Preaching to the choir: The cult of online atheism

Christ, but it’s getting ever more embarrassing to identify as an atheist these days. To admit to my atheism means that, Zarquon forbid, I could potentially be mistaken for someone who subscribes to the rhetoric of any one of a number of vitriol-driven online nu-atheists including, in particular, the modestly monikered The Amazing Atheist.

The Amazing Atheist, real name Thomas James (TJ) Kirk [1], has a subscriber base for his YouTube channel approaching 1 million viewers. I didn’t know about Kirk’s channel, however, until my recent spat with another nu-atheist, Philip Mason, aka thunderf00t [1] (The “00” isn’t a typo or a screw-up with the text formatting, by the way. Mason prefers “00” to “oo”. Branding is of course very important for any online business, so let’s humour him.)

One result of the exchange with Mason, and the subsequent online discussion, is that I became aware of a variety of new YouTubers. (New to me, that is). Some of these I was really pleased to have found (see below); others, like The Amazing Atheist and the odious Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad [1], I was somewhat less delighted to have encountered.

One channel that very kindly mirrored the video I made to accompany the “Faith and Fables of Thunderfoot” blog post was chrisiousity. (This video is a great introduction to what Chris(iousity) is all about). Chris also contributed many intelligent and perceptive comments under the “Faith and Fables…” video. So I’m at a little bit of a loss to understand why it took me until the end of last week to subscribe to her channel. I’m extremely pleased I did, however, not least because I might otherwise have missed the insightful video below which she uploaded about The Amazing Atheist (TAA)’s recent diatribe (this time targeted at Steve Shives, who describes himself in his Twitter profile as follows: “Guy on YouTube. Liberal. Progressive atheist. Supporter of feminism and social justice. Weirdo with weird friends. Tries to do good.”)

It’s worth taking 45 minutes of your time to watch, or, as I did, listen to, Chris’ video. Her calm, measured tones contrast starkly with TAA’s overblown playing to the gallery. More importantly, Chris highlights fascinating parallels between the treatment of heretics over the ages and the opprobrium meted out to Shives and others like him who dare question the orthodoxy of TAA and his close-to-one-million-strong following.

There’s a PhD thesis — indeed, a series of PhD theses — to be written on the question of heresy in this context, but I want to focus here on just one aspect of TAA’s approach to criticising Shives (and, by extension, ‘SJW’s like him [2]). The last couple of minutes of Chris’ video, starting at about the 42:00 mark, are flat-out astounding. Chris includes a clip where TAA launches into a tirade which can be accurately summarised as follows: “I’ve got nearly 1 M subscribers. My message resonates with all those people. How great am I? I win. I win.

As textbook examples of argumentum ad populum go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. Someone who, let’s not forget, has the temerity to call themselves The Amazing Atheist, is crowing that the size of their audience has a key bearing on the validity of their position. Mr. Kirk, please stop identifying as an atheist, amazing or otherwise, if these are the depths to which you’re going to stoop; it’s deeply embarrassing for the rest of us. We attempt to argue that atheism is a rational choice, as compared to the myths and fables of religious faith, and then “The Amazing Atheist” acts like the worst type of self-aggrandizing televangelist, validating his message by pointing to the size of his flock. (I’ve got to thank TAA, however, for putting me in mind of this classic Suicidal Tendencies track. It’s been too long since I dusted that one down and gave it a play).

As of 2014, 3% of the US population identified as atheists, and 5% as agnostics. Look at those subscription numbers, as compared to the percentages of those who have faith in some sort of a divine being. We must be in the wrong, right? [3] We lose.

TAA’s tribalism, and the associated cult of ‘personality’, does atheism a deep disservice. But, and it pains me to have to say this, I cannot condone, on the basis of similar ‘tribe-centric’ arguments, Steve Shives’ auto-blocking of those he suspects might disagree with him (much as I agree with Shives on many other issues). TAA bangs on about this in his own, inimitable, high decibel manner in his video. If we cut through the hyperbole and drama, however, he’s got a point.

I am well aware of the type of abuse that is doled out by members of the Tribe of The ‘Foot, Akaad, TAA, et al. (Very many of these followers, of course, follow the example of their favoured iconoclasts [1] and are wrapped up in the cosy warm blanket of anonymity). I have only experienced an infinitesimal fraction of the vacuous name-calling that Shives and very many others have to experience, and even I can understand entirely the appeal of attempting to preemptively block those whose allegiance lies with #TeamAmazing, #TeamFoot, #TeamAkkad etc. But blocking only cedes the high ground of the debate to those who so often can’t begin to construct any semblance of a coherent argument. Once blocked, they’ll make a big song and dance of it. (Look no further than the video above for good evidence of this). Even if they didn’t have any type of credible argument to begin with, as is so often the case, by being blocked they gain an entirely undeserved credibility (especially within their tribe; they wear the block as a badge of honour).

When I had a Twitter account I didn’t block for precisely this reason (nor do I moderate/censor/delete/edit comments at this blog (other than removing obvious spam) [4])). And, yes, it was sometimes very time-consuming to address entirely vacuous tweets. But blocking is entirely counter-productive. I’ll reiterate: it cedes too much ground to those who are entirely incapable of constructing an argument. We should ignore the abuse and counter evidence-free arguments when they are put forward. (Moreover, I am firmly of the opinion that while Twitter has its upsides, it’s hardly the most appropriate platform for reasoned, credible debate. The 140 character + hashtag format is almost custom-designed to entrench tribal behaviour. So, for reasons I detailed at the time, I killed my Twitter account. (In any case, and as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m Irish. Communication limited to 140 characters fundamentally goes against the grain.))

To close, let’s return to the heresy theme that Chris(iousity) so aptly identified. This is a classic from Nine Inch Nails…

 

[1] Many of those who rant at length about “delicate flowers”, “safe spaces”, “professional victims”, and what they see as the over-sensitivity of those who have to face torrents of online abuse, have delicately hidden behind a pseudonym for some, or all, of their online ‘career’. As I’ve noted previously (with, I’m afraid, tedious regularity), those who feel the need to hide within the safe space of anonymity are in no place to complain about what they see as the sensitivity of others. (And, no, it’s not an “ad hom” to point this out. Please see footnote #1 at the bottom of “The natural order of things?“)

[2] I realise that there are those out there who are easily upset by the merest mention of social justice. My apologies. I should really have included a link to the ‘trigger’ warning at the start of “When Atheists Ape Creationists…” before now.

[3] Alternatively, consider this chilling factoid: One Direction has outsold The Beatles (at least in the US and, for all I know, worldwide. If this is indeed a worldwide phenomenon, please don’t feel the need to tell me. I really don’t want to know). Clearly this must mean that the former are more artistically and culturally relevant than the latter.

[4] …even when those who are vociferous supporters of freedom of speech ask me to censor a thread.

 

 

 

Author: Philip Moriarty

Physicist. Rush fan. Father of three. (Not Rush fans. Yet.) Rants not restricted to the key of E minor...

26 thoughts on “Preaching to the choir: The cult of online atheism”

  1. Amazing Atheist is the poster child for how-atheists-shouldn’t-act. He serves a purpose in that sense, but I agree he also makes Atheism seem worse than it is.

    There’s A LOT of history between Shives and the rest. Many nu-athiests were initially inspired by Shives to make YouTube channels of their own. As such, when Shives began changing his views and started preaching the opposite (pro-censorship, pro-gender-superiority, anti-white etc.) many of them felt betrayed. While this doesn’t necessarily excuse the responses, understand that it is because of Shives’ hypocracy he became the face of SJW poisoning.

    You should watch some old Shives (if he hasn’t deleted them) and then recent ones. Some of the recent ones with his wife are just shameful sexism and blatant logic jumping, they can be very painful to watch.

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  2. About the auto-blocking thing, I don’t know, I also feel like that sort of thing gives dummies who misunderstand the idea of free speech some weird credibility within their tribe, but it seems like such an easy thing for me to say, as someone who has not been made into a target.
    After several years of this sort of shit-slinging, I’d probably enjoy the peace and quiet of having at least a few social networks free of the reactionary noise. It would probably help with my blood pressure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. but it seems like such an easy thing for me to say, as someone who has not been made into a target.
      After several years of this sort of shit-slinging, I’d probably enjoy the peace and quiet of having at least a few social networks free of the reactionary noise.

      I agree entirely, and I’ve been having a discussion with Steve Shives over at his channel on precisely this point. I’ve only had to deal with an exceptionally small fraction of the f**kwittery he has to endure and I find that dispiriting enough.

      The problem is that I’m too pig-headed, stubborn and tenacious to give them the satisfaction of blocking them! I’d much rather have them hoist themselves by their own petard. (See, for example, Kristi Winters’ debate with the odious Mr. Benjamin where she showed up the paucity of his arguments).

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  3. There is a brand of Atheism that is a religion in and of itself. At one point Dawkins’s books were their bible. I don’t know if he still holds that sort of sway since he became something of embarrassment. I haven’t been giving them much attention for a while.

    I believe there are bands who are “Athiest” as an identifier. Just like those Christian Bands. They sing songs about being an Atheist.

    But what so clearly pulls them into a religion of their own is their mad desire to have a group identity.

    I have no idea how the lack of belief in a supernatural being became an organizing principle for a group, but I find it ironic.

    And they have NO sense of humor about it when you point out the silliness of identifying a group or even yourself with the lack of something. If they want to identified with logic, they should become a Skeptic. That is predicated on something, not nothing.

    It’s not that I don’t fit the label of atheist, but when asked I usually identify as nonbeliever, because like you I don’t want to be swept into a group of people who are cringe worthy in their hypocrisy. Which is yet another thing they hold in common with religious groups.

    What annoys me is that I find myself feeling the need to explain my lack of belief and my position on religion in order to differentiate myself from them. When I think in the normal course of things, I would probably only discuss it in a philosophical debate over drinks with friends.

    I am very reluctant to be considered an Atheist.

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    1. What annoys me is that I find myself feeling the need to explain my lack of belief and my position on religion in order to differentiate myself from them. When I think in the normal course of things, I would probably only discuss it in a philosophical debate over drinks with friends.

      I am very reluctant to be considered an Atheist.

      This is exactly it. I am increasingly feeling just like you say. It’s getting embarrassing to call oneself an atheist.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Philip- thanks for the shout out, it is a lovely compliment.
    A couple of thoughts while reading this post- I am also loathe to block people. I understand entirely not wanting to be bothered with idiots, but if we set ourselves to make public arguments, we should be ready for rebuttals- even the extraordinarily stupid ones. That said, Steve will do what he feels is right, and while I don’t agree with it I don’t consider it the great sin others apparently do.
    On the idea of using a pseudonym- I do this myself, and I do it out of concern for the way some feminists have been targeted for harassment. I have small children and can’t countenance the idea of putting them at any risk. That said it was a regrettable decision in my mind, and I would prefer to have simply used my name…unfortunately I have been threatened and harassed by a man on Youtube who promised to find me and made some very bizarre threats. He seemed genuinely unhinged, and I was very glad I had taken pains to hide my identity.

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    1. Hi, Chris.

      I am delighted that you’ve posted a comment here! Thank you for your great videos.

      I understand entirely not wanting to be bothered with idiots, but if we set ourselves to make public arguments, we should be ready for rebuttals- even the extraordinarily stupid ones. That said, Steve will do what he feels is right, and while I don’t agree with it I don’t consider it the great sin others apparently do.

      I feel just like you do on this but, having exchanged comments with Steve over at his channel, I can now better appreciate his position. Given the oceans of illiterate and vitriolic crap he has to wade through it’s entirely understandable that he tries to find a way to cut through some of this. It’s not something I’d do but I can empathise with Steve and understand his reasoning.

      On the idea of using a pseudonym- I do this myself, and I do it out of concern for the way some feminists have been targeted for harassment. I have small children and can’t countenance the idea of putting them at any risk.

      Thanks for raising this, Chris. I know I can come across as being very “hardline” on the anonymity thing but my focus is exclusively on those who whine about “delicate flowers” and the like and yet cravenly abuse others from behind cover of a pseudonym. It’s a very deliberate strategy to show up the rank hypocrisy of those “SJW slayers” who claim they’re bravely wielding the “sword of universal truth” and yet they have to hide behind a pseudonym. It’s that contrast that I want to highlight.

      Someone who uses a pseudonym to post thoughtful, intelligent, polite comments, as opposed to abusive bile, is a universe away from the type of ignorant f**k-wit that cowers behind a pseudonym to dole out abuse. And they really don’t like it when this is pointed out; the cognitive dissonance and deep irritation is palpable because it clashes so much with their self-image of being the big, brave guy standing up for freedom of speech.

      unfortunately I have been threatened and harassed by a man on Youtube who promised to find me and made some very bizarre threats. He seemed genuinely unhinged, and I was very glad I had taken pains to hide my identity.

      I’m desperately sorry to hear this, Chris. I hope this man is no longer harassing you. I have three kids (although they’re not so little any more — 7, 10, and 12) and I too have worried sometimes, particularly when I’ve received an especially hate-filled message.

      Thanks again for commenting — really appreciate it.

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  5. Phillip, I follow both Shives and TAA on YouTube, and I’d follow them both on Twitter if Steve hadn’t blocked me there for a guilt by association crime. Be that as it may, I think you misunderstand a few things in this conversation and I want to try and help you better understand the dynamic here.

    First off, everyone needs to stop trying to lump atheists together unless they want to be. This is pure tribalism, in-group/out-group dynamics here that tends to screw over everyone involved. We should be no more associated with one another than those of us who don’t play bridge. Many atheists got there via similar paths (a heretical one), but the mechanism isn’t always the same, the methodologies are different, and the ideologies that brought people out of religion are not concordant enough to justify a cohesive ideological group.

    In fact, I’m sure many atheists left religion because things were too ideological where others may have missed that after they left their faith. How will those people, experientialy, fit together with a natural/native skeptic like myself who never believed in any of it?

    The lack of something does not tend to be solid grounds for membership in a group (unless that lack deviates from a social norm, like being an amputee). Lacking a belief in god(s) is a negative position. If you want to be associated with that “group”, then do so, but understand that doing so is practically counter-intuitive.

    TJ’s (TAA) message to Shives is a rant on “how far he’s fallen” from what TJ thinks is a rational and skeptical position. His “I’ve got a million subs” comment was a brag about how TJ feels he’s better at YouTube, not about how his message is better, or how TJ’s opinion is more right (which would be an ad-populum), though Steve and TJ both think they are more right than each other.

    Additionally, “The Amazing Atheist” is not a brag about his channel size, but about his willingness, 10 years ago, to start openly talking about not believing in god(s). It’s not like, at some point as he got bigger, he changed his YouTube name from “The OK Atheist” because he was so much larger. He’s addressed this topic in several videos in the last 12 months or so because people keep saying things like this about him. If you think about it a little bit it doesn’t make sense.

    TJ’s style is evangelical to an extent, at least in tone and certainty. But he’s not asking people to agree with him, or follow him, or do anything (except give to either his current charity or his patreon). He’s loud, abrasive and boisterous, but it’s always clear that whatever he’s saying is his opinion on something and he lays out some reasoning for it. The viewer is free to do whatever they want with it. TJ also doesn’t moderate his comments or censor them in any way. He also is judicious with blocking and banning people.

    Steve, on the other had, used to be more forceful and vocal (actually not unlike TJ) in his videos, talking about many of the same subjects that TJ did. His positions on those topics have taken a slide into the American far left/progressive/collectivist/ideological camps in the last two years, nearly completely flipping in positions he used to hold, and even going so far as to tell people that saying things that he used to believe (and even advocate) are racists, bigots, sexists, Islamophobic, homophobic, trans phobic, and that people who aren’t of some sufficient intersectionally oppressed group should not speak on such topics.

    That, and the per-emptive blocking by Steve. I was blocked by Steve before I’d made more than one tweet (not to anyone and without any followers) saying something like “Hey look, Twitter”. I was blocked because I follow either, Sargon of Akkad, Thunderf00t, The Amazing Atheist, Armoured Skeptic, Atheism is Unstoppable or Milo Yiannopolous. Doesn’t matter than I would have also followed him, and that I do follow Kristi Winters, Seth Andrews, AronRa, Sarah Silverman, The Liberal Ogre, or Contrapoints.

    This, and Steve blocking not only whole groups of people, but people he’s been friends with for years over relatively trivial things (like blocking the YouTuber Shayrah over speaking non-negatively about TJ after he heard about her being in a difficult position and offering to help – on someone else’ blog). Or him blocking The Bible Reloaded after they asked Milo to be on their show (to read a Chick tract), which in now way involved Steve.

    But this is getting into “why isn’t this on my blog” territory here, so I’ll wrap it up. There isn’t a call of heresy here, its more mourning for what was. Steve had been (in some estimation) more skeptical before, more rational, where now he seems to be retreating into a cocoon of like minds from which he can safely shout at those on the outside how horrible they are. Steve used to be open to opposing discourse, to dialog differences, or even to just letting people talk. He’s now blocking tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people who’ve never heard of him because they follow or are followed by someone who he has decided are unworthy of discourse.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. I’ll address your points one by one.

      Be that as it may, I think you misunderstand a few things in this conversation and I want to try and help you better understand the dynamic here

      Please don’t patronise me. That’s not helpful. Thanks.

      First off, everyone needs to stop trying to lump atheists together unless they want to be. This is pure tribalism, in-group/out-group dynamics here that tends to screw over everyone involved. We should be no more associated with one another than those of us who don’t play bridge. Many atheists got there via similar paths (a heretical one), but the mechanism isn’t always the same, the methodologies are different, and the ideologies that brought people out of religion are not concordant enough to justify a cohesive ideological group.

      These are all smart and very fair points, and as you’ll note from the post above I agree with you re. the tribalism and in group/out group dynamics.

      Nonetheless, people do lump atheists together. And there are aspects of atheism/agnosticism that I would hope we all have in common, particularly regarding the value of an evidence base and a humanistic approach to an ethical/moral framework (as opposed to morals/ethics being set in place from “on high”).

      When TAA and his ilk trot out painfully poor arguments — or, indeed, as in the case of Philip Mason when challenged about his evidence-free claims on sexual dimorphism, no argument at all [1,2] — and do so when they’ve very vocally identified as atheists (or, ahem, PEARL-ists) in the past, then they simply provide a wealth of ammunition for those who are fundamentalists — and opposed to the “Godless creed” of evolution, say — to point out that those identifying as atheists (or without faith) are very far from the rational, logical thinkers they claim to be. And of course they’ll choose high profile atheists to make their case.

      In fact, I’m sure many atheists left religion because things were too ideological where others may have missed that after they left their faith. How will those people, experientialy, fit together with a natural/native skeptic like myself who never believed in any of it?

      It’s not so much the experience that’s the issue, it’s that there is some degree of common “value” system with regard to evidence-based arguments and a humanistic moral/ethical framework. Yes, we’re all individuals (https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/yes-were-all-individuals/ ) , but I would identify much more with your reliance on evidence than the faith-based position of a fundamentalist Christian, say.

      The lack of something does not tend to be solid grounds for membership in a group (unless that lack deviates from a social norm, like being an amputee). Lacking a belief in god(s) is a negative position. If you want to be associated with that “group”, then do so, but understand that doing so is practically counter-intuitive.

      Again, another good point. But, again, I’d claim that the atheist/agnostic mindset is very different from that of the religious mindset and that there are common themes, as described above.

      Having said that, I fully agree with you on the dangers of tribalism and nationalism. (See https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/26/nationalism-is/ )

      TJ’s (TAA) message to Shives is a rant on “how far he’s fallen” from what TJ thinks is a rational and skeptical position. His “I’ve got a million subs” comment was a brag about how TJ feels he’s better at YouTube, not about how his message is better, or how TJ’s opinion is more right (which would be an ad-populum), though Steve and TJ both think they are more right than each other.

      This is where I start to disagree with you. TAA’s video is a long diatribe about Shives’ position on a variety of issues (feminism, blocking, freedom of speech etc…) His gloating at the end is not just about how he’s better at YouTube — Ugh. Just how pitifully immature could he get? — it needs to be seen in the context of the entire video. It’s “I’m winning, Steve. My message resonates. Your message doesn’t. I win. I win”.

      That is pure argumentum ad populum. It’s playing to the gallery and has no place in any type of reasoned critique or criticism of another person’s work/position. If that type of ‘argument’ was to feature in a piece of student coursework, they’d quite rightly fail.

      If you don’t mind me dropping into patronisation mode for a second, you’re clearly bright enough to appreciate this. Your willingness to overlook TAA’s gloating strikes me as just a little, um, tribal?

      TJ’s style is evangelical to an extent, at least in tone and certainty. But he’s not asking people to agree with him, or follow him, or do anything (except give to either his current charity or his patreon).

      He is indeed evangelical to an extent. We can both agree on that! But it’s not a question of asking people to agree with him. That’s not what argumentum ad populum is about (and, again if you’ll excuse the patronisation, I suspect you know this full well). Kirk’s argument was that his “message” resonates with more people; that he has more viewers.

      Why did he even raise the difference in subscribers? What place has it got in a video which is critiquing another person’s worldview? It’s not only argumentum ad populum, it’s argumentum ad hominem. He’s playing the man, not the ball.

      If TAA wants to set himself up as a Trump-esque clown, where he validates himself by the size of his “in group”, then fine. He’s free to do that. But then he’s got no grounds to claim that he’s adopting the debating high ground — he’s ceded that ground and has got no right to suggest that he’s arguing rationally and logically.

      That, and the pre-emptive blocking by Steve. I was blocked by Steve before I’d made more than one tweet (not to anyone and without any followers) saying something like “Hey look, Twitter”. I was blocked because I follow either, Sargon of Akkad, Thunderf00t, The Amazing Atheist, Armoured Skeptic, Atheism is Unstoppable or Milo Yiannopolous. Doesn’t matter than I would have also followed him, and that I do follow Kristi Winters, Seth Andrews, AronRa, Sarah Silverman, The Liberal Ogre, or Contrapoints.

      No real need to discuss this. We both agree on the pre-emptive blocking thing, although having discussed this with Steve over at his channel, I can appreciate that I don’t to wade through the same level of semi-literate (at best) bile he has to face.

      [1] https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/the-faith-and-fables-of-thunderfoot/

      [2] https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/the-natural-order-of-things/

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  6. Phillip, I follow both Shives and TAA on YouTube, and I’d follow them both on Twitter if Steve hadn’t blocked me there for a guilt by association crime. Be that as it may, I think you misunderstand a few things in this conversation and I want to try and help you better understand the dynamic here.

    First off, everyone needs to stop trying to lump atheists together unless they want to be. This is pure tribalism, in-group/out-group dynamics here that tends to screw over everyone involved. We should be no more associated with one another than those of us who don’t play bridge. Many atheists got there via similar paths (a heretical one), but the mechanism isn’t always the same, the methodologies are different, and the ideologies that brought people out of religion are not concordant enough to justify a cohesive ideological group.

    In fact, I’m sure many atheists left religion because things were too ideological where others may have missed that after they left their faith. How will those people, experientialy, fit together with a natural/native skeptic like myself who never believed in any of it?

    The lack of something does not tend to be solid grounds for membership in a group (unless that lack deviates from a social norm, like being an amputee). Lacking a belief in god(s) is a negative position. If you want to be associated with that “group”, then do so, but understand that doing so is practically counter-intuitive.

    TJ’s (TAA) message to Shives is a rant on “how far he’s fallen” from what TJ thinks is a rational and skeptical position. His “I’ve got a million subs” comment was a brag about how TJ feels he’s better at YouTube, not about how his message is better, or how TJ’s opinion is more right (which would be an ad-populum), though Steve and TJ both think they are more right than each other.

    Additionally, “The Amazing Atheist” is not a brag about his channel size, but about his willingness, 10 years ago, to start openly talking about not believing in god(s). It’s not like, at some point as he got bigger, he changed his YouTube name from “The OK Atheist” because he was so much larger. He’s addressed this topic in several videos in the last 12 months or so because people keep saying things like this about him. If you think about it a little bit it doesn’t make sense.

    TJ’s style is evangelical to an extent, at least in tone and certainty. But he’s not asking people to agree with him, or follow him, or do anything (except give to either his current charity or his patreon). He’s loud, abrasive and boisterous, but it’s always clear that whatever he’s saying is his opinion on something and he lays out some reasoning for it. The viewer is free to do whatever they want with it. TJ also doesn’t moderate his comments or censor them in any way. He also is judicious with blocking and banning people.

    Steve, on the other had, used to be more forceful and vocal (actually not unlike TJ) in his videos, talking about many of the same subjects that TJ did. His positions on those topics have taken a slide into the American far left/progressive/collectivist/ideological camps in the last two years, nearly completely flipping in positions he used to hold, and even going so far as to tell people that saying things that he used to believe (and even advocate) are racists, bigots, sexists, Islamophobic, homophobic, trans phobic, and that people who aren’t of some sufficient intersectionally oppressed group should not speak on such topics.

    That, and the preemptive blocking by Steve. I was blocked by Steve before I’d made more than one tweet (not to anyone and without any followers) saying something like “Hey look, Twitter”. I was blocked because I follow either, Sargon of Akkad, Thunderf00t, The Amazing Atheist, Armoured Skeptic, Atheism is Unstoppable or Milo Yiannopolous. Doesn’t matter than I would have also followed him, and that I do follow Kristi Winters, Seth Andrews, AronRa, Sarah Silverman, The Liberal Ogre, or Contrapoints.

    This, and Steve blocking not only whole groups of people, but people he’s been friends with for years over relatively trivial things (like blocking the YouTuber Shayrah over speaking non-negatively about TJ after he heard about her being in a difficult position and offering to help – on someone else’ blog). Or him blocking The Bible Reloaded after they asked Milo to be on their show (to read a Chick tract), which in now way involved Steve.

    But this is getting into “why isn’t this on my blog” territory here, so I’ll wrap it up. There isn’t a call of heresy here, its more mourning for what was. Steve had been (in some estimation) more skeptical before, more rational, where now he seems to be retreating into a cocoon of like minds from which he can safely shout at those on the outside how horrible they are. Steve used to be open to opposing discourse, to dialog differences, or even to just letting people talk. He’s now blocking tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people who’ve never heard of him because they follow or are followed by someone who he has decided are unworthy of discourse.

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  7. Another interesting and perceptive post about the odd society of Youtube and related social media. I would disagree with you about the functional necessity of blocking however.

    As you’ll have probably noticed if you’ve looked at a Thunderf00t or Sargon comment section, the environment is not one which is conducive to the much lauded ‘free speech’ that they claim to hold in such high esteem. I used to comment on TF videos; quite politely I thought, but the result was always a deluge of aggressive and insulting replies that added nothing to the discussion and in the end persuaded me that such participation was useless.

    On one occasion (Thunderf00t’s infamous ‘rape’ video) one of the commenters was actually arguing that once he’d starting having sex with someone then that person had no right to say ‘no’ to his continuing. My pointing out that this was beyond sick (and of course actually illegal) was buried under a sea of invective which naturally TF himself did nothing to correct or moderate. This convinced me that far from being a space where ‘free speech’ was encouraged what was actually being created was an echo chamber that reflected and amplified the lowest levels of discourse and suppressed dissenting voices.

    Of course some would say that anyone who doesn’t want to state a contrary position in those environments is just an SJW pussy who should get off the internet if they can’t handle the mano a mano realities of ‘debate’. To me this is just more macho posturing though, which has no relevance to whether discourse is actually being elevated or not. Having twenty folk replying to your comment by calling you a cuck is not a good use of anyone’s time or bandwidth, and certainly doesn’t represent any kind kind of speech I want to argue freedom for.

    Blocking, particularly the en masse variety facilitated by blocklists, may be a crude mechanism for restoring some level to the playing field, but it’s certainly better than the alternative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting,

      Blocking, particularly the en masse variety facilitated by blocklists, may be a crude mechanism for restoring some level to the playing field, but it’s certainly better than the alternative.

      I had a lengthy discussion with Steve Shives over at his channel where he made a very similar point.

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  8. Hello Dr. Moriarty (Professor Moriarty? I don’t know which you prefer),

    Regarding Sargon of Akkad, I would ask that you watch some of his videos directly rather than rely on second-hand accounts of his views. Your hyperlink for his pseudonym links to a Kristi Winters video, rather than his channel.

    This is the tweet to which Kristi Winters refers:

    Sargon read an article by Jess Phillips wherein Jess states that she and other women are the targets of people tweeting that they will rape her (and the other women).

    This is the portion of Sargon’s video where he read Jess’s article:

    Sargon’s response to this was to tweet at her stating that he wouldn’t even rape her (a tweet for which other people created their own versions and sent them to Jess). Back and forth it went until Sargon stating he wouldn’t rape her somehow became a source of outrage fuel. The irony being that a tweets advocating raping and tweets advocating not raping somehow both lead to outrage on the part of his detractors (specifically, feminists/progressives).

    The entire twitter exchange reached sufficient absurdity that Sargon released a short video in the style of a horror movie in which he demonstrates the absurdity of the entire exchange:

    Sargon has had discussions with people he agrees with and people he disagrees with. Most of these discussions are posted on his “Sargon of Akkad Livestreams” channel:
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6cMYsKMx6XicFcFm7mTsmA/videos

    I’m sure he would be happy to have a discussion with you if you laid out your position. You both seem to be reasonable people.

    From my point of view, Sargon is an advocate of freedom of speech and a staunch critic of the silencing tactics and one-sided policies employed by universities, students unions, the media, and even governments. While many his videos often contain sarcasm, mockery, and jokes, these tend to be there to add some emotional texture to his videos (otherwise most of them would probably just be him speaking in a constantly-frustrated/exasperated tone, given the topics he discusses). Most of his videos contain important underlying points and some of his videos do not have any comedy (such videos tend have him speaking very frankly and seriously about a topic).

    If Thunderf00t will not treat you like an adult, then perhaps Sargon will.

    I am simply concerned that you may be receiving an excess of information that is biased in a specific direction.

    Thanks Professor Moriarty (Or should it be Dr. Moriarty?),
    Kargoneth

    (I never comment on YouTube videos because I refuse to pair my YouTube account with a Google+ account, but I do recall you replying to at least one of my YouTube comments before YouTube made pairing with Google+ a requirement to comment on videos)

    P.S. Please continue your excellent work on public outreach for the sciences!

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  9. Life is short. There are many wonderful things to do. When I watch YouTube, then 70s rock bands and not stupid people debating. For the same reason, I avoid Facebook and Twitter. I’ve nothing against the internet, and have been online probably since before most people were born, certainly before most Twitter and Facebook users were born.

    Like

    1. Of course, there are some good things on Facebook and Twitter. The problem is the low signal-to-noise ratio. One has to pick and choose.

      Last night, I wasn’t far from the stage hearing David Gilmour play “Fat Old Sun” as the sun sat over the bowling green in Wiesbaden. Life can be good while it lasts.

      Like

  10. @remark number [3]
    I assume this still holds true after factoring in a bunch of things in favor of One Direction’s situation but still, I think it’s worth to consider:
    When the Beatles debuted their first album, in 1963, the world population was about 3.22 billion people. One Direction began their carrier in 2010 with a world population of about 6.9 billion. So the latter had more than twice the population to draw from.
    Furthermore, 1963 was not a very connected world by today’s standards. From today’s perspective, the numbers the Beatles amassed are almost trivial. But viewed through a lens of 1963 it was insane.
    Additionally, wealth has exploded since those days, even when considering the recent/current /depending on where you live) financial crisis. Buying a bunch of music is vastly more affordable than it was in those days. I mean it wasn’t, like, prohibitively expensive for most back then, but surely, in the times of infinite storage, nigh-infinite bandwidth and mass produced pop music, prices have gone down. Likely a lot. Especially after factoring in inflation.
    Music wasn’t especially mobile yet either. For instance, Walkmans were first brought to the market in Summer 1979 — thirteen years after that first Beetles album. Surely this more permanent access to music we enjoy (or loathe) today — more people have access to a smartphone than to a toilet, if I recall correctly — combined with the comparatively low price-tag and higher overall marketable population is a big factor in those two bands’ relative successes.
    And finally, even if it is very much laughable today, if memory serves, the Beatles, like many (most?) bands at the time, were quite controversial with rather large reservation (at the least) on the part of concerned parents. Nowadays parents and their children alike are much more likely to listen to the music that pours out of radios all day every day. Of course, there still are controversial bands, as well as teens who listen to them inspite of their parents. But I think that might be a whole lot rarer nowadays.
    If you factor in all those factors (and more I surely have neglected still), I wonder how the Beatles’ and One Direction’s popularity actually compares. – That is, relative to their potential popularity. That, which they could hope for in the best of outcomes.

    Like

    1. Even if One Direction sold orders of magnitude more than the Beatles, by whatever metric you choose, taking everything into account, the Beatles would still be better.

      Like

  11. Excellent article, and I’ve really been enjoying the accompanying videos on YouTube as well. I’ve been a longtime fan–60Symbols nearly got me out of the humanities and into a physics degree.

    I think one thing that needs to be addressed is the fact that people such as Sargon and TAA are products of the same educational institutions that they themselves are incessantly bemoaning. They are, essentially, the guys who sat in the back of the class–too cool to do the class readings and “inherently gifted” enough to be one step ahead of everyone else. I say this from personal experience; it took an embarrassingly long time for my own emotional maturity to evolve on par with my intellectual development.

    Another phenomenon that puzzles me–inherent in the “cult” of nu-atheism–is the lack of critical reading. You mention this briefly but I think it bears repeating: for all their pontificating on the virtues of logic and reason, it seems like not only are the proselytizers of YouTube Atheism failing to contribute any meaningful arguments to the scientific, historical, or philosophical facets of non-belief, they seem unable to do any research whatsoever (or even maintain a healthy reading list). They throw out a rebuttal–taken lazily from similar past arguments–and its sole virtue lies simply in the fact that it is *they* who are saying it. If YouTube Atheism is the abode of logic and reason, it must then follow that anything it haphazardly regurgitates must therefore be entirely logical and reasonable.

    Thunderf00t is a different beast entirely, and you do a good job of dismantling him on your own.

    On a brief tangent–I’m thrilled that 60Symbols is getting its own funding for a research position. As I mentioned before, I’m strictly in the realm of the humanities (current MA student in Kent, hopeful soon-to-be-PhD student in Gent) but I hope to one day provide for the histories what you at 60Symbols have achieved for physics, and science in general.

    All the best,

    Noah S.

    Like

    1. Thanks for such a great comment, Noah.

      They are, essentially, the guys who sat in the back of the class–too cool to do the class readings and “inherently gifted” enough to be one step ahead of everyone else

      I thought that Carl Benjamin dropped out of school (or university?) I’m not suggesting that performance at university is the be-all-and-end-all but Benjamin’s videos (and that ridiculous petition) clearly show that he’s hardly the sharpest tack in the box.

      If YouTube Atheism is the abode of logic and reason, it must then follow that anything it haphazardly regurgitates must therefore be entirely logical and reasonable

      That’s it entirely — a wonderfully self-serving agenda!

      As I mentioned before, I’m strictly in the realm of the humanities (current MA student in Kent, hopeful soon-to-be-PhD student in Gent) but I hope to one day provide for the histories what you at 60Symbols have achieved for physics, and science in general.

      The very best of luck with the PhD application. The divide between the arts and humanities and STEM subjects is exacerbated heavily by the narrowness of the A-level system. This is something that has irritated me for quite some time: https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/moriarty-physicists-punctuation-communication/

      A Sixty Symbols-style channel for the histories would be fantastic. I’d certainly subscribe.

      All the best, Noah, and thanks again for commenting.

      Like

  12. Well thought through article. Of course, I agree with it, so I would say that — confirmation bias? 😉

    What I find painful about thunderf00t (the Youtube ‘content creator’, as distinct from Dr Phil Mason the scientist) is the severe mismatch between his approach to “feminism” and the other aspects of human social advancement, and the approach you need to have to perform useful scientific inquiry. It is a Jekyl / Hyde thing.

    The division between and within the online atheist communities over what amounts to issues of dogma was slightly bemusing for me, a Christian, to watch unfold. A great deal of atheist critique of religion is perfectly valid and reasonable — but now it can be ignored by those critiqued on the grounds of hypocrisy. (I should point out that I am from an agnostic / atheistic / ‘unchurched’ background, and became a Christian as an adult — so I can understand both ‘camps’ to a greater or lesser degree.)

    Censorship / ‘moderation’ is something I can see as being complex. Having recently been sucked into a huge time-wasting exercise trying to counter ‘9/11 truther’ woo on the ‘Off Guardian’ website, I can point out the downside and upside.

    The downside is that the editors / moderators have been deleting / editing my posts, often disrupting the arguments I am making (and sometimes to add in admonishments of their own, often indicative of a failure to grasp my reasoning).

    The upside of censoring / blocking is that some of the posts are so convoluted that it is difficult to extract a point from them, so they effectively become ‘background noise’ that has to be either ignored (‘Bob is an idiot, so I’ll ignore all of his posts’ — potentially missing a useful post) or waded through. Ignoring ad-hominem attacks and more subtle approaches at vilification is easier said than done for most people, as well — and that can dissuade many from having a say in something that they might otherwise engage in (potentially more productively than most, assuming that the pigs and muck attraction holds true).

    Thanks for your blog. I am just starting to read through it, and it’s a good antidote to the despair at thunderf00t and co-travellers.

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