SocraticGadfly: RIP Ed Brayton

August 31, 2020

RIP Ed Brayton

I already said RIP to the co-founder of Freethought Blogs at my Philosophy of Socratic Gadfly site but wanted to speak here as well, with expansion of some of the political ideas I wrote about there, both where I agree and where I disagree.

Basically, the political issues of disagreement reflected some of the same tribalism of Gnu Atheism, with which Ed had a conflicted, but yet enabling, relationship. Let's dig in.

I've long since stopped following "movement" skepticism or most "organized" atheism, especially anything that tilts Gnu-ish. I knew Brayton had been in somewhat declining health for some time, indeed, even from when he split off from the Freethought Blogs he co-founded with P.Z. Myers.

And now I see he died the early part of August, three days after his last blog post. Unfortunately, his dying reportedly was not as pain-free as he had hoped.

My take? He'll be missed to a degree, but not as much a degree as many paeans would have you believe.

I wrote about problems at FtB when Ed was still large and in charge. Tolerance of social justice warriors, above all Stephanie Zwan and "husband" Greg Laden, which sent Laden the rabid pit bull after me when I joked, with roles reversed, of him and his "wife."

The big thing I have against Ed, per the link above, is this, and that's Ed getting into bed with PZ in the first place. And, the loonies he let stay there far too long. And the hypocrisy a year before that. Per the first link in the graf, he and PZ were both cheap asses to the late Leo Lincourt in not paying his surely reasonable price to make FtB better as a website. And, I have no doubt Leo's price was reasonable, and that FtB would have looked like what Patheos, and Ed's eventual "Dispatches from the Culture Wars," did look like.

Probably what I'll miss most about him is what most of us miss about ourselves later in life: The could have beens. That would mainly be, in Ed's case, a FtB that never had P.Z involved in the first place. Can't say you weren't warned, Ed, from this small corner of the blogosphere; as I noted, from the start, you were turning over too many of the keys to PZ. Had that been the case, Greg Laden and Stephanie Zwan might not have been part of FtB, as well, and the problems never would have reached that point. In other words, a secular humanist version of Panda's Thumb or something.

Patheos wound up kind of fulfilling that, but not really. The Patheos "nonreligious" vertical doesn't have some of the broader secular humanism and civil liberties focus Ed did himself, and that he surely originally intended for FtB. Nor does it have a personal "face."

Leo and I used to talk about looking for the sweet spot in the center of a triple Venn diagram between non-Gnu atheism, or a modernized secular humanism, on one circle, a broad-focus skepticism that looked beyond Skeptics™ (I first met Leo online in the old Skeptics' Circle blog circle), and a non-conspiratorial leftist politics. Ed wasn't lefist, but his civil libertarianism would have halfway checked the box on the third circle. He could have checked, pretty much, the first and second circles had he done things differently. Picture something like the Venn at left, which is a snapshot of my takes on philosophy, atheism and secularism, and true skepticism.

But, he had his good points, and he wasn't fully a Gnu, and he called out Islamophobia in people like Dawkins and Harris, which is why some weren't fans of him at all. And, in today's day and age, calling out Islamophobia is a big deal. Contra some full-on Gnus who disliked him, his battles against things like Islamophobia were battles for social justice. And fact based. If you don't like being challenged that Islamophobia is real, and not just an excuse word for Islamic bad behavior, you can go fuck yourself. And, that too, I think was part of what was being him running away from PZ again.

I also, per this piece, apparently had disagreement with Ed on something related to the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. Can't remember what it was, but I think it was twosiderism, in that he believed not only Trump wanted Putin's help, but Putin gave it. Nope.

It was probably related to his thinking being confined to within the duopoly parties, and being a Dem tribalist there, as he showed in discussing American exceptionalism. And, that's one of the areas I want to expand on. Joe Biden is just as much an American exceptionalist, in his own way, as is Donald Trump. Especially at the national level, most members of both duopoly parties are.

If I am correct, all the faults of the Green Party aside (and all the things I reject about the Libertarian Party), it's a shame that a sharp thinker couldn't work more outside the duopoly box in general, and on particular things like the 2016 election, outside the twosiderism box.

Guess Ed hadn't familiarized himself with Idries Shah.

This is clearly an Idries Shah issue:

Yes, yes, Electoral College straitjackets and other issues, but I'll continue to look for third sides, either on duopoly politics in general, or on things like Russiagate that transcend duopoly, and third party, lines.

I've said before that being an atheist is no guarantor of either moral or intellectual superiority. Ed was above average on both, but again, nothing was guaranteed.

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