Author Archives: omniz

In Which I Explain Libertarianism



That’s pretty much it. Please feel free to share with your friends as a time-saver if they are confused.


On Overthrowing the (American) Government

This is a quick one so that I can try and get back into the swing of blogging again.

There’s this recurring theme among gun-ownership advocates in the US that the reason the second amendment to keep and bear arms is necessary is because the writers of the Bill of Rights had just fought a war against a government they saw as infringing on their rights, and they wanted to make sure that if the People ever needed to overthrow the government again that they would have the power to do so. Namely, that the government would not be able to take away their guns.

In an episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!, they summarize the argument:

Now, ignoring the fact that the US spends HUNDREDS of BILLIONS of dollars per year on its military, and that a handful of folks with rifles are not about to overthrow anything, let alone a nation that could blow them up with the press of a button. And ignoring the fact that apparently there’s no problem regulating certain types of arms (no second amendment defender I’ve seen has advocated for private citizens to be able to own nukes). And ignoring the fact that toppling a government these days would be more likely to involve the actions of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, who (as far as I’ve seen) are not being hailed as heroes by the exact people who want the freedom to topple the government.

Ignoring everything else:

If the People ever needed to overthrow the government, do they really think that doing so would be legal in the first place? Like seriously, you need the freedom to own guns just in case but if you were in open rebellion against the government I can’t even imagine how many laws you’re already breaking. You couldn’t just add “owning a prohibited firearm” to that list?

With all the gun violence we keep seeing over and over, I think there needs to be a serious question about what Americans value more: their freedom to own an assault  or sniper rifle (including one that aims at your targets for you) or the freedom to not have your kid get shot simply because he’s out walking the streets at night.

An Open Letter to Ron Lindsay

So Women In Secularism 2 is happening this weekend (live blogging from Miri, Kate and Jason) and unfortunately I was not able to attend. But I’ve been following online, and in an odd twist, CFI President Ron Lindsay decided to open a conference about the under-representation of women in the Atheist Movement by talking about how we need to pay more attention to what men have to say. Rebecca Watson and PZ Meyers have both posted about why this was a problem. So far Lindsay’s main defense seems to be “but that wasn’t what most of my talk was about“.

Dear Ron,

As a general rule, I like to believe that people have the best of intentions, so I do think that you sincerely don’t understand what the problem here was. I’d like to try and explain the reaction to this (admittedly short) part of your speech in terms of a different sort of privilege that I think you will have an easier time understanding.

I suspect that you would agree with me that atheists lack privilege in our Christian-soaked culture. So let’s imagine the following scenario: An atheist conference (pick your favorite), specifically created to bring together a lot of similar-minded people and discuss the usual issues invites as its opening speaker a Christian. Now I’m not talking about a hate-spewing WBC preacher or anything like that; I’m thinking someone with whom we might share goals like separation of church and state, marriage equality, or a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. There are many atheists and Christians alike whose views on these issues line up, just as there are many men who take the feminist position on issues.

So it may seem odd to open an atheist conference with a Christian speaker, but it’s not completely out there.

But then let’s say that speaker devotes a section of their talk to the persecution that atheists face, and begins that section with “Now let me tell you something about persecution…” followed by the usual tone-deaf ravings about how the government is targeting believers. You know the drill. And I’m sure you know why what that speaker is saying is bullshit. I’m also sure you can imagine the kind of uproar you would get from attendees, who paid a not-inconsiderable amount of money to be there. All of this, despite the best intentions of the speaker.

This is essentially what you have done. You have gone before a conference dedicated to giving a voice to women in the movement and told them that they need to spend more time listening to what men have to say. As though it’s possible to live in our society without knowing what men generally have to say. As though it’s possible to live in our society without knowing what Christians generally think.

Now, the meme you’ve described does actually happen. I won’t deny that there are men who are told to “shut up and listen”. But this is good. It asks them to be silent long enough to hear what minority voices (more than one!) have to say. And after that, they’re welcome to bring up any concerns that they have but they need to shut up long enough to let someone bring their voice to the table.

Unless, of course, they just keep bringing up the same point over and over again, never actually responding to what the minority has to say. In which case, they just need to shut up for good.

You were asked for examples of people being told to shut up and listen and the ones that you gave were of what I’ve described above: people being told to shut up long enough for a minority voice to have a chance to speak. I’d like to provide my own examples of people being told to shut up:

  • Ophelia Benson’s Page o’ Nonstop Monitoring and Harassment in which she records all the bullying she receives to try and silence her voice
  • Skepchick’s Page o’ Hate where Rebecca Watson posts a tiny sample of the hate she gets, trying to silence her for speaking up (ironically) about harassment
  • Jen McCreight was bullied out of the atheist movement and had to quit blogging about atheist topics because of the level of harassment that she (and her family) received. It got so bad that people were trying to trigger her depression and telling her to commit suicide.
  • Natalie Reed also abandoned the atheist movement after Thunderf00t started threatening her when he got kicked off of FTB for being a bigot.

These stories are not unique, and when you trivialize them by comparing them (indirectly) to men who have been asked to allow a more diverse range of voices in the atheist movement; you are doing a disservice to the victims of actual harassment and bullying.

I hope you will come to realize that.


A guy with privilege.

PS: When people who paid to attend your event are unhappy; you should probably listen to them and address their problem instead of telling them why they’re wrong. They are, after all, your paying customers. Try to make them happy.

Legal Ramifications for Bullying

I don’t really have too much to say on this one… I’m kind of emotionally drained by the Reteah Parsons and Aurrie Pott incidents as well as the knowledge that these are not merely two isolated cases, they just happen to have gone extremely mainstream in the media.

Anyways, I want to throw this out there and hopefully see what people have to say about it. It’s an idea that I haven’t heard expressed anywhere else.

If it can be demonstrated that a person who took their own life did so (either directly or in part) because of a campaign of harassment and/or bullying; the harassers and bullies should be charged with homicide.

I think in a situation like this there’s a heavy backlash against the perpetrators: “If I could get my hands on them I would beat them to a pulp” or “I hope they get a taste of their own rape-medicine in prison”. I’m trying to avoid coming at this from that point of view. Realistically, shouldn’t there be legal consequences for people who drive other people to suicide?

To change the culture, we need to have the tools to do so, and the calm and level head of the law ought to be one of those tools. Maybe that can start here?


How Prevalent is Rape Culture?

EDIT: After publishing this, I realized that with my focus on the comments section, I really managed to ignore the fact that the whole article I was pulling comments from was, itself, actually focused almost exclusively on the feelings of the rapists rather than the victim. So… yeah… not just a problem with the comments, but actually a huge issue with the way the verdict is being reported on by the media. And it’s not unique to the one article I was using, although CNN does seem to be at the centre of it. Kate Donovan sums up the problem well.

So I was having an argument on Facebook the other day about this article discussing how to combat rape culture by training men not to rape, and the guy I was arguing with was rejecting the idea that rape culture existed, or at least that it was widespread. After I provided a list of examples of victim blaming and rape culture he said the following:

[…] that’s another small group of people, I want to see where society as a whole condones rape. I can’t believe that the majority of people in the world are cool with rape, I just don’t think we’re generally bad people.

Which in a sense I get. If you haven’t been exposed to it, it’s hard to imagine that there are people out there who are generally happy to blame rape victims for their own rapes, or to excuse rapists. You don’t want to face it because it really sucks when you realize that it’s out there. But realizing the extent of the problem is an important step to solving the problem. So with that in mind, I want to present one little demonstration of rape culture and victim blaming at work.

You’ve probably heard about the Steubenville rape trial. If you haven’t, you should read more about it, but I don’t want to get into the details of the case here. What’s important for my purposes here is that it’s A) a recent news item that B) involves rape and C) is fairly high-profile.

So what I did was find an article about the recent verdict in the case. Literally any article. In fact, I went with the very first article that I stumbled across. I didn’t even read it. I just skipped to the comments to see how many examples of rape culture and victim blaming I could find. While trying to ignore anything that triggered my troll sensors, as well as trying not to take more than a few examples from any one username, I managed to screenshot 80 comments from 54 unique users before my browser crashed.

Obviously not the most scientifically-rigourous experiment, but that’s also not what I was trying to do. All I want is to give one little example of rape culture at work in one spot. What I do think makes this a powerful statement that demonstrates a wider problem is that I didn’t wade through a bunch of different articles until I found one with some horrifying comments. I didn’t have to. It was literally the very first article I found. And we’re not talking comments from some niche rape-apologist or MRA website. This is fucking CNN.

One last note before we begin, I should point out that there are also a lot of comments trying to fight rape culture and arguing against the apologists and victim-blamers in the comments. This does not defeat my point that there are still a lot of people who are quick to blame the victim. With a few hundred unique commenters in the couple thousand comments I read, I found more than 50. That is not an insignificant number.

So let’s begin. (Trigger warning for rape below the jump) Continue reading

Alas, I Never Heard Back

Online dating is hard…


Not having heard back yet, I can only assume that she is planning some sort of ambush and I will need to be on my toes.

Today Is Not the Day to Talk About Gun Control

Today, the day where 27 people, 20 of whom were elementary school children, were murdered in Newtown, CO by a man with a gun is not the day to talk about gun control.

The day to talk about gun control was April 20, 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold marched into Columbine High School and murdered 13 people and injured 21 others.

The day to talk about gun control was April 16, 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 others in the deadliest single-shooter massacre in US history at Virginia Tech.

The day to talk about gun control was January 8, 2011 when Jared Lee Loughner killed 6 people, including a 9 year old child and injured 13 others in an attempt to murder US Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

The day to talk about gun control was 5 months ago on July 20 when James Holmes shot 70 people in a movie theatre, killing 12.

The day to talk about gun control was during the 87 gun deaths that the US experiences per day.

Today is not the day to talk about gun control. That day was yesterday. We missed it.

Racial Diversity in the Skeptical Movement

A couple weeks ago I had the delight of attending Skepticon for the first time. It. Was. AMAZING. Honestly, I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I made a bunch of new friends, battled to the death in a backyard arena filled with Nerf guns, and partied with a bunch of my skeptical heroes. I got to high-five Rebecca Watson, meet Brendan Powell Smith the creator of The Brick Testament (who combines two of my favourite things in the world), have a drink with Heina of Skepchick, watch Matt Dillahunty perform closeup magic, and discuss the American-centricity of much of the skeptical movement with Debbie Goddard. I will definitely be going back next year.

None of that, of course, mentions any of the talks that were given: all of which were amazing. I want to take a moment, however, to share with you the final talk of the weekend, given by Professor Anthony Pinn on the topic of how to promote racial diversity within the skeptical and atheist movements.

It’s unfortunate that this was the last talk, as a lot of people had already left what with flights to catch and treks home to make, but from what I understand this was not the fault of the Skepticon crew: evidently he was originally to open the weekend, but couldn’t due to a scheduling issue. Professor Pinn expressed that he feels many people of colour are disillusioned with their churches and would be prepared to leave them if only there was somewhere else to go: that the Skeptical movement needs to meet the black community “where [they] are.”

There was one particular moment in the Q&A when a woman in the audience asks (paraphrased) “You say that the skeptical community needs to meet you halfway. What steps can we take to accomplish this?” And while Professor Pinn answered the question very well, I’d just like to point out one thing:

He never said the skeptical community needs to meet the black community “halfway”. The skeptical community needs to go to where the black community already is.

This should be a pretty obvious notion. Not everyone is going to be aware of the skeptical community, and it might not even occur to them to look for us. But more than that, people of colour face a lot of challenges that white folks (simply by virtue of being in the majority) don’t have to deal with. They have specific issues that they have to deal with that are going to be much more important to them (understandably so) than whether Bigfoot exists, or how to defeat Pascal’s Wager for the bajillionth time. If the skeptic community wants to attract more members from more diverse backgrounds, then they need to address the issues that those potential new members want to see addressed.

At a local level, churches understand this. That’s why you see a lot of them providing services like daycares and rehab programs; or even just social functions like potlucks. There are very specific things that churches do in order to make themselves essential in the lives of their congregations. If the skeptical movement is going to compete, we need to meet them on the battleground where they already are, and not at some ambiguous halfway point that requires the people we’re trying to attract to take the initiative themselves.

So what are these issues that people of colour want us to address? I don’t currently know. They’re not necessarily going to be issues that affect me. And that’s why we need to ask people of colour what they need and listen to their answers.

And finally, if you don’t think that diversity is something we should strive for: ask yourself what you’ve gotten out of being a part of the skeptical community. Read the stories of all the people who had a great time at Skepticon and events like it (including mine above). Think how much better your life is without religious guilt or superstition or false beliefs. Think about any benefits you’ve received by being a part of this community and ask yourself why you don’t think other people deserve those same benefits.

There’s No Such Thing as Presuppositional Naturalism

I was watching one of Matt Dillahunty’s recent debates, Is Belief in the Christian God Rational?, versus Cliffe Knechtle today and one of the many, MANY things that I took issue with that Cliffe said was a bit about Naturalism.

The gist of it was that, if you have a naturalistic worldview, then he agreed with Matt that you could discount the Bible as being true because it contains miracles which are, naturalistically, impossible. But! he continued, this line of reasoning requires that you presuppose naturalism. The implication was that you can’t prove naturalism any more than you can prove Christian presuppositionalism, and thus both positions rely on faith, which makes Matt’s position (that faith is irrational) inconsistent.

If you’re not familiar with the terminology, I’ll take a quick aside for that. A presupposition is something you accept in order to create an argument. It is different from an assumption (or a supposition) in that it is usually an unexamined and not directly a part of the argument. Often they can be hidden and much harder to identify. It’s a bit easier to explain with examples. If you’re trying to form a logical argument, using premises and deductions to arrive logically at a conclusion, then one of the things you’re presupposing is the validity of the logical system you’re using. When apologists try to prove the truth of Christianity by pointing to the Bible and telling you what it says, they are presupposing that the Bible is 100% inerrant (this, incidentally, is called presuppositional apologetics).

Naturalism is the philosophical position that all which exists is the natural world: people, trees, rocks, starts, protons, quarks, really awesome cars, etc… But not things like ghosts, demons, souls or anything else that would typically be called “supernatural”. Generally speaking, “natural” means anything which can be observed to exist.

You might be able to see the problem here: If all the stuff that is observable is part of the natural world, then what exactly is left? Keep in mind that in scientific terms, “observable” doesn’t just mean “can be seen” there are many other ways of observing stuff either directly (using other senses, or even apparatuses we’ve built such as telescopes to detect distant stellar objects) or indirectly (observing the effects of gravity to deduce the existence of dark matter). So if something  interacts in any way with the world, it is by definition “natural”.

This is why the term “supernatural” is so frustrating. At the end of the day, “natural” basically just means “anything that exists”. So when people start talking about the existence of supernatural ghosts or souls or gods, they are talking about things which, by definition, don’t exist. If they did, then they would be part of the natural world.

So to say that you have a naturalistic presupposition is to say that you are presupposing that all things which exist… y’know… exist. It’s a purely a priori, analytical tautology.

So to claim that miracles are impossible only under a presuppositionally naturalistic worldview is to agree that miracles are impossible. Leastways, it’s to say that the things we consider miracles are explainable, just we don’t currently have the explanation available to us. Either that or they never actually happened.

My New Game

I have a new game I play. I don’t really have a name for it yet, but I would like to encourage all the men reading to give it a shot.

Next time you see an attractive girl, either on the street or public transit or in a shopping mall, don’t check her out. Instead, pay attention to all the men around her and watch to see how many of them are looking at that girl: either a fleeting glance, or a long awkward stare.

Do it with a wide variety of girls, dressed in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of settings.

Now ask yourself: how comfortable would you be walking down the street knowing everyone you went past was looking at you.