One of the most important things I’ve learned about fundamentalism in the last couple of months is how much it relies on personal relationships. I like Bryan. Bryan likes Joe. Joe likes Sam. Sam likes Richard Dawkins. And, really, it’s a web. I like Bryan and Joe. I know what Sam Harris is going through because I was a rationalist too. And I Richard Dawkins was the person who first turned me onto evolution. He taught me the magic of communicating science. And yet, I have other feelings about these people too. The New Atheists make my job in communicating evolution harder because they drive a view of science that alienates most of the world.
New Atheism is very male. It’s a sausage fest. And not even a fun gay orgy kind of sausagefest. Or even the kind of sausagefest that happens when Bryan, Rogan, Schaub and a bunch of MMA dudes are hanging out. Both groups joke around but the difference is where the teasing is directed. With Rogan and gang, anything is fair game. Anything can be made fun of. And yet, if you listen to Rogan’s conversations with Sam there’s a totally different tone. Joe Rogan who Questions Everything is deferent. He even calls Sam a wizard in one episode. And what happens when you point out the Emperor has no clothes. Well, someone on the internet already figured this out.
Joe got triggered. I backed down because I want Joe to like me because I want his help in moving these ideas. That’s what I care about because I know how much these ideas can change people’s lives. And I’m realistic that I don’t have the social power or influence to move those ideas. Initially, I thought that if we just kept releasing good content that eventually we’d build a platform but I’ve come to realize that it is precisely the culture of science that prevents the movement of ideas. The culture of science is why the best ideas are stuck in books.
Take an idea like the story of David Reimer. That can sit in academic journals and New York Times bestsellers for years. And then, you give it to Joe and his audience to solve their problem.
“You’re pissed off about feminists who deny gender differences. Here. Take this story. Tell it so often that everyone knows it. Make it so famous that you can just slap a hashtag like #DavidReimer on someone else’s dumb tweet about gender differences being a social construct and that bad idea dies right there.”
And they get it. And people build on that. They “Yes, And” and they improv. And someone sends me gif of the scene from Fight Club where Ed Norton cries on Bob the Bodybuilder’s Tits with the hashtag #DavidReimer.
Now, I build on that and go with the Fight Club analogy and tweet out “In death, he has a name. His name is David Reimer.” And if Fight Club becomes the frame for David Reimer’s story (which it’s freaking perfect for) then you can tell that story in terms of pop culture people already love. Fight Club becomes an easy way into understanding the material you’re offering.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you teach evolution to kids at a Creationist school. It’s how you deradicalize them. You soften their hearts. You give them ears to hear and eyes to see. You build on the things they already know and just “Yes, And” them and slowly but surely move ideas into their heads that make them feel that science rather than being a threat to their beliefs is a complement to them.
You do what Jon Haidt did in The Happiness Hypothesis. You show that science has found modern truth in ancient wisdom. Jon Haidt and Sam Harris have kept in touch. They are in the middle of an undoing project. Sam Harris has changed in the last few years. He is exploring Buddhism because Buddhism is a religion that is branded as a “science of the mind.” That makes it less emotionally threatening than Western Science’s most ancient enemy Christianity or the newer enemies of Islam, Scientology, Mormonism and Hinduism that New Atheism have decided to add into the mix. This is what Fundamentalists do. They start from a principle and they follow it to the end of the line. If Christianity is bad, then why not all religion. And why then should Buddhism deserve a special place among belief systems in the mind of scientists? Why denounce a teacher named Jesus but not a teacher named the Buddha?
Buddhists can be violent. You can read an article about that here. How can that be? The Buddha was clear that he was against all violence. Could it be that no matter how clearly a teacher explains something that sometimes students mishear what the teacher has to say because of emotions? Isn’t that what Jesus was saying when he said you have ears but do not hear and eyes but do not see? And if that’s the case, then why are the belief systems of the world fighting? Why have they always been fighting?
Because, they get hung up on words and labels and they don’t understand that we’ve actually all been trying to make sense of the same thing all along: reality.
Who gets followers? People who seem impressive. People who do things we can’t do. We want to be close to them. We want to learn from them. We want to steal fire from the Gods and bring it back to our tribes. But some Gods have no fire to offer. They just have smoke and mirrors that hide their lack of substance. They wear masks to try and cover up their own insecurities about the fact that they don’t know what they’re doing.
And the thing they fear most is being unmasked. They project a simple certainty to the world because they’re trying to use the adulation of the crowd to self-medicate. There are things they don’t like about themselves and they figure if everyone likes me then it will all be okay.
Of course, Sam Harris’ most diehard fans will dismiss this all as psychobabble. And that’s the point. They are trapped too. They are trapped by the very image that Sam has created. They’re entranced and they can’t escape. They’re drawn to him. They want to upload his knowledge and they can’t break from him until they learn what he knows.
The problem is that real teaching requires openness. It requires vulnerability. It requires being a laughing Buddha. Jesus told simple stories that related to vineyards and camels and getting something caught in your eye. Why? Because those were the experiences that people in the Middle East know well. It’s the desert. There’s dust everywhere. Shit is constantly flying in your eyes. It’s a great metaphor for those people. Now, you have Star Wars, Fight Club, The Golden Girls, Derek Zoolander, Scientology, Monty Python’s Upper Class Twit, Piggy from Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and on and on. We have so many great stories to use to teach life lessons but we don’t use them that way because there is this rift between education and entertainment. The education is boring. (Case in point: Sam Harris’ podcast. It’s super serious. That intro music is a funeral dirge. Or look at Hunter Maats in the early episodes of The Bryan Callen show. I was a stiff Vulcan like Sam Harris.) The entertainment is mindless. (Case in point: Ummmm. Most things. But look at Bryan’s own intellectual insecurities that he has slowly been overcoming.) And both suck. We want to be entertained and we want to be inspired and learn practical life lessons.
Sam is already in the process of an undoing project. He is waking up. But humanity doesn’t have time to waste. It needs to rip off some bandaids and get it over with. Sam needs to let his mask slip. I’m going to make that happen. Why? Because the best way to prove the power of Mixed Mental Arts is to take out some one-note punchers. People will be awed by that #IntellectualTakedown and they will rush in and they will want to be part of it.
But, one of the things I learned from talking to actual really live Arabs who deradicalize people in the Middle East is that you need to give people hope. You need to give them a path out. So, now, I’ve stirred the shit. I’ve created controversy. And now, it’s time to offer Sam a path out.
Sam is already working away from where he was four years ago. I know the intellectual journey he’s on. It’s in many ways the same one I’m on. It’s just that I’ve had the benefit of seeing so many cultures that the patterns are clearer to me. You can’t draw good conclusions without a large data set. There’s no shame in that. The shame is in missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
And here there is conflict for Sam. A large part of what we’re doing here is developing a playbook for how you use the internet, comedy and education to peel followers off from fundamentalists. So, what matters to Sam more? His loyalty to Richard Dawkins or to be a leading force in promoting science and deradicalizing fundamentalists. He can’t have both. One way or the other, I’m going to make sure the mask comes off. His choice is whether I pull it off in front of the world or he takes it off himself. Does Toto pull back the curtain on the wizard or does the wizard pull back the curtain on himself?
In essence, Sam already is. He likes guns. Why? He just likes ’em. He’s exploring Buddhism and the more he realizes the benefits of the holistic perspective the more he’ll realize the problems with the obsessive atomism of four years ago. It’s a parlor trick to pull apart people’s arguments until nothing is left. Wisdom lies in knowing when to be atomistic and when to be holistic.
Descartes was atomistic about reason and emotion. That was #DescartesError. His cultural biases caused him to split two things that should have been linked. Damasio, Haidt, Kahneman and so on have corrected that. That’s what science is supposed to be about. Endlessly, the New Atheists want other humans to change their minds in light of evidence. I’m simply asking them to practice what they preach. I want them to lead by example rather than being hypocrites as they currently are.
On the flip side, the great Muslim scholars before the closing of the gates of ijtihad were atomistic about the question of God and the question of reality. In fact, like Isaac Newton they saw the two as complementary. God wrote two great books and to understand him you needed to study deeply in both books. Initially, Christians were threatened by the idea of Newtonian gravity. They didn’t like the idea that God wasn’t directly controlling everything in the Universe. And then, they accepted the idea that a truly wise God was like a watchmaker. He set the Universe up to run on its own. And they can be shown that an even wiser God would work like a Blind Watchmaker.
So, then, why as my Christian student asked are science and religion fighting? Ah, from the mouths of babes! It’s a great question. They’re fighting over what humans always fight over. Who is right. And who has the truth.
This video is such a gift. You couldn’t ask for a better example of the contrast in the thinking between Atheist Fundamentalists and MixedMentalArtists. “Atheism is Unstoppable” says with great certainty “Hunter Maats is Wrong.” And I just keep asking questions and looking for the approval of the human I think is most likely to move these ideas and thereby unleash the wisdom of crowds: Broprah. Young men don’t respect tradition. They want to get ahead. They want to change the world. They want to get famous and rich and get laid…a lot. And if you give them the ideas to do that, they’ll run with them. They will surge out onto the internet like Intellectual Savages and tear the masks off all the wizards. They’ll tease people like Thomas E. Woods, Richard B. Spencer, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Lena Dunham out of their foolishness. Some of these people will fight this process and try and maintain their mask. And the more they do, the more foolish they will look. And some will spot a movement and get in front of it. They will take off their own mask and expose that there are no Wizards but only men.
There’s an intellectual revolution happening in Sam’s life. And there’s an intellectual revolution building on the internet. I am going to drive it as hard as I can. It’s a game. Sam’s choice is not whether the game happens. It’s what moves he makes and what team he wants to be on.
He can ally with Dawkins who he is already drifting away from. Or he can join forces with the currently loose coalition of clans gathered around Joe Rogan.
Sometimes you need a William Wallace. A crazy mother fucker who stirs shit up and convinces the King to Unite the Clans! Unite the Clans, Rogan. Unite them.
And I know Rogan the Bruch is going to be more likely to unite the clans if one of his favorite Thanes of the Intellectual World, Sam Harris joins him. So, what do you say, Sam? How would you like to be the Marquis de Lafayette of this Intellectual Revolution? Wise aristocrats side with the revolutionaries. Foolish aristocrats fight the coming revolution and lose their heads.
The choice is yours. However, this shows you what I’m going to be doing. I’ll keep provoking a reaction and then handling it. I’ll create a rift and then offer the next person up the chain a path out. Because this is how you beat Fundamentalism. You rearrange the web of relationships.
There are two Kings here. The English King (Richard Dawkins) and the wild and wooly Scottish King (Joe Rogan) and I know who stands on the side of intellectual Freeeeeeedom and who is an intellectual tyrant. You stand between those two worlds. Now is the time to pick a side.
Naturally, you’ll want an intellectual parlay before deciding to defect. We can arrange that wherever and whenever you want. We’re solving problems like the Balkanization of Science that you care about. We’re just going to do it faster.
In the end, you don’t want to be William Wallace. He steals the fire of the Gods and gives it to the people. And for trying to spread freedom, the Scottish Prometheus has his liver torn out.
They may take our lives but they will never take our intellectual freeeeeeeeedom!