From Thursday through Sunday, CSICon 2018, organized by the Center for Inquiry, took place in Las Vegas (Nevada).
The speakers roster was quite impressive, including the great Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Stephen Fry, Susan Blackmore, Banacheck, Susan Gerbic, James Randi, Joe Nickell, Robyn Blumner, and Carl Zimmer, among many others. In general, a lot of great people who have done tons for advancing secularism and advocating a naturalistic understanding of the world via science.
Out of almost 40 names (some of whom I am not familiar with), only two I thought would be problematic: Kavin Senapathy and Massimo Pigliucci (who has been throwing skeptics and fellow atheists under the bus before it was even cool).
Now, the thing with Senapathy is that she thinks that people who disagree with her on anything are bigots by definition — she’s said so herself:
“Diversity of thought” is a fancy way of saying “we don’t care about actual diversity.”
Which I thought was rich, for she made that comment only a few days before ReasonFest 2018, for which she was a speaker… and which motto this year was “Celebrating Science & Intellectual Diversity“.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see that much of a difference between “diversity of thought” and “intellectual diversity”.
Anyway, CSICon 2018 began and looks like it was an awesome conference, for the most part. At some point, however, Senapathy complained about Stephen Fry’s ideas and left the room:
I must respectfully say I’m disappointed he chalked up convo about patriarchy & cis het privilege as merely complaints of what Dawkins calls the “regressive left”.
Just so we’re clear Kavin Senapathy was at a skeptics’ conference, she heard something that threatened her deeply held beliefs and instead of waiting for the Q&A, or bringing forward evidence that this “patriarchy” and “cis het privilege” actually exist, she just left. Gee! And that didn’t convince anyone about the existence of the patriarchy? Wonder why!
Apparently, her temper tantrum wasn’t getting enough outrage or attention or any apologies, so she doubled down, posting it on her Facebook profile, with a “Fuck that”. That did the trick! Her Facebook wall became a Dawkins-hating fest, with quite the collection of creatures: PZ Myers, David Gorski, Ryan Bell and Thomas Smith all showed up to put oinment on Senapathy’s bruised ego while trying to one-up their hatred for Dawkins (and Fry). Wow, that horseman envy really messes with people’s heads.
Another commenter who showed up to add gasoline to the fire was Yvette d’Entremont (the SciBabe), who was also a speaker for CSICon 2018 — this didn’t come as much of a surprise, because d’Entremont had already displayed this kind of un-skeptic traits earlier. For instance, before we got credible evidence about Lawrence Krauss‘ conduct, I asked her about the trustworthiness of a tabloid, and all I got in response was a half-assed ad hominem attack and an appeal to authority. So she joining the pile-on wasn’t exactly a shock.
One thing that called my attention was that some of these people really hate the term “regressive left”. Someone tried to reason with Gorski about how it’s worth using the term in the way Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris do, which was a perfect opportunity for “Mr. Respectful Insolence” to gratuitously start throwing jabs at Harris as well. The person asked whether the slurs and attacks were even warranted, instead of focusing on the content of the arguments… which got him a waterfall of comments explaining why failing to engage with what people actually say was not an ad hominem attack. How not-regressive of them.
Back to CSICon, Troy Campbell gave a talk about how to talk to believers with care. I don’t know, I think Stephen Fry wasn’t careless at all, and he got smeared by lots of people who didn’t even know what he said, or how careful he was when said it. According to Senapathy’s own version of the events, this is what got her all riled up:
Dawkins asked what his thoughts are about the regressive left. Fry said it was like a Grand Canyon. And that there are racist alt right people on one side. on the other side is the regressive left. And all reasonable people are inside the canyon looking up in horror. And then he said (mild paraphrase) while rolling his eyes and sounding very dismissive, “if I have to hear about the patriarchy or cis het [privilege] one more time…”
Which sounds like an accurate portrayal of current events. I don’t know how much more care we can muster when describing reality.
For the record, if someone thinks the “patriarchy” is a thing, I’m fine with that. If they want anyone else to take them seriously about it, though, they better have a clear definition of what it is and evidence of its existence.
For instance, it is my understanding that “patriarchy” means a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line or a system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Having Theresa May as serving Prime Minister in Britain and Hillary Clinton getting more popular votes than Donald Trump calls into question the existence of a patriarchy in either the US or the UK. I don’t see why Stephen Fry should have to see it differently.
Now, someone might very well say it was Fry and Dawkins who were the believers, in which case Kavin Senapathy just missed the chance to lay the facts to them with care, opting instead to make a fuss.
No worries, though. She will keep be hosting the CFI’s Point of Inquiry podcast (just announced last week), and getting invited to talk to skeptic conferences, because where else but in the supposedly rationalist community can you eat the cake and have the cake at the same time? If Massimo Pigliucci and John Horgan have been doing it for years, I don’t see a reason why Kenapathy and d’Entremont couldn’t.
What is left of the skeptical community continues to crumble under the guise of retributive-styled “social justice” based on vindictiveness. I’ll keep on chronicling it’s suffocating death by subtraction of matter.
It was good while it lasted.
**Update: At first, I mentioned that Sharon Hill “commented approvingly” in Kavin Senapathy’s Facebook wall where everyone was bashing Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry — upon inquiry on her part, and further reflection on mine, I think there is a more charitable interpretation of Hill’s comment (she was just asking an honest question), and thus I have edited the article to reflect that.
(picture: Center for Inquiry)