Month: January 2017

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?