Because Ignoring It Worked So Well

Yesterday, an article was published in The Observer1 to let us all in on the exciting secret that Milo Yiannopolous likes attention. He even actively seeks it out.

Someone like Milo or Mike Cernovich doesn’t care that you hate them—they like it. It’s proof to their followers that they are doing something subversive and meaningful. It gives their followers something to talk about. It imbues the whole movement with a sense of urgency and action—it creates purpose and meaning.

You’re worried about “normalizing” their behavior when in fact, that’s the one thing they don’t want to happen. The key tactic of alternative or provocative figures is to leverage the size and platform of their “not-audience” (i.e. their haters in the mainstream) to attract attention and build an actual audience. Let’s say 9 out of 10 people who hear something Milo says will find it repulsive and juvenile. Because of that response rate, it’s going to be hard for someone like Milo to market himself through traditional channels. His potential audience is too spread out, and doesn’t have that much in common. He can’t advertise, he can’t find them one by one. It’s just not going to scale.

You’re shocked I know. Me too. I never would have guessed this before I saw people sharing it on Facebook in yet one more attempt to find an acceptable way to say, “Don’t feed the trolls.” I thought he was shy and retiring.

All right. That’s 100% obvious bullshit. Yiannopolous didn’t invent shock jockery. It’s not at all a new concept. We all know that protests draw attention to the thing or person being protested. We do it anyway, and for very good reason. Continue reading “Because Ignoring It Worked So Well”

Because Ignoring It Worked So Well
{advertisement}

Nazis, No Platforming, and the Failure of Free Speech

This post is brought to you courtesy of Patreon. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

In the past couple of months, I’ve seen many, many people complain about protesters blocking entrance to talks on campus by professional instigator Milo Yiannopolous. “No, no”, people say. “Go in and listen and challenge him. Free speech is important. The best counter to bad speech is more speech. Ugh, these protesters are so violent and immature.”

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen many, many people say that willingness to punch neo-Nazi Richard Spencer or to appreciate the fact that someone else punched him makes someone equivalent to a Nazi morally. “Noooo”, they say. “If you resort to violence, you have no standing to object to their violent suggestions. You say it’s okay to hit people whose opinions you disagree with. Plus it won’t stop them.”

Photo of an olive green megaphone against an olive green background. Interior of megaphone is bright red.
“Megaphon” by floeschie, CC BY 2.0

To everyone who’s found themselves saying one version or another of those: Y’all have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re making stuff up to support your predetermined stance on freedom of speech.

I mean that part about making stuff up literally. No one I’ve heard say anything like this about Yiannopolous has been to one of his productions. I have.

To start with, Yiannopolous makes nearly no arguments in his presentations. He does make assertions, but rather than backing them up with anything, his schtick is to talk about how outrageous he is for saying these things and giggle that it makes people mad at him. No one will be educated on the reasoning of the Right by engaging with him.

What they’ll find instead is demagoguery and Yiannopolous encouraging the audience to suppress dissent. Continue reading “Nazis, No Platforming, and the Failure of Free Speech”

Nazis, No Platforming, and the Failure of Free Speech

Getting SLAPPed, Please Help

In September, on my birthday, I was served with an absurd lawsuit trying to shut me up. I’m fighting it, but I need help. I can’t explain the situation any better than we already did:

Dr. Richard Carrier is suing us for reporting  on his well-known allegations of misconduct. These allegations were widely reported on throughout the community, including by third-parties critical and sympathetic to him who are not themselves defendants.

This lawsuit has all the hallmarks of a SLAPP suit — a lawsuit filed to stifle legitimate criticism and commentary. The named defendants are Skepticon, The Orbit, and Freethought Blogs – as well as individuals Lauren Lane, the lead organizer of Skepticon; Stephanie Zvan, a blogger for The Orbit; PZ Myers, a blogger for Freethought Blogs; and Amy Frank-Skiba, who publicly posted her first-hand allegations against Carrier.

We need your help to keep our voices alive. All the defendants are represented by the same attorney, First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza. Randazza is providing his services at a significant discount, but we are not asking him to work for free. Plus, there are thousands of dollars in “costs” for the case that don’t include legal bills, and there is no way to discount those. In order to continue fighting this lawsuit, we, the defendants of this case, have put together this campaign to raise money to defray our costs, some of which is outstanding. Donations will be used only for this case. In the event that the funds raised exceed our legal bills, they will be donated to Planned Parenthood .

We are pooling our defense costs with Skepticon, however as a 501(c)3 non-profit Skepticon is also conducting its own fundraiser where donations may be tax-deductible (ask your tax advisor). Skepticon cannot use donations it receives to help pay the shares of other individuals or organizations, though, and any excess funds raised via their campaign will go to the Skepticon conference fund.

We are confident that the court will uphold our First Amendment rights. But, through time, stress, and of course financial expense, every case like this has a chilling effect. Your support enables us to fight, and creates a warmer environment – not just for us but for others in the future.

Thank you for your support of freedom of speech, and may your new year be powerful and effective!

If you can, please donate here to help keep suits like these from being an effective silencing tool. If you can’t donate, please share. Thank you.

Getting SLAPPed, Please Help

Saturday Storytime: Goddess, Worm

Sometimes you choke on a single line in a story. Just one, that’s all it takes to bring it home and make it take up residence. I won’t tell you which line it was in this story from Cassandra Khaw, but it was there.

“Goddess.”

Flinch. Eyes dilate. Her look is not the frightened regard of a hare, but a broken–backed glare of a thing defeated but undiminished.

“Don’t call me that.” When she speaks, she can taste silk, like strands of damp hair but more viscous still, a choking flavor, semen–salty, spuming from her lungs.

“Goddess—” Flinch again. “—we are sorry. It’s just we—”

“Leave.” Snapped, the word, and jagged with teeth. Her retainers—a spirit of ink and courtly poetry, a guzheng turned maiden—comply, bowing, bowing again, before they exit with a hiss of silk. She shivers. She loathes the sound.

Cotton is the only material she can tolerate on her bare flesh, cotton and nothing else. Not even wool, which reminds her too much of—she rips herself from the memory, begins to pace the dimensions of her room.

In the last few weeks, Heaven has lost its understanding of her and gained instead a kind of pity, not selfless as it should be, but rooted in accusation. Poor child, they say. Broken child. Ruined child. Stupid, ungrateful child. How hard others have fought to earn this status, giving away breath and bone and blood, all for a sliver of place in these courts of undying jade. And yet, she would slough it away, like a snake that had tired of its skin, and take him with her too.

A sigh escapes, coils into a growl.

Him. Always him. As though she was extraneous, a cancer grown on the face of a god.

They can all go to hell, she thinks, savage. She does not care. But there is one thing she does miss, does long for: her name. Only the shape of it remains now, winnowed to nothing by the passing millenias, a ghost of syllables. Occasionally, she wonders if she might compromise, might beg to be returned the appellation that Heaven had endowed in that fugue when she was merely function, neither woman nor worm nor horse.

Her lips, blood–red, curl into a sneer. No, she thinks. Never again. Even if they make her remain nameless forever, rootless, like the spectre she’s become.

Double doors open. Light cuts through the room’s penumbra, spills white–gold across her simple dress, its pattern borrowed from peasantry. She tips her chin up, unbowed. They will not have her pain.

The figure silhouetted in heaven’s radiance is new, cadaverous, unmistakably male, arms bent in the manner of a mantis. “It is time, Goddess.”

Flinch. Snarl. She provides no rebuke, chooses instead to spin a fantasy where she devours him, a piece at a time, mandibles cracking bone. She thinks of brain matter, of how it must taste, jewelled softness glimmering pink in the bowl of his skull.

A deep breath. Drawn, held, surrendered.

“I am ready.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Goddess, Worm

Mock the Movie: Zombie Nazis Edition

Don’t worry. That could never happen. The Nazis are dead and gone. Dead Snow is just a fantasy movie we chose because it uncomfortably straddles the line between homage and cliche. No other reason. None at all. Whyever would you think this is topical. Or cathartic?

This one is on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Zombie Nazis Edition”

Mock the Movie: Zombie Nazis Edition

The Upside of Abuse

Martin Hughes has responded to my prior post on anti-theism. He notes that he decided not to respond point by point, but I definitely consider it responsive nonetheless. It’s a personal and vulnerable post, and I think it’s a valuable contribution to any discussion of the experiences of prior believers.

Martin’s post also clarifies that part of our disagreement is in how we conceive and construct our identities around religion. Where mine are many and determined by my actions, his is singular and determined by his primary priorities. While he’s rejecting “anti-theist” as his singular label, he’s not rejecting all anti-theist work. I still have serious concerns about the way vocal and public rejections of that label feed narratives that reject anti-theist work as anti-social, but I think Alex Gabriel’s piece from yesterday can speak to those for now.

Instead, I’m going to answer the personal with the personal. I don’t know that this is even arguing with Martin’s post, though my perspective is definitely not his and is counter to it in some ways. But who knows, maybe people dealing with situations like his will get something out of it.

It’s not a secret that I come from an abusive home. From the time I learned to say, “No”, there was nothing I could do right and very few places I could go to get away from the consequences of that. Eventually abuse became abandonment, and there’s nowhere to go to get away from that.

It’s also not a secret that one of the places Gamergate and “alt-right” harassment tactics were honed was in the broader secular movement or that I was one of the targets of those. Implicit and explicit threats, demeaning sexual commentary, smear campaigns, coordinated monitoring and attacks at a dedicated site, denial or tacit acceptance of the harassment from people and institutions who benefited from their critics being silenced, big names directing harassers and refusing to take responsibility–all of that was there. It still is.

People ask me how I do it sometimes, how I handle the harassment. I usually shrug or say I don’t know. I do know. I handle it because I was abused. Continue reading “The Upside of Abuse”

The Upside of Abuse

In Praise of Anti-Theism

Martin Hughes joined the ranks of former anti-theists yesterday. Earlier that morning, I’d written some musings on the value of anti-theism on Facebook. They weren’t meant to be a counter to Hughes’ position at the time, but they do that work. I’ve expanded them here.

It isn’t about doing your job or not doing your job.1 I think it was Miri who pointed out last year that everyone should have some point at which they refuse to do their job. “I was just following orders” hasn’t been an acceptable excuse for a long time now, and that’s a good thing.

It’s about where your refusal point is. You make implicit promises when you take a job, so the real question we’re debating is what makes it worth breaking those promises. What does it take for you to become forsworn? There should be a penalty, in reputation if nothing else, when you break promises.2 What makes that worthwhile to you?

There are variations on that, greater “crimes”. There are people who train to become biology teachers so they can refuse to teach evolution. There are doctors and pharmacists who train knowing they’ll refuse to do parts of their job. That’s premeditation and changes the calculations, but the question remains, “What makes this worthwhile?”

This, folks, is where we have to be willing to deny the authority of religion. Continue reading “In Praise of Anti-Theism”

In Praise of Anti-Theism

Mock the Movie: Sasquatch Edition

Sometimes, as skeptics, you get a little tired of taking it all seriously, of walking people through why something doesn’t make sense, through thinking about things critically. Especially when a big chunk of your country tells you they’re not listening. That’s when you turn to fiction, to something no one was supposed to believe no matter what the title cards say. I mean, that is how The Legend of Boggy Creek was made, right?

This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Sasquatch Edition”

Mock the Movie: Sasquatch Edition

The “Strategy” of Abandoning Identity Politics

An earlier form of this post was originally published on Facebook a few days ago.

I was dealing with a “You’re why Clinton lost” guy the other night. I’ve dealt with them before. My usual go-tos have been “What exactly do you mean by lost, given the popular vote?” and pointing out that this isn’t supported by the data we have so far. Then he said the fatal words “I’m just trying to improve our strategy”, and that little portion of my brain lit up.

So let’s talk strategy. Let’s talk about ditching “identity politics”, strawman version and what people are really objecting to. Let’s talk about not allowing deflections from discussing racism, because of course, that’s what this guy was advocating against. (Disallowing deflection is rude, people.)

However, we’re not going to pretend this can happen in a vacuum. That’s bad strategy. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to look at the choices this forces on us. Because make no mistake, the people advocating for this are telling us to choose between them (or not them, exactly, but all those nameless, faceless people for whom they’re carrying water) and other people.

So, strawman identity politics. This is the Bernie Sanders et al version, in which representation is happening for its own sake regardless of positions on issues. Continue reading “The “Strategy” of Abandoning Identity Politics”

The “Strategy” of Abandoning Identity Politics

On Shame and Elections

I had some things to say about shame while driving down to Skepticon. I did manage to save them until we switched drivers, at least, but then Twitter got an earful. Enough people shared the thread there that I’ll collect the whole thing here.

Continue reading “On Shame and Elections”

On Shame and Elections