Some things Matt Dillahunty should know about Sye ten Bruggencate

Matt Dillahunty, co-host of the Atheist Experience cable access television programme based in Austin, Texas, and all ’round upstanding member of the skeptical / humanist / atheist community, has been in Sye ten Bruggencate’s crosshairs now for some time.

Sye, being special, doesn’t think he should have to phone in to the programme when Matt is taking questions from callers. Sye wants to be a guest on the show so he can do what he always does when pretending to listen to what his opponents are saying, i.e., play stupid word-games, and deliberately misrepresent everything anyone says to him.

I don’t know how much Matt has already heard about Sye’s tactics, beyond what he’s figured out for himself since posting the video reply below, but I thought it might be useful to flesh out the basics so he can brace himself for the most frustrating “debate” of his life, should it ever happen.

Sye will begin by asking Matt if it’s possible he could be wrong about everything he thinks he knows. He will then proceed to use interchangeable definitions of what the words ‘possible’, ‘wrong’, ‘everything’ and ‘know’ actually mean, depending on the route he chooses to take through his cascading script of pre-written responses. He might throw in some other words he wants to redefine as well, such as “evidence”, “logic” and “reason” — but regardless of how he approaches it, Sye will lie about what Matt has actually said within at least the first two or three minutes of the debate.

He will then claim he wants to be absolutely sure about what Matt has said, and ask him to repeat his response — banking on the fact that because Matt isn’t a robot he will phrase his reply slightly differently the second time around. Then Sye will say that Matt has contradicted himself, by misquoting what Matt said in his first reply. When Matt then corrects him on this, Sye has the only “in” he needs for the rest of his trick to work. He might even repeat the misquote a second time. This is called anchoring, and it works by creating a moment in the conversation which the audience can be called back to at a later time, minus certain pertinent details.

Sye will then make it seem as if the conversation has moved on, or that he is interested in clarifying a statement Matt has made at another time, perhaps during a different debate, or on his podcast — but this too is mere misdirection by Sye, who is only biding his time for a chance to spring what stand-up comedians refer to as a call-back — where the anchor made earlier in the conversation can be used to make it seem as if rather than it being Sye who deliberately misquoted what Matt said, it was actually Matt who admitted to making a mistake. Sye knows that Matt will spot this, but it doesn’t matter. Sye isn’t debating with Matt, he is preaching to his own audience, and fishing for quotes which he can selectively cut and paste when he wishes to later brag to his enablers about “defeating” Matt Dillahunty in debate.

As for the the old parlour trick itself, it can be adapted for all kinds of situations, and it’s possible Sye himself learned it from the same books read by everyone from magicians, who use it to misdirect the audience while a switch is performed, to police interrogators who require the subject to become agitated and bamboozled by having their words twisted. If you watch Sye in action you will actually see his expression change when the window of opportunity to use this slight of hand is opened up to him. It usually happens around the part of his act where he starts interrupting his opponent while they’re explaining something he would prefer not to talk about.

He’s also rather fond of appearing to contradict himself on something he himself has earlier said, so that when his opponent points this out he can accuse them of being incapable of knowing what is right and what is wrong because they’ve already “admitted” they could be wrong about everything they think they know — even though this in and of itself is the very thing which he lied about in the misquote anchored earlier on.

And that’s it. That is the sum-total of Sye ten Bruggencate’s “argument”. End of. There is no more. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Where black is the colour and none is the number, there you will find Sye’s “ideas”. He is not interested in listening to anyone who disagrees with him, he is interested in lying about what people have actually said, so he can shill DVD’s for Eric Hovind, and Crown Rights Media. That is all. There is no “proof that God exists” involved. Just lies, tricks, bullying tactics, and his own giant ego.

One final point, speaking now directly to Matt Dillahunty: Matt, please know that no matter what Sye says to you about how a video or audio recording of the debate be used, should it ever happen, with regard to publishing, editing, repacking, distribution and commercial exploitation, he is lying to your face. No matter what. He is going to edit what you have actually said, quote you out of context, and rewrite what you actually said when he posts to his various comments disabled blogs in promotion of whatever product he uses you to produce. He is attempting to heighten his own profile by using you and the Atheist Experience as means of doing so. They’re running out of cash, and they’re running out of people to pull their tricks on. He wants to be the next Ray Comfort / Hovind / Ham / insert name of liar for Jesus tax dodging cretin here, and he is going to use your name to do it.

In short, do not believe a word he says. He is by far and away the nastiest little spoiled child you will ever have the displeasure of meeting, and as more and more people in the community work out exactly how his scam works, the more he has to look for another audience — which he believes you’re going to give him. He’s probably, for once, right. So, please — if you do debate him, make sure he can’t sit down for a week. I can’t think of anyone out there in the anti-everything brigade who deserves it rammed down their throat more than Sye ten Bruggencate.

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PZ Myers, Thunderf00t and Rebecca Watson, sitting in a tree, k.i.s.s.i.n.g.

Look everyone! An out-of-context picture of Thunderf00t, which suggests he likes money!

Look everyone! An out-of-context picture of Thunderf00t, which suggests he likes money!

I won’t go into the background too much here, but suffice to say there is a long and extremely tedious backstory to this, surrounding an “is there / isn’t there” a need for a debate about misogyny at one end, and men hating feminism at the other, among leading lights in the skepticism movement, which has taken on a new twist this past week.

Thunderf00t posted a YouTube video that quickly drew the fire of people like Atheist Experience host Matt Dillahunty, because it used outdated screenshots, retracted quotes, and lecture slides used by PZ Myers in a talk which he later acknowledged were unhelpful in the way they were phrased, which he later amended.

Thunderf00t’s basic point seems to be that while the skeptic community is busy arguing amongst itself about the sorts of behaviour that should and shouldn’t be sanctioned / encouraged / prohibited at conventions and so on, it detracts from the actual point of banding together in the first place, which is to challenge prejudice and assumption-based thinking in our political and social discourse.

The problem isn’t so much with what Thunderf00t is trying to say, but the way in which he’s saying it; using language against PZ and others which suggests they are being hypocritical and even downright dishonest, when in reality they’re merely taking a different approach to the debate than the one Thunderf00t would prefer.

I’ve long suspected Thunderf00t to be more in it for Thunderf00t than in it for the purpose of educating and informing the general public on what atheism / skepticism / humanism is actually all about. That’s not to say he isn’t right to jump on some of the topics he chooses to address; just as he is right to point out that feminism’s crossover with rational skepticism shouldn’t mean that skeptics are barred from commenting on some of the problems which result from being overly sensitive towards these issues; looking for sexism wherever you turn, regardless of whether or not it is being intentionally aimed at any one individual or group.

“Right-on” attitudes held for the sake of being “right-on” are never going to produce healthy results. The lesson to be learned here is that our cousins, brothers and sisters in satire and standup comedy have already put themselves through this often tortuous process of identifying what to explicitly say you stand for, while leaving other things open for the audience to work out for themselves.

In the case of political correctness, for example, this idea that “you can’t say anything these days” was ridiculed almost out of existence in the late 1990’s, when Sacha Baron Cohen’s catch-phrase “is it because I is black” saw luminaries of the liberal inteligencia turned unsuspecting targets of the urban gangster character Ali G, blushing their way through spoof youth TV interviews, too embarrassed to point out that Cohen is very much of the white skinned persuasion.

Similarly, the alternative comedy scene which emerged from Thatcher’s 1980’s Britain, which began with no more lofty an ambition than to tell gags that made people laugh at their own failings, rather than the weaknesses perceived or imagined in other people. Despite starting out with good intentions, by the time alternative comedy made it to television, with after-the-watershed edgy ‘yoof TV’ such as The Word and Friday Night Live, Harry Enfield was reeling out clichés about immigrant kebab shop owners, and all Ben Elton had to say was “Thatcher, oops, little bit of politics there” and everyone in the audience whooped and cheered as if part of some new-wave, on-message revolution in social attitudes; when in reality they were merely swapping one outdated stereotype for another, and dressing it in even gaudier spandex.

I’ve said on numerous occasions on the podcast, and on here, that the danger with taking an organised approach to not being religious is that it leads, however unintentionally, to exactly the sort of pack-mentality of which we rightly accuse our detractors. There’s nothing wrong with being a joiner. Americans are exceptionally good at it, and some issues do need to be addressed in a well organised way. The campaign to stop a fundamentalist preaching of the bible in science classes for example, is a perfectly good thing to be on-board with, and speak out against, with one voice.

But the issues which have arisen here, between Watson and Thunderf00t, are in most part to do with this assumption among a small but vocal group, that joining something which is by definition opposed to the whole concept of needing to join something simply to have a voice at all, gives them carte blanche to dictate the terms by which that group begrudgingly operates. And what both parties seem to have lost sight of, is that having a popular YouTube channel is completely different to having the right to tell other people how they should react when they feel as if they’re being marginalised or set aside for special treatment.

Sam Harris warned of this several years ago, when he said that for as long as we define ourselves according to conventions laid down for us by the very system of group-think we identify as dysfunctional, we should expect for it to produce nothing more than we could have achieved as individuals, and in most cases considerably less.

It’s a shame that he’s been proven right, but in another way it might hopefully signal a shift in the way we (and I use the term in the loosest way possible) go forward, in our individual efforts, in tackling the religionist threat to all of us; regardless of what we do or do not believe about what greater gravitas our words and actions should afford us, simply because of our particular gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or view-count.

This shouldn’t be about how many people we have on “our side”, it should be about nothing more ambitious than noticing fewer religious encroachments into our day-to-day lives, as a result of our expressing displeasure with them. If you expect it to be more that that, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

It should be about no longer being expected to say grace before meals, when visiting the house of religious friends, because they know it offends you. But it should also be about being perfectly happy to sit in silence when they sit down and say grace amongst themselves, without feeling the need to leap onto the table and take a shit in the gravy boat.

It should be about respectfully allowing people like Rebecca Watson to make her point, and take on-board what she has to say, without feeling the need to over-compensate, simply to make it clear you’re not one of the men she’s talking about.

Most importantly of all, it should be about pointing and laughing at organised charlatans and profiteers, while exposing how their methods work. They’re not targeting only women, or men, or black disabled albino lesbians living on council estates and claiming benefits for sixteen multi-ethnic kids; they’re targeting everyone — particularly the vulnerable; and these are the people we should bear in mind, when we fracture into petty little squabbles about the sorts of slogans people should and shouldn’t be allowed to have on their T-Shirts, when they attend rallies and conventions, which are only necessary to begin with because no-one else was saying what needed to be said.


“Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.” – Michael Palin, King of the swamp, Monty Python and The Holy Grail.