Demythologising the rifts part 1 – the women in atheism panel at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin

by Michael Nugent on October 20, 2014

The rifts in recent years between some mostly American atheist and skeptic bloggers, that have recently been misrepresented as affecting the atheist movement globally, can be dated to events arising from the 2011 World Atheist Convention in Dublin, organised by Atheist Ireland.

Some mythologies have since evolved about some of those events, and I am going to write a series of posts about what actually happened and how some events have come to be misremembered and misrepresented.

In this first post, I am going to describe the panel contributions at the session on women in atheism at the 2011 World Atheist Convention.

Grania Spingies, founding Secretary Atheist Ireland, opened the session by noting that, looking around at the audience, it was somewhere between 30% and 35% women. She said we will ask why more women don’t get involved in atheism. Do they not identify as atheists? Do they see no need to get involved in activism? We will also ask how do we attract women to atheist groups?

Grania introduced the panel of four women who are comfortable with being out atheists and who are no strangers to activism: Paula Kirby, British writer and promoter of reason; Bobbie Kirkhart, past President of Atheist Alliance International; Ann Marie Waters, Irish campaigner for equality; and Tanya Smith, Australian incoming President of Atheist Alliance International.

1. Paula Kirby, British writer and promoter of reason

Paula said she was skeptical whether this topic deserves a place on the programme. She would like to feel, as a woman, that women have moved beyond this discussion. But it is a question that keeps coming up. She recently saw a question submitted to Ask the Atheists dot com, headed ‘why are sexist white dudes the face of atheism?’ It said an article in a recent edition of Bitch magazine made the case that women atheist activists don’t seem to garner the same visibility and respect as male atheist activists.

Paula said she is completely out of sympathy with the question on many levels. She is an out atheist, but it is not the most important thing she is campaigning for. She sees atheism as a subset of reason, and if we promote reason, atheism will get caught up along the way. And because she values reason, her priority is whether the reasons being put for arguments are valid, and she is indifferent as to whether good arguments are put by a man or a woman, or someone who is black or white, or able-bodied or in a wheelchair. She would like to think as a reason-oriented community we could move beyond such trivia. (this got a round of applause from the audience).

Paula said that we hear this idea that women are being put off atheism, because the faces we know are male. She said that this may even be true, and she would like to see evidence of the extent, but she feels that is an insult to women as it conjures an image of terrified nervous women overawed by men. She is not interested in breaking up men and women, but in dealing with people. When she writes articles, she doesn’t write for women, she writes for readers, and she wouldn’t want anyone reading her articles differently because she is a woman.

Paula said she would be arguing differently if she had seen anything to suggest that women are actively deliberately held back by the men in the movement, but in her years involved she has seen nothing to suggest that. On the contrary, because there is a perception that there are not enough women, sometimes women can reach greater prominence simply because they are a woman. If the evidence was there that women are put off atheism because of this perception, she would have to accept it, but her opinion of women, which is currently high, would drop.

Paula had racked her brain to think how the topic might not be a non-starter, and had found two. The first is a marketing issue: if it turns out that we are failing to get our message across to women, then we would need to address that. The second is that women suffer disproportionately at the hands of religion, with issues like FGM, reproductive rights, men owning women, and the role of women in the Irish constitution, so it is valid to ask why women are not more visible in trying to counter it, and freeing more women from religion would increase wellbeing and human rights across the world.

Paula said she was speaking from the point of view of a woman based in the United Kingdom, where women have had their rights enshrined in law for a long time. Not every country has that luxury, indeed decency. She said there are clearly places where it is very difficult to be a woman, but she doesn’t think that the atheist movement is one of them. Women are often reluctant to speak up in conferences and meetings, and as event organiser she knows it can be hard to get women involved, but she thinks women just need to take a deep breath and do it, and not be shy, and not hold back. If women feel they are being ignored, then they should work on making sure they can’t be. She doesn’t think women can claim equality and then ask for special treatment. The suffragettes didn’t wait for permission.

Paula concluded on the issue of activism. She said we need people who are recognisable as figureheads, but that we should not undervalue grassroots day to day activists, dealing in their communities with religious indoctrination in their children’s schools, or writing to their local papers, or lobbying their local councillors, and simply speaking up at work and with friends. As a movement, we’re not going to get major social change until we get lots more people being brave in their everyday life, so let’s not just pretend it is people who are well-known who have a really important role to play.

2. Bobby Kirkhart, American past President AAI

Bobbie noted that she had been asked to speak on women in American FreeThought with Annie Laurie Gaylor, the preeminent expert on the subject, in the audience, and she looked forward to hearing her views later. She said that Bitch magazine (which Paula had referred to) was not original. A similar theme had been covered by Ms. magazine, when a reporter named Monica Shores selected a group of men she considered the New Atheists, then asked what was wrong with us that she (the reporter) chose only men?

Bobbie said that when she first joined the atheist movement, the first leader she saw on television was Madelyn Murray O’Hair. Her first national influence, who she wanted to be like, was the then President of the American Humanist Association, Betty Chambers. When Bobbie became President of AAI she succeeded Marie Castle, and was succeeded by Margaret Downey. Madelyn Murray O’Hair founded American Atheists. Annie Laurie Gaylor founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Madelyn was succeeded by Helen Johnson.

Now all of these offices are occupied by men, with the exception of Annie Laurie Gaylor. So there has been a change. When Bobbie looks back on the history of the American FreeThought movement, she sees a slow-turning pendulum. America’s founding fathers excluded women, and the people who gave and maintained a secular government in the first years of the 19th century were men: Madison, Jefferson, Paine. In the latter part of the 19th century, there was a revival in active secularism with a heavy feminist influence, closely tied to the abolitionist and feminist movements, as well as anti corporal punishment in schools.

Bobbie continued that in the early 20th century, the big issue was the scientific one of teaching evolution in schools, a debate mostly dominated by men. Women had just gained the vote. Then came the 1947 Supreme Court ruling on separation of religion and government, and the early 1960s ruling that outlawed prayer in American schools. Most people in the audience would say that was the O’Hair case, but her case was actually attached to one by a man named Ellery Schempp. He was the major litigant, but Madelyn was much better at and more eager for publicity, and she started a new period of atheist women leaders.

So Bobbie came into a movement that was an exact mirror image of the church. Mainstream American churches today have a lot of women, mostly older, in the pews, and usually a man in the pulpit. The atheist movement was men in the pews, and women in the pulpit. Is there a reason for this? Bobbie thinks there a couple. The most important is that, while organisational and management styles vary from individual to individual than sex to sex, there are some generalisations we can make.

Bobbie said it is well established that men tend to organise by alliances. They tend to find people they trust, and everyone has his own area and is responsible for his own area, and they stay out of each others’ business, and their loyalty is to their allies. Whereas women tend to organise holistically. When a women comes into an organisation in a leadership position, she tends to feel that she is responsible for the entire organisation, and can sometimes offend people by getting into something that doesn’t look like her business. Men do criticise women for this, for trying to take over, for being busybodies, and women accuse men of being an old boys’ club because of their alliances.

Bobbie thinks that both kinds of organisation are needed, and the pendulum swing has been corrected. We have been described as an organisation of herding cats, or herding butterflies, and maybe it is time to have men come in with their loyalty to alliances, and get us going in the same direction. That said, a pendulum seeks equilibrium, and that is what we need.

Bobbie concluded by agreeing with Paula that we don’t need to seek equilibrium by choosing a woman here, and a person of colour here. But we do need to be aware of the importance of variety in our management structure, look at individuals and ask how does he or she manage, and make sure that we have the full complement of organisational skills in our groups.

3. Ann Marie Waters, Irish campaigner for equality

Ann Marie said she also doesn’t care who makes a point as long as it is well made. Some of the greatest campaigners for women’s rights throughout history have been men, and she doesn’t see a problem with this. She is more concerned with the advancement of secularism, than who is making the arguments for it.

Does Ann Marie think atheism is sexist? No. She thinks religion is sexist. Most of the sexism she has encountered in her life has been from religious people and from religions. Atheism doesn’t have women as famous as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, but we do have Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maryam Namazie, and we have four women on this stage, so there are women atheist activists. There aren’t as many women in this audience, that is true, which brings up a few questions, and she thinks it is reflective of society as a whole.

Ann Marie said she doesn’t think there are much less female atheists, but that there are less female atheists willing to speak out, but that there less women willing to speak out than men in society. And part of the reason for that is religion itself. Women tend to have less self-confidence than men, are therefore a bit shy about speaking out, thinking what i have to say isn’t as important as what he has to say, and religion is a great reason for that.

Ann Marie said that, throughout history, from the minute she is born, a girl is told she is inferior. And when you are told something over and over and over again, you will believe it. Ann Marie used to find herself thinking a point, and then a man would make the same point and get rapturous applause, and she would think, that’s what I thought, why didn’t I say it, and it is a lack of self-confidence that women tend to have, partly because of religion.

Ann Marie doesn’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg? Was religion used as a tool to run women down, or is religion the actual thing that runs women down? It is irrelevant really, but it is a tool to beat women down. More recently they have changed the language. Women are no longer told they are inferior, now they are told they are different.

Ann Marie remembered asking a heavily veiled Muslim woman about the misogyny in religion, and the Muslim woman was convinced that women are not considered inferior, just different. Ann Marie said, fine, but the difference is that you have far less rights, far less power… are you not suspicious? You are different, but you are different in a way that you have nothing, your husband has everything, but we are not running you down, you are just different? If a cleric is telling you you are different in a way that you are inferior, they do not have your best interests at heart.

Ann Marie concluded that she is not an atheist campaigner, or even a specifically anti-religious campaigner, she is an equality campaigner. It just so happen that religion gives her so much ammunition. It couldn’t be any more sexist if it tried. It couldn’t be any more imperialist if it tried: we’re going to heaven, you’re going to hell. But she is an equality campaigner. She wants equality between people. That’s why she speaks out against religion, and it also why she doesn’t really like this differentiation between men and women.

She would like to see more atheist women speaking out, but she would like to see more women speaking out generally, not just about this. So we need to keep doing this, and to keep encouraging people to speak out against religion and misogyny and hate. We keep doing this, we keep trying to get Mr Dawkins onto television to speak some sense, we need to encourage people, men as well as women, to stand up for other people.

4. Tanya Smith, Australian incoming President AAI

Tanya began by asking all of the women in the audience to raise their hands, and keep their hands raised if they thought there should be more women activists, but they couldn’t do it or wouldn’t know where to start. Most hands stayed raised. Tanya said she had become an active atheist in the past few years, partly deliberately and partly through a series of coincidences.

Tanya said she had always been an atheist. From the moment she learned about religion as a child, she thought it didn’t make any sense. But it wasn’t a big deal in her life. Her family wasn’t religious, nor was her schooling. One of the few times she thought about God as a child was when she was eleven, and she wanted to be guide. The guide oath included the words ‘to do my best to do my duty to God,’ and she knew she didn’t believe in God. She concluded it wan’t possible to have a duty to a non-existent being, so she was promising to do nothing.

Tanya said that was how she saw religion until she was in her thirties – as something other people took seriously. She would argue about if it came up, but she usually pragmatically avoid it. When living in London in the 2000s, influenced by the London bombings, discussion of immigration, and the release of books by high profile atheists, the topic was much more prevalent than in Australia at the time. So she started reading more, and thinking about the privileged place religion has in our minds, and how it is translated into laws and attitudes around the world.

The tipping point for Tanya was the atheist bus campaign in the UK before she moved back to Australia, with the slogan ‘There’s probably no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life’. Following that success, the Atheist Foundation of Australia tried to run bus ads with the slogan ‘Atheism – celebrate reason, and sleep in on Sunday mornings,’ and the slogan was rejected. It was completely contrary to the principle of freedom of speech.

In Tanya’s home town in Victoria, the Atheist Foundation took a case with the Equal Rights and Opportunities Commission. Before that, Tanya had not heard of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, and she saw a group of people actively campaigning against the privilege she had developed a dislike for. She decided to join, because it can’t always be someone else’s responsibility. She sent an email saying she can write and organise and would be happy to help. They had enough people working on that campaign, but they asked her to join their public relations team, which answers emails.

Tanya carefully constructed her first email before sending it to the President for review, then it was out there and she was part of the team. She is still part of that team, getting emails ranging from ‘you’re all going to hell’ to people looking for information for school assignments, to people who are really struggling with the process of their own faith. It is fun and interesting, as well as being important that people who are interested in atheism receive proper answers to their questions.

That was how Tanya started. Then In 2009, the Atheist Foundation of Australia was approached by Atheist Alliance International, to host a convention in Melbourne. Richard Dawkins was the headline speaker. The convention sent out a call for volunteers for a committee. Tanya said no. She was busy at work, and had no experience in event planning. A few weeks later a work colleague said his daughter was at Oxford and had seen Richard Dawkins speak there, and she decided that she wanted to be part of making the convention happen. So she joined the team.

Tanya had no idea what she was in for, which was probably a good thing. But she also had no idea how good it would be to stand there, months later, with the other committee members, and see what they had put together. She expects it is what Atheist Ireland is feeling this weekend. It really brought home to her that FreeThinkers can be a community, and being part of that community feels good. Through that convention, she met Stuart Bechman, then the President of Atheist Alliance International, and she ended up on the board, and here she is now.

Tanya is proud to be the President of Atheist Alliance International. When she looks back at the events, and the series of coincidences and opportunities that got here here, she can see how easy it would have been for her to not be here. How easy it would have been at any stage for her to say that she couldn’t do something, just because she hadn’t done it before.

That could be true of most people who end up in leadership roles, but studies have shown that women are worse than men at putting themselves forward for leadership positions. On average, a woman will put herself forward for a job when she meets over 90% of the advertised criteria. Men will apply when they feel they meet about half the job criteria. One of the reasons she didn’t say no over the past few years was thinking about that statistic.

Tanya then went back to her question at the start, if you think you couldn’t do anything like that, or you would like to but wouldn’t know where to start, and she gave a few suggestions. Get in the flow. Help your local organisation with something really easy, like keeping membership list or posting Facebook updates or answering emails. Your help will be appreciated and you will get comfortable. Then put your hand up for things that resonate with you.

For Tanya it was the bus campaign. Maybe for you it is a census campaign, or helping with a convention, or something about schools. If you want to help, don’t wait to be asked. Volunteer groups can be hesitant to impose on people, and the best way to find something to do is just put your hand up. Tanya added that there is nothing in what she said that isn’t equally applicable to men who want to get involved in atheism. As we all agree, atheism needs both men and women, its just that the women sometimes seem to need more of a push to get involved.

Tanya then talked about how the groups themselves operate. How to make existing groups who don’t have many women, more attractive to women, will vary from group to group, and it may or may not be something that individual groups need to address. She wanted to make one point about what she called ‘accidental discrimination’. She has seen it in her professional career, which was in a male dominated environment, and is borne out by research as well.

Tanya said it is simple. We are humans. We like people who are like us. We like people who like the same things we like. So in a group that is dominated by men – and she is generalising here to make a point – you might have a social conversation about sports or cars, or the guys might catch up for a beer at the pub. And, again to generalise, some women aren’t all that interested in sports or cars, so they don’t participate in the social side of the organisation, so they are less engaged. Or maybe they miss out on decisions that happen over the beer at the pub. So they contribute less. So people don’t see them as potential leaders.

You can get a spiral of disengagement, and ultimately nothing changes. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault that this happens, but it can be a real shame. And the basis of that, which is human nature, is not going to change. People will still like people who are like them. She is not suggesting that people shouldn’t socialise in their groups any way they feel like, but if you are in the dominant group, which is male in this context, please be aware of this point. Please make an effort to not accidentally exclude women, because ultimately it is your organisation that is going to miss out.

Tanya concluded by saying take a deep breath, and jump in. You will find things to work on that you care about. If you just say ‘I can do that,’ you will wake up in a couple of months and realise that you are doing that. You might not be quite sure how you got there, but that’s okay.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Blueshift Rhino October 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm

I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series, as I trust you to be a careful and fair historian, MN. For now, my only comment is thanks! for what you’ve written so far.

2 JetLagg October 20, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Well done. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series as well. This will probably become my go to source for those who want to get up to speed on how things managed to get to where they are today.

3 Jack P October 20, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Excellent article.

Do you think anything can stop the damage the rifts have already done Time? Boycotts? Ignoring? Counter-action?

I’m stumped, and the rage brigade won’t let up over here in America.

4 Drew Vogel October 20, 2014 at 7:25 pm

You said “…I am going to write a series of posts about what actually happened and how some events have come to be misremembered and misrepresented.” I’m sure you merely neglected to add “as I see it” after “what actually happened”, right? I mean, you’re not the sole arbiter of atheism, are you?

I’m not trying to have a go, but you do sometimes give the impression that you think you’re the only adult in the room. I know you don’t think that, and you don’t mean to give that impression, but you do sometimes give that impression.

5 Mel October 20, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Echoing what Rhino and JetLagg said. Looking forward to the series.

What flabbergasts me is – with these wonderful women activists, who are making real accomplishments in the real world – why are “bloggers” pushed forward as the Public Face of Women in Atheism/Skepticism? Nothing could be more inaccurate. Is it that they have better agents? Are they better at marketing themselves? When we see the likes of Ophelia Benson or Rebecca Watson flown (expenses paid!) around the world all we can conclude is that whatever they’re doing, it works. But it doesn’t make sense, and it shouldn’t be this way.

6 Shermertron October 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm

This post is wonderful and I look forward to the rest.

I will point out an excellent additional resource. Freethought Kampala put together an exhaustive and fair description of how the rift opened.

http://freethoughtkampala.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/elevatorgate/

Part 2:
http://freethoughtkampala.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/elevatorgate-part-2-the-failure-of-skepticism/

It doesn’t bode well that the FTB folks have been fighting the same battles and acting the same way for three years and they just get worse and worse.

7 Shatterface October 20, 2014 at 7:56 pm

You said “…I am going to write a series of posts about what actually happened and how some events have come to be misremembered and misrepresented.” I’m sure you merely neglected to add “as I see it” after “what actually happened”, right? I mean, you’re not the sole arbiter of atheism, are you?

Coz it’s not enough that he’s reporting what these guests said, he has to repeatedly cast doubt on his own honesty?

If you think he’s misrepresenting the guests feel free to contact them yourself.

8 piero October 20, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Thank you Michael for the effort you are making in setting the record straight. I disagree with Drew Vogel: as someone who was involved in organising the convention, you are a more trustworthy voice. I’m sure you did not write this post from memory, did you?

9 Drew Vogel October 20, 2014 at 8:28 pm

It’s not a question of honesty. It’s a question of perspective.

10 Blueshift Rhino October 20, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Are you saying that it has to be a question of honesty or is that just your perspective on including worthless/obvious provisos on blog-posts? I mean, you’re not the self-appointed arbiter of honesty in blogging, are you?

(Do you see how worthless your approach to this is?)

11 Drew Vogel October 20, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Oh my, we are witty, aren’t we? It’s like Noel Coward in here.

I offered Michael some constructive criticism in good faith. By all means, disagree. But getting defensive (especially on someone else’s behalf) is pointless.

12 Guestus Aurelius October 20, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Drew Vogel is quite right, as I see it.

As I see it, it’s crucial to hedge every sentence with the disclaimer “As I see it.” Otherwise, as I see it, the reader simply has no way of knowing whether the writer is God or a fallible human.

13 Zorg October 20, 2014 at 10:33 pm

@Mel, #5:

I don’t know why Benson gets any attention, but Watson trained in communications and is a very good self-publicist. Like Sarkeesian and Quinn, she knows how to troll for abuse and weave it into a well-publicized threat narrative that will make her look like a victim worthy of support (and money) from others.

The other thing Watson has going for her is the demographic of the US atheist convention circuit. In the US, the convention demographic includes a lot of sexually frustrated young male nerds who have had no luck with women. These people will react very positively to any woman who purports to tell them how to treat women so they won’t immediately run away–which is essentially Watson’s schtick. As a result, Watson has a ready audience that anyone (of either gender) who does actual atheist activism will not.

It’s not going to get any better unless atheist conventions (in the US) transition away from being glorified nerd hookup parties and into being gatherings of activists.

14 Justmeagain October 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm

“I know you don’t think that, and you don’t mean to give that impression, but you do sometimes give that impression.”

Drew, I’ve read this article a few times, and Michael’s other articles, and I’ve never gotten the impression you describe. Did you mean to say “I sometimes get that impression” rather than “you do sometimes give that impression”?

It makes me a little uncomfortable the way you tell him what he thinks and what he means, and then go on to say what impression he gives as if everyone reading feels as you do.

15 Jan Steen October 20, 2014 at 10:47 pm

@Drew Vogel,

You said “…I am going to write a series of posts about what actually happened and how some events have come to be misremembered and misrepresented.” I’m sure you merely neglected to add “as I see it” after “what actually happened”, right? I mean, you’re not the sole arbiter of atheism, are you?

Michael is going to give us his perspective on things that actually happened. I am looking forward to it. It’s a refreshing change from the self-righteous posturing that we see on FTB. If it turns out that his perspective is flawed you are welcome to provide evidence that this is the case. But this non sequitur about Michael not being the sole arbiter of atheism does not give me much hope that you will be able to make a meaningful contribution. Poisoning the well is not a good start. What are you afraid of?

16 Shatterface October 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm

I offered Michael some constructive criticism in good faith. By all means, disagree.

No, you wrote I’m not trying to have a go, but you do sometimes give the impression that you think you’re the only adult in the room.

Which basically means that, by being calm and reasonable, Michael is being unfair to those who spit their dummies out at the slightest provocation.

17 Shatterface October 20, 2014 at 10:59 pm

As I see it, it’s crucial to hedge every sentence with the disclaimer “As I see it.” Otherwise, as I see it, the reader simply has no way of knowing whether the writer is God or a fallible human.

So you say.

The most slappable people on the internet are those who hedge every sentence with ‘IMHO’ or some such bollocks.

18 Jan Steen October 20, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Grania introduced the panel of four women who are comfortable with being out atheists and who are no strangers to activism: Paula Kirby, British writer and promoter of reason; Bobbie Kirkhart, past President of Atheist Alliance International; Ann Marie Waters, Irish campaigner for equality; and Tanya Smith, Australian incoming President of Atheist Alliance International.

[SJW mode]These Chill Girls have internalised The Patriarchy and are therefore not to be regarded as True Feminists.[/SJW mode]

19 John Greg October 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Sarcasm, Shatter, sarcasm.

20 MosesZD October 20, 2014 at 11:06 pm

All the social surveys in America indicate that women are more religious than men. Which, conversely, means men (at least in America) are more secular than women.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not sexism. It’s not hard to understand this polling data. The simple fact is that (at least in America) women are more religious. So there will simply fewer women in atheism (hard-core non-religious) than men.

The real questions, at least to me, are: Why are women so much more religious than men? Why do women not leave their faith/religious beliefs as readily as men? And last, why do so many female and male atheists blame men and sexism for the choices of women as nobody in atheism is forcing this women to remain religious?

21 piero October 20, 2014 at 11:07 pm

@ zorg #13:

In the US, the convention demographic includes a lot of sexually frustrated young male nerds who have had no luck with women.

Is that a hunch or an established fact? How much is “a lot”?

22 Sharon Madison October 20, 2014 at 11:11 pm

I wasn’t in Dublin for the conference in 2011, but I watched the video of this panel when it was made available. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of the panelists and was pleased that the overall message was that women can and should get involved in atheist/skeptic activism.

The panel also proves that atheist organizations were interested in and willing to address “women in secular activism” issues in positive and productive ways before all of the screaming started about the horrible problems women face in the atheist/skeptic world.

There has been way too much negative messaging since the conference, which I think can only serve to drive women away.

23 Blueshift Rhino October 20, 2014 at 11:27 pm

@Sharon –

The first panel was great, I agree. The subsequent panel with RW and RD was … well, let’s wait for MN’s thread on that one. In the meantime, let’s all sit back and bask in the supreme irony of watching MN – the embodiment of calm rectitude in the face of outrageous, inaccurate, and insulting attacks – being tone-trolled by SJWs from FTB-land.

24 Guestus Aurelius October 20, 2014 at 11:29 pm

@Shatterface wrote:

As I see it, it’s crucial to hedge every sentence with the disclaimer “As I see it.” Otherwise, as I see it, the reader simply has no way of knowing whether the writer is God or a fallible human.

So you say.

The most slappable people on the internet are those who hedge every sentence with ‘IMHO’ or some such bollocks.

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, YHO, man.

25 Aneris ✻ October 20, 2014 at 11:45 pm

Sometimes I wonder why there are even these mythologies. That is a rhetorical question. I know why there are mythologies…

1) Some people don’t bother to check the facts.

2) Some people only read secondary and tertiary information, interpretations of interpretations of interpretations. You know, when people link to Rebecca Watson and her treatment of a subject, and not to the subject itself. You know where several layers of interpretations are common. Instead to “Dear Muslima” the link typically goes to the “Privilege Delusion” for example.

3) Some people have convinced themselves and others that some information is too terrible to check out, thereby enabling a telephone game.

4) Some people prevent that all information can be brought to the table for spurious reasons. You can’t for example just post on FreeThoughtBlogs and ask them about their inhouse rapist. That is carefully edited away and commenters banned. Instead, they tell a distorted version that carefully omits the critical information. And all that despite that all the information is already in raw form on their blogs (all of the above 1, 2, 3 applies).

5) Some myths are created by mixing up timing and updates. Later information isn’t always taken into account. This can happen without malicious intent and usually correct itself, unless the corrections are prevented.

6) Sometimes myths are deliberately created. We know this, as some myths require a combination of the above, plus careful selection of quotes (quote mining), editing and presenting of the information, while it is strictly controlled that contrary evidence cannot become known. There are some known cases for this, and Stephanie Zvan and Rebecca Watson are particulary big on this.

7) Myths are created through strong belief in narratives and the congruence fallacy. Thereby the overarching narratives “transforms” small incidents so that they conform to it. An incident can then become a myth that seems to support the narrative. For example, Richard Dawkins is deemed all sorts of terrible things which are “in the air”. Islamophobia makes him seem like a racist for example. When he tweeted his #CosmicTombstone, inviting tweebs to suggest what they would put unto a representative humankind-DVD and started with his favourites, Shakespeare and other white westerners, Adam Lee (and others) saw that as an indication of supremacism. He clearly invented the other half of information that is required to come to such outlandish conclusions, by drawing wild comparisons (also in tradition of Rebecca Watson and other social justice warriors, who deem it natural to compare an opening speech they don’t like with a rapists in the australian army, see “Standard You Walk Past”). In addition to his own concoction, Lee “overlooked” the invite to participate in the hastag and he “overlooked” that one can very well personally like four white guys (it’s not about their skin colour and it happens that people tend to like things from their own culture for non-nefarious reasons).

8) Myths procreate in “safe spaces” and they create a telephone game environment. “Safe spaces” place high importance on solidarity and are against skepticism when it strains that solidarity (this is known as “hyperskepticism”). The otherwise sensible concept to provide a space where LGTBX are protected from hate-speech and harassment was transformed into a tool to control information in an authoritarian fashion. Rarely, if ever, is hatespeech controlled, but disagreement and other viewpoints on concrete subjects. Adversarial community cultures are far better at preventing the creation of myths. They are currently limited as the “save space” faction voluntarily refrains from participating outside of their tightly controlled community sections. Max Planck said the “truth never triumphs — its opponents just die out” and an Erisian approach helps with that.

9) The atheist-skeptics movement, in particular the opinion leaders in the USA/internet movement have failed spectacularly to prevent this development and have failed to set the record straight. In the interest of peace, or not criticizing peers too much (or whatever reason they might have had), they have contributed to this situation. They have shown to everyone that they are useless. If you support them, consider to give your money to other organisations somewhere else. All these organisations from CFI, JREF to American Atheists should go the way of the dodo. When they can’t notice and prevent this, they wouldn’t have prevented the rise of totalitarianism in the last century either. They are useless in vaccinate people to against such developments. Thanks to them it is a real possiblity to get rid of Evangelicals and end up with fascists (not a Godwin, strong control of information, evidence for propaganda, “safe spaces” to control what people think, manufactuversies, blaming outgroups for all kinds of things, extreme allegations [people are rapist without evidence, and when it’s clear that the assertion is implausible, see previous threads], plus doctrines for shunning and shaming, and ostracizing, dehumanization, removal of the presumption of innocence etc. make the comparison not that far fetched).

Thanks Michael Nugent for clearing things up.

26 Aneris ✻ October 21, 2014 at 12:02 am

Drew Vogel wrote: I mean, you’re not the sole arbiter of atheism, are you?

Ophelia Benson wrote: Doubting Tom wrote a Dubito Ergo Sum post ten days ago, on Michael Nugent, Vice Principal of Atheism. (Good title. Nugent does carry on as if he’s somehow been appointed to scold some people into obedience while protecting others from unwelcome attention to their more appalling behaviors.

_freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/how-not-to-stage-an-intervention/

This is how people write when they feel their prerogative of interpretation is challenged. In this case it is the license to spread myths unchallenged and to place other people onto the shunning stage. Instead of addressing the issues (like presenting contrary evidence), the social justice faction on FTB & Co has a pathological habit to “go meta” and try to shoot down what other people write without bothering what they wrote. The result is always that some other person is scrutinized (unfavourably).

Here we have people who give their unsolicited opinion on others all the time yet, when others do it to them, they are immediately outraged. The witch hunter and the Puritan agitator want others on the stage, so that the crowd will throw rotten eggs at their targets or so that the target will end up being symbologically removed from the community (by branding or burning them for example).

27 Shatterface October 21, 2014 at 12:12 am

Sarcasm, Shatter, sarcasm.

There’s an invisible smiley after so you say

28 Shatterface October 21, 2014 at 12:25 am

It’s not rocket science. It’s not sexism. It’s not hard to understand this polling data. The simple fact is that (at least in America) women are more religious. So there will simply fewer women in atheism (hard-core non-religious) than men.

It’s not just religion. Has a guy ever asked you your star sign?

29 Drew Vogel October 21, 2014 at 1:37 am

@Justmeagain,

Yes, I do get that impression from this post, specifically the line I quoted, but I’m not the only one who gets that impression. A mere two posts ago Michael posted a Twitter conversation in which the same issue came up. And I’m not telling Michael what he thinks… he tells me, and I take him at his word. I know that he doesn’t think he’s the sole arbiter of atheism because he said so.

But if you guys want to make me out to be the bad guy, that’s fine by me.

30 Zorg October 21, 2014 at 2:51 am

@piero, #21:

I can’t produce a peer reviewed study to prove it, but I’m quite confident in the accuracy of my educated guess.

@Aneris, #25, subpart #9:

I think US atheists who are interested in working toward a more secular society ought to either get involved in local activism or donate to the ACLU. As you say, the national atheist organizations range from unhelpful to outright toxic.

31 Blueshift Rhino October 21, 2014 at 2:59 am

@Drew –

When Dick Cheney planted a story in the NYT through one of his mouthpiece “reporters” (Judy Miller, in this case) and then turned around and cited the story in the NYT as the evidence for what he was saying on a Sunday morning talk-show, you must have been paying attention quite well if you think that citing nonsense from some SJW against MN in the past is evidence that your derailing and tone-trolling has any validity in this thread. (I’m just glad that no country is getting invaded this time.)

You need to make at least substantive reply to MN’s point before you get to make another worthless whine post.

And, yes, I did just appoint myself Lord High Re-railer and Troll-catcher. Do you like the hat that came with the job? My guess is that the hat is what makes guys ask me my sign all the time.

32 SF October 21, 2014 at 3:39 am

Atheists in other countries apparently don’t start movements after being bothered for being asked for coffee in elevators after getting drunk as a skunk till 4AM, and being offended when others point out the silliness of it all. At least I hope not.

33 Jacqueline Prince (@JaxxyPrince) October 21, 2014 at 3:56 am

Thank you for this, Michael. While I’ve been an atheist for many years, I’ve only recently become publicly active regarding my atheism. As a consequence, I’ve had learn about about this rift well after the fact. I’m very interested in this topic because I’m a feminist and I’ve been absolutely disgusted by the attack squad lead by PZ Meyers and Ophelia Benson. They DO NOT speak for me. I’m looking forward with great interest to the rest of your series.

34 Shatterface October 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

Yes, I do get that impression from this post, specifically the line I quoted, but I’m not the only one who gets that impression. A mere two posts ago Michael posted a Twitter conversation in which the same issue came up.

That would be the Twitter conversation with the cockweasel who then retracted his apology before calling everyone a rapist again?

Great company you keep.

35 Drew Vogel October 21, 2014 at 8:02 am

@Blueshift Rhino,

Don’t worry, I’m done. I had one comment to make to Michael, which I hope he will consider, but I don’t have anything to say to the rest of you.

36 Jacqueline Prince (@JaxxyPrince) October 21, 2014 at 8:08 am

@Shermertron

I want to thank you, as well, for the links you posted. They provided an excellent and remarkably thorough treatment of the elevator controversy and ensuing debates.

37 James October 21, 2014 at 8:28 am

My first thought when Watsons called out Paula Kirby like some kind of highschool bully with a microphone, was to ask why is she targeting Kirby specifically? She could have made a similar response to any one of the women on the stage with Paula.

It was incredibly unfair and unexpected. Like a clash of two cultures. On one hand the professional and polite conference culture on one side and this immature and rude internet call-out cultureon the other.

Thanks for documenting this Michael. If anyone wants to challenge the version of events as stated here, the video of this panel discussion is avaialble on you tube.

38 Minnow October 21, 2014 at 8:51 am

“Which basically means that, by being calm and reasonable, Michael is being unfair to those who spit their dummies out at the slightest provocation.”

Yes, this is an irritating rhetorical manoeuvre you see a lot on the rage blogs: if you don’t respond to abuse with abuse, you are being ‘passive aggressive’ which, for obscure reasons, is seen as worse than ‘aggressive aggressive’ (which is at least honest, or something). The idea that you may simply not be interested in aggression but only in argument is just not entertained.

39 Paul Holland October 21, 2014 at 9:19 am

As someone from this side of the pond, the claims of misogyny and sexism from American rage bloggers always seemed just plain wrong. In the UK at least there have mean many women involved in atheist/secular/humanist movements – Polly Toynbee (President of the BHA), Claire Rayner (President BHA) and Linda smith – in fact the BHA had female a female president from 1999 to 2013, and as far as I know none of these well respected and hard working women became single topic trolls on how sexist pigs were tweeting them mean stuff and keeping them down.

Them (hopefully in your next column) we had the shameful treatment of Paula Kirby at that conference, when Rebecca Watson used her “communication atheism” slot to insult and denigrate Kirby with her feminism 101 nonsense, something repeated over and over, nasty spiteful bullying of women by Watson/Myers et al, if you’re looking for sexism and the harassment of women in the atheist movement, look no further than this bunch – any woman who expressed even mild disagreement with this “crowd” was instantly attacked, shunned, bullied and harassed in their workplaces – the next victims being Stef McGraw, Rose St Clair and Abbie Smith – starting a long list of online bullying of women up to Skep Tickle their most recent victim who was most recently doxxed and had her employer harassed by Myers and Skepchicks, despite stepping up to the plate when you attempted to heal the rift last year and having made a career genuinely helping women in the medical field.

For many observers of this the actions of the FtB crowd always seemed to be about a power grab, luckily the current “leadership” of atheism/skepticism was full of misogynistic rapers, and when they had been shunned and removed from the community the way would be clear for the atheism+ to take their rightful places as the world leaders of the movement, many years of flying around the world drinking and lecturing at conferences awaited them.

40 James October 21, 2014 at 9:54 am

One thing I found concerning was the way the FtB crowd were able to completely hijack the narrative. Atheism+ was a complete failure that didn’t even make it out of the gates and yet it got a mention in a number of mainstream media outlets around the world, all of which gave the FtB/Skepchick version of events as objective truth.

41 Carrie October 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Thanks for doing this, Michael! It’s good to see the facts written down clearly.

I had seen the video of that panel before, back before the whole schism got going, and was extremely impressed with all the women on it and what they had to say. This, to me, was the kind of thoughtful skepticism that I had begun to expect within discussions among atheists.

I was startled by what seemed to me a de-railing by Rebecca Watson in the next panel, but assumed that she was a little unused to public speaking. I had never heard of her before.

42 Blueshift Rhino October 21, 2014 at 1:43 pm

To say that RWatson “derailed” the next panel is a wonderful understatement. Also wonderful were the facial expressions of RDawkins (sitting next to her). But I think that we should wait until the relevant thread to discuss this.

43 Jan Steen October 21, 2014 at 5:03 pm

@James,

Atheism+ was a complete failure that didn’t even make it out of the gates and yet it got a mention in a number of mainstream media outlets around the world, all of which gave the FtB/Skepchick version of events as objective truth.

Let’s not forget that one of those propaganda pieces in the mainstream media was written by none other than the infamous Adam Lee, who is to reputable journalism what Kim Jong Un is to democracy.

44 James October 21, 2014 at 10:10 pm

@Jan And yet it was published!

45 Jan Steen October 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

@James,

It must have been a slow day.

46 Shatterface October 22, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Apparently we’re all ‘Nugentians’ now.

Better than a My-hole or a Ben-end, I suppose.

47 tina October 23, 2014 at 12:34 am

In the latter stages of the 4th Bloggum wars, the Sarkeesians and Pharyngulans attacked the Nugentians with advanced ogyny bombs but these were successfully neutralised with oolonic shielding and raep missiles from Ogvorbis.
(Galactic Congress Record Vol 9 – 3:7:21 Central Archive, Latsot Sector)

48 Jan Steen October 23, 2014 at 12:55 am

Myers now demands that Michael “cleans up harassers on his blog.” Where have we heard that kind of language before? He is sounding more and more like a Jim Jones or a David Koresh. Insane rants, unsubstantiated accusations, a hyper-inflated sense of his own importance, a following consisting of creeps and halfwits, attempts to get at people’s livelihood, the insatiable urge to control the discourse: it all fits the profile of the deranged cult leader.

Why any atheist or sceptic, or indeed any decent human being, would want to have anything to do with Myers is utterly incomprehensible. He is by far the vilest person currently active in the a/s community.

49 Shatterface October 23, 2014 at 8:03 am

Someone should put out one of those Downfall videos showing the increasingly Dalek-like Myers hearing the news of yet another prominent atheist turning their back on him and watching his dreams of a New Reich crumbling to dust.

50 BlueShiftRhino October 23, 2014 at 1:45 pm

The parallel between PZ Myers and Jim Jones is stronger than some people recognize, right down to the Kool-Aid that one is required to drink while participating on FTB. The only difference is that they drink a type of tea, instead, as MN has recently learned via Twitter. The particular kind of tea is Latsot Oolon.

51 SF October 23, 2014 at 3:36 pm

PZ Myers is a giant in the scientific and atheistic community. His few papers decades ago plus his The Happy Atheist, rival Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, Climbing Mount Improbable, The Ancestors Tale, The Greatest Show on Earth, The God Delusion, plus many other titles. So when PZ Myers goes up against Richard Dawkins we need to really pay close attention. Like Ali-Frazier we are seeing two scientific heavyweights battling it out. Yeah right. Myers is essentially an atheist Dawkins flea. Not even that, because unlike the religious fleas, he doesn’t have the energy to put together a book length diatribe against Dawkins like religious fleas are all to eager to do.

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