Reflection – 2016 edition

by | December 31, 2016

Well, it’s been a shitty year. You don’t even need to hear that from me; everyone’s 2016 year-end reviews are saying more or less the same thing.

Nor do you need me to point out all the reasons why 2016 was so shitty. Again, there is no shortage of people making the same points, so I won’t bother to repeat them.

Interestingly, a lot of the reasons other people are writing off 2016 as a shitty year are reasons that we secularists, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers can get on board with. Ignorance and bigotry came roaring back with a vengeance this year, catching us all off guard. We were all getting comfortable with the progress we’ve made over the last decade or so – since the rise of “New Atheism” – and we forgot the important lesson of past progressive movements: progress is not linear. We made some huge advances in a relatively short time; a blow back was almost inevitable, but we weren’t ready for it.

Well, we’re ready now. The attitude across the SHAFT universe is that come 2017, we’re going to show all those fools who thought we were “aggressive atheists” before just what aggressive atheism really looks like.

That’s the plan anyway, and while it remains to be seen whether we’ll actually follow through in any way – organized or not – it’s heartening to see at least the intention to step up, roll up those sleeves, and get shit done.

We’ve been remarkably lucky in Canada. Due to the freakishly good timing of our election, we got our government organized just before the “alt-right” wave swept the UK and US. (It probably also helped that we were just coming off ten years of right-wing rule replete with nonsense like muzzling scientists.) Granted, the government we elected has been… underwhelming. But at least the biggest complaint we can muster against Trudeau’s Liberals is that they’re getting nothing done… which is nominally better than doing horrible things. And there has been some minor improvement, in some areas. “We could be much worse off” is hardly a ringing endorsement of Justin Trudeau, but at this point everything else in 2016 has been so shitty I’ll take it.

We can’t ignore that we have an “alt-right” movement brewing here in Canada, complete with assholes lining up to be some kind of Trump-lite figurehead. But again, thanks freakishly good timing, we may spared the disaster they experienced in the States. Trump swept to power like a tsunami, going in a matter of months from a joke candidate for the Republican leadership to the President-elect. His “alt-right” supporters moved so quickly and so deftly that many people have characterized Trump’s rise to power as a coup. The forces of reason and sanity were just overwhelmed, and too disoriented by the absurdity of his campaign to respond effectively. But that trick probably won’t work again. If someone like Kellie Leitch or Kevin O’Leary wants to replicate that achievement, they will have to seize control of the Conservative Party… and hold it for almost three years before the next election. And we are now on the alert, and won’t be so easily dazzled by Trumpish nonsense.

It’s too late to help the Americans. But there are plenty of other battles coming up. There’s France, for example, where head of the far-right, racist, Putin-backed Front national, Marine Le Pen, is a hair’s breadth away from the presidency. (Actually, things are looking a little brighter since the deeply unpopular François Hollande opted to step down last month.) There’s also Germany, though that’s not as likely to go sideways because the Germans use proportional representation – they have a far-right party, but they’re almost certainly not going to get anything even approaching a majority, and the saner right- and left-wing parties will likely form a coalition without the nutcases (as they are doing right now).

The most succinct summary of the situation right now is that there are a lot of battles to fight in the coming year, and SHAFT activists have their game faces on. That’s reason for optimism, despite the shitty year we just survived.

It hasn’t been all bad, though. There aren’t a lot of bright spots to point to, but one worth mentioning is the surprising ground shifts in regulatory attitudes toward “natural medicines” and homeopathy. The US has surprisingly led the fight by setting up new guidelines that will essentially require homeopathic “medicines” to almost literally state on the label that they’re crap:

For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy. Accordingly, marketing claims that such homeopathic products have a therapeutic effect lack a reasonable basis and are likely misleading in violation of Sections 5 and 12 of the FTC Act. However, the FTC has long recognized that marketing claims may include additional explanatory information in order to prevent the claims from being misleading. Accordingly, the promotion of an OTC homeopathic product for an indication that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence may not be deceptive if that promotion effectively communicates to consumers that: (1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works and (2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

Health Canada is also right now moving in the same direction. They are currently reviewing the feedback from a consultation process, but there’s good reason to believe they’ll come down on the side of science, and ban fake “medicines” from making health claims they cannot back up with evidence.

What about closer to home? What was 2016 like for Canadian Atheist.

Well, we’ve had some big changes this year. In September, long-time CA managing editor Veronica Abbass decided to step down. She’s still contributing as a writer, but responsibility for managing CA has passed down to me (Indi). You probably haven’t noticed any changes. Well, that’s good, there haven’t really been any on the front-facing side of CA yet. But there has been a lot of movement behind the scenes. You can look forward to quite a bit in 2017, though I’m going to try to make the changes as subtle as possible, to avoid upheaval. Look out for a run-down of some of the things we’ll be working on in 2017 in a post sometime in January.

So what were the most popular posts on Canadian Atheist this year?

Every year there are a couple of posts that go viral, and just bury the needle on our stats counters. The number one post this year had over three times the views of the number two post. However, it was a 2014 post that, for whatever reason, caught the fancy of the Internet this year. The number one 2016 post – which was the number two post overall – had almost twice the views of the number two 2016 post (number three overall).

Here are the top 20 posts of 2016, with the posts actually published in 2016 highlighted:

“Separation of Church & State in Canada” Diana MacPherson
1 “Gretta Vosper featured in CBC radio documentary “A Matter of Faith”” Indi
2 “Toronto man ordered to give up religiously offensive licence plate” Indi
3 “Canada’s Blasphemy Law” Veronica Abbass
“Angus Reid survey: Faith in Canada” Indi
“Pierre Trudeau Is Canada’s #1 Hero” Diana MacPherson
“Why Doesn’t Canada Use Its “Pretending to Practice Witchcraft” Charge More Often?” Diana MacPherson
“Tarek Fatah Criticizes Multiculturalism” Veronica Abbass
“Alberta’s School Act Permits Charter Violations in Allowing Religious Exercises in Public Schools” Diana MacPherson
“Public Funding of Catholic Schools in Ontario” Veronica Abbass
4 “Indigenous Science – Other Ways of Knowing?” Derek Gray (posted by Veronica Abbass)
“Kosher Certification Isn’t A Tax, But It’s Surely Worth Discussing” Corwin
“An Atheist’s Perspective on Cancer” Diana MacPherson
5 “Regressive Islam” Anisur Rahman (posted by Veronica Abbass)
6 “What’s really wrong with the United Church of Canada declaring atheists “unsuitable”” Indi
“Secular Ontario: “Religion Classes Are Optional”” Veronica Abbass
7 “Halton Catholic School Board’s “Medieval” Practice” Veronica Abbass
8 “Catholic Schools: Debate? What Debate?” Veronica Abbass
9 “Shift To Reason Conference” Veronica Abbass
10 “Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch brings up an ideological purity test for refugees” Indi

As always, the topics that caught readers’ eyes are all over the map. Concerns about our education system are always popular, but I am surprised that the posts about Gretta Vosper caught so much interest. I wish I could give an update on her case, but I haven’t heard anything since the ruling in .

I was quite amused, however, to find that one of my favourite silly stories from 2016 was the second most popular story of the year – third overall. It’s about Torontonian Daniel D’Aloisio getting into hot water over his custom licence plate “VI6SIX”. If you can’t see why: take the “VI” to be the Roman numeral for “6”, which give you “VI(6) 6 SIX”, or “666”. If you think that’s absurd, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because D’Aloisio is actually a practising Catholic, and the licence plate’s actual meaning – explained in the story – is a thing of beauty.

So what do we have to look forward to on Canadian Atheist in 2016? Well, I’m going to punt the answer that question until sometime in January – I still have some things to work out with the other CA contributors. But it should be an interesting year!

Beyond CA, 2017 promises to be an interesting year for SHAFT in general. The rise of the “alt-right” and their populist, anti-multiculutralist, racist, bigoted politics has stirred up secularists, humanists, atheists, freethinkers, and progressives in general. There’s rumblings that 2017 is going to be a year of dropping the gloves and taking the offensive against that kind of ignorance and bigotry. I’d love to see that happen, and I’m fired up to do my part. I hope you all are too.

So that’s all for me. Sorry my heart wasn’t more into this, but I’ve just got back from travelling, and I really didn’t want to look back on this shitty year. Good riddance 2016. Hello there, 2017… you’d better brace yourself, because secularist, humanist, atheist, and freethinking activists have your number.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported Canadian Atheist over this rough year, and here’s looking to a better 2017.

See you on the flip side!

Update 2016-01-04 16:00: Corrected the author attributions in the popular post list to match the actual post authors, in the case of guest posts.

7 thoughts on “Reflection – 2016 edition

  1. Randy

    “won’t be so easily dazzled by Trumpish nonsense.”

    This is Canada. We’re easily dazzled if someone can mark an X for their name. This is the land of low expectations.

    Look who we elected in 2015, based on his hair alone.

  2. Randy

    I believe the correct term, invented in 2006, is SHAFTS…

    Secular, Humanist, Atheist, Free Thinking, Skeptic

    Now, I love shafts as much as the next gay guy, but I prefer the more lesbian term PEARL-ist… Physical Evidence And Reasoned Logic (coined by Phil Mason in 2012). The atheism is implied, the free thought is reasonable, and the humanism is left to the individual.

    1. Indi Post author

      Eh, I should have guessed that someone else would have noticed the acronym before me.

      But I think I’ll leave “skeptic” off. Firstly, it’s already implicit in “freethought”. Secondly, skepticism on its own isn’t a good thing, and given how frequently it’s done badly, I don’t think it deserves any special place in the spotlight. Skepticism should be subordinate to freethought, not placed on a pedestal on its own.

      As for PEARL, I’ve heard that before, but I don’t like it for the very reasons you point out: it doesn’t include secularism or humanism, and merely stating you’re using evidence and logic is a rather empty claim. Even religious apologists say they do that. (And no, evidence and logic alone do *not* lead automatically to atheism.) “Physical evidence and reasoned logic” in a vacuum is meaningless; there are *always* assumptions you have to make, and values you have to apply.

  3. Randy

    Thanks for providing Canadians this service in 2016, and best wishes for 2017 ahead…

  4. Derek Gray

    Not to take anything away from Veronica, but just pointing out a small error; 2016’s #4 was a guest post, posted but not written by Veronica.

    Thanks for all the time and effort you guys put into this blog!

    1. Indi Post author

      Good eye! I didn’t even think to check for that. I’ve corrected the attributions.

  5. Tim Underwood

    Maybe a second coup!

    Most of the American military personnel are young, technology savvy and scientific minded. Are they inclined to allow a joke presidency to cause the two degree Celsius rise in global temperature that will trigger a runaway greenhouse effect? Surely this would be a dereliction of duty.

    It would be odd for liberal secular people to support a military dictatorship. Given the choice, we would be following in the path of Turkey and Egypt in their not too distant past.


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