Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Importance of Fresh Perspectives and A Confession

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've only subscribed to 3 people this year on YouTube and 2 of them I unsubscribed from again. YouTube just wasn't the thriving community that it once was. It's not the diverging from religious issues as many of us had done that years ago. It's the lack of new ideas and the obsession with such uninteresting and dead-end issues, the incredibly fragile egos that have to explode at the slightest criticism over the pettiest things, and the herd mentality which encourages those egos. Not being able to make videos doesn't even factor into it.

My 3rd, my most recent subscription was to SamiZaatari, a Muslim. I have seen 1 video from him since subscribing a week ago and after the 16 minutes and 34 seconds of the video, I already feel better about YouTube. I feel more interested in the discussions taking place than I have all year, and I have not only more ideas myself for blogs or videos, but a new source of such ideas. How has this happened?

The video was called "Free Speech and Muslim Protests". In it, Sami acknowledged the situation in various Middle Eastern countries regarding the protests over "The Innocence of Muslims" but noting that our comments, videos and statements in general regarding free speech are very selective. When it's Muslims, he says, we jump on the issues wholeheartedly, but when it's, say, France banning counter-protests or Europe in general criminalising Holocaust denial, we are silent. There are issues that can be taken with the video: while the statement was aimed at the community in general, certain individuals have been addressing these issues, and his example of the Westboro Baptist Church funeral protests received quite a lot of attention from us. However, Muslim-specific issues do get a lot more of our attention, and this demands an explanation, which I believe is fairly obvious: what is, was or never was (depending on your point of view) the Atheist Community's most popular figures generally do not express a nuanced and approving view of Islam. Look at thunderf00t and Pat Condell. Both of them have projected extremist Muslim actions onto all Muslims, and their subscribers have not shown the skepticism they claim to possess in assessing these figures' claims. Most do not watch the other person's video or read the blog which these figures' link, in order that their subscribers can have both sides of the story, but they feel qualified to comment anyway. The ongoing criticism of Islam is one of the most significant events in the community's history, perhaps second only to the Blasphemy challenge that encouraged so many people to start channels, and so we are more likely to be aware of Muslim-related free speech issues like the one described above.

It is unlikely that the free speech issues that Sami described will be talked about not because he is a Muslim, or that they are not as important (some are more important), but because if the big names don't talk about it, it won't go viral in the community and be 1 of those issues we all feel compelled to talk about. It would be easy to deride the herd mentality that I'm describing here but I would be a hypocrite for doing so:

When I started this blog, I had the idea that it might temporarily replace my YT videos as I couldn't make them. HubPages randomly demonetised or outright deleted articles, deciding years after I'd written them that they were suddenly in violation of some bullshit rule which was never the case, so I moved here. However, there were so many blog ideas that I had that I didn't follow through on, many because it involved looking a lot of stuff up, or because it just didn't look right written down even though it sounded fine in my head. Part of it is definitely laziness, but I don't tend to do stuff I haven't been asked to do that involves a lot of work if I'm unlikely to get anything back for it. Many of my posts haven't been seen by anyone, so this greatly discourages me from writing ones that involve a lot of preparation. The Assange post that I talked about in my last video that I still haven't written is clear proof of this. I have written posts since that video, but about comparatively meaningless shit like Atheism +. The bottom line is I am no different to the rest of the community. While I've genuinely wanted to follow through, I have focused on irrelevant crap that the majority of YTers had already been talking about to the exclusion of more important issues probably because I knew that people would read/watch/care about them, and for that I am sorry. In many ways, I'm even worse than the community that I am talking about because I, hypocritically, have chastised them before. The psychology behind our tendency to focus on these dead-end, irrelevant issues is strong and not to be taken lightly, but it should be pointed out.

This all being the case, I could tell you now that I'm going to address the issues that Sami has shed light on, and seek out new ones myself. I could, but history and psychology both suggest these would be more empty promises. Having this conscious understanding of our failings in these endeavours will, I hope, help me to try harder. I know that I want to write about this stuff, I just need, somehow, to actually do it.


Friday, 14 September 2012

"Let Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Debate" Says Outsider

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've seen a number of videos recently advocating letting Gary Johnson of the US' Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party into the presidential debates with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I'm not American, I'm from the UK, but this gives me some insight which I think could be useful here.

First off, I'd like to make it very clear that this has nothing to do with any political affiliation. Not that this matters because, as a non-American, I can't vote anyway. What I am doing here is explaining why I agree with the effort to get Gary Johnson and Jill Stein into the debates, and using the events of the 2010 UK general election as evidence of the success that either or both of the candidates could enjoy.

First, let me give you a brief summary of UK politics and the political climate immediately preceding the election. Like the US, we had 2 major parties in the UK: Labour, and the Conservatives (or Tories).  To give a brief description of these parties, Labour is left-wing and focuses on Democratic Socialism, while the Tories are right-wing. Gordon Brown, our prime minister at the time was Labour's leader and both him and the party weren't very popular. The opposition leader was the Tory leader and now prime minister, David Cameron, and many hadn't forgiven them for Thatcher. Where we differed from the US is in having a 3rd party: a minor but not insignificant party called the Liberal Democrats (or Lib Dems), led by Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems would typically get around 15-20% of the votes in elections. For the first time ever, we had televised debates at this election and those 3 parties were allowed to have their leaders debate. Nick Clegg's performance in the first of the 3 debates had the effect of boosting Lib Dem opinion polls up to around 35% and it generally hovered around 25-30% in the following debates, in the same neighbourhood as the other 2 parties, with the decrease from the 1st debate due to David Cameron responding. The final result was 36.1% for the Tories, 29% for Labour and 23% for the Lib Dems, but even though the final result wasn't much of an improvement over the previous election (22.1%), the spread was more even (the gap between the Tories and Labour was wider than that between Labour and the Lib Dems, and there was only 6% difference between 2nd and 3rd as opposed to 12% in 2005), and the debates showed the potential for improvement if the debate performance is strong enough. The point is that the televised debates changed the perception of what many previously considered a 2-party system, bringing a genuine challenge from a 3rd party. Since the elections, the Lib Dems have pretty much sealed their doom by flip-flopping on pre-election promises, especially regarding tuition fees, which angered the essential younger voter base, but take that as a lesson for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on what not to do: fuck up.

In his most recent video, pogobat (Dan Brown) argued the following:

"Presidential contests are as much as anything about testing a candidate's ability to lead and organise a large group of people. You don't get to organise people through the debates. You get to the debates through organising a large group of people and Gary Johnson just hasn't done that."

pogobat, "Should Gary Johnson Be In The Debates?" - 3:16-3:34

Let me first state that I'm unfamiliar with the practical aspects of implementing the idea at the premise of this post. If Dan is talking about such practicalities and he is right, then this is all simply feel-good fantasy, but if he is arguing that a position in the debates must be earned then, due to the nature of the American electoral process as I understand it, this is extremely unfair. The Libertarian and Green parties, not to mention all other minor parties, are already fighting an uphill battle as they do not have the opportunities for mainstream exposure that the big 2 have. By not already having these opportunities, the 2-party system actively prevents and hinders the efforts of the minor parties to gain these voters. Dan cites Ross Perot, from the 1992 election as a counterexample, but he had the advantage of already being famous. He had already achieved enormous successes as a businessman. Prior to the 2008 and 2012 election processes, Romney and Obama were senators, not really well-known at all. To have to be famous to get equal attention is not a great argument for the status quo. Incidentally, despite getting just under 20% of the votes, Perot didn't win any states due to the even distribution of his voter base throughout the country: another adversary of a 2+ party system, but something for another time.

This is what needs to happen. If you ever want to see a political system that is not dominated by crazy fundamentalist oil and finance slaves, and pretend progressive oil and finance slaves, a good start would be letting Gary and Jill debate. From there, they must perform exceptionally well, and, in my experience of watching the Lib Dems in the UK crash and burn, they absolutely must stick to their promises. They must appeal to the fact that they are something new: genuine change. They will get derided by the big 2 who will view them as wackos, but they must be able to address such criticism with a damning rebuttal of the big 2's failed policies and the repeated attempts to implement said policies, and who is funding/owning them. And whatever they promise, they must do. All of this is essential as, because they are something new and untested, they will be held to a much higher standard. However, American or not, I'm not convinced the current system will ever change without more parties being allowed to enter the debates.


Monday, 10 September 2012

Fundamentalists, Opinions, and Responsibilities

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

LatumWay recently made a video called "Don't Blame Me! Blame God!". In it, he talks about the defence that a fundamentalist presents of their position when they make a controversial statement in which they argue that they are not to blame because it's what God says. I've had a perspective on this that I haven't seen expressed elsewhere so I want to chime in on this.

Many of these so-called fundamentalists will be charlatans profiting off of the sincerely held beliefs of genuine fundamentalists, so I'm not talking about these people. They are not only trying to transfer the blame to a god, but the opinion away from which they're trying to transfer the blame isn't even sincere, it's expressed for the purpose of gaining money and/or fame. These people know what they're doing and should be called on it, as LatumWay does in his video.

On the other hand, I would not favour this approach with a genuine fundamentalist, as they might not understand such a reaction. Let me explain:

Put yourself in a fundie's shoes. They belief in the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. For them, this deity is the source of morality: any moral viewpoint expressed by this deity is, to the fundamentalist, a truth. We would see it as an opinion to agree or disagree with, but, to a fundie, any alternative viewpoint is wrong. It's not that you disagree with god, it's that it's not a question of agreeing or disagreeing. It doesn't matter if there are logical problems with this viewpoint, this is what they believe.

To clarify the above paragraph, let's take the example from the video as it would be said by someone who we know genuinely believes what they are saying, and what they're saying is that "it's not OK to be gay". Because of what the fundie believes about their god, they don't view this as their own opinion, they view this as a basic truth of reality: they have no more choice to believe this than we do of believing that the Earth is round or that the Earth orbits the sun. In their mind, they are not expressing an opinion, they are imparting a truth. As such, if we were to get angry at them because of what we perceive to be their opinion, they won't understand why we are angry at them for making a statement that, to them, is not something to agree or disagree with, but is instead a truth. They would see such a reaction as "shooting the messenger".

So how should we deal with these people? Well I generally don't deal in "should"s. I'll just say that this is how I would do it:

To the fundie: "Put yourself in my shoes. I don't believe in your god. As such, I don't accept that the statement "it's not OK to be gay" is a truth. Instead I see it as an opinion, and people like me will look at you saying these things and think it is your opinion and react accordingly. Whatever you believe, this statement is very offensive to a gay person as science indicates that they were born that way, and are no more able to change that than they could change their skin colour. Also, if you're genuinely concerned about such people's souls, making such an offensive statement will only push them further away from your position. You need to understand these things."

OK, knowing my social skills, it wouldn't be that formal, clear or eloquent in a real-life scenario but you get the idea. If you take anything away from this post, the general idea is that understanding your detractors leads to more fruitful discussions.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Atheism +

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

You're all probably familiar with the concept of a troll. This is someone who will say anything they can to provoke a reaction from you. If you express any sort of opinion on the internet, it's a matter of very little time before you get 1 attacking you. If you make videos on YouTube, your appearance alone can give the troll ammunition for their insults. Take me as an example: I have relatively long hair for a guy and I don't shave often. My trolls have tended to target these features in particular. Anything that stands out from the norm tends to be a target. When it comes to women, these insults tend to take a more sexist form: for example, "get back in the kitchen". They will almost definitely make reference to your breasts or vagina or say "I'd tap that", as an extremely mild example. For these reasons, women are more prone to trolling than men. This is a perfectly legitimate issue to raise: even if the insults are insincere, the fact that one gender receives more, and that those insults are of a more sexist nature, is an issue that can be addressed. There are any number of reasons why this could be the case: perhaps trolls feel that women's rights are still a sensitive issue seeing as how any significant equality was only established last century. How women were treated before such progress was made gives them ideas. I don't think any female-specific body parts in and of themselves contribute to it because otherwise male-specific body parts would be targeted just as frequently, and that hasn't, in my experience anyway, been the case. Of course it could be that most trolls are male.

Now what does this have to do with Atheism +? If you look at the people who started or inspired the movement: Greta Christina, Jen McCreight, not to mention that Rebecca Watson's "Elevatorgate" incident was a precursor to the whole thing, they have all taken the above fact extremely seriously. They, perfectly legitimately as I said, see the fact that women are trolled more often than men as a gender issue to be addressed in our community. Every action by these trolls: every death threat, rape threat, sexist remark, or objectifying comment is taken very seriously. That's not to say that they don't understand that it's trolling, just that it doesn't matter if it is: it's still a problem to be addressed. Some people are doubtful that they receive such threats, but if you count every instance of trolling towards them in which someone says something like "I hope you get raped" as such a threat, is it really so hard to believe? Many internet personalities talk about their hate mail, many reading it out for fun. Why would you deny that the aforementioned people are any different? When Rebecca Watson, or someone like her, talks about these threats at skeptic conferences, these instances of trolling are what she is referring to. Atheism + is a movement reacting against such trolling, but also against the viewpoints that enable or encourage such trolling. Had they used a different name I wouldn't have a problem with them AT ALL. The behaviour, and the underlying mindset that encourages it, should be challenged; my problem with them is that they have taken that perfectly noble idea and framed it as "the third wave of atheism" (the previous 2 being philosophers that have championed atheism in the past and "New Atheism", referring to the more recent efforts by people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris).

I recently saw a video by noelplum99 called "Atheism+ My Day on Freethought Blogs". In it, he details his experiences responding to a blog post by Greta Christina defending Atheism +. His response was perfectly civil, outlining his objections to the movement and offering some constructive criticism. However he was constantly misinterpreted and even Greta herself, in her response, completely missed or ignored his point. So I'm going to spell out those objections, which I share, adding my own if any more come to me. First, the movement is called Atheism +. To me, this implies that it is some kind of extension of the atheist movement. Atheism + is about addressing issues of social justice: LGBT rights, ableism, feminism etc. The only relevance this has to atheism is that the members of Atheism + happen to be atheists, but I've seen no evidence that religious issues are addressed at all. As such, as many people have pointed out, this movement is associating atheism with these social justice issues. This is unforgivable. Atheism is not a political viewpoint, it is nothing more or less than the lack of belief in a god. The issue raised by critics like me, that the members and defenders of Atheism + either don't understand or outright ignore, is that we are not OK with atheism being associated with the political perspectives of a few people, whose perspectives are not shared by the majority of atheists. To make my point more clear, consider the following.

Let's take a hypothetical future where Atheism + has flourished. A man, let's call him Bob, who lives in Alabama, is surrounded by Christian fundamentalists. His parents are fundies, his friends are fundies, and he was taught creationism in school, but, as he grows older, he becomes less and less convinced. He finds a community of atheists on the internet where, for the first time ever, he can meet people who share his perspectives. One day, he plucks up the courage to tell his friends and family that he is an atheist. Now, if this were today, he might get told that they will pray for him, they might alienate him, and he could even be fired if his work heard about it. All of this just because he doesn't subscribe to the idea of a creator of the universe that has an opinion on the way you live your life, and expects you to abide by it. But in the world where Atheism + is a gigantic movement, being an atheist means more. Without saying anything to his family or friends about his political views, he is assumed to be in support of LGBT rights, a feminist and extremely politically correct, so, through no fault of his own, he is associated with these beliefs which, in addition to the already controversial atheist viewpoint, are even more controversial in the conservative southern American state where he lives. Now think, is someone in Bob's position likely to ever come out as an atheist if atheism has a political dimension to it as well? What if Bob doesn't share that political perspective, is it fair that he gets associated with that because a lack of belief in a god has become linked to that perspective? To Atheism + directly: if you want to call yourselves something like the "atheist social justice movement", that's fine. It's clear from the name that you are atheists who also have a passion for social justice, and addressing the related issues. But Atheism + is just atheism with a plus sign. An outside observer will most likely and quite reasonably come to the conclusion that you are the next generation of atheists, but you don't simply believe in a god, you also have a certain, and very specific, position on social justice which, if the movement is to have any success, is likely to tar the label atheism with such associations.

When confronted on these points, members of Atheism + seem to completely fail to understand. The last 2 perspectives have been dedicated to spelling out exactly what the problem is, but we are still met with boneheaded remarks which show no understanding of our criticism such as:

"So you're OK with atheism being associated with misogynists and rape apologists, but you're not OK with it being associated with us?"

To illustrate why this is such a monumentally stupid remark, I'm going to create a hypothetical atheist movement, like Atheism +, that these "misogynists and rape apologists" are a part of. Let's call it Atheism -. This movement is committed to opposing the political perspectives of Atheism +. My criticisms of Atheism + also hold for Atheism -: they are using the label of atheism to advance a particular political position. In reality, there is no Atheism -. There are misogynists and rape apologists who HAPPEN TO BE atheists, but they are not conducting their behaviour UNDER THE BANNER OF ATHEISM. Atheism + ARE advocating their own stance on social justice issues under this banner. If Atheism - did exist, I'd oppose it for the exact same reasons as I oppose Atheism +, but, as I've said, atheism just means a lack of belief in a god. All unrelated viewpoints can be held by atheists. Just because we might not like that, doesn't mean we should try to exclude these people from "atheism", this would just be a No True Scotsman fallacy. The behaviour of many people towards feminists is completely unacceptable, but they have never tried to claim that this kind of behaviour is part and parcel of being an atheist. You, Atheism +, are doing exactly that.

The blog post which noelplum99 responded to, by Greta Christina, which can be found here, makes another point that I'd like to address. Greta goes on the defence saying that if you want to go your own route and address your own issues, that's fine with her, but we shouldn't try to talk people out of Atheism + by saying that it will weaken the Atheist community. Greta, there is no such objection. I agree with you that the community is already relatively weak. Where I disagree is in seeing this as a problem. As I've previously said, atheists can hold any position which doesn't contradict their lack of belief in a god. This diversity ensures that there will always be in-fighting in an atheist community. This is completely fine, as the community is not a unified movement, rather it is a community of subgroups with differing political and philosophical allegiances that share one thing in common: atheism. This is how it has always been and there's nothing wrong with that. But, until now, no group has sought to hijack the term "atheism" for its own political ends.

You then say this in your response to noelplum99: 

"The group that has formed in large part to combat this situation [feminist-oriented attacks] and to create a safe haven from it has a name that you think will be confusing and create an incorrect impression of atheism."

You claim that Atheism + is a safe haven for people who have been the victim of the rape and death threats that you rightfully speak out against. Jen McCreight, on the other hand, claims that Atheism + is "the third wave of atheism" which necessarily involves hijacking the label atheism for your own political ends. So what's the deal? Are you right, is she right, or are you both right? If it was just a safe haven, as long as it didn't sell itself as "the third wave of atheism", and there was more than a + sign, which can very easily be misinterpreted, to describe the nuances of your movement's particular goals, none of us would have a problem with you. We'd agree or disagree with your opinions, but we'd have no reason to oppose the existence of your group.

Atheism +, try to understand:

By choosing a name which suggests that you are the next wave of atheism, by saying exactly that, and not, instead, choosing a name which simply tells people that you are atheists supporting your own interpretation of social justice, you are changing the definition of atheism to equate all of us with your political perspective that we may or may not agree with. This is, with all due respect, far more serious than the threats you have received, because you are forever changing what it means to be an atheist and you do not get to do that. We are not OK with that, and we will oppose you as long as you keep trying to do this. If you want us to get off your back, you MUST change your name and mission statement to something which does not try to actively change the definition of the word atheism, which, in the extremely unlikely event that you are successful, will have huge implications not just for current atheists, but ones who want to be able to say, without fear of consequences, that they are an atheist as well.