Saturday, August 10, 2013

Richard Dawkins and the far right extremists

Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of Richard Dawkins and his garbled anti-religious rhetoric. I have no ideological objection to non-religious stances, and greatly admire the work of other proponents of atheism such as the brilliant science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov and the wonderfully impassioned popular scientist Carl Sagan. I find Dawkins' sanctimonious and divisive evangelism for the atheist cause intensely annoying. Not only are many of his arguments dreadfully weak from a philosophical perspective, his regular appeals to mock the religious with "naked contempt" have inspired a new breed of intolerant secular atheists that enjoy nothing more than dragging the level of any science, religion or ethics based debate down to the level of pitiful mud slinging and endless reiterations of the infuriatingly weak spaghetti monster / sky pixies / cupboard elves argument. ("You postulate something I don't believe in, so I should be able to postulate something that neither of us believe in, which should be considered as equally valid").

I've often stated that I believe that the important distinction should not be between those that believe in the possibility or probability of some higher force they think of as "God", and those that don't. The useful distinction should be drawn between those that are respectful and tolerant of other ideas and those that are disrespectful and intolerant. Thus the Quaker, the sceptical agnostic, the new age hippy spiritualist, the ignostic, the scientifically minded deist and the friendly old Church of England organist probably belong on one side of the debate, and the shrill "you're all mentally ill so I'm going to ridicule you" atheist ranters join the delusional Islamist fanatics, the religious theocrats, the far-right Islamophobes and the Westboro Baptist Church on the other side.

One of the things I've stated in the past is that the rise in evangelical atheism has coincided with the rise of the bonkers pseudo-economic theory of neoliberalism, which promotes greed (or "rational self-interest" as they define it) as the only virtue, and rejects other traditional virtues such as charity, modesty, egalitarianism and justice as grotesque aberrations. It seems that in western culture, faith in the absurd deity-like "invisible hand of the market" (which is one of the articles of faith of neoliberal economic theory) is gradually replacing faith in the traditional conceptions of God.

Another thing that links neoliberalism and evangelical anti-theism is the desperation to dress up irrational faith based philosophies in the language of rationality. Hence the neoliberal rebrands "greed" as "rational self-interest", and misappropriates the Work of Charles Darwin in order to justify their favoured philosophy of "survival of the fittest" social organisation. Often the evangelical anti-theist also attempts to claim the rational high ground, whilst simultaneously maintaining faith in the philosophically unjustifiable position of certainty in the non-existence of "God" (however it is defined).

Of course I am not saying that all non-believers have embraced right-wing neoliberal crony capitalist ideas, but many have, including it seems, Richard Dawkins. The fact that Dawkins is a vocal supporter of the Liberal-Democrats is evidence enough that he approves of neoliberal economic theory (given that just like the Tories and Labour, the Lib Dems have also been usurped by a bunch of devout adherents of neoliberal pseudo economics). Another indicator that Dawkins is an ideological neoliberal is his association with AC Grayling's New College of the Humanities, which charges ludicrous US style fees of £18,000 a year for degree courses. If involvement in the extreme end of the grotesque commodification of higher education isn't a clear indicator that Dawkins has bought into the ideology of neoliberalism, and the commodification of everything, including knowledge, I'm not sure what would be?

Dawkins has positioned himself as the spiritual leader of the atheist movement, and millions upon millions of people have bought into his contrarian pseudo-philosophical atheism, making him a multi-millionaire in the process. Because of this fame and popularity he is in an immensely powerful position when it comes to the dissemination of ideas. When Dawkins promotes an idea, tens, or hundreds of thousands of people listen to him. It is bad enough that he has willingly ingratiated himself into the political establishment, given their fixation with the pseudo-scientific philosophy of neoliberalism, but it is his coalition building efforts with the extreme right of the political spectrum that should really get the alarm bells ringing.

In June 2010 Dawkins uploaded a video from a far-right extremist called Pat Condell, one of several that he has posted to his site over the years. If you are fortunate enough never to have witnessed one of Pat Condell's video blogs, you're bloody lucky. That Condell is so immensely popular with the reactionary right means that if you haven't ever come across his work at all, in all probability you either have a very select group of intellectually coherent friends, or you've never really got into social media and checking your updates.

In his video monologues Condell comes across as sufferer of an incurable case of Angry White Man Syndrome, with the main symptoms being a stunningly reactionary mentality, philosophical illiteracy, and extreme cognitive dissonance. Some of his video blogs actually make my head hurt from the sheer scale of cognitive dissonance.
Condell presents his pre-prepared video monologues in a grotesquely contrived style with a constant patronising tone, which he maintains incessantly as he drones on and on, spouting his philosophically illiterate bile. He comes across as a kind of Al Murray's pub landlord charactor, but utterly devoid of all satire, irony ,effective timing or any kind of humour whatever. 

Seriously, try a few minutes of one of his monologues and see if it's desperately infuriating gibberish that it sets your mind ablaze with criticisms of the sheer cognitive dissonance, or whether you find it so balanced and plausible that you would deliberately share it with your friends. This is exactly the thought process that Dawkins has gone through. The only difference being that he wouldn't just be annoying a few of his "thinkie" Facebook friends by enjoying and sharing such extreme-right bile, he's repeatedly decided to share Condell's extremist views with tens, or hundreds of thousands of people at a go.

In the video blog that Dawkins approved of so much that he shared it with his hundreds of thousands of acolytes, Condell rants for six straight minutes about the evils of Islam. Throughout the video that Dawkins deliberately uploaded to his own site, Condell uses the philosophically bogus trick of ascribing personality traits to the entire religion of Islam. It is a shamefully weak debating strategy to ascribe to the concept of an entire religion, traits that are shared only by a minority of its followers. This personification technique is a crap debating strategy, and anyone that is attuned to spotting philosophical bollocks should be able to spot it for the gibberish that it is. That Dawkins didn't spot it, or that he allowed confirmation bias to completely over-rule the critical judgement that he is supposedly so famous for, simply because he agreed with the anti-religious slant, illustrates the fact that Dawkins is not the great logical thinker and champion of reason that so many (including himself) make him out to be.

In the video that Dawkins liked so much that he decided to share it with his followers, Condell made a number of inflammatory remarks, used soaring hyperbole and generated absurd feats of revisionism. If describing Islam as a nothing more than a "political ideology of hate" and making the case that it should be banned entirely as a kind of terrorist thought crime is not even a little bit concerning to you, you probably would have though that George Orwell's 1984 sounded like a rather splendidly organised utopia, had you ever actually bothered to read it, wouldn't you?

Here are a few more extracts from the extremist video that Dawkins shared on his website:

"Islam makes no secret of its desire to exterminate the Jews" (note the personification of an entire religion technique)
"Islam is a bigger threat to our freedom than Naziism ever was"
One of Condell's most revisionist statements was that "we were all more or less on the same side against the Nazis", which is demonstrably untrue. Either Condell is so ignorant of history that he knows nothing of the British Union of Fascists, the Anglo-German Link, the huge investments in Nazi Germany by American banks (such as JP Morgan and Chase Bank) during World War Two and the shockingly anti-semitic Right Group secret society amongst Tory MPs and the English aristocracy. We certainly weren't united against Nazism during the rise of Naziism in the 1930s because there was a powerful and growing pro-Nazi extreme right-wing lobby in the UK all the way up until the declaration of war.

It hardly seems surprising that a man representing the extreme-right of the UK political spectrum is so keen to pretend that the right wing have always opposed Nazism, when the opposite is true. Whether Condell is just far to ignorant to know of this stuff (a possibility), or that he deliberately airbrushed it all from his story of how right-wingers like him have always opposed Nazism, the actual facts render his claims extremely high-order revisionism.

In another section of the Dawkins approved video Candell uses his absurd personification technique to claim that Islam "rejects" and "despises" America, and he goes further, claiming that "any Muslim that denies this is a liar". He's stating the case that his philosophically illiterate interpretation of the concept of Islam simply cannot be countered by anyone, not even people that have devoted their life to study of it's scriptures! Condell is claiming to be more of an expert on Islamic theology than any devout Muslim that has ever dared to interpret their own faith in a non-violent way! Condell is essentially making the childish argument that "Islam [as a concept] is committed to 'stealth jihad', and that's definite! no comebacks, not listening anymore [fingers in ears] nah-na na-na-nah!".

It seems that Dawkins is prepared to endorse any kind of anti-religious content no matter how extreme and incoherent it is from an analytic point of view. He's quite clearly bought into the pathetic "the enemy of my enemy is my friend mentality".

Perhaps the Dawkins apologist might try to assume that Dawkins didn't know who Condell was: That he knew nothing of Condell's extreme-right views: That perhaps he posted the Condell clips as some kind of accident? However it is absolutely clear from a below-the-line comment in response to a query over his endorsement of such an extreme-right viewpoint, that Dawkins knows exactly who Condell is and that he endorses his views. Dawkins replied:

"I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today. Pat Condell is one of the few with the courage to say so. [source
So Dawkins is familiar enough with Condell's work, and agreed with it to such an extent, that he would go as far as describing the man as an exceptionally courageous individual, in defence of the decision to share these extreme-right islamophobic views with followers of the Richard Dawkins Foundation page. The content of the Condell speech that Dawkins endorsed to his followers and then justified is bad enough, but some of Condell's other views are whirlwind displays of cognitive dissonance.

One of Condell's most famous causes is unyielding support for the Dutch fascist Geert Wilders. It is beyond doubt that Wilders is an Islamophobic with extremist views. He believes that the Koran should be banned, along with the religion of Islam, that immigration of Muslims into the Netherlands should be stopped and that a mandatory repatriation (ethnic cleansing) programme for Muslims should be initiated. 

Condell's defence of Wilders is the same one that Wilders uses to defend himself. The argument is that is is an outright attack on Wilders freedom for anyone to describe him as a right wing extremist, even in sanitised forms such as as "far-right" (rather than "fascist" or "extreme-right Islamophobe").

The cognitive dissonance is appalling.

Wilders wants to designate an entire religion as "thought crime", ban books, and to begin a programme of ethnic cleansing, yet the anyone describing these views as "right-wing" or "totalitarian" is the sworn enemy of freedom!

How pugnaciously biased would you have to be to think of the man that wants to burn books, ban ideas and deport people as the brave freedom fighter, and think of the journalist that dares to present these views as "perhaps a bit extreme" as the dangerous extremist fanatic, hellbent on curtailing people's freedoms?

That Dawkins lends his support to such an individual shows how tolerant of extremist views he is, as long as the extremists happen to reside in his camp. Dawkins also uses the uses the
same kind of freedom of speech justification as used by Condell and Wilders, to defend extremist right-wing views. In one of his supportive posts for Condell, Dawkins wrote that:
"That some people say they are 'offended' by something is never a good reason for censoring it." [source]
Isn't that a statement that could equally be applied to statements of religious bigotry or obscene religious practices? If the head of some warped Islamist theocracy was designating another religion a thought crime and calling for it to be banned entirely and it's adherents to be discriminated against, Dawkins would be criticising it in a flash. But because it's the view of the leader of a Dutch political party or a right-wing Youtube celebrity atheist, these views are courageous and must be protected by freedom of speech.

As for Dawkins view on Wilders, here's a quote, which is quantified only by a threatened future withdrawal of support should Wilders transgress some kind extremeley nebulously defined "mustn't be a fascist" clause):

"if it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect, [but now] I salute you as a man of courage, who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy" [the full text can be seen here]

The Dawkins clause in this statement of support for Wilders' right to spout fascist ideas is a thing of wonder. The clause is written as if working tirelessly to promote the idea that people should be discriminated against, treated as thought criminals and ethnically cleansed on the basis of their religious heritage (as Wilders has repeatedly), is hardly sufficient to justify the moderate description "gratuitous stirrer" or "provocateur", let alone more apt descriptions such as "dangerous fanatic with totalitarian tendencies", "Islamophobic far-right cause célèbre" or "scary militant nutter".

The two main problems with the preceding excuses presented by Dawkins to cover his open praise for Widers can be summised as:

1. In the amount of time it took to write all of those get-out clauses, Dawkins could easily have established for himself that Wilders is a far right extremist committed to ethnic cleansing and the "Constitutional protection of the dominance of the Judeo-Christian culture of the Netherlands", which must surely be an appalling prospect to any atheist. 
 2. That Dawkins comes out with such lengthy and convoluted disclaimers, strongly suggests that he did already know of Wilders' extremist views, but created the fiction of ignorance in order to heap praise upon the someone he knows to be an extreme-right fascist.
Here's an outline some of the policies promoted by Wilders and his PVV party (the fifth one should surely get the old atheist alarm bells ringing even if the blatant fascism underpinning the others doesn't.
  • 1. The Koran should be banned, and possession of it be made a criminal offense. 
  • 2. Criminals (like people that own a copy of the Koran for example) should be subject to mandatory deportation, even if they are citizens. 
  • 3. Immigration of people with Muslim heritage should be totally stopped. 
  • 4. Repatriation schemes to send people with Muslim heritage back to their "country of origin" should be started. 
  • 5. "Constitutional protection of the dominance of the Judeo-Christian culture of the Netherlands" should be enacted.
That Dawkins is so eager to position himself with these guys suggests he is willing to accept (and even defend) the exactly same kind of barbaric tribalism that he lambasts whenever it presents as a religious trait. As long as the extremist and totalitarian rhetoric comes from within his own camp (some kind of nebulously defined "atheist community") he'll not only immunise it from criticism, but he'll openly promote it too. If you're religiously minded and you transgress, then Dawkins will lambast you as an enemy of freedom, but if you're on his side of the debate, whatever vile nonsense you spout should be celebrated and rigorously protected by appeals to freedom of speech.

If, as you're reading this, you're already preparing to begin the construction of a "how very dare you criticise Dawkins" type defence of Dawkins stance alongside these extreme-right Islamophobes, that doesn't actually address any of the points raised in this article, you're probably suffering from confirmation bias in the same way Dawkins himself is when it comes the extremists he treats as allies and refers to in glowing terms. Because you like his message of atheism and his intolerance toward religion, you'll put up with and even defend ideas that you would decry if they happened to present as religious bigotry.

Just to return to my own view for a moment before I conclude, I'd like to reiterate that I have every respect for many people that maintain the atheist stance, including members of my family, firm friends and several of my favourite authors, but I have no tolerance for right-wing extremists and fanatical totalitarians or their apologists, whether they happen to be religiously minded or not.

In my view I'm on the tolerant respectful side of the debate with the majority of atheists and the majority of religiously minded people, whilst Dawkins is positioning himself with right-wing fanatics like Condell and Wilders on the extremist team alongside religious bigots, Islamist crazies, the puritanical social zeolots that he's made himself staggeringly wealthy by criticising. If there's one thing I'd like you to take from this article, it would be the idea is that although the our personal views are a fundamental part of the debate, the more important distinction is not so much the kind of view (atheist - theist; left-wing - right-wing, capitalist - anti-capitalist ...) it is the manner in which the views are expressed (libertarian - totalitarian; moderate - extremist).

Dawkins' stunningly hypocritical "freedom of speech" justifications for the disemmination of extremist right-wing ideas leads to the conclusion that Dawkins is a man hopelessly riddled with confirmation bias who couldn't spot a philosopically bogus argument if it hit him in the face. This inability or cognitive unwillingness to critique extremist and intolerant views, and his eagerness to promote them and defend them using appeals to freedom of speech leaves us with the question of how it is possible, given such a glaring lack of critical faculties and such a bad case of confirmation bias, that he has managed to position himself as the world's foremost critic of religion?

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Richard Dawkins and the slave trade

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