The Humanist Hour #175: The “Regressive Left” and Safe Spaces, with Dr. Peter Boghossian

In this episode, Bo Bennett and Kim Ellington speak with Dr. Peter Boghossian about the “Regressive Left,” safe spaces, trigger warnings, and what appears to be an alarming change in American university culture.

Dr. Peter Boghossian’s main focus is bringing the tools of professional philosophers to people in a wide variety of contexts. Peter has a teaching pedigree spanning more than 20 years and 30 thousand students – in prisons, hospitals, public and private schools, seminaries, colleges and universities, Fortune 100 companies, and small businesses. His fundamental objective is to teach people how to think through what often seem to be intractable problems.

Dr. Boghossian’s primary research areas are critical thinking and moral reasoning. His doctoral research studies, funded by the State of Oregon and supported by the Oregon Department of Corrections, consisted of using the Socratic method to help prison inmates to increase their critical thinking and moral reasoning abilities and to increase their desistance to criminal behavior.


  • thebigJ_A

    It’s too bad he doesn’t apply his critical thinking to his own views besides atheism. When one responds to people explaining that gay pride is about surviving bigotry and the struggle for equality, squeaking that questioning it is a “leftist blasphemy” isn’t very rational. Maybe he should go “sit at the kids’ table” until he’s willing to accept explanations.

    It’s too bad. Other than the non sequitur chapter, his book is useful.

    • Carl Sagan

      Can you elaborate on this further?

      • thebigJ_A

        Sure. Follow him on Twitter. He asked something to the effect of not understanding gay pride, how can people be proud of something they were just born as.
        See him on YouTube talking with anti-feminist atheists. Read the chapter in his book where he goes on this non sequitur about “Leftism” and argues against feminism. Or where he recommends we watch Thunderf00t on YouTube. That guy’s an atheist, yes, but also the Pat Robertson against women’s equality.

        Bogghossian gives good advice in most of his book specifically about atheism, but he’s got lots of troubling views on other matters. He doesn’t discuss them openly and rationally, either.

        • Boghossian’s point on the mis-use of the word “pride” seem valid enough. Don’t forget that he’s a philosopher and has a well developed ability to notice and discuss ideas that bring discomfort to some. I admire Richard Carrier’s careful scholarly work into the question of the historicity of Jesus, but he doesn’t devote the same care to his “AtheismPlus” rantings.

          • thebigJ_A

            Valid? He throws out a false question instead of doing the simple google search he would have done had it been genuine. He then ignores all the answers. Gay Pride, as defined by those who hold it, makes perfect rational sense. The “I’m just asking questions” excuse no longer flies. He wasn’t open to learning, but rather reinforcing his conservative biases. I don’t care that he’s a philosopher, that’s intellectually dishonest.

            I pay attention to Carrier, I see a humanist into equality for everyone who very occasionally might go too far (and admits and corrects when he does)
            I see Boghossian supporting the worst elements in atheism and refusing to even consider the idea of his privilege. Conflating working towards women’s equality with some sort of evil groupthink is sad and irrational. Yes, in specific cases multiculturalism oversteps, like if you can’t criticize religion, but that doesn’t make it a bad word. Same with “diversity”.

            Pay more attention to what he does day to day. Ignoring evidence of social inequality is irrational. Getting on a soundstage with a declared misogynist and denouncing women’s rights and the “left” is irresponsible if not immoral.

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  • Scott Draper

    “literally destroying an entire generation of people”? Literally? I think that word does not mean what you think it means.

    • The problem of political correctness run amok is indeed destroying the reasoning capacity of an entire generation, in a way not unlike religion has done to countless generations past. Your quibble with his sloppy use of the word “literally” notwithstanding.

      • thebigJ_A

        Citation needed

        People can and are indeed sometimes too “politically correct”. That hardly makes it a plague stunting our brains.

        It’s telling that it’s often people trying to silence those who work towards equality and social justice who throw out the accusation, though.

  • Luminya

    Great interview. Thank you for posting this.

  • Saratista

    Dr. Boghossian brought a lot of passion to this topic about which many Americans appear to either know nothing or simply don’t care. He’s right to be passionate and maybe his energy will ignite a spark in more and more people. First, any incursions on freedom of speech strike at the heart of enlightenment principles. We apes worked long and hard to get to the enlightenment, and we should never go back. Second, no one escapes life without conflict and hardship. The young need to test their mettle so they realize they have the abilities and courage to address daunting problems. Bravo Dr. Boghossian.

  • Kai

    In addition to how he grossly misrepresents what a trigger warning is, I was annoyed with Boghossian’s reverse racism argument, where whoever points out racism in what he’s saying is “the one who’s seeing race.” Of course it’s going to be the social justice side of a discussion who mentions a social justice issue first. Ignoring subtle racism because the offender hasn’t explicitly mentioned what he’s doing yet is no way to fight it. You don’t apply “he who smelt it, dealt it” to racism.

    And I didn’t like how Kim felt the need to find strawman feminists (her “all sex is rape” example), in order to validate the guest despite being a feminist herself. When people try to shut down or hijack feminism, their target isn’t one delusional blogger. It’s you. The normal, sane feminist.

    • Kim didn’t construct a straw man, she identified an admittedly small subculture within the feminist movement. My sense of it is that it’s maybe about the same small but vocal size as the MRA types, but it’s not one delusional blogger. If only that were so.

      • Right, it’s a small minority in the feminist movement. Even my most radical socialist feminist friends say, “It’s not about genitals, it’s about consent.”

    • Vic Demented

      “Of course it’s going to be the social justice side of a discussion who mentions a social justice issue first. ”

      This wasn’t his point. The issue is they aren’t just noticing social justice issues, they are devaluing a person based upon their race or gender and not at all based on what they said. To say that we should show deference to ideas simply based on their race or gender is antithetical to progressive liberal values.

      Their absurd argument says that I should respect Clarence Thomas’ view of affirmative action simply because he is black, or that I should respect Michelle Bachman’s view on banning abortion simply because she’s a woman.

  • etesla

    His entire objection to safe spaces seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what they’re for. (That might be due to overreach on his particular campus – I don’t know.)

    If you’re a teacher, you generally have a teacher’s lounge – a place where you aren’t asked to continuously educate those around you on your topic of expertise. LGBT folks, women, trans* people, and PoC are asked to continuously educate to justify and defend their humanity, identity, and rights. That’s work that is usually unpaid despite its importance and despite the frequent belligerence of the students. Dr. Boghossian wants to deny them a teacher’s lounge?

    That the concepts of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions are sometimes misused or even abused does not make those concepts invalid or dangerous in and of themselves. If Dr. Boghossian would like to engage in earnest dialectic on the topic, I’d be happy to chat with him.

    I do want to thank Kim and Bo for mentioning that the podcast was largely comprised of anecdotes, but there’s far more to be critical here than simply a lack of statistics.

    • misanthropytoday

      ” LGBT folks, women, trans* people, and PoC are asked to continuously educate to justify and defend their humanity, identity, and rights. ”


      “the podcast was largely comprised of anecdotes, but there’s far more to be critical here than simply a lack of statistics”

      What a canard this has become. Well, we cannot really understand this issue unless we have statistics and peer reviewed studies on weak, hypersensitive and anti-intellectual and anti-liberty spoiled college kids? Fuck off.

  • MD_Brewer

    The Regressive Left issues that are raised in the discussion are interesting and the cancelling of ideas on college campuses is dreadful. But the bigger picture of the personal attacks by lefties (Glenn Greenwald comes to mind) on people like Sam Harris are pretty damn dangerous. Why? Because the attacks on people brave enough to call out radical Islamists begins to squash the discussion on the dangers of radical Islamists. Which then leads us to tiptoe around the issues and forces us to use ‘safe words’ when more explicit terms are required; more explicit terms that should lead to realizations and actions.

    If this was the Dark Ages, we would be denouncing and condemning the Catholic Church – a leading force for evil, torture, paranoia, imperialism, etc. However it is the 2000’s and Islam is the problem. for all the same reasons. And if we can’t discuss this in an open and meaningful way (without being tagged an Islamaphobe or bigot or racist), we lose. We lose the ability to combat dangerous ideas, thoughts, and actions. We lose our ability to reason and explore root causes. And we lose the most important freedom we have – our freedom to express ideas without fear of retribution. Not rebuttals – that’s very appropriate – but the retribution that leads to the silence of potentially ‘uncomfortable’ ideas.

    • thebigJ_A

      Uncomfortable ideas like women’s rights, LGBT equality, etc.?
      It’s hardly an issue of “the Left” only silencing people. Just ask a prominent female atheist why there are so few women going to the conventions, or taking the place of leaders.
      You can criticize Islam without also attacking feminism. Or having an issue with LGBT people.

      For the record, most atheists skew left socially and politically, and the vocal ones tend to have no problem criticizing religion including Islam. If “political correctness” towards religion specifically is a problem, it’s not a right or left thing, it’s an accommodationist thing.

      • MD_Brewer

        not certain how you are conflating criticizing Islam with criticizing feminism, but all these topics must be open for rational discussion. I agree with you about the freethinking community being mostly left oriented and when i go to skeptic meetup

        groups, i’m very often the only one not on that side. It’s a shame as libertarians have been in the forefront of so many critical issues in the world from LGBT rights to non-interventionism (remember when lefties were anti-war?) to the end of the drug war…..

        Women’s rights and LGBT equality are hardly uncomfortable ideas any more. they are mainstream and openly discussed everywhere; unless you’re on a campus that practices censorship in some silly attempt to protect folks from -gasp- differing opinions.

      • Jimbo

        “Just ask a prominent female atheist” <- You mean like Paula Kirby who was attacked and shunned for not being the right kind of feminist?

  • Eric Holp

    I don’t think the two interviewers quite get it (especially the woman… she’s buying into the nonsense… somehow that figures).

  • riorio1

    My favorite part of this great interview “this has made them impotent in the face of conflicting ideas.” If you believe an idea you dislike is some form of aggression than maybe you should go back to your parents’ house and hide there, you’re not ready for the real world. The Atlantic is doing a series of great articles about the mollycoddling of young American minds and the damage it’s doing to the American university. If you wonder why American kids do so poorly academically in contrast with their foreign counterparts, the answer is right there in Dr, Boghossian’s quote, they are put in this little first world bubble with their little first world problems and never fend for themselves.

  • Anthony Glaser

    There is a high-pitched whine in the recording that becomes really noticeable at 35:04. It gave me a head-ache. Real technical issue – not being funny.