The MythCon Controversy

From the Mythicist Milwaukee website:
Our Mission
Mythicist Milwaukee promotes dialogue about culture, religion and freedom of thought.
Our Vision:
A world free from religious oppression and bigotry.
our core values
We believe in:
Reason, logic and research
Equal rights for women and children
Elimination of religiously-based laws
Religious pluralism and the separation of church and state
Ethnic equality
LGBTQ equality

I couldn’t agree more.

I attended the MythCon Iv Conference last weekend Sat. Sept. 30th in Milwaukee as a book vendor and promoter of Myth Milwaukee’s events over the past 4 years. I’ve been very excited to have this well-organized a secular organization right here in the Midwest with their well-produced podcasts and annual secular conferences. Oddly enough, there is nothing of a secular sort as big or well organized in Chicago, so having these guys right up the street 2 hours north in Milwaukee WI has been a real benefit to all the many local meetup and student secular organizations all around Chicgaoland and into downstate Illinois. I have taken it upon myself to get to know many of the secular groups in the State, attending their discussions, speaking for them on my book and various science topics, and trying to keep them all informed of each other and events like the annual Mythicist Milwaukee Conferences. I’ve met a lot of dedicated secularists all over IL and into WI who share wholeheartedly as I do in the mission, vision, and core values of Mythicists Milwaukee team listed above.

The event has generated more than a bit of controversy, all of which I was totally unaware of prior to, and so I got to watch the whole thing unfold, from my seat at my vendor’s table without any preconceptions.
For a third party, quite accurate, no-spin short report on the conference, check out AREO Magazine’s Andy Ngo article.

I subsequently read up on the whole thing on the net, including Seth Andrews’ lengthy and heartfelt FB post on why he decided to cancel his participation, and watched Matt Dillahunty’s hour-plus special video posted afterwards, Mythcon and humanism on his experiences leading up to and during the event. Seth Andrews and Aaron Ra both backed out of attending as “special guests” whom one could hobnob with at the after event VIP party.

Like Matt Dillahunty explains in his video, I also had no idea who Shoe on Head, Armoured Skeptic, or Sargon of Akkad were prior to MythCon IV. With my full-time teaching job and rather extensive research reading occupying my time, I don’t follow atheist/skeptic podcasts. So when I heard Thomas Smith and Sargon of Akkad arguing back and forth, I had no idea what was happening and had been unfolding over the previous weeks.
Not long into their hour-long unproductive, and rather stupid banter is when I first heard of Sargon’s infamous tweet to a British MP about rape. He was unapologetic about it as ever evidently.

According to Dillahunty, Sargon described himself as a humanist at the pre-convention party the night before explaining why he felt “I wouldn’t even rape you” was a justified remark to say to someone who had suffered sexual assault in the past because he didn’t like her social policy ideas. He also defended the tweet with the idea that it wasn’t a threat, but they (feminists) will take it as one anyway. He also claimed to have mulled over including the word “even” for 2 hours, admitting to Matt that adding “even” to “I wouldn’t rape you” transitions the tweet from a rather odd non-threat reply, into a “you are too ugly to screw” connotation.

Dillahunty rightly asked: “How is that tweet remotely consistent with humanism?” He never got an answer…

I’m asking myself now, after having heard the Sargon/Smith hour long “shit show” as many have termed it, over the loudspeakers in the vendors area and reading/listening up on the backstory a week later, what the whole “discussion” had to do with dispelling mythicism, advancing the secular cause, reducing the bigotry and oppression of religion, or humanism as well. Maybe it was just a mistake? A week later however, the Myth Milw FB page has a post as unapologetic about that part of the event as Sargon is of his tweets and positions. The rest of the conference was excellent. I agree again with Dillahunty that the first two speakers, Armoured Skeptic and Shoe on Head seemed unprepared and unaccustomed to public speaking but weren’t particularly offensive or un-informing. The remaining speakers; Melissa Chen, Ron Miscaviage, and the debate on Islam between Faisal Said al Mutar and Asra Nomani, moderated by Dullahunty were good: informative and intelligent; standard MythCon fair. The prior and later characterization of the event by Dan Arel and others as a Neo-Nazi, KKK rally, was as ridiculous and off the mark as anything Sargon of Akkad said.
So through the conference and its aftermath I learned of at least two personalities somewhat connected to the secular movement, whom I can continue to safely ignore. Nothing intelligent was said from either the extreme right or left during, before, or after the event.

From Seth Andrews post:
The hysterics (who I’ve winkingly dubbed The Outrage Brigade) warned that MythCon would be some kind of frothing Thunderdome, a roiling cauldron of racism and misogyny, a white male circle jerk, and (my favorite) a neo-Nazi training camp. (Of course, the participation of Iraq-born Faisal Saeed Al Mutar and Singapore-born Melissa Chen would make this the most bizarre Klan camp in history.)
Extreme voices like Dan Arel – who broadcasts from his latest residence in the town of Oblivion – gleefully poured gasoline on every spark, going so far as to call the hotel with alarmist tales of possible disaster. (Remember that this is the same guy who thinks we should punch Nazis, and that all police officers are terrorists. We can move on, folks. Nothing to see here.)

Dan Arel’s tweets…one of which I saw posted after the event depicting people in Nazi and KKK regalia was truly over the top. I responded to him that I was there and it wasn’t even remotely like that at all, and he should correct his tweet. To date, I’ve recv’d no reply. Only one of 8 speakers was a misogynistic, argumentative dick, with alt-right leanings, and only for about an hour out of a 7 hour conference. The rest of the speakers and content of the conference was good, skeptical, secular, educational, civil, humanistic presentation and discussion. Characterizing MythConIV, before or after, as a Neo-Nazi/KKK event, was and is, complete bullshit.

It was however, decidedly anti-feminist for that hour, as merely repeating Sargon’s 2016 tweet “I wouldn’t even rape you” drew a cheer from his supporters in the audience. That’s more than a bit creepy, I must say. When the Sargon supporters again cheered at Sargon’s comment that “Feminism is a mental illness” Dillahunty (and others) got up and left. I had nearly a dozen people come to me at my table outside the auditorium, most over 35 I’d say, many of them women, saying words to the effect “I cant listen to this any more”, “I had to get out of there,” “This is not what I expected.”

I couldn’t agree more. Given Mythicist Milwaukee’s prior secular events and their core values supporting reason, logic, humanism, and equal rights for women, one wouldn’t expect asshole statements about rape and feminism designed to be purely provocative, rather nasty, and just plain wrong, to be heard on a stage at a MythCon event, much less cheered by a section of the audience. Any respect I might have been able to muster for Sargon of Akkad in learning of him and his ideas was pretty much destroyed at that point.

Karen Garst, the “Faithless Feminist” has posted an excellent brief analysis on the debacle which can be read HERE.
Do read it!

I heard Sargon say to Smith, words to the effect that all that they were arguing over was peripheral (maybe that’s why he dodged most of the questions, from an obviously agitated Smith?) and that the real issue was that “liberals want equal outcomes”…an alt-right libertarian straw man if ever there was one. I’ve heard he has had to defend himself from being labeled as having far right views, despite identifying as an atheist and claiming to be a humanist, and its obvious to see why. No, Sargon, maybe a few regressive left types want “equal outcomes” which is extreme Communism that has never worked in any form, as it utterly ignores individual skills, interests, and motivation levels. The vast majority of liberals work for “equal opportunity” a wholly different goal, in that we all should have the same chance to better ourselves regardless of race, creed, color, gender, age, etc. Outcome is up to your own effort and performance, or should be. Folks like Sargon say gender equality is already achieved and ignore data such as women in the same jobs as men, tend to get paid less, etc.

For an in-depth and eminently reasonable review of the entire conference and all its cast of characters, see Richard Carrier’s excellent review MythCon IV: What Organizers & Outreach Directors Need to Know. He rightly explains that the majority of the conference was another excellent MythCon offering, with but one hour of completely opposite presentation level: illogical, argumentative, and proudly misogynist.

If you think Dillahunty or myself were unfair in judgement of Sargon, here’s Richard’s take, from one who is intimately acquainted with, and acutely observant of all sides in the secular, feminist, and left/right movements:

“Many were worried that’s what would happen with the Sargon interview. That he wouldn’t take seriously any of the goals of the conference and wouldn’t engage in any civil discussion at all. The excellent thing, is that this now decisively proves it. Even when Sargon was asked to attempt a civil and respectful debate, to try and dialogue and understand each other, he did the opposite. And his bizarre ideology and basic failings at logical reasoning and empathy, and his constant rage and disgust and contempt (emotions that drove everything he said, rather than evidence or reason), are so clearly and efficiently on display in this encounter, when it goes online, you’ll never have to point anyone to any other video to explain why Sargon is an awful person with whom no rational dialogue is possible.”
“The whole Sargon showing was like watching a weird cult guru and his fanatics ignore logic and civility and human compassion. They acted like children. It was essentially an episode of the Jerry Springer show. Smith was ill-prepared to handle this, and lost his cool repeatedly, albeit understandably.”

That’s about as accurate an assessment as you can get. Sargon was a dick. I can’t be kind about this. He is a 38 year-old man, not an 18-22 yr old pimply gamer as were many of his fans…many wore Trump MAGA hats, one carried the Kekistan flag, a green facsimile of the Nazi flag. As Richard noted many of his fans may outgrow their fascination with Sargon, but as I quickly surmised and Richard explains in-depth, Sargon knows full well what he is doing, it is his modus operandi, and isn’t likely to change. Drawing a crowd with MAGA hats to this venue was a very incongruous sight to be sure. Trump and his religious right cronies represent the antithesis of the mission, vision, and core values of Mythicist Milwaukee, which as I said before, the vast majority of non-believers adamantly uphold.

I have no beef with the MythCon team over all this. They took a gamble it seems, and got burned. Maybe they are pleased. Maybe they are taking a new direction to attract a younger, fringier crowd, which is certainly their perogative. I wouldn’t be interested however, to buy a ticket and attend another conference if a Sargon or someone like him were a featured speaker, (or a Dan Arel or other illogical speakers from the regressive left). And I wouldn’t promote such an event either. And I suspect, a good many of the older and more reasoned humanistic non-believers, such as the folks that walked out, or stayed and were similarly disgusted, would lose interest as well.





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