The curious case of a man named James who thinks the secular community should be in bloody civil war

A few nights ago, a post hit my moderation queue on movement cohesion, wherein I speculate that there is no single unified movement, and that as long as the introduction of other values into particular communities continues, “rifts” will only solidify where people have fewer common traits. In my post I further fretted regarding the requests frequently made of feminists, anti-racist activists, gays and trans folk, to swallow their other causes; to put their causes outside of atheism aside in order to cohabitate in a “big tent” with anti-feminists and anti-social-justice folks — who are themselves never asked to stop with their targeted harassment, their bullying, their hate speech.

Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson just released a joint statement that amounts to a request of our communities: stop doing all of that. Included in that request is a statement by Dawkins that he does not, even tacitly, support the people engaging in such tactics.

I’m certain that James In The West, who left this lengthy screed on my earlier post, has since seen Dawkins’ statement and wishes he could recant on his strange fan-fiction.
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“Fuck the high road”: Jessica Valenti on “don’t feed the trolls”

I’ve long advocated that the best way to deal with trolls — though I use this term relatively loosely, I generally mean a slightly broader category of troll than the average internet user who thinks creating sockpuppet accounts to harass and slander individuals is the only thing that actually amounts to trolling (and that it can’t possibly come from people within the movement!) — is to confront them. Take their words and use them against them. Force-feed them with why they’re wrong — even if they won’t accept it, bystanders will.

The only way to change society and push back against the small fringe of vocal misanthropes who manage to amplify their messages artificially, who abuse technology to make their fringe opinions seem far more prolific than they actually are, is to directly challenge their fringe opinions and explain why they’re wrong, hurtful, unworthy of dialog, morally atavistic. And when the messages get too abusive, you stop them from appearing in your well-curated online space in order to limit the amount of damage to passers-by they can do with their “trolling”.

Jessica Valenti apparently agrees.

Don’t feed the trolls: it’s probably the most common refrain in online discussions, especially when dealing with misogynists in feminists conversations. The idea is that the best way to deal with sexists is to starve of them of the attention they’re so clearly desperate for. Besides, we think, why sink to their level?

But the high road is overrated. It requires silence in the face of violent misogyny, and a turn-the-other cheek mentality that society has long demanded of women. A vibrant feminist movement has ensured women don’t take injustices laying down offline—so why would we acquiesce on the Internet?

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Cyber-bullying kills again

Amanda Todd, a thirteen-year-old girl in Maple Ridge, BC, was flattered and cajoled and coerced into flashing someone while playing around with friends on webcam. Someone took a screenshot — apparently they didn’t vet who was on that webcam chat very well. But they were young, and stupid, and there’s a damn good reason the age of consent is as high as it is in most places — because children don’t always have the maturity or intellect to provide informed consent.

A year later, Amanda received a message from someone on Facebook that she didn’t know, who demanded a private show or they’d send the picture to everyone she knew. They knew a good deal about her life — her parents’ names, her friends, her school. She ignored or rebuffed the blackmail demand. That Christmas, police came to her house at 4am to inform them that the picture existed and was spread around to a large number of people — very likely everyone at her school. Someone among the recipients must have had a conscience and reported the incident to the police.

Amanda became depressed and developed anxiety problems. All her friends started treating her horribly; she was left with nobody to lean on. She started self-harming. She moved to another city to escape the embarassment, and dabbled in drugs and alcohol. She became involved with a boy; the boy turns out to have had a girlfriend, who threw her to the ground and punched her repeatedly while other kids filmed it. They posted the video on Facebook, and declared that nobody liked Amanda and they hoped she saw their taunting and committed suicide.
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The campaign against Amy Davis Roth

I met Amy Davis Roth, also known as Surly Amy, two years ago at CONvergence 2010 – SkepchickCON 2. Jodi and I were on our honeymoon — yes, we spent our honeymoon at a geek convention. Couldn’t have picked a better venue. Amy had a table in the dealer’s room, selling her ceramic Surly necklaces, and I picked up a green atom necklace so I could wear science iconography where so many others wear their religious iconography. Her partner Surly Johnny was a bad influence on me and I drank too many Buzzed Aldrins. The experience was a bit of a whirlwind one, but I got a sense from everyone working the Skepchick party room that they were passionate, committed, and principled, even when they were doing their damnedest to make sure everyone had a good time.

My already favorable impression of Amy was redoubled when I found out that she’d nearly singlehandedly sent dozens of women to TAM over the years, organizing and running fundraisers and committing resources from her Surlys to that end. She had a great deal of help, but she was almost certainly the lynchpin. And she writes timely and important rallying cries when the movement needs them the most — and that’s what a leader does, even if they don’t necessarily want or accept that mantle.

I met her again at SkepchickCON 4 a month and a half ago, and her enthusiasm and pink Darth Vader costume put her over the top for me — I have a ton of respect for the lady. If we ever disagree, it’ll be on good terms. She’s earned quite a bit of goodwill with me.

So I guess it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that a mainstay of the skepto-atheistic blogosphere, who’s done so much to promote skepticism and atheism, and to foster inclusiveness of women in our communities, is under concerted attack.
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