I like being a dick, Phil

Phil Plait – Don’t Be A Dick from JREF on Vimeo.

First, I’d like to congratulate Phil Plait on choosing a topic people seem to have strong opinions about. I love a good fight, and I see plenty of reasons to scrap with Phil regarding some of the statements he made during his lecture at TAM 8. The issue I’m actually concerned about is his own rhetoric and deep anger of people he perceives as dicks. I’m not sure who these people are (I won’t even say it’s me, since we’re so below the radar), but clearly they have him upset enough to base a whole lecture on it. I gotta ask though; what’s so wrong with being a dick, if that’s really the worst thing that you do?

I don’t declare war on people, I don’t mutilate the privates of my children or even pay money to an organization that knowingly protects and harbors known child rapists…no, the worst thing I do is vent when the venting is good. Maybe in Phil’s eyes guys like me spew vitriol, but what we really do is help frustrated people feel like they aren’t alone when they keep thinking people around them are acting like retards. And if the use of the word retard sends a shiver down your spine, you aren’t the kind of audience I normally cater to, and you’re wasting your time coming here. I offer piping hot boisterous anger, served with a twist of annoyance over all the shit we have to put up with because of religious intolerance and ignorance, and trust me brother, the gettin’s good.

So you’ll pardon me and my angry comrades when we choose to say: “I like being a dick, thanks”

Oh, and just so everyone is aware, I’m actually a big fan of his, especially when he argues with conspiracy theorists.

Comments (17)

  • avatar

    VanCity Skeptic (formerly Angry Atheist Geek)

    I too am a huge fan of his, I never want to downplay that, even with what I said in that blog entry which hopefully was properly disclaimed in the brackets when I say I think he’d kick my ass in a fight, haha. Thanks for the plug by the way, but the up-to-date link is here: http://vancityskeptic.com/2010/07/10/tam-8-thoughts/

    Blasted blog-name-change ;) Despite said blog name change, I’m still just as peeved though (in general that is) by nature, haha.

    Ironically you linked to me while I was busy shutting down the old blog entries. I noticed the spike in visitors and new that couldn’t POSSIBLY be right! ;)

  • avatar


    Great point. Why is there so much vitriol aimed at the vitriolic? Personally, I say focus that concern about behavior to the people who AREN’T on your side, Phil!

  • avatar


    I don’t know any serious skeptic who actually screams abuse directly into the faces of believers. I’m always muttering my disdain (or even disgust) to other non-believers, but I know to be more sympathetic when in the process of actually attempting to convert the credulous. Even Jake, our own good atheist has twice invited into his home Jehovah’s Witnesses for civil discussion.

    Phil’s problem seems more to do with blogs, but in my view, the type of blog he is talking about are for expressing frustration and incredulity at the actions and thoughts of believers, they are not for conversion. I don’t know about others, but I NEED that type of blog to remind myself I’m not alone.

    I don’t agree with him that ridicule does not work either, I’ve seen its effect on a number of occasions.

  • avatar


    I think Phil’s got his knickers in a twist only from the standpoint of ‘if you want to change the way people think’. From this, admittedly myopic viewpoint, he is correct, scorn and derision – while fun, are unlikely to persuade anyone that they hold ridiculous views. Phil is taking a lot of flack for this – some of it justified, but not all – he is a good guy and we atheists are like a pack of sharks some of the time, he should be cut a little slack i think, if nothing else he is brave.

  • avatar


    Jacob, I think your response to that talk illustrates why this website is so stale. I love listening to your shit over at fightlinker because I can’t guess everything you’re going to say before you say it. With the good atheist you’re going to essentially respond “DERP! everyone’s so fucking stupid.” It’s pretty predictable.

    For the record, I’m not religious.

  • avatar


    I think Phil has constructed too many strawmen to base his argument on. However, I suspect his *real* target may well be atheists who dare to criticise religion harshly rather than come to some sort of ‘accommodation’ with it (“let’s agree to disagree”). It’s not unrelated to the position of atheism within wider skepticism and, IMHO, the apparent intellectual dishonesty of refusing to properly include religion as a whole in skeptical consideration – treating it as taboo or a special case or otherwise ‘out of bounds’ to skeptical analysis.

  • avatar

    Bryan Elliott

    The problem is that we tend to treat the victims of bad ideas in the same way we treat bad ideas – with disdain, ridicule and an eye towards exclusion – because we see every bad-idea-victim as equivalent to the idea’s originator.

    This is perfectly natural, understandable behavior – and depending on your goals, it can be useful or not.

    If the goal is skepticality evangelism, we need to treat the victims of bad ideas like we would like to be treated if we were unknowingly wrong about something: with the appropriate corrections and an eye towards a common goal.

    You say, “I like being a dick”. I say, “that’s unsurprising; most people like being dicks.”

    If your goal is entertainment of other atheists, hey, that’s a win! We lap this shit up, pay money for it, even.

    Still, we need to be aware: some non-atheists will listen to this podcasts, and completely untempered rhetoric may be ultimately harmful to others’ cause – skeptical evangelism – in whatever small amount.

    That is not your problem, per se, but it comes down to the question: “How much trouble do you want to cause the other side of the camp, and how much damage are you really doing?”

    I don’t have the resources to answer that for you, and I’m not suggesting a course of action. I’m just saying, that’s the question between, “Don’t be a dick” and “I like being a dick”

  • avatar


    Kevin and Bryan bring up some salient points of the issue…
    What’s the goal of a discussion?, and Who is it’s audience?

    If you’re preaching to the choir, maybe they’re in need of some “red meat” catharsis. When this becomes the preferred means of expression, it leads to stagnation.
    If you’re trying to win over thinkers, treating your opponent badly is a great way to lose an audience [why lower yourself with an ad hominem eye-gouge when the arm-bar of reason is in your arsenal :)].

    This blog seems to have fallen into modes which generally characterize more conservative rhetoric. Real discussions scarcely emerge, as people are content to merely chime in about others’ stupidity…

    The big question as I see it is “Do you enjoy learning for the sake of understanding?.. or because you _like being right_?”.

    If a sense of superiority motivates you, guess what? You have more in common with religious fundamentalists than you might think.

  • avatar

    Jake Farr-Wharton

    What about that video on youtube of you punching children, mutilating their genitals and paying money to evil a-holes who look like Empiror Palpatine from Star Wars?

    In all seriousness, I’m a dick. I’m an outspoken ass hole who speak’s his (or her, depending on the occasion) opinion on whatever I feel qualified to speak on.

    I’ve read Phil’s book, I’ve watched his lectures and I’m inspired by his tenacity, that said, I am one of the people he shafted as being a dick.

  • avatar


    I usually like Phil too, but it’s unfortunate how (at a conference of skeptics) he starts off his lecture by using a straw man to poison the well in his unscientific poll.

    I don’t know if I ever would have gotten over the stupid religious bullshit I used to believe in if I hadn’t found people (mostly on the internet, because most of the people I knew IRL either believed in it too or were too “polite” to criticise it) who called it out as stupid bullshit. Sometimes people need a jolt to help them realise that it’s Ok not to be a credulous dolt. And who are these sceptics who do the kind of ad hominem’s he’s talking about? Yeah, we call people names, but that isn’t an ad hominem if we actually make the case as to *why* they’re wrong. PZ Myers calls people names, but he also dismantles their nonsense claims step by step.

    And while I’m at it, look at how much progress atheists have made in at least getting a seat at the table in a few years of pushing back hard compared to all the years of, for the most part, playing nice. I can’t think of many vocal, public atheists since Bertrand fucking Russell, and because of that we’ve allowed the theists to set the terms of the conversation.

    So, much as I tend to like Phil, I think he’s full of shit here.

  • avatar


    I think he’s proven his own point by calling people a dick; those who feel the title is being aimed at them are putting up their defenses and getting a bit riled up while making arguements to furment their postions as to why dicks are needed and why he’s wrong.

    Personally I agree with Phil, but not completely. There is a place for victriol, tenacious attacking of such things as religion and psuedo science, however thats not in an everday discussion/debate/arguement. Some people do deserve to be called out on their shit and ridicueled, but not eceryone who holds a silly belief. Though yes, even they sometimes need a good calling out.

    What I’m taking from this talk is be tactful in your approach to arguements. Don’t do in fists and facts blazing; engage them in a debate and if they’re more interested in making you look like an anti-patriotic fool who’s been duped by the leftist media with no regard to an actual debate, go nuts. If they seem to actually want a constructive debate with a sharing of ideas, don’t be a dick.

  • avatar

    Anonymous Atheist

    I agree with mctaffity: “I don’t know about others, but I NEED that type of blog to remind myself I’m not alone.”

  • avatar


    I don’t give a shit what people “believe.” The only time I care is when they try to control me with the belief that they have a god on their side. Then, being a dick like I can be, comes in.

  • avatar


    As long as windbags like Glen Beck are around spreading ignorance and fear, non theists and left leaners are going to need to scream and yell sometimes just to be heard. As long as we can back up our rants with facts I don’t see a problem. There’s always going to be people who won’t listen/ believe even when you present them the facts in a calm rational manner.

  • avatar

    joe botelho

    Anger is what is people use for change,a better world. Every single right that we have today a group of pissed off angry people from yesterday took that right out of a opressers hand. We need more angry skeptics the only one i can think of Penn jillete. Maybe teller is pissed too but you know he never takes. You know what watch any Episode of Pen&Tellers Bullshit and you will see an angry skeptic who is converting people to reason. I think Phil platt is actually in at least one episode.

  • avatar


    Essentially it’s just a question of straight forward battle(being a dick)versus guerilla tactics(diplomacy). It’s either confront the problem head on or subvert the enemy. Either way it’s still being a dick, but which one looks better to the casual observer.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to top