Recently, the Australian military has been investigating whether or not a group of male soldiers passed around images via email that degraded and humiliated their female colleagues. Considering that the US military is apparently a hotbed of sexual assault where nearly 1 in 3 women are raped, I didn’t have high hopes that Australian officials would even care about some insulting emails. I was wrong – not only are they taking this seriously and investigating the matter thoroughly, but Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison released this video yesterday in which he makes it crystal clear exactly how he feels about the degradation of women:

I love what he says so much that I took some time to type out a transcript of the meat of it:

I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization where every soldier, man and woman is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army.

Our service has been engaged in continuous operation since 1999 and in its longest war ever in Afghanistan. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others. Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work.

If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army. I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those who by their rank have a leadership role.

Recently, I’ve been discussing and sometimes arguing with friends about the current state of the skeptic and atheist communities. It is my firm belief that we are, as a “movement,” cowardly, and that is why we ultimately will fail. There are too many of us, and especially too many people in positions of power, who are unwilling or unable to take any real action that might help stop the incessant harassment of women in our ranks, or to take any other real moral stand. I’ve seen people who think of themselves as allies actively covering up sexual harassment at an event and then going on to invite the harasser back to speak. I’ve seen “skeptics” write blog posts defending Brian Dunning as a hero instead of an embarrassment. I’ve seen organization employees privately rage about the nonsense their boss is spewing but then refuse to even try to hold him accountable. If we’re going to get anywhere, we have to demand better. We need leaders who are more like Lt. Gen. Morrison. Hell, I’ll take leaders who are just a little less like this and this and this.

To hold these leaders accountable, though, sometimes takes courage. If we want a better movement, some of us are going to have to give up certain things: our idolization of prominent men, our quiet anonymity, and our job security, for a start. I’ve already given all that up, and so have some others, but we’re not going to get anywhere until more people join in. I hope they do, eventually.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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52 Comments

  1. Profile photo of buttle
    June 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm —

    I really love the Lt. General’s content and delivery. I’m surprised to hear about sexual harassment by speakers who are invited back, and wonder why they aren’t named if there’s evidence of this. (NB: I’m not saying it didn’t happen, just that this seems oddly vague.) What confuses me, though, is the inclusion of Brian Dunning here. I don’t understand the hero/embarrassment dichotomy. Does this mean you’re accusing him of sexual harassment? If it’s about the trial, it seems to me that the skeptical position would be to wait for it to end before reaching a conclusion.

    • Profile photo of Rebecca Watson
      June 13, 2013 at 5:57 pm —

      It is about the trial and it has ended and he was declared guilty of fraud.

    • Profile photo of sallystrange
      June 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm —

      Yeah, and apparently the hyperskeptical position is to pretend that ordinary people can’t pass judgment until a court has. Now that the court has passed judgment, behind what principle of pseudo-hyper-skepticism will you hide your moral cowardice?

  2. Profile photo of scribe999
    June 13, 2013 at 6:25 pm —

    Yeah, the issue was concluded back in April

    Laguna Niguel Man Pleads Guilty to Defrauding eBay
    Admits Using ‘Cookie Stuffing’ Scheme to Reap Commisions
    http://www.fbi.gov/sanfrancisco/press-releases/2013/laguna-niguel-man-pleads-guilty-to-defrauding-ebay

  3. Profile photo of oolon
    June 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm —

    This stuck out for me … “The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others.”

    Compare to the sentiment from a Slymepit leading light when quizzed on why they use demeaning terms to “criticise” women on Skepchick and FTBs…. “They are victimising themselves by allowing it to affect them. I am not responsible for how others choose to feel.”. They also expressed the sentiment that if you can’t take it you should fuck off the internet.

    “If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. ”
    QFT. Can we send Ron to bootcamp?

  4. Profile photo of Ophelia Benson
    June 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm —

    Hmph! You linked to PZ on Shermer on me on Shermer, but not to me on Shermer. Primary sources, I say!

  5. Profile photo of sallystrange
    June 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm —

    This is why I’m so contemptuous of dictionary atheists.

  6. Profile photo of pauk
    June 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm —

    This, by the way, is front page news on both major newspapers in Melbourne today. It’s good they’re taking a strong stance, I just hope they follow up the strong words with strong actions when it turns out, as I suspect it might, that this kind of thing is more widespread than initially thought.

  7. Profile photo of erikthebassist
    June 14, 2013 at 12:58 am —

    Just wanted to chime in and quote this whole blog post, especially the title for mft.

  8. Profile photo of criticaldragon1177
    June 14, 2013 at 1:52 am —

    Rebecca Watson,

    As horrible as this is, I’m glad General David Morrison is taking the problem seriously. Hopefully it will get better. From what I understand there’s also big problem with rape in the US military unfortunately.

  9. Profile photo of rorschach
    June 14, 2013 at 1:57 am —

    Morrison’s speech was quite exceptional for Australia’s standards. Usually you get a bit of lip service from someone in the military for a day or two when a woman gets raped or filmed or both, and then it’s back to business as usual. So this was a refreshing deviation from the standard evasive manouevers.

    If we want a better movement, some of us are going to have to give up certain things: our idolization of prominent men, our quiet anonymity, and our job security, for a start.

    I would like to hear a bit more about how you figure that this follows. Am I prepared to “give up my job security” (by which I guess you mean being prepared to be sacked when some disgruntled troll disagrees with me on the internet and starts sending letters to my employer)? No, absolutely not, neither would I want to forgo my anonymity while we still have a situation where a bunch of nasty anonymous haters want us silenced or ostracized at any cost. But why do you think that we can’t be effective communicators and spokespeople for change and against sexist culture while at the same time retaining some degree of anonymity?

    • Profile photo of Rebecca Watson
      June 14, 2013 at 7:50 am —

      I was for the most part referring to people who hold jobs within this movement who, if they want to see the movement get better, have to speak out and hold their orgs accountable.

      But yes, I also think that in general more people need to drop anonymity and be recognized as feminists, the same way I think more people should be open about their atheism. The more targets the haters have, the less effective they can be at silencing each one.

  10. Profile photo of Setar
    June 14, 2013 at 3:15 am —

    I will never, ever understand why Americans in particular are so obsessed with reaching a “compromise” with wholly unreasonable and undesirable ideologies =/

  11. Profile photo of ryan72
    June 14, 2013 at 4:45 am —

    Nice to see that people in power are taking this seriously, maybe there is hope for humanity after all…

  12. Profile photo of brive1987
    June 14, 2013 at 6:34 am —

    “we will ultimately fail”. What overarching objective of skepticism and atheism have you, on our behalf, capitulated on? I assume you are covering more than your immediate A+ goals. But even here the overall momentum is towards greater diversity of and at conferences with more focus on femanism than ever before with stronger voices.

    I wouldn’t (and I understand the irony here) put undue credence on social media and it’s negativity. It’s too easy to mistake the tone and message there as indicative and directly relevant to the real world movement.

    • Profile photo of Rebecca Watson
      June 14, 2013 at 7:43 am —

      ” I assume you are covering more than your immediate A+ goals.”
      I love that people still persist in thinking I have anything at all to do with A+.

  13. Profile photo of rorschach
    June 14, 2013 at 8:05 am —

    I was for the most part referring to people who hold jobs within this movement who, if they want to see the movement get better, have to speak out and hold their orgs accountable.

    Ah yes, I agree with that 100%. I also think that movements and orgs will soon learn that conference attendees and donors will not look kindly onto antics like those displayed by Lindsay or DJ, and will vote with their wallets.

    The more targets the haters have, the less effective they can be at silencing each one.

    No, this isn’t Star Trek. And don’t forget, a large number of the atheists or social justice advocates that go on blogs to write or comment and add their voice now, will only do so as long as they can remain anonymous. Being an out atheist isn’t exactly easy in the USA and places like say Africa or the Middle East in the first place, and it’s not easy for anyone in general, given the doxxing bat the haters may hit you over the head with anytime. I think that asking everyone to go with their real life names is going to turn more people away, and make more voices go silent.

    • Profile photo of Will
      June 14, 2013 at 8:38 am —

      Please re-read what she said. Here, let me quote it for you:

      To hold these leaders accountable, though, sometimes takes courage. If we want a better movement, some of us are going to have to give up certain things: our idolization of prominent men, our quiet anonymity, and our job security, for a start.

      How did “some of us” become “everyone”?

      For those of us who can come out, we should. It’s understandable why some people cannot or will not come out, and as Rebecca already said this is more aimed at leaders within the movement. But, it is important to increase visibility of feminists, atheists, and skeptics in public. As we’ve seen with the queer rights movement, visibility is quite important in shifting public perceptions. As someone who has come out as queer and atheist (I’ve experienced much more bullshit from the former than the latter, and I live in Texas), I know it can be a difficult thing to do, and Rebecca is right that it takes courage to make yourself visible and risk losing friends and jobs. Hey, I can still be fired for being queer–can’t say the same for being atheist.

      Just please stop trying to make it seem like Rebecca is demanding that every single atheist/skeptic/feminist come out and shed their anonymity. That’s not at all what she said.

      • Profile photo of marilove
        June 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm —

        Hey, I can still be fired for being queer–can’t say the same for being atheist.

        Thank you!

        I have to say, it’s easier for me to shrug off god; but it’s much harder for me to admit that I like both men and women.

    • Profile photo of marilove
      June 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm —

      Being an out atheist isn’t exactly easy in the USA

      Oh, please. I live in Arizona. I’m not rich. I am an out atheist. No one seems to give a shit. And I live in Arizona! My entire family knows. It’s public on my facebook (well, “Secular Humanist” is). My entire tiny home town in the middle of nowhere Arizona knows.

      As a bisexual woman, I come out Atheist WAY before I come out bisexual. Just sayin’.

      And no one said everyone needs to do it, but more people really should, and a LOT of people, I think, are using excuses. “But people will hate me if I tell them I’m atheist!”

      No one seems to hate me.

      You know who I think had it fucking SPOT ON when it came to the LGBQT movement? Harvey Milk.

      He is one of my personal heroes. Wanna know why? Because he told people to stand up and come out. He said it wouldn’t be easy, he said it would be hard, but he said it MUST BE DONE.

      And it was done.

      And look at where we are now! Everyone knows a gay person and that is the BIGGEST REASON why the fight for equality is winning, faster and faster each year.

      It isn’t because we were cowards and didn’t come out. It was because we took the hard road and came out.

      Now, again, not everyone can do that. But I imagine more wight, straight men can do it better and easier than anyone else; and yet nearly all out atheists i know (anecdotal to be sure) are either a sexual or racial/ethnic minority!

      Yeah, coming out is hard. Fucking tell me about it. BEEN THERE, done that! Time for more people to join the fucking club.

      ~

      “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better”
      ? Harvey Milk

      ~

      This movement isn’t going to go anywhere if people don’t get out of their comfort zones and come out. PERIOD.

      • Profile photo of Wilson
        June 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm —

        Yeah, kind of too bad that we don’t have something as strong and ubiquitous as sex drive pushing people to come out when it comes to atheism/skepticism. It’s not as common in the general populace to have the right combination of curiosity, bravery, and lust for truth, that pushes a lot of skeptics out. No, it’s not the same for everyone, and coming out is hard (sometimes too hard), but I kind of wish everyone could have the experience of coming out. It builds character – pushes you to discover yourself and increases your autonomy. After coming out as gay, coming out as an Atheist was a bit of a yawn to my Mormon family – and to me.

        I actively refuse to work anywhere that either being gay or atheist isn’t accepted (in Utah). I realize that I have privilege in being able to do so, but it also takes courage and an insistence that the world treat you like you deserve to be treated – and I think that insistence is one of the best things you can take from coming out.

        • Profile photo of Will
          June 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm —

          Sorry to nitpick, but being queer isn’t just (or even necessarily) about sex. It’s about a lot of other things, including the right to live as the gender with which you identify, the right to establish a family with people you love, the right to see fair representations of people like you in public culture (including in government), the right to express yourself in ways that have historically been deemed inappropriate. There’s a lot more to the queer rights movement than sex drive, and I don’t think it’s fair to boil the success of the movement to that.

          But other than that I agree with what you say. =)

          • Profile photo of Wilson
            June 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm

            You’re right, of course. I have to do a lot of boiling to get the right consistency for my jellied brain.

      • Profile photo of Ophelia Benson
        June 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm —

        Hey, same here – love Harvey Milk. I lived in San Francisco when he was a supe. Saw him in the parade at Chinese New Year.

  14. Profile photo of pzmyers
    June 14, 2013 at 8:35 am —

    Hey, Rebecca, I thought I was supposed to be the mastermind of Atheism+ this week! I’m a man, so usually I’m the boss A-plusser, anyway.

    And like you, I don’t have a problem with people setting up their own priorities, but I’m not an active participant in A+ at all.

  15. Profile photo of Louis Doench
    June 14, 2013 at 9:16 am —

    Well, the only person who can fire me from my job is my wife, so I have no problem updating my profile to out myself publicly as a whipped dupe of the Skepchick/A+/FTBULLY/Feminazi cabal. I guess this will get my man card cancelled, which is too bad because I only had three more punches to go before I got a free shotgun…;(

  16. Profile photo of frogmistress
    June 14, 2013 at 10:22 am —

    It can be scary to put your job, your anonymity or any comfort at risk to stand up for something. But, sometimes it is necessary for making progress. It’s easy for me to say, though, as I am not in danger of losing any of them, at the moment.

    I do want to know why it is so difficult for men to say the same thing this man said. Why is it difficult to say “stop demeaning women or get out?” What is so hard about that? Why can’t Shermer, or Grothe, or Lindsay say “stop the harassment”? It’s so easy to do.

    • Profile photo of Ophelia Benson
      June 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm —

      Well Shermer, at the very least, would look pretty silly saying “stop the harassment” given that he’s engaged in some of it himself.

  17. Profile photo of Tim
    June 14, 2013 at 10:37 am —

    Sam Harris has made the opposite argument to Rebecca’s, saying that it is not feasible in reality to organize around a negative such as non-belief in god(s). He actually made this particular point as part of a keynote address he gave at the inaugural meeting of the Brights back in 200? (can’t find a ref. on the web), which didn’t go over terribly well considering it was supposed to be an inaugural meeting, not a wrap-up party. But it was hard to disagree with his points, wish I could quote/link a few of them now.

    He went on to say that the way to fight the unreasonable public claims of organizations is: just that, meaning that you fight their claims, not their organization, personnel or belief system. This means the best approach is for rationalists to place themselves on call and… wait, till the enemies of reason are crazy enough to put up their hand at a presser and say something like “rape rarely causes pregnancy” or “the earth is 6,000 years old” or “it is a fact that life begins at conception” or “a woman cannot serve god as well as a man can”. You don’t have to wait long, as a rule. One must avoid veering towards the ad hominem aspects of these debates, even though they may exist as a real factor, and it seems that is what would inevitably happen if you try to mount a sustained attack against their fortress of willed ignorance.

    The main or even only ongoing ideological fight is the secularist defense of the 1st amendment, and secularism more generally. That is an area one can sustain an organization around because in the big picture that fight is constant, unabating, and it’s ultimately a a public fight in favor of democracy, while all organized religions are inherently anti-democratic and deliberately, selfishly destabilizing.

    Trouble is, even the high-profile PZ Myers has called attention to this article on his Pharyngula blog. Meanwhile, I’ve always tended to agree with Sam Harris’s stance, and still do for the most part.

    Doesn’t anyone, including Rebecca, think SH has a valid point about the futility of attacking amorphous belief systems, i.e. you can’t because it’s so much it’s like attacking jello with a fist? Politics is the art of the possible, and this is definitely politics. Killing off religion from the planet isn’t the type of thing that starts or ends with a locally-inspired grass-roots movement.

    I suppose if there were an enormous scandal, that truly caught the public imagination and took over the daily narrative for long enough, a national conversation could follow and big positive changes could occur. But not otherwise in this relatively fragmented American society. And look at the scandals that weren’t big enough to start that national debate: Catholic child sex abuse. Holy Wars in other places dragging American policy around like a rag doll. Witch burnings etc. in Africa. Ted Haggard, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart et al.

    • Profile photo of Will
      June 14, 2013 at 11:25 am —

      The problem is that this is not just a fight against statements. It’s a fight to shift attitudes and cultural mores. If you sit around and wait for people to make those comments, you’re not being pro-active in shifting the attitudes that lead to those comments being made.

      Saying “you can’t organize around a negative such as non-belief in divinity” is not the same thing as “you can’t attack amorphous belief systems.” Those are two separate claims. First, others (including PZ) have discussed the problem with dictionary atheism. Still, you can organize around the principle of atheism. My proof? Look at movement atheism. Saying that you cannot organize around atheism while a movement around atheism exists is just denying the reality of things.

      I also don’t understand the need for people like Harris (and ostensibly you) to claim that those of us who organize around atheism cannot do so. If you don’t think it can be done, fine. Just stay out of the way and stop trying to convince us to stop doing what we’re doing.

      • Profile photo of Tim
        June 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm —

        Will, your 1st para is just a simple reversal of what I said, without adding any new logic to justify it. My point is that you cannot change what is tantamount to a nationally-held belief by way of low-level locally-led efforts. The internet hasn’t proved that idea wrong yet. Note that the 1st-world’s highest rate of ‘stated belief’ exists alongside and indeed within the world’s BEST education system – this should be the first cause for serious alarm, no? That it’s tougher than it might seem at first glance? That’s my proof that religion is logic-proof. You can argue, but you can’t persuade. I say if you want to tackle the whole thing head-on, you’d need a trillion-dollar campaigning budget, tons of TV time, you’d have to be allowed to petition the government directly. Literally a $trillion, don’t forget how much money those guys have already stashed.

        2nd para: no they’re not exactly the same, but both claims are still true. I repeat: you can’t attack amorphous belief systems. The keyword, Will, is amorphous, and I think you’re missing the significance of that. If you can imagine a religious group backing down before a powerful argument, instead of simply reformulating (or just rewording) the argument, your imagination is much more powerful than mine. Did powerful arguments shut-up Terry Jones or Fred Phelps or David Koresh? No, no and no. Such is the nature of the beast.

        Saying dictionary atheism is a significant problem sounds to me suspiciously close to saying, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Now saddle-up an’ join our posse.” I don’t feel a need to elaborate that one any further. Not even if PZ thinks it – he can make his own arguments. You say, look at movement atheism [sic], and I reply, there isn’t one! All we’ve got is Richard Dawkins and his group going around and preaching to the choir, sorry about the metaphor. That isn’t going to make a big diff. by itself, though it could lead to something. So far it hasn’t.

        What we need is laws. Without them, what can you have to protect yourself against religion’s constant, scrabbling, whining influence? We need a law to protect science in schools. We need a law that religion cannot impact on health decisions (talking about abortion, obviously). We need laws to PROTECT people; the first amendment isn’t performing that function. We need a law that tells the Boy Scouts of America they can’t discriminate, as they continue to do against gay adults.

        It’s something about the nature of religion that you can’t attack it with arguments. If you disagree, start picking arguments with christians and send in periodic progress reports. I won’t hold my breath while I wait :) I’m not, as you say, demanding everyone stop trying. Or getting in anyone’s way (I’m just commenting!). I’m suggesting that a redirecting of resources is prudent, and I explained why.

        Rebuttal?

        • Profile photo of onamission5
          June 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm —

          “My point is that you cannot change what is tantamount to a nationally-held belief by way of low-level locally-led efforts.”

          Somebody go tell this to all the grass roots movements ever, including but not limited to the US civil rights movement. Hey, everyone, you’re not going to change anything unless you have a bazillion dollars, so don’t even try to sway public opinion, it totes is an unimportant step toward equality.

          There comes a point in small, local efforts at which small groups start to merge into larger ones, thereby increasing their the impact of their voice and the pressure of their political power. You think that laws get passed just presto-spumoni, out of the blue? No. First you need backing, you need social approval, you need a voice. People who do not have millions of dollars to throw at a problem have to use the resources they do possess, that is, numbers. How do you reach the disenfranchised? How do you change culture, win hearts and minds? Grass roots. One on one. Start where you can start, in your own community, with your neighbors and friends, reach them, they reach more, eventually what you have is a movement for social change.

          Laws, by the by, mean nothing if you don’t have the social support to pass them in the first place and then to actually uphold them after.

        • Profile photo of Will
          June 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm —

          Will, your 1st para is just a simple reversal of what I said, without adding any new logic to justify it.

          Uh, no it’s not. I am disagreeing with what you said. You made the claim that we should be fighting claims, not belief systems. I am saying I disagree, that we should be fighting to shift the culture that produces certain belief systems. You’re saying we should be fighting the results, I’m saying we should be fighting the causes (and, by proxy, the results).

          My point is that you cannot change what is tantamount to a nationally-held belief by way of low-level locally-led efforts.

          Citation needed. As per onamission5’s comment, you’re completely ignoring the very real changes that grassroots movements make. Do you think the queer rights movement, for example, magically sprang up out of nowhere to become a national movement? If so, you are in need of a serious history lesson.

          Note that the 1st-world’s highest rate of ‘stated belief’ exists alongside and indeed within the world’s BEST education system – this should be the first cause for serious alarm, no? That it’s tougher than it might seem at first glance? That’s my proof that religion is logic-proof.

          I don’t even know what you’re saying here or what it has to do with anything. Are you arguing that because people are educated and still hold religious beliefs that therefore we cannot make rational arguments against religious beliefs? If that’s the case, how did we ever shift towards a secular society? Your argument makes no sense.

          I say if you want to tackle the whole thing head-on, you’d need a trillion-dollar campaigning budget, tons of TV time, you’d have to be allowed to petition the government directly. Literally a $trillion, don’t forget how much money those guys have already stashed.

          I say citation needed. For someone who is so rational, you seem to love throwing around claims with no support. It’s already been pointed out to you how this is not true and how social perceptions and opinions change over time. Why do you keep pretending like all of that only happened because of “literally” trillions of dollars worth of media?

          no they’re not exactly the same, but both claims are still true.

          You conflated them in your original post. Is Sam Harris saying that you cannot organize around atheism, or is he saying you cannot attack amorphous belief systems? Did he say both? It would seem mighty odd for Harris to make the latter claim considering the books he has published.

          So, the first claim isn’t true because if you’d look around you’d notice that a movement around atheism has already formed. Saying that it cannot form ignores the fact that it has formed.

          I repeat: you can’t attack amorphous belief systems. The keyword, Will, is amorphous, and I think you’re missing the significance of that. If you can imagine a religious group backing down before a powerful argument, instead of simply reformulating (or just rewording) the argument, your imagination is much more powerful than mine. Did powerful arguments shut-up Terry Jones or Fred Phelps or David Koresh? No, no and no. Such is the nature of the beast.

          And so I’m going to assume that you think that belief systems that are non-amorphous are easily swayed by logic and reason? Can you give me some examples of non-amorphous belief systems? I’m not sure I find your terminology very convincing.

          Ultimately what I see you saying is “you won’t convince them so shut up.”

          Saying dictionary atheism is a significant problem sounds to me suspiciously close to saying, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Now saddle-up an’ join our posse.”

          Wow, that’s a leap in logic! Telling naysayers to move out of the way and let us do our work as we see fit is not the same thing as saying “you’re against us.” You also managed to completely sidestep my criticism, which was if you don’t like it, that’s fine, but just leave us the fuck alone about it. If you don’t think a movement around atheism can be a real thing, fine, whatever. But to come in and try to disrupt or convince movement atheism to stop doing what it’s doing because it doesn’t fit Sam Harris’ argument is rather stupid.

          You say, look at movement atheism [sic], and I reply, there isn’t one!

          Why do you [sic] that? I guess just to be an ass?

          What’s so funny is that you’re doing exactly what you hate about religious people. It’s being pointed out to you that a movement has formed around atheism (look at all the atheist meetings, conferences, organizations, media, forums, blogs, etc.) and instead you’re covering your eyes and plugging your ears and screaming “NUH-UH!!!!” That’s not an argument.

          How are all of these things–meetings, cons, orgs, etc.–not constitutive of a movement? What, exactly, has to be present for it to be considered a movement in your opinion?

          We need a law to protect science in schools.

          We have them. They just are not enforced very well and they’re constantly being challenged. But I agree that they are necessary.

          We need a law that religion cannot impact on health decisions (talking about abortion, obviously).

          I don’t agree that there should be a law this ambiguous. People should be able to make decisions about their own health for whatever reason, even if we disagree or it seems stupid. There are, of course, exceptions, such as when children’s lives are at risk. But if people want to make decisions about their own health care based on their religion, why should we stop them? That is a restriction of their autonomy and freedom of religion.

          Obviously we should not be basing abortion laws on religious beliefs, but we already have laws that ban that as well–they are just constantly under attack and being challenged.

          We need laws to PROTECT people; the first amendment isn’t performing that function. We need a law that tells the Boy Scouts of America they can’t discriminate, as they continue to do against gay adults.

          The First Amendment is working pretty damn well. Also, I don’t care if the Boy Scouts want to discriminate as an organization–the problem is that they receive federal moneys and government subsidies to operate. If they want to give that up and continue discriminating, whatever. Instead, they want to have it both ways–they want to continue to discriminate and deny equal access. There doesn’t need to be another law about that–there already is a law about that and it needs to be enforced (though I believe SCOTUS has already ruled that they can continue to discriminate, but don’t quote me on that).

          It’s something about the nature of religion that you can’t attack it with arguments. If you disagree, start picking arguments with christians and send in periodic progress reports.

          Actually, I have had quite a few discussions, debates, and arguments with Christians. They are not a monolithic group of people, you know. Sometimes, some of them are quite open to having their minds changed because they’re not literalists.

          I’m not, as you say, demanding everyone stop trying. Or getting in anyone’s way (I’m just commenting!). I’m suggesting that a redirecting of resources is prudent, and I explained why.

          This doesn’t strike you as at all contradictory? “I’m not demanding everyone stop trying, I’m just suggesting that none of our resources be put into that way of doing things.” Yeah, okay. And also? There’s plenty of “resources” (whatever that means?) to take multiple approaches. Why is it always a zero-sum game with you hyper-skeptic types?

          • Profile photo of Tim
            June 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm

            Will, et al:
            Tell you what: I have Sam Harris backing up my PoV. In fact, I’m really just repeating his points because I agree with him over Rebecca Watson, so far. Sam Harris had a complete argument to back his thesis. I’m sorry I can’t reproduce any of it or link to it. You COULD assume I’m not badly misrepresenting his views, even if I’m unable to represent them especially *well* right now. (I trust you realize that assuming the opposite would leave nothing much to discuss – but you’re still discussing so that can’t be it). BTW, I emailed one of SH’s staff to see if they can point me to the text of his speech – it was a huge point that he made, and he made it well as I remember. It’s quite inconvenient that I can’t cite it right now, obviously, but don’t use that to mean he didn’t make an argument. He did!

            Don’t be upset about the [sic]. I included it for the same reason anyone else does.

            And Will, where the four-asterisks are all your “citations”? You have as many citations as I do – minus one Sam Harris citation, leaving exactly Zero. You didn’t notice that “little” incongruency?

            I’d like to add, I’d be more interested in Rebecca Watson’s views than in yours, Will. It’s one of HER assertions I’m disagreeing with.I took the trouble to cite Sam Harris as having a viewpoint in opposition to hers, if RW doesn’t have a reply, that’s Ok, just wondering why she doesn’t but you do!

            I’m not afraid to directly disagree with people like PZ Myers. I wish to clarify: I do NOT have a big problem with PZ, in fact his blog is top of my blog bookmarks because he is quite entertaining, he updates it more than once per day, and he occasionally shoots his mouth off. Once in a while, he shoots it off in an incorrect fashion. That’s often when I get started!

            If you want to continue this discussion, *Will*, please consider definitively answering this question: Can you imagine a *typical* religious person backing down before a “powerful” argument against religion? No? Yes? Not sure? If ‘Yes’, do you have many Citations? Or do you have only that over-active imagination I cited earlier?

          • Profile photo of Will
            June 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

            Tell you what: I have Sam Harris backing up my PoV.

            Argument from authority. Plus, I don’t give a flying fuck what Sam Harris thinks. Is this supposed to be convincing?

            I’m arguing against what you’ve stated, not Sam Harris. I disagree with what you’re saying. Quit trying to hide behind someone else.

            And Will, where the four-asterisks are all your “citations”? You have as many citations as I do – minus one Sam Harris citation, leaving exactly Zero. You didn’t notice that “little” incongruency?

            What citation do you want? I’ll be happy to provide some.

            I’d like to add, I’d be more interested in Rebecca Watson’s views than in yours, Will. It’s one of HER assertions I’m disagreeing with.I took the trouble to cite Sam Harris as having a viewpoint in opposition to hers, if RW doesn’t have a reply, that’s Ok, just wondering why she doesn’t but you do!

            If you’re not interested in my view, why do you keep responding? Rebecca doesn’t owe you a reply, by the way. And Skepchick is a community. We have discussions. The comments section is not reserved only for the authors of posts to talk to people. And she probably doesn’t reply to you because she’s really freaking busy and why should she have this stupid argument with you? Others of us are willing to.

            I’m not afraid to directly disagree with people like PZ Myers.

            My, my. You are so brave! Disagreeing with people! ON THE INTERNET!!!! Lots of people disagree with PZ all the time, what the hell do you think happens to them? He’s a reasonable person. I’m starting to wonder if you’re a Slyme troll. Your comments have a certain stench about them.

            If you want to continue this discussion, *Will*, please consider definitively answering this question:

            Honestly, I really don’t care whether we continue this conversation or not. But I will answer your questions.

            Can you imagine a *typical* religious person backing down before a “powerful” argument against religion? No? Yes? Not sure? If ‘Yes’, do you have many Citations? Or do you have only that over-active imagination I cited earlier?

            What is a “typical” religious person? What is a “powerful” argument against religion? How am I supposed to answer this question definitively when the question is so vague? And how do you expect me to “cite” my imagination if I were to answer that yes I could imagine it? Do you even know what a citation is?

          • Profile photo of Richard Sympson
            June 17, 2013 at 12:33 am

            Tim:
            “I’m not afraid to directly disagree with people like PZ Myers.”

            I wonder if between making that comment, and me typing this, you have at all gleaned the surprisingly densely-packed irony within that statement, in particular because it doesn’t so skittishly follow this one:
            “Tell you what: I have Sam Harris backing up my PoV.”
            He says he says (he says).

            “And Will, where the four-asterisks are all your “citations”?”

            Will’s ultimate point is that your stance is wrong. At a very basic level, citations have been given to you, such as by onamission5 in referencing the civil rights movement as a counterexample to your sweeping statement that local efforts cannot lead to national change. But the main point doesn’t actually hinge on whether or not the First Amendment is working well enough, or whether or not the BSA gets governmental subsidies, or whether or not there are laws protecting science in science classrooms. What you are all arguing about is a means to effect shared ends; there is no necessary criteria for any of these ends to actually be fulfilled in order for one of these means to be better than the other.

            And with that, of course, we can get back to the citation question: if Will contradicts your initial assumptions or statements, he does not have to provide citations, you do. It is *you* that has to provide citations for how grass roots never works. It is *you* that has to provide citations for where the First Amendment has failed (and please, don’t give me any cases that haven’t actually gone through any constitutional discussion; I want to know where it has failed, not where it hasn’t been argued). It is *you* that has to provide citations for your “literal” trillion dollar figure.

            “You have as many citations as I do – minus one Sam Harris citation”

            You didn’t reference Sam Harris. You mentioned him. A reference includes a referral so that the claim can be verified. And nobody’s even asking you to demonstrate that Sam Harris actually believes what you say he does, not even Will’s previous comment from June 14 5:45pm amounts to that; citation requests to you have been made about more factual statements you have made, like the trillion dollar claim and comments about the efficacy of local-led movements. If, however, you’re going to be so pretentious as to feign that you actually *have* cited him, then I don’t have a problem getting asshole-ish either and asking you to actually do it.

            “Can you imagine a *typical* religious person backing down before a “powerful” argument against religion?”

            Do you even know any ex-theist atheists at all? Like, *any*? I have a couple of close friends that have done just that, no external citations needed. Granted, I don’t know if they’re “typical” in the sense that you’re talking about, since for instance one used to be a “you’re going to Hell” type Christian and another used to be both Christian and then Muslim, but let’s just throw out those two demographics and see if they stick for you.

    • Profile photo of Wilson
      June 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm —

      Dictionary Atheism? Sure, it’s hard to organize around that, because people have so many reasons to not believe in gods. The most common reason, however, is because believing in gods don’t make sense(Skeptical Atheism), and we can organize around that. The energy to organize – the positive – comes from the skeptical assertion that we must have proof in order to believe things. We can proselytize that claim, and because we know what factors contribute to unskeptical thinking, we can oppose even amorphous belief systems. We can insist that people not put forward claims without evidence. Even jello can be molded.

      http://dinnerideas.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2d7bcd03f7_4338767_bcf94f369b.jpg

      • Profile photo of Tim
        June 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm —

        Just like Will above, you simply take my statement, reverse it, and consider the whole thing to be self-explanatory! To say “believing in gods don’t make sense(Skeptical Atheism), and we can organize around that” is a false assertion. It’s precisely THAT which you cannot organize around! Have you EVER seen or heard of a society or association defined by what it *doesn’t* do? NO! And you never will, Wilson.

        “We can proselytize…”
        “we can oppose even amorphous belief systems…”
        “We can insist that people not put forward claims without evidence…”

        Yes we can! And they can ignore us. But my point is not that they can ignore us. It’s that they will. That we need something else.

        • Profile photo of sallystrange
          June 16, 2013 at 9:10 am —

          So you’re a defeatist. Sounds like your problem, not mine or anyone else’s.

        • Profile photo of Wilson
          June 17, 2013 at 8:34 am —

          It’s obviously not a false assertion, because we do organize around it – as Will said above. You can say it’ll never happen until you’re blue in the face, but since it already has, is, and does, it only amounts to a denial of the obvious. Sure, some people will ignore us – some people ignore every movement – but it’s clear by the numbers and the news that our presence and our influence is growing.

          What you don’t seem to be hearing is that what we’re putting forward isn’t really a negative stance (and that our stance is really more than simply that a god !exists). Sure I deny a claim here and there, but the core of what gives me energy is that I think logic and evidence provide us with the best way to make good decisions about just about everything. My Atheism falls under that, and is motivated by that, and I think a lot of skeptical Atheists feel the same way.

          As to your extension of my metaphor – oh good. You proved that I’m dogmatic because a metaphor I used could be extended to say something I didn’t say. If you think people can’t ever change their minds, or that having a structured way of determining what is and isn’t true constitutes dogmatism, that’s your business. I didn’t say either of those things.

      • Profile photo of Tim
        June 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm —

        Yes, Jello can be molded. And then AFTER that, you can’t change its shape without tearing it apart. So I agree with your analogy – if taken to its logical conclusion, that you only get to mold it ONCE. That isn’t a sign of intelligence. That’s a sign of dogma.

    • Profile photo of Rebecca Watson
      June 16, 2013 at 11:20 am —

      I saw your comment sounding upset that I hadn’t responded to you, so here you go.

      “Sam Harris has made the opposite argument to Rebecca’s, saying that it is not feasible in reality to organize around a negative such as non-belief in god(s).”

      I did not make that argument.

      Hope that makes you feel better.

  18. Profile photo of sezit
    June 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm —

    Excellent. I have spoken out strongly at atheist meetings when obnoxious guys have tried to run me over. At one event, the leader (small group, volunteer leader) actually admitted to me when I challenged him that he was trying to bully me into stopping my disagreeing with him. What I now realize is how devalued I felt by the fact that the other people present (all guys) just sat there silently. I can’t remember any guy ever standing up for me during bullying behavior. As for that group, I never went back. In retrospect I really do think that they were cowards, and were afraid of this VERY strong leader turning his bullying on them. But cowards still.
    As for the leaders in our movement that are paid leaders of large membership groups, they need to be good at their jobs. That includes political savvy, focus on priorities, and ability to maintain professional distance from personal infighting. That is a minimum.

  19. Profile photo of Jackal
    June 14, 2013 at 5:01 pm —

    Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. … No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army.

    Is Australian army culture completely different from American army culture? Perhaps someone can correct me on this, but I’m under the impression that army life include a great deal of hazing, humiliation and denigration of enlisted people, esp in boot camp. It makes me wonder if reform, which I fully support, will require major change in the entire army culture.

    • Profile photo of greenstone123
      June 15, 2013 at 1:26 am —

      Each military branch is different and has a different culture. Army life does not include a great deal of hazing. There are instances where it happens, and can be perpetuated especially if allowed by a bad chain of command. Hazing is a violation of AR 600-20. Army life absolutely should not include a great deal of hazing, humiliation and denigration of enlisted people. When instances such as these are happening again it is being allowed by a bad chain of command. The Army is made up of career soldiers. Those career soldiers know the rules.

      A word about humiliating, what one person may see as humiliating, the next person may see as a job. I think the word humiliating can be tricky in the context of the military. There may not be regular showers, yes you may be tasked with burning shit in absence of pluming, but well the job isn’t meant for the faint of heart. There are no secrets, as you live very close to one another. There is very little privacy.

      The US military as an institution continues to have a problem with sexism and misogyny as Rebecca linked. It could be changed. Some policies are terrible. A lot of bad behavior is simply allowed. If there were a few good leaders that took a strong stance against sexual harassment not to mention sexual assault, it would end it as being a part of the military institution. It is not a priority. We need a public that insists on better and for our elected officials to insist that we have a military institution that conducts its self in a professional way and to stop the harassment.

  20. Profile photo of daedalus2u
    June 14, 2013 at 6:41 pm —

    There was another story out of Australia in the same time frame, that of the opposition having a fund raiser where they bullied the Prime Minister with a chicken dish named after her and described as having “small breasts and huge thighs”.

    http://www.reuters.com/video/2099/01/01?videoId=243303691

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