Saturday, June 30, 2012

Responding to Thunderf00t: Part 2

Thunderf00t made a followup video to the one I responded to last week. Apparently, PZ Meyers replied to his blog post in a manner that Thunderf00t saw as being overemotional and beneath his generally freethinking sensibilities. For the record, I don't care about "emotional" drama between PZ and Thunderf00t. I just think that Thunderf00t is STILL missing the mark by a long shot in his view of what this movement is, what it needs and what it stands for. I'm just going to go through some of his assertions point by point and try to address why his previous video and post might have been perceived as "clueless".

1. Conference Harassment = Not Terribly Important

 Thunderf00t says in his video that conference harassment affects "a minority of a minority" and this makes it a virtual "non-issue". I explained in my previous response why this point is bs, but I'll reiterate in short form.

It doesn't matter how significant the minority effected by the harassment is, the harassment is intolerable, full stop. A good community is one where its members feel safe. When a certain subgroup is made to feel unsafe, the community is significantly weakened. The minorities in the secularist movement need to be given special attention because they are very useful and very important contributors to the movement from a long-term strategic perspective. 

Thunderf00t also provides an anonymous anecdote from supposed female compatriots of his who claim that the most recent TAM was the "cleanest" conference yet with regards to harassment. To be blunt, I don't care. Comparing it previous events and saying that things have improved does NOT mean that the problem is solved.

2. The "Conference Scene" = Not Terribly Important

Admittedly, I was a little irked by this argument by Thunderf00t as it really highlights what I mean when I say that he really seems to misunderstand certain significant aspects of this community. Are conferences a good way to reach out to the larger world and spread our message? No. Are they supposed to be? No. Absolutely not. Conferences exist for a couple reasons: Firstly, to bring people together who are already in the movement and secondly, to promote the large, cohesive organizations that are, in fact, the silent supporters of the movement itself. We cannot mitigate the importance of these two goals.

One of the reasons we have a movement in the first place is because there are many, many atheists and freethinkers in this country who, upon losing their religion, found themselves alone. They may even often persecuted by their own loved ones. It is our duty as self-appointed leaders and activists to help these people find care and community. Conferences provide this surprisingly well. For those of us who don't necessarily need the emotional support, conferences give us the opportunity and the platform to share our ideas and concerns with like-minded, equally passionate people.

As for the second aim of conferences, even I have to admit, it's not the most fun or the most interesting. But we all know that a big part of secularist conferences is the plugging of the host organization, often for donations. As dry and old fashioned as it may sound, we need those organizations. Grassroots internet activism is fun, but when it comes to making real impacts, we need to support our secular organizations. Secular Student Alliance, Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Volunteers Beyond Belief, etc. keep us together, provide us with essential resources and train our leadership. Conferences are one way these organizations stay noticeable.

In other words, one of the reasons Thunderf00t's blog and videos could be termed "clueless" is because he seems to have no practical understanding of these two points when assessing the importance of secularist conferences.

3. "Crying Wolf" Is Really What's Hurting Us

When addressing the issue of women attending conferences, Thunderf00t partially puts blame on people like Rebecca Watson for publicizing "troll" rape threats and harassment situations. While Watson and I don't always see eye to eye on things, I do think that there is value in a lot of what she brings up. When taken out of context, Rebecca's mentions of things such as rape threats may appear to be a list of complaints. However, she always ties it back to the larger issue. In our society, it is, for some reason, still acceptable to threaten rape, even in jest. This is a problem, especially considering the fact that women in our society often have to walk the streets with the threat of rape looming over their heads. Rape a real danger for a large subset of our population and yet Thunderf00t seems to think that addressing its mitigation in our movement is akin to "crying wolf".

I'd like to think that, as freethinkers, we should question all of society's irrational and dogmatic values. While this may not be thunderf00t's area of interest, our society's view of women is certainly one that should be addressed. If doing so somehow hurts our movement, then the problem is in our movement, not in those who draw attention to the problem.

Thunderf00t also seems to provide a lot of anecdotal evidence to say that rape threats and harassment are not significant issues in the movement. At this point, it's his anonymous friends' words against the words of the people who claim to have been threatened. I'd rather be safe than sorry by making it abundantly clear that threatening behavior is intolerable. Maybe thunderf00t disagrees.

4. What Happens in Bars Apart From Conferences Is Not The Business of the Conference Organizers

I can almost agree Thunderf00t here. My issue here is not the assertion itself, but the fact that it keeps coming up. When we talk about sexism in the movement and harassment at conferences, we generally aren't talking about Thunderf00t's right to chew on a consenting woman's leg. Thunderf00t and his female friends have a great time at secular conferences. People at conference meet, go out to bars, drink, joke, laugh and have sex. I know I do and, much like Thunderf00t, I have a blast. The times I've spend with my atheist activist friends at conferences have been some of the best of my life. Unfortunately, this is not the issue at hand. The problem is that not everyone has this experience. Clearly, some people feel threatened, harassed, even taken advantage of at some of these events. This is not a good thing and it needs to be addressed one way or another. We also happen to be a part of a movement full of passionate and outspoken people who tend to shout very loudly when there's a problem. Perhaps this fact is what Thunderf00t is critical of and maybe he has a point. I simply think that if people are feeling threatened in our "house", so to speak, it's something that merits a little shouting, especially when there are clear examples of people among us who don't care.

What I would ultimately like to know is exactly what Thunderf00t thinks the New Atheist/Secularist/Freethought movement is about. If he thinks we're only hear to de-convert the religious or argue with creationists, he's sadly mistaken. In fact there are a good number of activists who have no interest in these things at all. We are a broad, multifaceted movement. Let's not forget that. More importantly, let's not mistake our multifaceted nature for us being a divided group. We are fortunate to be a movement so rich in opinions and values. Let's use our difference to provoke meaningful discussion. More importantly, if a topic such as womens' issues in secularism doesn't interest you, don't focus on it. More importantly, don't pretend that it's a "non-issue".



    Hope you enjoy, Kropotkin... =)

  2. Re: his leg-biting tirade . . . . What he fails to understand is that having already interacted with that particular woman substantially, he had her implicit consent in the context of their interaction. If, however, he had randomly gone up to a woman (or man) with whom he had had no previous interaction, or with whom his interaction had been less playful, then it would have been entirely inappropriate, as it would have violated the established dynamic.

    Your response to him is well argued, and I enjoyed reading it :)

  3. Thanks! :)

    And you're right. There's no comparison between consensual and non-consensual activity of that sort.


Please be civil. :)