Armoured Skeptic, As Always, Sucks at Politics

I like Armoured Skeptic’s skeptic videos. But, like a lot of YouTube atheists, he’s clearly pretty right-wing and “anti-SJW”, whatever that means, and it means he makes nonsense arguments.

This is a response to this video, which is in turn a response to MTV’s admittedly less-than-skillful campaign. At the end, I’ll add some points I didn’t make to AS that applies more broadly to right-wingers who don’t like these arguments.

Ah, where to begin?

Is it with the “Hundreds of years of slavery, Jim Crow, Operation Wetback, depriving the franchise to women, and keeping gay folks in the closet is okay because some black dudes got into the NBA?” argument? The argument that, of course, would not only obviate any complaints anyone had ever, because some member of a group at some point might have succeeded, but in any instance ignores that even plenty of the stars in the NBA came up from tremendous poverty?

Honestly, does any atheist buy this? Would you accept that, because Sam Harris is out as an atheist and is successful, that America is great for atheists?

Madame CJ Walker was a millionaire who died in 1919. She made her money during a period of formal apartheid, during an era where the Klan was about to reach its peak membership of four million. Does anyone really want to defend that her success back then meant that America was great for people of color as a whole?

Hey, I can’t even say that being crippled by a horse is that bad because Christopher Reeve was still a millionaire after it!

Yes, if you want to be pedantic, the accurate thing to say would be that America was “vanishingly rarely great for anyone besides white men, and even pretty bad for poor white men, for most of its history”. “Never” might be a bit strong.

This… this your entire argument, Armoured buddy? That .1% of black millionaires in the country means that the 99.9% don’t face any barriers? By that logic, I couldn’t even say as a matter of fact that “Republicans oppose abortion” or any other statement about even a cohesively defined group, because out of a given thousand you could always find one or more who deviated from it.

If individuals want to be treated as individuals, then racism as an institution has to disappear. Sorry that that’s tough to hear, or not politically correct for entitled right-wingers, but it’s just true. Yes, white folks are a diverse group that are not defined by their genes, just like any other ethno-racial or religious group. But as long as there’s social signals that entrench past inequities and create new ones, whiteness will continue to have consequences, and that’ll effect people’s opportunities for success.





And now to talk to other folks.

Yes, I get that it can be frustrating people wag their finger at a group collectively. I agree that it is very easy to jump the shark from a reasonable call for a group to take individual responsibility to a reification of that group having a collective responsibility, which in turn is just a hop, skip and jump away from bona fide racism.

So… right-wingers, maybe you should stop doing that?

It’s a really common right-wing canard: blacks need to take responsibility, they need to address the problems of absent black fathers and not valuing education (which are actually racist nonsense).

Why is it not okay for the script to be flipped? Is it only people of color who have to take personal responsibility?

It’s just like the criticism of Colin Kaepernick for being unpatriotic during the same time that Trump got to say that America needs to become “great again”.

Yes, it’s important that we be careful to note that every individual has a different responsibility based on their local context. Yes, it’s important to note that there are of course plenty of white folks for whom the criticisms in the MTV Video don’t apply (but if it doesn’t apply to you, why are you talking?)

What’s so reprehensible about Armoured Skeptic is that he despised the idea that a white male should be erudite and care about the impact of his conduct on others. If they got a white individual to say that his own group needs to take responsibility, what excuse do critics have left? Remember that anything that could be said against this video could be said against critics of BLM later.

The fact is that you can’t be neutral on a moving train. We are accountable to each other. And that means that the social systems that we are a part of impart us with responsibility. It sucks, but it’s not avoidable if you want to be responsible.

Atheist authorities like to say that their morality is that they’re accountable to humans, not a “sky Daddy”. Lots of them need to follow that maxim.


We Can Be Reasonable About Trump, Vol. 2

The cables shows today covered a bit about how a Trump surrogate had to apologize for posting Hillary in blackface.

One poll that I saw said that 93% of those polled said that the Trump campaign should apologize too.


I do not believe that a campaign is responsible for every surrogate out there. Unless the campaign told him to do so, they don’t need to apologize.

What I’d rather see would be for them to take the opportunity to issue a short statement on why it might be wrong and help educate on the issue.


Janice Fiamengo Is A Liar: Why Anti-Feminists Are Either Credulous or Dishonest

Janice Fiamengo has uploaded a video explaining why she is an anti-feminist.

Let’s go through this down the line, shall we?

Anti-Feminism As “Adversarial”

It’s not just that it’s adversarial, Janice. It’s that it shows nothing about what you actually believe in, only what you don’t.

This is a microcosm of anti-feminist thought: anti-feminists will bring up male homelessness while supporting policies that increase homelessness and doing nothing for the homeless, or bring up the soldiers who die in war while proposing more wars.

If Feminism Ever Was About Equality?

This hyperbolic driveby shows that she is dishonest.

To assert that fighting for the franchise or fighting for the very earliest domestic abuse shelters or fighting to enter the workforce at all or fighting for the end of patriarchal laws that kept women in the home by force wasn’t about equality is reprehensible.

23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World a Better Place for Men indicates that even today feminists expand rights for men, including in many of the areas where anti-feminists deceitfully assert that they do not.

Special Privileges And Advantages for Women

How is giving a class targeted at women for self-defense sexist? Women often don’t like self-defense classes that assume a level of aggression and a level of physical acumen that many men might prefer. The average woman objectively needs different physical defense training than a man does, just like a short man and a tall man should have different training. She is dishonest.

How is giving women tampons a special preference for women? Do men menstruate? Would it be sexist to give out Viagra? She is dishonest.

Sheehy’s Argument About Women Killing Spouses

Janice now crosses the line to outright deception. If her argument is that all feminists endorse that women should legally be able to kill their husbands because one argued that, then by her logic all anti-feminists endorse killing women because Peter Nolan said so and all Republicans must be child molesters because of Dennis Hastert. Would she accept that she is in favor of murdering women, including herself? Or would she insist that you do not judge every person in a movement by one or even several individuals?

In fact, Sheehy’s argument, whether or not you agree with it, is not sexist. Her principle, that an abused woman is exercising self-defense and acting out of a mental illness, is perfectly applicable to men as well in parallel situations. Janice once again cherry-picks how she wants to engage with her opposition while of course presenting her own side far more favorably by implicit contrast. That is what we call a straw-man, and it is intellectually reprehensible and deliberately deceitful. She is lying to her viewers.

So why don’t you read Sheehy herself giving context to what she said? Elizabeth Sheehy: The law, and history, speak for themselves. You’re free to disagree with her, of course, but nothing there is remotely misandrist.

(We’re not even at one minute. This isn’t particularly good).

One Standard for Women, One Standard for Men

By her own admission, the police didn’t say why the person in the case in question was charged. Even if I trust that she’s not cherry-picking her journalistic outlets, which at this point I don’t given how she willfully misrepresented Sheehy, one data point is not a trend and it’s not even a data point in her favor because the cops didn’t say what she claims they did.

Similarly, notice how she doesn’t bother supporting the men’s varsity hockey team case with a parallel example of a female team that did something wrong that was not all benched. She needs two data points to make her argument and she won’t be arsed.Incidentally, when two members of a team commit a crime, it’s very likely that other members of the team knew what was going on. Oh, what a surprise, they did.

Feminism Proposes The Idea That Feelings Are More Important than Objective Reality?

Once again, Janice doesn’t even bother to prove that any of her opposition actually says this. Her first example is, again, a headline from an article without context. She isn’t citing her academic opposition, but student activists. That’s dishonest and reprehensible. But, of course, she leaves out the actual argument her opposition was making, being really dishonest. The position of those opposing it was that she was a cheerleader for rapists. You can agree or disagree with Sommers, of course. Frankly, I find the remarkable speed with which women like Sommers are willing to tell rape victims that they’re lying to be pretty damn suspicious, and something she probably wouldn’t do in any other context, but hey, who am I to tell? Oh, right, a person who has no duty to not protest her bull.

Worse, sometimes, feelings are reality, Janice. If a woman feels stressed, it doesn’t matter if she has some “good reason” to or not to: she will and that will have an effect. The stereotype threat literature doesn’t need to demonstrate that anti-female stereotypes exist, only that women perceive them.

What does that Zur Institute article about “the victim stance is a powerful one” even say? Janice won’t stop giving you a slideshow of cherry-picked arguments for long enough to explain. If I were to dismiss millions of people, I might spend more than a minute on each separate allegation I made. That’s because I’m honest and she is not. In fact, the actual paper in question is very specific as to what it says and doesn’t say, and does not support her arguments. Psychology of Victimhood, Don’t Blame the Victim, Article by Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Holy crap, that’s like fifteen lies and it’s not even minute two. Let’s try to speed this up, shall we? Before I jump to her next poorly researched, dishonestly presented hyperbolic driveby, let me just say this: This is not how you argue, this is how you do propaganda. Janice isn’t trying to convince anyone: she’s trying to get people who already hate the other side to pat themselves on the back. The claim that feminists as a group think that feelings are more important than reality and that they are proposing a victim narrative requires evidence. You would need to prove an average trend, and of course show that they are doing so more than comparable people. Need I point out how anti-feminists like to assert that male homelessness proves sexism against men is real but dismiss that women are more likely to be poor, globally and in America?

The irony, of course, is that she is offering wishy-washy arguments and assessments based on her feelings while feminists routinely offer data, the kind of data like rape rates that she claims is miandrist even though it’s true. See how this game works? In reality, it’s anti-feminists who are making poorly researched appeals to feelings by repeatedly asserting that their strawmen are real even when they talk to actual feminists correcting them.

Men Are “Uniquely Guilty”

Janice won’t bother mentioning the simple fact that men are more likely to rape than women are. Period. Both female and male victims are much more likely to have been assaulted by a man.

Does that say anything about men writ large? No, and a Dworkin quote doesn’t prove that feminists think that.

Rape culture isn’t about every man being a hidden rapist ready to come out. It’s about the way that a society coddles sexist tendencies toward rape, downplays rape, and blames the victim inordinately. Rape culture isn’t in isolation: we also have a brutal culture that’s tough on crime. The way those two play out is that we despise rapists when we are sure they are rapists but we have a ludicrously high standard of doubt for rape that we do not for any other crime.

I’ve argued this in my editorial on Brock Turner, Brock Turner: A Case of Injustice, and the Marshall Center makes clear what they mean too at Rape Culture | Women’s Center. Notice how none of the things the Marshall Center says men can do indicates that men are all hidden rapists. Rather, they are calls for male allydom.

Think about a case conservatives might not find that controversial (since I have to make this about other issues to avoid the blatant dishonesty): Gang violence. Would it be reasonable to say that gang violence has antecedents in neighborhoods and that the community can do something about it by standing up to it? Yes. That is not saying that the community wants gang members or is applauding them, but that they could do more to stop them.

Janice can’t make a single honest argument about her opposition to save her life. The few times she does quote feminists, she quotes people on the radical fringe like Dworkin, and then misrepresents them. Dworkin pointed out that she spent decades writing books. If she had just wanted to slam men, she could have done it in twenty seconds. She didn’t because that’s not what she’s saying.

“Lectured About His Propensity” To Rape

I wasn’t. By the standards Janice is putting forward (that is, no evidence at all), I’ve won!

I attended multiculturalism classes that brought up campus rape and rape culture. At no point was I, or any other male, told that we were all predisposed to be rapists. Not once.

UC Davis is pretty liberal. Natalia Deeb-Sossa, my instructor, is a pretty strongly-leaning feminist.

What I’m hearing is that a lot of men are reacting with entitlement to being told that maybe they should do something when their frat bros talk about women like furniture,and then dishonest crowd surfers like Janice are enabling them.

“Women-Only Spaces”

Janice: Would you come to a cancer survivor’s meeting if you didn’t have cancer?


Then don’t do that for safe spaces either.

MRAs have male-only safe spaces. Will Janice mention that? Of course not.

The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to meet with who they wish and to not meet with who they wish.

When feminists insist on female-only neighborhoods and female-only water fountains, I’ll be the first one to loudly protest. Until then, stop lying about what safe spaces are, anti-feminists and alt-righters.

What She Doesn’t Say

So Janice is just repeating the standard right-wing propaganda.

Does she mention

  • Pink-collar jobs and segregation
  • The glass ceiling
  • The “old boy’s network”
  • Feminist concern for female oppression in the developing world, including more extreme areas of the Muslim world like Saudi Arabia or Iran
  • Barriers to women in STEM fields
  • Paired audit studies showing that women applying to the same job get offered less
  • Stereotype threat that lowers womens’ performance on tests
  • Global female poverty
  • Global female illiteracy
  • Feminist criticisms of psychiatry
  • TRAP laws that prevent rape victims from getting abortion?

No, of course not. Why ever mention what the Feminist Majority Foundation or Ms. Magazine or Everyday Feminism or Jezebel actually say and argue for?

This is a video about a strawman. It’s far from the most dishonest presentation I’ve seen about feminism, and that’s saying something.

If you want to engage with your opposition, read what they say, in their own words.

As a bonus for this blog, let’s consider how Janice could have been honest, shall we?

1. Polls

If you want to assert something about a group, a good place to start might be a poll. If she showed a poll that academic feminists as a majority, or even a substantial plurality, believe that all men are predisposed to be rapists, or that women deserve to be dominant over men, or something of the sort, that would have been an appropriate argument.

2. “Not All My Opposition Is Like This”

Unless your polls or evidence show that literally 100% of your opponents have the position that you claim, a minimally honest person would say, “I recognize that my opponents are not all like this. Many who have the idea that I disagree with might not have thought through the implications of what they are saying either”.

So, if I were in her position, I might argue, “I recognize that feminists are a diverse bunch, including some on the campus and some off, some in politics and some in academia, and with a diverse set of beliefs about the world. But there is still a trend in this group, a mainstream one, that is misandrist and destructive”.

She can’t do that because her video is a propaganda piece.

3. Consistent Evidence from Multiple Sources

Pick an array of people on the other side from various wings of the movement to show that the movement in general has the problem.

If I want to say that the anti-feminist movement has a serious problem with misogyny and repeating immoral nonsense, I don’t just point to Peter Nolan. I point to Warren Farrell equating being rejected on a date to being raped (yes, however tongue-in-cheek he was being), Roosh V’s entire nonsense and his spectacular dishonesty and backtracking on his idea to make rape legal, repeated statements from redpillers that treat women like literal infants, and the repeated times that A Voice for Men slut-shamed or outright lied.


Pleading for Sodomites (Pentecost +10C)

This is the only sensible way of taking faith.

It’s one thing to believe that there is a cosmic judge that might punish evil. (I don’t believe it, and believe that any God worthy of worship would forgive all finite transgressions).

It’s another to gleefully await that God’s judgment.

A person who accepts that the death penalty might sometimes be justified is not a bad person per se. A person who gleefully awaits an execution has become a bad person. We should never be applauding death and hellfire. It may be necessary, though again I doubt even that, but it’s not something to eagerly anticipate.

Sulfur-Free Jesus

[Texts: Genesis 8:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 8:26-39]

O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee.  Amen.

We have before us today a tale of two cities– two cities for whom it was indeed the worst of times. We all know their names: Sodom and Gomorrah.These two cities’ names have been enshrined within our culture as a metaphor for everything that can possibly be wrong with any city. We hear about Sodom and Gomorrah from street preachers who yell and wave their bibles around and try to scare people. We hear about Sodom and Gomorrah from alarmist internet articles about the supposed decline of our society as a whole. Their names are invoked quite often, usually in a way that’s meant to frighten people into repenting so as to…

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The Commandments Are Incomplete and Flawed

Dennis Prager put up a terrible argument for the Ten Commandments in 2014 that Aron Ra, prominent atheist, replied to in 2015. Prager’s argument deserves commentary above Aron’s evisceration, however, because of how totally dishonest his core premise is. Prager seriously wants to assert that the Ten Commandments would produce an ethical world and are responsible for the civilizational progress since the Enlightenment, ignoring the role of so many civilizations and intellectual strands in that progress. As Ra points out, if the Ten Commandments led inexorably to democracy and the end of slavery, it wouldn’t have needed to take thousands of years for that to happen, and there would have been no need for an Enlightenment to push back against both the aristocracy and the church.

Prager’s argument is stupid both because of omission and commission. Both what the Ten Commandments don’t say and what they do say aren’t sufficient or interesting enough.

Error of Commission and Trivial Argument

Prager seriously asks us to imagine a world where we didn’t murder or steal, where we honored our parents and the laws, and where we didn’t lie. He points out that such a world would be safe, having no need of soldiers, and would be happy.

To which I have to say: No shit. 

We can transmute Prager’s statement to the idea, “Man, wouldn’t it be nice if people got along?” or “Bro, what if people were just moral?”

One can only respond to this level of insight by saying, “Well, they’re not”. Just saying it doesn’t make it so. A reasonable conclusion might be that just having the Ten Commandments, or even enforcing them, isn’t sufficient to make people moral. Maybe there’s a lot more to it. Maybe all that actual complexity and hard work is what matters, not just the trivial insights that it’s wrong to murder people.

But, of course, the Ten Commandments are not a perfectly constrained and exhaustively complete guide to morality. The first four about not worshiping other Gods, not having graven images, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and honoring the Sabbath day, are not at all essential to morality. People believe that for their private faith-based reasons, but none of those are moral guides. Even if we generously put aside the fact that real human beings often have hurt and killed each other, whether directly or through a theocratic legal apparatus, for violating these rules, to speak nothing of those who have merely annoyed or insulted or emotionally blackmailed others for not complying with the first four Commandments, these Commandments still are arbitrary restrictions having nothing to do per se with ethics. In particular, the strict Sabbath requirements are silly and obtrusive. A society doesn’t need to have a strict day of rest: a mere social agreement, from both law and custom, to allow people a reasonable work-life balance is enough. If people work sixteen hour days six days a week but have a relaxing Sabbath, that isn’t close to enough for human health. And it’s certainly not necessary or beneficial to prevent people from driving cars, or working on a novel, or cooking a meal, or doing whatever they please on their days off.

The remaining commandments to not lie or bear false witness, not steal, not commit adultery, not covet and not kill are fine, putting aside the Bible and many people in Abrahamanic faiths having offered excuses for all these things for a moment. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the ugly rest of the Bible).  I’d argue that coveting something is totally benign if you don’t act on it, but for the sake of argument, I’ll grant that it’s healthy to not want stuff other people have.

And the great irony of Prager’s video? There’s another part of the Bible that has a moral maxim that is pretty dang good. Jesus offers in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12 that you should “Do to others what you would want them to do to you”. In Luke 10:25-28, Jesus confirms that this is a good idea when he approves someone else saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as you love yourself”. Putting aside that worshiping an entity that you don’t know exists isn’t really necessary for ethics and has some potential downsides, the golden rule plus the love for others is way, way better than the Ten Commandments. The golden rule teaches you not to oppress others, because you wouldn’t want to be oppressed. It tells you to listen when others speak, because you wouldn’t want to be ignored. It tells you not to interrupt others without cause, not to beat or assault or abuse, not to steal or murder, not to disrespect your parents (or your children), because you wouldn’t want any of those things done to you.

The golden rule in my mind is a minimalist rule: I think you can go beyond what a person might reasonably want or expect or imagine. I think the Hebrew man the Good Samaritan saved probably didn’t expect that the Good Samaritan would have gone so far and wouldn’t have “wanted” it. I also think you have to be careful with the golden rule: for example, sometimes someone with low self-esteem might think that others might not want to be helped because they themselves don’t think they deserve help and are embarrassed as a result. The golden rule requires careful thought and really trying to evaluate a situation from multiple perspectives… which is of course one of its main advantages, when practiced. Jesus, like the Buddha, unsurprisingly gave his disciples moral maxims that not only worked as good rules of thumb but also tended to make people who followed them more and more introspective, empathetic and practiced as moral agents. The Ten Commandments have none of those advantages.

In Aron’s video, he quotes someone offering what he in other places frequently suggests as a universal maxim. To paraphrase: Behavior that tends to improve human health, well-being, and happiness, and/or diminish suffering and harm, is moral, and behavior that does the opposite is immoral. This is effectively what Baruch Spinoza and the Dalai Lama both came up with as well. I personally would add that we are responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions. The nice thing about the golden rule, though, is that it allows us to instantly gauge if we are being hypocrites and it lets us contextualize human health and well-being using our own personal experience as a viscerally apparent gauge. So even if we decide to say that we have four maxims now, that’s still infinitely better than the Ten Commandments.

Spinoza demolishing Dennis’ later bullshit about how you need to have an omnipresent watcher to stop doing bad things.

Dennis further goes on to indicate that no one has created a system better than the Ten Commandments. That is straightforwardly false. Aside from Spinoza and the Dalai Lama in Ethics for the New Millennium, and aside from Aron Ra’s point about the Code of Hammurabi, there’s also Kant’s categorical imperative and deontological ethics, Bentham and Mill’s utilitarianism, and Aristotle’s virtue ethics. All of these systems are far more complete and far more coherent than the Ten Commandments.

In contrast to the golden rule’s flexibility, or to the flexibility of any of the other perfectly secular ethical systems, the Ten Commandments are fixed and proscriptive. They tell you what to not do but not what to do. That’s useless on multiple levels.

This kid wrote something better than the Ten Commandments.

But it’s the omissions that the Ten Commandments make that are so awful. And even Prager has to quietly (and dishonestly) concede this. He mentions that we’d comply with the law in a good world, but putting aside the obvious and not-at-all-trivial case where the law is unjust, the Ten Commandments don’t say anything of the sort, or even try to distinguish between the need to follow a law and to follow one’s conscience and/or faith. (It’s almost like the Ten Commandments were part of a brutal state theocracy and never intended to be used in pluralist democratic societies!) The Ten Commandments don’t say anything about democracy or civic participation. They don’t tell you not to assault, or not to rape. They don’t tell you how to raise your children, or even tell you not to abuse or molest your children. They say nothing about animals. They don’t tell you not to enslave or abduct. They don’t tell you not to discriminate against those of different faiths or races or ethnicities or sexual orientations or sexes. They don’t tell you how to treat LGBTQ people. Michael Vick and Jared Fogle would have done nothing wrong under the Ten Commandments. They sure as fuck would have under any ethical system worth mentioning.

“Okay”, a Christian apologist might add, “but of course you should add the rest of the Bible, Old and New Testament, to give the Commandments context. Prager may be being a bit reductivist, but he’s still basically right”.

But there’s a reason why people like Prager duck out from the rest of the Bible. The Ten Commandments seem to be a nice core that lets you ignore the proscriptions about eating pork and owls and shellfish, or ignore the repeated and direct passages condoning and indeed precisely regulating slavery, or say you should stone people.

I often find Aron Ra to be too militant for my tastes, but he’s flat out right when he says that if you followed even a fraction of the rules of the Bible you would be imprisoned in virtually every country on the planet.

Prager wants to credit the Ten Commandments for democracy, the end to slavery, the expansion of women’s rights, and so forth, but not one of those things are stated or even implied in the Ten Commandments. Again, the golden rule would indeed have indicated all of these things taken to its logical conclusion. The Ten Commandments wouldn’t.

People like Prager wonder why we fight them so hard when they just say “Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t kill?”

It’s because of what always comes next. Christians of Prager’s ilk, that want to ground morality in God, almost never stop with the idea that we should be nice to each other. They want to say that we shouldn’t have gay marriage, or even that homosexuality should be punished by death. They want to argue that we should restrict the rights of Muslims, or that we should bomb certain countries. They want to push creationism into the science class, whitewash the history in history class, and destroy the independent thinking and critical analysis aspects of everything from civics to philosophy. Prager himself tried to defend why it’s okay to oppose gay marriage, with arguments ranging from a fallacious appeal to authority to a fallacious appeal to tradition! It was men like him who supported segregation, men like him who supported slavery, men like him who opposed the eight hour day and who supported eight-year-olds laboring in factories.

All too often, Christians don’t get why others fight them so hard on the Ten Commandments or the golden rule or the more benign aspects of the Bible. I can understand why it’d feel like one’s faith is being picked on as a result. But this is why: the rest of us, from Buddhists to atheists to agnostics to Muslims to Jews to Rastafarians to Hindus to Sikhs, know what’s coming next.

The fact is that Prager really doesn’t have the ability to think beyond the trivialities of “What if we just didn’t kill each other?” He doesn’t want to do the hard work of finding a moral code and philosophical appeals that work in concert with human psychology, just social institutions, proper education, healthy communities, critical thinking and a robust and ethical science and academy, and so many other accomplishments to actually produce ethical outcomes.

The worst part?

Prager knows it.

The most illustrative part of the video is where he says, without a trace of self-awareness or irony, that people have found ways of rationalizing their way into bad behavior no matter ethical systems.

Yes, and that applies to you too, Dennis. It applies to your dogma. It applies to Christianity. It applies to Judaism. It applies to every faith. Even if an omnipotent and omniscient being with transcendent kindness and patience (i.e. not the God of the Bible) appeared to us all and told us how to live, that would still be its opinion. Such a being would, if it respected us, make arguments as to why we should accept its proclamations and commandments, giving us a rich understanding of our consequences, our psychology, and our actual aspirations and needs.

Your Commandments tell children to honor their parents, without mentioning what form that honor should take and when that commandment should end (should I stop my parent if they are going to commit a crime? commit murder? abuse a sibling?), but they don’t tell parents how to raise their children to be fair, decent beings. Whole books of child psychology have been written on that score, and we still don’t have perfect answers. (How odd that God decided to leave out the most elementally important aspect of the human species: how to raise children so they’re decent in the first place).

Unfortunately, all indications are that such a being is not going to appear any time soon.

So we have to do that work ourselves.

Stop getting in the way by bringing up barbaric and outdated commandments given by an apparently fictitious author in fictitious circumstances.

Start trying to find out the actual causes of bad outcomes and figure out ways of averting them.


#HypocriteHillary Is A Stupid Hashtag

To those who think #HypocriteHillary is a good argument:

A gun control advocate with private security is no more a hypocrite than a highway patrol officer who punishes someone for walking on the freeway. If the guy walking on the freeway said, “Hey, man, I can’t afford a car and you can, you’re being a hypocrite”, the officer would respond, “That sucks, but what you’re doing is still dangerous and illegal. You’re exposing yourself and others to risk”.

To allege that someone is a hypocrite, you have to actually demonstrate that they’re violating their own maxim. That means you actually have to understand what that maxim is, which often escapes the hardline 2nd Amendment advocates, since their position is fundamentally based on an unreasonable concept of the 2nd Amendment as a super-right that goes beyond any other Constitutionally-guaranteed liberty.

Hillary is not saying, “No one can be safe”. She is saying, “If you do something to be safe, it must be both within the confines of the law and not something that irresponsibly makes others less safe”. Her private security, which she pays for herself, does not violate that maxim. Her bodyguards and security are properly trained and comply with the law. The open-carry morons who routinely violate basic gun safety and often the law itself emphatically do not meet those criteria. In a country where police themselves are often breaking basic gun safety rules, there’s a clear crisis of poor training that has to be addressed.

Absolutely no gun control advocate says that guns will simply not exist anymore. They assert that guns should be used by those who have an appropriate license and training to use it. Some, like myself, are in favor of private citizens having a reasonable access to such licenses. Others would want stricter rules, including some who want something like Australia’s gun ban (which still allows licensed people to own guns). The question is, “Should a gun be more like a car, a deadly device that is allowed to be used by most citizens after having demonstrated competence in its use within fairly strict regulations for use and purchase and exchange, or more like explosives, something that requires a more specialized permit”? Remember: The gun extremists routinely want guns to have less regulated than going out to fish.

And remember: Hillary’s bodyguards, and most bodyguards, are not carrying assault rifles openly. They usually have concealed handguns. That’s in addition to usually having conflict escalation training, martial arts training, and often a military or law enforcement background. Many have a license. I’m not at all intimidated by someone in a suit with an earpiece who worked for the FBI for five years. I am intimidated by a chucklehead in camo openly carrying a weapon that can fire more than a hundred rounds in a minute (yes, even gun rights advocates routinely admit that an unmodified AR-15 can fire a hundred rounds 5.56x45mm NATO rounds or similar rounds). Yes, many open carry advocates are perfectly reasonable and follow the law. And that would remain true even in a world where they had to be properly licensed. Without licensing, though, there’s no screening for the person who may open carry in a playground.

So, no, there’s no hypocrisy here. Even affluent gun control advocates like Hillary are indicating that they want qualified people with appropriate training and licensing to have weapons. If you’re less affluent, no one is going to deny you a home security system, reinforcements to your home, or other ways of improving your safety. And the fact is some of the poorest communities are some of the most strident against unrestricted guns. It’s a great irony of the gun debate that middle-class and working-class white folks in relatively safe suburbs and rural areas are insisting on their right to have guns and posing as being so poor compared to those like Hillary, while the truly poor and marginalized have very loud leadership going against unrestricted guns. Unrestricted gun ownership seems fine until one considers how often guns are stolen, sold illegally by a family member (whether it’s the father who bought the gun selling it to make some quick cash after being laid off or a kid looking to make some quick money), or otherwise manage to end up in the black market. The fact is that highly racialized white desires to feel safe end up leading to the victimization of black and Hispanic people, especially children.

Gun rights people: Stop floating this argument. It makes you look spectacularly dishonest and it shows that you are willfully ignoring the actual issues being discussed.

politics, Uncategorized

Yes, We Can Be Reasonable About Trump Too

Trump’s in the news again. I suppose at this point to say that Trump is in the news is rather like reporting that air is still breathable. Being a narcissist, and apparently a deeply malignant and even likely quasi-sociopathic one, he can’t stop getting his fix of attention, positive or negative. Like any person who never came out of an extremely broken and childlike mentality, if he feels the attention wavering he will, self-admittedly, say things that are as evil and controversial as he can to once again be the center of a controversy.

Still, this time what he said there is a slight defense for. Trump said that the “if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know”. The assumption was that he was calling for an assassination of Hillary Clinton. I immediately thought that there were two interpretations: that of assassination, and that of political resistance, as if the Second Amendment folks (a strong group but definitely a minority) could single-handedly stop a President who had already won her judicial picks.

Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk has argued that there’s a lot of faux-PC outrage against Trump and that it’s not an effective tactic. This is a case that I think somewhat illustrates his point.

And yet, Donald Trump and his surrogates are still in the wrong.

If this was the first, or second, or even fifth, misstep that Trump had made during his campaign, it could be viewed as a momentary gaffe. Similar stupidity about NATO was defended by Mitch McConnell was a “rookie mistake”, ignoring that Trump is not a rookie any more and that he’s running for the highest political job in the land which suggests that he should be nothing less than a seasoned pro. (Hey, remember when Republicans got angry at Obama for his lack of experience, like with Chris Christie lambasting Marco Rubio by making a comparison of Rubio to Obama, ignoring that Obama isn’t a robot and can actually speak off the cuff quite well? I’d love for Republicans to bring that up again as their newest candidate has served in no public office, clearly only ran this year because people were now making fun of his empty declarations in the past, and has bankrupted six separate endeavors).

It’s not. Trump has had a campaign that has repeatedly stoked violence, called for the suppression of rival journalists (even as he himself behaves in hideously libelous fashions), seen an attorney within the campaign deny that marital rape is illegal (it is) while threatening an outlet that reported on Trump’s horrible treatment of Ivana with comments that bordered on death threats, and seen his campaign manager clearly commit assault against a journalist that was on his side.

And this is how Hillary Clinton ripped him apart in return: noting that Trump is the kind of man who decides to spew venomous slander about a Gold Star family. And the Secret Service took it seriously too. The fact is that Trump is grotesquely incompetent and irresponsible. He should have known better than to say something like that, and the moment he said it, he should have corrected himself. If he couldn’t do that, he should have taken every opportunity he gets to come onto the media and said, “Hey, my followers? Don’t shoot anyone. That wouldn’t be tremendous”. He doesn’t do something that elementally honest. He stokes anger and then moves onto the next issue, because that anger gets him elected. And every Republican that is considering voting for him is being sucked into that dishonest dynamic.

Republicans are now so committed to pushing away their cognitive dissonance that one on CNN today even dared to make a comparison to Obama making a reference to the fucking Untouchables. When Jake Tapper on CNN pointed out that it was a movie reference, the clown said that he didn’t know that and hadn’t known that since 2008.

Putting aside that the Untouchables is far from obscure and damn near everyone on the planet knows that line (I sure as hell did): Hey, buddy, ever heard of this place called Google? Search engines have been around for twenty years. You could have looked up the quote to see if it was from something. Instead, by your own admission, you repeated an easily-disprovable statement for eight years without bothering to research it. That’s what we call a “lie” in my part of the world, homeboy.

We liberals and leftists can be reasonable. We can recognize that Trump said something ambiguous that has multiple interpretations. And that still makes him a shitty candidate.


Should Anarchists Vote?

Should anarchists vote?

It’s a perennial issue, and this year with a man who seems to be a fascist strongman advocating for war crimes and repeatedly demonstrating contempt for freedom running for office it seems especially crucial to decide on. While this year has demonstrated that we can be handed the two candidates with the lowest approval ratings in Presidential history even in a contentious primary, it also has demonstrated how much electoral politics can scare up the ugliest parts of society when they are done badly.

I’m surprised at how poorly my position on the issue is represented. It’s astonishing to see people like Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, and others so rarely acknowledged in many of those screeds against voting.

The fact is that anarchists have a duty to vote.


There’s lots of ways of approaching the issue, but the fact is that the other side is essentially bankrupt, based on an absurd ethical metaphysics that they don’t believe.

Participating In A Process With No Legitimacy Is Morally Benign

An anarchist who says that we shouldn’t vote might say, “The system is fundamentally corrupt. Why participate in it?”

The counter-argument is, “The system is fundamentally corrupt. Use everything you can to stop it”.

What we have is not just. The state isn’t just. Corporations aren’t just. Free markets in a specific context might be just (though I believe participatory planning would be more just), but that specific context has never once existed. Racism isn’t just. Sexism and patriarchy isn’t just. Homophobia and heteronormativity isn’t just. Human history has never once been just.

 Because I view the system as having no legitimacy, participating in it says nothing. I do not concede that the system has any legitimacy. I’m simply attempting to minimize harm and maximize positive outcomes within the context of an illegitimate system I did not create and refuse to acknowledge.

If someone forces you into a crooked game of poker, it’s not sensible to refuse to raise. One could make an argument for leaving the game, except doing so doesn’t end the game that others are still being forced to play, even if you can somehow avoid the punishment for failing to play.

Similarly, not voting isn’t not engaging with the system. It’s simply refusing to use one tactic to engage with the system, and in fact it’s refusing to use one of the best tactics and the most noble outlets the system provides. Think of how many people who might booze it up, attend rock concerts, and work in crappy wage slave jobs who will insist that they shouldn’t vote. Even a lot of anarcho-capitalists, who believe in the free market, are perfectly willing to make a business even in an environment they admit is destructive crony capitalism, and yet won’t vote.

Someone who committed to being a complete hermit and tried to disengage from our society would have some argument to be made. Of course, the realities of global warming, nuclear war, terrorism, and other issues ultimately are not going to discriminate or accommodate someone who wants to “check out”. More importantly, not everyone has the ability to “check out” of society. It is moral cowardice to flee while others are being oppressed.

Once we’ve accepted that we will be living in society, voting is one of the absolute lowest-cost mechanisms to create social change that is positive. It’s the height of hypocrisy to insist that the system is corrupt, pay one’s condo fees or one’s taxes or set up a business or drive one’s car on highways and public roads, and not vote.

The only two arguments left for the anti-voting crowd is “It confers apparent legitimacy to the system, no matter your intent” and “It’s an endorsement of the system”. Both of these arguments are fatally flawed.

As for the first: It is the case that any politician or pundit who wants to defend the system will say, “Hey, these people voted! They participated! They consented to what they got!” If, say, Hillary Rodham Clinton is far worse of a nightmare as President than we anticipated, propagandists will say that anarchists in swing states voted for her and therefore have no right to complain.

But this argument is stupid on its face. No one ever said that democracy ends after election day. If your candidate does something you don’t like, you have every right to complain, and call them, and write them letters, and protest against them, and ultimately deprive them of a vote.

More importantly, propagandists will take any choice you make to reinforce the system, because that is their job. Anarchists break windows in Seattle? They are thugs and vandals! Anarchists protest peacefully? Well, things can’t be that bad if you’re not breaking windows! Trying to anticipate how your political opponents will spin what you do is madness.

And in fact a lack of participation is extremely conducive to anti-anarchist arguments. When people refuse to vote, those who are against greater freedom, justice and participation can say, “You’re giving people who don’t care and don’t take the freedoms they have seriously more freedoms. They already can vote and they’re not doing it. They’re apathetic and poorly informed”. If 100% of Americans voted, and publicly expressed progressive positions, and yet standard center-right policies were made, no one would have an excuse: the system would be exposed as not working.

Is it possible that refusing to vote sends a stronger message and signal than voting? Yes. Is it possible that refusing to vote sends a weaker signal than voting? Yes. No one has any compelling data either way. It certainly seems ludicrous on its face that saying nothing communicates more information than saying something. Even though voting as we currently have it is a very muted and distorted way of communicating preferences, since people routinely are voting for candidates who don’t agree with them on most issues in order to fight for a few, it’s at least some statement. Refusing to vote at all says nothing. And it’s possible to read anything into nothing. Someone who refuses to vote is like the victim of the old “silent treatment” gag where you say, “Say nothing if you want me to borrow your car!”, only the consequences are far from a joke.

And even if you could decisively demonstrate that not voting was harder for the system’s defenders to spin than voting for a flawed candidate, it’s a false dilemma, because neither scenario is palatable. Unless anarchists are powerful, vocal and have their own media enough that they can describe what they want and what they are doing, it’s actually totally moot whether or not some particular scenario is harder for the media to spin. Voting is absolutely not harmful to the cause of building leftist and progressive media; in fact, voting is an important mechanism to insure such media survive!

So the only remaining argument would be that participation in an unjust system, no matter the actual consequences of that specific participation, somehow taints you. It’s a metaphysical argument that there’s just something intangible and ineffable that comes from being involved with the system.

This idea is ludicrous on its face. It pretends that you can be neutral on a moving train, as Howard Zinn famously taught generations. It pretends that if you just don’t actively participate in the system that somehow you’re not part of it and its outcomes don’t trace back to your inaction. That’s the opposite of reality. And where does this metaphysical contamination end? Does someone who seeks to work at a wage slave job to feed his family get contaminated by the system? Does someone who uses the Internet or any technology created by the government (or by racists or sexists or bigots of any kind) give some kind of ex post facto justification to these systems? Why does this arbitrary invisible ghost spirit that you might catch by pressing a button or filling out a piece of paper trump the very real consequences of not voting?

Of course there are lines in the sand we should refuse to compromise on. Of course there are times that trying to work within a system to improve it can instead maintain its logic and its existence. Voting is not one of those. If every single person didn’t vote besides the candidates themselves and their cohorts, someone would still be elected into office. Not voting doesn’t do anything to the system. Making it the line in the sand that someone refuses to cross is petty, unnecessary and morally cowardly.

In fact, it seems to me that, if there is some moral contamination from voting, taking on that contamination would be a worthwhile sacrifice to take such a pollution on in order to minimize the chances of war and death.

The Republicans Want It

How can anyone who refuses to vote be comfortable with the fact that the worst reactionaries in our society actively want to suppress voter registration and turnout? It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, when you’re on the same side of the issue as the Republicans, you’ve done fucked up.

The most reactionary sectors of society will always vote. The people who don’t want anything to change, or want things to get far worse, will vote. Corporations will make damn sure that their core supporters vote. If voting did nothing and posed no threat to the system, there would be no efforts to suppress the turnout. The fact that a large portion of the elite, the part that is less conducive to progressive causes and agendas, wish to suppress the vote should be a reason to vote in and of itself, if only out of spite and to tell them that their efforts won’t work. But it’s also a clue that the elite are in fact terrified of this democratic system that they use to give an imprimatur of legitimacy to their decisions being turned against them.

Solidarity With Those Whose Concerns Can Be Won Electorally (A Nickel’s Worth of Difference Counts When You’re Broke)

Not voting risks being racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and risks supporting Christian hegemony and supremacy.

This is a tough pill to swallow. I suspect it’s part of why many of the people who push the hardcore “disengage from society” argument end up being so retrograde on any issues that don’t have to do with the state or the economy. But it’s true.

The fact is that women, people of color, gay folks, atheists, Muslims, non-Christians of all stripes, and dozens of other groups can accomplish huge improvements within the electoral system, and the electoral system actively threatens them. Maybe people don’t much care as workers if Tweedleedeedee or Tweedledeedum are in office, but gay folks certainly care if the Supreme Court will continue to defend gay marriage and push against anti-gay discrimination, blacks certainly care about the stupidity of letting the Voting Rights Act cease, atheists certainly care about the constant efforts to constrain their rights, Muslims certainly care about the risk that they may be put onto a registry or deported or prevented from traveling out of or into the country, and so forth. (Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but you can ask a lot of Iraqis if they think that Al Gore really would have been identical to George W. Bush).

Even if you don’t care at all about the needs of a huge majority of the population, the fact is that any anarchist social change will require solidarity across race, class, gender, sexual orientation and religious lines. Out of all of the things you could do to show solidarity with dozens of groups, what are less

And I’ve always found it hilarious when any white radical dares to tell black folks that they’re being naive about oppression or are misunderstanding the system. It’s not altogether impossible, of course, but does anyone really think that you need to inform the African-American community that the state and corporations can suck really hard? They got that memo, thanks. They’ve lived that for hundreds of years. Native Americans can tell you plenty about the brutality and hypocrisy of the state. So the fact that African-Americans as a group loudly support the Democratic Party should tell any radical something: the Republicans are a real threat to them.

Howard Zinn used to say that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. But the fact is that, when you’re broke, you don’t spit at a nickel. Any gain that can be gained from voting is worth the several hours at most that it takes to do it.

It’s Basically Risk-Free

What is the harm of voting?

Imagine that you vote for the Green candidate (or, if you lean more anarcho-capitalist, the Libertarian Party). These parties aren’t going to win a major election any time soon.

Heck, imagine that you vote for the Democrat. What’s the real likelihood that one vote will change the entire dynamic? Oh, sure, it’s happened: In 2016, it happened to Sanders several times that a vote in a particular district was literally tied.

Voting does not in and of itself pollute, or drop bombs, or give tax revenue to unjust institutions. It expresses an opinion between choices that by and large you did not pick. Even those who oppose it offer harms that are intangible and arbitrary.

It’s The Society We Want to Build

You can’t build a better society without acting in a way that makes it come about and acts within that society’s better norms.

Would a just society have voting?

Yes. A just society would have more voting. People would be able to choose to create communities with complex democratic norms and with direct democracy.

How can we indicate that our values include civic participation and self-management without actually doing either?

And this is actually where the real disagreement tends to be among anarchists. There’s actually two types of anarchists: those who care about liberty and justice for all, and those that care about liberty and justice for themselves. I know that that sounds harsh, but after fifteen years of being an anarchist, it is a reality that I think is inescapable.

The kind of anarchists who hold their nose

Trump Is A Dumpster Fire

Trump is of course more of a symbol for the reality of white supremacy, homophobia, Christian supremacy, and generally ugly reactionary politics. But he is an object lesson and a good example as to why it’s moral cowardice not to vote.

If Trump wins, it sends a very clear, unambiguous signal to Americans and to the world: “This kind of politics is tolerated here. We accept when someone intentionally stokes white supremacist resentment. We accept the politics of fascism”.

Sometimes, a vote is about more than some abstract principle of a future society. Sometimes. it’s about the very real circumstances of the country you live in. Trump is that circumstance. He must be beaten, indeed crushed, in every state, in order to loudly indicate that we will not tolerate a society where the state and private actors collude in order to propagate racism, crush the living and working opportunities of the poor, and where we tolerate the murder of civilians.

It Promotes Paying Attention to Politics

How many of those who refuse to vote are wonks who are aware of what their Senator, their Congresspeople, and their local politicians are doing?

You can’t be aware of the impact of a decision that you’re refusing to make. Anarchists may not like it, but in an unjust system, you must be more aware of the politics than under a system we would prefer.

It’s Part of a Strategy

Voting, letters to Congressmen, protests, demands for improvements within the system, boycotts… none of these are revolutionary in and of themselves. Even an individual battle isn’t a revolution.

If you just vote, yes, you will not accomplish real social change. But the same is absolutely true of any other tactic. No tactic on its own is going to win a better society.

Movements must come together to create a coherent strategy for change. We have to consider the full trajectory of how we will come from the unjust society we live in to the society we want to be in.

If an anarchist doesn’t want to do that work, they have no business calling themselves an anarchist.

Choosing the politicians that are least likely to do harm and most likely to promote policies that will promote liberty, happiness, equity, solidarity and justice is worth the time and debate. It’s worth the challenge and the disagreements.


Steve King, You’re Incompatible with Western Civilization

This is the only election I’ve heard neo-Nazi and white supremacist arguments being side by public officials.

Steve King, a Representative from Iowa, repeated the idea that non-white people haven’t contributed to history. Not writing, not agriculture, not corn and tomatoes and chickens.

If Trump wins, white supremacists will think that this rhetoric is acceptable. These ideas have a long pedigree and they don’t become that much less dangerous with time. I never thought that I’d see the kind of things I used to only see on message boards offered by anonymous people in the mainstream, and yet here it is. People like King feel emboldened.

Too many people in this country think that you get a freebie on issues like this. That, whenever you please, you can trot out the idea that this is your country and civilization, and you’ll take back the nice things you gave. Steve has the right to say these things. And in a civilized society, he would be voted out of office and his ideas would see universal censure.

We’re nowhere near that. Our moves toward basic decency and courtesy (what dishonest people called “political correctness”) mean nothing if these ideas aren’t extinguished. Not by censorship, but by being roundly defeated in the intellectual arena and rejected as immoral statements.

And while many conservatives may get scared by that kind of rhetoric, and I understand to a point, these are the same people saying that radical Islam is not compatible with Western civilization. Neither is what Steve King said. It’s not compatible with any kind of civilization, anywhere.


Boo, Hillary. Boo.

So Sarah Silverman and Al Franken got booed by Bernie supporters at the DNC, chanting “Bernie!” in response to her effort to get us to be proud of voting Hillary.
I appreciate the effort Sarah is making to try to defeat Trump. I do. I was never a diehard #BernieOrBust guy. 
Just today, I had someone point out to me how Hillary’s record as a feminist, in pushing education, in It Takes A Village, and elsewhere are impressive. And the RNC had made me sympathize with her massively.
But as I listened, I realized that the DNC doesn’t have a leg to stand on. 
Hillary didn’t make Bernie the VP. She didn’t do that despite the fact that she clearly knew about the collusion between her and the campaign. She gambled on us not finding out.
The Democratic Party wants us to vote for them when they loudly indicated that they didn’t want our vote. Sure, perhaps Bernie might have lost either way. But in this world, we didn’t get to find that out, because the Democratic Party didn’t want to let their members decide. They want us to be happy to be in a rigged game.
And they want us to vote for them to avert Trump, but they don’t want to earn our vote. They don’t want to actually apologize for what happened in any systemic way or rectify it. Nor do they want to actually do the work to get progressives.
Want my vote, Hillary? Earn it. Energize me like Bernie. Because you intentionally stole my opportunity to see him try for it. #jillstein2016