Some of the shine of the Unholy Trinity is starting to wear off.
Seth Andrews and Aron Ra have announced they are pulling out of MythCon IV in Milwaukee after the organizers refused to deplatform three speakers, just weeks after Andrews went on the record opposing a radio station doing the same to Richard Dawkins who was supposed to speak at Berkely about his new science book.
Atheists and skeptics continue to eat their own over issues of identity politics. And I am just wondering if I should join the others who give up and walk away. Because eventually, every person will end up across some invisible line the identity politics people create, and that’s it. They’re done.
Apparently the current dust-up is over the lineup of speakers at MythCon in Milwaukee on Sept. 30, with social justice activists working to get people to not attend and/or put pressure on the conference organizers and even the venue owners to disinvite and deplatform three of the speakers, two of which are controversial and one of which is very offensive, at least to certain people.
The biggest issue people have is with Sargon of Akkad, who has more than 600,000 YouTube subscribers and frequently posts inflammatory and controversial videos on topics both in the religious and political realm. He is one of the featured speakers at the convention where he will be interviewed by podcaster Thomas Smith, who is diametrically opposed to most of Sargon’s positions on topics, especially in the realm of social justice.
Then there is the Armoured Skeptic and Shoeonhead, another two YouTube posters, who will be speaking on skepticism and social media. While not at controversial and confrontational as Sargon, these two have also drawn the ire of some in the atheist movement, including Steve Shives and Kristi Winters, many of whom have called for the three of them to be take off the speaker list of the conference.
Many of their detractors have used loaded words, calling Skeptic and Shoeonhead rape apologists, member of the Alt-right, White nationalists or even Nazis. I thought there was a rule in the skeptic community that when you have to call someone a Nazi…
Sargon has taken some pretty awful positions on issues regarding feminism. Perusing YouTube one day, I saw Armored Skeptic bring up Benghazi and Hillary Clinton. But I didn’t know that being able to speak at a conference required people to check off approved views on some sort of litmus test. Because we will all eventually fail someone’s litmus test. Just check out David Smalley’s podcasts where he speaks about being called a Nazi for his nuanced views on Antifa and Black Lives Matters.
Because we will all eventually fail someone’s litmus test. Just check out David Smalley’s podcasts where he speaks about being called a Nazi for his nuanced views on Antifa and Black Lives Matters.
Aron Ra, with his wife Lilandra speaking for him, pulled out and applauded others who did so with Lilandra saying there are no progressive or social justice viewpoints at the conference. Melissa Chen, an American citizen who emigrated from Singapore, also apparently falls on the list of not being for social justice enough, as do Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, an Iraqi-born human rights activist who faced death threats from Al-Qaida, and women’s rights activist Asra Nomani, who will be the featured debate speakers at the conference.
Apparently, a number of people have taken offense to the words some of the people on the lineup have spoken. Seth Andrews linked to this YouTube video to point out some of the inflammatory, offensive and disturbing things Sargon has said.
Although for activists who say everything they say is turned into 12-second quote-mined soundbites, linking to someone else’s 12-second mining of Sargon’s channel should be researched a little more.
But what about what atheists say? Describing summer bible school and Sunday school as indoctrination and child abuse? Aron Ra regularly compares faith in the scriptures to mental illness and delusions. While not as raw, rough and offensive as other terms that could be used to say the same thing, I am sure these phrases are considered offensive and harmful by the faithful. But they add to the dialog and get people to think about their actions and their culture, even those in the faith who originally take offense before sitting down and unpackaging.
People have every right to not attend the conference, but the actions by many to keep others the dislike from attending is what really angers me and gets my blood boiling. Seth Andrews in his Facebook post announcing his departure lamented the fact that the organizers wouldn’t pull the offensive speakers in return for keeping Seth in the lineup and said that in the future, he would like conferences to allow attendees to pre-screen the speakers if they are “controversial.”
1) My original agreement to attend MythCon was as a special guest at the film premiere of “Batman & Jesus,” not as part of a speech experiment. I don’t think MythCon purposefully pulled a bait-and-switch. But I do think that the selection of such a controversial lineup should have been submitted to each of the pre-agreed special guests, to make sure they approved.2) I don’t know or follow other content producers’ material (with a couple of exceptions, when time allows). I know and admire Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Melissa Chen, Thomas Smith, Matt Dillahunty, Aron Ra, and familiar and compelling icons like ex-Scientologist Ron Miscavige.Three others on the schedule, the controversial Sargon of Akaad, ShoeonHead and Armored Skeptic, were pitched as the inclusion of activists not known well or listened to in “mainstream” convention models, and I was told that MythCon would be an exercise in bringing opposing views together for respectful discourse and an exchange of ideas. I support dialogue, even/especially when people stand apart on critical issues, and I supported MythCon’s right to invite and include whoever they saw fit (just as the rest of us can decide if it warrants our own participation or endorsement).
A few months ago, atheists and skeptics were sounding the alarm when Richard Dawkins was disinvited by a private radio station from speaking at Berkely about his new book, “Science in the Soul,” after the radio station said his controversial and offensive comments about Islam came to light.
Dawkins has offended many in social justice spheres. He is called an Islamophobe by many activists, and his tweets and positions on topics about women have also been called misogynistic. But that didn’t stop activists including the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, and others from calling out the deplatforming and lamenting the fact that he had been silenced by his critics for what they described as “abusive, hurtful words.”
Why is it okay in the atheist and skeptic movement to do the same to other people, who are less well-known and aren’t the poster-child of the movement? Why do their voices mean less? And if we only listen to those we agree with, admire and like, then how do we learn, grow and adapt?