Growing up

In 2004 I was an atheist, but I was the live-and-let-live type.  Religion didn’t bug me, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  Then, for Christmas that year, my mother got me both of Sam Harris’ books.  In The End of Faith there was a single sentence that changed my life forever.

We live in an age when a person could have the intellect and the resources to construct a nuclear bomb, and still believe they’ll receive paradise for detonating it.

He was right.  My work as an activist began the following semester.  I read every piece Harris put out, memorizing some of the passages for use in my own debates.

I acquired many more heroes over the years (including PZ Myers and Greta Christina), but Harris was always the one for which I had the most respect.  He was so calm, so in control.  He spoke and wrote in ways that made me feel like I was borrowing the English language.  Most importantly, to my young eye, his reasoning was fearless and always sound.

In developing my debate style, I also gained an appreciation for the work of Thunderf00t.  From his videos on why creationists suck I extracted several facts and phrasings I would use when talking to believers, and they worked.

They say the irony of growing up is going from thinking your parents know everything to thinking your parents know nothing.  Me though, I still love my parents, and I think they are two most ethical and wonderful people alive.  I still call them for advice, and they always give good tips for navigating life.  However, on the precipice of eight years after reading that line in The End of Faith, I’ve come to the realization that two of my heroes were not who I thought they were.

We can all imagine why my opinion of Sam Harris has waned, but the one I want to talk about right now is Thunderf00t.  I don’t believe I said a negative thing about him upon his arrival to Freethoughtblogs.  Hell, I had nothing negative to say.  On occasion I expressed confusion at some of the things he said afterward, but I felt he was a good person and a great mind attempting to navigate the issues.  His noble nature was never in question to me.

Now, it is.  Last month Thunderf00t was removed from this network for, frankly, behavior (not ideas) that was grating on most of the other writers here.  I was sad when it happened.  I was reveling in the opportunity to write alongside someone who had, in part, informed and helped forge my own debate style.  I was sure that the situation with Thunderf00t brought out the worst in everyone, including him.

I was wrong, at least about the worst in him.

FtB has a back channel where all the FtB authors hang out and discuss issues amongst ourselves.  Each email on that channel contains the following footer:

All emails sent to this list are confidential and private. Revealing information contained in any email sent to the list to anyone not on the list without permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

This is for several very good reasons.

  1. Some of our bloggers write under pseudonyms to protect their identity.  Having that information go public could be damaging and/or dangerous to them.  Thunderf00t established that he realizes the gravity of this when he rightly went apeshit over people releasing his true name.  He was aware of the damage that could be done by such unethical behavior.
  2. Speaking personally, I don’t agree with everybody in this movement.  But due to my job and due to trying to create a cohesive movement, I do need to try and get along with a lot of my fellow activists, even if we don’t see eye to eye.  Having a safe and confidential place to talk about those things and to either have my opinions vindicated or corrected is important.  However, released quotes could be damaging to those relationships.  I suspect others are in the same shoes.

There are more, but those are the two that really concern me.  The authors of FtB are my friends, and I don’t want to have to be guarded and write in the same voice with which I blog when talking with my friends.  I shouldn’t have to.  That’s why the list is confidential.

Upon being removed from the network (literally, about ten minutes after being removed), Thunderf00t found a flaw in our security that allowed him to get back onto our back channel.  He was receiving all our confidential emails but not sending any of his own, as that would alert us to his presence.  Recently, we were informed by two different parties that the FtB back channel was not secure.  Thunderf00t’s email address was then discovered back on the list.

Ed Brayton dug up the confirmation email he had received when he removed Thunderf00t from the list, so we know he had been removed.  We discovered the weak point in our security, plugged it, and again removed Thunderf00t from the list.  Minutes later, Thunderf00t tried several times to exploit the same hole that had been plugged, this time to no avail.  I’m sure other more tech savvy writers will provide those details (Jason Thibeault has now obliged), but the point is that it was all-but-certainly a conscious act by Thunderf00t, not a mistake on our part.  Either he believes the private contents of our network are his possession or he doesn’t.  If he believes they are his property, he should get better reading glasses (and a new moral compass).  If he doesn’t, he was knowingly taking things to which he knew he had no right.  Either way, this is a very black mark on Thunderf00t.

This sucks for a lot of reasons.  For me, it sucks to see one of my young atheist activist heroes purposefully do such flagrantly immoral things.  It sucks to feel both angry and betrayed at someone to whom I feel I owe gratitude for shaping me.  It sucks to now be at odds with someone I was so excited to work alongside.  It sucks to see someone I once thought would do the right thing no matter what show that he’s willing to be this dishonest and this petty if it suits him.  I don’t expect perfection of my heroes, but I expect more than this.

But it also sucks that someone so jaded has possession of this type of information.  It sucks that sensitive information is in the hands of someone who, to my eye, has confirmed he’s untrustworthy (to say the least).

Case in point, Thunderf00t now has a post out trying to build himself up as a hero for what he’s done.  In it, he pulls quotes from FtB authors who are talking about criticizing Michael Payton on their blogs and accuses us of going after the guy’s job.  We often criticize people in this movement.  That’s a good thing about this movement.  PZ has criticized David Silverman before, but they’re still very good friends (and Dave is still employed).  Criticism does not entail ill will, it simply means we see something that we think should fixed or to which, we believe, needs attention drawn.

I imagine Thunderf00t did this to paint his deceit as noble, like he is Julian Assange or some such.  But he’s not.  In the very same post he swears up and down that he would never “doc drop” he does just that.  The conclusion is obvious: Thunderf00t either has no issue with being dishonest, as confirmed by his behavior with regards to the FtB back channel and the contents of his post, or he has become so possessed by his hatred of FtB that he feels his dishonesty justified.  Either way, I must agree with the part of Ed’s email that Thunderf00t (who claims he would never doc drop) leaked:

“I want to do whatever it takes to make sure that he (thunderf00t) is essentially drummed out of this movement, never invited to speak anywhere again and is forever a pariah.”

After taking in the breadth of Thunderf00t’s behavior in this case, could you trust him enough to work with him?  After spying on a private listserv and after being so transparently dishonest in a blog post (so badly one could only assume it to be intentional, especially knowing that Thunderf00t is not a dumb person), what other conclusion could one reach?  If you were an organizer at a conference, would you want to operate with the constant worry that you might upset someone whose vindictiveness is simultaneously so encompassing and so unrestrained?  I wouldn’t.  And I won’t.  To take Thunderf00t’s wording: not now, not EVER.  And for the sake of others in this movement I hope you feel the same.

Thunderf00t has done a lot of good things.  Like I said, I grew as an atheist on account of his work.  But intelligence does not make one well-adjusted or moral, sadly.  I hate admitting it, but Thunderf00t just…isn’t a good person.  I take absolutely no joy in saying that, but my allegiance is to the truth as I see it more than to those who have helped me grow as an atheist.  If there’s any lesson I learned in my youth that made me into the activist I am, that’s it.  And the truth is that Thunderf00t is not the man I once believed him to be.  I’m sure he’s a brilliant scientist, but I’m reminded of what I wrote yesterday.  There is no amount of brilliance that isn’t worrisome if unchecked by empathy and honor.  I cannot bring myself to even admire such a man, let alone feel like we can work side by side.  When my devotion is to honesty (amongst other things), I simply cannot see myself working with Thunderf00t.

I guess this is what growing up feels like.  In my youth and naïveté I idolized some of the wrong people.  There is no Santa, and the people you looked up to can fall.


Ed Brayton has posted about the ordeal and said it much better than I ever could.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Laura

    You know what they say. Never meet your heroes.

    • http://jubydoo.wordpress.com/ Juby!

      That’s why I keep all of my heroes fictitious.

      • teh_faust

        Or dead.
        Then at least you know they won’t be doing anything disappointing.

    • Tanya2

      JT, you are not a good person either.

      I know you don’t realize it, but you aren’t. In fact, I think you are evil.

      • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

        Perhaps, but he has a lovely signing voice.

        • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

          Really? I’m 26 in the picture available at my link and have short hair and a bid mustache. That’s a Halloween pic where I’m dressed as Mario, though. The mustache is fake. I don’t see how you get “aging hippie.” My dad is too young to have been a hippie.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

        Given her other comments, it appears Tanya2 is an unmitigated troll. Here’s comes the hammer.

        All her other trolling comments are going bye bye. However, I’m going to keep this one as a trophy.

      • Artor

        Can you please explain why you think that? What evil has JT done to offend you?

      • BCat70
  • FreeThoughtStorm

    *sigh* I was really hoping you wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon to smear Tf00t. Disappointed again in the way FreeThoughtBlogs is turning into FreeDramaBlogs. If you worship PZ and think it’s cool to try to make Thunderfoot an outcast then I have lost all respect for you.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Smear? He took care of that himself. Perhaps you missed the part where I said I took no joy in this. There is no bandwagon. I will not post something I do not believe. This is my reaction to what Thunderf00t did, and I notice you didn’t do anything to defend his actions.

      And I do not worship PZ. I disagree with him on some things. But I admire the man, and rightly so.

      • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

        Has JT (or anyone at FTB) actually said they were a relativist in a sense that would preclude them from condemning anything anyone else did?

      • satanaugustine

        You’ve posted this same comment on another FTBlogger’s post about Tfoot. I don’t recall for certain, but you may have posted it under another name. Whether you’re engaging in sockpuppetry or not your comment is without merit.

    • http://www.atheist-faq.com Jasper of Maine (I feel safe and welcome at FTB)

      Way to dishonestly spin what he said.

      The fact is that TF did something wrong, and he should be called out on it on all fronts.

      • satanaugustine

        What are you talking about? Any idea?

      • julian

        If you were suddenly struck dumb, mute and deaf, I doubt the world would notice.

    • unbound

      I’m curious as to why you think Thunderf00t is being smeared? Do you not hold him accountable for his actions and words?

      Reading through his current post, I’m reminded of the paranoia and tactics of christian apologists. How many things did he post out of context?

      I too was a big fan of Thunderf00t and his youtube series. I was looking forward to him being out at ftb. However, I do think everyone should be held accountable for what they say and do. Thunderf00t revealed himself to be a misogynist, and rather than learning that his views were bad, he decided to dig deeper into his misogynistic hole.

      This recent event shows that he holds no respect for privacy or law. In the end, I have no choice but follow the evidence that Thunderf00t is simply not a very good person after all.

    • http://www.embiearts.com embiearts

      TF deliberately violated the privacy of the people on this network, in a manner that has the potential to do serious real-world damage (whether or not he actually goes that far, the threat of it is enough to upset people and negatively impact their lives).

      The word “Smear” implies dishonesty – that the various bloggers who are calling him on his douchebaggery are lying or at the very least badly exaggerating. If you think that’s the case, show us what evidence leads you to this conclusion. If not, accept that the dude did some bad shit, and people are justifiably upset over his deliberate (and repeated) violation.

      Hacking and sharing someone’s email, especially when they have a demonstrated need for anonymity, is a revolting act. Even if there were no anonymous bloggers involved, there is a certain right to privacy that he had no business screwing with. He’s shown himself to be an untrustworthy douche, and people are well within their rights to say that they don’t want him associated with this movement.

      Calling him out on this and letting people know what he’s done (so they know the risks of future interactions with the guy) isn’t bandwaggoning, it’s honest. And hey, if there’s an emotional edge to the posts, that’s their right. We’re not talking about robots here.

    • Artor

      If you still stand behind Thunderf00t after the crap he has pulled, then you are a reprehensible piece of sh*t just like he is, and your opinion carries less weight than a neutrino.

  • mcbender

    I share your experience here, JT, although in my case it was Dawkins and Thunderfoot who were the early influences that had the most impact on me (and I’ve become similarly disillusioned with Dawkins, although of course not nearly so much so as Thunderfoot in recent weeks). It is always a terrible feeling when someone one admires becomes or reveals themself to be unworthy of that admiration.

    In this case, I think immediate action needs to be taken to minimise the consequences of his actions. It is terrifying that he could be revealing or has revealed this information, especially as it is not at all hard to see how it could endanger people’s lives. The fact that he is apparently willing to overlook that to satisfy his own petty feelings is disgusting.

    To anyone who might still be holding out hope that there’s a reasonable explanation for this and that Thunderfoot might somehow still be a stand-up guy: stop deluding yourselves. There is evidence of a pattern of behaviour; it’s been established consistently and repeatedly over the past month or so since his appearance at FTB, and as horrible as it is to say it this seems just further extension of the trend. I have no hesitation in saying that not only is he being a douchebag, he has now crossed nearly all possible lines and must be stopped before he causes real harm. If you are not willing to say that, there is something seriously wrong with you.

  • Evan P.

    This is troubling, indeed. I wondered what the recent debacle involving Thunderfoot, PZ, and others was all about even after hearing their comments on the issue, and I’m sad to see that Thunderfoot has done the things you say he has.

    As Thunderfoot’s expulsion from FtB is proving more and more devisive, I certainly hope that this and other instances like it don’t wind up harming the cohesion and effectiveness of the non-theist movement as a whole.

    “There is no amount of brilliance that isn’t worrisome if unchecked by empathy and honor.”

    On a completely unrelated (and perhaps silly) topic, would you mind if I pulled the above quote to be pasted on the wall of my high school classroom?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Sorry for taking so long to answer. Of course you may. Any of the content of my blog can be taken at any time with or without attribution.

      I’d be honored.

      • Evan P.

        Thank you sir!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dale.Kitchens dalekitchens

    Thank you JT for sharing this and your thoughts on it. Like you, I was a big fan of Thunderfoot for many years. It’s disheartening to know that a hero can fall so far and so hard.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I went through the same a few years ago one-by-one with Thunderf00t, TheAmazingAtheist and Penn Jillette. It’s not easy and is probably the main reason why I’m so cynical about the idea of a useful movement.

    • http://www.atheist-faq.com Jasper of Maine (I feel safe and welcome at FTB)

      I think we’re a cohesive movement when it comes to counter-apologetics and addressing secular issues.

      That’s at the center of the venn diagram. After that, we have sub-groups.

      I don’t actually see this as bad or incorrect.

    • baal

      Regularization (is that a word?) happens over time as movements mature. It’s entirely expected that the initiators / early adopters / founding voices tend more to ‘loud’ than to ‘sound’.

      Still, TF’s diary-readying is not good and I can only hope he (and at least 2 third parties?) deletes and removes actually harmful data and never posts any.

  • JanaTheVeganPiranha

    Newsflash- whatever you write anywhere is not your property once you press “send”. That’s what most laws read, there is no more “right to privacy” anywhere online. Guard what you say, and EXPECT that every word may be published by someone who doesn’t like you. Your words can and probably will be twisted, and you will be mocked for saying and doing things you never meant to say, or in fact did NOT say! I learned all this early on from moderating a busy message board, and the lesson stung like hell.

    Newsflash number two- the people you admire are not gods, and they do NOT owe it to us to live up to OUR expectations! They really don’t, they’re good at something and they do it. That does NOT give us a right to judge their entire lives or states of being. None of US would withstand that level of scrutiny, if we are honest.

    Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters.

    • kc9oq

      There IS an expectation of privacy within a channel intended for private communication. This isn’t the same as posting on a message board or a blog. This is the email equivalent of wiretapping. The fact the channel was insecure does not mitigate his actions.

    • Loqi

      That’s what most laws read, there is no more “right to privacy” anywhere online.

      Huh, nobody told me that when I was developing secure webmail software and applications to let you message real-time with your doctor. All those legal and security experts must have lied to me.

      Either that, or you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • JSC_ltd

      Newsflash- whatever you write anywhere is not your property once you press “send”. That’s what most laws read, there is no more “right to privacy” anywhere online.

      Bzzt! Wrong! Also, citation needed, so I can buzz that and call it wrong as well.

      Guard what you say, and EXPECT that every word may be published by someone who doesn’t like you. Your words can and probably will be twisted, and you will be mocked for saying and doing things you never meant to say, or in fact did NOT say! I learned all this early on from moderating a busy message board, and the lesson stung like hell.

      Make sure when you go out on the town that you don’t dress provocatively, that you don’t drink or appear drunk, and that you stay in well-lit areas, lest you get raped. Huh, that sounds weird. Maybe it would be better if rapists didn’t rape people, then we wouldn’t have to blame the victim. Rather like when a person hacks a listserv and steals the content, it’s the hacker who has done something wrong, not the victim.

      Newsflash number two- the people you admire are not gods, and they do NOT owe it to us to live up to OUR expectations! They really don’t, they’re good at something and they do it. That does NOT give us a right to judge their entire lives or states of being. None of US would withstand that level of scrutiny, if we are honest.

      Get off your high horse. If a person did something to you just to hurt you, you’d think of them as an asshole, and you’d be right to do so, because assholes by figurative definition do things just to hurt people.
      People in a society DO owe it to other members of that society to live up to their expectations. That’s a pretty basic fact of social existence.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    Yea, I know the feeling on heroes disappointing. I was less than 6 months into being involved with atheism when Hitch died, and even then I was starting to learn the more distasteful of his opinions. Doesn’t mean that his arguments didn’t help me fully accept atheism or the harm of religion, just that his humanity was showing, mostly his fallibility. Like Harris, he would take the easy answer in some instances and fixate on it, even though that answer was stupid and wrong.

    That being said, this is not the same as TF00t. Harris holds opinions on torture, for example, that I think are foolish at best (considering it doesn’t work, even in his strained hypotheticals), but he’s not out there torturing people. TF00t, on the other hand, is actively trying to harm people on the FtB network.

    He’s basically an evangelical without Jesus at this point: anything you have to do to meet your objectives, just do it. Morals are suspended for the higher good. He writes like an evangelical nutjob (qualifier intended to separate him from Fred Clark and John Shore), too.

  • Samantha M

    Okay, so could someone please explain why PZ thinks he is now justified in using TFoot’s real name? TF’s lack of ethics and integrity does not justify our own, does it?

    • mcbender

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/10/thunderf00tphil-mason-treacherous-hack/comment-page-1/#comment-427586

      Thunderfoot’s identity is public knowledge; he made a point of outing himself on YouTube.

      • Samantha M

        Okay, thanks. I appreciate that JT does not lower himself to TF’s level by using TF’s real name. I used to be much more of a PZ fan than I am now. I guess maybe I am growing up, too.

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

          Since TF’s name is public knowledge, I don’t feel like I’d be lowering myself to use it. I appreciate the esteem though.

          What I don’t want to do is lower myself to his level by being vindictive or dishonest. If you respect me, I would hope it’s for that. :)

          • Samantha M

            I guess it sort of feels a bit vindictive to use his real name to me. I get now what you all are saying, but I didn’t know his real name until now. Of course, I think it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there on a blog at all, and I think you and PZ both have courage in spades! I do respect you for all the right reasons. I feel like I have a better understanding about this issue thanks to you and your commenters! I should speak up more! Thanks for the hug, you made my day.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      PZ even helped Thunderf00t/Phil at Tf’s request.

      • Samantha M

        Yes, I know he did. I still don’t see how that justifies rolling around in the mud with him, though. I appreciate your ability to stay out of the mud, JT. You have strong opinions, you voice them, yet you don’t throw away your integrity. I respect you and admire you. You are da awesome.

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

          *hug*

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      Because it’s about on the order of calling Sting “Gordon Sumner.” Thunderf00t’s identity isn’t secret. He revealed it himself.

      • Samantha M

        I am not trying to derail, here, but why is it that Greta, JT, Ed, Zinnia, Ashley, etc. chose not to use his real name but PZ did? Do you admire that about PZ? Is it illogical that I feel PZ is trying to go for more of a sucker punch whereas the others are attempting to stay more above-board?

        • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

          Presumably, PZ is trying to remind him how he felt when he was threatened with being outed. Or, it could be for some unrelated reason, like PZ being the one who knows him on a personal level. Either way, I don’t see why this is ethically relevant.

        • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

          I’ll admit, I’m a bit confused as to why you feel this is a low blow for PZ to use TF00t’s real name when it’s already publicly available and Phil himself told it to people. I’m not saying you’re a bad person for feeling that way, but I think you’re making a big deal out of something that isn’t a big deal.

          That being said, I think there are two major reasons why most people are using TF00t and PZ is pointing out his real name. The first is that most people know him as TF00t, so it makes for easier reading and typing. “Kaoru” is a nickname I use IRL, so much so that when people use my birth name, it’s confusing. Calling me the name most people know me as is simply conversationally convenient.

          Which leads me to my second reason. Because so many people use TF00t’s online moniker and he made such a big deal out of how very upset he was that somebody sniffed out and revealed his name publicly before he outed himself, PZ was likely using the Phil name in order to make the point that there’s no difference between what happened to him a year ago that he was so upset about and what he’s doing now. It’s basically a historical allusion.

          You may still feel that’s hitting below the belt, but I think that’s attributing too much malice and potential danger to a fairly innocuous, if snarky, reference.

          • Samantha M

            Very good points, and thanks to everyone who contributed. I think you guys are all correct and I appreciate that you took the time to discuss this with me. I guess sometimes I think snark is not necessary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t justified or well deserved. I do my best to be skeptical, but sometimes it helps to have others’ input to get things into proper perspective. I feel better about this now. Thanks again!

          • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

            No problem. At first I felt the same way, and it took a lot of commentary from elsewhere to wrap my head around the difference, so I knew where you were coming from. But I guess that’s the glory of the internet: you have plenty of people to bounce ideas off of and clarify your perspectives.

    • invivoMark

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to be bothered by that (though I, too, was unaware that Tf had “outed” himself separately). What Tf did was incriminating enough, there is no need to add vindictive smearing to it.

      I thought JT’s and Ed’s pieces were exactly the kind of response that was needed, and nothing more.

  • Mare Lacrimarum

    He has been unsub’ed everywhere for me. Shameful display. I cannot agree with someone being a MRA, but I can deal with it. However, actively hacking a site to steal private information? Not cool, TF.

  • http://maybeweagree.blogspot.com ReasJack

    It’s easy to forget that even when you set up an arena where ideas can slug it out freely, you can’t really keep ego’s out of it. The phrase “Check your ego at the door” is nonsense. They go wherever we go. At best we can try to keep them leashed, but they get riled in the arena anyway. How could they not? Its even useful up to a point to have a little ego skin in the game in the arena. It provides the “who” to the question, “Who cares?”.

    Maybe the Thunderf00t situation tells us that if you’re going to be in an arena having something LIKE a fight, the probability is high that our ego will eventually confuse it with an ACTUAL fight for survival or supremacy; that beyond growing up and realizing heroes have feet of clay, it reminds us that none of us have true immunity from this. It might be attenuated by having a less competitive or combative temperament, but it lurks there all the same.

    If we are going to continue having arenas like this (and I think we must), we might give some thought to the less desirable consequences of sustained exposure to a kind of combat (and yes, it’s not the same as being in an actual war, but that’s my point. I think this leads us not to worry about these issues). I don’t think we take seriously the idea that it can eventually get to be too much; that it can change us in ways we might not like, and that we are all susceptible. We used to think that when a soldier developed “battle fatigue” or lost control in berserker rages, it was due to some fault of his character. We no longer believe this. There are some things that one cannot simply keep doing and remain unscathed. The internet has allowed us to engage in fairly stressful combative interaction almost in perpetuity. Its unreasonable not to see these bad effects as inevitable. Maybe its time to take seriously the idea that someone can simply have had too much of this, and to talk about what to do not just TO them, but for them when it happens.

    This is not to minimize ThunderFoot’s behavior, nor to reject the possibility that he just treats others poorly. Maybe this is just him. I don’t know. But I think it’s dangerous to assume that it couldn’t also be me after a while.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    jump on the bandwagon to smear Tf00t

    Smear? Someone empties a chamber-pot on their head and it’s everyone else “smear”ing them?

  • McNihil

    I would like to know why you became similarly disillusioned with Sam Harris. If you wrote about that elsewhere, feel free to just post the link. Maybe I just missed it. Personally, I have followed the criticisms launched against Sam lately and the dispute between Sam and PZ in particular and I still can’t quite figure out what all the fuss is about. As far as I understand it, the controversial points are that Sam:

    a) advocates some form of racial profiling at airports.
    b) advocates torture in certain circumstances.
    c) is a racist.

    I admit that I don’t think I have as much information on a and b as Sam and PZ and Schneier but the information I do have gleaned from their exchanges makes me lean towards rejecting a and b.

    It is my understanding that racial profiling at airports most importantly just wouldn’t work (in addition to being financially unfeasible).

    With regards to b and considering the information I have gathered in the matter it’s my understanding that torture is never morally justifiable and that it, too, simply doesn’t reliably and consistently work – at least not in the way advocates would like it to work.

    So within my limited understanding of those 2 matters, I disagree with Sam. However, that’s where it pretty much stops for me. As far as I can see, Sam has enough intellectual integrity and is factually differentiated enough to have valid points in his defense and a sufficiently moderate stance on those positions and that, as far as I can see, just doesn’t warrant the kind of sharp criticism and vitriol people have launched against him.

    He isn’t advocating a totalitarian racial profiling system that would put all “arab looking” people at airports in a room, strip them naked and cavity search them. As far as I understand it, he is advocating a kind of profiling system that is already in place at other airports in the world where it actually works well (but apparently wouldn’t work here for scalability and other reasons). That point of view might be disagreeable but to me it just doesn’t justify outrage or some great fall from grace or disillusionment.

    He also isn’t advocating an all out torture mandate where every suspect of or accomplice to any crime should get waterboarded. He is advocating torture in very specific, extreme circumstances. Again, one can disagree – as I do – but why the outrage and feeling of betrayal and disillusionment? His point of view seems to be defensible and, as far as I understand it, is shared by other moral philosophers.

    And to the extent that I have read Sam’s work, i.e. End of Faith, Lying, Free Will, his blog, the accusation of racism is simply hyperbole at best. Islam is, at this particular point in time, the most dangerous religion in the world. Ever since The End of Faith, Sam has been trying to raise awareness of this fact. It comes with the subject matter that it’s very difficult to find appropriate language for this state of affairs and to me, Sam has done an incredible job at succeeding at it. To the degree that is linguistically possible, he has avoided falling prey to racially charged language. His issue is clearly with the religion and ideology of Islam, not with Arabic people. I simply don’t understand where this accusation of racism even comes from.

    Phew, that comment got a lot longer than I intended and maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with why you personally became disillusioned with him in which case, well, fuck it. Set me straight.

    • baal

      Eh, PZ has his fondness for clear language (borders on a preference for verbal violence) and some urges towards purity (viewpoint bais for moderating). His character flaws are not as bad as Sam H’s penchant for using fear based reasoning. I’m reluctant to throw out the baby with the bath water for both of them. They both have (and continue) to provide value to the movement. I don’t read them without a skeptical eye, however.

      I would put Greta, JT and Zinnia (probably N.Reed and a few others too but need to read more) at the top of my hypothetical list of folks that I don’t need to apply filters for. I can’t recall seeing them on the side of violence, purity or fear … like ever.

    • Still me

      “So within my limited understanding of those 2 matters, I disagree with Sam. However, that’s where it pretty much stops for me. As far as I can see, Sam has enough intellectual integrity and is factually differentiated enough to have valid points in his defense and a sufficiently moderate stance on those positions and that, as far as I can see, just doesn’t warrant the kind of sharp criticism and vitriol people have launched against him.

      He isn’t advocating a totalitarian racial profiling system that would put all “arab looking” people at airports in a room, strip them naked and cavity search them. As far as I understand it, he is advocating a kind of profiling system that is already in place at other airports in the world where it actually works well (but apparently wouldn’t work here for scalability and other reasons). That point of view might be disagreeable but to me it just doesn’t justify outrage or some great fall from grace or disillusionment.

      He also isn’t advocating an all out torture mandate where every suspect of or accomplice to any crime should get waterboarded. He is advocating torture in very specific, extreme circumstances. Again, one can disagree – as I do – but why the outrage and feeling of betrayal and disillusionment? His point of view seems to be defensible and, as far as I understand it, is shared by other moral philosophers.”

      This is a great post. The equivalent of the above applies to all of the opinions I’ve read within the past few months from atheists about feminism and related issues. And when those same intelligent people try to discuss other people’s differing views and characterize them, they are wrong. Almost on every point, and every time, they are wrong. That’s without considering whether or not they are correct about the other person’s motivations.

      “So within my limited understanding of those (few) matters, I disagree with [person, say Amy Roth, or Ophelia Benson, or Thunderf00t, or whoever]…As far as I can see, [person] has enough intellectual integrity and is factually differentiated enough to have valid points in her defense and a sufficiently moderate stance on those positions and that, as far as I can see, just doesn’t warrant the kind of sharp criticism and vitriol people have launched against her.”

      • McNihil

        I’m confused. I can’t relly tell what you are saying in your reply. Did you just hit me with a bucket of sarcasm or are you agreeing with me?

  • Steve Zara

    As you know, I’m not on the ‘FreeThoughtBlogs’ side on many subjects, but this is simply dreadful behaviour by Thunderf00t. I utterly condemn it. He is no ally of mine.

  • Gretchen

    I think the same way about Sam Harris. And I can understand why your high esteem for him has waned, but I suppose for me at least I feel as though I still agree with him about his arguments about religion and morality, even if I disagree on smaller points such as torture or racial profiling. It’s helped me realize that someone can be one of your biggest intellectual heroes even in places where you disagree.

    • Gretchen

      … but yeah, the whole Thunderf00t thing is horrible. I hope this gets cleared up quickly for the safety of everyone on the network.

  • jackrawlinson

    Yep. I’ve certainly lost pretty much all of the quite significant respect I used to have for PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson.

    • http://brutereason.net Miriam

      Uh…why, because they went and got their private listserv snooped on? Do explain.

    • julian

      Really? We totally didn’t know. It’s not like you take every fucking opportunity to remind us.

    • ‘Tis Himself

      Pardon me, sir, but you must have mistaken us for people who give a damn about your opinions.

      • anteprepro

        Well, it is very important for the neutral, uninformed audience to see that this is how the anti-feminist side acts in the face of people on their hideous side behaving terribly.

        “Big Anti-feminist that we have been defending hacked into private e-mails and is fully capable of outting pseudonymous atheist bloggers with the info he stole? Yeah, whatever. Have I mentioned that I really hate feminist atheists yet?”

  • nf

    You, know I still can’t believe how fast this has all sunk. I’ve been a fan of tf00t’s videos for years, and really hard to watch someone you like implode like this. While I don’t agree with either side fully on the original conflict, there is nothing ok or forgivable about this. While I can’t find anything legally damning since there was no hacking involved, and email disclaimers are not normally legally binding on the reader, but it makes the whole situation no less despicable.

    • Daniel Schealler

      I agree with you.

      At first when Tf00t joined, I thought it was going to be great…

      But as of his second post, everything I heard from him about any subject to do with FtB was met with an exaggerated WTF face.

      It’s just been so weird.

      • nf

        I just hate being this disappointed. I kept thinking PZ and THunderf00t would hash it out, part friendly and go their separate ways, but its become increasingly clear that will never happen. I don’t solely blame Thunderf00t for that, but still, no excuse whatsoever for this kind of activity.

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  • http://notungblog.wordpress.com Notung

    Leaving the question of whether it was ethical or not aside, TF didn’t ‘doc drop’, since ‘doc dropping’ means revealing personal information about someone. To my knowledge, he hasn’t done that. All he’s done is revealed parts of some private emails. After reading that, I still don’t have any personal information about any FTBer.

    • aspidoscelis

      Seconded. Thunderfoot isn’t coming out of this looking good, certainly, but he said he wouldn’t “doc drop” and so far there’s no evidence–at least, not that I’m aware of–that he either has or intends to release anyone’s personal information. Also, he would have had this information on FTBloggers identities from the time when he was legitimately on the FTB backchannel, right? The fact that he later gained illegitimate access to the FTB backchannel isn’t really relevant on this point; he already had this information.

      I don’t support what he’s done. I’m not sure if it’s illegal, but it is unethical. However, I wish the folks at FTB would drop the hyperbole down a notch or two. Stick with the bad things he has done; there’s no need to tack on spurious accusations.


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