A Platform for Reasonable Dialog (Updated)

A couple of weeks ago, I was praising Mick Nugent for pushing Justin Vacula to get detailed on what Vacula considers to be unacceptable treatment even for people he disagrees with.  Sadly, Vacula stopped responding the day I complimented Nugent on getting specific, except for plugging his new podcast:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/justinvacula/status/313067997675802624″]

and telling Nugent to keep doing what he’s doing even though Vacula has stopped participating:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/justinvacula/status/313837337295589377″]

Why does Vacula want to see this continue even though he doesn’t find it worth participating in? Well, I’m just guessing here, but that guess is that, like pretty much any discussion that has happened at a third-party blog in at least the last nine months, the folks from the slime pit have viewed this as an opportunity to go after the reputations of “the baboons”; i.e., a shifting group of people who are arguing for practices to make organized skepticism and secularism more generally inviting to women.

Nugent doesn’t see what he’s doing quite that way.

Thank you to everyone who has, either publicly or privately, welcomed the dialogue taking place here and elsewhere on how to move beyond the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities.

Dialogue is an important part of improving any situation where people disagree, particularly when dealing with groups composed of individuals with different motivations, and it becomes even more important the more intense the disagreements are. Without reasonable dialogue, these issues will continue to escalate.

These issues go beyond disagreements between individual people, and they go beyond the personal priorities of any one of us. There is now a complex interacting set of issues that continue to effect the wider atheist and skeptic communities in real life, including the day-to-day work of advocacy groups.

I agree that this is a problem that has far-reaching implications, and I certainly agree that this is not some personality clash or personal issue between a few people. I disagree, however, that Nugent is fostering is a dialog, much less providing the platform for reasonable dialog that he desires to create. What he largely has on his hands is a monologue, in which a number of people have pulled out every grievance they have, based in fact or not, and the people talked about have stayed away, having tired of this game months ago.

Nugent was told a couple of weeks ago that he was providing a prestigious platform for this kind of slander. His response has been to put the burden of proof on the accused.

In particular, we shouldn’t accuse each other of lying. From now on, any comments that include the words lie, lying or liar will go into moderation rather than being automatically published. If you believe that somebody has said something that is inaccurate, please make that point and substantiate it, without attributing malign motivations to them. If you believe that any comments published on this website are defamatory about you, please contact me via the contact page and I will deal with it.

He’s pointed out that he has deleted some comments. To the best of my knowledge, however, no one has lost their commenting privileges for demonstrated defamation. Certainly, no one is being told that any grievance they air at his blog has to be substantiated before being published. In other words, if you’re one of the people being slandered, you’d best spend your time reading those comment threads and digging up proof of your innocence. If you don’t, the slander will simply stand at yet one more blog. (I’ve told him I won’t be taking up the whack-a-mole challenge, so if defaming me is your thing, you know where to go.)

I will give Nugent the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t think that one through. Coercing participation with the threat of abiding slander is certainly not an ethical idea, and I believe he would be above that if he realized that this were the effect of his policy.

That presents a problem for dialog, however. Nugent can’t compel us to “come to the table” with bullies. He can’t, without their help, tell us there is anything to be gained by talking to people whose idea of disagreement is to:

There is nothing he can do to convince us that this time, as opposed to the other times these folks didn’t want to hear what we had to say on our own blogs, things will be better because it happens in his space.

Besides that, we know this isn’t how you treat people who are being bullied. In case you haven’t seen QualiaSoup’s excellent video that cuts to the chase on workplace bullying:

You don’t tell the people who are bullied that they have some responsibility for patching things up with the bullies. If you’re going to take some responsibility for the situation, you also take on the responsibility of protecting the bullied. That’s a step Nugent isn’t taking here, probably because his experience in negotiating difficult situations is with groups where there is no clear “side” that is the aggressor.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is no clear aggressor here, despite one side demanding that they be allowed unfettered access to the other’s space and discussions no matter their behavior. Let’s say that it isn’t obvious that this isn’t an expression of disagreement:

Stephanie Zvan-Narcissistic by reapsowradio

Or that this isn’t. Or this. And that it isn’t obvious that the people so targeted are not responding tit-for-tat in kind. Let’s say there is some doubt left for whatever reason.

There are still allegations–public, unmistakable, repeated, strong allegations–of bullying.

Can you have a reasonable dialog where bullying may occur? Can you have reasonable dialog where one party has been bullied by the other and may be at any time? No, you can’t, because there are unreasonable factors at work. Intimidation and other emotional manipulation are an impediment to reason.

Can you even have reasonable dialog where one party says they’re being bullied and the other party denies it? How could you? How can reason be applied to something that isn’t grounded in fact? (All right. Technically you could apply reason in that situation, but it may well be wasted. This is why empiricism is generally considered more reliable than rationalism.)

So if you want to host a reasonable dialog in an area where bullying may be occurring, you take on extra obligations. You can’t just tell the world you want reasonable dialog. You can’t just describe what it would look like. You have to make it happen. You have to keep that dialog on task, committed to the truth, away from emotional manipulation.

If you want a reasonable dialog in a situation like this one, you can’t be a passive observer. You have to be an active participant. You have to be a real moderator. You have to tell people to do better if they want to continue to participate. You have to reward reason and raise the costs of unreason. You have to get at reality.

If you don’t do that, you just see the same thing you’ve already seen in those unmoderated spaces that you weren’t so thrilled with to start. Your space becomes the same as that space. You stop having a reasonable dialog because you stop having dialog at all. The people who aren’t willing to spend any more time on unreason go elsewhere, and you’re left holding the bag.

I understand the need that Nugent sees here for that platform for reasonable dialog. I sympathize with it. I just don’t see him doing the things that need to happen for his space to become that platform.

Update: This is much better and more what I’ve come to expect from Nugent.

A Platform for Reasonable Dialog (Updated)

55 thoughts on “A Platform for Reasonable Dialog (Updated)

  1. 1

    Huh. I hadn’t seen that charming tweet by Vacula. He sure does like to make shit up about me.

    Very true about the need to participate. I think Nugent is probably too busy to participate, but then it was a mistake to start this. It doesn’t work to just throw posts up and walk away. All he’s got now is slyme pit Ireland, and what use is that?

  2. 2

    Have you noticed another platform on which this will not happen? Lee Moore’s A-News.

    March 1: First Talk Announced

    Currently the online flame war is overshadowing the secular message that brought us all together. The infighting has gone on far too long, and it is time we as a whole put a stop to the calls for division and replace them with civil discourse. We at A-News are not alone in this attempt; we have partnered up with or have been promised the support of groups and individuals such as The National Atheist Party, We Are Atheism, The Skeptical Libertarian, Dusty Smith of the Cult of Dusty, Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers, Nathaniel Hall of CFI, Sean Prophet of National Progressive Talk Radio, Brian Sapient of Rational Response Squad, and many more.

    The first step in this process will be to host an online, live, and moderated discussion. Members of our community who have found themselves directly involved in this conflict and are willing to sit down with us in the hopes of finding a way to end these internal conflicts will be joining the discussion. To that end, we would like to invite all of you to join us at 8:00 pm EST on March 17th to watch and be a part of our project. The event will be moderated by AronRa, Amanda Brown, and Flash Kellish and hosted by Brian Allen and myself.

    March 16 (9:52 p.m.):

    It saddens me to report this, due to a recent medical issue I will be unable to host the proposed discussion to promote civil discourse between Atheists. Since I will not be recovering anytime soon, I see little point in just postponing it. On top of this I will not be attending any conferences or other events in the near future.

    Just because A-News cant doing anything about this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. If you have any interest in picking up where I left off, feel free to email me at [email protected]

  3. 3

    Is it just me, or is it mostly males who have been trying to pass the peace pipe without realizing that one side is composed overwhelmingly of thugs and the other is absent due to having no damned interest in swapping spit with thugs? Why is this so hard for them to ram through their skulls? And then to turn around and demand evidence from the people who have been hounded for years, rather than from the thugs hounding them?

    I don’t think I want what they’re smoking. It appears to have rotted their cognitive centers.

  4. 5

    Yeah, it’s amazing how one can want to call a ‘truce’ and demand ‘civility’ when the real ugliness isn’t something that affects them directly, which they can stop being affected by when they switch off their computers.

    Maybe Michael Nugent and Dan Fincke can get together and ponder why that is. Maybe after ten years or so of working on it they might get there.

    On the plus side: a commenter named Lumen laid down an awesome comment that completely undermines the Slymepit.

    Definitely worth reading, even if you (sensibly) avoid the rest.

  5. 6

    Gawd, I remember when you wrote that post about your sexual assault. What I didn’t remember clearly was just how vile that series of tweets Renee Hendricks sent you. It is especially apropos in light of What we know occurred with Jane Doe being passed out drunk in Steubenville and all of the victim- blaming that has occurred and is still occurring around her rape.

    Why does anyone think you would want anything to do with people that could say those things to you?

  6. 7

    EllenBeth Wachs wrote:

    Why does anyone think you would want anything to do with people that could say those things to you?

    They will not stop unless you give them what they want, which is control over content – in other words, you stop talking about anything they don’t want to hear about, like feminism, social justice, diversity (unless it’s in such a way that only bashes the religious) and so forth. If it doesn’t make them feel good about being an atheist and a ‘skeptic’ it is verboten.

    And because of that I want nothing to do with them. And I guarantee they don’t want anything to do with us either; their pretending that they want ‘dialogue’ and to ‘heal the rifts’ is yet another lie they tell, to both themselves and others, to justify their ongoing harassment.

  7. 8

    When I first heard of Nugent’s blog about dialogue I was cautiously optimistic. Michael Nugent is generally a voice of reason and calm. Unfortunately that thread has become the Slymepit Annex. I’ve never posted there and I see no benefit to me or anyone else in attempting a “dialogue” with a bunch of shameless misogynists. Thanks for nothing, Michael.

  8. 9

    I respect what Nugent has done in negotiating other situations. Of all the people who wanted to jump into this, he was the most justified in thinking he could pull something out of it. However, when the weapon of choice in a conflict is unreasonable speech, it takes a lot more work to pull reasonable speech out of the process.

  9. 10

    I think Michael started out with a good idea but has decided that the pipe dream of a ‘civil dialogue’ outweighs actually reading what is being written by the ‘pitters and seeing it for what it is: hasty rationalisations for bullying and harassment by petulant, bitter, entitled malcontents.

  10. 11

    I love that Vacula accuses Ophelia of bowing out in venues where she doesn’t control content after bowing out of the conversation on Nugent’s blog in favor of a podcast where he can control the content. It’s nice that they’re not even making an effort to not look like flaming hypocrites.

  11. 12

    I suspect that Michael suffers from a significant impediment that afflicts many reasonable, rational people.

    He simply does not understand that “reasonable dialogue” is not possible with people who are determined to be unreasonable. He’s so accustomed to carefully thinking things through, choosing appropriate words to express a view, listening to responses and responding to them thoughtfully that he does not comprehend that others, regardless of the way they express themselves, just don’t do that.

    He recognises such failures in religious and other superstitious people when they don’t deal with his arguments as he presents them. But the visceral obstinacy of non-religious people with whom he expects to exchange views rationally seems to flummox him. He’d never treat equivalent rubbish from god-botherers the way he is treating these people’s nonsense.

  12. 13

    This is somewhat similar to mildlymagnificent’s comment. But I have the impression that Michael is stuck on the assumption that it’s mostly fairly rational people having a disagreement where there’s been some misunderstandings and hurt feelings, but people who generally share similar values and are most all trying to be rational.

    I know a while ago I thought something like that. Some disagreements looked like a different emphasis on a value, or just a slightly different perception of certain phrasings along with a general difficulty in giving others’ writings a charitable read.

    But while I saw some of that miscommunication and the uncharitable reading and conflating of different people going on with ‘both sides’, I’m long past thinking that’s a major part of it. I’ve seen concepts like gendered slurs, Schroedinger’s Rapist, rape culture, and so on explained over and over in ways I found easy to grasp – yet people continue to attack straw versions. Not to mention the blatant harassment that comes from one ‘side’ that’s just not remotely under the umbrella of rational disagreement.

    I find the whole thing horribly frustrating, in that people who seemed like rational skeptics that we’d all make a big movement together out of seem to have gone off the deep end in to some really hateful and delusion. I expect that’s a view Michael has. But I think there are some core values that are pretty significantly different and there’s not much of a way to reconcile.

  13. 16

    I think Nuggent is greatly mistaken if he thinks that at this time people here would want to close “the deep rifts”.
    IMO, those rifts can’t be good enough.
    Duh, why should I help atheist guys fight to get a bigger share of the cake when all they leave me is still only the mess in the kitchen?

  14. 17

    (I’ve told him [Nugent] I won’t be taking up the whack-a-mole challenge, so if defaming me is your thing, you know where to go.)

    If I’d like to refame you, is that something I can do around here? As in, “Famed intellect Stephanie Zvan…”

  15. 18

    @Wowbagger –
    They will not stop unless you give them what they want, which is control over content

    You mean they’re not really in favor of FREEZE PEACH?! zomg! Who’d’a thunk!?

  16. 20


    I read the “updated” link and see absolutely no change in attitude, not from Nugent (who is still being an accommodationist/false equivalency proponent–we should all respect each other, assume the other side are all “good people”–and thinks Paula Kirby is just dandy) or the responses from the pitters (we can’t have reasonable dialogue until you stop calling me a misogynist, we need to apply critical thinking to feminism, we’re not the ones being unreasonable here, etc.) I see no progress here at all.

  17. 21

    I see no progress here at all.

    Agreed. There is in fact regress, by assuming that there are somehow 2 sides with legitimate arguments that are amenable to reasoning here, when in reality you have only one side, that of the people who want to create environments that will encourage and increase female participation in the atheist and skeptic movements, while our opponents are internet bullies who do not participate in anything that goes beyond masturbatory self-satisfaction on not believing in god or Bigfoot while trying their best to damage the reputation of PZ Myers or Ophelia Benson. Michael’s effort is laudable, but it fails because his premises are wrong.

  18. 22

    I disagree. A discussion that is moderated such that it is limited to the issues Michael lists is a huge step forward. The harassment received has happened in lieu of responses to arguments made. Several times I have responded to “arguments” from people who disagree with me on the issues, whether or not they also engage in or encourage the harassment. The response has been silence, repetition of the original position without regard for the fact that a counter-argument has been made, distractions (usually ad hominem), or harassment. At every turn, people have declined the debate while lamenting the “lack” of vigorous debate.

    Having the argument out in public is what we’ve been working on for the last few years. Reaching that point would definitely be progress and far different than a free-for-all in the comments. Nugent’s proposal is a little vague in the details, but I would expect that anyone who agreed to participate would help firm those up as part of their participation.

  19. 23

    Nugent is still treating dialogue as though it is a duty of both sides, even those people who have suffered the worst of the abuse.

    If he provides a platform for apparently reasonable dialogue, how will he ensure that the dialogue actually is restricted to that platform? I could write a lot of pretty words that look a lot like reasonable dialogue, but if I also try to simultaneously occupy another platform of which the stated purpose is diametrically opposed to reasonable dialogue, then what?

    Nugent cannot hope to really moderate the discussion (on either side, actually).

    Throughout this process, Nugent has unwittingly provided a nearly unchallenged platform to one side. His ability to arbitrate has been severely compromised. How can he now ask those selfish people to share nicely that which they’ve already taken possession of?

  20. 24

    A discussion that is moderated such that it is limited to the issues Michael lists is a huge step forward.

    With what goal in mind exactly? To find common ground with the “Twatson” and “Baboon” brigade? The impersonators of Ophelia on Twitter? I will grant that there may be limited common ground to be found with say Blackford or some of the more intellectually inclined amongst those creeps, but let’s keep in mind that most of them are just bullies and haters. I’m sorry, but I’d rather have that Deep Rift. These are not good people.

  21. 25

    If there’s a possibility of a reasonable settlement, this is how it would be done. After all, even when one side really is horrible and wrong, to say so is to opt out of being a neutral moderator, which I’m informed is a useful position for someone to fill. I’m far from confident that any such negotiation will be successful, since nobody seems to be willing to compromise on the issue of whether or not women should be horribly bullied and harassed. (Not that I want our side to compromise on that one.) But, I guess it’s worth a shot?

  22. 26

    Bernard, Nugent has all the arbitration skills he’s brought to bear in previous situations. I wrote this post because I didn’t think he was using them.

    rorschach, what makes you think that any of the people who have promoted bullying and non sequiturs over having the debate would engage in a moderated discussion in which they weren’t allowed to do that?

  23. 27

    After all, even when one side really is horrible and wrong, to say so is to opt out of being a neutral moderator, which I’m informed is a useful position for someone to fill.

    But if you’ve already provided an unmoderated platform occupied by a group of people wilfully flouting the terms of a reasonable settlement, then your neutrality has already been undermined. Not because you’ve willing taken sides, but because you’ve tolerated behaviour which falls below the minimum standard for participation.

  24. 28

    But if you’ve already provided an unmoderated platform occupied by a group of people wilfully flouting the terms of a reasonable settlement, then your neutrality has already been undermined.

    No, you’ve demonstrated how neutrality will be used and provided reasons why a change would be required going forward.

  25. 29

    I’m sorry, but I have to agree with Bernard and Rorschach. I would suggest a reasonable topic would be: Please list the pros and cons of having a harassment policy at conventions. The position of the Slymepit has generally been that they aren’t necessary. Ours is that it is, and there is absolutely no logical reason to object to it. Where is the discussion here?

    Honestly, where, in a subject like this one, can we find common ground? What if the topic is: should social justice issues be part of Atheism? The sides are clear here, and I can see no possible way that any common ground can be reached. Most of us are not going to back down on this, and neither are they.

    Say the topic is: Was Michael Shermer right, and it is more of a “guy thing?” Is anyone on “this side” going to agree with this opinion? They would have to do the backing down, and that is highly unlikely to happen, as their pride is completely intertwined with the views they have established.

    So, in honest good faith, I would really like to know from your position, Stephanie …
    what topics would work for this kind of “debate?” What kinds of concessions should “our side” make?

    I honestly want your opinion, since you feel so strongly about this. But I believed the two “sides” are not equivalent in any way.

  26. 30

    Susan, the topics for discussion are in Nugents new post. They all seem like reasonable topics for discussion. I don’t see anyone talking about backing down on anything, though. I’m certainly not.

  27. 31


    Thanks for your response. Michael said:

    “We had, and I believe we still have, the potential to harness that intellectual and political energy into an effective international movement that is inclusive and caring and supportive while promoting robust debate and free speech.

    We had, and I believe we still have, the potential to combine the best contributions of many good people on all perceived ‘sides’ of the rifts, who are currently unable or unwilling to work together, because they have been unfairly misrepresented and hurt by people who in turn have been unfairly misrepresented and hurt by others.”

    I still don’t see where there is any equivalence between the “hurt” the ‘pitters have suffered and what you and others on “our side” have suffered. So we’re starting a false equivalence, from my point of view as a long time observe since “Guys, don’t do that”, though I have not actually been the target of such abuse myself.

    I would not be willing, ever, to work with anyone who used the word “cunt” or “bitch” or “Femistasi.” I do not consider Kirby or Paden or Thunderfoot or Vacula or any of that ilk worthy of any kind of debate, including anyone who has ever posted or supported AVSM. Whether you choose to, of course, is entirely up to you and your comfort level.

    Michael said:

    “At least four separate substantive issues have now become entangled in this escalating conflict. They are sexism and harassment, ideological disagreements about issues including feminism and free speech, personal abuse and bullying, and a tendency to hype up disagreements and attribute malign motivations and escalate hostility.”

    Sexism and harassment have all come from one side. “Ideological issues” etc. etc. — a lot of this is people mistaking “free speech” with being aloud to say anything they like anywhere they like without criticism … and this has also come almost exclusively from one side. Ditto Personal abuse and bullying. One might conceivably consider both sides of “attributing malign motivations,” but with the huge lack of good faith on the “other side.” It’s hard to see the equivalency here.Though I sometimes disagree with the level of hostility on Pharyngula (one of my daily reads.) I don’t “tone troll” there, however, because it is not my blog or my say, and I fully understand the anger.

    “In this atmosphere, the small number of people who are deliberately trying to cause harm have been able to sit back and watch well-intentioned people tear each other apart or refuse to work with each other, while the majority of atheists and skeptics are bemused and disappointed by the inability or unwillingness of people who are supposed to be reasonable to lead by example and act reasonably”.

    Who, on this side, has been deliberately trying to cause harm? I’d really like to know. Should we respect “well intentioned” people who stand by and say/do nothing when people are called “cunt” and “bitch” and considered second-class citizens? Where is the “unreasonability” of people who object to these things and speak out about them? The ones who are “bemused and disappointed” are happy with the status-quo.

    Having read the remainder of Michael’s suggestions for dialogue, I see no reason to expect any honest engagement from the Slymepitters, and I don’t see how the debate can continue when we are coming from such radically different views of life and social issues.

    But that’s just me. I don’t intend to participate, but best of luck to those who do. I’m afraid this will achieve nothing, but it’s not my place to stand in the way, even if I could.

  28. 32

    Argh. Typos. Aloud should be “allowed.” And I left letters off in my passion. Sorry for the bad sentence structure, too … writing too fast.

  29. 33

    And who, in Nugent’s view, are the “well intentioned” on the Slymepit side? Vacula? As far as I’m concerned, anyone who hangs out there tacitly supports the worst things that are said unless they actively oppose them. The same thing may be said of Pharyngula, which I supposed is the most “radical” on the other side, but I fully admit that, though I seldom post, I DO tacitly agree with most of what is said there, and only occasionally disagree with P.Z.’s posts and commenters’ opinions.

    I will be extremely interest, as an observer only, to see how this turns out.

  30. ~G~


    With what goal in mind exactly?

    That’s my question as well. I don’t think there is any moving forward if we can’t define where we want to go. For me I’d like the obsessive bullying to stop. If people on either side want to continue to blog or discuss criticisms of ideas, that’s one thing, but the bullying and pointless pestering/harassment/abuse of people minus any arguments needs to go.

    Secondly, I’d be fine with some organizations and blogs only focusing on classical skepticism and atheism topics and others expanding their agendas and having sexual harassment policies. As more and more groups become more progressive, people can belong to whatever groups meet their personal wishes. If someone is a member of a group and sees it not going in a direction they like, people can complain and then ultimately decide to go or stay. However, in Nugent’s post above this point is being discussed and some people seem to be bothered by the diversity of directions of the movement.

    As a founder of a skeptics group, no one can say if I should or shouldn’t invite a person to give a talk on feminism, and I can’t tell someone of another group to stop talking about bigfoot so much. Why would I care? Why would I care if they go for hikes, have gaming nights, or collect canned goods (all things we do, actually) I have a much more engaged group than I used to after giving people a wider variety of activities and topics. I have more members. More people, more diversity and more engaged also means more people to work on activism and other efforts. I don’t get why anyone cares either way if someone is combining atheism with blood drives or skepticism with vegetarianism or atheism with skepticism or not. Seems rather entitled to dictate to others what kind of activism they engage in. Skepticism and Atheism aren’t trademarked terms or anything. (yet!)

    It seems all advocacy movements grow and split and create various niches. With more people and wanting to attract more of the world’s population, I can’t see how that’s avoidable.

  31. 36


    Exactly. I see no reason for people with hugely opposing priorities to join into one big movement. Agreement isn’t going to happen, and priorities are never going to be the same. I have no interest in sharing any interest/goal with slymepitters. They can go their own merry way as long as they cease to bully and harass women they don’t agree with. That is the one thing that has to end. The rest … as I said, it’s unlikely there will ever be agreement between the people who regard women as unworthy of respect, and those who do … between those who believe atheism should be “pure” and those who want to combine it with social justice. This is why A+ was formed, but the other “side” wouldn’t let that go. They had to attack it.

    As long as one side is actively attacking the other, there can”t even be separate movements that agree to disagree.

    Deep Rifts. I’m all for them.


  32. 37

    A read through the comments tells you there are two main complaints: that the ‘pitters don’t want to hear about feminism and social justice because it’s ‘not real atheism’, and they want to be allowed to comment wherever they want no matter what the blog owners rules are.

    How do you ‘discuss’ that beyond telling them to shut their whiny, petulant, entitled mouths and find someone who writes about what they want to hear and who doesn’t ban them and make that their regular hangout?

    That said, I suspect that the reality of this will eventually dawn on Michael, and he’ll end up of the same opinion that we’ve already formed. And maybe it’ll be an object lesson for those other fence-sitters who seem to think that ‘reasonable dialogue’ are magic words that will solve every problem.

    I’d also like to hope that if the ‘pitters are over there applying their logical tapdance skills to justifying their abusive methods, they’ll be bothering other people less.

  33. 38


    It is more fundamental than that: they want “their spaces” to cater to them, and they also want to change/eliminate any other spaces that don’t cater to them. They want TAM to have no anti-harassment policy, and they also want other gatherings to drop their policies or face harassment. They want to have the Slymepit and JREF forums for their libertarian, anti-feminist, pro-bigotry ideals, and they also want people they disagree with to either let them take over or shut down completely.

    The only thing that will satisfy them is to silence and bully everyone else into submission, while maintaining the option to bully and harass even after they get their way. Nothing less, nothing else. There’s no room for dialog or discussion, is there?

  34. 39

    Look, I’ve already considered that Dawkins might be a good person who was just misrepresented…but then he did that whole “Dear Muslima” thing and “zero bad” and HE HIMSELF showed he was not a good or worthwhile person. HE HIMSELF chose to say he did not think female bodily autonomy was a very important argument, or that it was “absolutist” (and somehow I highly doubt he would object to such absolutism if someone tried to enslave him or excise his kidney!). I’ve already considered that Paula Kirby might be a decent person but then she made that consideration absolutely impossible with the “Femistasi” and “sisterhood of the oppressed” and “approved male chorus.” Michael, don’t assume we haven’t fairly considered people’s actions. Don’t assume we decided a priori to consider them assholes. They brought the assholishness to us.

  35. 40

    @Wowbagger, thanks for linking to Lumen’s comment. I think someone should approach him/her about reposting the whole thing because it is exactly the kind of testimony that needs to be heard, and it certainly helps that it is a report that is obviously coming from outside our little club.

  36. 41

    Is there really ANY point in having any kind of dialogue with people who clearly DON’T SHARE ANY OF OUR MOST IMPORTANT CORE VALUES? Seriously, no one is expecting Jews to have a nice polite dialogue with Neo-Nazis, so why should anyone bother talking to the ‘pitters, the ‘pittiful, and other mindless haters?

    People are saying they’re “fellow skeptics” or “fellow atheists” or something — but is that true? I thought a core principle of atheism and skepticism was the use of reason and basic decency, in place of religius thinking, to decide what is right and how to solve problems. The ‘pitters aren’t doing that at all, so why is anyone maintaining the illusion that those morons are even a little bit “on the same side” as us?

    These are not “fellow” anything separated from us by regrettable misunderstandings. These are our enemies, just as surely as the Taliban are our enemies; and we only hurt ourselves by pretending otherwise in any way. You can’t talk a toxic-waste dump into becoming a wheat field or a rainforest.

    We don’t need to have a dialogue with the ‘pitters; we need to talk to ordinary people, and to theists and agnostics who share our basic core values — there’s plenty of them out there, and we’ll do a lot of good (as well as get our message out to them) by reaching out to them.

  37. 42

    I don’t think I want what they’re smoking. It appears to have rotted their cognitive centers.

    Putting PCP in a “peace pipe” kinda defeats the purpose.

  38. 44

    I read through the comments on Nugent’s blog. As I understand it, The #1 demand of the ‘pitters is that atheists who want to work on feminist issues must completely divorce their feminism from their atheism. The ‘pitters will allow them to work on feminism in their spare time. But their feminism cannot in any way be used in conjunction with the label of atheism. (The ‘pitters #2 demand is that PZ Myers stop banning them.)

    I don’t see any reasonable way to compromise on demand #1. It’s almost impossible to separate one’s views on social justice issues from one’s beliefs about religion. (In my terminology, “there is no god and all organized religions are bunk” constitutes a belief about religion.)

    Harassing atheists whose social activism is a direct outgrowth of their beliefs– for instance, those people who believe “there is only here and now, so we should work to make this world a better place, since it’s the only one we’ll ever have”– leaves the field completely open for religious groups to represent themselves as the only people with morals.

    If the ‘pitters don’t want to work on feminist issues, there is no reason to force them. But their attempts to stop atheists who do work on gender equality will, in my opinion, seriously undercut the movement as a whole.

  39. ~G~


    People are saying they’re “fellow skeptics” or “fellow atheists” or something — but is that true? I thought a core principle of atheism and skepticism was the use of reason and basic decency, in place of religius thinking, to decide what is right and how to solve problems.

    Yes, this greater good of the group over ethics and morals sounds a lot like a trait of religion to me. I used to be in an atheist group and found something that was going on to be unethical. I had been enabling it myself and grew more and more troubled by it. Finally I decided enough’s enough. I did what I could to put an end to it and in a way I felt would be least damaging to our community.

    Some people percieved that I was trying to destroy the community. I made a phone call to make amends to one of those people and straighten things out hopefully. He kept saying, “We’ve got to stick together.” Sorry, but my ethics are above any group. I didn’t sign a contract when I got involved in movement atheism to pledge allegiance to all other atheists. I tried to remain in that group but I just couldn’t get over it. When you start having difficulty telling the pig from the man and vice versa, something’s not right. Of all my facebook friends, the one whose ethics and actions and beliefs I admire the most is a Christian. I am much more aligned with her than I am with many of the atheists in my old group.

  40. 46

    I certainly don’t want to sound like I have any admiration for the more vocal posters at slymepit.com ……but

    … I want to mention re: this quote

    “Should we respect “well intentioned” people who stand by and say/do nothing when people are called “cunt” and “bitch” and considered second-class citizens?”

    … that even though it makes my head spin and my eyes bulge, there are people at the slymepit who may use or tolerate the use of the words “bitch” and “cunt” without actually thinking women are second class citizens.

    They are (cough) “equalists” who are dismissive of the impact of gendered slurs. Who are perhaps accustomed to being around people who use those words and who find it an effort to promise to remove those words from their vocabulary (since they don’t want to).

    At least that is what I think the less ranty among them are saying, between rants. YMMV. I am just wiggling my fingers on the keyboard here to promote inter-group comprehension, not because I like them. Or would put up with them for a minute if they got up in my face.

  41. 47

    … there are people at the slymepit who may use or tolerate the use of the words “bitch” and “cunt” without actually thinking women are second class citizens.

    That, in itself, is totally plausible: people talk the way they’re used to talking when they’re among friends, and that can be independent of any socio-political opinions they may have. That’s not really a problem, as long as they’re mature enough to understand that different behavior is appropriate for different settings, and change their act as their situation changes. That’s one of the fundamental differences between us the the ‘pittiful: we’re mature enough to adjust our behavior to accomodate others, and they’re still whining about it like we did when we were in grade-school.

  42. 48

    Oh, I’m the first to admit that I don’t believe the ‘pit is wall to wall misognyists (or, if there’s a spectrum of such, that they’re all at the 100% woman-haters end) – but in that same breath, they are all complicit in using and approving of misogynistic abuse to achieve their goals.

    Sure some of them say they don’t approve – but that’s the old ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim at work again; if they genuinely disapproved of it, they’d stop associating themselves with it.

    It’s a place where a few ‘genuine’ misogynists are getting support from people whose real gripe is having been banned from one or FTB blogs, or those who themselves don’t object to the idea of feminism in principle, still don’t actually want to hear anything about it in relation to atheism, which they’re interested in solely because it makes them feel superior – and admitting that atheists should be challenging their own behaviours/constructs kind of undermines that.

  43. 49

    Hmm. I don’t know. I have a hard time imagining hanging out at a place with lots of racist rhetoric (for example) because I warmly agreed with it about something else. The racist rhetoric would put me off. A lot; viscerally. And that’s how I’ve always seen the pit: anybody who’s not put off by the vicious stuff has something wrong with his-her thinking.

  44. 50

    Ophelia wrote:

    Hmm. I don’t know. I have a hard time imagining hanging out at a place with lots of racist rhetoric (for example) because I warmly agreed with it about something else. The racist rhetoric would put me off. A lot; viscerally. And that’s how I’ve always seen the pit: anybody who’s not put off by the vicious stuff has something wrong with his-her thinking.

    No, I couldn’t imagine I’d be able to do that either – but, as has been noted before, people seem to be more okay with misogyny than they would be with racism; it’s far more socially acceptable.

    And yes, being okay with it as the means to an end is still unambiguously wrong-thinking. I couldn’t remain a regular anywhere where the misogny – ignoring the prolix and self-indulgent ‘arguments’ presented by its defenders that it’s no such thing – was tolerated, any more than I could somewhere where racial or homophobic or transphobic slurs were tolerated, even if I could construct rationalisations to try and diminish the reality of that.

  45. 53

    Stephanie, if anyone agrees to it and a process happens, you can try to get involved in it as you like. But I agree with others who see the opposite side of this rift as horrible deadweight that must be jettisoned. Atheists have a horrible reputation with social progressives specifically because of the actions and attitudes presented by that side of the divide, and of every high school libertarian philosophy dudebro in a fedora from Jacksonville to Spokane before them. Building up stuff like A+ and FtB while shunning the fuck out of those knuckledraggers at TAM and Slymetown seems like the only way forward.

    Unlike Ireland back in the day, we aren’t fighting over real estate. I don’t think we can ignore them completely, but we can ostracize them from every place progress is genuinely valued. I STILL cannot read Nuge’s comments for more than 2 seconds without facepalming my cranium inside out. I’m running out of duct tape for piecing my head together again.

  46. 54

    Seconding great1american1satan–

    A lot of “Christians” who don’t have strong religious beliefs reject atheism because they see atheists as having no
    morality. Considering what the ‘pitters post, it looks like the non-believing “Christians” have a point. The ‘pitters *are* equating lack of belief with lack of moral responsibility.

    I don’t think that’s a problem you can fix with a polite dialogue.

  47. 55

    Unlike Ireland back in the day, we aren’t fighting over real estate.

    In a way, we are. There need to be safe spaces on the Internet where oppressed or marginalized people (such as LGBT, atheists, Pagans, women and girls trying to escape abuse, etc.) can express their concerns and get help without fear of reprisal; and we have enemies trying to occupy and drive us out of such space. Those of us who want to do something for any just cause are being forced to either fight for such bits of safe space, or lose our ability to do anything good for anybody.

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