Sunday, August 12, 2012

Conflict, Drama and Priorities: Looking Critically At Ourselves

It has taken all of my strength not to comment on the situation between Thunderf00t and Freethought Blogs. Having been personally involved, it's hard to watch bystanders weigh in on the conflict without throwing my hands in the air and exclaiming "but you don't understand!!" That being said, now that my involvement is over, I have chosen to stay out of the conflict. For the sake of my own sanity and out of respect for my other involved friends and loved ones, I am going to stick by that decision.

Still, I would like to use recent events in a very broad sense to illustrate a point that I have only come to notice in the past week. I have seen a lot of drama in the past few days. I'm not necessarily talking about one single instance; I have seen and heard about quite a bit. Those involved might argue that a certain amount of "drama" is justified, that we should old our leaders and representatives responsible for their behavior and beliefs. There is some truth to this declaration. In cases in which known people in our movement act in a blatantly inappropriate manner, we should address the problem. What gives me pause is just how quickly these situations descend into white noise and pointless squabbling. Even ideological or philosophical disagreements have bred animosity in our community. This is inexcusable in a movement that prides itself on furthering critical thinking.

In a conversation with my good friend StealthBadger about a week ago, he mentioned to me that, in this movement, you can tell whose "side"of a conflict someone is by which myths about the situation they repeat. I look back some of the fights I saw back on YouTube and realized how right he was. To this day, I cannot tell you who was "right" and who was "wrong" in the fight between Thunderf00t and DawahFilms. Non-YouTubers may not understand that reference. I can assure them that knowing the whole story will not make it any more clear. The conclusion I have come to is that both sides acted like children at various points. Absolutely nothing was gained from that or similar YouTube fights. Many people were hurt.

I'm not so naive as to think that our movement will be immune from conflict. Whenever you get a group of people together, some of them will not get along. I think that much is obvious. What bothers me is how seriously the bystanders take these fights. Michael recently posted his thoughts as a part of Amy Roth's series on women, harassment and misogyny in the movement. As I browsed the comments section, I noticed how little of the conversation even mentioned the post itself. Most of it consisted of opinions and judgements based on past drama and conflict in which Michael was involved. There was also a lot of outright assumption on these situations and the opinions and characters of the people involved. Are those unsubstantiated claims and assumptions really the products of a free mind? Furthermore, do these completely uninvolved people really care to understand the issues surrounding the conflict, or do they just want to hold grudges, pass judgement and incite conflict? Sometimes, I really wonder.

The real reason why I am disturbed by my observations on this topic is not the fact that I dislike drama. I enjoy the internet and its reality tv-esque events that arise there as much as the next person. What irks me is the fact that some of this focus on drama comes at the expense of actual activism. This is easily demonstrated by looking at the Alexander Aan petition.

This is what the signature count looked like as of this morning:

 And here are the view stats on Thunderf00t's video "PZ Myers and Freethought Blogs" as of this morning:

These numbers mean very little when it comes to the motivations, views and intentions of the people represented by those numbers. Still, we cannot deny that if even half of the people who viewed this drama-related video by Thunderf00t signed the Alexander Aan petition, that petition would have more than enough signatures on it by now.

Of course it's possible that most of those views were not American citizens and thereby unable to sign, but this is just an illustration. Even the views on that one video represent only a fraction of the people who claim to care about the atheist movement. Yes, we are a movement. There are many of us who want to do good for the nonreligious, many of whom face persecution and discrimination. We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether or not our priorities are in the right place. If we pay lip service to a certain cause, then only succeed in blowing hot air on the internet, we cannot rightly call ourselves activists.

By all means, lets discuss, even disagree within our community. Let's make sure that we hold our leaders responsible for their actions. But let's also remember that our movement is a means to an end. Change can happen, but only our hands can make it happen.

I know I've helped in a small way by putting my name on that petition. What have you done lately to further the movement?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a useful reality check. I'm not in the USA, so I'll be using a different avenue later today to speak up on Alexander Aan; write a letter of my own along Amnesty International guidelines.


Please be civil. :)