Bravo JT

JT Eberhard, today (emphasis mine):

When I came into atheism, the blogs were a great part of what pulled me in. There was so much information, so many people outraged just like me. The blogs banded us together. We didn’t all agree, but we shared a cause and we were focused. I’ve talked to so many other people who tell the same story. Now…I don’t know what I’d think if I were coming from religion and seeing the blogs. What I’d see now are atheists at each others throats, twisting what each other says, and eager to disown one another over the minutia of shared causes. Every day I receive emails from people saying they’re dropping out of the movement or staying silent on social justice issues they care about, and it is expressly because of how swift we are to spite one another over disagreements – as if disagreements betray a hatred of one another (or of a particular group).

The response will come that we’re happy to see these people go, that we shouldn’t be so desperate to swell our numbers that we welcome the seediest and most despicable people. This is very true, and if all we were losing were the slymepit archetypes as well as other seedy and despicable people, I wouldn’t mind. But we’re not. On social justice issues there are many prominent names, many good people, who care about feminism, for instance, but who don’t say a word about it for fear that even agreeing on 99% will be taken as an excuse to declare war. There are many people composed of the purest and most vibrant empathy you can imagine who are leaving atheism as a movement. We should be glad to sever terrible people, but when we are hemorrhaging the rest we should worry, especially if we are culpable for it.

In writing this post, I’ve left out any disclaimers (I’ve found that no amount of disclaimers seems to be enough to convince many people that I write because I care, rather than because I secretly don’t care about equality all while under the guise of actually caring). I have made my case as fairly as possible, without (to my eye) a lack of compassion (for women, black atheists, and even little old ladies in the audience) and without making any slams at anybody’s character (I believe Jen, Greta, and the like have good intent, but that their approach is positively terrible and that they are not exempt from making bad arguments or putting words in people’s mouths they never said). I won’t even deploy the mocking term “Social Justice Warriors” since I think a social justice warrior is a wonderful thing to be. And yet, I worry that bridges will be burned and that social consequences will be applied – all for saying “you’re wrong” and even for saying I understand how they’ve reached the conclusions on which I think they are in error. And if I worry about those things from people I considered to be friends for quite some time, imagine how everybody else must feel. Use that empathy you so frequently tout (and which I think you possess).

This is what we have become: a movement where we cannot even disagree, no matter how amicably and no matter how kindly, without becoming enemies. The sad thing is, for those who would have the atheist movement reunite, to work through our disagreements rather than ostracize one another over them, stay silent in order to avoid more infighting or to avoid being shouted down publicly in front of their peers as if being wrong were a crime. I did the same myself for a bit.

There is a third group of people. These people care about equality for racial minorities and want them in this movement. We denounce racism in society at large and insist that speaker lineups at conferences are racially diverse. We care about equality for women, hate rapists, and demand that speaker lineups at conferences are gender diverse. We deplore most of the people in the slymepit and other assholes just as much as the next guy/gal. But we also think that popular figures like Jen, Greta, and the like are becoming increasingly toxic by mischaracterizing/demonizing their opponents, and being far too eager to brand and declare enemies.

I’m not the world’s greatest wordsmith, but I don’t think I’m a slouch. And yet I cannot find the words to convey what a painful admission that is to make, and how much it hurts to write. I came into this movement reading Greta Christina. Hers was, at one point, one my two favorite blogs and reading it, as well as knowing Greta, changed my life. I once admired Greta and Jen as paragons of reason, who argued in good faith and who nudged atheists of all flavors, so long as they were caring, toward the same cause, resolving their other differences along the way. I’m not certain if I was wrong then or if things have changed, but I don’t see it that way anymore, and I’m convinced I’m not the only one.

These people know that in a world where suffering takes place, so long as we’re compassionate and wish to push back, that drama is inevitable. It sucks, but it’s there. What we don’t need is additional, unnecessary drama, which is exactly what is created when we write posts in which we assign arguments to our opponents that they never made and treat them like they’re education or listening averse when they’re not convinced. We can disagree, but when we start treating each other as monsters for disagreeing, I think that’s drama that most atheists don’t want or need, and it’s time for it to stop. It’s not time to stop disagreeing, it’s not time to stop talking to one another about it, but it’s past time to start treating everybody who thinks a black speaker was out of line as a racist and everybody who thinks the Jen and Greta style feminists made a bad argument as friends to slymepitters who think misspelling somebody’s name in a derogatory fashion makes them clever.

Do I think it will stop? Sadly, no (I’d love to be surprised). But I do want people to know that there are not just two groups when it comes to atheists who worry about social issues, and that you are not a bad person, not a racist, not a woman-hater or any other sort of pariah for disagreeing with anybody in good faith.

I may not re-enter this subject again for some time, but it will no longer be because I worry about the loss of friends, the political penalties, or anything of that nature. It will be entirely because posts like Jen’s, where I must repeatedly sort out piles of mischaracterizations, straw men, and such have become the norm when dealing with that crowd. That is what makes me reticent to interact with them further, not our shared cause, compassion for the downtrodden, or anything else.

The dynamic JT identifies here is absolutely toxic. I’ve heard people claim that certain segments of the atheist blogosphere have their roots in Cold War era leftism, but I suspect it’s more an issue of human nature and group dynamics. Eliezer Yudkowsky’s posts on affective death spirals are relevant here, perhaps especially “Every Cause Wants To Be A Cult.”

The problem, in a nutshell, is that among the more extreme voices, there’s little penalty for being too extreme, but be just a little too moderate, and you’ll be demonized. The result, of course, is a self-reinforcing trend towards ever more extreme views. If there’s any hope of breaking the cycle, people like JT need to be brave enough to speak out even if it costs them friends. I’m rooting for ya, JT.

Update 8/24/2013: Based on some of the comments I think I need to add that I don’t have a strong opinion on the initial incident with Bria Crutchfield. That Bria apparently had permission from the other speaker to use part of their Q&A time the way she did does change my perspective somewhat, though it doesn’t negate JT’s worry in his original post that

Lately there’s been a lot of this attitude in the atheist movement, that every misstep out of naivety or ignorance, even if it’s insulting, makes someone a prime target for a shout down in a “public room” – as if humiliation and shame, while sometimes the proper tools, are always the proper tools.

In any case, the part where I think Jen and the people supporting her are clearly in the wrong is where she holds up JT as an example of

white straight cis men insisting they get to decide who your allies are and that you should not ever get angry, but rather calmly explain basic topics to hostile questions from every person that wanders across your path as if it were your personal duty on this earth.

That’s obviously not JT’s position if you read his post. The fact that responding to disagreement with that kind of blatant misrepresentation is so common within the atheist movement right now (at least online) is an absolutely toxic dynamic, for the reasons JT outlines, and it needs to stop.

  • trivialknot

    I disagreed with JT on the issue of Bria (which is the context of the above quote), but it didn’t seem so big a deal to me as Jen and and Greta made it out to be. They acted like this was the latest in a long string of actions by JT, but I haven’t ever seen this string, so I can’t judge it.

    • Highlander

      I believe it started with the whole CFI Women in Skepticism conference incident and JT’s response to it. Which essentially said the same thing about actually talking to our allies rather than attacking them when they make a misstep. He was accused of not listening, even though he laid out all of his arguments regarding the incident and nobody brought up anything new to convince him, they just kept repeating that he was wrong and a bad person for not agreeing.
      The individuals who are doing this seem to be under the impression that their arguments are so great that no one could possibly disagree, and therefore once they have presented them, if you don’t agree, then you must not have been listening or you are just willfully ignorant. What they don’t seem to understand is not being convinced by an argument does not mean the person wasn’t listening, it means your arguments weren’t convincing. As they are so fond of saying, your experience is not my experience and what you believe may not match with what I have experienced, that doesn’t make it invalid, it does mean you will need to get out of your box to convince someone with a different experience. They are just as guilty of taking away agency as the worst misogynist. JT is allowed to have an opinion that is not the same, he’s allowed to determine whether he is convinced by arguments and using a bully pulpit to beat him into surrender is not the way to go about convincing someone that your way is better.

      • One Brow

        He was accused of not listening, even though he laid out all of his arguments regarding the incident and nobody brought up anything new to convince him, they just kept repeating that he was wrong and a bad person for not agreeing.

        I don’t need new arguments to make a sound presentation that creationists are wrong. They were wrong on the evidence we had 100 years ago. No one needs to bring up new arguments that JT was wrong. If he won’t listen to the already correct arguments, more corrects arguments will not change his mind.

    • moblues

      I don’t have time to hunt them down but I stopped reading his blog for about a year because he had multiple boneheaded posts. Coincidentally started reading it again a few weeks ago out of summer break boredom.Off the top of my head, there was thread about how to best pick up women at cons without being a creep that went from bad to hideous, and a really questionable post about body image and trans* people that was followed by general harassment and jaqing off of trans* women who showed up to answer the questions raised.

  • staircaseghost

    “Eliezer Yudkowsky’s posts on affective death spirals are relevant here, perhaps especially“Every Cause Wants To Be A Cult.””

    Is Paula Deen writing diet books now too?

    As the most militant atheist you will ever see, it warms my heart to see schisms and blood feuds in “the movement”, although paradoxically my interest in an author is inversely proportional to how much time they spend on them. The less coherently movement-y and join-y of a cultural phenomenon atheism becomes, the better. It should be the default assumption of discourse, not a cranky subculture taking over ballrooms at the airport Marriott every couple of months.

  • moblues

    The dynamic descibed is toxic. However the incident that JT has created is the problem in this case, not a toxic dynamic. He wrote a post that did not include pertinent information such as the topic of the initial talk (What atheist communities can learn from the hopitality industry) or the question asked (What are YOU personally doing to stop black on black crime.) He also omitted that Bria had recieved permission from the speaker leading the Q&A session to respond to the insulting off topic question asked in a previous session. These omissions in conjunction with strenuously assuming he knows the intent of some random white woman paint a very poor picture of his unacknowledged biases. Now he is claiming persecution when people try to point them out.
    This isn’t a toxic dynamic, it is someone straying far from his area of knowledge and experience and crying when it is pointed out. This is exactly the same behavior seen in creationists trying to argue with scientific facts.

    • hardlyever

      “…try to point it out to him.” ?!?! That’s how you characterize the posts by Jen and Greta that he references? Did you read them? Did you read Jason’s post? That’s like saying that Pearl Harbour was a muffin basket with a note attached saying, “hey, we need to talk.” They are guilty of the most black and white thinking imaginable, attacking his supposed mind reading while they adjust their own turbans and plug in their crystal balls, then, after pretending to seriously study the situation, read their prepared statements of condemnation. It’s more of the same from them: instead of contributing to a discussion, they give the last word and walk away.

      • moblues

        Troll much? Somehow I doubt that “you’re being an ass for reasons…”and “hey don’t quote mine my writing” are equivalent Pearl Harbor.
        What do you think is an appropriate reponse to a post that is misleading to the point of lying?
        Personally, I don’t tolerate my friends misrepresenting the truth and participating in really poor behavior. I also have no problem stating so, and cutting off ties if needed.

        • hardlyever

          I am not trolling. I am not even addressing the accuracy of any of the posts under discussion. My point is that describing the posts responding to JT’s as simply pointing something out to him, when one of the major criticisms is that he misrepresented the situation with Bria, is ironically disingenuous. They attribute motivations to him that they could not possibly be privy to, all the while accusing him of attributing motivations to someone’s actions that he could not possibly be privy to. Also, whereas JT recounted the event as he saw it – whether or not you think he should have included more context is not the issue, those responding to him invent sarcastic paraphrasing to portray him in the worst light possible.
          Drawing lines in the sand has become the raison d’etre of some people in this movement. Their online contributions are more about identifying enemies than it is about actually doing anything constructive for those they profess to be standing with and up for. Spilling pixels to decry perceived wrongs is not nearly the same as doing something to make things right.

          • moblues

            So what motivations are they attributing to him? I see people saying “you really screwed up” not “you screwed up because you are racist.” Their tone is in no way different than the tone that JT has used deal with believers and accomadationists.
            Context is important for the following reason:
            JT has dropped thousands of words framing this as angry black speaker chasing off innocent white lady and interupting white guy’s Q&A. When in context it is someone asking a completely off topic offensive question and derailing. What did he do to to make that situation better?

    • Casey Braden

      I find this whole thing to be incredibly strange. I read the responses posted by Jen and Greta, as well as JTs postings on this subject. I obviously probably don’t understand all of the intricacies of what went on, because I wasn’t present. But I just can’t understand why so much venom is being directed at JT over his position. Unless I’m mistaken, his position amounts to the fact that there could have been better, more effective, and kinder ways of dealing with the situation. EVEN if he’s wrong about that, I still don’t understand the responses he’s gotten. I also don’t understand why these things would be so out of his realm of knowledge. I mean, I’m a straight white male. But I desire to understand the social issues that other demographics face. If I’m wrong, then I want to change that. But I don’t think it makes me a bad person. And I don’t think the responses that JT has gotten have been particularly fair or measured.

      • Psycho Gecko

        Some of it is that he tried to tell a black woman not to get upset about someone asking a racist question unrelated to what they had just talked about because they were all presumably on the same side at an atheist event, where he would have responded with just as much vitriol if a religious person had asked a similar question as that, rooted only in an ignorant and offensive talking point rather than in any kind of legitimacy.
        Just the part about “White guy tells black woman not to get so upset about racism” would be enough to call down some justified anger on his head. Essentially he made a big mistake and doubled down on it rather than acknowledging any kind of wrongdoing, which makes it appear that his skepticism and rational thought concerning religious claims doesn’t extend to other aspects of society, like racism.
        Yes, people are angry at him over it. They have a right to be, and probably be even more so because he’s supposed to know better. We’re supposed to be the ones who know that kind of stuff is wrong and have the intellectual integrity to admit our mistakes. But no, instead he’s being persecuted for his belief that a black woman shouldn’t make a big deal over a racist question about black on black crime.

        • Chris Hallquist

          Except he *didn’t* do what you accuse him of. He was *specifically* criticizing the *manner* in which it was handled: taking time out of another speaker’s Q&A to lash out at someone for something that had happened in a previous speaker’s Q&A. Your misrepresentation of what JT said is *exactly* the kind of thing he’s complaining about, in the quote posted above.

          • hf
          • ahermit

            And he apparently misrepresented the facts to make his case. According to what I’m hearing she asked for and received permission to take that time. The other speakers aren’t the one’s complaining about what happened

            ‘Lashing out” as you put is perfectly justified sometimes. And frequently effective in getting a point across where the message has so obviously failed to sink in.

            Seems to me that JT’s own behaviour in publicly and condescendingly lecturing Bria is every bit as bad, if not worse, than her behaviour in reacting angrily to yet another clueless person spouting racist crap.

          • John C. Welch

            ‘Lashing out” as you put is perfectly justified sometimes. And frequently effective in getting a point across where the message has so obviously failed to sink in.

            Yes. As long as “our” side holds the lash, it’s always okay.

          • ahermit

            I was thinking about the times I’ve been on the receiving end actually. I can be as block-headed as anyone and a metaphorical kick in the pants has been good for me on occasion.

          • John C. Welch

            That’s not what I said. Who was giving you the lashing, someone you approve of who is on “your side” or someone who is not.

          • ahermit

            And I certainly wasn’t saying that it’s always OK when “my side” does it. When I’ve been on the receiving end it hasn’t always been from people I sympathized with.

            I’ll thank you to not put words in my mouth or ascribe to me opinions I have not expressed.

          • John C. Welch

            BAAHAAHAHAHAHA…you completely ignore what I said, and now you complain that I didn’t perfectly interpret your words.

            Bless your heart honey, bless your heart.

          • ahermit

            What’s funny is that you’re complaining I haven’t responded to what you said (I did actually) while you are pressing a strawman. Read again a little more carefully; you seem to have completely missed the point. Maybe you can get a grownup to help you with the big words… o.O

          • One Brow

            Since Bria had the permission of that speaker to use the time in the Q&A, I’m curious how you can think that used the time you got permission to use is somehow worthy of legitimate criticism. Even in this very narrow point, JT is in the wrong. You are defending and applauding the person who was offensive and wrong.

          • John C. Welch

            So, let’s say you say something I really, really disagree with, and I get the same permission Bria had.

            And my “criticism” of you consists of me calling you every kind of {insert very rude thing here that I’m only saying because I am literally blind with anger and no longer care about you as a human being}.

            how are you going to feel about the “legitimate content” of my criticism? Will you even care?

            That seems to be JT’s point. You don’t ALWAYS have to go full Klingon Attack Mode because you disagree with someone.

          • ahermit

            This is pretty funny coming from someone who has consistently defended the Slymepit approach to “criticism.” I guess it’s only OK when YOUR side does it? o.O

            We don’t have the video of course, but from the accounts I’ve been hearing it is NOT the case that Ms Crutchfield was just calling the questioner names or simply being abusive. She certainly hasn’t descended to the depth of vitriol you and you friends regularly dish out on line…

    • hardlyever

      Sorry, one more thing. I just read JT’s response to the whole affair, and then Greta’s response to him. Her post is sarcastic, mean-spritied, destructive to communication, and more of the same “last word” mentality. The only direct quote she includes in her “summary” is a two-word phrase she uses to supposedly show JT’s dismissive tone. Two word! If she would have quoted, and responded to, what he actually had written, she’d have nothing to write. Once again, the goal is to divide, not help.

      • moblues

        I get it, her tone is wrong. The horror.
        What do you have to say about the serious misrepresentation of the event? The fact that he quote mined both Greta and Mandisa?
        You are hiding behind tone, and ignoring the falacious substance of his claims.
        You are claiming that his behavior is not unacceptable, because he doesn’t want to divide the “community” while he simultaneously is willing to divide the community by spreading misleading stories.
        I don’t want to be part of a “community” that values tone over truth.

        • hardlyever

          Please don’t paint me as a tone troll to make it easier to dismiss my contribution. I didn’t criticize Greta’s tone, but rather her explicitly sarcastic takedown of a post that, if you actually read it, JT never made. You seem to be willing to perceive JT’s writing as dishonest, but can’t see that Greta’s is egregiously so, to the point that she couldn’t even actually quote JT to support her assertions.

          My point about divisiveness is not that it is inherently wrong, or that dividing is always the wrong course of action. I am suggesting that there are some who seem to see divisiveness as an end unto itself, which IS inherently wrong and always the wrong course of action.

          • moblues

            I’m not dismissing you as a tone troll.

            However, my initIal post pointed out in perfectly civil terms that JT was not in the right with his intial postand has created his own problems. You came responded with comparisons to Pearl Harbor(?!)

            I pointed out that he has used a similar tone as was found in Greta’s post to deal with religious and accomodationist people. I got no response.

            I’ve repeatedly pointed out that I’m talking about putting out misleading information and acting like it is the truth. You say “I am not even addressing the accuracy of any of the posts under discussion” Then you double back and claim that Greta’s post is egregiosly dishonest beacause she didn’t quote JT (that doesn’t prove dishonesty-it proves that she didn’t quote him.)

            I say that I don’t want to be part of a community that values tone over truth. You respond that Greta is being too sarcastic and you just want to talk about how bad divisiveness is. Without addressing any of the misleading things in JT’s original post.

            Sorry, I’m done chasing you in circles. Come back when you can form an on topic, hyperbole free response.

    • see.the.galaxy

      A few quick things: 1. I think we are too quickly thinking the worst of each other, egged on by fulminance in the comment sections. 2. I certainly think that the bloggers at FtB are doing what they thing is in the best interests of decency, 3. i think referring to Greta Christina’s words to bolster JT’s argument was so certain to trigger a predictable unhappy reaction that it almost looks like trolling (unintentional though it may have been), 4. the reaction at FtB was certainly vehement and harsh, but the reaction against them has been vehement and harsh to an equal degree. 5. I have to admit that the substance of the criticism has a point. Shouldn’t we worry about supporting Bria Crutchfield and Mandisa Thomas? Isn’t it important that they know they have the support of fellow atheists, that their work is valued, and that their friends have their back too? 6.The intensity of this whole series of kerfluffles is unwholesome, since JT Eberhard, Greta Christina, and Jen McCreight (those whose posts on this I have read) are all constructive people who have done and are doing good work. I assume the same for Mandisa Thomas and all others involved.

  • Entropy101

    “On social justice issues there are many
    prominent names, many good people, who care about feminism, for instance, but
    who don’t say a word about it for fear that even agreeing on 99% will be taken
    as an excuse to declare war.”

    So people are not fighting for social justice
    causes because there is a good chance they get into a heated argument when they
    put their foot into their mouth? (as they should be, because hey, they might
    even learn something ) Well, those are probably the people who shouldn’t be in
    a social justice cause anyway…..

    • Edward Gemmer

      You would turn away people who would fight for social justice because they might argue with you? WTF?

      • Entropy101

        No, I question how committed you are as a potential social activist when you do not speak up for fear of not getting 100% approval of your peers.

        • Edward Gemmer

          The point is people don’t speak up because they don’t want to get abused by others. People tend to try and avoid abuse, and abuse is something that is running rampant in the atheoskeptic community. It seems the line between passions and abuse has long since been shredded.

          • Entropy101

            Please tell this to all the people who have their in-boxes and twitter accounts flooded with rape jokes and death threats for the last few years because they spoke up end continue to do so.

          • Edward Gemmer

            Exactly – the whole point of that is to abuse the person. If all that stuff is harmless, then why mention it at all?

          • ahermit

            Surely you’re not equating Ms Crutchfield objecting to a racist dog-whistle to someone making a rape joke?

        • eric

          So what’s wrong with the contribution of people who are not that committed?

          To repeat my last question: turning someone away from helping because they aren’t committed enough (by your standard) helps…who, exactly?

          • staircaseghost


          • Entropy101

            There is nothing wrong with that, but it is disingenuous of them to want to control the tone of the debate. And that is what is happening at this stage. Its: “We want to help your social cause but please tune down the anger / rhetoric, otherwise I’m going to sit on the fence.” If that is your stance, than turning you down helps the social justice side.

          • eric

            How is it disingenuous? People like Chris and JT think the tone is driving away the less committed. So they think the tone should change, because (in their opinion) the contributions of the less committed are more important than expressing your preferred tone. You are free to disagree with that opinion, but its in no way is it disingenuous. Its an observation about advertising: the hard sell is sometimes not the best approach.

            If that is your stance, than turning you down helps the social justice side.

            How, exactly? To paraphrase an old chestnut, how many divisions of additional supporters does your anger/rhetoric get you? Because not using it probably gets you quite a few.

      • eric

        I think its more that he would turn away social justice ‘weekend warriors.’ The sort of person who offers tentative help, but if it gets personally nasty or difficult for them, they leave and spend their time on something else.
        But that is just as toxic. It’s the attitude of: “you’ll only give $10 of effort to my cause, not $100? F*** you and your $10!” The thing to remember about any cause is that the population of $10-effort-givers is likely to be vastly, vastly larger than the population of $100-givers. Turning away the the people for whom social justice is an interest but not a life-cause helps…who, exactly?

        • Kurt H

          Yes, but who gets to choose the direction for that movement? It sure as hell should not be Mr. Ten Dollars. Moreover, when Mr. $10 gets told that he’s doing it wrong by more active members, maybe he should listen to them.

          • eric

            Yes, maybe he/she should. I think the disconnect here is that some active members think they’re saying ‘you’re doing it wrong’ and some less active members are hearing ‘insult insult insult.’

            Now, both should probably be a little more forgiving towards the other. But since it’s the movement folks who want support and the others who are offering it, it’s ultimately up to the movement folks to ensure work more on their messaging. Its up to them to make sure their message is heard and understood correctly – its not up to their audience to make sure they are hearing correctly.

            No seller or advertiser gets to excuse a drop in popularity by claiming their message was fine, its everyone else’s fault for misinterpreting it. Likewise here; if you are trying to drum up support for a social cause, you are really not understanding your job if you claim you’re communicating ‘you’re doing it wrong’ to potential contributors just fine, and its not your fault they take offense. No, it is your fault, because you’re the one trying to do the convincing, not them.

  • MNb

    Well, I never have thought in terms of movements, so it’s not a problem for me. And infighting is boring. It’s especially boring for a Dutch atheist living in Suriname to read about American infighting.
    Btw a movement for social improvement doesn’t need to be exclusively atheistic.

  • ahermit

    So we’re worried about people like the woman who asked the stupid racist dog-whistle question, but not about the many people of colour who might be driven away by the stupid racist dog whistle questions and the reflexive (and frankly dishonest) defence of those asking stupid racist dog-whistle questions?

    Even if Bria stuck a toe over a line and hurt someone;s feelings it seems to me that JT took a giant leap across that line. Shouldn;t we be concerned about all the people his kind of oblivious, privileged nonsense might be driving away?

  • hf

    (For my response to the direct issue here, see my previous comment. You’ll find it down-thread of moblues’.)

    Do you actually not know what you’re signalling here?

    need to be brave enough to speak out even if it costs them friends.

    Well yes, that’s the proper response to rape.

  • staircaseghost

    I can’t believe I just spent 25 minutes in that Rashomon rabbit hole trying to get an empirically accurate description of what happened.

    If Congressman Barney Frank, who happens to be gay, comes to your conference and gives a lecture on the impact of regulations in the banking sector, and during the Q&A I ask him, “Isn’t it a little awkward for you gays to have to schedule sex around when you might or might not have recently pooped?” then I agree that giving me a five minute dressing-down from the podium is an inappropriate reaction to my comment.

    The correct reaction is to eject me from the building.

    • ahermit

      Excellent analogy…

  • Cylon

    “This is what we have become: a movement where we cannot even disagree, no matter how amicably and no matter how kindly, without becoming enemies. The sad thing is, for those who would have the atheist movement reunite, to work through our disagreements rather than ostracize one another over them, stay silent in order to avoid more infighting or to avoid being shouted down publicly in front of their peers as if being wrong were a crime. I did the same myself for a bit.”

    No one has said that JT is their enemy. What they have said is that when he acts this way, he is no longer their ally. In other words, he’s not helping. He can have the absolute purest intentions and be 100% sincere in his conviction that his way is the best way to help people of color in the atheist movement. But when the very people he’s trying to help (like Bria, Mandisa, and Sikivu Hutchinson), as well as a lot of people who have more experience in social justice issues (like Jen McCreight and Greta Christina) all start telling him that his approach is actually not helping them, it takes a lot of chutzpah to continue plowing forward and insisting that his approach really is the best way to help.

    Additionally, reuniting the atheist movement is not the number one goal of everyone. There are plenty of people that don’t want to reunite with the racists and sexists in the movement (disclaimer: I’m NOT saying JT is racist or sexist!) because that will damage them. Even if JT is right and clamping down on anger will help more white people to overcome their racism faster than if they hear people honestly expressing their anger, it could still be the wrong approach if it means that PoC have to be subjected to ignorantly racist comments that hurt them, and bottle up their anger about it. Maybe they would rather have a smaller movement that doesn’t actively hurt them than have a bigger movement int the long run. And sure, that may not match up with JT’s goals, but there’s no sense acting like he really wants the same things as they do when they keep telling him that he’s not helping their goals.

    • Richard Sanderson

      So Jen has a lot of experience in social justice issues, but feels it is fine broadcasting someone’s history of mental illness and suicide attempts.

      Does not compute…

      • Cylon

        Um, you mean the same history of mental illness and suicide attempts that JT himself has publicized and tried to bring attention to? If Jen were using that as a way to denigrate JT that would be despicable, but she’s using it to show how he does get social justice when it pertains to issues that affect him personally.

        • Richard Sanderson

          Ah. Different standards apply yet again. Yes, Jen was using it denigrate. Also remember when Surly Amy was squawking and crying her little eyes out when her business address was posted, and then it turned out she already made her business address available on the web anyway.

          Get lost, hypocrite.

          • Cylon

            Oh, I see. You’re not actually interested in responding to my original arguments, you just want a chance to insult women (and one who has nothing to do with this situation AT ALL). Have fun with that.

            Chris Hallquist, it looks like you managed to get the Slymepitters over here, too. I hope it was worth it.

  • Beaker

    Hello Chris, I’m a sometme lurker here and at FTB. And I must say that in this case, as in many other, I agree with the FTB crowd. Although I am sympathetic to Daniel Fincke’s calls to civility (in the case of JT, I think they are more than a bit hypocritical), I think you couldn’t have used a worse post of JT to tie into this. For two reasons:

    1) I thought his post (and if his post describes his reaction to Bria accurately his reaction to Bria) was extremely condescending. I mean, just look at how he started his conversation with Bria: “I opened by telling her that I didn’t wish to imply that she’s a bad person, but that I thought she was out of line”

    Yes, let’s talk to the African American woman like she’s a five year old. And his post continues in that vein, condescending and almost devoid of empathy, ascribing motivations to her, portraying her reaction in the worst possible light and lying about the goings on (as others have pointed out). Why should Bria and others react to that with civility, if he isn’t willing to extend that civility to them? Quite frankly, that Bria didn’t slap him in the face after he opened the way he did, is more civility than he could have expected as far as I’m concerned. JT wasn’t moderate, he was acting like a pompous ass.

    2) With all his “talk to others personally”-schtick, he is the one who took it to twitter and subsequently his blog. There wouldn’t have been a dust-up in any way if he would have only personally talked to Bria. He caused the dust-up.

    3) He could have criticized Bria and tackled the problem the right way, by taking 90% of his blogpost explaining why Bria reacted as angrily to a racist statement as she did, after asking her. He could have acted as a conduit between Bria and others. Instead, he went for the tone-trolling, taking most of the post talking about Bria’s reaction, and hardly any on the statement that caused it.

    4) I did not think the responses to him were overly harsh. It seems to me that in this case, “keeping people within the movement” translates to “do not criticize my missteps”. No matter how good your intentions, this does not mean you cannot be incredibly bone-headed in the way you act. It seemed to me that JT was completely incapable of even considering the fact that he might have added as an ass.

    • ahermit

      Good comments there. But to be fair to Dan Fincke we should note that he’s critical of JT’s actions in this case. You have to wade through the usual wall of text and qualifying language, but it’s in there:

      • Beaker

        True, I just saw his post. When I wrote my post I had only seen his earlier post, which seemed to be defending JT. I did think the many qualifiers kind of obscured the point he was trying to make. And to be honest, if that is the way we are supposed to be writing and talking to each other according to him, I don’t think that is going to be very effective.

        • ahermit

          I agree; at some point one has to stop treating everything like an intellectual exercise…

  • Richard Sanderson

    Yep, there is a constant feed of testimony from people (especially women) who are life-long feminists, support social justice values, etc. but are frightened of opposing the FTBullies, even tenuously.

    We have witnessed numerous occasions where slight dissent from the FfTB agenda means you get bullied, shunned, abused, and lied about.

    • ahermit

      You also “witnessed” a walkout which never happened at a conference panel you didn’t attend, (and equated it to the demonstrations in Egypt! o.O) so you’ll have to excuse me for taking your testimony with a small teaspoon of salt….

      • Richard Sanderson

        So, you’re calling all those women liars. You’re a #womanabuser.

        • ahermit

          No, I’m calling YOU a liar…

          • Richard Sanderson

            You are calling women liars. You’re a #WomanAbuser.

          • ahermit

            I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you are a woman. You’re the only one I’m calling a liar.

  • John W. Loftus

    Chris this is one of many issues I decided to write the following post:


    I remember those good old days of blogging with you as well.

  • Maude

    It’s disheartening to see how the large groups of women and minorities who are leaving the atheist movement is dismissed. Many women and people of colour are leaving because of this. Maybe you have not noticed? If you haven’t why is that? I’m not implying you are malicious, just that I think our community is still biased to value the support of a white man beyond others. People are leaving. For some reason, we are more concerned with the white guy who gets offended by the word ‘racism’.

    Look, I get it, it’s uncomfortable. It sucks. It feels unfair. It may even be an unfounded accusation (accusation seems like the wrong word to me. I think people are just pointing out bias, and we all have bias about different groups of people). But we can’t go around and claim that women and folks of color are not into atheism for some biological reason while systematically excluding them and dismissing their concerns. Their concerns are not yours, and that’s fine. But it should be taken as seriously as yours if we care about reaching different types of people towards skepticism.

    So I disagree with you. Sometimes, you may write something, and the majority of people who comment disagree with you. Most of them you may think of as your friends (as was the case with JT’s critics, whom he quoted to illustrate his point). But that’s ok. It’s not an attack. It’s kind of the nature of skepticism. It’s even ok to disagree with their arguments, after you’ve thought about them, and tried to understand what they were trying to say. But that rarely happens. The goal isn’t to convince everybody, but to have a dialogue. All I’ve seen in this case is JT being too caught up in his ego to even consider a point made. And he wrote thousands of words to do so. I know you know what I mean. You’re familiar enough with WLC.

    People disagreeing with you and pointing out why, people bringing up the concerns of underrepresented groups is not oppression, and it is not divisiveness (unless you mean ‘some white guys are fed up with having more diversity and a smaller proportion of their own concerns addressed). You’ll be ok.

    • Msironen

      Are you seriously suggesting that what JT got was “criticism” and “dialogue” and not an attack? McCreight for one stopped just short of pulling a rape accusation “grenade” on him, for crying out loud.

      Also, on the concerns of women / racial minorities vs those of “white men”. When, exactly, was the last time you heard a prominent male atheist claiming that the atheist movement must take on the Men’s Right Movement and their issues? When exactly was the last time, apart from Sikivu Hutchinson’s fevered imaginings, you heard a prominent white atheist claim that we must start considering the issues raised by white supremacists? That’s the big disconnect here. Whatever “systemical dismissal” you may accuse “white male atheists” of, at least they’re not trying to saddle atheism with issues other than atheism, secularism and civil rights issues concerning atheists. And before anyone points out that’s already two other things than atheism, they at least are practically unanimously agreed on to be included.

      For the record, as soon as Dawkins starts clamoring about fathers’ right in family court, I’ll join you and everyone else who thinks MRA is shorthand for Satan (although I don’t) to tell Dawkins that there is already this thing called MRM (or FRM/FRA) who is handling this issue and we don’t need to saddle atheism with it.

  • Beaker

    So I have been thinking about this some more, and this post as as well those from JT actually bother me quite a bit. Exactly because they spend almost 100% of the attention on the reaction to a clearly racist statement, and almost none on the racist statement itself. Regardless of whether that statement was made in ignorance or not.

    And quite frankly Chris, if that is the amount of concern you and JT have for issues of racism or sexism, I do suspect it is better if you just do not write about those issues at all. Seriously, why was there no word from you or JT about where Bria’s reaction might have come from? Why was there no word from you or JT about why she might be angry? Why did you not write a single word about why the reactions from Jen, Greta and their “ilk” might be exasperated and angry. Don’t you think this might be important? It’s not like they haven’t written about it themselves. It’s not like several bloggers of color haven’t written blog posts about this so far, which you could have read to get an insight in where that response comes from.

    And sure, JT didn’t actually say that people shouldn’t get angry. But if you demand this fair reading of JT, why did you not call him out on the blatant strawman that you quoted here in your update. None of the posters I have read on this, not Jen, not Crommunst, not Greta, not Sikivu, none of them have said that reacting angrily is always the correct reaction. How is it it that you are apparently totally fine with that misrepresentation?

    Related to that, why would you think that it is for JT to decide when someone gets to react angrily. I’m sorry, but I don’t see that it is. How does Bria know that it is okay for her to now react in an angry manner? Do you have some specific guidelines? Perhaps you have a checklist she can fill out in triplicate, so the Designated White Person can vet it beforehand and give her the go-ahead?

    Might it not be that people like Bria or Jen wouldn’t react that angry that often, if you would try to understand why they are angry first and speak up about that? So they don’t need to feel constantly beleagered? Rather than only speaking up against them if they react to the stuff that makes them angry in an angry manner? Wouldn’t that be better?

    • Chris Hallquist

      No one may have said that anger is always the right reaction – but it certainly seems to have become the default reaction in many corners of the atheist movement. And it’s worse than that. Anger being the default reaction would in itself might not even be so bad, but things have gotten to the point where vilification and misrepresentation have become the default reactions.

      The quote from Jen above is not the first time I’ve seen JT’s positions grossly misrepresented over what are, on a substantive level, minor disagreements. While I’m glad JT has been willing to speak out about this, his previous fear of doing so is entirely understandable given the past behavior of his critics.

      And nor has he been the only target; this sort of vilification of any disagreement has been routine in Pharyngula comment threads as long as I can remember. (See here for one of countless examples.) I’ve heard from a fair number of other people in the atheist movement express fear of saying anything publicly about certain hot-button issues because they are (again quite understandably in my opinion) afraid of having friendships destroyed by what should be minor disagreements.

      As to the other issues… I think there’s legitimate room for disagreement about the relative importance of various issues. But to say, “you can never just talk about issue A without also spending a great deal of time talking about issue B” is a recipe for never getting anything done on issue A. And the issue of minor disagreements being the basis for vilification and misrepresentation is a serious one that needs to be addressed if we’re going to have a healthy atheist movement.

      (On top of that, when your message is, “I disagree with you on issue A, even though I agree with you on issues B through F,” it really doesn’t make sense to spend a great deal of time rehashing B through F. You can just say “I agree on issues B through F” and move on.)

      Finally, where on earth does this notion that JT is claiming he “gets to” decide when other people can get angry? He’s not claiming any power for himself, he’s saying, I think this was a bad idea in this case and here’s why. What do people not get about that?

      • Beaker

        “The quote from Jen above is not the first time I’ve seen JT’s positions grossly misrepresented over what are, on a substantive level, minor disagreements.”

        I’ll try to respond more fully on this post later, but could you please explain why you think that: how and when people are reacting angrily is a minor issue? Or to put it a bit more broadly, why do you think that other people telling women how they should react to misogynistic statements and people of color how they should react to racist statements is a minor issue? Or to unpack this a little bit more, why do you think that men or white people telling women or people of color how they should react to statements that hurt them is a minor issue? Because I don’t think those things are minor issues at all? It seems to me those issues strike right at the heart of the problem.

  • Ophis

    I think what hasn’t been appreciated by JT’s critics is the difference between telling someone how they should feel about a comment and suggesting a better way of addressing a comment. The “white straight cis men” derided by Jen might not be able to tell black people how to feel about racism, but they may have some useful ideas on how to be more persuasive to other white straight cis men. When people are walking out of your talk, it may be a good idea to listen to the guy with suggestions on how to be more persuasive.

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