AS59: PZ Myers Tommentary; CJ Werleman Part 1

PZ Myers has really lost me. I had no previous reason to dislike him until he wrote the following two posts:

Robin Williams brings joy to the hearts of journalists and politicians once again

Even atheists have sacred cows

Plus, we welcome back the great CJ Werleman! He has a recent book about why atheists cannot be Republicans.

Find out why!

11 thoughts on “AS59: PZ Myers Tommentary; CJ Werleman Part 1”

  1. I have to agree with you about the Robin Williams / Ferguson riots Tommentary, Thomas. I think you pretty much nailed it – PZ totally lost the plot on this.

    It seems that PZ is outraged that not everyone thinks and cares about the same things he does, to the same degree. Well, welcome to life, PZ.

    Taking the extreme end of the scale with the racism of that old lady you mentioned (where she just generalised, lied and made no allowance for simply being intrinsically less privileged), we can see that PZ is at the other extreme end, just getting mired in seeing everything through the lens of oppression.

    When oppression is all you see, and a member of an oppressed group is suspected to have been murdered by law enforcement, of course you’ll be outraged when you sense other people focussing any energy elsewhere.

    In reality of course, in addition to the police officers responsible being brought to account, we need to hold even the rioters who’ve stolen and damaged property etc. accountable, no matter how much this may have been aggravated by other factors.

    Racism in the police force is a massive issue everywhere I’ve seen. Most sensible people are aware of this. I can’t help thinking even our police can be too trigger happy. In the UK, where our cops don’t routinely carry guns, we had massive riots a couple of years ago following the police shooting of a black man. It’s still not fully resolved. And the ongoing situation in Missouri is getting massive media attention over here, it’s been in the top stories for days.

    As a skeptic, PZ should really have been able to rise above the Atheism+ inspired rhetoric (I suspect that influence is what drove the post) and try to view this objectively.

    We’ve had enough people stupidly calling Williams “selfish” for taking his own life when they have no idea about what depression and onset of Parkinsons’ disease can do to you; we don’t need PZ saying that we’re not even allowed to talk about it without being some sort of “celebrity sicophants”.

  2. I rely on the NPR national news summary and the BBC world news summary for my news. Usually they do a good job mentioning all the major news stories so I can look up what interests me later for more details. These news sources completely failed me last week. While both covered Williams’ death every day last week, neither mentioned Ferguson or Michael Brown until Friday. I wouldn’t have known about it if it hadn’t been for blogs like PZ’s.

  3. I don’t necessarily agree with the tone and the timing of PZ’s comments. But I also I don’t see why you’re taking it so personally. Reading PZ’s original post, he was complaining about the priorities of the mainstream media as it appeared to him. I don’t see anything in the post that is implying that those who care about Robin Williams’ death as being the same as that racist white lady. He’s saying that the media is prioritizing the interest/sensibilities of people like her over people who look like the majority of protesters in Ferguson.

    Regarding the “waiting for all the facts” line, I think you should reexamine your own privilege as a white man in America. For many blacks, institutional racism and police harassment is a fact of life. The demonstrations are as much about that as it is about the particular case of Michael Brown. They have all the facts they need in their own experiences and those of their family members.

    Suppose it turns out that the shooting of Brown was justified, people aren’t just going to say “oh, I guess racism was over, let’s go home.” Similarly, the Rodney King riots were sparked by the footage of his beating, but were about the systemic mistreatment of minorities by the police. The Arab Spring were sparked by a street vendor setting himself on fire, but could not have happened if it wasn’t for the crappy conditions Tunisians (and others) were living under.

    1. Le, I can’t find a compelling point in what you’ve said. So to your mind, the point of finding an idiot racist woman and saying “she would have laughed at nanu-nanu” is to say the media is prioritizing her? First off, plenty more people than some insane racist enjoyed Robin Williams and were likely saddened by his suicide. Including millions of people of all different ethnic backgrounds. Secondly, he’s flat out wrong about the news coverage. Here we are on day 5 of Ferguson being the top story, Robin Williams is nowhere on Google News. People care about Ferguson a lot. I’m tuned into all the details as they’re coming in. I ALSO cared a lot about Robin Williams.
      Can you tell me what examining my privilege as a white man will do to my opinion that we ought to wait for all the facts to come in before making judgments? Ok, I’ve examined my white privilege. I still think we ought to wait for all the facts to come in. As I said, once they do, we’ll have an even stronger case. In the meantime as I made clear, peaceful protest is a great thing and I agree with many of the goals. The best answer I’ve seen is having every policeman wear a camera at all times. Also, the demographics of the police force in Ferguson clearly need to change. These are great goals that we do not need to wait in order to demand. If you interpreted my comment to mean I think we shouldn’t be doing anything at all, then I could see why you’d feel that way. I think it’s pretty clear that’s not what I advocated though.
      My PZ ire is not about me taking it personally, though I did. It’s about a needless attack on people mourning a great person. The two things have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

      1. I’m not judging what you or anybody else cares about. I liked Robin Williams too and I cared about his death.

        It’s possible that PZ thinks that if you care about RW’s passing, you’re a bad person. But from an albeit most-charitable reading of the original post, that does not appear to be necessarily the case. “She is a Real American whose opinions deserve the attention of the powers that be.” I think the last sentence is the point of the example of the racist woman. While race relations in America is divisive, RW’s appeal is universal, as you say. Thus, those in power (politicians and media) who wish to divert attention away from Ferguson have been handed an opportunity to do by RW’s tragic passing. That’s not a criticism of RW himself or anybody else’s grief. That’s not saying everybody who mourns for RW is like that racist lady. Your second point about the actual new coverage, I also agree with. If PZ wishes to ensure an accurate survey of American news media coverage, he may well want to post a correction. But to my mind, the point of his post was the motivation of the media rather than to make a statement about the statistics of the coverage itself. Also, I don’t think Google News is a representative barometer of TV and cable news coverage, I might be wrong though.

        I don’t really like the whole “check your privilege” thing, so I take that back. Sorry about that.

        At 4:10 of the podcast: “What I’m worried about with this case was the fervour with which people were jumping on to the witness testimony. I understand the outrage, but I’m just worried a little bit. … Personally I’d just like to wait until the final facts are the final facts. If then there’s still a problem, by all means, demonstrations, campaigns, whatever we can do.”

        What I was trying to say is that the actual case of Michael Brown is only the catalyst for the protests. For many black people, including those in Ferguson, regardless of the final facts, there is still a problem. They experience racism on a daily basis at the hands of individual police and from institutional forces like the war on drugs. For some people, the outrage are about the marginalization of blacks and the poor and the specific case of MB just gave the overall sense of injustice a focal point.

        As was the case in Tunisia. Consider someone in Tunisia saying, “Mohamed set himself on fire because the cops confiscated his fruit stand. But on the other hand he didn’t have a permit and are we really sure that the cops wanted a bribe? We should wait until we know all the facts.” Everybody knew corruption was rampant, it just took that spark for people to say enough was enough.

        Granted, I’m sure you know all this. But at certain points in the podcast, you characterize it as “flying off the handle.”

        Anyway, you’re putting your views out there and as a listener I appreciate it. I also understand that it’s tough to be consistently covering all your bases when you’re upset. Knowing this, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and try to take the most charitable interpretation, the same as PZ and all the rest.

        1. Hey Le,
          That was a really well thought out, great comment. I’m really glad you took the time to give such a good response. I believe I may not have spoken precisely in the show because your quote is different than what my intention was. (I said too many things too quickly!) Yes, I’m fine with peaceful demonstrations for any cause at any time really, and I totally understand that the injustices you outlined require special attention in Ferguson and elsewhere. What I really don’t like is violent protest and looting. I don’t think that’s ever justified. Some people are talking as though the public ought to raise hell and damage property because the police are killing black people left and right. Anonymous in particular, among others. The problem with these violent and careless protests is that people get hurt. Innocent people who are not at all to blame for any of this.
          I think you are absolutely right that though the original facts may go some other direction, there’s still a problem that people ought to be up in arms about. I accept that criticism. I still think as a skeptical community, when we are reacting to these things that we need to take care to maintain a skeptical and evidence based approach, especially because I really don’t think it would have taken away from PZ’s point.
          As I said in the show, this is why I have really been reflecting like crazy because I DO want to maintain integrity in my belief that we should take charitable interpretations of people’s writing. However, I strongly believe that PZ has left no room for any interpretation and his writing was needlessly hostile and insulting. But, I haven’t declared him completely irrelevant or stupid or anything like that, I just think I’m going to take his writing with a bit of a grain of salt, and I’m honestly quite put off by him now.
          Thanks again for the comments, let me know if you think I’m missing some points still.

          1. Almost done!

            I think that much of the looting has been played up by the media. The impression I get is that the vast majority of protesters are peaceful and much of the violence has been perpetrated by the police. Here’s a good article that may give you a sense of the frustration some feel about it.


            Full disclosure, I’m a Chinese-Canadian. So it’s not like I have any direct experience of the specific type of racism involved. But despite the value we place on objectivity as skeptics, we should take care not to discount different people’s different subjective experiences in our society. If people say that feel that Jesus will return in 2016, we ought to be skeptical. What if people say that they feel discriminated against and harassed by the cops, and are mad enough to take to the streets? What does it mean to be a skeptic here? The fact the the observer may not agree right away means that s/he has not experienced said discrimination and are thus part of a privileged social class. Now this privileged observer is demanding evidence for the injustice claimed by the alleged victim. Can you see how they might find this attitude demeaning? It’s like saying “justify your anger to me, maybe you’re just being unreasonable.” The disenfranchised are not even entitled to their own feelings of outrage.

            It’s two sides talking past each other. One’s asking “Is Darren Wilson a racist or recklessly trigger-happy cop?” and we need more evidence to determine that, true. But to take such a focused view on this specific tree misses the forest of systemic and institutionalized racism that affects many of the protesters in Ferguson. They’re outraged for MB, but also angry at their own experiences of injustice.

            Admittedly, talking about race in a sensitive manner is a daunting and thoroughly exhausting task. As you may know, the atheist community in America is disproportionately white (maybe male?). When a public figure (that’s you!) in the community speaks as an atheist/skeptic about race, IMHO it’d be best to try to keep in mind other people’s experiences/takes on it. Otherwise, we may inadvertently project a biased view of atheism that excludes or alienates potential members/allies.

            Again, Thomas, I’m not saying you’re a bad man. Everybody has their own biases and experience of the world, influenced by their own background/circumstance. It’s inevitable that any speaker is only privy to their own thoughts and experiences. That’s why we need a diversity of viewpoints even in the atheist and skeptic community, including white guys and even republicans!

            But you’ve got to be careful when you say “we, as skeptics” or “we, as atheists” [13:00 of the episode] and consider that there could be atheist skeptics demonstrating in Ferguson for reasons that are very real to them, which they experience everyday, and yet are utterly foreign to you and me.

  4. I wish the blog post wasn’t closed for comments, I really, really, wanted to comment something like “dear Muslima, I know you’ve got problems, but can’t you see that a beloved celebrity is dead?”. Really, it’s pretty much the same thing.

  5. Honestly, I’m not following Ferguson, for the simple reason that the media is under no obligation to report facts, nor are they obligated to eliminate, or at the very least minimize, bias.
    I most definitely agree with you that all police should be wearing cameras at all times. It is simply good practice to have a record of a police officer’s actions while on duty – as well as have an evidentiary record for the prosecution (or defense).
    I think PZ’s post was deliberately inflammatory, as has unfortunately become commonplace these days. For some reason I cannot fathom, it seems that people write in a visceral tone in an attempt to get people off the couch and do something the writer feels needs to be done. In PZ’s case, he’s obviously outraged over the events in Ferguson, and chose to use Robin’s death to get a rise out of us. It didn’t work for me – pissing me off won’t help Ferguson, and it won’t get me to do more than I’m already doing to secure equal rights for all.
    So what’s the point of all these inflammatory posts and biased reports? Well, I think we’re giving it to PZ and the media. People are tuning in to see what’s going on in Ferguson, and they’re going to check PZ’s blog and comment, putting him higher on the google rankings (if I recall, numbers of hits/click-throughs is a factor in where your page appears in the results list?).
    And sorry this is a tardy post – I took a long vacation and was offline for almost a month, so I’m catching up on my podcasts (obligatory brag: I was on an awesome cruise!). Love both your podcasts – please keep them going!

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