Fighting Feminism with Fallacies

I have watched with alarm over the past several months as a growing number of atheists who fancy themselves Rational Critics of Islam™ have taken to coupling criticism of that religion with attacks on western feminists.  Take, for example, the recent hashtag #SaveDinaAli, a worthy cause in its own right.  Dina Ali is a young Saudi woman who attempted to flee her country’s system of male guardianship, but was intercepted in the Philippines by male relatives who beat her and forced her to return to Saudi Arabia where her fate remains uncertain.  A number of prominent atheists decided to use the hashtag not only to raise awareness about Dina’s plight, but to exploit it in an attempt to shut down western feminist voices.

Yep, ain’t no feminists west of Saudi who care about anything but video games. #SeemsLegit
Sorry, unless it involves death and Islam, file under #FakeNews.
Always, as in 100% of the time, without exception, ever, no citation required because I’m a Certified Rationalist Skeptic(TM).
 

To start with, it should matter to these so-called rational thinkers that such statements are flagrant logical fallacies (strawmanrelative privation, and hasty generalization, to be exact).  This should send up red flags about their rationalism bona fides at the very least, given that sound argumentation was once considered a necessary skill in the atheism toolkit and a person would have to be either appallingly bad at or simply not care about logic to be packing the same three fallacies into tweet after tweet.

It also calls into serious question the authenticity of one’s advocacy for Dina Ali if out of 140 characters ostensibly intended to raise awareness of her situation, a person can spare only 12 for Dina and is compelled to use the other 128 to express contempt for an entire subset of women. Honestly, it takes some spunk to declare yourself a savior of Saudi women when you can’t even write a single tweet that expresses only support for them and nothing else—not to mention gross ignorance about how advocacy works to think that shitting on one cause is necessary to advance another.  Remember that ad campaign by the American Cancer Society where they declared that the parents of premature babies who give money to the March of Dimes are selfish, privileged assholes who want people to die of cancer? Me neither.

What troubles me the most about this trend is how it seeks to set western women as adversaries against their sisters in the Muslim world, exploiting the troubles of the latter simply as a vehicle for tearing down the former.  “Western women have it so easy,” they say. “Western women have no problems.  They’re too self-involved and too obsessed with petty grievances to care about the oppression of women in the Middle East.”  Of course plenty of western women actually do have problems, and not all of them are trivial; so when we hear those accusations and understandably put a hand up to say, “Hold on there, hoss, that’s not quite true,” they seize that objection as proof positive that we in the west think we have it just as bad as women who live under sharia—even though no one has actually said this, or even thinks it.

Silly me, thinking it wasn’t even necessary to compare getting raped to living under male guardianship.

Attacking western feminists who are concerned about, say, the evisceration of women’s healthcare in the US because women in Saudi Arabia live under sharia is exactly the same thing as attacking someone for raising awareness about birth defects because cancer kills more people. By this “reasoning” only the absolute worst atrocities in the world should ever be addressed, in which case curing diseases or fighting Islam would likely not even make the short list.  Moreover, as low as my opinion tends to be about humans in general, even I will admit that most of them are capable of thinking more than one thought at a time. I can be outraged by legislative assaults on women’s bodily autonomy here in the US while at the very same time being outraged by what happened to Dina Ali, and no matter what the anti-feminists claim, I can do something about both of them; I do not have to choose one or the other (and to suggest that I do is yet another logical fallacy). On the other hand, constant attacks that misrepresent and undermine feminism not only do nothing to help women like Dina Ali—they compromise our ability to effect change on important issues closer to home, such as reproductive freedom and pay equity. (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether that consequence is a feature or a bug.)

Here, though, is what strikes me as the real crux of the issue: Conflating the legal status of women with the lived experiences of individual women.  Literally no one—at least, no one with a shred of intellectual honesty—would argue that in general, women in the West have better legal standing than women in the Muslim world.  That is a given, and the constant accusations by anti-feminists that western women don’t understand this basic truth are simply lies meant to discredit western feminism.  That being said, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the life of every individual western woman is objectively better than the life of every individual Saudi woman, or that the only women who know hardship are those who live under sharia. Crimes like child sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence are not constrained by national or religious borders; they may be treated differently by the legal system and economic status may influence access to treatment resources, but the trauma they inflict on their victims is not so easily predicted, categorized, or dismissed. Said another way, telling a Canadian woman “At least you were just raped and not raped AND stoned for adultery” should strike every reasonable and ethical person as not just lacking in empathy, but as downright cruel in how it both minimizes the violence of her assault and scolds her if she has the audacity to not feel all that lucky.  Moreover, there is absolutely nothing to be gained—least of all for the women that these anti-Islam crusaders purport to fight for—by such attempts to measure and quantify degrees of suffering and assign it more or less validity based on whether it was caused by Islam.

Ungrateful western rape victims just have no idea how EASY they have it! Also, eat your goddamn vegetables – don’t you know there are starving kids in Africa?!
 

It is worth noting that the “yeah, but sharia” brigade that is so eager to silence western women over issues of misogyny that still exist in the West because women in Saudi have it worse seem to have an odd blind spot when the subject is no longer the status of women.  I, for one, struggle to recall any of these same characters shrugging off Milo Yiannopolous being disinvited from speaking engagements on college campuses because Raif Badawi had it a lot worse.

Ladies, do you really have legit problems, or are you just dabbling in oppression? Find out with this one weird trick! Has your clit been lopped off? If so, congratulations! You may be sufficiently oppressed to express an opinion. If not, you’re drowning in privilege. STFU.
Are there things that western feminists get wrong? Absolutely. Are there examples of excessive pearl-clutching over grievances that really are petty?  Of course. Are these challenges unique to western feminism? Not by a longshot.  Do I have to choose between fighting for my sisters at home and my sisters abroad?  Hell no.  I don’t have to choose; I won’t choose; and I will continue to speak out against anyone who says I must.

I Have Some Bad News

turtleThis is a modified and updated version of a similar list I posted in February 2016.  The bad news for some people will be that they see some of their closely held beliefs being contradicted here.  For my part the bad news is that the list is not only still relevant but required an update.  Still, there are some things that simply must be said (and more than once, apparently).

 

  • 9/11 was not an inside job.
  • It wasn’t a “false flag” either.
  • Neither was Sandy Hook.
  • Neither were the shootings in Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Ft. Hood, or anywhere else.
  • In fact, there is no such thing as a “false flag” (a la Alex Jones).
  • The moon landing really happened.
  • So did the Holocaust.
  • Lizard people aren’t real.
  • Fluoride in the water supply is good for your teeth.
  • The earth is not flat.
  • And it is 4.54 billion years old.
  • And it goes around the sun, not the other way around.
  • There are no chemtrails, just contrails.
  • The Illuminati do not control the music industry.
  • Pizzagate is bullshit.
  • GMOs are just as safe as conventional foods.
  • Organic isn’t healthier.
  • It’s not better for the environment either.
  • Prayer doesn’t work.
  • Astrology doesn’t work either.
  • Neither does homeopathy.
  • But vaccines do.
  • And they don’t cause autism.
  • InfoWars is not news.
  • Alternative medicine is not medicine.
  • Big PharmaTM is not suppressing a known cure for cancer.
  • Including pot.
  • No, seriously – pot does not cure cancer.
  • Everything is made of chemicals.
  • Trump’s inauguration crowd was not the biggest in history.
  • Humans were not healthier 50,000 years ago than they are today.
  • Not 5,000 years ago or 500 years ago either.
  • Guns don’t make you safer.
  • Gay sex does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, tsunamis, fires, volcano eruptions, landslides, stock market crashes, train derailments, bridge collapses, oil spills, or anything else.
  • There is no Deep State.
  • Taxes are not theft.
  • Microwave ovens don’t turn into cameras.
  • Nuclear power is safe.
  • The Big Bang really happened.
  • And it happened 13.8 billion years ago.
  • Anthropogenic climate change is real.
  • All life on earth evolved from a common ancestor via natural selection.
  • There is no evidence for ghosts, an afterlife, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ancient aliens, alien abductions, reincarnation, telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, the soul, demons, spirits, angels, witchcraft, or magic.
  • There almost certainly is no god.

 

Let Change Begin With Me

I believe that the only hope for humanity lies in the embrace of evidence-based thinking. Whether the subject is religion or science or politics or anything in between, an earnest desire to ascertain reality demands that we seek the best available evidence, acknowledge our biases, do our best to compensate for them, and be willing to adjust our worldview accordingly. This is necessary even (perhaps especially) when doing so is difficult – in other words, all the time.

Intellectual honesty is uncomfortable. Personal growth usually is too. It is easy to talk ourselves into believing that only others suffer the impairment of cognitive bias, or that we are otherwise exceptional and therefore exempt from the rules we expect others to follow. It feels good to be right and even better to be righteous, whereas admitting fallibility can be awkward, humiliating, or painful. But we must resist the siren song of comforting self-delusion and struggle, however clumsily, to reserve the highest standards for ourselves.

Moving beyond superstition and tribalism isn’t just about the satisfaction of being right: It’s about making the world a better place. It’s about clearing away the excuses and the ignorance that too often get in the way of seeing our common humanity, and finding our way to a more ethical, more moral, more productive society.

This is what I want for my child.

It is what all children deserve.

And so it starts with me.

The Virtueless Troll

Bill Maher compares the execrable Milo Yiannopoulos to the late Christopher Hitchens. No, seriously.

I admit I feel dreadful that I’m investing valuable time and neurons on the likes of the vile hominid Milo Yiannopoulos. However, following his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday and the inevitable pearl-clutching analysis that followed, my need to throw my own pearls into the fray outweighs my annoyance at needing to do so. So here are my two cents, for what little they’re worth, and I shall henceforth endeavor to not speak his name again. 

1. I’m so tired of the “the only reason Milo Yiannopoulos is so popular is that the Left opposes him so strongly” trope; it’s tired, facile, and intellectually lazy. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that Milo is popular because a lot of people agree with his views and like the fact that he’s utterly shameless and cruel. We really need to stop talking about the Right as if they’re either automatons or toddlers who can neither understand the reasons why they do what they do, nor be held accountable for doing it.
2. Every interview Yiannopoulos ever gives into perpetuity should start with “Why do you think it’s worse for a child rapist to be embarrassed than for a child to be raped?” and end with “Why do you think children who get raped are responsible for their rape?” There’s an awful lot of Milo-apologia that says “Let people hear from both sides & then decide for themselves what they think of him,” but that’s not possible when his hosts help him conceal this ugly aspect of his persona. Failure to remind the audience that this is the kind of “person” they’re dealing with is a failure of journalistic integrity at best, and a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts at worst.
3. That the Right has shackled the principle of free speech to this intellectually & morally bankrupt attention whore is not accidental. They’ve figured out how to portray any objection to Yiannopoulos on any grounds whatsoever as an assault on free speech and “evidence” that the Left is afraid of his ideas. In this manner they badger, bully, & shame their way into ever bigger platforms and ever more influential interlocutors, further legitimizing him and his views. He’s become a bludgeon to do the opposite of no-platforming, a kind of “forced-platforming” in which denying him access to any stage or declining to engage with him for any reason can be held up as just more proof that the Left are the real fascists.

4. Yiannopoulos is not the next Hitch. He’s not even the next Alex Jones.

On Punching Nazis

Image: Indiana Jones punches a nazi. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Paramount Pictures

By now many of you have probably seen or heard about the nazi Richard Spencer (leader of the “alt-right”) getting sucker-punched while giving an interview amidst inauguration protests last Friday. There has since been much gnashing of teeth over whether some liberals have been too tepid in their condemnation of it, or whether self-styled free speech warriors are overstating the significance of the event, or whether an exception to non-violence should be made for nazis because – well, they’re fucking nazis. Anyway, I’ve grown sick and fucking tired of hearing about it and explaining my position in response to others’ opinions, so imma just rip off that band-aid and give my full opinion here and now and be done with it. 

1. Punching people for their ideas is wrong, even if their ideas are also wrong. In fact, unless it’s in response to a direct physical threat to you or your loved ones, punching anyone for any reason is wrong so just stop fucking punching people, okay?

2. We cede the moral high ground when we start employing double standards. I get it, Spencer is a nazi and nazis are really hard to feel sorry for. But what about people engaging in lawful protests or peaceful civil disobedience who get clocked by thugs in red MAGA hats?  When we express outrage over those, the Right will say “If you can punch our guys, we can punch yours” and they won’t be wrong. It’s self-defeating and intellectually dishonest to not hold ourselves to the same standards as our opponents. 

3. Richard Spencer is a scumbag piece of crap. Nazis are crap. The alt-right is crap. White supremacy, white nationalism, obsession with skin pigmentation – it’s all heinous, ridiculously stupid, evil crap. No conversation about Spencer’s assault should fail to emphasize that while he has the right to think and talk about his beliefs without the threat or fear of violence, his beliefs are crap. 

4. In a mythical world governed by cosmic poetic justice, where what we put out in the universe comes back to us, every nazi would deserve a sucker punch. Because really, if your whole identity revolves around trying to figure out how to expunge tens of millions of people from the earth or their homes based on something as arbitrary as skin pigmentation, then you are a horrible person. But we don’t live in that mythical world; we live in this one, governed by laws that must be applied equally to all, because they’re being enforced by fallible humans who will not always be equipped or motivated to distinguish the nazis from, say, the atheists or the apostates. 

5. Do not ask me to rend my garments with anguish over the undignified treatment of the nazi. His dignity is not my concern – and seeing as how he’s a fucking nazi it would seem his dignity isn’t a big concern for him either. Also, do not demand that I make this the defining issue of my generation or agree that it makes the short list. Or the long list. Do not insinuate that if I do not talk about this to the exclusion of all other issues I am tacitly endorsing it, because I’ve denounced Spencer’s assault repeatedly here & elsewhere.

Spencer’s right to free speech is as sacred as mine. Trying to silence him through violence is not ok. But I am under no obligation to hand him a platform and a megaphone to help him disseminate his repugnant ideas. 

Five Reasons Atheists Should Oppose Trump

donald-trump

We’ve heard a lot since the election about how the Left needs to stop accusing Trump voters of being racist, that there were many other legitimate and complex reasons for supporting his candidacy, and that rather than accuse and assume, we should ask and listen.  I tried in good faith to do this with my last post, addressing it to the Trump supporters who claim to have been motivated by concerns other than racial animus, and I received two whole responses, both of which more or less said “LIBTARD!”

Where, then, are these thoughtful, intellectually defensible arguments in support of a Trump presidency?  I submit they can be found in the same place as Yahweh, the Easter Bunny, and unicorns: In the imaginations of their believers.  The rationale for supporting Trump as an atheist activist is even less coherent.  If anything, the atheist community should be decisively opposed to the incoming regime for at least five reasons.

1. Trump has packed his administration with religious zealots who are openly anti-science and anti-secularism.

Climate change denial? Check. Creationism? Yup. Diverting public funds to Christian schools to “advance God’s kingdom?” Of course. Linking vaccines with autism? Goes without saying.  Religion-based discrimination? Bring it on.  The President Elect and his merry band of close advisors are uniformly on the wrong side of all of these issues – that is to say, they are on the side in opposition to the scientific evidence and consensus, as well as constitutional norms.  Vice President Elect Mike Pence once opposed funding for AIDS research in favor of programs that pray away the gay.  Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry’s policy response to drought when he was governor of Texas was to tell residents to pray.  Anyone who claims to value science, evidence, and secularism should be alarmed by these appointments.

2. Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate will be packing the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, with conservative judges who are sympathetic to Christianity and likely to hold a broad view of what constitutes “religious liberty.”

Trump has repeatedly promised to appoint Supreme Court judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  But SCOTUS isn’t the only windfall for the forced-birth crowd: Trump will have the opportunity to appoint dozens of judges to the federal bench all over the country, and based on his list of SCOTUS potentials, all of them are likely to share the same hostility to reproductive freedom and will thus be enthusiastically approved by the GOP-controlled Senate.  State legislatures, emboldened by the demise of Roe and a federal bench warm to Religious LibertyTM, will begin restricting access to contraception by giving employers more and more leeway to deny insurance coverage for it on religious grounds and permission to fire workers who are using birth control or become pregnant.  Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses and state houses will be deemed “traditional” rather than religious and be allowed to remain, thus signaling all non-Christians of the inherent bias against them in both the making and the upholding of laws.  Marriage equality will be undermined or overturned, and when the courts uphold the First Amendment Defense Act (which Trump has promised to sign), discrimination against LGBT people – and really, anyone else to whom a so-called Christian business owner objects – will be fully legal and constitutional.  The wall of separation under Trump will be weakened or obliterated.

3. Trump’s open hostility towards the press and his history of retribution against critics suggest he is ambivalent towards free expression.

It is curious to see so many self-proclaimed free speech advocates supporting a man who just a few weeks ago declared that burning an American flag should result in a year in jail and loss of US citizenship and who has not had a press conference since July 27 of last year.  Granted, Trump’s flag-burning statement was so ludicrously anti-constitutional that one’s instinct was to simply laugh it off with a shake of the head and an “as if.”  But that laughter quickly turned to bile upon remembering that this came from the man who is about to move into the Oval Office.  Did he really not know that flag-burning is constitutionally protected speech? Or did he know but thinks it should not be?  And how unsettling is it that we even have to ask these questions?

Almost as troubling is Trump’s decades-long record of ruthlessly going after those he perceives as having criticized him, a trait which has not abated in the slightest since his election.  It’s bad enough when the person trying to run you into the ground for a bad restaurant review is a rich mogul with a thin skin.  When that person is the most powerful human being on earth with the entirety of the Justice Department, the military, and the rest of the United States government infrastructure at his disposal (not to mention perhaps the Russian one), a chilling effect on frank discussion and criticism is inevitable.  This should be unnerving to us as citizens and downright outrageous to us as atheist activists; weakening the grip of superstition and destigmatizing atheism are predicated on our ability to criticize, satirize, mock, dismantle, and otherwise not defer to the closely held beliefs of others regardless of whose sensibilities we may offend.  A climate in which public figures, journalists, and ordinary citizens are reluctant to challenge those in power for fear of the repercussions ought to be the New Atheist’s and Free Speech Warrior’s worst nightmare.

4. A registry of Muslims is not very far removed from a registry for atheists.

Admittedly, the Trump transition team has been unclear on what kind of registry they are proposing.  Some claim it would simply be a registry of immigrants from majority Muslim nations, or nations with known terrorist activity.  On the other hand, when Trump surrogates cite the World War II internment of American citizens of Japanese descent as a precedent, it is reasonable to question just how limited a Muslim registry would really be.  Remember too that despite what we hear about “islamophobia,” religiously motivated hate crimes against Jews outnumber those against Muslims three-to-one, and the newly emboldened (thanks, PEOTUS!) white nationalist movement is already turning up the heat on American Jews.  In this climate of singling out and marginalizing American citizens from religious minorities, and given that polls consistently show atheists effectively tied with Muslims as the most disliked group of all, as well as the common belief among religionists that godlessness is the root of all evil, is it really that hard to imagine repercussions for non-believers?  Even if not in the form of a registry, the systematic collection of information on groups and individuals based on their perceived subversiveness is not outside the realm of possibility.  Either way, there is no reason to think that the persecution of religious minorities will start and end with Muslims.

5. Trump represents the antithesis of humanist values.

Yes, I know that not all atheists identify as humanists, and not all humanists are atheists.  Humanism is, however, often used as a loose synonym for atheism, and it is at the very least a common theme among nonbelievers that humans are not the filthy, pitiful sinners that theology asserts, and that people have inherent worth independent of the approval of an omnipotent creator.  Add in such values as kindness, generosity, humility, willingness to seek evidence and admit error, and support for universal human rights and you’ve got yourself a pretty good description of a humanist irrespective of religious belief.  Can you think of any list of honest Trump adjectives that includes the words kind, generous, humble, or willingness to admit error?

Ten Questions for Trump Voters that have Nothing to Do with Race

donald-trump

I am getting a little tired of hearing Trump apologists admonish liberals and leftists for the perpetual charges of racism against the President Elect, his closest advisors, and especially his supporters among the electorate.  “Just because he is a racist doesn’t mean everyone who voted for him is a racist!” they cry.  “Your constant accusations of racism are why he was elected in the first place!”  I will address the ludicrous latter half of that claim at another time, but for now, let’s perform a little thought experiment:  Let’s assume that Trump is not racist at all, that he has not appointed known white nationalists to his cabinet, and that exploiting racial tensions was never a part of his campaign in any way.  I’ll grant you that concession.  In return, I would like answers the following questions, with only two conditions: You cannot refer to Hillary Clinton at all; and you cannot deny that the questions are based on proven, verified, undisputed facts.

  1. Are you troubled by the fact that Russia orchestrated the DNC email hacking to influence the election and that the Trump team was in contact with the Russian government throughout the campaign? If not, why not?
  2. Are you concerned about the historically unprecedented conflict of interest caused by Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his assets, or that he and his family have already used the office of the Presidency to promote their various business interests (such as here, here, here, here, and here)? If not, why not?
  3. Do you think that Mike Flynn, who is at this very moment being paid to lobby Congress on behalf of the Turkish government, might have a resulting conflict of interest with respect to policy and national security matters relating to Turkey? If so, does that bother you? If not, why not?
  4. What benefit do you see for our national security and our global moral authority in violating international law to torture terror suspects and execute their families?
  5. Do you think it is appropriate and safe for Trump to be speaking to foreign leaders on an unsecured personal cell phone?
  6. Does Trump’s use of Twitter to lament being lampooned on Saturday Night Live and demanding apologies from Hamilton theater-goers for booing Mike Pence fit your definition of presidential behavior, and does it accurately reflect what you think his priorities should be?
  7. Is it acceptable to you that Trump lied outright by saying he had personally prevented a Ford plant from moving to Mexico when Ford has confirmed that there was never any such plan? If so, why?
  8. What benefit do you see for our national security in Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons?
  9. Given that Trump’s surrogates have confirmed intentions to move forward with mass deportations and the construction of a wall along our southern border as early as day one of his administration, how do you think those projects will be paid for, and do you agree that they represent the best use of tax dollars?
  10. Do you support a national registry of American citizens based on religious affiliation? Does your answer change based on which religion is in question?

 Now that Trump has appointed advisors like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, it seems almost a moot question whether Trump himself is racist, as he is surrounding himself with people who have undeniably racist histories and agendas, and these people will have at least some influence on policy.  But even if they did not exist, Trump the candidate had what should have been fatal flaws – flaws which now belong to the President Elect of the United States.  If people are tired of defending themselves and their candidate from charges of racism, I for one am willing to hit the pause button on those (well founded and very serious) concerns to give them the opportunity to explain why Trump was in any conceivable other way an acceptable choice to run the free world.