Confrontationalism and Bridge Burning? (More on Atheism+)

Addendum: This is the second post I’ve made on this subject. The first can be found here. If you don’t care about atheist community stuff, feel free to skip both.

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It must be obvious to anyone who’s read anything I’ve written that I have a bit of a confrontationalist streak. When someone says or does something glaringly stupid but fails to realize the stupidity of that thing, I find it difficult to be diplomatic. “Perhaps you’d like to reconsider that point because of X, Y, and Z?” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily as “Are you fucking shitting me right now?” I even have a “that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” face that I reflexively make when I hear something from way out in left field. Sadly (okay, let’s be honest here—thankfully), that face does not translate well into text; one might even say that it is lost entirely.

Smart people who say dumb things need to be called out on those dumb things. This is the only way to avoid forming a cult of personality. No person is without error, but we all want to be, in spite of the impossibility of this goal. In the (ultimately futile) attempt to become paragons of rightness, we engage in a cumulative process of becoming less wrong.  The sad paradox is that the further along this path we’ve come, the harder it is to see where we’re still wrong; it’s not easy to accept criticism from someone so far behind you on the path to perfection, you see. Naturally, this approach is fallacious, but the flawed nature of the thought doesn’t stop it from being our natural reflex—we instinctively doubt things said by people we view asHow can I put this diplomatically?—misguided. In a contest between your Average Joe and yourself, most people will default their support to themselves.* It is far to easy to take offense at the little people when they (mistakenly, of course!) believe that something we’ve said is a dumb thing. To someone who is interested in continuing the process of becoming less wrong, it is necessary to consider the merits of their arguments, which may necessitate an attempt to understand their perspective. (Trying to refute something you don’t understand, after all, is often an exercise in hay-punting.) I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask someone to listen to your point of view instead of dismissing it outright.

* * *

It would be wrong to suggest that one should never feel annoyed, exasperated, or upset. Offense can sometimes be justified, even if it typically isn’t. Anger is an entirely normal reaction to a frustrating situation. If you’re trying to communicate with someone who is obstinately determined to misunderstand or deny your views, this is frustrating. Anyone whose conversational enthusiasm does not waver when confronted with someone who seems keen on misunderstanding them is several standard deviations above average in terms of patience. (If the word “saint” had any meaning, such people could be considered saintly.)

The real problem comes not during the first such encounter, but somewhere down the road as you meet increasingly more people with these views, each determined to plug their ears and shoo away your position at merely a cursory glance. When you’ve already walked down this road stumbled through this dark tunnel with one person and another one appears bearing the same arguments, it’s easy to forget that this is a brand new conversation. It feels like you’re being dragged down into the same pit you’ve only just escaped, just to be faced with the same tired arguments from yesteryear. Your frustration is understandably heightened at the banality of it.

But the second person doesn’t know you’ve already had this conversation before, and neither does the hundredth. Yet we know that we’ve already said these things countless times, and our animalistic heritage shines through as the desire to scream, “I’ve already said this a hundred fucking times! Why don’t you get it? How could you be this stupid‽” The fact that you’ve never had this conversation with this person isn’t always as easy to remember as one might be inclined to think. Matters are only made worse by the tendency to forget that not everyone we meet has swum in the same pool of knowledge. Thus, we creep ever further into the territory of misplaced hostility—and when we are ourselves met with this undue hostility, though this also is fallacious, it is far too easy to ascribe that attitude to members of the entire group.

Hostility is not always unwarranted, of course, but there remains a question of how much is appropriate in any given circumstance. Anger is an inherent part of the human condition, and it is unrealistic to expect even the most seasoned thinker never to show anger. We dismiss an argument for “sounding angry” only at our own peril, as it is not incompatible with valid criticism. Sure, we might try not to give in to our baser instincts ourselves, but we cannot expect to unflaggingly succeed. We can no less expect pure stoicism (or pure reason) from our personal heroes or our immediate rivals—these ideals are but mirages. Indeed, expecting this perfection is not only unrealistic but also actively counterproductive for its unattainability. Further, anger is sometimes necessary because it communicates something that a calm, neutral intonation cannot. Language extends beyond mere words—relevant information is conveyed through speed, intonation, facial expression, body language, and so on. Much of this paralinguistic information (such as my “you’re an idiot” face) is lost in the medium of text, and this missing information can impede communication. (Who hasn’t had an attempt at text-based sarcasm go awry?) Using “angry” words is thus a method of reintroducing some of this lost information. It is important, if one wishes to maintain open and honest communication, not to overdo the hostility—going to rhetorical war with a would-be ally is unwise when it’s avoidable (hint: it’s typically avoidable). My confrontationalist streak may lead me to be slower to condemn emotionally charged language (indeed, it is occasionally difficult to remember that others may be more prone to offense-taking than I am), but even I know there are limits.

But that’s not really what this is about. This is ultimately about the difference between wanting to differentiate yourself from someone and wanting to have nothing to do with them. Let me disclaim that this is also not about telling people who can or cannot call themselves an atheist—anyone who does not maintain religious beliefs can safely do this. Similarly, the Atheism+ thing is not about who can or cannot be part of “the atheist movement.” Atheism+, just like every other group identity label, gives people a banner to unite under in order to demonstrate their shared values. Even the most hateful, sexist, racist mouth-breather can be an atheist. Yes, most other atheists will vehemently condemn such a person, and we will not blame any other atheist for that douchebag’s fringe beliefs. If one is reasoning properly, one does not judge a group as a whole based on a non-representative sample. As atheists, we know that we are overwhelmingly good people,** but to an outsider, there is no way of knowing beforehand whether a given atheist will be a decent person or a bigot. This is because there is no quality control on the “atheist” brand; both Pat-the-Prick and Casey-the-Caring can be atheists. Identifying with Atheism+ avoids this ambiguity—just like identifying as a secular humanist does. A follower of even the most beneficent philosophy can still be an asshole; the most ardent outspoken supporter of equality for all can still accidentally act against the interests of a minority. The point is that their attempted adherence to these causes makes their asshattery inherently less likely.

Libertarian-style, laissez-faire atheists (aka “dictionary definition atheists”) often reject organization into a social movement because atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods; they defend their isolationism by noting that atheism, as the lack of theistic belief, does not entail any other position. In a sense, they’re right—atheists can be socially progressive or conservative, atheists can be friendly or hostile, atheists can be brilliant or astoundingly irrational. In another sense, they’re wrong—a multitude of attitudes are rooted primarily in religion, and lacking that foundation removes the justification for holding these attitudes, so having no religious belief should entail a lack of these attitudes. You can hold these attitudes as an atheist, but the reasons for doing so are either weak or nonexistent.

I identify as a humanist to convey information about my worldview: the human condition is something we all share equally, and people matter—the way we treat each other matters. We should not be abusive toward one another because of the foundational principle of human dignity. Some have suggested, “If Atheism+ is just the same thing as humanism, it has no point at all.” But the two ideas aren’t the same; theists can be secularists, and theists can be humanists. Atheism+ conveys almost precisely the same information as Secular Humanism, but the fact that they’re not quite equivalent is all the justification we need to dismiss this criticism. Should panentheism not exist as a label because of its deep similarity to pantheism? Should apatheism not exist for the sake of agnosticism? Should deists be forced to instead identify as something like non-religious theists? I see nothing wrong with the conceptualization of Atheism+ as functionally equivalent to [Secular Humanism with added confrontationalism]. The overt association with atheism gives A+ that extra boost—someone ignorant of the principles of Secular Humanism may not immediately understand its connection with atheism, but no such uncertainty exists with Atheism+.  This extra information makes the label useful, regardless of one’s personal beliefs about the merits of being confrontational.

With all of this in mind, at what point does an attempt to differentiate ourselves reach the point of bridge burning? Ideally, never. Does calling yourself a secular humanist imply that religious humanists are inherently immoral? Does calling yourself a secular humanist imply that “just” atheists are possessed of inferior sensibilities? Clearly not. Why, then, would calling yourself an atheist+ be a slight against other atheists? Mere differentiation establishes neither an unwillingness to cooperate nor distaste for the other’s goals, and I would question the motivations of anyone who expressed an idea along the lines of, “You must adopt my label, or you are my enemy.” Such a claim would be condemnable. (This seems to be the major criticism of Richard Carrier’s writing on the subject, even though he has specifically addressed the issue, noting that he has not made and continues not to make this claim. It is thus a misperception.) This kind of “with us or against us” rhetoric certainly can be divisive, but it can also be misunderstood. A humanist may say, “You are with me or against me on the issue of valuing the human experience.” A humanist does not say, “You are against me if you do not call yourself a humanist.” The former statement is defensible, for there is good reason to contrast people who differ in their support for a given value statement; the latter statement is not defensible, and I trust that my saying so requires no further justification at this point. The distinction between these two sentiments is very important, and the person who says “wear my label or be my enemy” is just as wrong as the person who misinterprets “I support X” as a statement of “you do not support X.”

Let’s move on to the alleged Atheism+ bridge burning, then, where I shall begin by analogy. If you are a person of color (POC), it is not in your best interests to associate with a white supremacist group. In this case, you have a clear disagreement over the value statement “skin color is an irrelevant consideration for judging a person’s character.” A POC is fully justified in lending no support to and refusing to associate with a white supremacist group. Only the most delusional mind would regard a declaration of this separation as ill-conceived. If, following the denouncement of that hate group, a POC joins a social group whose aims include promoting equality and cultural diversity, this does not make every non-member of that group a racist—it does not follow that failure to join this new group makes anyone a racist, and joining that group does not constitute an implicit accusation that everyone else is racist. (Again, only the most delusional mind would draw a conclusion like these.) Similarly, joining a group devoted to gender egalitarianism does not make everyone outside the group a sexist. (This observation could easily lead into a discussion of feminism and the men’s rights movement, but that will have to wait for another day, as this post is already quite substantial.) Similarly, joining a secular humanist group does not communicate a person’s hidden belief that all non-followers of Secular Humanism are secretly serial killers. Consequently, lending one’s support for Atheism+ does not revoke one’s support for other institutions with similar goals. Due to their shared goals, it is hard to think of Secular Humanism and Atheism+ as anything but siblings in the family tree of progressive thought.

So where does bridge burning fit into the equation? It really shouldn’t at all, but if it is to be found, it is among those who say, “If you wear this label (or refuse to wear that label), you are my enemy.” We do not condemn someone for calling themselves a white supremacist; we condemn them for holding racist beliefs. Just like a theist can call themselves an atheist, someone who wholeheartedly believes in racial equality can call themselves a racist. Similarly, someone who believes that only white people are “real” people can claim to be a supporter of equality. Ultimately, it is not a label that communicates a person’s moral character but their individual beliefs, attitudes, and actions. If labels matter at all, it is only to the extent that a person’s actions line up with the stated goals of the group described by that label.

Atheists, individually, have always been “for” issues of social justice. Atheists, collectively, are too disparate a group to pin down in this fashion. Even now, the majority would surely lend support to ideas of equality, but most do not actively advocate for these issues, and this simply cannot be a litmus test for atheism. Trying to unify atheists, collectively, has been likened to herding cats, and for good reason—an “atheist” is just someone who does not believe in gods. What Atheism+ is to me is another way for people who care about social justice issues to identify themselves—not the only way, not necessarily the best way, just a different way. Whatever (insert famous person’s name here) thinks about Atheism+ is irrelevant in that context, and much of the argumentation against the idea seems to be deeply fallacious.

I have offered my support, symbolic though it may be, to the fledgling Atheism+ movement. Does this mean I oppose the efforts of those who seek social justice through other avenues? Absolutely not. If announcing this causes any bridges to be burnt, the one doing the burning is not me. If my own bridges experience even the faintest lick from the flames of division, it will be only from arson—I bear no torch. Equality is my goal, and if someone out there in the world will now refuse to work with me to achieve that goal, then I am not the source of that “us versus them” mentality. Anyone who would condemn me for my choice of labels, rather than my choice of actions, is not someone who holds equality as their primary goal. If we cannot work together to further our mutual goal, it will not be for lack of want on my part. And if equality isn’t our mutual goal? Then our values are in direct opposition, and I say good riddance. (Though if you’re willing to stop being an asshole, let me know, and I’ll happily tell you why you’ve been wrong up til now.) How’s that for “deep rifts?”

Because atheism is such a big tent, those who share it may hold countless combinations of potential worldviews. There are a myriad of complementary and contradictory values shared by an equally varied atheist population. If you were to attempt to impose any single value on the lot of them (beyond “there probably is no god”), you would inadvertently violate the principles of someone. The solution, rather than to take the ball away from everyone in some twisted Scotsman drive for “True Atheist Purity™,” is simply to buy a new ball. Rather than seeking to rebrand a movement that so far has had a single explicit focus (“spread awareness of atheism”), Atheism+ is a new ball. There are some who erroneously infer that this makes them “atheists minus” and take offense. This strikes me as a very strange response—why would someone interpret “I want to start a club” as “you hate my principles?” I have my guesses but no satisfactory answer. This brings us back to the obstinate misunderstanding I spoke of before—this article is my first foray into the issue; I don’t know that I’ll re-engage it through this medium, but if the initial offense-taking at this metaphorical purchasing of a new ball doesn’t blow over, I will surely tire of it quickly. At the least, it’s good to have a list of resources handy in the event that one is pressed for time.

Atheism+ is young, but it reflects a genuine desire to make things better. I find that admirable. If its skeptics are right and it blows over having achieved little, then we are certainly no worse for the attempt. In an atmosphere that thrives on sensationalism, the addition of Atheism+ to the fire has, if nothing else, reinvigorated a portion of the atheist community, and this is no small achievement. If it stagnates and vanishes as a movement, atheist naysayers are cautioned not to celebrate too raucously, for they will be extolling the death of an ally. Atheism+ brings a renewed energy that can be spent fighting against the enemy of religiously motivated injustice, and we should not endeavor to waste that energy on putting out bridge fires. In either case, I will continue to be mildly confrontational, but I’d prefer to direct that anger at the people who are egregiously working to spread theocracy.

* I am skeptical of relying too much on peer learning because of this. I suspect the primary reason schooling is effective is that the role of teacher is implicitly that of an authority figure, making any Average Joe comparison spurious. If teachers were met with as much skepticism as some “rational” people demonstrate on their own kind, nothing would ever get done in the classroom!
** Granted, I think most people are typically “good people.” Even religious fundamentalists try to be good people, though their warped beliefs about the world make their methods counterproductive for that aim.
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9 responses to “Confrontationalism and Bridge Burning? (More on Atheism+)

  1. There is a undeniable sense of with us or against us about this whole FtB/Skepchick/Atheism+ mess. For instance, I personally do not consider an ill-concieved clumsy invitation for euphamistic coffee as sexual harassment. This is enough to have me labelled all kinds of things by this group. It was portrayed harassment and worse by many in the FtB group. I don’t particularly mind that this is how they feel about it or that they think I am wrong. I do mind that instead of engaging in honest argumentation about it, anyone not seeing it their way “just doesn’t get it” is automatically either wallowing in (in the case of men) privilege or a victim of the patriarchy (in the case of women) and is clearly a bad person. I have zero interest in being part of a group who thinks that way. Richard Dawkins has been turned into some kind of pariah for not agreeing. His most egregious crime incidentally seems to be being old, white and male.
    The beautiful irony of him being attacked on the grounds of him being sarcastic/snarky about his disagreement, from a group of people who have truned sarcasm and snark into an artform when directed at the religious, was priceless. The degree to which desenters (from what I see as the “women are fragile and delicate and need massive amounts of protection” view of the atheism+ sponsors) have been vilified and misrepresented has made me consider leaving the whole atheism movement behind or at least the online community. Rational is simply not a word that I would assosiate with the online atheist community in general at the moment. I see a lot of fanboyism and such amoungst the followers of the central figures in this whole thing and that is feeding egos. Pharyngula has devolved almost to the point of a personality cult at this point. When “leaders” in any movement start making ultimatum-like annocements and establishing an air or “with us or against us” I personally think they need to marginalised. The lack of honesty in this particular argument is also quite obnoxious. I see this from both sides. The defending and semantics games being played to pretend what we can all clearly see isn’t really the case. Just like what you have done here with regard to Carrier’s frothing ultimatum.

    Consider:
    “In the meantime, are you an atheist? Do you identify as an atheist? Then I call upon you to pick sides within our movement (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you with the Atheism+ movement, or do you at least cheer and approve it’s values and aims (since you don’t have to label yourself), or are you going to stick with Atheism Less and its sexism and cruelty and irrationality?” – Richard Carrier.

    You say “Atheism+ is a new ball. There are some who erroneously infer that this makes them “atheists minus” and take offense. This strikes me as a very strange response—why would someone interpret “I want to start a club” as “you hate my principles?” I have my guesses but no satisfactory answer.”.

    Do you think it is a great strech to read “atheism less” as “atheism minus”. Asssuming you are honest, you will have to admit that Carrier is in fact saying you are either Atheism+ or you praise it publicly (he was magnanimous enough to allow you the option of only cheering and not actually adopting the label) or you are sticking with “sexism and cruelty and irrationality”. This makes Carrier a top class asshole in my eyes. I’m not at all surprised he has tried to back off it. Atheists in gereral do not like being told what the must do, especially not by a supremely self-righteous wind bag like Carrier. I don’t want to assosiate with people like him and the others on FtB who share his absolutist and “agree or you’re a bad person” mindset. I don’t want anything to do with this movement. The arrogance and ego that infects this whole initiative makes it toxic from the outset.

    That said, it might develop into something that is both well intentioned and rational at some point, and great if it does. I might at that point consider adopting the label. In the meantime I’ll give it a wide berth and hope this current self-reighteous moral high ground nonsense fades away.

  2. First, it looks like you’ve got some lingering hostility about these experiences you’ve had. I understand how that can feel, and I’m sorry you’ve had such negative experiences. I’d urge you not to make the mistake of thinking a few voices (even if they are the voices of a few “leaders,” as you called them) speak for the whole. If you’re turned off by what those people are writing, make sure to move past them to see what things look like on the ground, so to speak. (I think that’s actually what you’re doing here, so I guess what I’m saying is thanks and keep it up.)

    I’ll start by addressing Richard Carrier because I think he is the least important part of your comment. The first thing I notice is that the post you’re referencing (linked here) is actually something of a success story for the movement. Carrier said some hostile things that others in the movement (including Jen McCreight, which puts the lie to that “FtB is an echo chamber” trope) called out as unacceptable and distanced themselves from. And then, do you know what happened? He learned his lesson—he listened to them, walked back his criticisms, apologized, and revised his stance, offering a more moderate position. I’d urge you to read his new piece, and if you still feel he is presenting an unteneble position, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on his revised stance.

    Now, the reason I said that he is the least important part of your comment is because he is one person. Comparatively, there are a lot more people in the movement than just one. I can’t give you an exact figure, obviously, but the atheismplus subreddit has ~475 subscribers, the facebook page has ~340 likes, and the official forums have ~630 members. Assuming even half of the people on the official forum have a legitimate interest in being part of the movement (a figure which I suspect is conservative), you can see how many more people there are than just him.

    As to the elevatorgate incident, I don’t see it as controversial. A guy propositioned a woman in an elevator. That woman wasn’t comfortable with it and said something. Is it “sexual harassment?” It doesn’t matter; she was uncomfortable, and that’s all that matters. She had every right to feel uncomfortable, and no one should be surprised by that reaction in this kind of situation. The only reason you bring it up is because some people were offended by how the whole situation was handled—it’s been politicized to death, and I’d rather not discuss it further. (If you think it’s necessary, I’m willing to go into it, but I doubt it’ll be productive.)

    Following a reference to that incident, it’s only natural that the word “privilege” would come up. That’s because privilege is relevant to such a discussion. Being told that you have privilege is not an insult, however, and that’s a very important thing to keep in mind. (Hey, I’m a white guy from the developed world. I’ve got tons of privilege.)

    Richard Dawkins’s comments were objectionable (and fallacious, by the way) because he disregarded the legitimate complaints of a group of people whose perspective he has even now failed to understand. This is likely the result of his privilege. To say that he is now a pariah as a result of this, however, is absurd in the highest degree. I have a deep-seated respect for him, and I authentically appreciate the work he’s done. I think his position on gender relations is terribly flawed, but I still respect him as a scientist and activist. The opinions of anyone else on the subject are completely trivial to me.

    (Also, I have previously written on the error Dawkins made, although I didn’t have Dawkins in mind when I wrote it. If you’re interested.)

    Finally, to the “with us or against us” argument, I recently wrote this on the A+ official forums:

    [A]s a movement, it’s downright necessary to avoid “with us or against us” rhetoric. On basic principles, however, I’m not so convinced. Here’s an example:

    We believe in equality—do you?

    If you don’t expressly support equality, there are two options: opposed, neutral. If you are opposed to equality, you are against us. If you are neutral to the question of whether we should strive for equality, you are enabling the people who oppose equality. Are these people against us? Not necessarily—if they’re neutral about the issue because they’ve simply never thought about it, they are clearly not against us. On the other hand, what about someone who sees that this is our goal and says, “You know, I don’t think that’s such a big deal. You probably shouldn’t make a fuss about it.” Are they “against” us? Not deliberately, but that sure seems pretty against to me. This is the only kind of “with or against” reasoning I’m comfortable with.

    Anyone who supports gender equality is “with us” on issues of gender. Anyone who supports racial equality is “with us” on issues of race. And so on. Whatever they call themselves to achieve these goals is completely irrelevant.

    Tell me, do you find my thoughts on the matter, either as I expressed them in my original post here or in the quotation I have just provided, unduly divisive? As you have no doubt already read (and now twice), I vehemently reject the suggestion that someone who does not wear an A+ label is against the A+ movement. You can disagree with someone about the relative importance of a given value without considering them your enemy. Is there any ambiguity here? I obviously can’t tell you what to feel from reading other writers, such as Carrier, but I feel confident in assuring you that any “A+ versus not-A+” rhetoric would only be coming from a tiny minority. It has been my experience that the only suggestions that there is hostility between A+ and not-A+ are coming from opponents of A+.

    Before I wrap up, I would like to point out that I have taken the time to provide specific links to address your factual claims about Carrier, and I would request that you take the time to do the same wherever possible in any further references to the “FtB/Skepchick/Atheism+ mess.” I do not live inside your head, and as such, I do not fully understand the context in which you make your judgments. (You are, one might say, the holder of the ultimate privilege in that regard.) I appreciate that you provided that specific quotation from Carrier so that I could know exactly what you were talking about, and I will further appreciate this same behavior in the future. Your first paragraph was sadly lacking in specificity at times, so I had to make a number of guesses about your references. If you feel I have done your position any disservice or otherwise misunderstood you, this was not my intention, and I welcome clarification. Similarly, if you feel I have overlooked anything of importance, go ahead and point that out too.

    I would also ask that you pay me the courtesy of not making assumptions about my opinions. You’ve touched on a lot of different subjects, and I have only given a cursory response to most of them. (Given the way you spoke about Dawkins, for example, I suspect that we have wildly different interpretations of a number of things.) I will be happy to elaborate on any of my positions, but only in the context of a good-faith conversation.

    In the event that anyone else reads our exchange, the preceding two paragraphs are also meant to extend into the future. (In other words, I expect everyone to be as precise as possible, including specific references wherever possible.)

  3. I have not read any of the above as I just wanted to reference my own experience at Atheism Plus. I no longer post there due to the ban hammer hanging precariously over my head though I am a regular lurker however. I am split down the middle on it – on the one hand I totally agree with its aims and have zero problem with any of them but I have no respect for the methodology or mindset employed to achieve those aims. Now my opinion means nothing to the membership and rightly so too, and I now understand it is a safe place for the marginalised rather than a debating chamber like traditional rational fora. I did not grasp that straight away but do now. I wish it all the best but am a bit tired of the divisiveness in the online atheist community between the two sides. I am not of any side totally though I probably identify more with the other side but nevertheless. I also post at the slymepit too which makes me rather unusual as there cannot be any other current members of the two sites – even though as I said I no longer post at Atheism Plus

    For me it is not where you post but what you post that matters. Stereotyping someone because they are a member of a site is not very skeptical now and that is ironic given that skepticism and critical thinking is one of the six principles of Atheism Plus. There is far less of it than on other fora and far less of it too on the two sister sites. This is just a simple fact and not a matter of opinion. But I try to engage with anyone and everyone. I do not refuse anyone who has a different view to me and indeed they are the very individuals one should be engaging with anyway

    So I have no problem with anyone judging me on my words but I do not want to be judged by the companny I keep if you get my drift. I only attack ideas and never individuals as I have a self imposed life time ban preventing me from doing so. It is necessary for my moral development as a human being. So I have a lot on paper in common with Atheism Plus but I just do not do restriction of self expression too well now, though as it is the rule of the site to not treat it like a debating chamber, then I have to abide by that rule. And I have learned from members there and continue to learn too. But I will not blindly accept something on authority. I still reserve the right to question anything I disagree with but I now do it in my mind rather than on the threads of Atheism Plus itself

    I look forward to the day when the online atheist community – or least the four warring sites – put down their metaphorical swords and collectively engage with each other in the ongoing battle against unreason rather than internal fighting. But I do not expect that to change any time soon unfortunately. I do however see myself as someone who is less prone to taking sides and more accepting of opinions and views from wherever they come and wish all others could do the same too. Too much tribalism is a dangerous thing as it stifles critical thinking and fosters prejudice – particularly in intentional or unintentional misogyny – sadly from my side. I do not involve myself in lecturing others over their use of language however as I have not the moral authority to do so since I am less than perfect myself. I try instead to self improve. For everyone else, they must decide on what to do for themselves. I am not accountable for them. I am not here to change the world only myself

    So that is my take on the issue of Atheism Plus and how it all fits into the grand scheme of things – the big picture so to speak – but this is just my interpretation now. I am not suggesting that it is the right one or the only one for that is not true. It is just mine. I am glad I got a rough time from the membership at Atheism Plus because it is good to have one s feathers ruffled from time to time. No one has a monopoly on wisdom and it is all part of the learning process at the end of the day. A long post but I had to get it all down and it feels better to have it out of me. Writing can be quite cathartic I sometimes find

  4. on the one hand I totally agree with its aims and have zero problem with any of them but I have no respect for the methodology or mindset employed to achieve those aims.

    I find this statement rather nebulous, and I suspect you’re communicating your real opinions poorly. Here’s why: do you dislike the sharing of news articles, surveys, and petitions online? That’s a part of the A+.com methodology and mindset. You say you don’t care for the way the banhammer is used, but that surely isn’t the entirety of the methodology, so what exactly is it that you find distasteful and why?

    I wish it all the best but am a bit tired of the divisiveness in the online atheist community between the two sides.

    This perplexes me. The “A+ is divisive” meme is common, but those who repeat it never seem to be able to elaborate on how that is with any specificity. (ETA: And what are “the two sides?”) I’ve seen the Richard Carrier article mentioned (see previous comment here), but (especially given Carrier’s noninvolvement with the A+ fora) it would be dishonest to try to attribute the attitudes reflected in that piece, regardless of what it contains, to the larger A+ communities without evidence. If there were A+ people saying divisive things, it should be possible to offer citation to those things. Along those lines, then, to what degree do you see A+ as contributing to divisiveness, and by what specific actions? (You may have already seen this, but it bears mentioning: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/08/30/atheism-plus-and-some-thoughts-on-divisiveness/)

    For me it is not where you post but what you post that matters.

    I quite agree, actually. Unequivocally.

    Stereotyping someone because they are a member of a site is not very skeptical now and that is ironic given that skepticism and critical thinking is one of the six principles of Atheism Plus. There is far less of it than on other fora and far less of it too on the two sister sites.

    I’m not quite sure what “it” refers to here–do you mean stereotyping or skepticism? The A+.com forums have a rule against importing hostility from other communities, so if you mean the former, that seems likely. If you mean the latter, however, I promise not to laugh too loudly in response. Well, I’ll try, anyway.

    I look forward to the day when the online atheist community – or least the four warring sites – put down their metaphorical swords and collectively engage with each other in the ongoing battle against unreason rather than internal fighting.

    I infer that you mean to include A+.com among “the four warring sites,” but that rule I just mentioned makes this nonsensical. To my eye, no war is being carried out by A+.

    I do not refuse anyone who has a different view to me and indeed they are the very individuals one should be engaging with anyway

    I certainly agree that people who have different opinions should be engaged, and respectfully where possible. The distinction I draw about A+.com is the same one you do: it isn’t intended to be a debate club, but this doesn’t rule out respectful, meaningful engagements (I’d actually go so far as to say it facilitates them because the adversarial nature of debates means they’re often far from respectful). Dare I plagiarize Lincoln? Yes, that space is primarily for A+ people by A+ people to discuss A+ things, but there’s still a section there devoted specifically to asking questions and talking about basic (hell, and not so basic!) concepts.

    But I will not blindly accept something on authority. I still reserve the right to question anything I disagree with but I now do it in my mind rather than on the threads of Atheism Plus itself

    Indeed, when it comes to anything consequential, you shouldn’t accept anything blindly on authority. There’s nothing at all wrong with asking for reasons and explanations for things.

    No one has a monopoly on wisdom and it is all part of the learning process at the end of the day.

    So true.

  5. I remember what seems like a lifetime now, referencing the bunker mentality of the two sister sites when Atheism Plus first started and you asked me for proof of this and I did not give specific examples because it was a general reference. I do not think I can convince you of this as you are on that side and therefore find it difficult to be objective about it now. Or that you can rationalise it which is what you appear to be doing here. The basic problem is the lack of critical thinking on all three sites – Atheism Plus – Freethought Blogs – Skepchick – and this is what I was referring to. Other sites allow greater freedom of individual expression and this is manifestly obvious when comparing them to each other. Now I am not complaining about that so much but the fact that restrictions on expression are not conducive to critical thinking. And this is not a limitation on use of inappropriate language, but the attacking of any alternative view simply because it is just that. The sites can have whatever rules they wish but denying open debate invalidates any claim to critical thinking they make. But I will try not to labour the point as we will probably never see eye to eye on it

    I do not have a problem with the banhammer at Atheism Plus but with the ease with which it was or is employed. Now on the one hand I have to abide by the rules, but once again, lack of critical thinking was openly referenced which gives lie to the stated principle of the very opposite! At one point it got rather surreal when I was told that it was not for me to define my own terminology – as words can have ambiguous meanings. But if I do not have moral jurisdiction over what I write, then who does? It was a curious thing to say. That occurred in a thread in which I was being attacked by multiple posters. And this is evidence of what is routine on all three sites, namely the membership against everyone else, when it should not even be antagonistic but open to all who want to engage postively and freely. And speaking of freely, Freethought Blogs must qualify as having the most oxymoronic title of any rational site on the net. However, credit where credit is due: there was a relatively civil debate between the two sides at that very site yesterday, so maybe this is a sign of things to come. I hope so

    I am trying to get away from the negative attitude I have towards the other side – your side – and just see them merely as those with whom I do not agree, as opposed to my ideological enemy. I cannot stop others from unliking me but I am not into hate, and wish to see them as different viewpoints without all the unnecessary baggage and hopefully that will come to pass. But although I can modify my behaviour, I cannot anyone else s and one major problem – and this is a general one pertaining to internet exchange per se – is the level of abuse from all quarters. There is something about being relatively anonymous and sitting behind a keyboard that confers on individuals the false authority to be as rude as possible to everyone and anyone, because there are few if any repercussions. But this is lazy thinking and I look forward to the day when online discussions with a degree of mutual respect are the natural default position. Sadly, I will not be holding my breath on that one, but nevertheless, maybe one day

  6. you asked me for proof of this and I did not give specific examples because it was a general reference.

    I do not understand why you think this is a defense for not providing evidence. “General references,” if they have any basis in reality, should be easily demonstrated through examples. If examples cannot be given for them, they should be regarded as dubious conclusions, as a lack of evidence is indicative of falseness.

    I do not think I can convince you of this as you are on that side and therefore find it difficult to be objective about it now.

    You insult me. Do not offer me an unsupported claim and insult me when asked to justify your claims.

    The basic problem is the lack of critical thinking on all three sites – Atheism Plus – Freethought Blogs – Skepchick – and this is what I was referring to.

    Since I am invested in only one of those sites, can you give examples of that alleged lack as it relates to A+?

    Other sites allow greater freedom of individual expression and this is manifestly obvious when comparing them to each other.

    Conceded! Unrestricted freedom of expression, however, is not compatible with skepticism. When someone offers fallacious reasoning, that contribution is not equally valuable with sound reasoning. Skeptical communities have an inherent interest in promoting critical thinking over fallacies, so I see no problem with moderating expression–if a person refuses to adopt non-fallacious reasoning, they are not contributing positively to skepticism, so when you say “restrictions on expression are not conducive to critical thinking,” you’re just wrong.

    And this is not a limitation on use of inappropriate language, but the attacking of any alternative view simply because it is just that.

    This is a straw man. Alternative views are not attacked for being alternative. They’re attacked for being fallacious and/or harmful in reality.

    The sites can have whatever rules they wish but denying open debate invalidates any claim to critical thinking they make.

    Of course it doesn’t. What a shallow, dogmatic conclusion. Please apply this reasoning to pro-science communities. Are they suddenly against critical thinking if they boot creationists who are there to troll instead of honestly engage? If that community refuses to engage every YAC that comes along, that doesn’t suddenly make them unable to think critically. There is no value for an online community in allowing someone whose sole desire is to preach nonsense to disrupt what could otherwise be productive conversations.

    Now on the one hand I have to abide by the rules, but once again, lack of critical thinking was openly referenced which gives lie to the stated principle of the very opposite!

    I understand that this is your subjective interpretation of what happened, but offering such a radical claim without evidence makes you look foolish. Do you seriously expect people to accept your view as accurate without question? And you have the gall to criticize a group of people for not practicing critical thinking adequately? Do you see how inconsistent this is?

    [online communities should be] open to all who want to engage postively and freely

    I agree with this sentiment, of course. Perhaps we have a disagreement about what “engage positively” means? I don’t think refusing to acknowledge and respond to someone else’s actual arguments (as opposed to straw men, empty rhetoric, etc.) is a positive engagement.

    I am trying to get away from the negative attitude I have towards the other side – your side

    This view is a problem. You are trying to force me on to a side. You are assuming that FTB/Skepchick/A+ are a monolith. This is a foolish conclusion.

    I look forward to the day when online discussions with a degree of mutual respect are the natural default position.

    I concur, though I’m also not holding my breath. I don’t think this day can happen until people stop making assumptions about the people they perceive to be their opponents. There’s a lot of propaganda out there, and it troubles me to see people treat others based on that propaganda instead of their actual arguments.

  7. What strikes me as so objectionable about the way you’ve dismissed “those websites” is that you’re labeling them, as people, as undevoted to critical thinking–essentially writing off entire groups of people instead of rejecting specific arguments. I don’t see how that can be a tenable position for a skeptic to hold. When I ask for evidence, I don’t expect you to prove that people are somehow unskeptical about all things in life. I expect you to provide references to specific arguments that you think reinforce your narrative. I do not think your narrative is reasonable, and I think, as a skeptic, you should be very concerned when you find yourself espousing beliefs that are not based on real evidence and sound reasoning.

  8. You have made valid observations and maybe I am referencing my own subjective interpretation which I feel qualifies as objective thinking and that has been noted but I would like to answer specifically two of your points

    The first is your opinion that I have insulted you because I suggested that being on the other side compromises your objectivity. I do not do insults in any shape or form so if you think I have, then that is a misinterpretation on your part now. It is fair however to suggest that intention can sometimes have unforseen consequences, but your reaction to my words is not my responsibility. The words themselves are, but how you perceive them is entirely of your own making

    The second is the labelling of sides. I agree with you about this, as it can stifle positive debate, and I am trying to avoid that as I have previously mentioned. And although this in no way a valid position, it is a mindset that is referenced by others too. From now on I will make more of a conscious effort to focus on the argument and the argument only, and not who is making it now. I am already doing this, but the rough edges need a bit of polishing so to speak and hopefully, that will be a natural transition over time, without any real effort on my part

    I think we – or rather I for I can only speak for myself – have taken this as far as possible. I have no desire to be debating this particular topic ad nauseum so will sign off on it here. I would much rather debate other issues from an individual perspective, rather than all the cyber drama of the subject matter of this thread as it can become repetitive after a while, so I will leave there now

  9. I do not do insults in any shape or form so if you think I have, then that is a misinterpretation on your part now.

    Consider: I aim to be rational, applying skepticism and critical thinking to my own beliefs. You appear to think I have failed to do this adequately, but when pressed for your reasoning, you refuse to elaborate specifically because you do not think I am capable of looking at the facts objectively. I trust you can see how this is objectionable.

    I have no desire to be debating this particular topic ad nauseum so will sign off on it here.

    Fair enough. While I may not agree with everything you’ve said, I still appreciate that you’ve said it. Having an honest conversation partner is always nice.

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