Update: PZ Myers has now closed down the social interaction aspect of his blog, after blaming his commenters for attacking an insider in the way that he has always encouraged them to attack outsiders. He also complains that FreeThought Blogs itself is ‘less a unified group than a disparate collection of loosely affiliated blogs that have found a convenient hosting service.’
PZ’s new view on community-building is that ‘we are all objects in space, drifting, occasionally bouncing off each other or tugging gently at each other’s masses. And that’s about it.’ PZ now says that he ‘will be a cold dark ember of a star, following my own whims, drifting alone, not trying to create a hospitable atmosphere.’
This shows that PZ Myers has learned nothing useful from the Little Shop of Hatred that he created and nourished until he lost control of it. Yesterday I wrote that, while I welcomed PZ’s diminishing influence in the international atheist movement, I would also welcome a genuine conversion by him to civility and empathy and fairness and justice. This has not happened. So be it.
Original post follows:
PZ Myers, who made and broke his reputation by being hostile and uncharitably misrepresenting people, is now criticising his own commenters for being hostile and uncharitably misrepresenting his friend Ophelia Benson.
PZ Myers is right to defend Ophelia from unjust attacks. But his commenters were only doing to an insider what PZ himself has for years encouraged them to do to outsiders, led by the example of his own hurtful, dehumanising, hateful, violent, unjust and defamatory rhetoric.
This is the online community equivalent of the movie Little Shop of Horrors, in which flower shop assistant Seymour repeatedly feeds an exotic plant’s ever-greater craving for human blood, until the plant finally grows large enough to turn on Seymour himself and destroy the flower shop.
But the bloodthirsty plant is not an analogy for PZ’s commenters, some of whom seem vulnerable and unjustly hurt in life themselves. It is an analogy for the channelling of anger, which can sometimes be valid, into personal hatred and unjust behaviour towards outsiders.
I believe PZ and his commenters genuinely want to see social justice, whatever it is that means to them. But you cannot bring about social justice by spreading hatred of outsiders, and you cannot bring about any justice by unjustly attacking anyone.
On the face of it, PZ Myers seems to be serious about bringing about at least some change. He has closed down the main thread on his blog where most of the hostility was conveyed, which he accurately described as the internal reinforcement of tribalism.
Now here is the big test for PZ Myers. If he realises that his commenters are wrong to behave like this, his natural empathy should lead him to realise that he himself is also wrong to behave like this.
I have welcomed PZ’s diminishing influence within the international atheist movement, as he alienates more and more people who are actually working for change in the real world. I would also welcome a genuine conversion by him to civility and empathy and fairness and justice.
Assuming that he is sincere, he could demonstrate his sincerity by applying his new standards to himself, starting by making amends with the many people he has unjustly smeared over the years.
Civil dialogue and lobbying versus hateful and violent rhetoric
Since I last wrote about PZ Myers, I and Atheist Ireland have been campaigning hard to promote atheism and ethical secularism in Ireland and internationally. We have contributed to Ireland’s historic marriage equality referendum, and we continue to lobby at the United Nations and within Ireland to defend the human rights of atheists and religious minorities.
This type of relentless, reasoned, robust, patient, determined civil lobbying, combined with legal and political pressure, is how we will eventually bring about an ethical secular society, using methods that are consistent with the outcomes that we are seeking. It is the same approach that gradually brought about the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Needless to say, we would never have passed the Belfast Agreement or the Irish marriage equality referendum if, like PZ Myers, we had proudly proclaimed that we hate and despise Christians, made outrageous personal allegations against people with whom we disagreed, and regularly called people fuckheads and wankers and lunatics.
We wouldn’t tolerate behaviour like that from our children, and we shouldn’t tolerate it from our adult colleagues.
PZ now seems to finally realise at least some of this, albeit when his own type of attacks are directed at one of his friends. I hope that this can begin a rehabilitative journey in which PZ moves towards genuinely promoting civil dialogue and justice.
PZ Myers’ defence of Ophelia Benson
For the record, here is some of what PZ Myers has said about the attacks on Ophelia. It reads like a copy-and-paste of what I and others have repeatedly told PZ about his own behaviour.
What I’m seeing is an incestuous reinforcement of assumptions, where reading between the lines becomes a statement of unimpeachable fact.
It is a really good example of how people are translating one uncharitable reading of a comment about one thing into a whole string of ugly inferences about something else.
I suggest that you back off and instead of building a tottering edifice of circumstantial stories, you try to reach out in a less hostile and argumentative way — you might just find that in the absence of the kind of assertively preconceived, self-reinforcing claims made here, she’s actually far more enlightened than you think.
So what we’ve got is a lot of innuendo and anecdotes and uncharitable interpretations flying around, all tailored to turn her into The Enemy.
If you want to have a conversation and get past the wall of dismissiveness, you’re not going to get there with the kinds of angry assertions seen here… or this constant cycle of reinforcement of the initial poorly supported claim.
Saying it 50 times doesn’t make it true, but it does tend to make the target unlikely to think you really want to discuss it fairly.
Having a community with strong social bonds is nice, except when it turns into a search for markers for the outsider and subsequent vilification. I am not enjoying it at all. One solution might be to remove the internal reinforcement of tribalism.
Thread closed. It won’t be reopened. Thus endeth the Thunderdome/Mended Drum experiment.
PZ Myers’ response to similar attacks on Richard Dawkins
What would happen if PZ Myers applied his new standards to the considerably worse attacks that his commenters have made against Richard Dawkins?
PZ did not challenge his commenters who said that Richard is a ‘racist misogynist piece of shit who thinks child molestation doesn’t count unless there’s rape or murder’, that ‘if he’s not actually a child molester he’s dangerously close to wearing the uniform of one’, and that ‘Dawkins and his rape cheerleaders can fuck a power socket’.
But he did ban a commenter who defended Richard, telling him: ‘Goodbye. We don’t need your petty resistance to any dissent from the sacred position of your great heroes around here. Fuck off.’
What if PZ Myers applied his new standard to his own behaviour?
What would happen if PZ Myers applied his new standards to his own behaviour? How many times has has PZ conveyed innuendo and uncharitable interpretations, tailored to turn his target of the day into The Enemy?
As some of many examples, he said that ‘the scum rose to the top of the atheist movement’, that it is ‘burdened by cretinous reactionaries’, that ‘sexist and misogynistic scumbags’ are ‘not a fringe phenomenon’, and that if you don’t agree with Atheism Plus, you are an ‘Asshole Atheist’.
He said that Richard Dawkins ‘seems to have developed a callous indifference to the sexual abuse of children’ and ‘has been eaten by brain parasites’, Ann Marie Waters is a ‘nutter’, and Russell Blackford is a ‘lying fuckhead’.
He said that Ben Radford is a ‘revolting narcissistic scumbag’ and his lawyer is ‘J Noble Dogshit’, and Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor and Bill Maher are ‘assholes’. He called Irish blogger ZenBuffy a ‘narcissistic wanker’ after she said she has experienced mental illness.
He said that Robin Williams’ suicide was ‘the death of a wealthy white man dragging us away from news about brown people’, Charles Darwin was a ‘sexist asshat’, Richard Feynman was a ‘reprehensible asshole’, and Christopher Hitchens was a ‘bloodthirsty barbarian’ and a ‘club-carrying primitive’.
When I wrote about his hurtful and unjust behaviour towards others, he responded by accusing me of defending, supporting and providing a haven for rapists. He has since refused for ten months to withdraw and apologise for this smear.
These are only some of many examples — and that’s without even touching on his overt hate speech against Christians, his public despising of people as mild as Alain de Botton and Karen Armstrong, and his often violent rhetoric.
The start of the end of the Little Shop of Hatred?
So where are we now? Are we seeing the start of the end of the Little Shop of Hatred? It seems unlikely, but I always remain optimistic about the ability of people to change.
PZ Myers is by no means the only person responsible for the hatred in the atheist movement, and he has been the victim of many unfair personal attacks himself. However, given his previous influence, his role has been central in shaping how things have developed.
As I said earlier, I have welcomed PZ’s diminishing influence within the international atheist movement. I would also welcome a genuine conversion by him to civility and justice. He could demonstrate his sincerity by applying his new standards to himself.
As part of this, I again ask him to withdraw and apologise for his defamatory allegation that I defend, support and provide a haven for rapists. That allegation remains incredibly serious, and it will not go away until it is resolved.
I don’t plan to return to this topic for a while, as I am busy with Atheist Ireland and other projects, but I felt that it was important to note this development as part of my chronology of misrepresentations and smears by PZ Myers and others.