A Crisis of Lack of Faith

About a year ago, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared on Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast.  The two discussed many things, but what stood out to me most at the time were Tyson’s comments regarding the criticism he has sometimes taken for declining to profess his atheism:

“I have seen the conduct of outspoken atheists and there is conduct they exhibit that I do not, and so if there’s an emergent sense of what an atheist is, and that sense is being defined by those who are most visible, then I have to say there’s got to be some other word for me, but not that word.”

As much as I respect Dr. Tyson, when I heard these words I admit was slightly put off.  After all, I myself was an outspoken atheist, and I didn’t see my behavior as crossing any lines or as otherwise being offensive enough that others in my own community would wish to distance themselves from me.  What’s more, I saw the actions of other outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Harris himself as urgently necessary: Breaking taboos, sticking a pin in the bubble of religious privilege, and normalizing the non-theistic worldview were important undertakings if we wanted to rid the world of superstition and the endless problems that come with it.  In many ways I saw this work as not only necessary, but noble.

Fast forward to today, and my heart breaks to admit that I now identify 100% with Tyson’s position.  The label of “atheist,” along with the labels “skeptic” and “rationalist,” have become so weighted with the baggage of bad actors that I too am left wondering what to call myself so as to not bear the guilt by association.

When I first stumbled into the world of online atheism around eight years ago, I thought I had finally found my tribe. “These people get it,” I thought. “They get me.” I didn’t have to explain how it could possibly have come about that I wasn’t a lawless, hedonistic savage if I didn’t believe in fairy tales.  I didn’t have to bite my tongue through discussions about prayer or hold back from pointing out that the phrase “Jesus died for our sins” is baffling and nonsensical. I could let my guard down and just be myself.

Back in those days I eagerly devoured books, articles, Facebook posts, memes, and anything else I could get my hands on regarding the topics of belief and unbelief: Materials that explained why religion not only isn’t required to make someone a good person, but often has the opposite effect; lamenting the pervasiveness of religious privilege and gullibility; coaching readers in the skills of argumentation, including how to identify and avoid logical fallacies; and, most of all, congratulating atheists for their cleverness in seeing through the emptiness of religious claims.  After all, we rejected the god hypothesis based on a lack of scientific evidence, a logical and dispassionate assessment of scripture, and because we could dismantle the poorly framed arguments of its proponents.  Right?  We happily substituted the word “humanist” for “atheist” because our objection to religion was not only to its untruth, but to the oppression, cruelty, and injustice so ubiquitously carried out in its name.  Right?  Surely this kind of intellectual prowess made us special; surely we would apply the same tools of rationality, logic, respect for evidence, and humanist ethics that we applied to the god question to all other endeavors. Right?

Are we referring to all beliefs, or just religious ones?

Wrong.  It is clear that scientific evidence and consensus count for far less among atheists than most atheist Facebook memes would have you believe.  To pick the lowest hanging fruit, I am routinely confronted by atheists who are anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, and anti-nuclear power.  Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety and efficacy of all three of these, whenever these facts come up in conversation there is a flurry of pseudo-scientific, long-since-debunked comments combined with no small measure of garment-rending, and previously satisfied followers head for the exit in droves.  Is this the kind of behavior one should expect from people who profess with such fervor to be beholden to the scientific method?

But science is not the only realm in which atheists fall short of their self-aggrandizement: Conspiracy thinking is also not uncommon in our “community.”  Mention any conspiracy, from 9/11 trutherism to birtherism to pizzagate, in any online atheist group and you will uncover passionate, devoted subscribers to every single one. Many such conspiracies have been legitimized, even promoted, by prominent atheist voices.  Furthermore, double standards, logical fallacies, and general intellectual dishonesty are rampant within atheist enclaves.  For example, some people will take Christianity to task for the crusades while absolving ISIS of its roots in Islam.  Other people will seek to silence criticism of almost anything by pointing out how much worse life is under shariah law.  Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias lead to reflexive rejections of contrary arguments and evidence in exactly the same manner that is derided when observed in theists. How could this be possible if part and parcel of being an atheist is a commitment to following the evidence and to applying extra scrutiny to one’s own personal beliefs?  Ask yourself how often you see this behavior in the atheism-focused discussion groups and pages you frequent, or in the self-anointed leaders of movement atheism on YouTube and social media.

Addendum: “Unless you want to believe that vaccines cause autism or gender studies will cause the downfall of civilization”

But Godless Mama, you say, atheists are only human. We make mistakes and are subject to the same brain wiring and cognitive biases as anyone, so it’s unfair for you to hold us to a higher standard.  We are indeed mere fallible humans; that much is true, so far as it goes.  But the hyperbole and braggadocio that permeate most atheist forums offer no such caveats.  “We change our minds with evidence” and “We prefer uncomfortable truths to comforting lies” are two one of the most common sentiments to be encountered within online atheist communities – yet the typical Internet Atheist has no better a track record at either of these than the typical religionist, despite their near-constant proclamations to the contrary.  I am not unfairly holding atheists a higher standard; it is atheists themselves who claim to operate on a higher standard.  I am merely pointing out the regularity with which we fail to meet that standard.

Lol, religitards pwned again *high fives self*

The worst disillusionment for me by far is the widespread rejection of humanist values among so many Internet Atheists, including among many who have anointed themselves spokespersons for movement atheism.  The lines between criticizing the theological doctrine of Islam and the demonizing of Muslims have become blurry; discussions that in the past sought to make legitimate points about the peculiar aspects of Islam that make it uniquely dangerous at this moment in history or presented evidence that religious fervor motivates behavior are now framed in terms of anti-immigrant animus, argued in favor of policies that seek to keep refugees from Islamic regions from eroding “western values.”  Western feminists are mocked, derided, attacked, and dismissed for discussing challenges faced by Western women because Saudi women living under Islamic male guardianship have it tougher.  So-called “rationalists” go to great lengths to explain why it’s actually irrational to suggest that 13-year-old children can’t consent to sex with adults and how it is only morality, not logic, which takes children off the sexual menu.  By 7:00 this morning I had already encountered someone online saying he wants to “oven” elementary school-aged trans children; someone who posted a GIF writing out the phrase “Hitler did nothing wrong;” a dozen people with references to “free helicopter rides” and white genocide in their bios; and someone telling me that my “grandchildren will be murdered by darkies.”  Know what else all these people had in their bios? References to their atheism, skepticism, or rationalism.

I’ll take “Hasty Generalizations” for $400, Alex
. . . with a chaser of misogynist Relative Privation

I do not for one minute think or mean to suggest that these individuals account for the majority of folks in the nebulous group called “atheists.”  I get it that a lack of belief in god is neither an ideology unto itself nor predictive of any other views or values.  I’m also not saying that by dint of unbelief in god any atheist is required to hold any particular worldview.  I am now, as I have always been, fully prepared to accept that atheists are as diverse a group as any other, with the same distribution of heroes and villains and everything in between as any other.  But if it is true – and it surely is – that the “Hitler did nothing wrong” crowd doesn’t represent atheists as a whole, then it is also true that the “We change our minds with evidence” crowd doesn’t represent atheists as a whole either, and the ubiquitous declarations about atheists’ superior critical thinking skills, commitment to evidence, and logical clarity should be dispensed with as generalizations that don’t consistently align with reality.

My point here is not about atheists but about movement atheism, which has become corrupted by the rising prevalence of voices that, at the end of the day, espouse a lot of views that are strikingly and chillingly similar to the religious ones we claim to oppose.  Being an outspoken opponent of magical thinking, of interference by religion in the public sphere, and of the many toxic ideas put forward by religion is still an important and worthy cause.  But it is time to let go of the idea that religion owns the market of bad ideas.  It is time to let go of the conceit that atheists are more willing to challenge their own beliefs than theists. It is time to do away with the notion that to the extent atheists have a PR problem we don’t bear at least some measure of accountability.  Above all, it is time for those of us who believe in the cause of movement atheism as a means to making the world better – to eliminating justifications for bigotry and hate and violence, to guiding humanity towards making better choices based on evidence and ethics and empathy rather than on ideology – to clean our own house, to repudiate the voices of bigotry and hypocrisy within our own ranks, and to amplify those voices among us who are intellectually honest, morally courageous, and who better represent the most noble aspirations of our movement.

I do not want the term “atheist” to become inextricable in the public consciousness from concepts like bigotry, arrogance, indifference to suffering, or selfishness, and I am willing to fight to prevent that from happening.  But if I fail, then I will join Dr. Tyson in shunning that label, and find some other word that describes me, “but not that word.”

Signs You Might Be A Hypocrite

caution-sign-wallpaper-background-13089-13544-hd-wallpapers

I can think of little else that I despise more than hypocrisy: The application of different standards (of evidence, morality, or anything else) to those things of which we approve or which benefit us vs. those things we dislike or which benefit others.  Of course we are all human and subject to cognitive biases in varying degrees, an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of our hard wiring.  Excessive hypocrisy, however, is a mark of both intellectual laziness and intellectual dishonesty, and especially for those of us who claim the mantle of skeptic / critical thinker / champion of evidence, we should be perpetually vigilant for signs of it in ourselves and take decisive corrective action when we find it.  Here are a few clues that may help you determine whether your hypocrisy self-awareness meter requires calibration.

  • You spend a lot of time defending Milo Yiannopolous and Richard Spencer under the banner of “we have to protect even the most offensive speech,” but did not defend Kathy Griffin’s mock ISIS photo under the banner of “we have to protect even the most offensive speech.”
  • You chastise others for their echo chambers and admonish them to engage with to their opponents, but block people who disagree with you on Facebook and Twitter.
  • You have ever said “fuck your feelings” with regard to perceived political correctness, but lamented the lack of respect shown to Mike Pence when he was booed at a Broadway show.
  • You were horrified by the evangelical Christian trend of “purity balls” but laud hijab as a feminist symbol.
  • You supported the Benghazi investigations but oppose the Trump-Russia investigation.
  • It bothered you that Richard Spencer lost his gym membership, but you think LGBT couples should just find another bakery.
  • You criticize western feminists who talk about sexist imagery in comics for overly frivolous concerns, but complain about women-only screenings of the film Wonder Woman.
  • You called the people who were outraged when Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission “snowflakes,” but not the people who were outraged when Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem.
  • You were more bothered by Michelle Obama’s bare arms than by Melania Trump’s nudity.
  • You characterize Milo Yiannopolous as “just a troll” but an anti-Trump D-list comedian as “a Leftist celebrated public figure.”
  • You dismiss non-binary concepts of gender as not based in science, but defended the “Penis as Social Construct” hoax by saying even if this hoax didn’t debunk the field of gender studies, it doesn’t matter because everyone knows a better hoax would have.
  • You oppose legal abortion but support the death penalty.
  • You said jokes about the death of Roger Ailes were disrespectful of Ailes’s family, but you promote Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones or call criticism of Sean Hannity’s treatment of the Rich family “regressive.”
  • You claim to oppose Islam on behalf of the women it oppresses, but promote personalities who deny the existence of date rape or who call for white women to be publicly flogged for sexual impropriety.
  • You deny that Western colonialism turns Muslims into Islamists, but claim that too much political correctness turns white people into racists.
  • You spent weeks or months condemning the Richard Spencer punch and holding it up as evidence of pervasive violence on the Left, but justified, laughed at, or remained silent when a conservative politician assaulted a journalist and deny it is indicative of a violence problem on the Right.
  • You spend more time worrying about the threat to free speech posed by Ann Coulter being dis-invited from speaking at a college campus than you do about a citizen being convicted and imprisoned for laughing at a government official (or a bill that would send teenagers to federal prison for sexting, or a journalist being arrested for asking a government official a question, or state legislatures passing laws criminalizing peaceful protests).
  • You declare the importance of seeing people as individuals rather than as collectives while making hasty generalizations about feminists, Muslims, Democrats, Leftists, etc.
  • You speak out against anti-LGBT attitudes embraced by conservative Christians, but file anti-LGBT attitudes among Muslims under “cultural differences.”
  • You denigrate the boycott of Sean Hannity’s advertisers in response to his treatment of the Rich family as a regressive leftist attack for “wrong think,” but were supportive or silent when conservatives boycotted Beauty and the Beast for having a gay character (or Hamilton because the cast addressed Mike Pence; or Budweiser, 84 Lumber, CocaCola, Airbnb, Kia, and Tiffany for airing SuperBowl ads with pro-diversity messages; or Nordstrom for dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line; or Netflix for having a show called Dear White People; or Starbucks for having insufficiently Christian holiday coffee cups; or Hawaii because a federal judge there ruled against Trump’s travel ban; or Target for encouraging trans people to use their restroom of choice; or Target again for banning loaded guns in its stores; or ABC for cancelling Last Man Standing; or . . .  )

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.