On not buying into the LULZer playbook at FtB (or anywhere) #WeLoveFTB


Background: There is an ongoing online and offline argument between (a) those who believe that listening to atheist and skeptical women (including but not limited to Rebecca Watson) call out behaviour that makes many women feel unwelcome in the godless movement is important in order to expand the movement’s social momentum, and (b) those who believe these women are engaged in “irresponsible messaging” at best, because “excessive emphasis” on a minority misbehaving makes the movement look bad, and thus these women should not be listened to at the expense of “more important matters”.

It’s been simmering along for quite a few years, but the level of vituperation and doubling down escalated in 2011 following the meltdown over what is known as Elevator-Gate (or the Rebeccapocalypse) and recently escalated again after the Speakers Behaving Badly/Skeptics Don’t Need No Stinking Anti-Harassment Policies clusterfuck (timeline), and then yet again this week with a furore on Twitter over firstly Rebecca Watson misremembering which particular gendered slur a critic had used against her over a year ago and then Paula Kirby accused women criticising sexist behaviour of being Feminazis/Femistasi, and FTB/Skepchick of being an Axis of totalitarian thought, and being equivalent to a totalitarian state.

In a truly rational world, it might be possible to substantively and productively explore the pros and cons of competing positions in good faith and reach a nuanced understanding and a mutually satisfying path forward.  Unfortunately the “don’t give disproportionate emphasis to sexism” side has basically been hijacked by a bunch of bad faith contrarians who advocate never ever listening to women because women be lying because that’s what bitchez do amiright.  These are the folks who’ve “excessively emphasised” the issue of sexist misbehaviour by continually stirring the pot, and this week a post on the FreeThoughtBlogs.com network from Justin Griffiths outlined exactly how this has been going down (mostly indirectly via contrarians’ now-I’m-using-my-reasonable-voice comments which have since been deleted). In short, for a large number of the noisiest pot-stirrers the whole meltdown is just an exercise in 4chan-style gamesmanship, where they get to bask in their supposed superior rationality as shown by the way that they can disrupt discussions and spark off flamewars by stating positions they claim not to truly hold, because they’re just making a point (that well-know close relation of JAQing Off).

I left this comment at Ophelia Benson’s blog, but it’s on a thread which has dropped down the front page as newer posts have been published, so it might not generate further discussion there.  I spent quite a while on it, so I’m reproducing it here, because what’s happening on FreeThoughtBlogs at the moment is something I’ve seen many times before, and it needs to be clearly identified:

(This will be teaching many of you to suck eggs, I know – this is mainly for lurkers and newbies, especially newbie lurkers. Apologies in advance for the tl;dr)

The idea that each pocket of cyberspace should be a clean slate for somebody with no reference to what they are known to do elsewhere is a page dusted off from the old USENet alt.syntax.tactical playbook, as is the uber-purist semantic-hacktivist stance that objecting to having one’s argument misrepresented by poo-flinging howler monkeys *really* means that one knows one’s position will not withstand a “rigorous logical challenge”. These faux-purists in fact know very well that it’s not only possible but appallingly easy to rhetorically sandbag *any* line of argument no matter how rigorously supported it may actually be.

This is achieved largely by exploiting the phenomenon summed up as “a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on” e.g. their new spin on the meaning of “slimepit”, the year-long lie that “RW cried Rape on EG” etc etc etc. They combine these lies with their other favourite tactic (from the old alt.tasteless playbook) that *nothing should be exempt from being “joked” about*, aiming to provoke an emotional response that buys into their lie instead of scorning it as it deserves. Once someone takes their bait they deploy a hyper-skeptical pose of Just Asking Questions and Just Wanting Evidence to a double-standard far beyond that which they apply to Bigfoot or UFOs.

Repeating the lies and slurs derails any progress in the discussion by diverting the targets’ resources and time to yet again countering the lie/challenging the slur instead of moving the conversation forward, and *that’s exactly what it’s designed to do* (allegedly just for the LULZ of watching yet another thread erupt into a flamewar, which is actually just re-framing getting one’s jollies from bullying and vandalism – disruption for the sake of disruption).

One of the reasons they hate Pharyngula so much is that there are a lot of ‘net veterans there amongst the regulars (largely because PZ is also an old ‘net vet), and the vets see very clearly what is happening when the lies start being told and spoil the LULZ-fun by flatly identifying a comment as a lie without getting sucked into a derailing defence. Denied their jollies there, the LULZers have decided to target the rest of FtB because many of the other blog-owners and their commentariats have not yet become sufficiently acquainted with the LULZ playbook to cut the thread-derails off at the knees i.e. the LULZers are *relying* on their behaviour elsewhere not being known on the target blog, and thus being given more leeway than they deserve.

Ophelia’s Rules spoil the LULZ-fun, thus they’ve added her to their special extra-shitpiling list. Accusing her of “intellectual dishonesty” for refusing to let them fling shit all over her cybersalon is just the cherry on the top of the LULZers’ cake of pointless bile.

Anyone who comes onto an FtB blog and starts repeating the LULZer lies and slurs as part of their oh-so-noble groupthink challenge has already identified themselves as intellectually dishonest. Checking to see whether they’ve misbehaved using the same nym elsewhere before banhammering is actually extending them a benefit of the doubt that is IMO excessively generous.

(I’ve lightly edited my quoted comment above to remove some redundancies that I didn’t catch before hitting the submit comment button at B&W, and added a sentence that should have been there in the first place, plus some relevant links.)

I didn’t challenge the Just Doin’ It For Teh LULZ “justification” in that comment, because it was already lengthy, but let’s just say I don’t buy it. For every single rationality-purist who might genuinely believe that their synchronised sliming disruption displays perform a valuable public education service, I’d estimate at least a hundred more who really just enjoy intimidating other people into silence, and that they nearly always do it in service to the maintenance of the status quo. They’re not elite noble warriors for truth, they’re just posturing reactionary twerps.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, Meta, skepticism

Tags: , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Great comment, tigtog. I’ve been following the whole mess, and feeling deeply upset and bloody pissed off on behalf of Ophelia, and Greta, and many of the other FtBloggers. I am so over the hyperskepticism of chaps who’re “just asking the question.”
    I love FtB too.

  2. Yeah I’ve been watching it via PZ whose sanity and general decency has once again been notable. What can one say except 1) they are brave women, more power to them 2)’“excessive emphasis” on a minority misbehaving makes the movement look bad’ could be called the Cardinal Pell/Catholic Church defence and obviously wrong for that reason and 3) testosterone can ooze out in a lot of weird ways and basically those boys oughta grow up.

  3. Thanks Deborah. Chris Clarke has a typically perspicacious comment on the Blue Collar Atheist blog at FtB too:

    the more Free Thought becomes just about debunking religion, the more it becomes useless. The practice does as much good in examining your relationship to credit card companies as it does in examining your relationship to Gawd, and I tend to wonder whether people that don’t see that have Thought sufficiently Freely.

    Go read the whole comment because it’s worth it (as is Hank’s post to which it is responding), but the basic point is that once one has rejected religion, then why would one need to talk about it all the time? Once the cultural religious framework for making sense of one’s life is irrelevant, then the movement is not actually worthy of the word “movement” unless it’s critically examining other cultural frameworks to see what else is worthy of rejection, what should be kept/expanded, and what is missing that needs developing.
    So the idea that social justice advocates are hijacking skepticism with our bleeding-heart irrational agenda? Pish-tosh. We’re offering a way forward. Certainly others might disagree as to whether it’s the best way forward, but unless they’re offering a better alternative than just the current status quo minus religious observance? Then they’re not offering much inspiration, are they?
    EDIT: Forgot the link to Chris’ comment! D’oh. http://freethoughtblogs.com/bluecollaratheist/2012/07/02/talking-to-john-loftus/#comment-25510

  4. Rebecca Watson misremembering which particular gendered slur a critic had used against her over a year ago
    The fact that there are too many for her to keep straight is itself an indication that sexism is a problem.

  5. “excessive emphasis” on a minority misbehaving makes the movement look bad

    If the majority is so deficient and complacent when it comes to self-criticism and reflection that can’t police a badly behaving minority, why the hell would I want to join the movement? That “we don’t need no stinking anti-harassment policy” attitude is alarm bell number one for me to walk away from anything. Call me a coward, but I’ve turned my back on atheism/scepticism/secularism -as-a-movement for now (with the exception of my political party of choice) because of it.
    Brownmiller wrote* about how the more “official” communist movements of the 70s were apathetic towards feminism because, according to them, it would basically become a non-issue when we were all living in a communist utopia. Who needs feminism when we’re all comrades instead of men and women, eh? But that basically seems to be the vibe coming from this community too.
    * Disclaimer: I don’t have her book to hand. I’m paraphrasing heavily.

  6. Jason, I don’t think it’s true that ”the majority is so deficient and complacent when it comes to self-criticism and reflection that can’t police a badly behaving minority”. The reaction from nearly every other godless/secularist org other than JREF/TAM has been positive with respect to having policies in place against harassment – often with some sense of embarrassment that they didn’t already have them – every week more orgs are posting their policies and codes of conduct, and most prospective attendees seem quite pleased with the idea that expectations of conduct are being clearly communicated with reporting procedures and intent to keep records very much part of the package.
    The noisiest pushback has come from a bunch of people who seem to mostly not even go to meetings/cons (or at least not cons other than TAM) and who are just whining that “nobody tells me what to do”. JREF itself seems to be running round in secret circles trying to work out how to recover from DJ Grothe’s own goal here.

  7. p.s. the attitude similar to the one Brownmiller described was heavy in the recent past, but even in just the last few years there’s been a lot of improvement. I suspect that as per so many other socially progressive paradigm shifts, the USA is both behinder on the global curve and noisier about the debate than just about anybody else.

  8. Jason, I don’t think it’s true that “the majority is so deficient and complacent when it comes to self-criticism and reflection that can’t police a badly behaving minority”.

    Yeah, sorry, that’s a fair point. I don’t mean to belittle the efforts of people who are fighting for it, and the good will of the majority who support it.
    The chip on my shoulder comes from having been part of communities who nominally shared values of critical thinking and rationality, where a vocally sexist minority has indicated a not-vocal-but-still-pretty-sexist majority who just didn’t see the problem. Now when I see all of this happening, I lose patience very quickly.

  9. Jason: it’s a fair method of quickly classifying groups, if you have no time to immerse yourself into the culture of that group to make a more measured and in-depth judgement. Just don’t forget to watch out for the opposite cadre of loud voices exposing a large and largely silent group that do see the problem with sexism.
    It also helps to take a more granular view of certain groups. Calling atheism a movement implies things that aren’t true; Myers and Abbie Smith are both ostensibly ‘movement atheists’, but represent very different positions.

    • Borrowing some phrasing from a comment seen elsewhere which was making a slightly different point, but which I do think is very relevant when looking at online Skepticism in particular, is that the perception of DEEEEEP RIIIIIFTS!!!!! is vastly amplified by the fact that skeptics generally love to argue, and that for many of them winning the argument is the Prime Directive, especially within certain blog zeitgeists.
      Many people who go to IRL events simply are not the same people who get caught up with SIWOTI outbreaks online, or at least are people who are quite good at switching between zeitgeists, which ties into the more granular view of groups advocated by Medivh.

  10. Came by to express my appreciation for this wise and sane post, and now you’ve got me looking down at the metaphorical dirt I’m shyly kicking with a metaphorical boot toe. Thanks. And Thanks.


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