.

But by the time I read the third paragraph, I smelled a rat. See what you think:

Many years ago I ruined a beautiful friendship, and it was over a song, which sounds like a strange thing to ruin a friendship over. And what makes it even stranger is that the song was sung with the utmost love and affection.

My friend’s name was Craig, and I met him at college. We both went to a place called Trinity at the University of Toronto, and it’s this weird little place.

We would wear long black academic gowns, and jackets and ties to all meals, and we would say Latin grace before we ate. We didn’t really have jocks because we weren’t large enough, and we didn’t really have a party culture because we were too nerdy for that. All we really ever did was sit around and make fun of each other. We did this to an extraordinary extent, and the person who was best at that game of making fun of everyone was my friend Craig.

Craig was this tall, incredibly handsome guy, and he had this extraordinary charisma. Women flocked to him. He was just this sort of legend with the ladies. He had this sense of humour that was something that I had never encountered before. And he really kind of led us like the Pied Piper.

That’s only the start of the third paragraph, but it’s the place where I put on the brakes and reread those first five sentences of the third paragraph.

Ok that’s not Gladwell talking as himself. Not possible. He writes for the New Yorker. He wouldn’t be writing for his local free weekly if that were his real way of writing. It’s a parody of some sort, with a highly unreliable narrator. Adults don’t write “this tall, incredibly handsome guy” and “he had this extraordinary charisma” right on top of each other like that. They don’t write it at all. The first person in this piece is not Malcolm Gladwell at all, just as Holden Caulfield wasn’t J D Salinger and Huckleberry Finn wasn’t Samuel Clemens.

It’s a story of the kind Ring Lardner was such a genius at, in which a rather horrible narrator reveals how horrible he (it usually was a he) is without ever realizing it himself.

I can’t say I think it’s very good, because it’s too unsubtle, but it at least isn’t bad in the sense that it reveals Gladwell to be like the narrator.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

More meetings

Aug 9th, 2014 11:57 am | By

The Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin received an award at the Global Humanist Conference today. He also met some people. He met Richard for instance.

I’ve been disagreeing with some of Richard’s Twitter-claims recently, but fair play – he gives much-needed moral support to people like Asif.

Asif also met Taslima and PZ in Blackwell’s.

A lot of excellent people gathered in one place.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The methane bubbles were reaching the surface

Aug 9th, 2014 11:25 am | By

This is alarming.

This week, scientists made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor,” as the Stockholm University put it in a release disclosing the observations. The plume of methane—a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide, the chief driver of climate change—was unsettling to the scientists.

But it was even more unnerving to Dr. Jason Box, a widely published climatologist who had been following the expedition.

Dr. Jason Box’s view of the consequences “if even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere” is that we’re fucked. He’s an expert on the subject, and that’s his view of it. He tweeted that view of it.

I called the scientist at his office in Copenhagen, and he talked frankly and emphatically about the new threat, and about the specter of climate change in general. He also swore like a sailor, which I’ve often wondered how climatologists refrain from doing, given the urgency of the problem—it’s certainly an entirely accurate way to communicate the climate plight.

First of all, I asked Box if he stood by that tweet. He did. He’d revise it a bit, to include surface carbon—methane locked in the permafrost that’s also beginning to leak out—because if we loose enough of either, we’re in trouble.

“Even if a small fraction of the Arctic carbon were released to the atmosphere, we’re fucked,” he told me. What alarmed him was that “the methane bubbles were reaching the surface. That was something new in my survey of methane bubbles,” he said.

Hotter faster. Not good.

It’s especially worrying because the Arctic is warming faster than nearly anywhere else on Earth. Now, along with melting sea ice and thawing permafrost, we have to add to our list of ‘feedback loop’ concerns that warming Arctic oceans may be releasing fonts of methane. That is, the warmer the ocean gets, the more methane gets spewed out of those stores on the continental shelf, and the warmer the ocean gets, ad infinitum.

Ad infinitum doesn’t work for us. We didn’t evolve in ad infinitum. Not at all at all. We evolved in a particular climate, which is apparently being boiled away like water in a hot skillet. Humans won’t do well in a hot skillet.

“We’re on a trajectory to an unmanageable heating scenario, and we need to get off it,” he said. “We’re fucked at a certain point, right? It just becomes unmanageable. The climate dragon is being poked, and eventually the dragon becomes pissed off enough to trash the place.”

It was refreshing to hear a climatologist pull no punches, while still eloquently and accurately summarizing the science—even though an increasing number are becoming proactive, like the paleoclimatologist Dr. Michael Mann, and top climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, climate scientists are still learning how to engage the public in a manner that’s forceful and compelling. Like Dr. Hansen, Box has a deeply personal reason to sound the alarm.

“I may escape a lot of this,” he said, “but my daughter might not. She’s 3 years old.” Climate change may not destabilize the globe in our lifetime, or even his daughter’s—but the fact that feedback loops like methane release could rapidly accelerate the warming means that there’s a chance rapid climate transformation—and the social and economic catastrophes that would likely accompany it—could strike sooner.

Not good.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

There is no flagship

Aug 8th, 2014 3:53 pm | By

A factual claim made on the Internet that is not true. I wish to say how it’s not true.

It’s on a thread where there is a lot of bashing of Freethought blogs, much of it mendacious. This one for some reason particularly set off my SIWOTI response. The commenter is Scote.

 There’s also the (not unrelated) piñata that FtB is a monoculture, when there’s actually many different blogs varied in content and tone: PZ Myers

Monoculture? No. But FtB is invitation only and has a broad organizational ethos which the individual blogs have to fit to be invited to be a part of FtB. PZ’s blog is the flagship blog of the FtB brand, and thus for good or for ill, his blog sets the overall tone for the site.

No. It doesn’t. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There is no “flagship blog” here, and there is no “overall tone for the site.” We operate independently. The different blogs are different, and we all work independently. We talk to each other, of course, but we don’t give or take orders.

I’d been writing this blog for nine years when I joined FTB. I set my own tone the first day I started writing. It remains my own.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

You need allies, you need supporters

Aug 8th, 2014 3:07 pm | By

Zoe Williams reports on the World Humanist Congress in the Guardian.

She had never thought secular society would need defending.

Yet, without having become any more religious, en masse, we find that state education has been handed over to any have-a-go Harry that feels up to it, which in a quarter of cases means religious people, and in a handful of cases, people like the advocates of Rudolf Steiner.

We have a new minister of state for faith and communities who talks about “militant atheism“. That doesn’t exist – if militant means anything at all distinct from “argumentative”, it means advocating violence, and when did you last hear an atheist advocating violence in the name of his or her belief?

I was unpersuaded, anyway, of the case for such a minister, particularly the way it conflates faith and community as though those concepts were indivisible. But now filled by Eric Pickles, the role really becomes a slap in the face to secularism.

Well so was Sayeeda Warsi. She went off to the Vatican, don’t forget, to have a chat with the pope about how to stomp out the menace of secularism.

I met Gulalai Ismail, who founded Aware Girls when she was 16 years old to forge somewhere that “young women can come together and they can speak for their rights. If we can’t speak for ourselves, nothing will change”.

She’s only 26 now, and the organisation has achieved monumental things – Malala Yousafzai is one of their activists. Ismail herself has had threats against her, and her family, from the start.

I’m Facebook friends with Gulalai. She’s marvelous. Aware Girls is an organization you could add to your list of good organizations to help.

I met Leo Igwe, a Nigerian campaigner fighting on two fronts – the Christian witch hunters on one side, the Boko Haram kidnappers on another – who has been physically attacked many times for his work. “Many people said, ‘Are you getting into witchcraft issues? You don’t want to live long.’

“It is taken to be a dangerous occupation. It is a minefield.” But if the vicious, perilous conditions under which many humanists are living make the irritation of Eric Pickles seem like small potatoes, then remember that it’s not a game of whist in which the person in the worst situation wins.

“When you are living in this situation,” Igwe says, “you need allies, you need supporters. You need people to say to you, ‘I love what you’re doing’.”

Indeed. It’s heartening to see Leo getting more of those.

There is a lot of optimism, not all of which I share. Ian Dunbar, 61, a physicist, said: “Actually, I think humanism is on the verge of a breakthrough. It only feels as though it’s under threat because faiths are hurting, and lashing out.”

Ultimately, though, I saw it much more as a call to arms than a reason to be cheerful. There has never been a more important time, if you are secular, to say so. Call to arms I mean metaphorically, by the way. Nobody take up any arms, OK?

But if we’re going to be called “militant” anyway…

Kidding, kidding.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

In Oxford

Aug 8th, 2014 1:01 pm | By

Taslima is at the World Humanist Congress in Oxford. You could do worse than take a look at her Twitter stream for happy news and pictures from the Sheldonian and nearby.

Like the view from her room:

Embedded image permalink

From my window. Look where I am staying now. A famous college at Oxford university. Founded in 1264.

Not bad eh?

And Taslima in the Sheldonian:

Embedded image permalink

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Deniz Firat was exceptional

Aug 8th, 2014 12:54 pm | By

Bad. I can’t find any sources in English yet, so I’ll have to use the one French one I saw. A Kurdish journalist, Deniz Firat, was killed by ISIS today during the fighting at Makhmur, 40 kilometers from Erbil.

Elle était très exceptionnelle, une femme militante et courageuse. Elle avait déjà perdu deux sœurs dans la lutte de la libération du peuple kurde.

L’agence de presse kurde Firat (ANF) a condamné cette attaque par des ennemis de l’humanité qui a couté la vie d’une journaliste, affirmant que Deniz Firat était sa principale source d’informations sur le front.

My rough translation, which anyone should feel free to correct:

She was exceptional, a brave activist woman. She had already lost two sisters in the struggle for the liberation of the Kurdish people.

The Kurdish press agency Firat has condemned this attack conducted by the enemies of humanity who have taken the life of a journalist, saying that Deniz Firat was their principle source of reports from the front.

That’s bad.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Recreational harm-ranking

Aug 8th, 2014 11:40 am | By

What about the larger question of whether or not it’s any use to rank harms? Let’s consider that question.

Or maybe it will turn out that we don’t need to, because the answer is so obvious. Of course it is. Next question?

It’s bound to be part of our most basic equipment, isn’t it. It’s part of the basic equipment of most animals, isn’t it. You know the skittish way many animals drink at watering holes? That’s an animal ranking harms, isn’t it. “Thirsty as fuck; need to drink; but exposed here; maybe lions; keep alert, be ready to bolt.”

We humans, with our vastly sophisticated brains, get to use that for things like choosing between So You Think You Can Dance and Last Tango in Halifax. Is the harm of missing the first greater than the harm of missing the second, or is it the other way around?

In other words, we rank harms and benefits, bads and goods, all the time. We do it of necessity and we use the equipment provided to do it recreationally.

And we do it with regard to moral issues, which gets us closer to what we’ve been talking about. We do that all the time too. If a co-worker forgets to do something one time and that creates a nuisance for you, that’s one thing, while a co-worker who routinely forgets to do things and apparently just can’t be bothered to remember or create a system for reminders – that’s another thing.

We have to rank harms all the time, in order to know what to do about them. We need to know when to shrug off a harm and when to make an issue of it.

It’s a big part of child-rearing to teach children how to do this well, or at least competently. Humans probably never really do it well, because the dear self always magnifies harms done to the dear self while shrinking those done to strangers.

But then that’s a reason to be careful about Recreational Harm-ranking when the harms being ranked are ones that can’t be done to the dear self but can be done to other people. Notice I’m not saying never talk about it at all, I’m saying there’s a reason to be careful about it. It’s not a good look for gentiles, say, to minimize the harm of anti-Semitism. It’s easy to extrapolate from that example to others.

That’s an outline.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

So what if it is?

Aug 8th, 2014 11:16 am | By

An ISIS flag flying over the entrance gate to a housing estate (what in the US would be called a housing project) in Poplar, East London. (Call the Midwife is set in Poplar.) Go there to look at the picture, which is weirdly blood-curdling.

A black flag with white Arabic writing, similar to those flown by jihadist groups, was flying at the entrance of an east London housing state near Canary Wharf.

In a highly provocative gesture, the emblem was planted on top of the gates of the Will Crooks estate on Poplar High Street, and is surrounded by flags of Palestine and slogans.

The flag bears similar writing to the jihadi flags that have been flown by the extremist group in Iraq and other jihadi groups since the 1990s. When the estate was approached last night, a group of about 20 Asian youths swore at Guardian journalists and told them to leave the area immediately. One youth threatened to smash a camera.

When a passerby tried to take a picture of the flag on a phone, one of the gang asked him if he was Jewish. The passerby replied: “Would it make a difference?” The youth said: “Yes, it fucking would.” Asked if the flag was an Isis flag, one local man said: “It is just the flag of Allah.” But another man asked: “So what if it is?”

So what if it is? Well, genocide, that’s so what if it is.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Women’s Emotions are “Emotions,” Men’s Emotions are “How People Talk”

Aug 7th, 2014 5:55 pm | By

A thing from one Jennifer Dziura (who is apparently a life coach, but this is good anyway) a couple of years ago: “When Men Are Too Emotional To Have A Rational Argument”.

She starts with election night 2012. Guys were having meltdowns all over tv. They were very emo.

What I want to talk about is how emotional outbursts typically more associated with men (shouting, expressing anger openly) are given a pass in public discourse in a way that emotional outbursts typically more associated with women (crying, “getting upset”) are stigmatized.

I wish to dispel the notion that women are “more emotional.” I don’t think we are. I think that the emotions women stereotypically express are what men call “emotions,” and the emotions that men typically express are somehow considered by men to be something else.

This is incorrect. Anger? EMOTION. Hate? EMOTION. Resorting to violence? EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. An irrational need to be correct when all the evidence is against you? Pretty sure that’s an emotion. Resorting to shouting really loudly when you don’t like the other person’s point of view? That’s called “being too emotional to engage in a rational discussion.”

Not only do I think men are at least as emotional as women, I think that these stereotypically male emotions are more damaging to rational dialogue than are stereotypically female emotions. A hurt, crying person can still listen, think, and speak. A shouting, angry person? That person is crapping all over meaningful discourse.

She did a radio debate with a guy who got very angry and shouty while she got angry but, with great effort, not shouty – so he called her passive-aggressive, while she thought she was just arguing as one should. She naturally thought he was an asshole but then they went for a beer with the crew and producer and he turned out to be a good guy, it’s just that you have to shout on the radio or you’ll be silenced by shouters.

This was a good guy. The problem wasn’t him, it was that the behavior our society rewards was not, in my opinion, the best this guy had to offer.

That, to me, is the real problem. It’s also why I’ve used the terms “stereotypically male” and “stereotypically female” in this article; I’m sure that some part of our debating styles is due to how much testosterone is floating around our bodies, but some large part of it is learned. If you’re accustomed to arguing on radio programs, you have to shout because otherwise you would not get to speak. If you majored in women’s studies, you’ve probably had it drilled into you that shouting is “denying someone her voice.” On a talk radio show, crying would immediately invalidate your argument. At a feminist conference, shouting would make you the oppressor. I’m suggesting that both crying and shouting are emotional expressions, that some of these emotions are more destructive to debate and dialogue than others, and that we should all recognize our emotions and then channel them into rational discourse. That means dudes, too.

That is exactly right. We need to recognize our emotions and then channel them into rational discourse. All of us. Not some of us pretend we are doing rational discourse free of emotion while others are doing emotion with no rational discourse.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Right on target?

Aug 7th, 2014 12:50 pm | By

One point about Kimberly Winston’s article about Dawkins and Twitter and peace accords – I was surprised by what Daniel Dennett said.

Of course, Dawkins still has legions of supporters. Among his biggest is Dennett, one of his fellow “Four Horsemen” and a philosopher at Tufts University.

“I thought Richard’s responses were right on target. If some radical feminists (and others) think that all rape is equally bad, do they think it is not quite as bad as murder? If so, are THEY condoning rape?  And if they think rape and murder are always equally bad, they really have lost their bearings and do not deserve our attention. Richard has been immensely important.”

Note the “if”. Well yes, if, then whatever. But the proposed “if” isn’t relevant to anything, so it’s frivolous to mention it. It’s likely that Dennett simply had no idea what all this is about, but in that case, he should have just replied that he had no idea what all this is about. He shouldn’t have cast about for a likely reason for Dawkins to tweet “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think” and then used his own speculation as an answer to questions about it from a reporter.

How do I know that’s what he did? I don’t know for sure, but if he had known what it was all about, I don’t see why he would have given such a dud reply.

Of course Richard has been immensely important; I said that in my reply to Winston myself. But I don’t think he’s been immensely important on Twitter. In any case it can be true both that he has been immensely important and that he is currently doing a good deal of harm and could stop doing that with little or no cost to himself.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Reporting on the deep rifts

Aug 7th, 2014 11:04 am | By

A couple of days ago I talked to Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service about the joint statement with Richard Dawkins and about his recent adventures on Twitter. Her article is now posted.

So now I can tell you that that’s what prompted yesterday’s farewell to Dear Muslima.

Dawkins declined to be interviewed, and a representative for his foundation said a statement he made on its website would be his final word on the subject.

Yet the current dust-up may have served as a wake-up call. On Wednesday (Aug. 6), presented with criticisms collected for this story, Dawkins added to an existing post on his foundation’s website.

“There should be no rivalry in victimhood,” the addendum to the post reads, “and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist … that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.”

Now to begin at the beginning.

It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record.

Late last month, two heavy-hitters within organized atheism, activist Ophelia Benson and scientist Richard Dawkins, reached a detente of sorts about online debate and posted it on their separate websites.

Heh heh heh. Two heavy-hitters. Like I’m on his level. Like I’m a heavy-hitter at all. Heh heh heh.

Not that I’m going to argue!

“Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not,” the statement reads. “ If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.”

Before the virtual ink was dry, Dawkins had stepped in it again.

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” Dawkins said on Twitter, where he has almost 1 million followers. “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” Another tweet applied the same logic to “mild date rape” and “violent date rape,” and still another compared “mild pedophilia” and “violent pedophilia.”

The sad thing is…this article was going to be about the statement. Just the statement. I think Richard probably would have enjoyed that article more.

On the other hand we now have farewell Dear Muslima, so maybe it’s for the best?

Atheists say controversial things online every day. But Dawkins’ position as the godfather of the modern atheist movement has revived a question that’s been percolating for at least three years: Has the famous scientist become more of a liability than an asset for the movement he helped create?

I’m genuinely torn about that question. He did blow open a lot of doors, and I do still think that was valuable. But…his Plainspeaker shtick has been a magnet for a huge throng of Plainspeaking shitheads who don’t have his talents but do have his taste for being confrontational. That can make organized atheism a massive turnoff for a lot of people.

That’s what I said to Winston, except I knew I had to leave the swears out.

So when his recent tweets about rape and pedophilia hit the Twittersphere two days after the release of the civility agreement with his longtime critic, the debate started anew.

“Perhaps he was testing it,” Benson said of the agreement, which she characterized as a positive step in repairing a rift over feminism within atheism that she traces to Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comment.

Benson said Dawkins attracts people to the movement with his well-reasoned arguments against religion and superstition. But he then repels them with what many see as an unwillingness to listen to ideas other than his own.

“In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to represent long-term, healthy atheism.”

To put it another way, I don’t think “go away and learn how to think” is a helpful thing for a heavy-hitter to tell people who disagree with him on Twitter.

Even some of Dawkins’ critics say they are heartened by his recent statement over the “Dear Muslima” incident.

“I consider this a very hopeful sign that he’s gaining a better appreciation of perspectives different from his own,” [Adam] Lee said. “I’m not going to say that this one statement wipes the slate clean, but it does make me more optimistic and hopeful that his understanding will continue to evolve.”

See what Adam did there? “Evolve.” A friendly little joke.

Anyway – that’s what I think too. We’re not going to agree on everything. I very deliberately composed the statement to say at the outset that we’re not going to agree on everything. But we can disagree without being total shits about it. That will work better. We should do that.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

ISIS has always worn its love for sectarianism on its sleeve

Aug 7th, 2014 10:03 am | By

Maajid Nawaz has a piece at CNN on ISIS’s ongoing attempt at genocide in Iraq.

ISIS has always worn its love for sectarianism on its sleeve, and its vicious hatred for Yazidis has been no mystery. Repeatedly, disturbing videos have been circulated on social media depicting Yazidis held in tiny cells being cruelly taunted by ISIS prison guards. On top of this, “IS” propagandists have continuously warned of their intention to execute or enslave the adherents of this ancient Zoroastrian-linked religion, whom they view as “devil worshippers” on account of their revering a fallen angel.

So they won’t be fretting about all those Yazidis dying of heat and thirst on Mount Sinjar, will they.

While most fled to refugee camps in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, some 30,000 families ended up on Mount Sinjar, where they are now stranded, surrounded by jihadists.

They are forced to sleep in caves, faced with temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and have no food or water, let alone arms to defend themselves with. Initially, they could contact the outside world using mobile phones. Now, though, most of these have run out of battery and there is no telling how critical the situation has become. What is for certain is that their prospects for escape are minimal.

This is yet another instance of the appalling brutality of “IS”, a group that has consistently abused the most basic human rights of the people it has forced itself upon. Over the last two months, it has committed countless mass summary executions of Shiite soldiers and tortured and shot hundreds of Sunni tribespeople who resisted its rule before taking to social media to boast about their actions.

And the world is doing nothing.

What’s transpiring now is a new Kosovo, an ethno-religious cleansing on a huge scale. That it is taking place at the hands of a jihadist group too extreme for al Qaeda, a group that has repeatedly shown that it has internationalist ambitions, is all the more worrying. It is ludicrous that no one has acted against it already when it is clear that neither the IAF nor the Peshmerga is capable of shutting it down alone.

ISIS has acted with impunity in the region for far too long. It has been allowed to take control of an area larger than the United Kingdom, commandeer hundreds of thousands of dollars of U.S.-made weaponry and subjugate nearly 6 million people.

The international community needs to step up to this most troubling challenge. It must provide substantial and coordinated humanitarian assistance to all refugees and internally displaced people — of any faith or ethnicity — in the region. Furthermore, diplomatic pressure must be exerted on Turkey, the only military power in the region that stands a chance of crushing this false caliphate. Ankara must be ready to bury its differences with the Kurds and extend all the assistance it can to them on a human rights basis, even if this means military support.

Lastly, it is imperative that states across the world reaffirm their absolute commitment to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the right to free thought, conscience and belief. If we do not stand by our principles, who will?

We know the answer to that. No one will. Many people think the rights established by article 18 are anathema.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)