Listen. All human beings have huge blind spots: in the neurological/cognitive sense, the pernicious cluelessness inherent in the very nature of privilege, and cavernous gaps in our knowledge and experiences—all of which by definition cannot figure into our judgements. As it turns out, it is only to the extent that we acknowledge these truths about ourselves that we stand any chance of becoming more enlightened about the realities of the world, and, perhaps, better human beings. In this regard, certain Horsemen have been a bit of a disappointment—to put it mildly.
I have read every book The Dawk has ever written (although I admit I got lost about halfway through The Extended Phenotype). He was hardly the only author I read during my torrid affair with evolutionary biology: Carl Zimmer, Jerry Coyne and Neil Shubin come to mind, and there were others. But I have to say that—especially by the measure of “wow” moments, where I found myself gaping in awe at the wonders of life on Earth—Dawkins reigned supreme. He is a naturally gifted writer, with that rare talent for explaining complex scientific subject matter to the uninitiated. The God Delusion was a great read too, of course. But as soon as he started fapping away with that Dear Muslima shit and just kept doubling down, I wrote him off. The mask had slipped, and underneath I saw an ugly, arrogant asshole who could never be wrong about women or sexism—or about anything at all, for that matter.
Here is a man worth an estimated $135 million pettily accusing bloggers who criticize him of bullying, faking outrage, and doing it all for the page clicks. You see, no one could possibly be criticizing him for saying factually wrong and harmful things in the (futile) hope that he will stop doing that. Well, okay, in my case I mock him for the lulz, in part because I thoroughly enjoy skewering unrepentant shitweasels. But I also think it’s important and necessary to do so—if, that is, one wishes to change the culture in which said shitweasels operate with impunity. But even though in this instance his “page clicks” accusation is embarassingly wrong, does he write for free? No? I didn’t think so. And while there is nothing wrong with making money from writing, bloggers make chump change—which makes the clickbait j’accuse particularly hilarious coming from an obscenely wealthy author. And as for the “bullying” charge—coming from the man who shat forth Dear Muslima—I’ll just quote PZ: “since when is standing up to the two biggest names in the atheist movement a case of bullying? That’s simply delusional.”
And here is a “rationalist” who writes, with zero sense of irony or self-awareness, in a blog post entitled Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face? that it is:
deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.
Rebecca Watson deals very nicely with “witch-hunting” here, but suffice it to say that telling someone “you are demonstrably wrong and saying harmful things, here is why, please stop doing that” is not in fact a witch hunt, an Inquisition, or thought-policing of any kind: Dawkins has built an entire career out of saying EXACTLY THAT to creationists and godbots. For fuck’s sake.
What a douche.
I’d never been a big admirer of Sam Harris, but since my good friend SJ is a fan I’ve had occasion to look at some of his work more closely. My main problem is that I find him a tedious writer (and speaker). Whatever brilliant insights he may have (if any) are often difficult to tease out of a morass of bland wankery: I feel like I’m back in college slogging through a boring textbook I have to suffer through to pass a test. Perhaps this is just a matter of personal aesthetic taste: what my brilliant friend finds incisive and clear, I find witless and dull. I would argue however, that if Harris is so often misunderstood by his critics—liberal or otherwise—that ought to count as evidence against incisive and clear. But beyond that, if your erudite moral philosophy has lead you to justify torture, yer doin’ it rong. Not a priori, either: even tossing aside basic human rights (!), torture doesn’t work. (And, interestingly enough, it also has negative consequences for torturers.) Harris’s latest gender-essentialist drivel and subsequent ‘splainin are pure comedy gold, coming as they do from such an Esteemed Intellectual™, but it’s not as if I feel personally disappointed by his douchiness or anything. I’ve just never held him in very high regard.
[UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte’s PWNage of Harris is superb.]
Hitchens was a brilliant writer: the d00d spewed liquid fire from his pen. I followed his writings religiously (<—hahaha omg I crack myself up) in Vanity Fair, and his books just lit me up. Wit, passion, eloquence, astonishing historical and literary knowledge, and an unrivaled sense of glee at knocking down sacred cows, with great panache. He held some truly horrendous opinions about war, and more to the point here, wore his misogyny like a fucking badge of honor. World Class Douche, I’d say. But you know what? At least I knew where my gender stood in his estimation, so I could keep him at a safe distance like a creepy uncle. Frankly, I much prefer that to watching clueless and arrogant weasels enamored with their Superior Intellects™ spin embarrassing rationalizations for the sloppy and demonstrably false sexist shit they spew—all because they can never, ever be wrong, or gawdferbid apologize.
Is it only a matter of time before Daniel Dennett says something epically misogynist? I don’t know about you, but I’m not waiting around. (For all I know he already has. Whatever.) And for the record, the Horsedouches are hardly alone: James Randi, Ron Lindsay, DJ Grothe, Phil Mason (“Thunderf00t”), Michael Shermer, TJ Kincaid (“The Amazing Atheist”) and other so-called “leaders” in the movement have all been appalling shits to women. When Steven Novella recently spoke to a reporter, he recounted that “Back in the ’90s, up until our movement exploded online, this was an old boys’ network. The guys would look around and go, ‘Where the hell are all the women?’” Great question. Except it has long been evident to me that not everyone asking that question has the same motivation. Let’s bring more women to the table because we want to expand our movement and they have so much to contribute is not quite the same sentiment as let’s bring in more women so we can hit on, harass, abuse and maybe fuck them, heh-heh. Extraordinary women have already bailed, and who knows how many others have taken one look at the movement, and run.
Of course atheism has a misogyny problem. The internet has a misogyny problem. The entire world has a misogyny problem. You can choose to be part of the solution, or to bask in the comfortable ignorance of unjust privilege and ancient superstition, and thus accept and perpetuate a very ugly status quo.
There are too many smart, fiery thinkers and writers who want to be called out on their privilege when they fuck up (as all of us do), who are eager to learn from others’ knowledge and experiences and de-center their own, who are delighted to change their preconceived notions upon consideration of evidence and reason, and who can somehow manage to say these words: “I’m sorry. I fucked up. I now understand why. I will do better in the future.”
It’s really not that hard. Unless, of course, you’re a narcissistic little shitweasel. In which case, please accept this hearty Palace fuck you.