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.