Dear Ron Lindsay:
I have to take exception to one small part of your recent post.
Greta Christina and PZ Myers have recently suggested that is it not necessarily a bad thing to be divisive. True, it is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what one is separating oneself from.
In her blog post, Greta Christina responded to the charge that the Atheism Plus initiative is divisive by claiming that the secular community is divided already. As evidence for this claim, she offered several deplorable incidents and actions, principally involving hate-filled threats and comments to women, many of which would be familiar to anyone active in the movement. She then asked rhetorically why such vile conduct has not been called “divisive.”
But if hate-filled comments and threats to women have not been expressly called divisive, it’s because such conduct does not threaten to divide the movement. It has already been repudiated, both implicitly and explicitly, by many, if not most, of the organizations in the movement.
Stop right there. That is not true. That’s the whole problem. No leader of any atheist, skeptic, or critical thinking organization has repudiated anyone.
Ron, you’ve written positive posts affirming principles of inclusion and outreach. You’ve been pleasant and helpful, you’ve tried to get people to get along, you’ve assured the afflicted that you’re on their side, you’ve done your best to make CFI open and welcoming to everyone. That’s also true of people like Dave Silverman at American Atheists, and it’s always been true of American Humanists. It’s what you do as a leader of a major organization. But repudiating anyone? Nope. Not what you do. None of you ever have.
You’re dedicated to making sure everyone has a place in your organization. Your whole post is about criticizing both sides equally for being mean. This paragraph, for instance:
In a sense, Greta and PZ are right: the movement is divided, but it’s not divided for any good reason. It’s divided because too many in the movement are not willing to recognize that their fellow secularists can be mistaken without thereby being bigots; that their fellow secularists can have different understandings of the implications of feminism without being misogynists or “sister-punishers”; and that their fellow secularists can have can have different perceptions of the problem of harassment without being feminazis.
And you single out the case of Russell Blackford as someone not deserving of the opprobrium he has received. And I actually agree; Blackford has not been as vicious and dirty in his rhetoric as some others. He has just openly sided with the haters and abusers and harassers, while not engaging in the same behavior himself.
And that’s your great big blind spot. You haven’t been the target of the same hate and abuse that others of us have; you’re willing to let Blackford off the hook, but you don’t recognize that there is a real problem here, that there are people who must be repudiated — you’re only willing to go so far and note the existence of a middle ground that really isn’t all that bad, but acknowledging and rejecting a shrieking mad colony of outright haters in your midst? Oh, no. Can’t see that. Then you’d have to say something.
For over a year, a number of us have been the target of genuinely hateful, irrational harassment. Rebecca Watson has been subject to the worst of it, but I get lots of it too, Ophelia Benson is threatened and hated, Freethoughtblogs is a focus of scorn, and every woman who dares to speak out against the contempt with which they are treated knows exactly what I’m talking about. This really is harassment and bullying — it’s identical to the game that deranged kook Dennis Markuze plays, only this time they have friends. It is a constant, non-stop deluge of email, twitter, and youtube comments; it is people organizing petitions to get you fired; it is “jokes” about raping you; it is people posting your home address to the cheers of people planning campaigns of harassment.
Those people. They have an organizing center called the Slymepit where every day, they leave dozens of messages about how much they hate Rebeccunt Twatson, or how badly Ophelia Benson deserves to be kicked in the cunt, or how much they hate FreeFromThoughtBlogs, or how those feminists are destroying the atheist movement. They rally on youtube, where the dumbest commenters on the internet congregate, and they swarm any video that dares to disagree with their privileged perspective. They pound on my inbox every day, dumping the same messages over and over again: they always preface them with “I am a skeptic/atheist/rationalist, but you are…” gay, a mangina, a stupid Jew, a faggot, a girly-boy, whatever sexist/racist slur strikes their feeble and unimaginative fancy.
Seriously, I’m used to the stupid; I’ve been getting similar hate mail and threats from Dennis Markuze since 1993, and am accustomed to Bible-believing Christians sending me their catalog of affronts to reason every day, but in the last year, that crap has been outnumbered 10 to 1 by hate mail from obsessed cretins who also proudly tell me they’re atheists and skeptics. The movement has a problem, and it lies in the fact that just declaring yourself godless or a skeptic is not sufficient to testify that you’re a decent human being…yet that is all we expect of people we are to call our colleagues. It’s the same problem Christians have, who declare belief in Jesus a proxy for being a cooperative, generous, social person. It’s not.
Why have people like Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson and Greta Christina and me been targeted this way? Because we have repudiated those people. We know how to repudiate them. We name and shame them. We ban them from our blogs. We mock them. We spit on their names.
Don’t try to find refuge by looking for the middle ground where you can make a case that yeah, the firefight takes out a few people who maybe don’t deserve it as much; we’re talking about the scum of the internet, people whose only role in the atheist/skeptic movements is to abuse women and gays and transgender people, and get huffy when you call them on it.
We reject them categorically. I have filters in place that pick up on their favorite phrases, their pet hate sites, their IP addresses and prefered pseudonyms, and bans them outright. Russell Blackford has not recieved that treatment, but Franc Hoggle has, and Notung, and John D, and Michael Kingsford Gray, and Justicar, and a swarm of others, and anyone who has anything to do with the slymepit or Abbie Smith’s reflexive hatred — you may not know them, but they have a long history of obsession, and many of us know them well. They are irredeemable pests with nothing positive to contribute, only a desire to defend their bigotry.
You have not repudiated them, ever. Some of them are blithely commenting on your post right now; you’re happily unaware of their behavior, their record, or their attitudes. You’d only discover it if you did repudiate them. Boy, would you ever discover it then. You complain about strong language at the end of your post; you haven’t been regularly receiving strangely scrawled cartoons of you having sex with animals lately, have you, or perhaps graphic descriptions of your confusedly sexual death? Have you been issued an official disparaging nickname by your enemies yet?
I appreciate what you do, but you don’t repudiate. I don’t think you even know what the word means.
But if you ever want to learn, you know how to contact me.