Response to Critical G’s challenge.

Leaving aside the question about whether critics of A+ should make the Hobson’s choice between Libertarianism and Conservatism as Mr. G suggested, I’ll address the main challenge he put to us in his ‘Final thought on A+’ video. 

A paraphrased version of his question:  Explain why was our community so easily taken over by A+ types, what made us such easy game and why haven’t we kicked them out yet ? 

It’s  a good question and what I’d like to suggest is this: The driving force wasn’t ‘the community’ at large.  The driving force was those individuals who became ‘promenant online atheists’. They got where they are because there was a niche for skeptical writing, they had the communication skills and the industry, the luck of course, and nobody cared what their politics were.

Once people become established online, a couple of things happen.  First, they want to remain noted, so it’s important to keep up the output. Second, they begin to get used to having their opinions carrying some weight, so it’s natural to think that this will apply to opinions about topics other than those which brought them to promenance in the first place.  Thirdly, once they have invested time and energy in producing an internet space, they become dissatisfied at simply hosting discussion on that space and begin to resent opinions contrary to their own being expressed, because they see it as their time and energy being suborned to become a ‘platform’ for views they oppose.

Below I think I’ve identified three particular factors specific to atheist bloggers and the relationship they have with their readership which make conversion to SJL seem a good career move.

1)  It’s the (blogging) economy, stupid !

This is the simple observation that because skepticism and atheism are reactive positions, there’s not much to say about either if you’re a blogger.  Skepticism needs a foil. Science blogging is hard work with all the fact checking. Once somebody has got to the stage that someone is established as a blogger, then their best work is almost certainly behind them  ( a bit like the ‘Patreon Paradox’) . Politics, and SJL politics in particular is a rich seam of ‘something to say every day’ as the blogs pretty much write themselves and there’s always drama to fall back on.

2) The Russell Glasser factor – (Preponderance of technologists)

I don’t have the stats, but anecdotally there seems to be a large preponderance of technologists (easily outweighing ‘natural scientists’) in the online community.  Especially software people ( I am one myself ).  Trigger warning for stereotyping, but there is something about the technologist, or software guy, mindset which makes certain aspects of SJL ideology appealing.  Firstly it is simple and formulaic.  Everything boils down to an easy set of principles which, once learned, can be used as the keys to unlock pretty much any topic and dismiss the complications if you have the mental agility.  SJL ideology is ‘elegant’ in the software sense, all questions are broken down in the exact same way.  You don’t need to do any extra work in actually looking critically at the world.  Technologists are trained to be creative, but only within a precisely defined limit. Beyond that there’s no use questioning – it’s just a distraction.

Also, for some technologists, interest in the humanities has happened rather later in life than usual. They may not be particularly well informed or well read about other topics.  They may be unused to, or frustrated by, nuance. When they discover SJL ideology they realise they were right all along – nuance is rubbish, you just need to know a few simple ideas and everything is clear.  They can make up for twenty years of playing video games in a basement by learning the three P’s – Privilege, Patriarchy and Pronouns.

Thirdly, we’re vain, dammit.  We got into computers because we’re clever with them and we like to show off.  So when Russell Glasser says ‘You’re not a feminist, so in what way do you think women are inferior ?’  He knows that this a simply a killer argument, and the reason that it hasn’t occured to us is because that we’re just too dim compared to his dizzying intellect.  If anyone thinks it’s not as simple as that, then Russell doesn’t need to listen.  His job is done.

Slightly off-topic, but it is noticeable how the men on the Atheist Experience, who (ironically) haven’t had a wide experience of life away from the keyboard, habitually talk over the women who have (I’m thinking of Jen Peeples here).

3) The Last Shall be First – or ‘Wings of Privilege’

Most of us are ex-christians and know christianity well.  We want to have, and to claim a superior moral framework to christianity.  Maybe more christianity than we think has seeped into our consciousness.  The ‘Last shall be First’ meme is a very powerful one. I would also go so far as to say it’s the single most important element of christianity to moderate christians.  More important than whether you ‘believe’ or not. Perhaps more important than Jesus.  My own parents are moderate christians, they never quote the bible, or talk about Jesus, hell or the devil, but they’ve arranged their entire lives around the concept of service and ‘humility’.

Most of these ‘prominent atheists’ are from the ‘privileged’ demographics.  Their rivals are also ‘privileged’.  So what do they do ?  They compete with each other to flagellate themselves and their own demographic, they discard their ‘wings of privilege’ and throw them in the trash in as flamboyantly public a manner as they can muster.  That way, they outrank even the ‘non-privileged’ members of the SJL. 

Just as the top-dogs among moderate christians are the ones who are perceived as the most humble and selfless, the  very best SJL members are not the ‘non-privileged’ (because who knows what they would have been like had they been born ‘privileged’) but rather those born with privilege who are most assiduous about attacking their own demographic.

It is a paradox therefore that the highest status available in the SJL is only attainable for those born with the privileges which the league so despises.   The ‘non-privileged’ are relegated to a secondary role.  They are the ‘first’ who are actually ‘last’ !

The effect of all this is that the bloggers get not only get increased power, but also the ‘ex-christian’ emotional satisfaction from adopting the self-flagellating SJL stance – the kool aid tastes real good, and also that there’s competition and environmental selection going on in terms of pleasing the commentariat.


Thanks for reading this far and do comment.



The great schism – ‘Generational’ perspective.

One thing about the background to all the current argy-bargy which I’d like to talk about stems from the nature of the ‘atheist’ or ‘sceptical’ community.  Please forgive all the broad archetyping which is to follow.

It’s this – If we compare it with say, a church, you’ll find that in a church, whatever the ages of the people, they are the same kind of people.  I mean that the 50 year olds are pretty much just older versions of the 20 year olds.  The 20 year olds represent a good approximation of how the 50 year olds were when they were that age. A church ‘speaks’ to you in the same way whether you’re 20 or 50.

Now, I contend that the atheist community is very much not like this.  Here’s an analogy – suppose there’s an ecosystem, say a species of coral on a reef.  There’s a fish, the Clownfish which, as a juvenile, swims around the reef generally, but, as an adult, comes and lives on our bit of coral.  Then there’s a shark, whose babies hatch out and spend one year on our coral before swimming away and spend the rest of their lives terrorising surfers.  Now, it maybe true that both the Clownfish and Shark live on the same coral, but they haven’t really got much in common – they come to the coral at different points in their lives and for very different reasons.

In my case, age 20 I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with the atheist community.  I was still going though my misguided “many paths to god” phase.  It was only when i realised that “I don’t know” is a perfectly fine answer that i was interested in the atheist community, primarily as a refuge from those who are certain that their dogma is right.  It’s the respect that the atheist community has for views which lack dogma and lack certainly which is what attracted me to it.

I accept I may be generalising too much here, but my archetypal ‘A+ supporter’ has joined the atheist community because she’s embraced some sociological and political ideas which run contrary to her religious upbringing.  The pain and family conflict is still fresh in her mind and she wants the company of like-minded people.

The two of us are temporarily sharing the same space.  But not happily.  I am likely to be unhappy if I’ve spent 30 years finding a refuge from dogma only to be told to “Shut Up And Listen!” by someone who is more certain about everything than I am about anything and regards my lack of certainty as something to be remedied by some ‘education’.  My hypothetical Aplusser is equally disappointed and frustrated to go through all the pain she has only to join a community where some people have exactly the same opinions about her new cherished beliefs as her Dad.

I hope I’ve made clear that I’m not saying that ‘old people are wise and the young foolish’.  The point is that our community attracts a different category of person depending on the part of life’s trajectory they’re on.  I wouldn’t have been interested age 20, and I don’t think the current A+ crowd will be interested age 50 (a guess I know – would be interested to find out).

Comments welcome …



Thanks to Renee and all for setting this site up.  And Hello to all the Bloggers.  I’m working on a proper blog to start with, so check back soon.  In the meantime here’s some music ….