Friday, August 4, 2017

Phil Torres - Voice of the Regressive Left

Phil Torres has expressed his displeasure with the "new atheist" movement, and announced that "today I want nothing whatsoever to do with it."  Sorry to see him go, but what exactly is he departing from?  What is this thing he calls a movement?  Is it the broad community of atheists?  That doesn't make much sense, because he's still part of that.  Is it the community of scientific-minded atheist skeptics?  My guess is that he still identifies as being aligned with them.  No, it seems to be a particular (but large) subset of atheists having political views that he takes issue with.  If you want to take a simplistic approach, and divide atheists into two camps on political grounds, you might draw a line between those who hold more traditional liberal views (which Torres calls "new atheists"), and those in the SJW camp (who are often called the "regressive left").  And my reaction to his announcement is: if you so vehemently disagree with their politics, what took you so long?

Jack Vance provides a good summary of what we mean by the term "regressive left".  Note that he points out two different flavors.  There is the original usage, as coined by Maajid Nawaz, which refers to those who condemn the bigotry and oppressive behavior of many Christians, while hypocritically defending the same (or worse) kind behaviors on the part of Muslims.  And there is the expanded usage, which refers to the behaviors of the so-called "social justice warriors", which favors identity politics, seeking to suppress opposing views, and tends to stand against classic liberal ideals, in favor of more authoritarian practices.  For my own part, I don't see much distinction between these two forms of regressive leftism, either in terms of their ideals, or of their membership.

A number of liberal atheists, like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and Jerry Coyne, have been highly critical of the regressive left.  They have rightly pointed out the hypocrisy and anti-liberal attitudes of these people, and in so doing they have earned the scorn of those in the regressive left.  A big rift opened up in the wake of the 2008 "elevatorgate scandal", when Richard Dawkins published his sarcastic "Dear Muslima" letter, which pointed out the one-sided views and phony outrage of the SJWs.  The SJW atheists, with PZ Myers at the helm, drew up their defensive lines and began a campaign of open warfare against the more classically liberal atheists, aimed especially against Dawkins and Sam Harris, which has been ongoing ever since that time.  This rift has existed for years now.  And I make no secret about which side I stand on.  But where has Torres been?

At any rate, Torres now makes it perfectly clear about which side he comes down on.  His Salon article is loaded with invective against Sam Harris and Peter Bohossian for holding nuanced views that don't track well with his my-way-or-the-highway brand of social justice warfare.  He describes the elevatorgate incident (in which a male at a skeptics' conference invited a female to his room "for coffee" - nothing more serious than that) as "serious allegations of rape at atheist conferences".  He accuses new atheists of being aligned with white supremacists, because Dawkins once mistakenly re-tweeted an anti-SJW poster that he didn't realize was linked to white supremacists.  And Torres deftly sifts through the history of statements made by these new atheists, finding an isolated bone-headed remark here, taking something else out of context there, to make his case that they are racist, misogynistic, intolerant, and in bed with the alt-right.

You heard that correctly.  According to Torres, liberal atheists are aligned with the racist Neo-Nazi, Trump-loving, and anything-but-liberal alt-right.  Apparently, his basis for this is the fact that liberals like Jerry Coyne have defended the free speech rights of people like Milo Yinnopoulos against the efforts of the regressive left to silence them.  Couple that with the fact that Skeptic magazine published a review of Milo's book, something that Torres sees as a mortal sin.  As it happens, there is one single area in which the liberal left generally agrees with the alt-right.  And that is their views about political correctness, SJWs, and the regressive left.

So there you have it.  After all these years, Torres has figured out that he has a problem with "new atheists".  He actually has the gall to say:
As a philosopher — someone who cares deeply about intellectual honesty, verifiable evidence, critical thinking and moral thoughtfulness — I now find myself in direct opposition with many new atheist leaders. - Phil Torres
Intellectual honesty?  Linking liberal atheists ideologically to the alt-right is his version of intellectual honesty.  Critical thinking?  He makes no pretense of understanding the nuanced statements of people like Sam Harris.  Instead, he panders to low-information readers at Salon, and more significantly, plays right into the hand of low-information theists eager to find any dirt against atheists.  They will believe every word of it, and throw it in the face of all atheists they choose to label as "New Atheists", regardless of what those atheists they actually believe, because intellectual honesty is the last thing they care about.

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