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A call for civil discussion | Justin Vacula's Blog

Posted on Jan 30, 2013 in blogosphere | 0 comments

A call for civil discussion

In recent months, as many of my readers know, I have become involved in what could be categorized as ‘atheist in-fighting.’ Upset with the behavior of particular voices in the online atheist community, I have felt compelled to speak up in response to what I have perceived as unfair campaigns of vilification. I’ve thrown some ‘punches’ here and there, stepped inside and outside the ‘ring,’ and spent a considerable amount of time — rather than focusing on church/state separation issues, atheist activism, or applying skepticism to untenable claims in-line with my ‘central mission’ — participating, in one way or another, in the ‘online soap opera’ which my friend Karla Porter has quaintly called “As the Atheist World Turns.”

Day after day, claims of sexism and misogyny are unfairly levied at many prominent members of the atheist community who become labeled as ‘rape apologists,’ ‘anti-woman,’ ‘gender traitors,’ ‘chill girls,’ etc. Accusations of ‘gaslighting,’ ‘invalidating women’s experience,’ and ‘parroting misogynistic thought’ are put forth.

A narrative, unjustified as I see it, suggesting that the atheist/skeptic community — and especially ‘real-life’ meetings/conferences — is an unsafe and hostile place for women is perpetuated. No matter how mild the criticisms — even when ideas, rather than persons, are attacked — all who voice disagreement seem to be lumped into a category of ‘misogynist dangerous monster’ or an equivalent. All of this exists in what seems to be a climate of fear – one in which those who dare to express skepticism are afraid to speak up because they do not want to be vilified.

On the other hand, there appears to be a sizable amount of trolling, baiting, and antagonism levied at those claiming misogyny and suggesting that the atheist/skeptic community is a hostile and dangerous place for women. Some of these people — the recipients of the trolling, baiting, and antagonism — claimed to have received death threats and rape threats as a result of their writing. Concerns of harassment has also been voiced. While I believe the claims of threats and harassment are unsubstantiated*, the concerns are being voiced nonetheless.

There appears to be great differences between two distinct ‘factions’ in the online atheist/skeptic community. Whatever the grievances, and however justified or unjustified they may be from both ‘factions,’ there seems to be a large amount of time spent pertaining to ‘infighting’ that could otherwise be spent on addressing issues such as church/state separation, activism, community-building, educating, and much more.

In order to address these differences and have some open, genuine, respectful, and productive recorded discussions which may lead to a ceasefire (quite the ambitious goals, I must say), Lee Moore of the A-News Podcast has invited me to participate in a series of talks (click the link for more information). I plan on participating.

It would be nice to step back from the ‘atheist/skeptic in-fighting,’ wouldn’t it?

Would others be willing not only to participate in a series of talks, but also to put a stop to the in-fighting?

Unfortunately, positions similar to mine pertaining to issues relating to the ‘in-fighting’ are not optimistic. Diplomacy has been attempted on several occasions and has only resulted in misrepresentation, character attacks, and more smearing; the rhetoric ‘dials up’ and the character attacks continue.

Can there be a change in discourse?

Sound off in the comments.

* While there may be some genuine instances of threats or harassment, I don’t believe the problem is as large as it’s being presented; the ‘problem’ appears to be no larger than would be present in any other community of special interests – inevitable given a large enough group of random strangers (many of whom are anonymous and might not even identify as atheists or skeptics). Some speak of receiving “hundreds of rape and death threats” although they fail to provide evidence of these claims (although they are quite happy to display comments which are non-threatening, not legally actionable, and indistinguishable from Youtube trolling). Others speak of “dangerous male speakers” and other individuals in the community and similarly fail to provide evidence. Unsubstantiated stories of upskirt photography are also presented. Others speak of threatening e-mails which later are discovered to be from supporters who poorly expressed concern.


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