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Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Julia Gillard, and my guest today is Sarah Hater.


Sarah is a writer speaker and the executive director of the Muslims of North America. Sarah, welcome to rationally speaking.


Really good to be here, Julia. Thank you for having me.


I'm a big fan of your presence on Twitter. For what that's worth, you're one of my role models for engaging with disagreement and a careful and eloquent and intellectually honest way.


So I'm having a fangirl moment right now that that's in itself such a compliment because I love your presence on Twitter as well.


So the the the arc for the conversation that I was thinking made sense is I'd really like to talk first about your work with the ex Muslims of North America, what you do, what you've learned from the experience about the issues or about sort of successful activism and then transition from there into some broader topics that I've seen you discuss, interestingly, on Twitter and some of your other interviews having to do with free speech and and liberalism and justice and things like that.


So, you know, small talk.


Yeah. Why don't we start by just describing what the Muslims of North America does, right.


So Muslims in North America, we are now in our sixth year. So we're still relatively young organization, but we're starting to grow up a little bit. We were formed for the purpose originally just to provide X Muslims. That is to say, people who used to believe in the religion of Islam and now have left the religion with community and support networks to help them through tough times, to give them a community, especially just to mitigate some of that sense of loss that people get when they leave religion.


And we found that there was a real need for Muslims in particular to have these kind of communities. What makes us unique and what makes us this is just this community building very challenging in our context that I don't think exists in many other contexts is that there is an element of security. There is the element of the fact that many people who are Muslims are in the closet, so to speak. We borrow a lot of gay rights language as often as we can.


We find it amazing. I mean, it is analogous, right? We find it to be very, very helpful. And because of these issues, these these community events and gatherings and meet ups have to be held in private somewhere. And they have to be somewhat somewhat covert, somewhat hidden. So we have we have these cloak and dagger kind of I mean, I don't say this to make fun of what's going on, but it almost feels as if we're in a movie sometimes when we have to when we have to do all these things to protect our members, our community members and the leaders and volunteers who work for us.


So because of those issues that that specific some of those security threats that we that we get and the fact that many of our members don't ever, ever want to be known as as people who are ex Muslims, building a community is kind of challenging and requires effort that I don't think exists in other communities. And this is why it's so helpful to have an organisation that can manage membership and can manage screening and can manage security on a level the way that the way that we do.


And in addition, we've been doing some outreach and education efforts for the last couple of years. We've we've managed to engage in some activities that I think are unique and very positive for the dialogue we've had. We had this campus tour, what we call the normalising descent tour that we ended or mostly ended last year. And we ran it for about two years. We went to a lot of campuses and we had all these panels and talks and discussions that I thought were really interesting.


And I had I had a great time participating in that tour. We've also had some we also had a video project where we asked some of our community members who were comfortable with speaking out and being public about their apostasy to let us into their lives and allow us to shoot them in, you know, in their homes with their friends and doing their daily activities just to normalise the idea of of being somebody who leaves a religion. Yeah. So that's that's some of some of what we do.


And now this year, especially where we're working on knowledge creation to the extent that that is possible. So we're working on a variety of tools to help out ag advocates and activists do that work.


Who are the main critics of your work or if critics is too genteel of a word, who are the people who yell at you a bit? Mostly Muslims who who are angry because you're because of the apostasy or that non-Muslim liberals who think that you're anti-Muslim in like a bigoted way and that they should you. You, because you're bigot's right, I mean, definitely both, but it seems like I we we get people yelling at us from every direction that someone can't yell at you from, which is it is in I feel like in the way that it is beneficial is that it gives us a very unique perspective on to what's going on with the discourse at large.


And that's partially why I'm so interested in the discussion of, you know, what is self-censorship and what how do we build a healthy and strong civil discourse, partially because we're sort of in this weird position where there's I mean, there's quite a bit of confusion. There's the desire to protect a minority, that is to say, Muslims, from unjust, bigoted attacks from usually the right wing. But it really can come from anywhere. And all these these factors kind of come together into a just a mess.


It's hard to describe in any other way, but I think a lot with a lot of Muslims, especially Muslims, this is a line that is very difficult to walk and it's frustrating to be forced to walk it, especially when it comes to attacks from the left. Many, many, many people, I think, who do attack us, who come from the political left or the progressive, you know, the progressive tribe, I think don't really understand what we're about and don't really understand what's at stake here.


So there's quite a bit of education that I think can help matters. At the same time, to a certain degree, I feel like people don't want to hear what we have to say. And people don't want to hold a more nuanced perspective on this issue. I think we crave a simple narrative. We crave an easy solution and an easy slogan to just repeat off the cuff when we're put up, put in a position where we we have to really formulate our thoughts.


So, yeah, I mean, that was a long answer to your question, but it is a complicated, complicated topic.


So to make sure I understand is your view of the criticism that is it more about people understanding what your goal is and just disagreeing with you that that's a good goal? Like maybe because they think, you know, your your your efforts to advocate for Muslims are going to, like, give fuel to the make America great again crowd who want to oppress Muslims for bad reasons, or is it more about people like thinking you're saying something different than you actually are, whether whether because they're motivated to think bad or because they like in good faith, think bad and they think you're saying something like, I don't know, Muslims are bad.


Right. It's it's, you know, all of the above, really. And I see both perspectives of the two you mentioned. I understand how it can come across that way because this is an issue that it is complicated for the average person. They don't have skin in the game. They don't they maybe have a Muslim friend or two, but they're not growing up in Muslim societies where we are and they're not encountering the negative aspects of religion on a day to day basis.


So the things that are very clear to us are not always very clear to outsiders. But I, I get frustrated with this conversation because I feel like there are standards put in place for criticism of Islam that don't exist with criticism, Christianity or even criticism of Judaism. And it's very clear to me, as somebody who, you know, comes from these communities and well, I was actually born in Pakistan. So I do have some memories. I was quite young when I moved to the United States, but I remember it.


And I you know, most of my friends and my social circles are people who are of immigrant backgrounds, mostly from Muslim majority countries. And we know very deeply the many, many ways in which religion hinders progress or sometimes, you know, completely halts it from from from the rights of women in domestic violence issues to you know, there's there's some questions about, you know, Islamic finance and the fact that, you know, interest isn't really OK in Islamic and the Islamic view in one way or another.


I mean, there's so, so many different avenues of of life in a Muslim majority country that are distorted because of the effects of religion and because of how pervasive religion is. I'm friends with scientists and teachers of science in Muslim majority countries who regularly communicate with me how frustrating their jobs are and how difficult it is for them to navigate doing what they do and trying to really teach science in the benefit of science and what the state of the state of our knowledge today without stepping on religious toes.


So I because of the way that I that I intimately understand how how important it. Is that we we had this conversation about about Islam really, really keeping in mind the benefit of people in Muslim majority countries, I can get frustrated with the kind of very simplistic criticisms that I sometimes get from the left, which tend to be focused on, while this is not a politically convenient or it's not a politically helpful thing to say at the moment, and it tends to be focused on very Western politics.


What's good for people within western the Western world when my view is it's much more global. Have you successfully changed anyone's mind, at least in terms of understanding that you're not saying the thing they think you're saying and that things are, you know, more nuanced than than maybe a simple black and white, like either your, you know, for Muslims or you're against Muslims? And have you learned anything about how to how to get through to people who, you know, maybe are hard to get through to?




Well, I have I think I have. And there have been people who have said to me, people send me mail all the time. And so it's I don't know, I haven't tallied to it to what degree, what's your score? But I think I have changed some people's minds. But it tends to be the people who really are confused. Just there's a genuine confusion there or there's a genuine lack of knowledge there. They just haven't thought about it in the way that I'm you know, I now presented in this new way.


And they change your mind, but with a good percentage of the people that don't get that, who criticize me more severely, there's something deeper that is going on, which is that I feel like there's a need, a desire not to understand me, whether that be because of emotional ties with the view that they have at the moment or they just don't want they don't want the complicated answer. They want the simple answer because it allows them to feel I don't know how to how to phrase it, but but I do think that action is so much easier if the picture that one paints is as simple as possible.


And I think especially for politically active groups, it's very important that we're action focused and that complications and nuances don't get in the way of that.


I mean, that's an interesting point to hear from you, because as I mentioned, one of the things that I really admire about you is that you are very nuanced. And I I see frequently on on Twitter, you know, responding to an argument that someone's making and sort of carefully picking out like, OK, these are the parts of the argument that I agree with, you know, or like endorse with qualifiers. These other parts of the argument.


I would not agree with those, which is really quite different from what I think most people do, which is that they sort of you know, if the argument is like for the thing that they support or for their side, then they just sort of like are for that argument. And they're right.


They're rarely like, you know, careful to say, like I'm trying to pick out the things that I think are true as opposed to, you know, are you arguing for my side or against my side? And I really admire that. And I wish there was more of that. And at the same time, you were also an activist and a very passionate advocate. And I've wondered, you know, I talk a lot about the importance of nuance, intellectual honesty.


And one of the objections I get from people often is, well, you know, you can't be nuanced if you want to, like, make change in the world.


There's like this this inescapable tension, tradeoff between nuance and passion or between nuance and and persuasiveness. Do you so I'm confused about what you're what you take actually is.


Oh, well, just to be clear, I just meant it in the sense of that's what people assume.


Oh, you weren't you weren't sort of speaking as you you were like sort of describing what you think their view is. Right. Right. OK, speaking of my world view, makes them think, well, if I was speaking as me, you know, I'm genuinely confused about this in the sense that there is my my personality, the way that I am, how I prefer to engage with everyone and how I prefer people to engage with me, which is, you know, as nuanced as possible.


I genuinely enjoy a disagreement. I enjoy being wrong. I know that that might be weird, but I enjoy the feeling of having something I hold deep, especially for if it's something I deeply hold challenge in an interesting way and to that that practice and that that act of feeling discomfort and then, you know, being pushed to oh, no, am I wrong about this? And then having to having to look into it and having a bunch of new reading that now you have to do that you didn't even know you had to do.


I love I love that process. And that's that's genuinely something that I enjoy doing. So it's hard for me to, I guess, put myself in the shoes of somebody who might feel very differently. But the claim that, well, too much nuance really gets in the way of activism is really about what gets things done, not just what people like to do or don't like to do. And it's interesting that you ask this as a question. I was reading and laughing to myself because this is something I think about all the time.


And I don't know if I have a really, really strong answer to other than to be able to speak from from my perspective and what I know has worked for me. I do think my form of activism, the kind of activism that I'm pushing for, I do want minds to change. It does matter to me that mindset change, not just mobilizing. People I think that activism that is centered solely on mobilizing people might work in a slightly different way than an activism that is more focused on actually changing minds, actually changing hearts.


And I struggle with it as because I have these dual roles that are sometimes in conflict with each other. And sometimes I think, OK, am I getting in the way with with trying to insert, you know. Oh, well, but here's another thing to consider. I am I am I getting in the way of of. US moving to to a slightly better position, maybe not the perfect position, but a better position.


So I can say I have an answer for you, but have you observed any kind of pattern? Like have you observed that people respond less or, you know, seem less moved by your arguments if you include a caveat or if you, you know, add qualifiers or whatever?


Well, or maybe it's just too hard to gauge how moved people are. I don't know.


It's it's when it comes to at least the use of public platforms, they distort the way these things play out. Definitely, because the more simplistic my message is, the faster it gets spread on platform, like Twitter, for example. And so if if we add in, in addition to that, the effect of of of the social media and the platform, then I think maybe maybe the balance shifts away from my perspective, because truly, I'm not getting hurt.


If if I don't if I don't speak in a in a in a specific kind of way. But at the same time, I know what sticks with me. I know what arguments actually have changed my mind and what has worked for me and for the people around me, especially people from Muslim majority backgrounds. What kinds of like who grew up Muslim, who's whose minds have changed and what didn't change their minds was something something simplistic. Right? Because if especially if it's something so deeply held, it's it's it's almost insulting to think that a very simplistic black and white Twitter tweet will will will do the trick.


Mm hmm.


Well, you know, I think there's two different at least two different ways in which people think that, you know, nuances and tension with with impact. One of them is the persuasion angle that we've just been talking about.


And the other one is it involves precision, but it's more directly about kind of passion that like, if you yourself like, can confront the fact that there are qualifications than there are, you know, the policy you're advocating for, even though you really genuinely think it's great, it has some downsides.


Like nothing is completely perfect. Nothing's black and white. And if you, you know, let that in, that that will sort of diminish your passion and your drive to try to cause change. Do you notice anything like that?


Oh, yeah, I do. You do. Interesting. I do. But but I don't know if if if the fact that that diminishment happens is enough of it is a big enough downside to let go of the of of trying to insert new ones whenever you can. And I wonder, I mean, to the it's hard to really just make blanket claims about this because of so much of my activism is online and is dependent on the tools available to me.


So I Twitter being the the the one that everybody uses, everybody complains about. But it I wonder to the extent to which I can make a claim really is, is something that can apply to activism as a whole or activism. Effective activism on Twitter.


Yeah. Yeah. I mean I'm sure the appropriate strategy will differ depending on the medium in the audience and everything like that. In fact, I realized as you were speaking that I, I never actually asked you, like, whose minds are you trying to change? You know, assuming you can't change everyone's mind in the world, who is most important? Like maybe it's policymakers or maybe it's the media who is is like portraying like putting forward a narrative that's kind of unfair to or marginalizing Muslims or like, what's your ideal ideal audience?


I guess there's two there's people from, you know, Muslim backgrounds who I'm addressing when I talk about when I specifically make the fact and fiction claims about faith and that I do about half the time. And then the rest of the time I try to convince I don't know exactly who, but I guess the general public to think about the ways in which they speak online and the way that they self censor, maybe don't self censor and what they choose to hold back.


And why?


Because I found that to be a I don't know if it's it doesn't exactly stop me, but it does there is a it's sort of a hindering of a group of people who are potentially my allies and really on the same page. And they'll reach out to me and they'll say, I and I'm 100 percent with you. I agree with you, but I don't want to retreat yourself. I'm not going to share it. Yeah, because there's you know, because there's there there's my best friend who won't speak to me again or maybe not that extreme, but.


Suddenly there's a there's this cloud of suspicion that will be cast over me because I share somebody like you or because I follow somebody like you. So I think about ways in which I can help these potential allies who I know will be a great benefit to me in my work and to a benefit to free thinkers from Muslim communities if they really were our allies and if they really were willing to be upfront and honest about how they feel. And it's interesting to me that the way that these things play out, because the people who reach out to me who are really concerned about this kind of thing, who are saying, Sarah, I don't I really don't know if it's the right time to speak.


I really don't know if I'm helping. And I really don't want the people in my circles to to think a certain way of me. These are the people who care who are the most compassionate, who care the most about not doing harm and not, you know, in the in the universe and not not giving the kinds of people, especially who are worried about giving the wrong impression in their circles, where their circles tend to be progressive, their circles tend to be the kinds of people who really I would want on my side.


And it's those people who are most likely, I think, to yourself censor and who are most likely to say that I'm not going to be a part of this discussion, at least not right now. And instead, we're left with really the most extreme polar ends. So part of my work is to try and encourage those people to to participate and to give them an example, I guess, of of maybe modeling my own behavior or giving them someone that they might be comfortable sharing since I'm not so extreme and right in my language.


Yeah, I think that's a really good point and something I've thought about a lot, just observing some of the debates about, you know, free speech versus social justice, not to be too simplistic, but now that's often the framing of these debates. I think that it's really important, like most people don't appreciate how important it is when you're arguing for free speech and related ideas to, like, really live by the principles that you're advocating for. Because what I'm really worried about and what's already sort of started to happen is that the the these concepts that I hold so dear and think are so important, like, you know, free speech and reason and like nuance and fair mindedness and so on.


Objectivity, that these have started to become associated in people's minds with the particular, you know, like like people you can, like, criticize aspects of the social justice left for feeling on, you know, free speech or other ideals. But a lot of other people criticize the social justice left for things that aren't really about lack of, you know, reason or free speech. It's like, you know, we don't think we think you're like being too kind to trans people or like we think we should be able to make racist jokes or whatever.


And so I think you just have to kind of bend over backwards. If your goal really is to criticize on the free speech grounds to show that you're doing that and that you're not in the other group who just wants to, like, complain about the sort of cultural or values issues of social justice left.


And, you know, most people aren't super careful to bend over backwards and do that. And so they just sort of get conflated and it becomes so hard to make the case you actually want to make when when people hear the other case. Mm hmm.


Right. I, I would agree with you that. Well, I would go further. I would say it's already happened to some degree. And it was something I was worried about years ago when, you know, people like Miloje just wore the you know, the the the the cloak of free speech. And they were the new champions and they were of an open and free society. But it was very clear to me that this was something that was very conditional and something that they found to be politically convenient at the moment.


And they were right to find it politically convenient in the sense that it really was something that I think the left was not being. You know, the left was encroaching upon just the idea of free speech. But at the same time, these are not honest actors are not always honest actors who then use these principles and claim to be fighting for them. And I don't know what you were saying to you have to bend over backwards not to be confused with that group.


I deeply dislike being put in this position because I feel like there's an element of force that now I have to I have to go out of my way. And it's it's, again, forcing him in this position where I'm not just speaking because this is what I authentically feel. But there's an added pressure of performing in a in a way, you know, just if if for nothing else. But just as just. I'm not one of those guys, and then you have this effect of, you know, protesting too much, you know, that I think can maybe come back to haunt you.


So I so so I mean, I agree. And I have the same kind of frustration. And for me, it's often like like I shouldn't have to do this, like but an argument that that made me sort of more accepting of the reality of like the strategic landscape basically was a paper from, I think the 90s by Glenn Loury, where he said basically he was pointing out that, you know, if you let's say you're a liberal who genuinely agrees with 90 percent of the liberal platform, but also thinks that, say, affirmative action, at least the way it's, you know, put in place is not actually a good idea or it's, you know, harmful in some way.


And you want to say that. But you also know that people will sort of correctly infer that if you say that you are, that's evidence based on evidence that you're not actually a liberal because there's a correlation between people disliking affirmative action and people not actually being liberals. And so you're like, well, I don't want them to infer that because it's not actually true. So maybe I shouldn't say the thing about affirmative action, but then what that does is that reinforces the correlation between people who criticize affirmative action, people who are not liberals, and then that just makes it even more dis incentivizing for people to.


And the problem, like the the conclusion of all of this is like even if everyone's behaving perfectly rationally in, you know, just saying like just just making inferences justified by, you know, the correlations, you're going to get this problem. And so in a way, that's depressing. But it was also kind of calming to me because it made me like I like the fact that people are making these inferences about me felt sort of well, it is bagian of them.


So maybe that I can sort of grudgingly force myself to, like, try to give them enough other evidence in my matter and in the things that I say so that they don't make that inference about me. Mm hmm.


Yeah. I don't know if that helps, you know.


Yeah. I mean, I guess I end up in that space anyway. I just don't and I've yet to be comfortable with that position. I guess I'll think about what you said to to try and get more comfortable about it, but I let me know if it helps. I do I do find myself doing that quite frequently, being feel feeling like I have to really prove my, you know, my my progressive cred, you know. Yeah. Reinforcing that I there's certain things that I also care about.


But, you know, one thing that does make me feel better about it is that although I go into my activism thinking, OK, well, here I am. I'm activity advocating for this this one or two or three issues that I care really very deeply about. And this is where I can have a real voice, I think if I don't share my other opinions and the context in which this is coming from from me as a person, then I'm actually being I am being dishonest to some degree.


And my effect on the broader climate will be that it pulls people to whatever political poll that is more in line with where that issue is going. So when it comes to Islam, if I don't also talk about the many ways in which I feel like the progressive left is correct and that their approach is the better approach, then I think that I will be in some ways misrepresenting the whole picture here, or at least for me as a person in the context from which I'm coming from.


I mean, I think that's absolutely right. And I think this is this is a big advantage of nuance when it comes to persuasion. Like, yes, there are downsides, but you would you noted.


But I think the bending over backwards to show that you're making your points in good faith and not, you know, using free speech as a fig leaf for for like and I left that can involve like having to go out of your way to praise the left and so on, which is, you know, a little frustrating to feel like you have to do that. But it can also just be accomplished by speaking, you know, in measured tones to like not endorsing parts of arguments that you think are false, even if they're on your side.


Like, I think that stuff I mean, I don't know. But it sure seems to me like that signals good faith to people and makes them more likely to to infer that you're you're making your argument for the reasons you say you're making it and not for the fig leaf reasons.


Yeah. And I think I have there are there is still a population which appreciates that. And I don't know how I've I, I mean, I my follower base on Twitter especially is just they're all over the place. There are people from really every kind of background.


I'm sure you have a similar situation are mostly nerds in engineering jobs I think. But you're.


No, I can tell your followers are, you know, ideologically diverse because of the very varied reactions you got to do.


Right. Things like I say, especially if it's a political thing. First, by touching culture war, Twitter, political Twitter, then chances are unless it's very measured, exceptionally measured, which is to say no one really cares about it unless it's that way, then I'm going to get dragged by somebody you know. Yes, there's some small group that's going to be really offended and is going to make sure that I know it.


So you always seem to handle this, you know, dragging with aplomb. It's very admirable. One of the, you know, things that I admire and, you know, look to as a role model is it is easy for you.


Is it seems like do you have any advice for how to not not like get angry or stressed out by by people calling you a horrible person?


Um, it's gotten easier over time. I definitely think it's one of those things that the more you practice it, the more you make it. I mean, and I make a deliberate effort to behave that way. I think to some degree it maybe is just in line with my personality. But then in addition, I know that I also try to have a certain kind of tone, but I think about why it's easy enough to do when I think about why I'm there in the first place, it's I don't love I mean, it might seem like a strange thing to say from from from a public figure or quote unquote public figure, whatever that means.


I, I don't enjoy being the attention, I guess, and I feel I feel uncomfortable in it. So to the degree that I'm there, I it's easy for me to to think about why it is that I'm there, why it is that I want this platform and what it is that I'm hearing saying how can I by virtue of of my tone or my approach, how can I best serve, you know, this cause that I care so deeply about?


And when I put it in from that perspective, then it falls into just line up. This is my duty and it's my duty to be to be calm and measured. And then I find it it's easier to do. It just becomes like a more, you know, honorable thing to do. And it takes on this this cause that's bigger than yourself. And then it's so easy to really to really slow down a little bit.


That resonates a lot with me. It's nice to hear you say it.


So one of the things you you tweeted about the free thought discourse, this was from maybe a couple of months ago, you said there can be no such thing as a group of free thinkers, or at least not for long. Group dynamics. Spare no one. So, OK, fess up. Were you sub tweeting the intellectual dark web there?


Yes, I thought that would be a tougher interrogation than it turned out to be. So yes and no, like not not directly. But it was that thought did occur to me after I saw some engagements back and forth, some people really revelling in their newfound to bribe some of the most freest independent thinkers. Right. And I just I thought it was I thought it was a funny it was just a funny thing that was happening. But in the long term, it can be kind of dangerous to to have a group of people that really think that we are immune from groupthink and tribalism.


And we are a tribe of people who are immune from this, from from tribal forces. You know, they can be the hardest to reach. And this is them. And I and I say this is somebody who is quite close with a lot of people who are either in the Iaw or adjacent. And, you know, I think there's some wonderful people there and then others, you know, I don't really agree with very much, but I am concerned to to see this formation of click of of of free thinkers, mainly because of the way in which it came together.


And very wise talked about this in our New York Times. You know, when you're talking about the origins of the of the Iaw, I guess, and sort of naming it and describing it as a phenomena, she specifically mentioned the way in which these people are outcasts from from the progressive left for a variety of reasons, a generally progressive left. She phrased it as it could be anybody. But really, we're talking about people mostly who have been outcasts from the left and thinking about group dynamics in my you know, in my own internal like I guess the the conflicts I have that I think about.


I know that my experience as somebody who's been treated this way is that I am just as from on a human level hungry for like I don't want to say safe space, but a place where, you know, I can just relax a little bit and not be dragged. And I think people. Who have this experience of being pushed out, sort of shunned in this way. Really, they're they're really vulnerable at a really vulnerable place. And I think they want respite from all the, you know, the dragging and the smears and whatever.


And then you want shelter with this group of people who can kind of protect you. And I think to some degree, people who who have been dragged really badly or smeared really in really unfair way are in a place where they might be more vulnerable to falling into a tribe and seeking the protection of a tribe.


I saw you describe yourself in one of these conversations as tribe phobic or tribal phobic, or at least like you said, you were somewhat tribal phobic.


And I am very much as well. And I had sort of similar reactions to the the sort of reaffirming of the of the body of ideas in the form of the intellectual dark web, but at the same time, to try to be fair to it, like, what would I actually want them to do?


I mean, if if I'm going to say, you know, that any any sort of coalescing under a banner is is like getting in the way of objectivity and it's turning things into tribal disputes, then like if you take that too far, how does anyone, like, get their message out? Is it possible even for their like would it be possible for these individuals to make all their arguments but without ever calling themselves a thing? And would that actually be effective?


What do you think?


Yeah, I mean, I actually think they still could be. And I think they were this this whole banner was a pretty recent phenomena. I don't know if it was necessary at all, but I think some of them might disagree and might disagree with me. Although a lot of people were named as foremost A.W. members themselves don't really love the idea. And I know that I'm just concerned with the way in which it represents just two separate realms of discourse.


I would really like for these group of people who have been shunned to whatever degree that they have been shunned, to be reinitiated back into the broader, I guess I don't know. I don't know what exactly to call it, but the mainstream discourse. Yeah.


I mean, like academia and like op ed, the normal mainstream papers, like liberal papers and stuff like that.


Mm hmm. Yeah. It concerns me that it's just this independent thing that's just floating out on it's by itself. And I think it's that's to the detriment of the ideas in both in both these two camps that they are not really speaking and engaging with each other directly. And I think there should still be a desire to get back into I don't want to call it mainstream, but just the broader discourse at large.


Yeah, yeah. The mainstream, like the set of ideas that, you know, quote unquote, like good liberals in elite society are like, you know, consider it fine to take seriously and discuss and aren't sort of outside of that mainstream discourse.




I mean, maybe there can be like an actual like a sort of undercover intellectual dark web, not very cloak and dagger, but but like no people who sort of sympathize with a lot of the arguments that the IWC makes, but think that the the way the movement has sort of coalesced around them and, you know, waved a banner or whatever is detrimental. And those people don't want to actually associate with the movement itself, but they can sort of make those arguments from within academia, maybe in like ways that academia would.


I don't know, as I'm saying this, it sounds implausible, but.


Well, I mean, there's probably ways gone. I think it's it's a little bit it it seems impossible. I see I see it happen a little bit. I am seeing what somebody throughout the term intellectual light Webb like L.A., you know, like I just don't want any more labels. You're like, I'm so tired. I'm just so tired. But yeah, I think that that is that it's I sort of see the beginnings of that, or at least people who are so exhausted by feeling like they have to perform in a certain way for for the mainstream tribe or whatever, whatever it is, the mainstream discourse and feel, I think, intellectually stifled.


I know that I feel that way sometimes. And I'm someone who's relatively relatively free. Actually, I can think of very few people who are as free as I am. I work for an organization where I have a lot of clout. I mean, I'm sure they can and would fire me, but it would probably I would have to mess up quite a bit. And then I you know, I have my own little bit of a public following.


So I have that freedom by nature of what I do that many people don't have. But I still feel strong pressure to to self censor sometimes or just even if I'm not, you know, I don't I don't think I've ever I can't remember a time that I've lied ever in public for for any reason, but or at least any reason that I knew. Of course, everybody would say that, but. Well, I don't think it really kind of the lie of if you're saying something.


OK, that was a dumb thing to say. But I have self-centered and I do self censor. And I'm I know. I know. Even though I, I mostly let off steam as much as as much as I can, and I'm more free to do that. I know that that's building up a little bit of a little well of of you just having a little soundproof room.


You go in and you scream all over all the unacceptable things that you weren't able to say over the past month for like 15 minutes.


Well, I mean, for me, it goes back to my duty as an activist. And I think would it you know, and I heard I think I heard Sam Harris say this based on something he heard Steven Pinker say or something like that. But it was just that not everything worth saying is worth saying by you.


That is a good thing to keep in mind. Yeah. Surprising how easily about flips out of my mind.


Yeah, well, I mean, because I think I have and I'm sure many people do and most people do just to different degrees. But I have a very strong need to express myself honestly, even if that is with it doesn't have to be a stage. But I just don't I don't like feeling like I have to hide something or that I have to, you know, put it in acceptable terms. I don't I don't like feeling like that. So to the extent that anything makes me feel that way, it's uncomfortable for me at the same time.


Isn't isn't it right that not everyone can be a perfect activist for something and not everyone can be the best voice? And if you really do care about certain issues, then maybe adding, not adding your voice would what might be the best be the best thing for that issue? Or it could be to the detriment of the main thing that you're talking about, like for me, for issues regarding Islam. I mean, if I if I get into too much hot water too frequently, practically speaking, it might make me too toxic to touch by anybody.


And so even this one issue that I really care about, who can you know, if I don't touch so many toxic issues, I might be able to reach some people. You know, if I if I you know, I might I might do that to myself. So that that's a concern that I do have.


I wanted to get your take on something about free speech. So this is a thing that seems true to me. But I haven't I don't think anyone else agrees with that. So I'm just curious what you'll think. So the thing that seems true to me is that almost all of the debates over free speech, at least with regard to like not like literal legal free speech, but like, you know, is it is it like fair or in keeping with sort of principles of a liberal society to d platform speakers or to like fire someone from a job for saying things that are like technically legal but that people find offensive?


Is it is it fair to like, you know, shame them on Twitter and drag them and, you know, try to make them uncomfortable and things like that?


So those are the kinds of like free speech debates that I'm talking about.


The thing that seems true to me is that free speech is just kind of a red herring in those debates and that so the debate is always framed as a disagreement over like the principle of free speech, like should, you know, on college campuses, like, should people be exposed to different ideas? And the people who are arguing that so-and-so like Charles Murray shouldn't be de platformed are they make that argument in the terms of like, you know, everyone should be like that's the point of school is to be exposed to different ideas.


That's the point of a marketplace of ideas and so on. And then the people who think who are in favor of the tea platforming, I think it's fine. They don't they don't really disagree with that principle. They just think, you know, this person like Charles Murray or this set of ideas are so beyond the pale that like, you know, Shirley, you, the free speech advocate, would accept that, like if a literal Nazi was coming and like talking about how Jews are subhuman scum, like, you know, might be legal.


I'm not saying they should be arrested, but like, surely it's like, OK to not, you know, invite that person to speak or like, you know, surely you shouldn't companies have the right to, like, fire people or shouldn't it be OK to fire people who are like literally saying Jews are subhuman? And so the disagreement is not Overlake. Should people be exposed to different ideas, but which ideas are beyond the pale?


Mm hmm. Well, those those sort of seem like the same the same consideration to me. Which which because. Well. Actually, let me think about this a little bit, because we you mentioned quite a different quite quite many, many different contexts. So there's the what should a private company be be able to do? So maybe what should Twitter, what should be except for Twitter to do or write like on Twitter, Tumblr or for, you know, for for D platforming people on a college campus?


I think that's a that's a very different kind of a place. So I didn't I I noticed that you told me that in your notes from before that you had a video and I wasn't able to watch it. And now I feel, oh, yeah, no, it's right.


So when I was referencing topics I want to talk about, I mentioned that I had a video blog. Sorry I wasn't telling you to watch it, but after Charles Murray was de Platformed, I did a video blog where basically I was arguing that that Charles Murray shouldn't have been de platformed, but someone like Miloje should platformed or at least I don't know that I'd like call for him to be the platform, but I'd be fine with people doing it. And the line that I drew separating them was the line of are they arguing in good faith?


Like you might think it's clear that Charles Murray is completely wrong and even that his ideas are, you know, harmful to society. But if he's, like, arguing them because he thinks they're true as opposed to being a troll, then that sort of makes a meaningful difference. I don't think that this even if I'm right about this line, I don't think it gets us all the way, though, because you can imagine someone who just, like, sincerely believes that Jews are subhuman and, you know, get rid of the Milosz.


But it doesn't it doesn't solve the whole where to draw the line thing.


Right. Anyway. Yeah, yeah. That was the first thing that I was thinking about because I bet Richard Spencer sincerely believes the things that he. Yeah. Yeah. And then where do we put figures like Ben Shapiro, who some people would say fall into the Miloje camp and others would say fall into the Charles Murray camp?


He definitely seems to have a foot in both. Like he's I feel like he would just acknowledge that he's a troll sometimes. But I also it seems like he has, like, genuine principles that he, you know, earnestly advocating for him from a functional perspective.


Do you think like, ah, from a harm prevention perspective, do you really think that this is a real question, that a gotcha question? Do you do you do you really think that not inviting or or D d platforming someone like Milo? It does something, you know, it does it does it does it help? No, I think it hurts. Yeah, I totally think it hurts.


Yeah, I was more I was just thinking about, like, what's the best way to achieve our goals or anything. I was just thinking like like if we're just thinking abstractly about like what kinds of ideas should we treat as like. Well I disagree, but you know, you should feel free to say that as opposed to I disagree and I'm going to try to like use social pressure and like means up just up to but stopping at legal means to try to, you know, make you try to delegitimize you or, you know, cause people to turn against you.


I mean, I like. I think I maybe you wouldn't agree with this, I would probably say if someone's literally like going out and advocating for Naziism, then I'm in favor of using social pressure in the form of, like shaming or whatever.


And so then for me, the question becomes, where do I draw the line and say, like, I disagree with this person, I find his ideas abhorrent. But I wouldn't I wouldn't, like, advocate shaming him and trying to get him, you know, do platformed and so on. So but but if you actually don't think that you would use social pressure to to try to fight, not through them, then maybe you don't have the line drawing problem.




I mean, I'm trying to put it back into my context because I don't think of it so deeply when it comes to just general sort of social justice issues. But there are some you could take.


We could take one example like let's say a Holocaust denier, like was invited to speak by some student group at a college. And then there's like a protest and they shout him down or something. Would you be like, you know, yeah, cool. That seems fine. Or would you be like this is a violation of not legal free speech rights, but like this is the kind of thing that like against the spirit of the liberal marketplace of ideas, I think I would lean towards the latter.


But the the practical effects have a lot to do with why I feel that way, which is to say it does matter to me that I think doing so is shutting them down in that way really hurts whatever cause you're trying to you're trying to work against. And I think it I think it ultimately is better. And I was thinking about it from the perspective of with the with the X Muslim just just to put myself in a position where I have skin in the game.


There are there are speakers who, you know, there's a there's a this imam or something like that. There's a religious leader in Australia who once every once in a while says things like apostates from Islam don't have the right to life. They don't have the right to exist. And I think we should you know, Muslim majority countries should be getting rid of these people. But by that, he means killing. Yeah. And that I think how would I feel if this person were to come on campus and were to speak and what would I feel?


You know, how comfortable would I feel with shouting him down? And even in that case, I guess I don't feel comfortable shouting him down because I'm I'm concerned that that we fall into this trap of we haven't heard this view here is the same thing as saying we haven't heard that people aren't hearing this view, period. And I'm concerned with what you can call radicalization in the religious context. But you really you can apply that to a lot of other areas and you can apply to social justice activism where people find refuge in these online spaces and they'll find new gurus to teach them, you know, the right way of thinking since all these, you know, social justice warriors are just so awful.


They're just trying to get you to, you know, to have power over you and to stop you from doing X, Y, Z. I think they're the victim complex victimizing to the extent that it can be that it is real, really, really works in their favor and really helps them spread their views. I was I have, you know, younger family members, some of whom are in college, and I try to have conversations with them about what's going on, you know, on campus and how are things going.


And and I find so many of of the young men are really like really are deep and true followers of people like Jordan Peterson. And maybe, you know, maybe he's not I'm not trying to paint him as just this awful guy or anything. I don't really like to be completely honest, have never got gone through one whole Jordan Peterson video. I tried to get through most of his book, and I'm almost done with it. But it doesn't sound like a strong endorsement.


But I it's I can't I can't listen to him as it doesn't interest me. But maybe there's maybe I just have you know, that's what they always say, is that you just have to find this one video and you'll feel differently. I have listened to a few of his smaller and shorter interviews here and there, the one with Sam Harris. And I was really surprised by how popular he is. I mean, he's truly like he has a real influence over really dice and hearts of young men.


And now I'm thinking, well, I don't even know what he's saying. I don't even know what he's saying. I don't even know what the like. Maybe there is no issue to to try and counteract, but maybe there is. And I don't know, because I would know it because they're educating themselves in this kind of a private in a private way outside of the wider public discourse, because it is because they cannot have these conversations in the wider public discourse.


This kind of thing really makes me nervous in a very deep way, that's hard to describe, but almost fearful that there's this. Now there is a saying that even if I was trying to be the best activist I can be, I'm doing everything I can. Well, I don't really know exactly what I'm fighting here. I mean, there's I you know, just from those practical effects to me really do matter. And I really think that there's you cannot try and take down, I guess, bad ideas or or shut down these bad ideas without if you don't even know that they're there.


If you don't if you're not even able to engage with them because they've been driven to such a to this place that is just this pure one on one conversation that Jordan Peterson is having with this this new people.


Well, that's actually a good lead in to the last question of every episode, which is can you name a book or other resource that changed your thinking in some way? Yes, I was prior to speaking early this morning, I was flipping through this book of essays by Hannah Arendt and this called Crisis of the Republic or Crises of the Republic of Nature. And it has four of her essays, Lying in Politics, Civil Disobedience and Violence and Thoughts on Politics and Revolution.


And I am deeply in love with with Hannah Arendt. And I just I read as much of her work as possible. I think she's just an incredibly original thinker. And I'm always I'm always surprised by her, by her views. And then, you know, when you get to the end of it and really get to understand of why she feels a certain way, then then it all makes sense. But I think that's the mark of a really interesting thinker and especially somebody interested in, you know, political philosophy and in in regards to issues that are really relevant today.


She's she's somebody I would go to.


Excellent. Yeah, that's that's one of the most satisfying reading experiences, is being led along a path and not knowing where it's taking you. And like having objections and then having them answered in interesting ways. So that sounds great.


Well, we'll link to all the Hannah Arendt works you mentioned, as well as to the website of the Muslims of North America. And I'm going to throw in a link to your Twitter presence as well, because I love it so much.


OK, thank you. It's been really great having you on the show. This is really fun. Interesting discussion for me.


Yeah, this was this was awesome. And thank you for giving me things to talk about that I almost never get to talk about. So it's nice. I'm good. But what I like to hear.


Well, this concludes another episode of Rationally Speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.