All of This (bad behavior) Has Happened Before…

All of This (bad behavior) Has Happened Before… July 18, 2012
All Google Images for ‘hacking’ are dumb, but some are more delightfully so

When a Christian church got tagged with atheist-themed graffiti last year, I chipped in for repairs, along with a lot of other atheists.  (I ended up with post-length mixed feelings but still think it was the right decision).  And now it turns out I’ve converted just in time for another “Sorry about our team’s bad behavior” fundraiser.

Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism reports that the Secular Student Alliance is getting a lot of DDoS attacks, and they’ve had to pay to up their servers just to deal with this threat.  Since money is fungible, that means less is allocated toward their work, and the terrorists win.  Adam is asking Christians to consider chipping in as a rebuke to the people targeting the SSA and to help them return to the status quo ante bellum.

Cyberterrorism as heckler’s veto pisses me off.  It ticks me off enough for me to make my entire senior thesis an attempt to lay out my objections in a rigorous, political philosophy kinda way.  I’m chipping in, and I hope you readers will consider joining me.

If you’re having a fight about philosophy and truth, you have to fight fair, or else you’re not keeping your powder dry.  Your intellect, your virtue, your honor are your weapons, and if you compromise them to score cheap points or kick the other man in the shins, you’ve forfeited the tools you need to be able to win if you’re right and to be able to recognize that you’ve lost if you’re wrong.

So give to negate the effect of people behaving badly.  If you feel awkward about giving to a group whose ends you oppose, I’d remind you that a lot of the work the SSA does is being beat cop for violations of church/state stuff, which should be a lot more universally compelling than it is.  But if you oppose their mission, I might suggest matching your SSA donation with one to your parish, or to a GiveWell-vetted charity, so that you’re getting a spur to contribute more to a cause you support.


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  • Dennis Mahon

    Unfortunately, such behavior is all over the place — this morning, a “hacker” calling themselves “AnonPinkNinja” attacked a couple of Catholic websites in Scotland because the Church is pushing for a national referendum on gay marriage. Such things are a combination of pettiness and ego, combined with low impulse control.

  • Dave G.

    Do we know it was Christians? Who is doing it? Have they identified themselves? Just asking. I didn’t see in any of the stories.

    • leahlibresco

      It’s really unlikely you can trace a DDoS back to it’s source as long as people aren’t dumb and use Tor.

      • Dave G.

        I just wondered, because there seemed to be a certain tone in a couple linked articles that said [since Christians are obviously guilty] it would be nice if Christians stepped up to the plate and helped out.

        • leahlibresco

          I think, as was the case in the church vandalism case I linked above, people are making a guess they can’t test. Christians may be the most likely alternative and still not be the culprits.

          • Dave G.

            Probably true. I guess best not to assume, in either church vandalism or this.

      • Dennis Mahon

        It’s really unlikely you can trace a DDoS back to it’s source as long as people aren’t dumb and use Tor.
        Yeah, but that messes with the network — it’s not meant to be used that way.

      • Slan21

        You don’t DDoS via Tor, it probably won’t work.

        More likely if only one a handfull of people are behind the DDoS they would use a botnet, and it may not be very tracable either.

  • deiseach

    It’s annoying and stupid. I have no idea if Christians as such are doing it (I really can’t think of technologically-savvy Christian group able to do this) or, as seems likely to me, just anonymous idiots.

    But it’s probably not a bad idea to chip in and help, just for the cause of protecting free speech rights. So yes, ma’am, going over to donate as soon as possible!

    Though the one hack that did make me laugh was Anonymous attacking the Vatican website. I think I speak for most Catholics online when I say my immediate reaction was “How could they tell?” If you’ve ever visited the Vatican website you will understand why I say that 🙂

    • not to mention the hilarity of a group using a Guy Fawkes mask as their signature attacking a Catholic website…

    • Ted Seeber

      I completely understand- I tried to link a fundamentalist to the online Catacombs of the Basilica virtual reality the other day, and couldn’t find it. Google’s link led to a 404.

      • deiseach

        I can’t count how many times I’ve tried searching for an encylical or a particular department of the Curia or what you would imagine would be an easily identifiable body on the Vatican website, only to have to give up and Google instead.

        St. Isidore, if he really is patron of the Internet, is either massively busy elsewhere or there’s a turf war between him, St. Clare and the Archangel Gabriel about whose responsibility it is 🙂

    • Hah! Oh, deiseach, how I’ve missed you over at Mr. Wright’s place.

    • This immediately got me thinking of a Gray Friar trying *use* a computer.

  • I think we need a generic free speech fund. That way we could help organizations that have this issue to the extent they have it. This organization seem pretty good at turning this kind of incident into a self-promotion/fundraising opportunity. Most are not. Most will just pay the $200/month as the cost of running a controversial website.

    • 1. Adam Lee is not speaking on behalf of the Secular Student Alliance, he is speaking as an atheist activist.
      2. As Leah pointed out, the atheist community has previously raised money at least twice to pay for the cleanup of church vandalism assumed (by both atheists and christians) to be done by atheists.
      3. They are currently paying that cost. Adam is pointing out that it would be nice if they didn’t have to.

  • Escalonn

    There’s a typo in your thesis on page 24, midway down the page, “Anonymoyus”. Just thought I’d mention.

  • Ted Seeber

    I don’t get it. Does the SSA run their own servers? Why isn’t their ISP providing packet block filtering for free? Why is this software costing them $200/month when you average Linksys NAT router can be programmed to repel such an attack?

    At any rate, I’m going to donate as soon as I can free up a few dollars.

    • Ted Seeber

      Oh, and I’m giving *DESPITE* the fact that I am against a form of religious liberty that seems based more on censorship than actual protection of liberty.

    • Dennis Mahon

      All good points; if the SSA’s ISP isn’t providing adequate protection and service, they might want to take this as an opportunity to switch providers.

      • Ted Seeber

        One of the best defenses *against a DDoS attack* I know, is dynamic DNS updating. When attacked- or any time your router detects a traffic overflow, a simple DHCP reset and Dynamic DNS update makes the botnet impotent.

        It seems to me a change of ISP would do the same thing- because you’d end up on a different block of IP addresses.

  • Observer

    These guys have either the intended or intended use of anonymity to destroy liberty. Strangely, a crook uses a mask (alias or some sort of shield to their identity) as well as Shakespeare had used varations of his name during the persecution of Catholics in England. Crooks, also, are salesman for the biggest product of all: more bureaucracy. Peculiar men, who shape the affairs of state in affecting and interrupting the tranquil lives of ordinary people, tend to create the problem for an undesirable solution: more security overlooking everyone’s activity. Crooks intend to mis-use and destroy our ordinary liberties for the advancement and safeguard of power (and dominion over other people’s lives.)

    • leahlibresco

      Now that I am less than 48 hours from the premiere, I am incapable of not reading this as a Batman teaser.

  • Observer

    Thus, anonymous hakers have just as much as a cowardly act of cruelty as any of those so-called Christian men who abused power: King Henry VIII and Napoleon.

    • Dave G.

      Have we now found out for sure that these are Christians doing this?

      • Whenever Christians misbehave it’s a case of “Oh, they’re not truly Christians, they’re just saying they’re Christians”. So no, Christians didn’t do it…

        • Dave G.

          That’s an interesting observation. But it doesn’t answer the question. Do we know these were Christians doing this or not?

          • Does it matter?

          • No, let Christians who backslide slide off the map. God will know his own

          • Uh yeah, it matters if the assumption is that Christians are guilty. Call me an old timer, but I still like the whole ‘and here’s the evidence’ before I begin accusing. One of the strange side effects of the internet age that allows so much anonymity is the tendency of ‘anonymous guilt’. We more or less allow for ‘them’ being guilty, just because. After all, who needs evidence, since it’s not really a person we’re accusing.

          • I’m not really sure what the crack about Henry & Napoloen was about, but I think The Ubiquitous is right. I do have to wonder about the Observer’s reaction though, if you’re going to make statements like that, then getting your facts straight is probably a good idea.

          • Skittle

            It would be one thing if there was some statement from someone claiming responsibility, or otherwise indicating their reasons for the attacks. As it is, we don’t know anything about what happened and why, or who was responsible. Assuming that it was a deliberate malicious attack at all, we still don’t know that it was Christians. It’s not like Christians are the only people who might view the SSA negatively.

            If you want to give money because you think they shouldn’t be shut down by these problems, then do so, but don’t bother with the attempt at corporate guilt. And, for the record, I found the arguments for why atheists should pay to clean the graffitied church (which was clearly vandalised with a specifically atheist joke) pretty ridiculous as well (since they mostly seemed to be concerned more with appearance and fuel for winning arguments, rather than thinking it was the right thing to do, when they weren’t attempts at corporate guilt).

            It was wrong to vandalise the church, and some sensitivity about the vandalism is good, but atheists as a whole were in no way responsible. It was wrong to attack the SSA, and some sensitivity about it is good (no uncharitable mocking), but Christians as a whole are in no way responsible. Even if it actually was the work of Christians.

            Help them, or don’t help them, but don’t make it about repaying a debt you never had.

          • It matters for accusations, but it doesn’t matter for the sake of giving. If we gave merely because we thought Christians are guilty, that is not out of love but debt.

  • Any chance of collecting the money on our side? ’cause I really don’t feel like giving the Puppy Kicking League my contact info and ending up on their permanent friend file. I already have enough regular fundraising spam from organizations I actually support.

    • leahlibresco

      Email Adam or SSA. I’m leaving for CA on Friday, so I can’t coordinate this.

    • leahlibresco

      Go to Adam’s site and he’s set up a widget that will grant your wish.

    • Anonymous

      Well, compared to your side’s child raping, using women as property, constant lying, refusal to obey laws, treating everyone who disagrees with you like scum, etc…A little projected puppy kicking makes us saints.

    • Alex

      Puppy Kicking League? I don’t suppose you could expand on that a bit.

      • I have expanded on it in a comment over at the Friendly Atheist.

  • Thanks, Leah and everyone else who’s helped out. If you’d rather not give your contact information to the SSA, I’ve created a donation widget (same link as my original post, or go here: I’ll personally deliver any monies collected to the SSA.

    • Thanks for asking and not telling, by the way.

    • Thanks a lot.

      And after having slept over it I recognize it’s not so much about the contact information as about relating to them in a way that would seem like endorsement. This way I could give without feeling dirty.

      I’ve also put up a copy of your widget over at my place, but that’s mostly symbolic because I don’t have many readers anyway.

  • Mark

    I spent some time thinking about this after I read the article and have to say:

    While I in no way condone the actions of any of these groups, the reality is that I would probably spill my blood for an atheist’s right to free speech before I would give money for an atheist to actively speak out against my faith. Does that make me “bad”… a “meanie”… “cheap”??? Probably, but, there are so many other “charitable” causes that I could think of that deserve my money more than these.

    • leahlibresco

      I don’t think so. Although I’m committed to free speech, I had some major qualms about giving to the graffitied church last year. I can imagine some groups where I wouldn’t want to give at all, or only to a fund outside the group that would make them whole and not give them a penny above the required amount.

    • I sympathize too. This is a bit like voting. Any available course of action, including no action at all, feels dirty. It’s obviously a fallen world.

  • AHBritton


    So to start off with, and get it out of the way… Yes I am an atheist who first heard of your blog following your conversion….

    I am not here commenting after reading one post of yours in order to try and convince you that I know where you went wrong and now that, having pointed out that your mistake, am awaiting your quick de-conversion and thanks. 🙂

    I am interested in your position on morality, however, since it seemed to play a strong role in your conversion. I have been in general agreement recently with the ideas of Desire Utilitarianism (Desirism) and was interested as I saw that you had mentioned this, and being a fan of CommonSenseAtheism in your blog.

    I did a search to find out what you had said on the topic, interested in why you found it unpersuasive/what problems you raised, but I seem to have trouble finding any such postings. I have seen a few mentions of you saying that you didn’t really understand it, but I am curious if you could point me to any postings where you have discussed difficulties you have with the theory? Is google not picking up on posts you have written about it? Or have you decided not to address it for some reason?

    No lengthy reply is necessary, if you have discussed it elsewhere, I would appreciate a link to that/those postings.

    Thanks for your time.

    • leahlibresco

      I read all Luke’s posts on the topic, but it didn’t feel like he ever got beyond very abstract foundations of desirism before he switched over to full time Singularity Institute stuff. The examples of the rock gathers and rock scatterers didn’t give me a very good sense of how a human desirist approaches a decision. So I didn’t have any desirism outputs I could compare to some moral choices I was pretty confident in to see if the theory covered the known data.

      • AHBritton


        Have you read Alonzo Fyfe’s blog on the matter? It is almost entirely devoted to applying desirist claims to real world ethical questions?

        Regardless, shouldn’t one’s first concern be whether or not it deals with true claims about the world? Also, if I was someone who was pretty sure a certain race is inferior, and thus deserves fewer rights, does it make sense to start out by testing a theory against this intuition? I don’t think this is a ridiculous question, as in various times and places such moral “intuitions” were nearly ubiquitous it would seem.

        Thanks again for your time, I am certain things have been overwhelming lately, and I hope you don’t take me as jumping on the bandwagon of atheist critics out to get you…. even if I am 🙂

        Any time you spend in responding to my questions is greatly appreciated.

  • Hi, Leah–

    I run a set of Catholic blogs on a Linux server, and they regularly come under “attack” from similar overload attempts, but I don’t think it’s anything ideologically-based: it’s just a matter of spammers trying to post comments containing ads into blog entries on any blog that they find. It’s conceivable that the “attack” on the secularist site is similar in nature.

    To counter the problem, I’ve set up some homemade automated monitoring on my server to check the load every 10 minutes, identify IP addresses generating unreasonable load on the server, and block them from making any further attempts. When the server load spikes above my threshold, it’s gratifying to see it drop back down to a normal level within a couple of minutes. (Die, spammers, die!)

    If the secular folks think that this may be useful to them, I’ll be happy to share the scripts for free. [E-mail to (my last name) at] And, hey, if they save a bunch of money: well, I am a student, so I accept gifts in the form of cash, etc. 🙂


  • AHBritton


    Aside from the obvious atheistic reasons for bringing up Desirism, I am also interested because I think it actually has interesting parallels to Virtue Ethics, and thus might be interesting to you from that perspective. By this I am referring to the fact that Desirism is concerned with inculcating “good” desires, similar in many ways to the role of virtue in Virtue Ethics.

    Though a consequentialist theory, Desirims realizes we cannot stop in every ethical situation and get out our calculator to measure up everyone’s desires and then act on what produces the best outcome. Instead it says we should promote or discourage the desires themselves, not the actions. The proper way to increase charity is not to calculate the right amount of charity I should give at a specific moment, it is to encourage the desire to give charitably in yourself and others. The more people are raised, encouraged, etc. to have the desire to give charitably, the more charitable they will be.

    I also wanted to ask if this is the best place to engage in this discussion? Should I post on specifically recent posts you have done on more metaethical issues? I am fine with one-on-one conversations as well, but I recognize you might not want to deal with the hassle of having people like me contact you by e-mail (I did not see it listed on the blog). I just want to find the most convenient way for you to dialogue about the topic if you so wish.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Alex

      “stop in every ethical situation and get out our calculator to measure up everyone’s desires”

      I’m pretty sure no ethical theorists has ever thought that this is the right way to approach morality (with a few exceptions perhaps – I doubt it). I highly recommend the following paper on the relationship between virtue and modern ethical theory:

      Essentially it argues weakly that both Kantian and Utilitarian approaches to morality provide satisfactory treatments of virtue. It also argues more strongly that treating virtue ethics as a standalone ethical theory is deceptive.

      • Alex

        I guess I should flesh out that last claim a bit more. The argument in my understanding (I’m not that well versed in meta-ethics) is that treating virtue ethics as an alternative to more standard approaches to morality is as confused as treating calculus as an alternative to axiomatic set theory and analysis because calculus is more applicable to real world problems. Just as calculus by itself does not answer the deeper questions of what a ‘limit’ is, virtue ethics does not, by itself answer the deeper questions of what we mean when we say ‘virtue’ or ‘goodness’.

  • AHBritton


    Thanks, I will check that out. So you would agree about the compatibility/similarities between desirism and virtue ethics?

    I admit that of all the ethical theories, virtue ethics is the one of which I have the least knowledge.