Divisiveness Within the Secular Movement

September 12, 2012

Greta Christina and PZ Myers have recently suggested that is it not necessarily a bad thing to be divisive.  True, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  It depends on what one is separating oneself from. 

In her blog post, Greta Christina responded to the charge that the Atheism Plus initiative is divisive by claiming that the secular community is divided already.  As evidence for this claim, she offered several deplorable incidents and actions, principally involving hate-filled threats and comments to women, many of which would be familiar to anyone active in the movement.  She then asked rhetorically why such vile conduct has not been called “divisive.” 

But if hate-filled comments and threats to women have not been expressly called divisive, it’s because such conduct does not threaten to divide the movement. It has already been repudiated, both implicitly and explicitly, by many, if not most, of the organizations in the movement. 

Before I go further, perhaps I should indicate what I mean by “the movement,” at least as it pertains to the United States.  (It will complicate matters if I try to encompass other countries.)  There are roughly fifteen nationwide secular organizations in the U. S.  Many (but not all) are members of the Secular Coalition.  (FFRF is not, for example.)  There are also a number of significant regional secular groups, e.g., Humanists of Florida Association, Humanists of Minnesota, Minnesota Atheists.  Finally, there are also some national and regional skeptical organizations that have crossover appeal, that is, they have gone beyond the traditional limits of skepticism and in some fashion engage in critical examination of religion and have explicitly nonreligious leaders. The movement comprises these organizations, their members, and supporters.  The movement doesn’t include everyone who is nonreligious; some (many? most?) nonbelievers have little or no interest in the missions or activities of these various organizations.  Merely identifying yourself as an atheist and posting a comment on a blog doesn't make you part of the movement.

Now that we are clear about what I mean by the movement, I can say with confidence that at the national level none of the movement organizations condones hatred and threats toward women.  I believe the same can be said for the regional groups, although I am less confident simply because I do not have first-hand knowledge for all these groups. 

But do not take my word for it.  Amy Roth had the inspired idea to have some of the male representatives of movement organizations go on record condemning the sort of invective and hate that Greta highlights in her blog.  I am not privy to the individuals Amy asked to participate.  I suppose it is possible someone turned her down.  All I know is that many secular organizations are represented in her series “Speaking out against hate directed at women.” 

My point is that the haters are not threatening to divide the movement.  No matter how frequently the haters pollute our blogs, they are outside the movement already.  No one in a position of responsibility wants them in the movement.  Whatever differences may exist among the various movement organizations, we are united on this issue. 

So if the movement is united on this point, is there any need to be concerned about divisiveness?  In particular, is there cause for concern about divisiveness resulting from the Atheism Plus initiative? Or from any other source? Maybe. 

First, let’s talk about possible discord with respect to goals external to the movement, that is, the changes we’d like to bring about in society.  Obviously, not all the secular organizations are in agreement with what the precise objectives and priorities of the movement should be—otherwise, presumably, we would have just one large, nationwide organization.  Nonetheless, as demonstrated by the Secular Coalition, and events such as the Reason Rally, there is a broad consensus about many of the issues on which the secular movement should work.  (There is less consensus, admittedly, if one includes the crossover skeptical organizations.) I think it’s fair to say that all the secular organizations advocate for a strict separation of church and state, equal rights for nonbelievers, and an end to preferential treatment of religion. Most of them also want to end religious influence on public policy. With respect to this last objective, there are different interpretations about how broad our work in this area should be. As I outlined in a prior post, CFI takes a fairly expansive view of its mandate and we have worked on a variety of issues that could be described as social justice issues, including activism in support of  LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and equality for women. We’re a member of the Alliance for Justice and where appropriate we have partnered with AFJ or some of its member organizations on various projects.

Deciding how much staff time and money to expend on a particular issue is always a problem, however. We have finite resources. Real finite. Compared to Religious Right organizations our budget is minuscule.

Furthermore, our resources compared with other progressive organizations are also (usually) much smaller. For example, Human Rights Campaign does great work; it also has annual revenue of over $30 million. There is no way we could—and no reason we should—try to compete with them. It makes no sense to duplicate their efforts.

And it’s not just that we can’t effectively “me too” the work of other organizations working on social justice issues; we at CFI don’t want to. We are not primarily LGBT advocates, women’s rights advocates, or healthcare advocates. We are advocates for a secular society, one of the fruits of which, we firmly believe, will be a society with rational, evidence-based policies and much less religion-fueled prejudice. We also believe our work on this objective takes priority over other social justice objectives, however worthy they may be.

So to return to Atheism Plus, here’s a concern: because the A+ advocates want to work on social justice issues, but have not yet specified how they plan to go about this, including which issues they will emphasize, there’s a worry that they will divert resources from the secular movement and weaken it. Moreover, this diluting of the strength of the secular movement will come right at a time when we have begun to make some progress, but we’re still far short of achieving our goals. When both major political parties still feel free to give us the back of their hand and treat the nonreligious as second-class citizens (as evidenced by the recent conventions), it may be premature to declare victory and move on to other projects. And, of course, that’s just the United States. When one looks at the influence of religion in other countries, especially the Islamic world, it’s even clearer that we have much work to do.

I’m not asserting that Atheism Plus is divisive with respect to the secular movement; I don’t see how anyone can at this stage as it’s still very much a work in progress. It’s possible this initiative will actually have the effect of energizing the secular movement by getting people involved who otherwise would remain inactive. But because its objectives, priorities, and plan of action have not been clearly formulated, it’s not irrational for someone committed to the secular movement to be apprehensive about its effect. In any event, I don’t think one should be indifferent to its potentially divisive impact.

OK, now let’s turn to divisiveness about goals internal to the movement. Here’s where the friction really is, isn’t it? As is well known, both A+ advocates and some others have called for a continuation of the scrutiny of sexism and other forms of prejudice within the movement, a process that began in earnest a little over a year ago. In the abstract, there’s nothing wrong with getting one’s own house in order. To the contrary, it’s obviously something we should do. Moreover, if it were simply a matter of “prioritiz[ing] the inclusion of women over the inclusion of hateful, misogynist assholes,” as Greta puts it, it would seem to be relatively simple matter. As indicated, no one in a responsible position in the movement wants to include hateful misogynists.

But it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple because while everyone agrees that telling a woman you want to kill her after you rape her is intolerable and in and of itself marks you as someone who has no place in the movement, the label “misogynist”  is sometimes thrown about carelessly. For example, Russell Blackford, the Australian philosopher (and Free Inquiry columnist) has been called a misogynist shitbag. Yet, as far as I know, Blackford has never made any hateful comments or threats to women; indeed, he has condemned them. He has expressed doubts about the wisdom of harassment policies adopted by some organizations and, if I recall correctly, he has taken exception to some of the criticism directed against TAM (the JREF’s annual meeting). But although Blackford’s views on these issues may be misguided, that hardly qualifies him as a misogynist.

I don’t mean to suggest that the stigmatizing and slurs flow only in one direction. Obviously not. Those calling attention to the problems of harassment within the movement have been dismissed as attention whores, feminazis, or man-haters. Again, even if the incidence of harassment within the movement and its seriousness were overstated (the reality is we don’t have reliable statistics, so anecdotal evidence is all anyone can point to), this would not imply that those emphasizing the problem are engaging in unacceptable conduct. They can be mistaken without being self-centered fanatics.

In a sense, Greta and PZ are right: the movement is divided, but it’s not divided for any good reason. It’s divided because too many in the movement are not willing to recognize that their fellow secularists can be mistaken without thereby being bigots; that their fellow secularists can have different understandings of the implications of feminism without being misogynists or “sister-punishers”; and that their fellow secularists can have can have different perceptions of the problem of harassment without being feminazis.

We’ve divided the movement because we’re not talking to each other; we’re just insulting each other.

Contributing to this type of divisiveness is not a good thing, because it’s fostering divisions that are unnecessary and can be avoided; it’s fostering divisions that will weaken the secular movement; it’s fostering divisions that will allow the religious dogmatists to require a new lease on life. We’re arguing about who’s the true feminist while state legislatures are drafting bills restricting abortions.

We should not cut ourselves off from fellow secularists who agree with us on core principles such as a woman’s right to be in control of her reproductive choices, to enjoy economic, social, and political equality, and to be free from harassment and hostility. If there are secondary disagreements about how best to secure these rights, we should try to resolve them through dialogue, not denunciation.

Postscript
I don’t think of myself as being part of the language police, but in reading various blogs and tweets in preparation for writing my post, I think I saw enough references to douchebags, shitbags, fuckwads, and assholes to last a lifetime. Intemperate language isn’t the cause of the disagreements currently roiling the movement, but it certainly is a contributing factor. And it’s tiresome.

Comments:

#251 HJ Hornbeck (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:41am

Iamcuriousblue @250
“The problems of FtB and Skepchick are inherently the problems of Atheism+.”

Oh really? Then let’s take a tour of the support for Atheism+ on FtB:


Labels as A+, member of atheismplus.com = Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson.

Labels as A+, but isn’t a member of atheismplus.com = PZ Myers, Stephanie Zvan, Dan Fincke, Jason Thibeault, Dana Hunter, Richard Carrier, Ashley Miller.

Supportive, but hasn’t labelled: PhysioProffe, Deacon Duncan, Maryam Namazie.

Sympathetic, but won’t label: Matt Dillahunty,
Aron Ra, Hank Fox, Al Stefanelli, Crommunist.

On the fence: Zinnia Jones, Cuttlefish, Kylie Sturgess.

No Comment: Natalie Reed.

Opposed to A+: Edwin Kagin.

No public opinion that I can find: Ed Brayton, Chris Rodda, Steven Andrew, Assassin Actual, Justin Griffith, Mano Singham, Chris Hallquist, Brianne Bilyeu, Taslima Nasreen, Cristina Rad.


Hmmm… so out of 35 bloggers on FtB, 11 are playing a role in Atheism+, and only three are quite active. In contrast, 15 are skeptical or deliberately steering clear of the fray.

So how, exactly, can A+ “barely exist independently” of FreeThoughtBlogs, when so few FtB bloggers are active within it?

#252 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:34am

“Yes. Our objections to blackford have nothing to do with how eagerly he laughed along to smelly skepchick snatch or Watson and Benson being too ugly to rape.”

Julian, these are very strong claims to make without any evidence whatsoever about a named individual who has a real-world reputation to defend.

As far as I know Blackford has not only never behaved like this, but has vigorously criticised the people who do, on both sides of this dispute. If you have evidence to the contrary, show it. If you haven’t, you should ask yourself how you have come to believe these things; who has misled you and what might their motives be? What else have they told you without supporting evidence of any kind, and should you now refuse to take that on trust. That is how rational, skeptical enquiry gets to the truth, leading us away from groupthink and tribal loyalties. That is the whole point of skeptical enquiry and it matters.

#253 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:40am

Two problems with your argument.

1) Even if it was true that only a minority of FtB and Skepchick supported A+, it does not follow that only a minority within A+ are unconnected with those two blogging networks. (Can’t sketch a Venn diagram here, but I think the idea is clear enough.) It is clear that those blogs on those networks that are interested in A+ are providing the majority of support for that movement. It came out of a discussion on Blaghag barely a month ago, after all. On this ground alone, my description of A+ as something springing from FtB and Skepchick is entirely accurate.

2) Your argument claiming limited support for A+ at FTB is, once again, disingenuous. First, what exactly constitutes a “member of A+”? It’s a movement of supporters of an idea, and all the people who you list as “supporters” and “sympathizers” I would definitely put into the A+ camp, even if their level of activity varies. Why would Physioproffe author a post demonizing those opposed to A+ if he didn’t have a very deeply held support of it himself. (As for Natalie Reed, that’s part of the passive-aggressive game she’s been known to play. She wants A+ to come to her, not have her come to them.)

OTOH, in the “no public opinion” column, I’m seeing indications that Chris Hallquist is mildly against, and I think it’s no coincidence that he’s just left FtB. I think it’s also no coincidence that he’s talking about his blog becoming “unarchived”, meaning it will probably be purged completely. Sounds like it might not have been the most amicable break behind the scenes.

I really don’t know why you’re trying to advance such a silly argument. All of us who have been watching the A+ ball for the last month know where it was thrown from. It’s clear who the players are, what their history is, and how this has influenced the entire nature of the A+ game.

#254 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:48am

Julian writes:

“Yes. Our objections to blackford have nothing to do with how eagerly he laughed along to smelly skepchick snatch or Watson and Benson being too ugly to rape.”

Julian, for fuck’s sake! Quit accusing people on the other side of an argument from you of sending rape threats, being horrible misogynists, and other nefarious opinions and activities. Not unless you have evidence. You should assume that most people on either side of the atheist “gender wars” is against rape threats and chasing women off of the internet, because with rare exceptions, most are. While demonizing your opponents based on whatever vile thoughts enter your head may feel personally validating, I assure you, it does not move the argument further.

#255 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:53am

@Iamcuriousblue

“It’s clear who the players are, what their history is,
and how this has influenced the entire nature of the A+ game.”

I think you’re right, and I think Atheism+ reflects the FTB “culture” as a whole. But I do feel a little sorry for some of the more rational bloggers.  If they ever come out actively against Atheism+ I think it’s very likely they’ll get the sack or be forced to resign.  Such is “freethought”.

#256 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 2:26am

Very true, Kevin. I think those of us who have been critical of “FtB” have been confronted with this kind of shell game of “which blogs do you mean”. When, of course, I don’t mean every single FtB blog, but certainly, the more high-profile ones which for better or worse have established an identifiable culture around FtB, starting with Pharyngula.

The fact that two of my favorite FtB bloggers, Chris Hallquist and Daniel Fincke, both left FTB for Patheos within the last week (along with JT) definitely makes it a hell of a lot easier for me to just write off FtB entirely now, though. I’m surprised how little commentary there’s been on this loss of several of FtB’s more intellectually-oriented bloggers within the space of a week - that’s a big development, and a welcome one.

#257 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 2:47am

@Iamcuriousblue

I predict that atheism+ will become a purely feminist movement (feminism+), with a dwindling number of members, till it eventually dies out within several years, purely from lack of rational substance.

If the radical feminists thought that they were unwelcome in the atheist community before, I think they’ll find that they’re even less welcome now.

#258 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 4:47am

@ Iamcuriousblue: Shouldn’t it be, “counter vitriol that stirs up so much counter-counter-vitriol”?

#259 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 4:56am

There are nearly 1,500 people registered on the atheismplus forums. Now, I know for a fact that not everyone who is supportive of A+ is registered on the forums. For something that only came into official existence a month ago, and which many people do not yet know exists (if my local CFI chapter is any indication), I’d say that’s a pretty good amount of support, and I suspect that it will continue to grow.

#260 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 4:57am

@Kevin: Yes, because feminism is so very irrational. On account of women being inferior, and all.

Hey, I *did* say I wasn’t above sarcasm.

#261 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:09am

Hey Amy! Did you meet any of the predicted hostility at your CFI meeting?

#262 Ophelia Benson on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:25am

Another factual correction: I don’t “label as A+” and I’m not a member of anything. I registered for the forum because I wanted to say a couple of things, but I don’t consider that “membership” of anything. It’s a forum.

#263 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:26am

@Timon: Not hostility, but there was some dissent. Actually, most of the members had never heard of A+ (I’m guessing they don’t frequent the atheist blogosphere). I didn’t hear any new arguments against. Not everyone contributed to the discussion (about 20 people were present, maybe more), but if I extrapolate from those who did I’d say it was pretty evenly split.

It did get me thinking though. All of the members are young (this chapter is at a university; I believe I was the oldest person there [grad student]), and are probably new to atheism/skepticism and/or activism. I think some of them were alarmed 1) that there is a group of people who want to distinguish themselves from the mainstream movement, and 2) by the behaviors of people that led to the formation of A+ or that have resulted. It’s not a big, happy, squishy family by any means. That’s got to be eye-opening and scary if you’re new.

I first came into the movement when the “New Atheists” were fighting with the “accomodationists”; I think I had a similar reaction. But instead of being turned away by the infighting I stuck it out and sort of ignored the bits I didn’t agree with. Hopefully things will settle down eventually, and these folks will do the same.

#264 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:41am

@Amy

“There are nearly 1,500 people registered on the atheismplus forums.”

I think the forum may survive, but only as a discussion forum.  Many people feel the need for interactions with other human beings, protected from serious criticism.

#265 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:42am

“Not hostility, but there was some dissent. “

Well that’s good, dissent is what we like, right?

Let us know if you do meet any of the sexist and misogynistic hostility that some on FtB will tell you is the norm in the movement. Having never seen any myself I am really curious as to how it manifests itself.

#266 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:48am

@Timon: Yes, dissent is good. It was a great discussion. I doubt that I will see any hostility from this group, at least when we are face to face. However, there were a few people who were clueless about privilege and feminism in general. I don’t hold this against them, because I think they probably haven’t encountered these ideas before.

@Kevin: Protected from criticism? Or protected from abuse? There is a difference.

#267 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 5:57am

“However, there were a few people who were clueless about privilege and feminism in general. I don’t hold this against them, because I think they probably haven’t encountered these ideas before.”

Well the idea of ‘privilege’ is a much more contested one that you would sometimes think from the interwebs, at least in the epistemological implications that some social theorists want to claim. There was some good stuff about this on the Philosophers’ Magazine site recently. But I am surprised how many young people seem not to have a sexual politics at all.

Did the lack of hostility (and I know that anecdote doesn’t equal data)change your mind at all about the claims of widespread sexist abuse, misogyny and threats towards women in the movement? Or incline you to shift your Bayesian priors a little bit at least?

#268 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday September 14, 2012 at 6:34am

I want to thank everyone again for taking the time to comment. I wish I had the time to respond to all the points being made, but I simply do not. Among other things, I have an upcoming board meeting. Hey, who knows? Maybe there will be a new prez for CFI next week (no, probably won’t happen: we know there’s no god to answer prayers)

My selection of points to respond to does not imply I think other points are unimportant. It just happens to be what is activating my neurons this morning.

First, I want to draw attention again to my blog post, focusing on its specific wording. I did not say Atheism+ is divisive; nor did I say there’s no way it could turn out well or boost the cause of secularism. It’s too early to make any sort of judgment like that. What I said was:

“I’m not asserting that Atheism Plus is divisive with respect to the secular movement; I don’t see how anyone can at this stage as it’s still very much a work in progress. It’s possible this initiative will actually have the effect of energizing the secular movement by getting people involved who otherwise would remain inactive.”

I make this point because several people have stated they have become or are in the process of becoming activists because of Atheism+. That’s great. Assuming Atheism+ develops in such a way that its work is at least broadly consistent with, and reinforcing of, the work of other movement organizations, this will be a net gain for everyone. I just can’t say whether that will happen, nor, unless someone has clairvoyance, can I think anyone else say at this stage.

Second, I want to make sure my views and CFI’s views on social justice issues are not misinterpreted. Rodney #146, for example, suggested that we have to choose between working on purely church-state matters and social justice. No, we don’t. CFI through lobbying and educational efforts has worked on social justice issues, especially where those social justice issues are affected by religious influence on public policy, e.g., reproductive rights, social and economic equality for women, and LGBT rights. Happy to do more. Thrilled to do more. If someone wants to give us $150,000 (which would help fund a position for 2-3 years) I’ll commit right now to hire a second lobbyist just to work on such issues.

Of course, the issues we work on have to be connected in some fashion to secularism, broadly understood (which is not just church-state separation and fights about crosses on government property). If not, then we’re no longer a secular organization. We would have become something else. We may be doing good work, but we would no longer be a secular organization.

So if Atheism+ evolves in such a fashion that it winds up working exclusively on social justice issues, then it’s really not a movement initiative, is it? It may be a very good thing and its work may be something many of us support, but it will be something else, maybe the equivalent of an atheist caucus of NOW or Human Rights Campaign or some other group.

Turning to another point, I want to thank everyone who took the time to give me constructive criticism. I know other people are busy too, but it’s really helpful to me to get feedback. I don’t mind people telling me I’m wrong if they give me reasons why I’m wrong. Among the comments that were helpful (and I’m sure I’m overlooking many) were #104 BethK, #181oniongirl, #229 Licorice Allsort. Rodney #146 also. Rodney had some sarcastic digs, but I don’t mind light sarcasm if it’s accompanied by an argument.

Finally, let me first respond to some criticism made of Ophelia, especially with respect to her response to Sikivu Hutchinson at the first Women in Secularism conference. I had the benefit of being there. The impression I had, and I think the impression many in the room had based on the applause, was that Ophelia did make a sharp corrective to Sikivu Hutchinson’s characterization of New Atheism. Ophelia did expressly state that New Atheism did not exclude women or people of color (check the recording). I interpreted that as a rejection of the “white supremacist” characterization of New Atheism.

In any event, more important was Opehlia’s emphasis on evidence-based reasoning as being gender- and race-neutral. If we are to overcome our differences, and I’m still hopeful we can do that (yes, you can call me the Jimmy Carter of the secular movement), we need to reason together. If you want to let off steam with an angry rant, fine, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to persuade anyone unless you provide a well-reasoned argument. Both Ophelia and Russell Blackford are good at that, and that’s why—even though I disagree with both of them on some issues—I’m glad they are columnists for Free Inquiry and I listen to what each of them has to say.

#269 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 6:34am

Timon: It may be that I happened to fall in with a good group. Or that people weren’t saying what they truly thought because it was in person. I have no idea what the people who remained silent were thinking. Also, we’re talking about a sample size of 20 people. I’d say it’s pretty inconclusive at this point.

No, my mind hasn’t been changed, because there is still a lot of evidence on the internet. Remember, this isn’t just about the A/S movement; you see the same kinds of behaviors in other groups as well. And it’s pretty well documented.

In fact, one guy tried to use that as a reason to dismiss A+: “You’re always going to have people like that, no matter what group you’re in. It’s human nature.” That’s almost like saying, “Sorry ladies, this is the way it is. Suck it up.”

No. No, I refuse. I will continue to keep trying to change things. Maybe we can’t change society as a whole, but you’d think we’d be able to change people who claim to be rational and progressive, right? And if we can’t change certain people, then let’s kick them out. I don’t care how much money they contribute to “the cause”. We need to tell them loud and clear that they don’t belong. If we don’t, we are sending the implicit message that it is women who do not belong.

#270 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 6:39am

“And if we can’t change certain people, then let’s kick them out. 2

The trouble is Amy, and this was the thrust of Ron Lindsay’s piece, the people doing the objectionable stuff are not in.

#271 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 6:46am

” the people doing the objectionable stuff are not in.”

...are you sure? Because I know of some bloggers and YouTubers who certainly seem to *think* that they are part of the movement who are guilty of doing some pretty terrible stuff. And some movement leaders who claim that sexism is not a problem, but women who talk about sexism are. So… I remain unconvinced.

#272 Christopher Camp on Friday September 14, 2012 at 8:21am

Atheismplus and FfTBlogs are a small and insignificant hate group on the fringe of the larger rational/sceptic movement. They don’t get to say who’s out and who’s in.

#273 SimonSays on Friday September 14, 2012 at 8:33am

OK, Christopher Camp, let’s take your comment #272 and see to a little mental exercise.

PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and Greta Christina all write on Freethoughtblogs. All of them are featured speakers and writers for all the major atheist and skeptic organization. They spoke at the Reason Rally alongside well-known artists and celebrities.

If what you are saying is widely accepted (which it clearly isn’t), then pretty much every major atheist and skeptic organization would have been shunned by now (unless their supporters are also all “haters”).

But it isn’t. The only people who think this are Abbie Smith’s loyalists over at the Slyme Pit.

#274 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 9:10am

“PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and Greta Christina all write on Freethoughtblogs. All of them are featured speakers and writers for all the major atheist and skeptic organization. They spoke at the Reason Rally alongside well-known artists and celebrities.”

And that was a blanket approval for whatever they might say or do from that point forward? Give me a break. The reason rally was way before things became this ugly and this polarized, and I think it’s going to have an effect on who does and doesn’t get invited to mainstream secularist events and who in turn will share a platform with them. At this point, I couldn’t see somebody like Ophelia Benson being invited anywhere outside of A+ events, since her contributions on any subject other than blog drama are virtually nil. I’d imagine many might have similar misgivings about PZ, though he’s enough of a big name that some might overlook that. I could very well see equally big names pulling out of events that he’s part of, though.

If what you are saying is widely accepted (which it clearly isn’t), then pretty much every major atheist and skeptic organization would have been shunned by now (unless their supporters are also all “haters”).

Again, your timeline is off. Much of this activity is well before the most divisive rhetoric and actions coming from the FtB/A+ crowd happened.

“The only people who think this are Abbie Smith’s loyalists over at the Slyme Pit.”

Right, go on telling yourself that. I see opposition mounting weekly to the rhetoric and actions of the A+ crowd. If you think the Slymepitters are still the only ones making these criticisms, you really have not been following the plot recently.

#275 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 9:20am

#269 & #271 -

Really having a hard time deciphering just who you’re talking about, Amy, but if you are seriously proposing that anybody who doesn’t agree with A+ should be “kicked out” of the atheist/humanist/secular movement, than that idea is simply laughable. And one, I’ll note, that even the big names in A+ are trying to distance themselves from.

The atheist/etc movement is simply too big and too diverse for one faction to kick others out of. And, as has been pointed out numerous times, the ostensible division of the movement between wonderful A+ vs the rest of atheism who are all vile misogynists is a framing that’s stupid and Manichean beyond belief. Secularism has a huge diversity of ideas, most of them not easily reduceable to “for or against A+”, and that’s a good thing.

#276 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 9:30am

@ Iamcuriousblue: OMG, I didn’t say that I want anyone who doesn’t support A+ to be kicked out. Come on, now. The people I want kicked out are the ones who are making aspects of the atheist/secular movement unsafe or unpalatable for women.*

So, if we can’t physically excise the abusive people, how should we (you and me, and everyone else here) proceed? It is simply not reasonable to suggest that women “suck it up” and “deal with it” because “that’s just the way it is.” What else can we do? Can you work with me and others like me to find a solution?

*If it’s not obvious who these people are, therein lies a major problem.

#277 SimonSays on Friday September 14, 2012 at 9:46am

@Iamthecuriousblue, so by your definition Women Secularism 2 is not a “mainststream secularist event”... got it. Is Free Inquiry magazine not a “mainstream” publication?

OK, if my timeline is off why is there such a deafening silence when it comes to condemning the horrible PZ Myers by leaders in the organizations? Could it be perhaps because on these issues they are more or less in agreement and even say so on the horrible man-hating website Skepchick.org?

#278 SimonSays on Friday September 14, 2012 at 9:47am

Sorry, meant to say Women in Secularism 2: http://www.womeninsecularism.org

#279 Christopher Camp on Friday September 14, 2012 at 9:53am

SimonSays, you’ve got a very limited perspective of what the atheist community is. Neither have most atheists even heard about any of those pointless drama queens you’ve just mentioned, nor do they go to ‘major skeptic conventions’. They’ve got lives. And a considerable portion of *internet* sceptics that are aware of them see them for the useless, hateful trolls that they are.

#280 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 10:08am

I’m curious as to the criteria for and distinctions between those who are part of the atheist movement and atheist community. (This was a topic of discussion earlier.) Who is part of the movement, and who is merely part of the community? To be considered part of the community, must you only be atheist? Or something more?

Christopher Camp: Who do you mean by “those pointless drama queens”? Are you referring to the list of speakers at Women in Secularism 2?

#281 HJ Hornbeck (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 10:33am

Lindsay @268:

My hat’s off to you, for continuing to comment! Most authors would have given up, yet you are reading through and highlighting good counter-arguments.

Benson @262:

Sorry for mis-characterizing you, but it’s easy to slip up when you’re cataloging the opinions of thirty-five bloggers.

Iamcuriousblue @253: “Even if it was true that only a minority of FtB and Skepchick supported A+, it does not follow that only a minority within A+ are unconnected with those two blogging networks.”

Very true! I recognize a fair number of commenter names on atheismplus.com. But are you arguing that I should be considered part of FtB, simply for commenting there? By that token, most of the Slyme Pit is also a part of FtB! What really counts here is where the bloggers sit, not the commenters, and as I demonstrated a minority of FtB bloggers even *care* about Atheism+. Out of the 11,500+ comments on atheismplus.com , McCreight has 35, Christina has 27, and Benson has 1.

How, again, can A+ “barely exist independently” of FtB in light of this? And are you going to stop treating FtB as one entity in complete agreement, contrary to reality?

“I think it’s no coincidence that [Chris] just left FtB”

It is, actually; JT gave up his job to focus exclusively on books and/or speaking, Fincke is trying to get a career in academia, and Halliquest is switching jobs. All three are short on funds, and Patheos is paying *extraordinarily* well for a blog network.

If Halliquest was leaving because of his stance on Atheism+, why is Ed Kagin still around? Why, for that matter, are the THIRTEEN other skeptical, indifferent, or opposed bloggers still on FtB? While PZ may be generally supportive of A+, Ed isn’t, and neither is in charge of hiring or firing around there.

“Halliquest left because of A+” is a consipracy theory, plain and simple. You only promote it because it allows you to grind your axe.

#282 SimonSays on Friday September 14, 2012 at 10:35am

You’re right Christopher Camp, what the hell do I know. I only organize 8-10 events per month (in fact our October one will likely have more than 1,000 people) for the DC branch of CFI where pretty much every prominent speaker in the movement has spoken. But maybe the hundreds of folks that that make the time to regularly come out and be a part of our offline community and volunteer for local charities aren’t as devoted as the crowd you’re referring to. Except that’s incorrect. Because many of our most active members are online as well. Newsflash: we use the internet for outreach.

#283 Christopher Camp on Friday September 14, 2012 at 10:48am

@Amy, I would include some of those people but limit myself to those.

@SimonSays, I am going to ignore your blend of anecdotal evidence and argument from authority. Hard evidence exists: the last time Sleazy Myers tried to pharyngulate a blog, there was a pitiful dribble of around 50 people who tried to disrupt the blog. We’re talking about a small hate group that’s on the fringe.

#284 HJ Hornbeck (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 10:48am

(to clarify a little bit, “Ed isn’t” refers to Ed Brayton in my comment above.)

#285 SimonSays on Friday September 14, 2012 at 10:54am

“anecdotal evidence”...I guess that’s the new euphemism for when you tell me I “have a very limited perspective of what the atheist community is” without even knowing me and I provide contrary information.

#286 Abel Ashes (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 11:16am

I think we also have to be careful to draw a clear distinction between “secularism” and “atheism”. I myself am both a secularist and an atheist, but secularism is a political stance in favor of keeping religion out of politics, not a personal position on religion, spirituality, or philosophy. I think religion and superstition in general is bad for people’s mental health and will say so whenever possible, but secularism, unlike atheism is not necessarily anti-religion. Secularism is anti-religious politics. The secular movement is supported by many people who do hold religious and spiritual views that I find illogical, but regardless we must support international secularization. Secularism means personal freedom, freedom of religion as long as it does not interfere with the freedom of others, the free inquiry of science, the separation of religion and state, the legitimate practice of medicine, freedom of and from religion for consenting adults. There are people who claim faith in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and more who I know personally that support absolute separation of religion and state. We need to welcome their support of secularism. I am always clear to draw the distinction between my view on religion as an atheist/anti-theist and my view on the role of religion in politics as an absolute secularist.

#287 Zed the apostate on Friday September 14, 2012 at 11:47am

Hear, hear Simon,
I have some disdain for these comments section because a lot of people think commenting or liking something on Facebook is an accomplishment.
CFI is an organization that actually interacts with the real world. The virtual world is trivial. I got more done in one day going to the capitol and talking to congressional and senatorial staffers than I have in a lifetime of commenting on the internet.
There is a big difference between playing with your keyboard and getting off your butt and facing down a tea party gas bag in congress.
And as some people are finding out there is difference between declaring yourself a leader of a movement and actually being a leader.

#288 Elwedge (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:15pm

Greta @23…I hate that you have been harassed and targeted for abuse. I hope that you have taken these issues to the authorities and the assholes doing this to you can be dealt with.
I love your work, your lectures, your blog and articles and appreciate the care and effort you put into each of them. None of that makes me feel entitled but certainly enriched. Now if you decide to go down the path of A+, I still won’t feel entitled and I don’t think entitlement enters the equation. You make decisions daily how to live your life. It seems a significant amount of those decisions are wrapped around your writing. You don’t need my permission to do that and I certainly feel no entitlement to demand that from you. You write and that’s your choice to do that. I get to read your writings or listen to your lectures if I choose. That’s my choice. Entitlement has absolutely nothing to do with it.
Next, the very nature of creating a new group will divert resources.
The very nature of adding terms to what A+ is, compared to atheism does in fact redefine atheism.
None of these are inherently bad things but they are no less changes and no less true. There is a basic calculus to this and your arguments won’t change that.
Your comment, “Everyone does not agree that telling a woman you want to kill her after you rape her” is intolerable.
That’s how Fox news does it Greta. The anonymous “everyone”. You and I both know the vast majority of the atheist community would in fact agree that this statement is abominable and I refuse to allow you to tar the community with that brush because of a few idiots.
Lastly, if you find comfort in A+, have it at. If you still write, I’ll decide if I choose to read it. If you still lecture, I’ll decide if I choose to attend it.
Entitlement has nothing to do with it. I just figure out why think it does.

#289 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:19pm

#277 SimonSays:

“OK, if my timeline is off why is there such a deafening silence when it comes to condemning the horrible PZ Myers by leaders in the organizations? Could it be perhaps because on these issues they are more or less in agreement and even say so on the horrible man-hating website Skepchick.org?”

And this, Simon, represents a mentality on the part of the A+/FtB/Skepchick folks that’s entirely off-base. You people really believe organized skepticism is entirely behind your cause. As is so often said in sexual situations, silence does not equal consent, and consent to one thing does not equal consent to everything.

In the case of the leadership of various skeptical orgs, I think you need to look *very* carefully at what the skeptical leaders who SurlyAmy has been soliciting for testimonials. They are denouncing the rampant and blatant attacks on women on the internet, from low level misogynist “chatter” on various forums to explicit rape threats. Guess what? It’s easy to get those testimonials *because practically every atheist above the level of troll agrees with you.*

What their testimonials do not represent is a blanket endorsement of the ideology promulgated by Skepchick/FtB/A+ or the blog wars they involve themselves in. The fact that you’re now seeing people like Ron Lindsay, who was one of the leaders who wrote a piece on Skepchick, calling out the excesses of the A+ crowd is a sign that many of leaders who have been really trying to steer clear of atheist community drama are starting to speak up about this. I think you’re going to see a great deal more of this in the coming months if A+ continues on a course toward extremism.

There are of course more than a few skeptical leaders who have come out very much on the other side of A+ controversy. Russell Blackford and Justine Vacula come to mind immediately. Jerry Coyne has given some indication that he wants nothing to do with A+, and has given some endorsement to the Skepticblogs network.

And I will also note that the majority of leaders of secularist orgs have not weighed in one way or the other on A+ or those opposed to it, because they want to stay out of drama and not be identified with any kind of faction.

So don’t think that when A+ people engage in some of their uglier behavior, like Stephanie Zvan’s defense of verbally abusing A+ opponents, that they have anything close to a majority of the atheist or secularist community behind them. I think the majority, like most normal people, find such behavior embarrassing.

#290 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:27pm

#276

OMG, I didn’t say that I want anyone who doesn’t support A+ to be kicked out. Come on, now. The people I want kicked out are the ones who are making aspects of the atheist/secular movement unsafe or unpalatable for women.*

Then I and I think most people in the atheist community would agree with you.

“So, if we can’t physically excise the abusive people, how should we (you and me, and everyone else here) proceed? It is simply not reasonable to suggest that women “suck it up” and “deal with it” because “that’s just the way it is.” What else can we do? Can you work with me and others like me to find a solution?”

I’m not sure what physically abusive people you’re talking about. The closest I can think of is “camera guy” who’s attended TAM before, and I think it would be easy to write a not overly-broad anti-harassment policy that would deal with people like that.

If you’re talking about verbally abusive misogynists on the internet, like abusive speech of all kinds, it’s harder to deal with because those people are hiding behind anonymity. Making people use real names or more strictly modding forums might be solutions, but that has downsides as well. That’s a worthwhile discussion to be had, however.

#291 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:32pm

“Yes, because feminism is so very irrational. On account of women being inferior, and all.”

No, more the case that some forms of feminism are irrational because they form a totalizing ideology, and totalizing ideologies have a tendency to behave like religions without God. See the history of 20th Century Marxism for numerous examples of this.

I don’t think it’s overly harsh toward feminism or women to point out that feminism is as prone to serious flaws as any other political ideology. In fact, to call for any level of critique less rigorous than that is to imbue feminism with special snowflake status. Do feminists *really* want that?

#292 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:47pm

#281

“How, again, can A+ “barely exist independently” of FtB in light of this? And are you going to stop treating FtB as one entity in complete agreement, contrary to reality?”

I see, so it’s back to the FtB shell game, now is it? It’s diverse, don’t speak of them as an entity, blah, blah, blah. See my response @ #256, and I’m not going to repeat myself.

And speaking of repeating oneself, at this point, your argument is growing *very* tiresome and failing to establish a point. A+ is barely a month old and is a product of recent FtB and Skepchick posts. And by extension has inherited the vitriolic culture that thrives on those blogs. (One recent highlight of the A+ forum was Setar crowing about his borderline-violent real-life mob action against John the Other.) That much is obvious and I’m not going to discuss that point with you further, either. *Maybe* when A+ has been around for a while, it might evolve into something better - I’ll allow for that. (One can always hope.) But that is not A+ as it stands right now, that’s for sure.

#293 CommanderTuvok (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 12:53pm

Sally Strange says:

“I saw Russell Blackford use “Girlyban” in a conversation on Facebook. I didn’t think to bookmark it, I didn’t realize this shit would still be going on months and months later.”

Wot! Russell Blackford used the word “Girlyban”. Once! On Facebook!

Quick! Fetch the fainting couch…

#294 Amy (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:04pm

@ Iamcuriousblue: I think you may have misread one of my comments; I didn’t mention physical abuse. (I have heard stories of actual sexual assault, but those seem to be exceedingly rare.)

I agree that the online abuse is difficult to deal with, but we should try anyway. If I had a blog that had a significant amount of traffic I’d be moderating the hell out of it. “This WILL be a safe space, dammit!”

When I read critiques like yours about feminism, I can’t help but think that we are talking about completely different things. I had almost this exact discussion with an old high school pal the other day. My understanding of feminism is apparently very, very different from yours. Maybe this is part of the problem; you may be lashing out against something that doesn’t exist. Straw-feminism?

#295 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:10pm

Chris Hallquist has announced that there will be a redirect put in place at his FtB blog to forward the traffic there to his Patheos site, where he will be paid better for each pageview. That’s standard when a blogger leaves FtB unless they don’t wish to migrate their archives. It’s set up so Google eventually indexes the new site instead of the old as well.

There was no strife behind the scenes before Chris left, either. Chris hadn’t even been active on the back channel for a while. You can quit making up stories now.

#296 Dorion on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:21pm

The A+ movement, if it is such, should be working to court the likes of OnionGirl and LicoriceAllsorts from this thread to be vocal proponents. Those are two of the most well-spoken and -reasoned posts I’ve seen -anywhere- concerning this topic.

If nothing else, I’d like to let OnionGirl and LicoriceAllsorts know their comments did not pass unnoticed. You have each made me think.

#297 A Hermit on Friday September 14, 2012 at 1:31pm

“There was no strife behind the scenes before Chris left, either. Chris hadn’t even been active on the back channel for a while. You can quit making up stories now.”

But if they didn’t have their made up stories they’d have nothing to complain about! How dare you censor the made up stories! (/sarcasm)

Dan Fincke also left a long last comment praising the FtB folks and expressing his gratitude and appreciation for them all. But the tinfoil hat brigade will ignore what he actually said in favour of their conspiracy theories…

#298 Anne Marie (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 2:48pm

-Disavowing and distancing oneself from harassers and sexists is the not the same as repudiating them (when we see this done by religious people, we call them out on their use of the No True Scotsman fallacy).
-Minimizing harassment and sexism is not the same as repudiating them.
-Always demanding yet more evidence for harassment and sexism is not the same as repudiating them.
-Avoiding the topics of harassment and sexism is not the same as repudiating them.

When sexism comes up in conversation, I hear constant defensiveness and dodging. No one wants to talk about it and no one wants to accept responsibility for participating in it or even for fixing it. I hear, “Yes, sexism is bad, BUT,” and then a million excuses about why it’s not an issue.

If you say something is technically bad but refuse to acknowledge that it’s happening or to act to end it, you’re not repudiating. If I say, “Sure, firing people for being [x] is wrong but that never happens,” I’m not really repudiating bigotry. I’m just denying the reality of other people’s daily existence.

#299 Elwedge (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 3:55pm

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So our critical thought, skeptical community, tarred and feathered this guy for something he didn’t do, as far as taking upskirt photos, and then made up other arguments wrapped around a false premise. If he did or didn’t do anything else he was accused of I don’t know but I know for a verifiable fact he didn’t take upskirt pictures or indulge in other bad behavior during security observation. And when I put this on a bloggers thread to let them know because they were so aggressive in their argument about him and asked them about their humanity, they banned me. That would have been one of the A+ bloggers telling us the correct way to be social justice advocates for atheism. What a fucking hypocrite.

#300 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Friday September 14, 2012 at 4:06pm

@Amy

“The people I want kicked out are the ones who are making aspects of the atheist/secular movement unsafe or unpalatable for women.”

I agree with you about the “safe” part, but I honestly don’t care one little bit what is “palatable to women”.

Women might be offended by the fact that I have a beard, or that I object to being called a misogynist, or that I oppose the infantilizing of women.  The tastes of women should not matter to me nor anyone else.

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