“New Atheist” Trolls and Sam Harris, the Islamophobic Racist

Internet trolls are an incredibly interesting sociological phenomenon. The blind devotion many exhibit for particular celebrity figures—and the willingness of many to spend hours upon hours of their lives attacking, vehemently and even violently, those who denigrate the purportedly sacrosanct luminaries whom they worship—sometimes verges on the sociopathic.

Given their historical novelty—not to mention the parochial nature of Academe—trolls have scarcely been studied (although NYU lecturer Whitney Phillips wrote her dissertation about trolls). In spite of the lack of scholarship on the matter, however, to many of us who frequent the Internet (with a majuscule “I”), some clear generalizations can be made about trolls.

First and foremost, the vast, vast majority of internet trolls are reactionary. And, often, internet trolls’ reactionary nature verges on the jingoist, on extreme bigotry.

Moreover, there are clear “schools” of trolling, if you will. There are the “MRA” trolls, the Gamergate trolls, the over-zealous Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift fans, the Grammar Nazis, the Christian extremists, and so many more.

The New Atheist Troll

Perhaps the most annoying type of troll, however, is the “New Atheist” troll. The New Atheist troll is almost always an arrogant white male, and is often from an economically privileged and formally educated background. The New Atheist troll thinks he knows everything, thanks to his Wikipedia-level-knowledge of and ability to Google search an assorted array of issues.

According to the New Atheist troll, anyone who disagrees with him is “illogical” and “irrational.” He is happy to accuse you, in every other statement, of committing the same several rhetorical fallacies (namely no true Scotsman, ad hominem, and appeal to authority, among others)—often misunderstanding and misapplying them—that he claims everyone else engages in—except for him and his New Atheist friends, of course.

The New Atheist believes (he maintains that he has no beliefs, but, I assure you, he has a lot of illogical, unsubstantiated beliefs) that everything that he “knows” (read: believes) is purely “objective,” because it is “based on ‘science.'” And you will always know that, because he will always make you know that. By rubbing it in.

(N.B., An important point of clarification here: I am an empiricist who ultimately believes that knowledge is always based, in some way, on science—that is to say on the physical world, external to the human mind. But it is imperative that we also recognize that science, as practiced by humans—that is to say by invariably flawed and imperfect agents—is still conducted in a particular political, economic, social, and cultural—that is to say material—context, and is therefore subject to material limitations. This was of course the fundamental basis of the 1990s’ so-called “Science Wars” (which, in my view, went way off the deep end, but began as an attempt to raise these important concerns, as a rejection of dogmatic positivism and the hegemonic values inherently, if untentionally, embedded in much purportedly “objective” scientific scholarship). I could go on, but this is not a post about epistemology; I’ll reserve that for another time.)

The New Atheist usually identifies as a liberal, but the New Atheist’s self-proclaimed scientific “objectivity” will, much of the time, lead the New Atheist to defend capitalism (the “science” of economics proves it to be a “superior” and “efficient” system). Sometimes, this dogmatism will lead the new atheist to even defend misogyny, racism, and transphobia (disguised as “gender realism,” “race realism,” and “sex realism,” respectively), and to oppose feminism, socialism, and critical race theory (which the New Atheist claims is “irrational” and “non-scientific”). It is for these reasons that the New Atheist troll sometimes overlaps with the right-wing libertarian troll.

Basically, see RationalWiki’s well-documented criticisms to understand the pseudo-logical dogmatism “New Atheist” fanatics spew.

The Dangers of Atheistic Fundamentalism

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am an atheist—although I echo Kurt Vonnegut’s insistence on using the term “secular humanist,” as atheism conveys what you don’t believe, and secular humanism conveys what you do believe. But “New Atheists” are a whole new breed of atheists. They are bigots who see religion as inherently destructive and negative. Naturally, therefore, they are wholly ignorant of contemporary politics, yet alone of his history, and believe that every social problem in the world is caused by religion.

As an example of an atheist who understood the limitations of atheism (and who foreshadowed the dangers of atheistic fundamentalism), see Karl Marx, who doubtless would have despised the New Atheists. If “there is to be talk about philosophy,” Marx said, “there should be less trifling with the label ‘atheism’ (which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogy man), and that instead the content of philosophy should be brought to the people.”

“Now-a-days atheism is culpa levis [a relatively slight sin, c.f. mortal sin], as compared with criticism of existing property relations,” Marx wrote—in 1867.

New Atheists strawman (see, we can point out your logical fallacies too!) religious fundamentalists (especially Muslims) as representative of entire religions of which billions of people are constituents. They then respond to religious fundamentalists by essentially becoming antireligious fundamentalists.

These New Atheist trolls spend the faith they would otherwise be investing in the customs and traditions of an organized religion, were they believers, vociferously criticizing any and all heretic who blaspheme the “objective” and “scientific” Holiness of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett (like I said earlier, note: all four are white males from economically privileged and formally educated backgrounds). Dogmatically defending this New Atheist Quadrumvirate is the single and most important pillar of faith in New Atheism.

Sam Harris, the Bigot

Although Dawkins (a figure whose bigotry is incredibly well-documented, and jaw-dropping in ferocity) is perhaps the most popular figure in the New Atheist Quadrumvirate, given Hitchens has now passed, Harris has doubtless the second-largest and most fanatical fan base (calling them “fans” is too generous; “doctrinaire devotees” is much more appropriates).

On 24 November, I made the mistake of engaging with a Harris worshiper. Although I got sucked in and ended up spending three hours reading and criticizing Harris’ absurd ideas, I did manage to accrue much evidence, detailing the leading New Atheist’s extremely racist, ignorant, and, frankly, fascist ideas.

As with so many long, drawn-out internet conflicts, it began with a single tweet.

Having made this admittedly provocative assertion, I was then required to provide evidence. This plethora of evidence follows.

After a while, I was done reading Harris’ obscenely bigotry, masked as “objective,” “scientific,” “secular” criticism—that is to say, doing the intellectual equivalent of repeatedly stabbing my eye with a dull screwdriver for over 180 minutes.