Links and Comments: Rules to Escape Trump’s Moral Rot; Escaping New Atheism(?); Optimistic Nihilism

William Saletan, at Slate, takes inspiration from John McCain’s recent speech, during last week’s health care debate: Words to Live By. Subtitle: “McCain’s speech gives us a map for escaping the moral rot of Trumpism.”

He says, “To escape the moral rot of Trumpism, all of us should follow these rules.”

  1. Tell the truth.
  2. Focus on helping, not winning.
  3. Resist proudly.
  4. Respect the process.
  5. Ignore the outrage industry.
  6. Fight for values, not for the tribe.
  7. Don’t be obnoxious.
  8. Seek acceptance, not just conquest.
  9. Do what’s right, even if it’s unpopular.
  10. Heal thyself.

#6 is striking because Trump himself obviously has no values; for him, it’s all about making a deal, winning in whatever circumstances present themselves.


Phil Torres, a supporter of the ‘new atheist’ movement and its prominent authors (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens), is upset, in Salon: From the Enlightenment to the Dark Ages: How “new atheism” slid into the alt-right. Subtitle: “A movement supposedly committed to science and reason has decayed into racism, misogyny and intolerance. I’m done.”

He’s done? With what? Where is he going? I read the article with this subtitle (which, like most article titles, was likely written by the site’s editors, not him) in mind.

Yes, people are people, and even people with your tribe or on your side intellectually are people, and exhibit flaws and human biases and prejudices just like all other people. Torres seems to be taking objection to evidence of such and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Here’s his conclusion:

I should still be the new atheist movement’s greatest ally, yet today I want nothing whatsoever to do with it. From censoring people online while claiming to support free speech to endorsing scientifically unfounded claims about race and intelligence to asserting, as Harris once did, that the profoundly ignorant Ben Carson would make a better president than the profoundly knowledgeable Noam Chomsky, the movement has repeatedly shown itself to lack precisely the values it once avowed to uphold. Words that now come to mind when I think of new atheism are “un-nuanced,” “heavy-handed,” “unjustifiably confident” and “resistant to evidence” — not to mention, on the whole, “misogynist” and “racist.”

And while there are real and immensely important issues to focus on in the world, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, food production, ocean acidification, the sixth mass extinction and so on, even the most cursory glance at any leading new atheist’s social-media feed reveals a bizarre obsession with what they call the “regressive left.” This is heartbreaking, because humanity needs thoughtful, careful, nuanced, scientifically minded thinkers more now than ever before.

Where’s he going? He doesn’t say.


How to counter existential dread — the reality of an ancient, infinite universe in which our lives flash into existence and then disappear forever — with optimistic nihilism.

“It seems very unlikely that two hundred trillion trillion stars have been made for us.”

“We became self-aware only to realize this story is not about us.”

(By ‘nihilism’ we of course mean the acknowledgment that we don’t live in a fantasy universe of gods who determine our meaning of life — as, for example, slaves whose lives should be devoted to worshiping our creator, or that those trillions of stars were created merely as the background setting for *us*. Rather, the meaning of life is what we make it. There are no gods.)

This reminds me of this extraordinary video, posted here, about a visit to Chernobyl.

This entry was posted in Atheism, Culture, Meaning. Bookmark the permalink.