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February 25, 2014

If It's February, It Must Be Time For CPAC Controversy

So here's what happened.

American Atheists -- a fairly obnoxious atheist organization (I don't say all atheists are obnoxious, being something of an atheist myself, but some are obnoxious) -- requested a booth at CPAC.

CPAC, out of, in my mind, a good impulse towards tolerance of dissent and appreciation for the idea that a man possessed of the truth need fear no rivals, agreed to let them buy a booth at CPAC.

Well, apparently CPAC either got spooked by convention-goer outrage or realized, belatedly, just how obnoxious American Atheists were. And also, how partisan: you'll notice their billboards targeting political figures include no Democrats. As they wished to snark about people who believed in God, or claimed to, they could have noted Bill Clinton leaving church shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.

CPAC rescinded permission to have a booth at the convention, and refunded American Atheists' money.

Now, here's my take. You are of course free to disagree with it.

Let's get the obvious things out of the way first: Of course CPAC has the legal right to deny this group a booth.

Furthermore, beyond the mere legal right to exclude them, they also have a perfectly acceptable justification for exercising this right: American Atheists is a fairly rudely atheist organization, and furthermore a politicized one, zealously attacking Republican figures but no Democratic ones.

So, just based on CPAC's name -- the Conservative Political Action Conference -- they're perfectly within both right and reason to exclude American Atheists.

Nevertheless, I don't think there's any harm in -- and often a great benefit to -- being more tolerant of dissent (even obnoxious dissent) than you actually need to be.

So while I don't fault CPAC for rescinding its permission, I do think the better thing to do would have been to just let American Atheists take their booth.

What would have happened? Honestly, let's game this out. How many Christians at CPAC (or other believers) would have been, even for a moment, thrown into doubt by the obnoxious, juvenile, We Don't Believe In God But We're Going To Make An Ersatz Church Out Of Atheism tribalistic chanting?

You all know the number: Zero. Point. Zero.

American Atheists were trolling CPAC. CPAC has the right to eject the troll -- I eject trolls -- but I can't help thinking the better play would have been to let the troll come, and then be ignored, and basically waste his time and money manning a booth that people either ignore, or come towards in order to argue with them, or just gawk at. Like zoo animals.

In other words: Let the asshole take the rap of being the asshole, you know?

In general, I do think it's 100% true that a man possessed of the truth need fear no rival. So this type of thing, to me, reads as "scared."

I know CPAC isn't actually scared. I know most Christians are not scared by these goofs. But whenever someone endeavors to keep someone from getting his words out, there is the natural suspicion that accrues that someone, somewhere, is afraid of those words getting out. Like he fears that a great and insightful point will be made.

If you're not scared, act like you're not scared. If you think these guys are dopes -- which, again, even I do, and I don't even believe in God -- they act like you think they're dopes.

Don't act like you think you have something to fear from them.

Now here's what I think is going on. I may be wrong. This is my guess. I don't know, because no one's exactly clear about motives in situations like this.

I think the idea which is wrongly in play, on the right and left but mostly the left, is that anyone, anywhere, who represents a point of view contrary to one's own, essentially "represents" one, in some way, and that's how his errant thought somehow reflects on oneself, and that's why so many people get upset by this sort of thing.

There's are two Emo Jagoffs from American Atheists at CPAC? Well, that besmirches CPAC; in some way, just by being there, they "represent" the other CPAC attendees, and therefore they must be excluded, so that they are not taken as "representing" the values of CPAC.

Note that of all the reasons to claim that someone else's speech or someone else's beliefs or someone else's actions are one's own personal concern, this argument that that other person "reflects" on one is both the weakest sort of claim, and also the broadest.

It is the argument of last resort of someone who just wants someone to Shut Up but can't think of any better reason to argue he should shut up.

When, for example, those idiots at the Science Fiction Writers of America drove out a couple of old hands in the filed on trumped up, silly claims of "sexism," what was their thought process?

Almost certainly something like this: "If I permit those Sexists in my organization, they 'reflect' on me, and they besmirch my values with their own Sexism. Therefore, it is definitely My Business what these men say, and the only way I can keep their Sexism from directly harming my life is to purge them from the organization."


You can always trot out this "someone else thinking something wrong reflects on me, so I must purge him or batter him into silence" argument, but it's obviously the weakest of all possible arguments in terms or arguing the case for being directly affected by someone else's speech or thoughts.

I hate this argument, myself. It essentially makes everyone else's business, in all ways, my business. It permits virtually no zone of tolerance or social freedom to anyone at all, because someone else can always claim that you, just by possessing a thought they don't like, "reflect" on them, and they don't want to live in that kind of society, so Bang!, observant Christians must be required to bake wedding cakes for gay marriages.

After all, such bakers "reflect" on the average busybody, don't they?

Now CPAC is a private political organization and is of course orders of magnitude away from "society." Nevertheless, this faulty reasoning -- someone else's errant thoughts or speech reflects on me, so I must do my utmost to exclude those thoughts or silence that speech -- is certainly lurking in the background here.

In fact, other people's speech tends to reflect on no one at all except the speaker.

This seems to be the opposite of "Guilt by association," in which people cast blame on others for their fellow-traveller's guilt. Except in this case, people do it to themselves -- willingly -- assuming responsibility for the transgressions of others, and thus the duty to Do Something about those transgressions.

So, once again: I don't think CPAC can be faulted here, but I think the smartest, and best, and most tolerant play would have just to let the imbeciles have their little Troll Booth.

Take their money, wish them as sardonic a "God bless your heart" as you can manage, and know that your organization is in little danger of being infiltrated by a Steven Hawking-level mind.

On the other hand, I would like to criticize this bit over-the-top rhetoric from Brent Bozell:

The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

It makes absolutely no difference to me that CPAC and ACU have backed down and removed the booth. I am sick and tired of these games.

I will continue to denounce CPAC, ACU and Cardenas. No conservative should have anything to do with this conference. If you do, you are giving oxygen to an organization destroying the conservative movement.

1. Atrocity? I think CPAC's initial notion -- let the idiots come if they want -- was correct. Even if I'm wrong about that, it's an atrocity?

2. "The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. " As people know I'm not one of those who calls the GOP a "theocratic" party. But I have to disagree sharply here that the conservative movement is definitionally a movement that can only contain religious people.

Does Bozell disagree? Or have I been misled all these years?

As a minority in the party in terms of religious faith, I do understand, here, which is the tail, and which is the dog that wags it. I understand, of course, that the religious make up the great bulk of the party (as they make up a clear majority of Americans).

But is it now being argued that only a policy of complete exclusion of the irreligious is acceptable inside the movement?

I think that's dangerous. I don't think it's dangerous because I think that idea will prevail, and I'll be kicked out. I think it's dangerous because that idea will strike an awful lot of people as noxious and they will exclude themselves from a movement taking a hard position on the requirement of religious belief.

CPAC apparently had it mind, originally, that a political movement is not necessarily a religious one.

Was it an atrocity to think that?

3. "I will continue to denounce CPAC, ACU and Cardenas. No conservative should have anything to do with this conference. If you do, you are giving oxygen to an organization destroying the conservative movement."

That's his opinion, and he's entitled to it. But I hardly think CPAC's error here (if it was an error at all) is what's "destroying the movement."

I can think of other things.

I agree with him, by the way, that atheism is generally an "attack on God" as a fundamental matter, and that American Atheists seem to be more anti-theists (or maltheists) than atheists. As I said, they're particularly obnoxious about it.

But an atrocity? An atrocity for letting People Who Are Wrong man a booth?

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posted by Ace at 05:33 PM

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