I’ve been waiting for a couple of days for Matt Dillahunty’s video response (well, any response, he just did it via YouTube) to the incident on the Atheism+ forums. I think it’s important to get this out in a timely manner, so here’s a mid-day post. For those that haven’t heard the story, I’ll leave it to Matt to describe it, he’s clearly the one closest to the action. While in general, I think he’s made a decent, well-reasoned response to the situation, it’s clear that he’s building upon his already emotional attachment to Atheism+ as a movement. I didn’t think he’d come out of this and say “you were right, Atheism+ as a concept sucks!”, that’s just not a realistic expectation. However, the reality is, there is a difference between what the movement purports to be on paper and how the people involved in the movement conduct themselves in the real world.
The unfortunate reality is that, in the real world, the Atheism+ side has been engaged in out-and-out lies, insults, DMCA misuse… the list of their misdeeds is quite extensive. It’s like a train wreck in slow motion. It’s like watching Martin Luther King Jr. standing up before a group of white civil rights supporters and calling them all racists. Essentially, that’s what Atheism+ does, it takes a bunch of people who won’t sign on under their label for whatever reason and insists they’re all a bunch of baby-killing monsters. Don’t we get enough of that from the theist side?
There has been a number of complaints regarding the forum that they are under “constant attack” by trolls and their enemies. Did they ever stop and wonder why they are under “constant attack”? Such things just don’t happen to everyday people, they aren’t attacked out of the blue, with no provocation, enemies don’t siege their castle from all sides without a reason. So we need to consider what that reason might be. Are people against social justice, the core component of Atheism+? Certainly not, in fact, almost without exception, everyone I’ve seen who opposes Atheism+ is a strong supporter of social justice. What most people object to is the treatment they get at the hands of the Atheism+ crowd and the insulting nature that the Atheism+ founders and vocal supporters level at anyone who won’t join up with their cult. I understand that no group can possibly control all of their members, but these are the biggest names in the movement we’re talking about here. PZ Myers. Richard Carrier. The Skepchicks. All of them, like it or not, have acted like complete assholes through this whole debacle and while I absolutely do not support or condone anyone acting like an idiot or being a troll, I think stupidity does not have to beget more stupidity, although far too often it does. The simple fact is, when you stand on stage and call everyone who doesn’t agree with you names, as the Atheism+ crowd has absolutely and demonstrably done, you have to expect to get hit in the face with rotten vegetables. I find it funny that for people who parade around saying “we’re better than you are”, they entirely forget their own history, when theists do the exact same thing, how they react to those claims. They attack! They criticize! They put down! And now they’re surprised when the exact same thing happens to them because they behave the same way? Seriously?
Now I don’t want to put words into Matt’s mouth and certainly, I think he has better things to do than come respond to anything I write, but I get the impression that Matt is more impressed by what Atheism+ claims to be on paper and less so by what Atheism+ actually is in practice. He says he has no time for forums and Twitter and blogs. He spends his time focused on e-mail. That’s all well and good, but the real world doesn’t happen in your e-mail inbox. It’s one thing to get manifestos sent to you describing the amazing panacea that Atheism+ could be, it’s another when you get out into the trenches and see how it’s actually playing out. This forum experience was just a tiny taste of what happens every day across the Internet and he acts like it was just a minor incident, not indicative of the whole. It should just be fixed, forum mods, go forth and sin no more. However, at the risk of Godwinning, the German people could be impressed with the pomp and ceremony and parades and big promises brought to them by the Nazis and as long as they didn’t have to watch Mengele experimenting on the Jews, or could pretend it wasn’t happening, National Socialism seemed like a good thing. Atheism+, as a concept, might seem like a good idea to some. Atheism+, in practice, in the real world, simply hasn’t been.
Unfortunately, and Matt has to realize this, had it never been revealed that it was him, or another of the Atheism+ elite, the movers and the shakers, who garner a good degree of respect and influence, nothing ever would have happened. No site admin would have gotten involved, they never would have changed their policies, it would have been status quo, except that it was you and they realized, “holy shit, we just screwed up!” and went into disaster correction mode. Matt has to know that, he has to realize that without his name being attached, this would have been yet one more person vanishing into the Atheism+ forum black hole.
He said that we haven’t solved the problems of sexism and racism, etc. in larger society, so we shouldn’t expect to have solved them in our smaller community, but we should strive to be better. Why should we strive to be better? Oh sure, in a perfect world, I’m sure these people think the atheist community ought to be a liberal utopia, but we have to return to the reality of the situation. Atheism, to paraphrase Matt, is the single answer to a single question: “do you believe in a god”? If you answer anything but “yes”, you’re one of us. How you get from answering a single question to being better than everyone else is beyond me. Atheism isn’t better. Atheism isn’t going to be better. We’re just a segment of the population that happens to be godless. That’s all.
So where I think Matt made some good points, I think he’s still enamored by the concept and hesitant to criticize the movement. He got to see, first hand, what happens to people who disagree, even politely, yet he treats it like an exception instead of the rule. He’ll probably not go back to the forums much, he certainly doesn’t have the time and I don’t blame him, but he won’t get to see if this experience actually changes anything for the better or if, as I suspect, once he’s not looking, it’ll go back to business as usual. Atheism+ is blatantly “us vs. them”, they thrive on conflict, the more people they can make hate them, the more strident their whining that they’re being persecuted can become.
I do have one suggestion though, just to keep things honest. Instead of calling it “Atheism+”, atheists that happen to also be in favor of social justice, just be honest and call it “Social Justice+”, people in favor of social justice who just happen to be atheists. It’s clear, from the actions of those involved, which of those two disparate ideas happen to be the most important.