Tone Deaf Atheism and Context

I’ve been relucant to enter the fray with regards to Affleckgate, because I didn’t really see anything new in it, just the same old talking past each other bickering that in some quarters passes for debate. But since the genocide card has been played… I figure it’s time to get muddy.

Harris’ defenders are correct, he did not ‘advocate genocide’. The context of the quote clearly shows he was merely contemplating homicide… as an ‘ethical’ solution to a… hypothetical problem. What is a bit disturbing to me, is that this final solution is directed not at an actual crime, but at thought crime, a crime of belief, that may at some time in the future lead to a ‘real’ crime. He is essentially saying that a thought crime is evidence enough to execute someone for a ‘future crime’, that has not yet occured, but which we might find it inconvenient to prosecute. Ends justifies means. Rolling down that moral landscape at quite a clip aren’t we?

Now, I’ve had debates with people on all sorts of subjects, and examinging ideas is a good thing, even if they fly in the face of fundamental human rights, our modern legal system and basic common sense. But… there is a larger context here that makes the quote, with context, even more ominous.

What Harris contemplated, is actually happening in the muslim world. The US government believes it is ethical to launch killer drones into the general vicinity, or even neighborhood, of those accused of crimes, or who might commit crimes…. and you know blah blah blah…. collateral damage.

Sort of the ‘stop and crispy’ of the muslim world, if you will.

The liberals… who are acting really badly are the ones in the whitehouse.

But… hey… its only the muslim world, launching killer drones in Canada would be terrorism, but not the muslim world, that other planet orbiting between Venus and Mars.

This brings me back to where this kerfuffle started….

There has been much talk lately about the Harris/Maher/Affleck showdown, and what it means, who was right, and who was left… or.. not liberal enough.

I’ve started watching the video a couple times, but never seem to get past the first minute or so before my annoyance gets the better of me. I feel like I’m rubbernecking a slow motion atheist car crash.

So….whose side am I on?

That is such an utterly stupid question.
And in fact, I believe that is the problem that keeps resurfacing.
There is no critical thinking in merely ‘choosing sides’.

I think Affleck over-reacted, but I can totally see why.
I sympathize with Harris/Maher when it comes to people who ignore the hard choices that must be made every day…. but guys quit being so obtuse.

Context….this ‘debate’ starts with two smug middle-aged white guys talking about “liberals” and the problems “in the muslim world”, with that last phrase echoing back and forth. You can’t really throw that kind of sweeping generalization around and retain any intellectual honesty, especially when you speak from a comfy chair in a western country.

The reality of the ‘muslim world’ is in many ways a result of hundreds of years of western meddling, for religious, colonial, and natural resource reasons. And the results have been dramatically different from one geographic region, of ‘the muslim world’, to another.

No, you cannot talk about the ‘muslim world’ without historical context. There are good reasons ‘liberals’ are loathe to lecture muslims on how to live. Harris said:

“We have been sold this meme of islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of islam gets conflated with bigotry towards muslims as people”

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize. It does mean we should stick to specifics and take into account context, instead of just hurling inflammatory rhetoric and then acting surprised when people call us on that very thing. It does mean that we shouldn’t blithely blog about racial profiling as if its an entertaining notion, and it means understanding that a white guy contemplating the murder of specific muslims, is probably not going to go over well with your average muslim.

Affleck: “So you are saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing?”
Harris: “I’m not denying that certain people are bigotted against muslims as people, and that’s a problem”
Harris: “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas”
Affleck: “Of course we do”

It’s amazing how much, in such a short space of time, they actually agreed upon, but then continued to talk past each other. And then this…

Harris: “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas”
Affleck: “It is an ugly thing to say”

And this is where I completely agree with Affleck (even though I think he should probably avoid debating… and stick to what he is good at, acting and directing, mostly directing.)

Motherlode of bad ideas? Are you fraking kidding me?

Here are a few bad ideas that have nothing to do with Islam: World War 1, World War 2, The Holocaust, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Atlantic Slave trade, the cold war, elective plastic surgery, native reservations, assault weapons for home defense, the war on drugs, SUVs… NFL football and the fucking Crusades.

We in the western world, have done many great things, but if you want a ‘motherlode of bad ideas’, Mr. Harris, you are sitting in it… up to your neck. And you can’t blame the Christians for all that stuff. There are lots of self-righteous atheists, like yourself, contemplating horrible ideas.

Kristof: “The picture you are painting is to some extent true, but hugely incomplete”

Exactly true, bigotry is not just about ‘hatred’, but can be as simple as people who should know better making ignorant generalizations… and ignoring the broader context.

I am an atheist, in a strict dictionary sense, which means I don’t think it implies any sort of moral compass. Nature is brutal and cruel, and any ethics we have, we must invent. The Quran is one such invention. It comes from us, from human beings. There is no god, no other world to blame for it. It is us. There is no other motherlode of bad ideas…. Just us. And just one world in which we all live.

Time to grow up boys. All of you.

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