Here’s an interesting post from Scott Alexander on the epic fail of the New Atheists. As is woefully common with the “rationalist community” he only gets a small part of the elephant right. Mainly, the New Atheists are failing because they are just truly terrible at proselytizing, and their target recruitment demographic is very small.
The post completely misses the obvious– Dawkins’ groundbreaking “Letter to Muslima” was the originating fracture point of the faultline between liberal feminists and the Militant (New) Atheists. Dawkins excoriated both western feminist women and muslim women with same sneering patriarchial paragraph. Dawkins was the first public intellectual to yoke anti-feminism with anti-Muslim/anti-Islam eumemes, two foundational tropes that run strong in the veins and arteries of the alt-right today.
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and… yawn… don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with. Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so… And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
Dawkins issued a grudging apology three years later, but anti-feminist, anti-Islam rhetoric was an established trope in the New Atheist catechism by then.
Here’s another New Atheist, Razib Khan, trying to convince us that New Atheism isnt dead.
About a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between April 25 and June 4 of this year. This growth has been broad-based: It has occurred among men and women; whites, blacks and Hispanics; people of many different ages and education levels; and among Republicans and Democrats. For instance, the share of whites who identify as spiritual but not religious has grown by 8 percentage points in the past five years.
The other part of the elephant in the room, which Dawkins and Khan understand very well, although perhaps Scott Alexander and the SSC commentariat do not, is that the pool of potential converts to atheism is quite small. Age, SES, IQ, educational attainment, and willingness to expend social capital are all qualifiers. Where Alexander is correct is that the New Atheists are quite dreadful at proselytizing and recruitment.
The New Atheists accomplished the seemingly impossible task of alienating a society that agreed with them about everything. The Baffler-journalists of the world don’t believe in God. They don’t disagree that religion contributes to homophobia, transphobia, and the election of some awful politicians – and these issues have only grown more visible in the decade or so since New Atheism’s apogee.
The commentariat does tease out the idea that Dawkins is a terrible standard bearer– much in the same way Charles Murray is simply a dreadful spokesperson for HBD issues. But no one acknowledges the core problem– Dawkins just hates women, (and he especially hates women that assert themselves), and then failed to conceal it in a moment of anger or perhaps senile dementia ON THE INTERNET. His Muslima letter ripped off the concealing bandage and set up the permanent rift between liberal feminism and New Atheism. Just as Dawkins condescendingly scolds religionists and “unbrights”, he scolded and shamed Rebecca Watson, his one-time natural ally.
This all relates to the larger problem researched in a book I have just finished reading– and my next post will be a review. Its quite depressing but necessary.