In response to my video promoting positive goals and values for the atheist community (Atheism…Plus What?), Thunderf00t (whose real name is Phil Mason) has expanded his anti-feminist rants to the point that I am seriously worried he might have no empathy for other human beings at all. He is now even ranting against concern for minorities. His departure from logic and reason, in defense of abuse and amorality, is just weird, and makes it ironic that he claims my call for more community and compassion, honesty, and reasonableness is toxic to the atheism movement. Clearly, his chucking overboard empathy, women, minorities, and anything actually good for our community is what’s toxic. If his vision were realized, the atheist community would be a scary and awful place to be.
Thunderf00t Against Privacy Rights
Thunderf00t was once the friend of PZ Myers and was happily asked to join our blog network. At which he began writing rants against sexual harassment policies (to which I responded in On Sexual Harassment, for example), and became so belligerent and disruptive in our backchannel that it was interfering with other bloggers’ ability to function, for which he was expelled, both from the network and the private email list of network members. The reasons for his expulsion are laid out by PZ in this video (jump to timestamp 5:57 if you want to skip the survey of the core principles we were acting on).
Thunderf00t then exploited an easy security loophole to hack back into our private email list and secretly spy on us (which I wrote about in And Then All Hell Breaks Loose…, but more information is linked here). He then went on a concerted campaign attacking feminism and feminists, even calling on atheist organizations to ban all feminist atheists from speaking. (See Michael Nugent’s excellent summary and analysis in Thunderf00t’s Inflammatory Video of Misleading Personal Attacks on Atheist Feminists Is Not Helpful; but for a full and pithy analysis of Thunderf00t’s entire campaign against FreethoughtBlogs and all feminists and feminism, see the RationalWiki account in Thunderf00t vs. Feminism.)
He has not denied this. He has even defended it. A friend of his tells me that he effectively doesn’t believe in a right to privacy, that he doesn’t care if anyone violates his privacy, therefore he doesn’t care if he violates anyone else’s, that doing so does no harm and is therefore not wrong. Evidently, he despises the entire Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which declares “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” He engaged in a warrantless search and seizure of our private papers. And doesn’t even think it’s wrong.
What disturbs me most about this, and the reason it is relevant to the present issue, is his narcissistic standard of justice. He evidently cannot empathize at all with other human beings who have different needs, feelings, concerns, and desires than his. If “he” doesn’t care about his own privacy, then he can’t imagine caring about anyone else’s. It’s all about him. No acknowledgment at all of how such behavior can hurt other people or disturb them deeply, no emotion or feeling or caring at all about that.
Just imagine your every communication was monitored by someone without your knowledge, who could use or disseminate what they observe whenever they desire to, and who didn’t care at all how you felt about it. Would you really want to live in that world? Or would that feel a lot more like 1984? Checks on power obviously must apply to people as much as governments, since power is power, and anyone can abuse it. Thunderf00t disagrees. He gets to spy on anyone he wants to.
This means he cannot be trusted by any institution or colleague. He will violate your privacy whenever he wants to. And won’t tell you he did, either. He will hide the fact until he is caught. And then he won’t even admit it was wrong. That’s the message his behavior conveys. And that’s scary.
Thunderf00t Against Women
So now to his video, the third in his series of attacks on feminists and feminism: Why ‘Feminism’ Is Poisoning Atheism (Part 3). Already strange since my video wasn’t about feminism. The fact that he thinks advocating more caring and community within the atheist movement is “feminism” is already telling. But his use of the creationist-style tactic of quote mining is evident from the very beginning, where when he shows a clip from my video on what Atheism+ is (timestamp 0:23), he carefully extracts what appeared immediately before and after. Just before that I said I was quoting what Jen McCreight had written, and not defining Atheism+ (I had done that earlier, defining it as “atheism plus humanism plus skepticism,” and even went into detail as to what that meant, two facts you will never learn from Thunderf00t’s video). And immediately after that clip (literally, barely a second after where he stops it) I explain that her list was not meant to be exhaustive or definitive, but just the most obvious “no brainers” as to what being an “atheism plus a humanist plus a skeptic” means in actual practice.
Like a creationist, Thunderf00t doesn’t want you to know the context of what he is quoting, or to know what his “opponent” actually said. He quote mines instead. And thinks this is respectable. Which makes him a hypocrite when he condemns this practice in others. It’s clear that he is scamming his viewers when he starts with that clip and then ignores the entire talk up to that point, where I had explained in detail why once we are part of an atheist community, these and other concerns arise, and why we need a more morally responsible atheism and a more socially informed atheism (in other words, my actual arguments). Instead of addressing that, he goes on about how critical thinking leads to atheism and so I supposedly have it backwards, even though I didn’t say anything about that order of events. And thus, not only does he not address my actual argument, he pretends I didn’t even make the argument I did.
(Of course, many an atheist did not become an atheist through critical thinking, and many atheists sorely lack in critical thinking skills. Although I didn’t talk about that—Matt Dillahunty did—it’s strange that Thunderf00t seems to assume these things aren’t true. Perhaps Thunderf00t is some kind of “atheist supremacist” and doesn’t want to admit such things as that many atheists didn’t become atheists for logically valid reasons and many atheists are terrible reasoners and prone to all the same cognitive and logical and emotional errors as theists, and thus are indeed in great need of more intra-community education in how to think well and be productively self-critical. But never mind that. Back to his rant.)
Here it’s all the worse since later in my video I discuss how the fact that (as Thunderf00t himself says) critical thinking leads to atheism entails a concern in the atheist community for improved education. Thus I even made the very same point he is here, as if he was arguing against me. I also said that critical thinking in the atheist community entails a need to be critical about our own assumptions and assertions as well—the very point he implies I didn’t make. Thunderf00t never mentions any of this, or addresses it. That’s simply dishonest. He watched the video. He knows what the actual arguments are in it and the actual evidence presented for them, and what issues I actually covered, and why I said I was covering them. So for him to ignore all of that and pretend none of it was in there is the exact opposite of being a good critical thinker.
Why would Thunderf00t think this is an appropriate way for an atheist to argue? An atheist who claims to champion critical thinking, yet uses the very tactics of creationists to avoid even telling his readers what his opponent says and to instead misrepresent his opponent’s argument even to the point of engaging in outright deception? He would fly off the handle on William Lane Craig if he did that. Yet it’s okay for Thunderf00t to do that to me. This suggests again his narcissistic “I get to do anything I want” ethic, where he doesn’t even care if he uses the same slimy tactics as creationists and Christian apologists. That is disturbing. It suggests he doesn’t respect me and doesn’t even value the idea of treating other people honestly. The very concept of reasonable and honest discourse is not even on Thunderf00t’s radar.
He then uses this trick again, editing together 14 seconds of my mentioning harassment several times (although he cuts out the other things I mentioned along with it, like sexism more generally), claiming it occupied four minutes of my talk, yet he doesn’t discuss or present any of the evidence or arguments or reasons I gave in those four minutes for why I needed to mention harassment and sexism. And then he suggests this is too much talking about (sexism and) harassment…in a forty-five minute talk. Less than 9% of my talk was about sexism and harassment in the atheist community (by his own count), an issue that the audience recognized as sufficiently grave to warrant that time (Thunderf00t, you see, wasn’t there, although the audience reactions are on the video, so he can’t claim not to know this).
That is also dishonest, ignoring all my evidence and arguments, and then making hay over a mere 9% of my video discussing an issue that annoys him (an issue, BTW, that involves having empathy for other human beings). But worse is the fact that he doesn’t denounce this sexist and harassment behavior at all. He instead blames the victims. He even calls the women who are victimized by this harassment “professional victims” (as if they made any money out of it, much less deliberately sought it out) and claims they deserve what they get. Here he exhibits his complete lack of empathy for women (or let’s be honest, his lack of empathy for other people—since women, you know, happen to be people), showing no awareness or acknowledgment of their unhappiness and discomfort, no concern for it whatever. Like a sociopath.
And here once again he demonstrates his dishonesty. For I spent the largest part of those four minutes discussing the fifteen year old atheist girl who got demeaned and harassed in her own reddit thread (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch my video, or just go here). In what sense could she possibly be a “professional victim”? Thunderf00t’s cold, heartless dismissal of her and the whole example of behavior that her case represents is truly frightening to me. His complete lack of empathy at this point is shocking, as is his dishonesty in conveniently “forgetting” about her, even though I spent over a minute discussing her, and discussed her more than anyone else (yet he seems so obsessed with how much time I spend discussing things). I’m being charitable of course in assuming he really didn’t mean to accuse her of being a professional victim. I shudder to think what it means if he did.
But again the worst part of this is that at no point does he denounce this behavior, either the way that girl was treated, or the way any of the women I listed were treated. He instead says they all deserved it. Thunderf00t at this point doesn’t even name any of the women I discussed, and never presents any evidence whatever that any of them asked for or deserved any of the treatment I spoke about—much less does he present any evidence that it is even possible in principle to “deserve” such treatment. The very notion that he thinks that’s possible, and not just possible, but is in fact the case, for any of the women I listed, much less all of them, actually makes my skin crawl. This total lack of empathy for other human beings is again frightening. As is his implicit endorsement of sexism and harassment. He is actually defending that behavior!
Weirdest of all is that instead of actually discussing any of the evidence of these supposed “professional victims” he is attacking (and remember, he is attacking several prominent and widely beloved women leaders, speakers and writers in the atheist community…plus an innocent teenager), he uses an example completely unrelated to this or me or my video: clips from some random Muslim guy who made some ridiculous statement of jihad, and then complained when he was called out for it (timestamp 1:35). And then Thunderf00t just asserts the moral and practical equivalency. Without a shred of evidence, or even an argument. (There can’t be one, of course, since the cases are not even remotely comparable, in fact not a single relevant detail is analogous.) Once again, this dishonest trick would disgust him coming from a creationist. Yet he’s okay with it. Disturbing.
Thunderf00t then uses standard anti-feminist tropes such as that I am white knighting (rather than actually caring about people and speaking out against immoral and appalling behavior), which means he is actually at this point mocking having a moral conscience. Once again, this looks disturbingly sociopathic to me.
Thunderf00t Against Having a Moral Conscience
Don’t worry, he’ll attack women again before his video is done. But at this point he changes gears to claim we’re all cultists and I’m advocating cult-like behavior. The biggest irony at this point is that I specifically refuted that bogus slur in my video, and he carefully never even mentions my refutation, much less answers it. More dishonest quote mining and misrepresentation. More dishonest manipulation of his audience.
In fact, irony of ironies, he accuses me of being dishonest in my summary of people’s reaction to my first article about Atheism Plus. Notably, in his narration he skips the first part of what I said was in my post (my strident denunciation of sexists and harassers) and acts incredulous that people would call me Hitler, Stalin, and a cultist over asking people to stand up for basic values of compassion, honesty, and reasonableness. Even though that is, ultimately, what they did, I do suspect many of the “Hitler/Stalin/cultist” remarks were from sexists and harassers and their defenders, disgusted by my “feminist” denouncing of sexism and harassment (for example, here and here and here).
Ironically (or, perhaps not ironically) that is exactly what Thunderf00t just did in this video! He attacks me (with dishonesty and quote mining and a pathological avoidance of discussing any evidence) because I am defending “professional victims” (i.e. women) against harassment. And he even does it exactly here, once again, where now (timestamp 3:30) he shows a screen shot of a comment I made (in my first article) about something (he carefully avoids saying what) being a case of “us” against “them” and that we have to take a stand against certain vile people—which was actually all in regard to men harassing and demeaning women. He does not tell his viewers that I am there talking about making sure we show we are against those who harass and demean women like that, that that is the “us vs. them” I was there talking about. He instead makes it seem that I was issuing some broader statement about Atheism Plus as a whole. Which is simply a lie.
Worse, he shows a clip from my video and cuts away the part immediately after it where I explain all this! He is thus deliberately hiding what I actually said from his viewers, and making it seem like I said something else. Creationist tactics 101, yet again. He then throws up a different screen capture, of a completely different comment later in the same article (hoping you will conflate what I said in the two, apparently), of a remark I later revised to prevent people from quote mining it exactly as Thunderf00t just did, in which I said the battle lines are between those who accept the values of compassion, honesty, and reasonableness and those who renounce them. He then says that is what people called me Hitler/Stalin/etc. for—thus proving the very point he claims to be disproving: that in fact it was my asking people to draw lines between the compassionate, honest, and reasonable and the heartless, dishonest, and unreasonable that drove them to call me Hitler/Stalin/etc.
In other words, people have accused me of being Stalin and Hitler for suggesting they adopt and stand for moral values (and remember, the only ones I ever asked them adopt were compassion, honesty, and reasonableness), and Thunderf00t is actually proving it. Of course, I can also give examples, e.g. here. Even just a few days ago, after my video came out, and after all I’ve said and revised online (including a whole additional article on just this distinction, linked at the bottom of the original article with the remark “and on what exactly I mean by that, see Being with or against Atheism+” …which, again, Thunderf00t never tells anyone about), I was told, once again, “please don’t mix your fanatic and religiously Nazistic points of views to atheism” (here). What could he possibly mean? Hmmm.
Then Thunderf00t does the very same thing himself! Because I said we should take a stand for compassion, honesty, and reasonableness and against the cruel, dishonest, and unreasonable, he says I am just like a cultist—specifically, a Scientologist! I think Thunderf00t should get props for at least being original; I don’t think anyone thought to accuse me of being just like a Scientologist for asking people to take a stand on basic humanist values (and denounce cruelty and dishonesty and unrepentant refusals to reason), but that’s just another “you are a cultist” accusation. All for just saying we should be moral people and denounce immoral people. This is what Thunderf00t is mocking. Yet he acts incredulous that anyone would mock me for it. Apparently the plank in his eye is right bloody big. He then even says that because Hitler actually wrote about making a better future for Germany, my talking about a better future for atheism is just like Hitler, and fundamentally fascist (I shit you not: timestamp 6:38).
To paraphrase my own slide in that video on just this very same claim (that very part of my video Thunderf00t carefully excludes from showing or discussing):
Things that don’t make you a Nazi or a cultist:
(1) Calling men who engage in overt sexual harassment douchebags and assholes.
(2) Arguing for greater humanitarian concern from atheists.
(3) Asking people to be compassionate, honest, and reasonable.
(4) Disavowing people who declare their refusal to be compassionate, honest, or reasonable.
Thunderf00t even (embarassingly!) equates my moderation of my own blog with Scientologist efforts to sue people into silence (and with Nazi bookburning: timestamp 7:00; thankyou, Godwin). The king of false equivalencies. He thus accuses me of suppressing free speech. By simply moderating my own blog. That’s the height of irrationality.
Your right to free speech does not give you ownership over my blog or what I allow to be posted there. And I’m certainly not going to let you use my property and resources to post sexist and harassing remarks. That’s my right. Which in no way blocks your right to go say vile things somewhere else. Although you have no right to expect not to be denounced for it. That’s just more free speech, right back at you. At any rate, for Thunderf00t to equate my comments policy with the Church of Scientology and Nazi bookburning is among the most dishonest and bankrupt thinking I’ve seen from any atheist I know.
Worst of all, once again, all this dishonesty and illogical thinking from him is all in defense of harassment and abuse. He is thus defending harassment. In this case, explicitly. Once again, showing a total lack of empathy or concern for others. He also, incidentally, is here reviling private property rights. According to him, we should be forced to publish other people’s thoughts, and should be scolded for not letting others use our publishing platforms at their whim—even when what others want to say is vile and disruptive and immoral and devoid of any reasoned argument or even completely dishonest. This goes back to his disregard of human rights generally, as in the case I opened with of his disregarding our privacy rights.
Indeed, by juxtaposing a clip from Rebecca Watson talking about how to cope with online harassment, he even says at this point that choosing not to listen to someone (e.g. blocking them on twitter) is “very cultlike” behavior (timestamp 6:08 to 6:38). This is just bizarre. Your right to free speech does not give you the right to force me to listen to you. And if you think choosing to avoid a harasser is “cultlike,” you are completely off your rocker. Yet off his rocker Thunderf00t clearly is. I think this reflects again that narcissism I mentioned before: he doesn’t give a shit about you; he wants the right to force you to listen to anything he wants to say, and he is so aghast and appalled that people might not want to listen to him and might exercise their freedom not to, that he accuses them of being cultists. That other people might have their own preferences and feelings and might want to exercise their own liberties to live their own lives, never occurs to him. It’s nowhere on his radar. The total lack of empathy here is, again, scary.
BTW, just to complete the trifecta I listed in my talk, not only does he himself call me a cultist and compare me with Hitler, he concludes by equating me to Stalin (timestamp 9:35). Thus exemplifying the very thing I spoke about in my talk. And he doesn’t even get the irony. In fact here he essentially says a statement like “we should stand up for compassion and honesty and reasonableness and denounce those who openly repudiate those values” is an “outrageously dumb claim.” Take a moment to think about that. Then think about what this means here: he has no conception of the difference between my advocacy of nothing more than exercises of free speech and personal liberty, and what actually made Stalin and Hitler bad…which was not their words, and certainly not their blog moderation policies.
Once again, at this point he circles back to denounce all feminism as Stalinism. Again, I am not kidding. Compare timestamp 8:20 with timestamp 9:37. His obsession with feminism and women is thus still in evidence. And his thinking feminists are just like Stalinists would be laughable if he wasn’t serious. Indeed, he uses this comparison to literally and explicitly say that women deserve to be harassed if they say anything Thunderf00t considers “dumb.” Seriously: timestamp 10:06-10:22.
In contrast with Thunderf00t’s amoral defense of spreading misery rather than caring about others, I’m reminded once again to ask that you read, if you haven’t already, Greta Christina’s excellent article on Atheism Plus and Divisiveness. Contrast what she says there, with Thunderf00t’s entire stance. And ask yourself, which atheism do you want to live in? Which one do you want there to be in future for our sons and daughters? Why do I even have to ask this question?
Thunderf00t against Being Reasonable
At this point he sarcastically praises me for my “commitment to unquestionable dogma.” Which is another example of his dishonesty. Here is what he doesn’t tell his viewers:
In actual fact the only people I called sewer scum were harassers and the cruel, those who “publicly mock humanist values, and abusively disregard the happiness of their own people,” with examples given in my original post, and even more examples were added when I was asked for them. I never said that of anyone else. After denouncing cruelty and harassment behavior in no uncertain terms, I then discussed expanding atheist interests without mentioning the condemnation of anyone, then I discussed what core values underlie all this: compassion, honesty, reasonableness.
And this is what I originally wrote about the latter:
In a future post I might explore further what I think the values of Atheism+ could be, beyond the general principles I have laid out here, unless others cover it better. And I will consider these posts a living document. If from sincere and constructive criticism in comments I am led to alter or revise what I’ve said above in any way (beyond clarifications that can be well-enough addressed in comments themselves), I will do so, and announce the changes in the comments, so there is a record of them. Because I think the values of Atheism+ are to be built collaboratively, and don’t have to be dictated by me alone.
Then in response to reasonable criticism, exactly as I originally said I would do (note again, the above paragraph), I added the following paragraph, to ensure my position was clear (and I announced this revision, along with others, prominently in comments; likewise other minor revisions, also in response to reasonable criticism):
There can also be many other uncertainties and disagreements over whether someone or something really fulfills these values, and good people can fall short of their own values from time to time. The only issue at hand is whether we are at least on board with the idea that these are the values we should hold ourselves to, and with doing our best to hold ourselves to them. That is the question of what sort of atheist we are: an atheist who embraces these values, or an atheist who does not. The rest is open to honest and reasonable discussion, disagreement and debate. But we have to draw this line, so we are no longer mixed in with the atheists who refuse either to embrace these values or sincerely work toward embodying them, so we no longer give tacit endorsement to them or their toxic contributions to the atheism movement.
So I respond reasonably to reasonable criticism, revise and clarify my position accordingly, and said I would do this in advance, and announced when I was doing it and publicly documented it when I did, and Thunderf00t mocks this as a commitment to unquestioning dogma. Now, let’s all be honest, what sort of atheism do you want? One where atheists respond to reasonable criticism and revise their statements and positions, or atheists who mock other atheists who do that? It’s pretty clear which sort of atheism is better for the movement.
Certainly, those who denounce and reject compassion, honesty, and reasonableness are toxic to any movement, whether the Special Olympics or the Kiwanis club or the active Atheist community or anything else. It makes no sense to say you are okay with such people. It makes even less sense to listen to “those who denounce and reject compassion, honesty, and reasonableness” claim that it is toxic to the movement to disavow them and still think they have a point. That’s like thinking a kidnapper in prison “has a point” when he complains he is just a kidnap victim, too, being in prison and all, and isn’t that just as awful and so “shouldn’t we be as eager to free him as we were his victim!?”
But no, Thunderf00t is defending people who openly commit to being cruel, dishonest, and irrational. And calling me McCarthy for doing the exact opposite. By this measure, he is practically defending the Dark Side of the Force. I call for people to denounce the cruel and uncaring and the dishonest and the unreprentantly irrational, and in response he calls for people to denounce me. Do the math on that.
Thunderf00t Against Women and Empathy
And he is not coy about this, either. His fancy for false equivalencies is once again in evidence when he equates (literally equates) criticism of sexists with sexist harassment of women (timestamp 10:40). He argues that they are the same, and therefore my denunciation of sexual harassment is hypocritical because that’s all that the sexual harassers are doing. This is kidnappers complaining about being kidnap victims in prison all over again. Notably, I made a specific point in my talk about the difference between reasoned criticism and harassment and abuse. But Thunderf00t won’t tell you about that or respond to it. Instead, he pretends no such distinction was ever made, and that in fact no such distinction even exists.
He goes on and on about denying this distinction, all the way through timestamp 15:18 (which far beats my four minutes on the subject!). He is thus explicitly and at length defending harassment and abuse, and denouncing me for opposing harassment and abuse and trying to do something about it. He is making the difference between our values crystal clear. He is for the Dark Side.
Although he also toys with denying that harassment and abuse exists (trying to have it both ways, I guess). He conveniently engages in the creationist tactic of data mining by picking the mildest examples to show, even when he claims to be showing representative examples (timestamp 12:19). This is more dishonest trickery, especially given that he makes a point of there supposedly being no evidence!…like, the evidence I presented in my talk, which he very assiduously avoids mentioning, or the evidence assembled here and here and here, and more of which I discuss here. He denies there is any difference in nature, scale, and quantity of it directed at women—even though I specifically discussed this in my video, even using my own hate mail and comment threads as an example of how mild it is against me and how much worse it is for the women I discussed, which again Thunderf00t pretends I never said, and conveniently conceals from his viewers.
Even so, since consistency isn’t Thunderf00t’s strong suit, his argument is still that there is never any reason to denounce any speech behaviors online, regardless. He is thus a harassment apologist: he is fine with it, and appalled that anyone would complain about it or denounce it or be against it. Harassment, to him, is just a “dissenting opinion.” Once again, his complete lack of empathy for other human beings (his fellow atheists even) is well in evidence here. He literally doesn’t give a shit about them or their happiness. He vindictively argues that they deserve it. He also narcissistically assumes that because hate mail imagining violence against him doesn’t bother him, it shouldn’t bother anyone, and should never be considered wrong or denounced or complained about (for the record: all abusive mail and comments, even directed at Thunderf00t, is wrong and to be denounced).
Weird Interlude (Thunderf00t Against Critical Thinking)
At this point (between timestamps 14:09 and 15:05) Thunderf00t makes an argument that makes no logical sense and really makes me wonder about his professional competence: he argues that some YouTube video of a guy responding to his harassers gets more hits than FreethoughtBlogs therefore we should all do what that guy did in that video. I struggle to imagine the logical syllogism that gets from the premise to the conclusion here, and he presents none.
By his logic, we should all make videos of kittens or random dudes getting hit in the balls in response to harassers, because those videos get more hits. A scientist of all things [yes, Thunderf00t is actually a scientist] should be able to realize that the problems of confounding variables, correlation fallacies, lack of proper controls, and indeed a complete lack of outcome measures, plague his analogy from top to bottom. He really thinks he is championing critical thinking here? It looks more like he is giving an instruction manual to creationists on how to make completely illogical arguments that violate everything we know about sound methodology.
Thunderf00t Against Minorities
Now Thunderf00t lays into minorities (timestamp 15:16). He sneers (literally: listen to his voice) at my call for atheist organizations to be more responsive to and cooperative with minority atheists and minority atheist groups. He also cuts together different parts of my talk here—and take note, because it might not be obvious he did that. He thus conflates different sections of my talk, making it seem that most of what he shows from my talk at this point was about minorities when in fact it was not. This is very deliberately dishonest, since his subsequent argument (that I’m a “moron” for saying this: timestamp 16:01) is based on assuming that the other material he edited-in to this clip was in reference to recruiting minorities, when in fact it was not. That material was about growing the movement in all demographics. In a separate part of the talk I discuss outreach to minority communities as well.
That Thunderf00t would pull this very deceitful trick on his viewers should disgust them. It would disgust him if any creationist pulled it on him. But we’ve already covered his evidently narcissistic, egotistic sense of morality, whereby he gets to do anything he wants and use any lie or method of deception, as long as he is the one using it and not someone else.
Thunderf00t also childishly (and unintelligibly) places over my video as I speak (timestamp 15:40) some weird meme showing a smiling black woman [edit: turns out, it’s Adria Richards, who was fired for trying to combat sexism in the workplace] with the unfathomable text “I’m Joan of Arc for making penis jokes – you’re a sexist for repeating them – Dear God, PLEASE no more social justice warriors!” If you can figure out what that’s supposed to mean [edit: it would seem it’s another false equivalency: penis jokes with a friend are supposed to be no different than demeaning jokes about a professional woman speaker at a conference; and her complaining about being attacked for exposing workplace misconduct is supposed to be playing the professional victim]. The last remark there seems to be Thunderf00t’s own commentary added to the meme (although why he chose that meme I don’t know), so as far as I can tell, he seems to be saying he is against caring about social justice issues and is sick of atheists talking about caring about the world and learning more about it and doing something to make it better. Dark Side again. (“Thunderf00t to humanists: fuck you and your caring about things!”)
What he then essentially says at this point (timestamp 16:01) is “fuck the minorities, only white people count because there are more of us.” That argument is destroying the Republican party. And he thinks I’m a “moron” for pointing that out. That’s more like the pot calling the tile black. Even the Republicans are starting to have enough sense to finally realize they need to pay attention to minorities. In fact, the very AACon I was speaking at had numerous Hispanic and black speakers and groups represented, and that’s precisely what we need to see—and obviously, as this very example proves, can see, and this was largely due to our efforts to make it so. It can be so at every major conference.
Not only do we want this because we should give a shit about them, as our fellow atheists who need our help and not our exclusion (more evidence that Thunderf00t doesn’t feel empathy for other human beings; thus he can’t understand why we would care about other people like this, whom we’d previously been ignoring), but also because there are a damn lot of them. Not only are minorities fully 26% of the U.S. population right now, one of the very talks at this same AACon, by David Tamayo, was about how in fact they will soon be the majority in the U.S. Already, white people will be the minority among those aged 24 and under within just ten years, and as they age, whites will be the minority in the whole U.S. population within just thirty years. And right now (the present!) minority communities are especially stricken and oppressed by religion, right under our very noses (which ought to be something even Thunderf00t supposedly cares about—but that requires actually empathizing with minorities who are atheists or doubters willing to consider atheism, if only we reached out to them and helped them). They are also the most in need of improved education and access to philosophical alternatives (currently, most white people have easier access to both).
Contrary to Thunderf00t’s pseudoscientific math, the actual math works out like this: we can seek 100 white converts, or 80 white converts and 20 minority converts. The end result is still 100 new atheists. Thus, his claim that we would be hurting our numbers by targeting minorities is classic innumeracy. Shocking from a scientist. The costs in time, money, and resources is exactly the same. So really, Thunderf00t is just saying we should only care about white people–otherwise, his math doesn’t make sense. That is starting to smell of racism, all couched behind a pseudomathematical argument meant to look impressive, with lots of handwaving about how I’m the moron.
Dave Silverman himself disproved Thunderf00t’s prediction anyway—with his own talk at, again, the same American Atheists convention, about our growing numbers: exactly when American Atheists started reaching out to minorities and building bridges with minority atheist groups, the whole atheist movement grew, in all demographics. So much for it having any other effect. It’s not a zero sum game anyway. Most expenses and efforts target all demographics, and those that target specific demographics draw others along with them, and also improve the movement as a whole by ending the racial isolation of white atheism in the U.S. In other words, by getting more involved in integrating and helping minority atheists, we are learning more and improving as a movement, and thus we are discovering we can do even more to help them join us, and also to serve their interests as much as our own. And also, once again, this is just simply helping people who most need our help. Ignoring minorities because we’d rather recruit only whites is just dumb. And heartless. And, let’s be honest, sorta kinda racist.
Thunderf00t’s assumptions here have been more soundly refuted already in articles not even responding to him specifically: read Atheism Is a Social Justice Issue (although that was written by a black man, so Thunderf00t probably dismisses him as of no concern to white men like himself; or perhaps he’ll attack him with various racist tropes like “you only care about those things because you’re black,” as opposed to the more likely explanation, “because he’s a human”), The Practical Reason Why Atheists Should Care About Diversity (although that was written by a woman, oh no—indeed one of those “professional victims” Thunderf00t despises, so he probably won’t give her ideas the time of day), and Deep Rifts: A Fairy Tale (which most elegantly illustrates the role of empathy in understanding why minorities matter in this movement and why we should be communicating with them and helping them and making them welcome—although this was written by a woman of color, a double sting of annoyance for Thunderf00t). BTW, compare their calm, reasoned, honest, evidence-based mode of argument with Thunderf00t’s dishonest, evidence-despising, insult-swinging mode of argument. Now ask yourself which kind of atheism you want more of.
Thunderf00t Against Any Kind of Methodological Honesty or Common Sense Whatever
Thunderf00t is so dead set against minorities, that he actually tries to argue that as soon as we started talking about minorities and minority issues, interest in our blog network declined, therefore we should not have done that, and no one should do that, because it will lower their blog hits. I’m not kidding. He really says that (timestamp 16:40). Of course, even if the premise were true, the conclusion does not follow. We should only write about what increases hit counts? By that logic, we shouldn’t blog about atheism, either, since religious websites get more hits. Nor should we blog about anything new or controversial or unpopular. And certainly not (gasp!) what we want to talk about. Apparently Thunderf00t thinks we should only kowtow to the lowest common denominator and let focus groups decide what we discuss!
Okay, so his logic is bankrupt. But so is his premise. He shows a graph that is supposed to illustrate this declining interest. It is shameful for a scientist to attempt what he just did here. This is the most egregious manipulation of evidence I’ve seen from an atheist in a very long time. First, the graph he shows is only for PZ Myers. Note that when you run the numbers for other bloggers, you get very different results (here’s me). Ooops. Can’t show your viewers that. That would destroy your case. So just show them the one statistic. The one statistic that isn’t even related to me—you know, the person Thunderf00t is actually talking about.
Okay. Now we’re on a roll. Second, the graph he shows only measures Google search terms, not actual hits at any blog. For example, he conveniently doesn’t show you a graph of hit counts at PZ Myers’ blog. That might show a rising interest in his blog. Can’t show your viewers that. That would destroy your case. So just look for any kind of measure you can that gets the curve you want, no matter how irrelevant it is to your actual point. Search terms are a result of people becoming aware of a person (in this case the name PZ Myers) from other sources (like media) and thus do not at all reflect what PZ Myers may have been blogging about. For example, the biggest spike on the graph is interest generated nationally by his “desecration” of a communion wafer that made national press (in fact all the spikes and surrounding bubbles were due to press coverage). To argue that we shouldn’t blog about values and community building because that doesn’t make national press or generate search interest on Google is preposterous.
So we’re really rolling into “pseudoscience land” at this point. Okay. Third, the graph is not measured in actual search counts. It is entirely a relative count scored on a normalized scale from 1 to 100. As the Google Trends site explains (emphasis added):
The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers.
Wait. What was that again? They only measure how often a search term was used relative to all other searches on Google. Which means we have a huge confounding variable: rising interest in other subjects (for example, nearly the same graph derives for the term “solar installers” yet installation of solar panels has substantially increased, not declined, in that same period). Moreover, the only term Thunderf00t is looking at is “PZ Myers.” In other words, one man’s name. Look what happens when we run the same graph and compare that name with the term “social justice” (here). This shows PZ is vastly (I mean vastly) less popular as a search term than social justice. So by Thunderf00t’s logic, PZ should talk about social justice even more, specifically to draw traffic! Of course, Thunderf00t’s logic is bullshit. But I’m not the one using it.
Remember, search terms represent outside interest (and in this case correspond to media coverage, not value or importance of content). They do not represent interest within a specific community (like PZ fans or atheists generally). And one man’s name in no way correlates with a set of ideas like community building or moral values or sexual harassment policies or American Atheists reaching out to black atheists or anything else Thunderf00t is ridiculously claiming his graph is measuring. And this guy is a scientist?
Let’s look at some more relevant graphs: look where the search term trends are going for black atheists, atheist women, atheist morality, and atheist values. Ooops. So much for Thunderf00t’s narrative.
Tying all this together, Thunderf00t ends by showing that multiply-irrelevant PZ graph again and saying I am “poison[ing] the rest of the movement” and “myself” by talking about atheist community building and moral values and minorities and women and sexism and harassment and information diversity and increasing atheist charity and social groups. So his argument is that the relative Google search term trends for one other guy’s name demonstrates that my talking about all that is poisoning the atheist movement. For all the reasons I surveyed above, that is nearly the most irresponsibly incompetent thing anyone claiming to be a scientist could say in this matter. Why Thunderf00t even maintains any following in light of this truly astonishes me.
The Sad Conclusion
Thunderf00t is effectively (in some cases even explicitly) arguing that atheists should be less compassionate, less caring of their fellow human beings, and especially less caring of their fellow atheists, their own co-workers. He even singles out women and minorities as those we should especially care nothing about. The perverse, sociopathic amorality of this man (and, evidently, his acolytes who upvote this amoral disrespect for others and their rights and concerns and happiness) is disturbing to me. It should be disturbing to you. He rejects the very concept of a right to privacy. He even rejects our moral right to condemn and stop listening to harrassing and abusive speech, and even says we all deserve it. At no point in his video does he show a single instance of actual empathy for another human being. Instead, from beginning to end, all we get is a complete lack of concern, compassion, or comraderie with others—women and minority atheists especially.
Compare his call for atheists to be less compassionate, less caring, less concerned (in fact, wholly unconcerned for others), with my call for the reverse. And ask yourself, whose vision of the future of atheism do you want to help realize? Those are the battle lines he has drawn. Scary, but true.
Who is actually more toxic to atheism? The one who advocates greater empathy for our fellow human beings and especially our fellow atheists, or the one who mocks and attacks the very idea of doing so? The one who is honest and reasonable and willing to change his statements and positions in light of criticism, or the one who lies and conceals and manipulates evidence? The one who takes seriously the importance of not making fallacious and illogical arguments and corrects them when discovered, or the one who pervasively relies on fallacious and illogical arguments to condemn any campaign to spread humanist values within atheism? The one who believes you have no privacy rights and he can spy on you whenever he wants? Or the one who finds that very notion repulsive? The one who defends and endorses harassment and abuse and even says the victims asked for it and deserve it, or the one who finds that wholly appalling?