SIO43: Debate and Discussion with Dan Arel

I’m pleased to bring you Dan Arel, of, who is self-admittedly far, far left. While last week had me debating free speech with a more right-wing friendly Michael Shermer, this week I’ll be debating from the other side. Dan, in my opinion, is quite extreme in his tweeting and online expression. I do not hide the fact that I disagree adamantly with a lot of what he has said, but I wanted to try to have a conversation because I imagined I might be a bit of a bridge since I agree with him that a lot of the atheist community is enabling the right while pretending not to. The resulting discussion I think was very productive and a must listen!


I found the Bill Maher thing, looks like from 2014 and then he changed his mind a year later. I wasn’t following him as much back then so that’s why I didn’t remember. First link, second link.

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7 Replies to “SIO43: Debate and Discussion with Dan Arel”

  1. Great episode Thomas! Would love to hear more between you two. I think this kind of discussion is most valuable. Sheds some light on the sense of the far left rejecting the mid-left for being too far right.

    Binary categories might be nice and neat for our minds, but they are worthless in any actual thought processes.

  2. I’ve tried to make this comment half-a-dozen times in the past week, responding to the Thinking Atheist episode on which you both, coincidentally, were guests. Their spam filter is pretty overbearing when it comes to drawn-out posts, so fortunately, I think I have it cut down into something pretty tight.

    I have a real problem with the way this conversation about punching nazis has been framed.

    Asking whether it’s okay to respond to speech with violence, assumes that the violence is in response to speech, and fails to acknowledge the context in which both actions occur. If we accept that we live in a society in which racial inequality exists, that a result of that racial inequality is that people of color are demonstrably more often exposed to violence (both physical harm and trauma), and if we accept that political speech has any effect on the normalization and perpetuation of that inequality, then focussing only on the instances of “speech” and “violence” ignores the ongoing socio-political violence that is being responded to, as well as the relationship between political speech and resulting institutional harm. It also falsely implies that the pro-punching side is introducing violence into a neutral, nonviolent relationship, which I do not believe is accurate.

    That said, I can’t enthusiastically advocate for violence in response to ongoing socio-political violence, but I also can’t pretend that condemning it even begins to address the problem of political violence in this country in any meaningful sense.

    It almost feels like we’re focussing on the individual actions of 19 year-old college students while the political party in power commits far more egregious harms in a widespread, institutionalized manner.

    Additionally, as to the notion that fighting back doesn’t achieve anything, I would point to the Stonewall riots, the Haymarket Affair, etc…. There’s a wikipedia page for “List of incidents of civil unrest in the United States,” and it seems thorough. I don’t know enough about history to parse which of these are considered to be part and parcel to the progress of civil rights movements, and which are deemed to have been detrimental, but to blanketly assume violence has no place in productive political discourse requires we ignore some well-documented history of violence being part of productive political discourse… not to mention the ongoing violence underlying and informing even “peaceful” political discourse that occurs in an unequal society in which violence is institutionally enacted upon marginalized people.

  3. I’d have to disagree with your conclusion that Bill Maher has a good show. used to watch but his anti-science views on vaccines, monsanto, GMOs with griping about “political correctness” like a old man saying “get off my grass” and coupled with his love of Bill Crystal and Ann Coulter have made it hard to watch him as of late. But thats just my taste, and i still watch once and awhile since i like to keep the media i listen to somewhat diverse to avoid the echo chamber effect.

    By the way how long have you played hockey? I’ve been playing most of my life and didn’t think California would have a good population of players. Here in Detroit you can find a drop in game or a league just about anytime and anywhere.

    Enjoy the podcast!

  4. Kyle here has very well spelled out a good counter to Thomas’ blanket “never use violence” argument. I just wanted to add my thoughts.

    “Never use violence” is a naive approach to reality. What do you expect people to do when they use words and continue to fail? What should we do if ultimately fascists convince more people with their words? Is the solution to just roll over and die? Throw up your hands, “whelp, you win, I guess conversation failed me.” No, that’s insane. The same way countries don’t just roll over and die when diplomacy fails. The last resort is violence, and even the good guys need to use it when it’s called for. And as Kyle eloquently put it, political speech can lead to systematic oppression and violence.

    I guess, I don’t think I could say the anti fascist groups *should* exist, but more that they are a simple straight forward result of what happens when you oppress people and don’t give them any other options. I’m a white middle class guy, so I don’t personally feel any oppression. It’s a pretty privileged view to say people should never use violence against speech. I don’t think it’s a realistic thing though. Sometimes words fail, and it should be seen as a failure when people have to resort to violence. But it happens.

  5. TFW hosting an overzealous Nazi puncher like Dan arel brings out the politically violent element within your audience, and they repeatedly denounce your seemingly non controversial anti-violence view as ‘insane’

    It’s like an inverse-Rubin

  6. @nameless_commenter
    I didn’t call any person’s views insane. Unless you agree with what should have been the extreme logical conclusion of an always-use-nonviolence outlook. It’s an exaggeration to illustrate what happens when an idea is taken too far. If you actually agreed with that caricature (i.e., that violence is never the answer), well, I don’t know what to say. That’s gradeschool logic.

    I don’t know where the line is where it becomes OK to use physical force (and yes, violence). But the line exists, in my opinion. Violence is sometimes necessary. And it seems like an arbitrary line to say that violence is only ever OK in self defense to direct physical violence.

    Specifically, I think the Black Bloc and Antifa groups see use of force as the only recourse they have left. I think it’s a little self absorbed to flippantly write off their view. As if you totally understand where they’re coming from. From their perspective, they’ve tried the non-violent thing for a long time and it isn’t working. Talk about that, don’t just ignore it with a canned, non-nuanced response.

    I don’t think those groups are always right. Unfortunately I think some of Thomas’ responses were naive, or at least too simplistic. And, I’m not totally sure he had the best representative on to debate with, he just had someone on an extreme side. But he wasn’t good at explaining things and picked out some really stupid things (like saying Bill Mahr was right wing, although he doesn’t watch his show but somehow did watch his show to see the one thing he disagreed with).

    Anyway, in short, I don’t think Thomas fully understands the viewpoint of the people who don’t take a simplistic exclusively-non-violent approach to being perpetually oppressed.

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