On politics

Ophelia Benson has a post up looking at an interview between Benjamin Nelson (a sometime commenter here) and Chris Mooney. Nelson summarizes the interview, and the broader accommodation/confrontation conflict, by writing:

[Mooney’s] stance is self-consciously political. At least to some extent, there is a “difference in goals” between Mooney and the activist atheists — by which, I think, he means a difference in priorities. Mooney does not think that speaking out against religion is a priority, and that it is on the whole detrimental to science education; while others think it is a priority, and that it supports science education in some respect.

That sounds in the ballpark to me, and apparently to Ophelia as well:

I think that’s right, and it is the self-consciously political aspect that I have always found somewhat alien. I say “somewhat” because I can’t possibly reject all politics. I realize one has to weigh consequences (as we were just discussing with reference to the Vatican and a life-saving abortion) and consider priorities. But I think when serious discussion becomes too entangled with politics, then it simply stops being serious discussion and turns into some form of campaigning.

But this is exactly what I find so strange – the ambivalence and even aversion to politics [see update below]. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know why she, and many others in the gnu camp, seem to equate politics with “campaigning” with some sort of sleaze or dishonesty, and think that this is totally distinct from the bullshit that bloggers do on blogs (including gnu atheist bloggers on gnu atheist blogs).

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve been looking for a relevant quote, one from a Pete Seeger album I listened to as a kid. I don’t remember which it was, but somewhere he describes a song – a seemingly innocent and apolitical song – as being about politics because (and I’m obliged to paraphrase, unless you, dear reader, know the quote): “Politics is what happens whenever two people get together for whatever reason. They can be bowling together, and that’s politics.”

And that’s basically my view. The State of the Union speech is politics. Knocking on doors and phonebanking is politics. But so are blogs, even knitting blogs or mommyblogs. Defending science education is politics. Dawkins’ “Out Campaign” is politics, and so are the fights about accommodation vs. confrontation. Publishing a paper is politics. It may be no more consequential than academic politics, but any time you are trying to change someone’s mind, you are doing politics. And if you’re writing something – and I mean anything: poetry, fiction, fantasy, slash fic, polemics – and don’t intend to change your reader’s mind in some way, you should just burn your keyboard.

I don’t think anyone in the gnu camp will disagree with that last sentence; gnus value writing and arguing quite highly. And they should! I think they might disagree that that means any writing for a public audience is inherently political. But it is. I don’t see a way in which it isn’t.

Too many people, and I’m talking about society at large here, think politics is a dirty word. It’s associated with all the horrific things Congress does, the mudslinging campaign ads and the sausage-making that produces our laws. And that is politics. But that’s not all politics means, and it’s not what politics should be. If we come to believe and accept that that sort of douchebaggery is all politics is or all it can be, then that’s all it will be. It can be more, and it must be more. And we make it something better by getting involved, and being open about the fact that politics is good and worthy.

Despite the protestations, it seems obvious to me that gnu atheism is deeply political. It’s not two people bowling, it’s a bunch of people at a rally. It’s people writing op-eds and racking up endorsements. It’s people looking to political movements built around civil rights and gay rights for guidance. It’s people turning to advertising for guidance. It’s politics by any measure, and the sooner they accept that, and accept all that implies, the sooner we can move past the debate about whether it’s politics, to a more interesting discussion of how to make it into effective politics.

Update: Ophelia says I misread her, that she is not uncomfortable with politics writ large, only to being self-consciously political. I don’t know what difference that actually makes since the term is undefined, but I appreciate the correction. I’m in the comments at her place and here trying to sort this out. To be clear, though, I read the adjective, and my understanding of that phrase led me to write what I did. She says I misread her, and I may have, though certainly not on purpose. On the other hand, her meaning may not be objectively clear, and that can’t be my fault.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    January 4, 2011

    Is the distinction you need the one between politics, and Politics?

  2. #2 FUG
    January 4, 2011

    I agree that this movement is all about politics, or at least mind-boggingly political if not all about politics. The past two atheist conferences I’ve been at, while epistemology and the role of science were background assumptions or minor discussions, have centered around politics of atheism, feminism, gay rights, and predominantly left politics. If it weren’t, then I wouldn’t be an advocate for it.

  3. #3 Larry Moran
    January 4, 2011

    “Despite the protestations, it seems obvious to me that gnu atheism is deeply political.”

    Gnu’s are from countries all over the world, not just the United States of America. I’m a Canadian—in what sense is MY opinion on the conflict between science and religion “deeply political”? Are you implying that I base my opinion on the political situation in your country?

  4. #4 Matti K.
    January 4, 2011

    Certainly the discussion around accommodationism and atheism is very much political. However, it is important to remember one thing: accommodationists and gnus do not necessarily share a common goal or strategy. Why do many accommodationists waste time complaining about how Myers, Coyne, Dawkins etc. do not play the game correctly?

    Asking others to shut up for an ill-defined common good is not a way to create fruitful political debates, either.

  5. #5 Marion Delgado
    January 4, 2011

    I have seen in the Libertarian Party and even the Green Party a real contempt for electoral democracy and the legislative process. The Libertarians are more natural for this, they believe money should decide everything, not voting, but the Greens seem to think despising electoral and legislative politics is a purity/status issue. I see that to a degree in the skeptic movement (which is pretty heavily infested with Libertarianism, frankly).

    There is a tradition of despising politicians, of course, but it’s not a tradition I abet. At least they’re not plutarchs or theocrats.

  6. #6 Rob Knop
    January 4, 2011

    A difference in goals doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as a difference in priorities. Let’s assume that everybody along this spectrum is in favor, at some level, of good science education. Fine. However, I have to believe that it’s possible to be an atheist without being an “evangelical atheist”– that is, without having as one of your goals getting rid of religion altogether. A difference in priorities would be “yes, we want to get rid of religion, but good science education is more important and/or more urgent”. A difference in goals would be “I don’t have any need for religion, but I’m cool with other people having their religion as long as they don’t use it to screw up science education and the world”.

    I know for a fact that it’s possible to be Christian without thinking that the entire world needs to be converted to Christianity, that indeed humanity is strengthened by having people of different faiths out there talking to each other. I know from what they say that some atheists think that all religion must be destroyed, that there’s something wrong with anybody who isn’t an atheist. But I have to believe that there are some atheists out there for whom atheism is a personal choice, about which they’d be happy to “witness”, but not one that they think everybody must share. Otherwise, all atheists are fundamentalists…..

  7. #7 tbell
    January 4, 2011

    You’re basically arguing over a label here, perhaps to the point of permitting equivocation over the term politics. Those who object to ‘politics’ are mainly contrasting what seems like disingenuous, often dishonest argument with ‘straight talk’ in which people are permitted to give their unvarnished honest opinions (even if that isn’t what every member of their audience wants to hear or might be moved by). Direct confrontation might not be persuasive to the person being confronted, everyone understands that I think, but we should forget that in the ‘audience’ are a bunch of folks who are still trying to make up their mind, or at least ‘come out’. As long as the confrontation is honest, direct, and passionate I think that it is a worthy strategy to take.
    What is very frustrating and political to me seems the desire on the part of some accomodationists to remove the strategy of direct talk completely from the arsenal. I rarely see someone arguing the opposite, that noone anywhere should ever be accomodating.

  8. #8 Physicalist
    January 4, 2011

    I agree that gnu atheism has a significant political component, and I doubt any of the gnus would disagree.

    I can’t speak for Ophelia, PZ, or any of the actual players, but my problem with Mooney (and occasionally you as well, Josh) comes when I see politics being *substituted* for argument — for careful evaluation of reasons, evidence, and even moral claims.

    When did the dust-up with Mooney really take off? When he criticized Coyne for the “uncivil” act of writing a book review. He then denied that he was telling Coyne to shut up, but then what was his point? Ophelia’s been asking for ages now; Mooney will never answer.

    It seems clear to me that Mooney thinks that accomodationism is good politics, and that alone is reason enough for us to support it. This is substituting politics for reasoning, and it ticks me off.

    So, yes, there is politics; only a fool would deny that. But there is also reason and evidence. And intellectual honesty requires that we not conflate the two.

  9. #9 Josh Rosenau
    January 4, 2011

    Larry, nothing in my description of politics was US-centric. You have politics in Canada, too.

  10. #10 Larry Moran
    January 4, 2011

    Of course we have politics in Canada. However, I fail to see how my position with respect to science education is influenced by Canadian politics.

    Can you enlighten me?

  11. #11 Hammill
    January 4, 2011

    #4:

    “Asking others to shut up for an ill-defined common good is not a way to create fruitful political debates, either.”

    and #8

    “When did the dust-up with Mooney really take off? When he criticized Coyne for the “uncivil” act of writing a book review. He then denied that he was telling Coyne to shut up, but then what was his point?”

    Perhaps I have yet to read enough of these exchanges yet, but in the quotes above, in the thread here several days ago, and Ben’s thread at TP, I’ve repeatedly seen the assertion that not-gnu atheists tell gnu atheists to shut up…yet I’ve never interpreted the arguments I’ve read as saying that. As I said on Ben’s post, what I’ve seen is criticism of another’s statements on the grounds that one’s choice for delivering their statement is not best suited to communicating the relevant message to their intended receiver. IMO this means that the opinion isn’t that one shouldn’t speak but that they should consider their available alternatives before they speak. I suppose one of those alternatives could simply be not to speak, and perhaps this is what people are really arguing, but I don’t think it necessarily follows.

    That sentiment reeks of politics, but I don’t see how it evolves into “shut up.” Do I agree that it’s the most effective politics? I’m not convinced but I suppose I could be with better arguments. Politics by itself is not a negative, though.

  12. #12 Deepak Shetty
    January 4, 2011

    Rob Knop
    Gee those scientists sure are fundamentalists – everyone must accept evolution!

    My advice – Go back to school and understand what the words fundamentalist or evangelical mean.

  13. #13 Josh Rosenau
    January 4, 2011

    Larry: Re-read my description of politics. I don’t think politics is just about elections.

  14. #14 FUG
    January 4, 2011

    @5’s “…which is pretty heavily infested with Libertarianism, frankly”

    Really? I noticed pretty standard liberal politics, myself, though of course conversations and groups tend to self-select unconsciously. Maybe my experience is only a local fluctuation, then.

  15. #15 J.J.E.
    January 4, 2011

    Josh, I don’t think politics alone is where the real disconnect comes. I hazard a guess that Ophelia wouldn’t feel bad about political statements/strategies about global warming as long as they were true. The problem I (and perhaps some Gnus) have is related to the orthogonality of truth to some of the political arguments that Mooney makes.

    My view is that Mooney’s behavior vis a vis this debate is motivated by:

    a1) a desire to support education of particular “truths” (evolution, AGW, etc.);
    a2) a desire to promote policies to achieve #a1 even if other particular “truths” are neglected in the process.

    I don’t think anybody disagrees with the non-italicized portions. Similarly, I’d say that Gnu behavior is motivated by:

    b1) a desire to support education of how we come to particular truths (evidence-based reasoning in a skeptical framework);
    b2) a desire to achieve #b1 even if doing so violates social taboos regarding violating the sanctity of religion.

    I think nobody would disagree with the un-italicized text above in b1 & b2. However, I think Mooney would hesitate or at least highly qualify the italicized parts in #b1 above and would outright reject the italicized parts in #b2.

    It is the contrasts in italics that the main source of contention. Everything is political to some degree, even writing a peer-reviewed paper (in the sense of communicating ideas and convincing people). However, it is when the motivation to convince people of a perspective takes priority over our best understanding of the truth where Gnus part ways with the Mooneys. Mooney’s goal is communicating ideas of his own choosing, using what he thinks is the most expedient strategy, no matter where it leads. The goal of the the Gnus is to promulgate a scientific and skeptical perspective even if it leads to conflict with cherished ideals.

  16. #16 Jerry Rivard
    January 4, 2011

    @Marion Delgado
    You wrote: “The Libertarians… believe money should decide everything, not voting”

    With this statement you’ve demonstrated that your understanding of libertarian philosophy (and Libertarian politics) is about equivalent to Ray Comfort’s understanding of evolution. I don’t say that to insult you, but to educate you. You can treat my comments the same way Comfort does when people explain science to him, and continue to believe whatever you want to regardless of the truth; or you can educate yourself on the topic. I hope you’ll choose the latter.

    Libertarianism is not about money. It’s about liberty. You own your life. I own mine. You are responsible for your life, and free to live it as you choose so long as you don’t infringe my right to live mine as I choose. One extension of this is that we are each entitled to keep the fruits of our labors (typically in the form of money).

    Libertarianism is not anarchy. Libertarians believe in limited government, not no government. Libertarians believe in voting, of course, as an extension of our (all people regardless of beliefs) rights to have a say in things that affect us. It’s the Demopublicrats (by which in this context I mean the politicians in power, not those of us who are misled by them) who believe money should decide everything, as evidenced by their behaviors over the course of at least my lifetime. They exchange ‘favors’ for campaign contributions and other compensations with such regularity that we don’t even try to stop them anymore, if we ever did. Yet we keep voting for the same unscrupulous SOBs, like a battered wife going back repeatedly to the same abusive husband and expecting him to be different this time.

    My scan of these comments did not find the distinction between politics and government pointed out anywhere (and not even one match for the word ‘government’), but it is the elephant in the living room. (Perhaps Bob O’H was alluding to this with the capital P?) I agree with the basic premise that all discussion can be considered politics, but it is critical to differentiate that type of politics (attempts to persuade others to voluntarily change their opinion) and governmental Politics, which are attempts to persuade others to (still voluntarily) vote for a particular candidate to be given the power to make decisions about where and how force should be used to compel others (voluntarily or not) to do as they are told. The word ‘enforcement’ when applied to the law is not an accident. If you don’t believe me, here’s what Woodrow Wilson (hardly a libertarian) had to say about it (read 1387 & 1388).

    Government, by definition, means that a single institution has a monopoly on the (legal) use of force. This is a necessary evil, the alternative being a constant state of civil war. Libertarians believe that government force should be used sparingly, and only for such purposes as enforcement of contracts and protection of property rights (one’s property includes their life and person, so that covers murder, rape, assault, etc.). Libertarianism is about limiting government to those powers granted to it by the constitution (which those in power who take an oath to uphold have been ignoring for most of its history).

    To learn more about libertarianism and Libertarianism, start with the Libertarian Party website. There are many good books about the topic as well, including Charles Murray’s What it Means to be a Libertarian (where he distinguishes the small l from the large L) and Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose.

    In the end, you may not agree, just as Ray Comfort might not agree even if he did make an honest attempt to understand evolution instead of trashing his strawman version of it. But at least you will not be an ignoramus of his ilk. (Again, that’s not to insult you, just to strongly encourage you to learn about libertarianism or be quiet about it. Because at the moment, like it or not, you apparently are an ignoramus of his ilk with regard to this topic.)

    @Marion again
    You wrote: “I have seen in the Libertarian Party and even the Green Party a real contempt for electoral democracy and the legislative process.”

    No, the Libertarian and Green parties do not have “contempt for electoral democracy and the legislative process.” They just want to participate in it. If you look back at specific statements that have led you to this conclusion, I’m sure you will find that it’s not the process, but the practice to which these parties object. It’s the Demopublicrats who show contempt for the process, having in practice passed laws to make it easy for them and difficult for challengers. It is those in power who have set up the ballot access laws to make it difficult and expensive for third parties to even get on the ballot, leaving little if any resources for the campaign. You can read more about this at Ballot Access News and at some of the sites he links to.

    Apologies around the world for the US-centric post. But the principles apply everywhere, and the general practices are hardly limited to the US either.

    @FUG
    You wrote: “I noticed pretty standard liberal politics, myself” (among atheists)

    I agree from what I’ve seen as well. It seems that the heaviest hitters are all politically liberal. For example, Daniel Dennett said in an interview that he would like to see the center moved to the left (The Atheism Tapes) and in The Moral Landscape Sam Harris implies (in my view) that political conservatism is something akin to a neurological or psychological disorder (p. 124-125 – yes, he’s quoting a study, but he doesn’t seem to question what are clearly interpretive results). If there are any libertarian atheists making noise out there, I haven’t heard them – but I would love to know who they are.

  17. #17 TB
    January 4, 2011

    An important part of politics is attempting to define yourself and your opponent in such a way that you look good by the contrast.

    JJE: “My view is that Mooney’s behavior vis a vis this debate is motivated by:
    a1) a desire to support education of particular “truths” (evolution, AGW, etc.);
    a2) a desire to promote policies to achieve #a1 even if other particular “truths” are neglected in the process.”

    Mooney has always been about good science education in the U.S.

    New Atheists, well, there’s just no official NA doctrine one can point to is there? My overall impression is that by advancing atheism and minimalizing religion will have the side effect of advancing science.

    No one, JJE included, has a monopoly on truth but phrasing his arguments to imply he knows the “truth” is certainly a political gambit.

  18. #18 Rob Knop
    January 4, 2011

    Deepak — that’s not what I’m saying. It’s not “everybody must accept evolution” — something for which there is ample scientific evidence. And, indeed, there are lots of theists who accept evolution. But for the fundamentalist atheists, that’s not good enough. (Consider that PZ Myers objects to the Clergy Letter Project.) There’s a vast difference between fighting the anti-evolutionists and fighting all theists.

    The attitude I’m talking about is “everybody must accept strict philosophical materialism.” *That’s* what makes these guys fundamentalists. An atheist probably holds philosophical materialism himself or herself, but need not necessarily believe that any thinking and reflective person will hold the same philosophy.

    However, when you have a philosophy that is ultimately a *choice*, without recognizing that it’s a philosophical choice rather than an inevitable conclusion and the One True Way, that’s when I think it’s valid to start calling you a fundamentalist. And that’s the case with the New Atheists. It’s a matter of philosophy and not science, and an insistence that any philosophy other than theirs is objectively Wrong. Calling those folks fundamentalists draws an analogy to fundamentalist Christians who believe (for whatever reason) that those who aren’t Christians are damned.

    Plus, while they’re not damaging science education the way fundamentalist Christians are, the *are* just as annoying to somebody who’s not a member of their club.

  19. #19 Marion Delgado
    January 4, 2011

    Jerry Rivard, you’re not educating anyone here, but DISINFORMING THEM. My rendering of Libertarian ideology is the substance for which your propaganda is the mask.

    My involvement with the ALP got me to know the movers and shakers in the national party, and the students for a libertarian society, and i met all the presidential candidates, read all the books that were supposed to be crucial in informing you of what libertarians believe, listened to the inside dirt of what those realtors and insurance salesmen and stock brokers and so on that made up the Party really stood for.

    My take stands. Unaltered.

  20. #20 Jerry Rivard
    January 4, 2011

    @Marion Delgado
    OK, then. Keep voting for lawyers.

    I advise anyone else who is undecided and interested to listen to neither of us and study libertarianism for themselves.

  21. #21 Matti K.
    January 4, 2011

    #4

    “As I said on Ben’s post, what I’ve seen is criticism of another’s statements on the grounds that one’s choice for delivering their statement is not best suited to communicating the relevant message to their intended receiver. ”

    Well, could it be that the the intended receiver is different for Coyne and Mooney? I think it is very naive to assume that everyone is trying to convince the same audience as you yourself. And if the target audience is different, why pretend to be the supreme conductor?

  22. #22 Matti K.
    January 4, 2011

    Sorry, reference at #21 that was not #4, but #11 (Hammill).

  23. #23 J.J.E.
    January 5, 2011

    @ t. b.

    Uh, no I explicitly claim here and now I have no access to truth in any non quoted sense. (I’m more of a model builder than a “truth” tester.) I also feel that your response missed my whole point. I sometimes write unclearly. If that’s the case, mea culpa. However, that doesn’t change the fact that your response doesn’t address my intention at all.

    My point was quite simple. Gnus prefer skepticism to avoiding offense. Mooney prefers recruiting political allies in the fight for better education to promoting skepticism. All else being equal, both camps would do both: promote skepticism & avoid offending potential allies. When there is conflict (it is a very restrictive assumption to claim that skepticism can never impede recruiting allies or unsettle potential converts to science) I side with skeptical thinking over protecting alliances or shielding potential converts from what I believe is the key tool in science and education: skepticism.

    That being said, science is do respected and religious beliefs so resistant, that I have yet to hear of anyone receptive to science turn away from it due to inconvenient armrests. Similarly, I have never heard of any interest in science kindled by pointing out its compatibility with religion. Wait, my bad. There was Tom Johnson.

  24. #24 J.J.E.
    January 5, 2011

    “inconvenient armrests”???

    That’s unintentionally funny. I can’t figure out the exact word I was trying to type, but I think it was something like “skepticism”. I am using a smartphone with Swype input, so sometimes typos can be bizarre.

  25. #25 Josh Rosenau
    January 5, 2011

    J.J.E.: I’d think you meant “arguments.” I can fix it for you if you like.

  26. #26 TB
    January 5, 2011

    JJE, I think it’s terrible that you and others keep harping on PZ for being taken in by those folks from “Expelled.” Sure, he didn’t establish their real identity (unlike Mooney did with TJ), but that doesn’t mean PZ should be constantly beat up for being taken advantaged by dishonest people.
    I mean, PZ disavowed them and their tactics yet people keep harping on him being used as propaganda against people who, say, might be receptive to science but might be turned away through the use of inconvenient arguments. PZ doesn’t agree with their methods and people should stop criticizing him for it,

    Oh, wait ,,,

    But thanks, JJE, that was a particular bit of hypocrisy that I didn’t have an opportunity to point out during the whole TJ feeding frenzy. Glad you gave me the opportunity.

    As for ” I have yet to hear of anyone,” the world would be a poorer place if that was the standard for knowledge. There’s plenty of conversations out there happening without your involvement. This one, for instance: http://bit.ly/ik2ntV

    “Agnostic Christianity: Faith for a New Year” – honest and religious. You’d think people like this didn’t exist if all you did was listen to certain people in these comment threads.

    Or, you could read the post and thread that Josh linked to, which has a nice discussion on the kinds of evidence out there – both for and against. Having read the book, I can say that Mooney explicitly points out how politicians use the alleged conflict between religion/science to further themselves – and supplies evidence for it. He is talking about things in the political sense. No one has to take my word for it – you can read it yourself and check the evidence he gives.

    But you don’t read Mooney, or at least it appears that you do only with a specific, political bent to your point of view.

  27. #27 Hammill
    January 5, 2011

    #21:

    That could very well be true, I suppose. I have never seen either side explicitly denote their target audience, however, so I can’t be entirely sure.

    Consider for a moment that there are two target audiences. If Mooney has a different target audience than Coyne, is he necessarily wrong for criticizing Coyne on the grounds that Coyne’s statement indirectly harms Mooney’s target audience? If Coyne has a different target audience than Mooney, is he necessarily wrong for criticizing Mooney on the grounds that Mooney’s statement indirectly harms Coyne’s audience?

  28. #28 J.J.E.
    January 5, 2011

    @Josh

    No worries. You can leave it.

    @tee bee

    ??? I don’t think we’re having the same conversation. I don’t know how to respond because I cannot understand your logic or train of thought. So forgive me if I’m at a loss for words.

  29. #29 TB
    January 5, 2011

    Hammill: That’s exactly the issue, and it’s been noted before. Mooney argues that fundamentalists and unscrupulous politicians use the incompatibility argument to further their own agendas, and that by making basically the same argument – while also identifying as scientists – NAs give them fuel for their efforts.

    On the one hand, NAs could make the case that the criticism is unfair since they’re primarily about advancing atheism, not advocacy for science education. But then they turn around and criticize science advocacy groups for the way they advance science education within the religious community, which to me means their (NAs) goals are all a bunch of things, it’s not at all clear, and they may very well be stepping on other people’s advocacy efforts.
    Which brings us back to Josh’s point that maybe they need to realize they’re engaging in politics already. For one thing, a better understanding of Overton Windows might be nice since OWs involve incremental change as well as extreme positions.

    JJE: That’s it? You specifically invoke “truths” and then say you didn’t mean “truths”? And then you think it advances whatever your argument is by getting snarky using Tom Johnson? And finally you claim you don’t know what’s going on? OK then.

  30. #30 J.J.E.
    January 5, 2011

    @ tiegh biegh

    Yes, I specify “truths” not truths. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the conventional use of scare quotes?

    But I still don’t see what your dissent is. You are raising points that don’t seem to have to do with my thesis. The short and sweet version is: “When skepticism might cause discomfort to desirable allies or recruits, Mooney feels it is justified to ease off on the skepticism while Gnus prefer to pursue skepticism.” You haven’t really addressed that. Instead derailing the conversation by invoking “truths” or whatever it is that you want to do.

    And no, Tom Johnson wasn’t brought up for the sake of snark. It was only introduced in a snarky tone. The point stands that the only time I’ve ever heard of a group of people being turned away from science by atheism when they otherwise wouldn’t have been without it was an anecdote by Mooney.

    Anybody, throw me a bone? Josh? Can you paraphrase TB for me? I’ve given it my shot, and I really don’t follow the thread of his/her argument.

  31. #31 Hammill
    January 5, 2011

    #29:

    “…they may very well be stepping on other people’s advocacy efforts.”

    The more I read the more I wonder if “stepping on other people” isn’t at least partial motivation for some of the criticism. There seems to be this remarkably personalized animosity towards the people being criticized, sometimes moreso than any true, substantive criticism of their practices, opinions, or ideals. Of course, I suppose that’s par for the course in politics as well!

  32. #32 TB
    January 5, 2011

    Hammill: Agreed! And if you do criticize, you get into pointless discussions with people like JJE. He likes to write as if he’s authoritative, but he seems to be slipping since the last time I’ve bothered to reply to his nonsense.

    JJE:”Yes, I specify “truths” not truths. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the conventional use of scare quotes?”

    You wrote: “1) a desire to support education of particular “truths” (evolution, AGW, etc.);” when referring to Mooney, and then…

    “b1) a desire to support education of how we come to particular truths (evidence-based reasoning in a skeptical framework);”

    when discussing NAs. No “scare quotes” there.

    JJE: “@ tiegh biegh”

    What, are you in third grade? The rest is pointless. “the only time I’ve ever heard… ” as if that’s a standard.

  33. #33 J.J.E.
    January 5, 2011

    “JJE: “@ tiegh biegh”

    What, are you in third grade?”

    Have you no sense of whimsy? People call initialed people Pee Zee or Jay Jay all the time. Seriously, I didn’t think you’d object. I won’t do it again.

    “when discussing NAs. No “scare quotes” there.”

    “b1) a desire to support education of how we come to particular “truths” (evidence-based reasoning in a skeptical framework);”

    O.K. Fixed. The omission was neither meaningful nor intentional. My apologies for wasting your time on the significance of the word “truth”. If it is any consolation, the word “model” works much better than truth for me.

    Seriously, TB, this isn’t personal, and I don’t know why you keep calling my comments “nonsense” or implying that they indicate exclusive authority. My thesis, the only thing I care to communicate in this thread is the following:

    “When skepticism might cause discomfort to desirable allies or recruits, Mooney feels it is justified to ease off on the skepticism while Gnus prefer to pursue skepticism.”

    I don’t think this is controversial and I think it explains the core of the disagreement. I feel strongly that easing off skepticism is almost never a preferable tradeoff and borders on dishonesty. Others strongly disagree. Does anyone have anything to say about my formulation of the source of the conflict (and subsequent implications for what that means for how politics plays into this discussion)?

  34. #34 TB
    January 6, 2011

    No, JJE, I don’t buy it. Neither the claim of whimsy or the plea of omission. Done with you now.

    @Hammill and Josh

    You know, I was thinking about politics and the NA movement’s claim that what they’re doing is an exercise of the Overton Window (first mentioned, I think, by Sean Carroll)
    That always bothered me because my understanding of the Overton Window was that, in the political sphere, it wasn’t just about staking out a point of view to an extreme side in order to stretch the policy debate. It was about doing so in order to facilitate a wider range of compromises that eventually move opinion in your direction, thus making your “extreme” position begin to look reasonable.

    The problem I always had were where are the points of compromise? There aren’t any – it’s an all or nothing proposition. It’s what led John Wilkins to define New Atheism as Exclusivist Atheism.

    And I was thinking about this today in the context of a few things, including a dialogue I once had with another person who identifies with the Exclusivists: he defines anyone who believes in any kind of god as a Creationist. In my understanding, Creationists are people who believed that god did it and NOT by evolution, either micro or macro. But no, for him it’s expanded to include all.

    And that’s where this leads back to Josh’s point, how not realizing they’re engaged in the political sphere and his desire to get to a reasonable discussion of effectiveness.
    Because what I’m seeing is not the Overton Window, but a poor understanding of the Overton Window being applied badly. It’s not redefining the policy sphere to include more options – they’re redefining it to EXCLUDE more options.
    Attacking atheists who think people can be religious and accept science as “accommodationists,” lumping all religious under the same label, that’s excluding the current middle without creating a new one.
    Without compromise, there is no middle. And without a middle, it’s all or nothing – a false dilemma. A fallacy.

  35. #35 TB
    January 6, 2011

    Not to pick on him, because that’s not what I intend. But as an example, JJE said: “I feel strongly that easing off skepticism is almost never a preferable tradeoff and borders on dishonesty. ”

    “Almost never” is a pretty strong stance against compromise. Asking rhetorically, Is it omparable to Dawkins’ 99% certainty that there is no god, implying the remaing 1% is meaningless and worthless? Is the “almost” thrown in there polically to avoid the appearance of stridency, while in practice “never” is the operative term? Is compromise itself an act of dishonesty?

  36. #36 Hammill
    January 6, 2011

    #34:

    I agree on your view of the OW. I’m certainly no political scholar, but I’ve always seen it as the use of extreme positions for the purposes of making more moderate positions more acceptable, not just to simply make the more extreme position the most acceptable or correct, much less the only one.

    I think it all comes down to the confusing multiplicity of goals. On the one hand, I think NAs or gnus sincerely want to make atheism more publicly acceptable and mainstream, and that’s an admirable goal. It should be less of a public stigma to be an atheist. But at the same time, I think they can’t rely on the OW as justification for their approach if they are actively marginalizing more “moderate” atheists in the process, even if this is stemming from a different goal about science education. As I mentioned yesterday, the vitriol and personal vendettas that I see aimed at certain moderates, and even sometimes moderates as a general group, run directly counter to the supposed goal of trying to make atheism in general more acceptable. For example, the thought that showing respect to the faithful (not their beliefs, mind you) is dishonest and breaking from skepticism seems flawed and attempts to marginalize the middle, even if unintentional. If the only people that aren’t going to be singled out and attacked are those aligning in your extreme position, what other part of the range of viewpoints are you trying to shift to the center? I don’t see how you can have your Overton Window and vilify the middle, too.

  37. #37 ophelia.benson
    January 6, 2011

    I’m probably too late to make any contribution to this discussion, but I’ll give it a shot.

    You have a funny way of interpreting what I said, Josh. How do you get from my agreement with Ben’s “[Mooney’s] stance is self-consciously political” – not political, please note, but self-consciously political – followed by my ” it is the self-consciously political aspect that I have always found somewhat alien. I say “somewhat” because I can’t possibly reject all politics. I realize one has to weigh consequences (as we were just discussing with reference to the Vatican and a life-saving abortion) and consider priorities. But I think when serious discussion becomes too entangled with politics, then it simply stops being serious discussion and turns into some form of campaigning” to professed bewilderment that I and other gnu atheists have an “ambivalence and even aversion to politics”?

    How do you get from a qualified statement to an absolute one? I specifically, explicitly, carefully did not reject politics tout court – yet you paint me as doing exactly that.

    Why do you do that? What does that “help”?

  38. #38 ophelia.benson
    January 6, 2011

    And here’s a funny thing, Josh. Your failure to read and responed to what I said could be seen as “political.” It could be seen as a carefully deceptive way to frame me as dogmatic and unreasonable and nuance-free and kind of stupid. Or, more charitably, it could be seen as you being sufficiently biased by your political views that you got careless and framed me that way by accident. Or, somewhere in between, it could be seen as you reading your friends carefully and fairly and your opponents or critics or perceived enemies less fairly.

    Which is it, do you suppose?

  39. #39 Kirth Gersen
    January 6, 2011

    I don’t think the Gnus hate politics in and of itself, but they have two major concerns, and politics is the lesser of them (the major one, for the most part, could be described as “building an internally-consistent, logic-based world-view on a platform of methodical naturalism”). That accounts for the little bit they have in common with fundamentalists, who also have two major concerns, with politics also being eclipsed by “building an internally-inconsistent, revaltion-based personal view on a platform of old literature.”

    Guys like Chris Mooney, on the other hand, lack the double objective. Mooney doesn’t seem to care if God exists and talks to us personally, or Why Evolution Is really True. He focuses only about the politics side of it, with the implication that the rest will somehow sort itself out in the wash. And I think that’s the reason the Gnus and the fundamentalists both think that people of his ilk are untrustworthy.

  40. #40 gillt
    January 6, 2011

    Josh: “…but any time you are trying to change someone’s mind, you are doing politics.”

    Yes, and whenever a scientists involuntarily gasps in awe at the cosmos that’s, of course, spirituality.

    And it’s easier to make words mean whatever you want them to mean because you’re lazy.

    And when you “re-imagine” the word politics to mean almost any social interaction, what does that say about “the gnu camp” who you think have an aversion to politics? They probably can be safely ignored as clueless gits, amirite?

  41. #41 Egbert
    January 6, 2011

    >I don’t know why she, and many others in the gnu camp, seem to equate politics with “campaigning” with some sort of sleaze or dishonesty,

    Politics is sleazy and dishonest. But apart from that, politics–or more accurately political language–is different to rational or moral criticism, which is what confrontations (gnus) do. Yes, in the case of Christopher Hitchens, he has a fairly obvious political agenda, but it doesn’t dominate his rhetoric, only motivates it, and we understand his motivations.

    I think the underlying political stance of confrontationists is pretty obviously intellectual liberalism.

    >”Politics is what happens whenever two people get together for whatever reason. They can be bowling together, and that’s politics.” And that’s basically my view.

    You can redefine politics, or anything to whatever you want, but that’s fundamentally dishonest. That’s not what confrontationists are doing, they’re being honest. Sometimes very clearly honest (in the case of Ophelia) and sometimes brutally honest, in the case of PZ Meyers.

    >but any time you are trying to change someone’s mind, you are doing politics.

    Science is politics? Criticism is politics? I think you’re confusing rhetoric and reason. In fact, yes, you really are confusing rhetoric and reason. Do you understand the difference? I’m not so sure.

    >I don’t think anyone in the gnu camp will disagree with that last sentence; gnus value writing and arguing quite highly.

    Yes we do value writing and arguing, and honesty and integrity above all. Because truth is far more important than persuasion, which is a secondary consideration. Truth is important, Josh Rosenau.

    >But that’s not all politics means, and it’s not what politics should be.

    Should be? You’re living in a dreamy political idealism, which doesn’t apply to real world politics, and it is not based on reason but persuation or rhetoric, and the opinions of ignorant voters and the party. Hence why the political world is dishonest, sleazy and corrupt.

    >And we make it something better by getting involved, and being open about the fact that politics is good and worthy.

    Reason is good and worthy, and only then can politics be good and worthy when it is reasonable.

    >Despite the protestations, it seems obvious to me that gnu atheism is deeply political.

    Here I will agree with you, but not in the sense you think it is. We’re doing a different kind of politics, a politics based on reason (or science). It is political in the sense that our existence is a threat to the politics of unreason, and that includes religion and spirituality, which are unreasonable. We’re constantly on the defense to unreason, hence our confrontation, our reaction to its force and motives, its attempt to overpower us. If we don’t rationally criticise, then unreason has won.

    >the sooner we can move past the debate about whether it’s politics, to a more interesting discussion of how to make it into effective politics.

    I have three words for you: truth, honesty and integrity. That’s the kind of politics we do.

  42. #42 J. J. Ramsey
    January 6, 2011

    “Politics”, like a lot of words, has a range of meanings. Here are some of them:

    * The often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society.
    * the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society, esp those relationships involving authority or power
    * any activity concerned with the acquisition of power, gaining one’s own ends, etc.

    Politics doesn’t necessarily involve governments or state actors.

    All of the definitions that I quoted are quite in line with what our blog host was talking about.

  43. #43 Jerry Coyne
    January 6, 2011

    Josh, it would be really nice if you responded to Ophelia’s comment, especially since her supposed stand on politics inspired your post. Given that you blatantly misrepresented what she said, I’d expect, with your professed concern for “truth”, that you’d apologize, but I’ve learned not to expect that from you. You’ll find some way to pretend that she said something other than what she did.

  44. #44 ophelia.benson
    January 6, 2011

    He already did find some way to pretend I said something other than what I did; he said it at my place.

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/in-which-josh-rosenau-does-not-read-carefully/#comment-68779

    I didn’t misread you, and the quotations you offer don’t support the charge. I didn’t say you reject all politics, I said you show “ambivalence and even aversion to politics.” And the passage you quoted from your own post does show that ambivalence and aversion.

    You describe politics as if it’s an unfortunate thing that crops up here and there but is to be avoided, and you contrast it with “serious discussion.” My post is arguing that “serious discussion” is a kind of politics, not distinct from politics. I’m arguing that you’re seeing this in a (somewhat?) dichotomized way, while I see it as sides of the same coin.

    I replied by using bad language. He tries my patience.

  45. #45 J.J.E.
    January 6, 2011

    @TB

    Unsurprising, but still disappointing. I made a contention that motivated you to object although I didn’t consider it very objectionable. Yet in your increasingly personal objections you never addressed that contention. Oh well.

  46. #46 J. J. Ramsey
    January 6, 2011

    I presume the above “J.J.” is “J.J.E.”? Anyhow, it’s not me.

    I replaced the errant “E.” -Ed.

  47. #47 Josh Rosenau
    January 6, 2011

    Ophelia: “Your failure to read and respond… could be seen as a carefully deceptive way to frame me as dogmatic and unreasonable and nuance-free and kind of stupid. Or, more charitably, it could be seen as you being sufficiently biased by your political views that you got careless and framed me that way by accident. Or, somewhere in between, it could be seen as you reading your friends carefully and fairly and your opponents or critics or perceived enemies less fairly. Which is it, do you suppose? ”

    I was not trying to make you look unreasonable and dogmatic. Re-reading my post, I don’t think that’s what I did, though you clearly do, and I regret that. Nor did I read you unfairly (though only I can testify to that mental state, I’ll argue that this is a case where intentions matter).

    There’s another option you don’t mention: it could be that the “self-consciously political” vs. “political” distinction you draw is much clearer to you than it is to your reader (to this reader, at least). Maybe if you explained what you meant, we could discuss it. This post was not about attacking or even criticizing you, any more than I think your post was about criticizing Mooney. I was laying out the way I see politics playing in these discussions, and your post inspired the thought.

    You started a discussion of how gnus and non-gnus (zebras?) see the issue. That seemed like a useful conversation. You built that discussion off of something Chris Mooney said (or rather, Ben Nelson did), and in like fashion, I built off of what you said to make a more general point. My hope was that my comments on how I see things would inspire you to say more about how you see things, and thus we might all become wiser.

  48. #48 gillt
    January 6, 2011

    There was no point to this post other than Josh feels that politics encompasses just about everything under the sun and all those who disagree with him (especially gnus) are wrong and wrong for self-evident reasons.

    Josh: “I think they might disagree that that means any writing for a public audience is inherently political. But it is. I don’t see a way in which it isn’t.”

    Isn’t that presumptuous?

  49. #49 TB
    January 7, 2011

    @Hammill

    Exactly. So to again relate it back to Ben Nelson’s point, if their tactics don’t match their professed strategy, then what strategy are they using? Which should give us a better handle on their actual goal.
    Whatever it is, you can see some of the tactics employed by other posters above. More claims of integrity to imply condemnation of compromise, another false dichotomy. More accusations of misrepresenting arguments, as JJE did, as an excuse to selectively retreat from the challenge. (But, if left unchallenged, would they claim that argument as valid? Since it was challenged, we’ll never know.)
    And, of course, my favorite (well not really, I think it’s tiresome and petty): Claiming that by not immediately replying to a blog post implies you’re avoiding the debate. As if a blog comment section was necessarily an immediate form of communication.
    Tactics designed to not to enhance the clarity of the argument but to advance your own standing in the debate.
    Notice that Josh is courteous but does not give ground.
    But tactics in service of what? I don’t believe it’s to advance science education or policy, it’s to advance atheism and that’s not the same thing. Although some have tried to claim it is.

    I feel like I should be whispering this like covering a golf tournament.
    Back to you Hammill!

  50. #50 Hammill
    January 7, 2011

    #49:

    “Whatever it is, you can see some of the tactics employed by other posters above. More claims of integrity to imply condemnation of compromise, another false dichotomy. More accusations of misrepresenting arguments, as JJE did, as an excuse to selectively retreat from the challenge.”

    In lieu of any other information, I think the tactics speak for themselves. Just look at the words used to describe Josh here or others from several blogs over the past week: blatantly misrepresented, intellectually lazy, deceptive, dishonest, untrustworthy, deliberate distortion. They all sound like something from a political attack ad in late October, not salvos in a mutual debate or discussion. I don’t want to read too much into intentions or motives, but I don’t personally see them as an attempt to invite mutual debate. I see them as an attempt to quash dissenting opinion through character attacks without giving the heart of the debate a chance to find the table – a marginalization or distraction strategy, if you will. That’s certainly politics, although I would argue it’s far from the good kind.

    My opinion about marginalization might seem a bit unfair, but yesterday I was reading PZ Myers’ post on “Awe and religion,” which linked to Chris Mooney’s piece in Playboy, which led to this comment from someone called “Egbert:”

    “…we need to select out the religious, spiritual, disingenuous and irrational atheists from the rational and honest atheists.”

    Certainly not all in the gnu camp align with that opinion, but it certainly speaks to the idea of marginalization as a political strategy, no? First, focus your effort into repeatedly fostering the idea of the opposing side in a political debate being dishonest (or attach a similar negative character trait through the repeated use of labels), and then argue that because they are dishonest, they must be “selected out.” Then you’ve successfully shifted the debate from focusing on substance to focusing on character. You’re not talking directly about the issues anymore; you’re debating the character of your opponent as the issue, with the true issue now secondary. It’s very politically savvy, isn’t it? I also find it a bit antirationalist since it has tinges of attempting to avoid debating an issue rather than engaging it directly.

    I apologize for the long post and if I sound too much like a conspiracy theorist. I suppose the blow-up of negative character labels here yesterday got me thinking. I saw someone called “Egbert” post upthread, and if it’s the same one I quoted, I’d be interested in seeing if I mischaracterized the argument or not. If I have, I’d be willing to readjust my position.

  51. #51 J. J. Ramsey
    January 7, 2011

    Hammill: “Just look at the words used to describe Josh here or others from several blogs over the past week: blatantly misrepresented, intellectually lazy, deceptive, dishonest, untrustworthy, deliberate distortion. They all sound like something from a political attack ad in late October, not salvos in a mutual debate or discussion.”

    To be fair, using terms like “blatantly misrepresented, intellectually lazy, etc.” make sense to use in a discussion — but only when they are accurate descriptions. They are not terms to be used lightly, and certainly not ones to be used if one doesn’t have a solid case that they are truthful descriptors.

  52. #52 Hammill
    January 7, 2011

    #51:

    That’s a fair statement, and I’m sure it does occasionally happen. Misrepresentations certainly do, and it’s worth noting that posters in this thread also state that any misrepresentation on the part of Josh could have been accidental. As I mentioned in #50, I may have misrepresented Egbert without personally being familiar with his motivations outside of an extremely short comment. The sticking point is that I didn’t do it “blatantly,” “intentionally,” or “deliberately.” If I did, it was very much unintentional.

    When those kinds of qualifiers are attached, it makes a potential misrepresentation something much more, no? It assumes a major character flaw on the part of the target. It removes the possibility of a mistaken interpretation and immediately constrains any misrepresentation as malicious. That’s the kind of tactic I suppose I’m referencing in comment #50. I can’t personally see any evidence from the situations in which those italicized terms were used to support malicious intent, yet those words are still used in some cases to exclude the possibility of a simple mistake.

  53. #53 Jean Kazez
    January 7, 2011

    I think Hammill is saying things that really need to be said–I have nothing to add except Yes.

  54. #54 ophelia.benson
    January 7, 2011

    The correction itself is incorrect.

    : Ophelia says I misread her, that she is not uncomfortable with politics writ large, only to being self-consciously political.

    I don’t “say [I am] not uncomfortable with politics writ large.” I didn’t say that. My point was about the passage quoted, which was deliberately qualified; my point was not about my views more generally.

  55. #55 ophelia.benson
    January 7, 2011

    Is TB the TB who comments at The Intersection? [snip] If so, he’s the fella who repeatedly called me a liar in comments at The Intersection – incorrectly. I don’t consider him what one might call an honest broker.

    If TB wanted to go by his or her full name, he or she would. Respect people’s privacy and pseudonymity. -Ed.

  56. #56 Hammill
    January 7, 2011

    #55

    For the sake of argument, consider for a moment that TB is who you say he is and what you say happened is an accurate representation of what did happen. Beyond the obvious ethical considerations of providing the real name of another poster who has not personally divulged their identity on a site, how is a past argument relevant to the current discussion? Shouldn’t an argument be judged on its merits and not on one’s perception of the character of the person making it? Unless there are clear logical flaws in what TB has been saying here, I fail to see how pointing out a past dispute serves anything beyond an attempt to undermine one’s character, which is the point I was making several posts above. I hesitate to use this word due to the small firestorm it’s caused in this post, but dropping a pseudonymous commenter’s real name along with what appears to be an entirely unrelated, negative character reference seems an undeniably political move. (If there is a connection between the past and present somewhere that I’m missing (and I may be) that makes all of this more relevant, feel free to correct me.)

  57. #57 Josh Rosenau
    January 7, 2011

    Hammill: Agreed. I removed the attempted outing.

    Ophelia: That was a dick move. And as Hammill says, it’s a classic argumentum ad hominem. I expect better of you.

  58. #58 Ophelia Benson
    January 7, 2011

    Excuse me?!

    One, it’s common knowledge that the TB who posts at the Intersection used to link to his own name. I wasn’t outing him.

    Two, are you seriously scolding ME for not respecting the anonymity of someone who repeatedly called me a liar? Under my own name, I would urge you to note. Do you seriously think I have an ethical obligation to keep his identity a secret so that he can libel me with impunity? You have got to be kidding.

    Fuck you, Josh.

  59. #59 Ophelia Benson
    January 7, 2011

    Josh.

    Are you kidding me.

    1. The name of the TB who comments at the Intersection is common knowledge. He used to link to his website which had his name on it. He stopped, but that didn’t make him anonymous. I’m not aware that he wants to be anonymous.

    2. I don’t know that this is the same TB, that’s why I asked.

    3. That TB used this pseudo-anonymity, if that’s what it is, to call me a liar repeatedly. Are you seriously saying I’m obliged to respect his “anonymity” when he uses it to libel me? If so, you’re an ethical idiot.

    We’re done. And I’ll thank you to stop posting about me – I don’t trust your ethics.

  60. #60 Ophelia Benson
    January 7, 2011

    And as for you, Hammill, whoever you are – you’re pretty obviously stirring up trouble. Easy for you – nothing you do will stick to you, because you too are anonymous. It’s not so easy for those of us who are not. TB called me a liar at the Intersection and he set a fashion: another anonymous guy set up a new blog to do little else but call me and a few other people liars and assorted other epithets. I suspect you know that, but in case you don’t, think about it. If this TB is the same TB, he’s not just another random person commenting in good faith – he’s someone with a history of talking trash about me as well as other people. Since Rosenau chose to do a post based on a misreading of something I said, I have good reasons for wanting to know if this TB is that TB. I want to know if there is extra malice and aggression lurking.

  61. #61 Hammill
    January 7, 2011

    #59:

    Fair enough. I’ll extend an olive branch and apologize if I’ve troubled any waters. I was probably out of place sticking my head into yours and TB’s personal disagreement, anyway. There seemed to be a fair, honest, and productive discussion going on about the role of politics in this debate prior to the last day or so’s posts, that last day or so including those from myself. How about we all bury whatever hatchet has been dragged up and get back to the issue?

  62. #62 Josh Rosenau
    January 7, 2011

    Ophelia: 1. I’ll post about what I please. 2. I don’t care what he did at some other blog, or whether his name came up there. It hasn’t here, and doesn’t seem relevant. 3. With the name removed, your question will elicit the same information. 4. If you see him libeling you or anyone else here, tell me and I’ll correct it. But what happened at Chris’s blog, or at Tom Johnson’s, need not and should not happen here.

  63. #63 J. J. Ramsey
    January 7, 2011

    Ms. Benson, I think you’d have a tough time establishing libel, as John Pieret had pointed out.

  64. #64 Egbert
    January 7, 2011

    Hammill: “Certainly not all in the gnu camp align with that opinion, but it certainly speaks to the idea of marginalization as a political strategy, no?”

    Accommodationists attack the character of gnu bloggers or spokespersons, and not their ‘substance’. If you think I’m being unfair, then please correct me. Hence, it is not surprising that those gnu bloggers fight back, questioning the motives and integrity of accommodationist bloggers, especially when the goals of gnus are straightforwardly to promote science and reason. If the goal of the accommodationists is to undermine that effort, then their character is held under scrutiny.

    You seem to think that gnus are the ones attacking accommodationists for their strategy of being moderate, but that is not the case. Gnus were attacked by both their religious enemies and the accommodationists, not because of the substance of what they say, but for being militant, aggressive, strident and nasty horrible people. Gnus don’t care if atheists use other strategies in dealing with science and education, so long as those strategies don’t undermine our efforts to promote science and reason and confront religious belief.

    Hammil: “I saw someone called “Egbert” post upthread, and if it’s the same one I quoted, I’d be interested in seeing if I mischaracterized the argument or not. If I have, I’d be willing to readjust my position.”

    Yes, I am the same person.

    Hammil: “I may have misrepresented Egbert without personally being familiar with his motivations outside of an extremely short comment.”

    My motivations are fairly straightforward as are the gnus: I support the likes of Professor Dawkins, Ophelia Benson, PZ Meyers and Jerry Coyne in what they’re doing. I am an atheist who thinks religion is both irrational and immoral, and damaging to both education and liberal societies.

  65. #65 Josh Rosenau
    January 7, 2011

    JJ Ramsey: Let’s all try to ramp things down, rather than escalate them. I’m saying the same to you that I did to Ophelia: Don’t bring bad interactions from other blogs onto this one. I don’t care what TB said about Ophelia at the Intersection, or why she’s banned there, or whatever. It’s irrelevant to this blog and to the discussion that’s now been derailed. Whether she can establish libel in a court of law is less important than whether everyone commenting here feels safe being honest and open. Accusations of lying do not do that, and – while not forbidden (sometimes someone is lying) – they are certainly deprecated. The comment policy is intentionally broad, and allows me to intervene at well below the legal threshold of libel, which I can and will do.

  66. #66 J. J. Ramsey
    January 7, 2011

    @#64: Sorry, I had posted before I saw your post.

  67. #67 Ophelia Benson
    January 7, 2011

    Bad stuff, Josh. It’s not a trivial thing, calling someone a liar. It’s not irrelevant. If it’s the same guy, he has an axe to grind, and I want to know that. And you’re an ethical idiot for expecting me to protect his “anonymity” under those circumstances.

  68. #68 Josh Rosenau
    January 7, 2011

    Ophelia: I never said it was trivial, and I can’t fathom why you’d claim I did. I’ve sent you a private email to deal with the rest.

  69. #69 Hammill
    January 8, 2011

    #63:

    Thanks for the response, and I’m glad that it looks like I misread your original comment about “selecting out” groups, given what you’ve said here. I agree that we need a diverse set of strategies.

  70. #70 varin
    February 21, 2011

    Libertarians are pushing a worldwide campaign for Direct Democracy, and certainly admit anarchism along with any other system that is voluntary. See: http://www.Libertarian-International.org for some useful stuff.

  71. #71 varin
    February 21, 2011

    Libertarians are pushing a worldwide campaign for Direct Democracy, and certainly admit anarchism along with any other system that is voluntary. See: http://www.Libertarian-International.org for some useful stuff.

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