Questions from the Outrage Brigade

If this post sounds familiar to you, that’s because, like all the talk of “dividing” the atheist and skeptic movements, none of this is new. None of what we’re seeing these days is even responsive to prior critique. But if other people can repeat themselves on this, so can I. Maybe this time, I’ll even get some answers.

For context, a friend posted recently about finding out someone they’d looked up to had been accused of unethical behavior. The post was more a cri de coeur than anything else, along the lines of “Will everyone in this movement disappoint me?” Given that my first guess regarding which person they were talking about was wrong, I can’t really argue with the sentiment.

Someone else did, though. An atheist media personality responded to suggest the question was unfair and unhelpful. In the back and forth over whether that was appropriate in this situation, the media personality commented:

Screen capture of comment. Text in the post.
I didn’t tell anyone to ease up (smoothly or otherwise). I asked for perspective, because, despite what the Outrage Brigade declares, there are many wonderful people in this movement…people who aren’t racist/sexist/predator/hypocrite.

My shows deal with Harris, Dawkins, etc in ways which admit that they’re occasionally wrong, but that their life and work don’t immediately get tossed in the shit-can anytime someone cries “Bigot.”

I challenged Peter Boghossian directly and publicly on a recent tweet about third-wave feminists manifesting weak physical properties, asking how such a statement/question could further productive discussion (it doesn’t), and I followed up with an elaboration in Pete’s private email.

Peter remains a friend, despite our disagreements. Richard Dawkins remains someone whose meritorious work changed my life, despite our disagreements. Sam Harris remains someone whose writings I’ve narrated on the show, despite our disagreements. Etc.

One of the reasons there’s division in the movement is we disagree, and another of the reasons is that many sit ready to spring into a frothing rage anytime someone else operates outside of their particular zone of agreement.

There’s a time for the harder edged discussions, but there’s also a ton of missed opportunity for connection and unity.

I’m not going to single this media personality out by name, partly because they weren’t posting for public consumption and partly because who they are doesn’t matter. Their position matters. Their audience and associated ability to control the discussion in the movement matter, but who they are personally doesn’t.

It matters because this personality has declared a group of people in this movement a problem. They’ve defined an “Outrage Brigade” and declared their concerns and issues “particular”, with the implication that they’re unusual and unreasonable. When challenged on lumping people who object to sexism and racism into this group, they said they only meant those who were “gleeful” about it. Also that they were complaining about a lack of nuance.

Animated gif of Bruce Banner saying, "That's my secret, Cap..."
I commented to identify myself as a member of the Outrage Brigade. I don’t claim to be everything this personality says defines the Outrage Brigade, but that’s a problem on its own. I’ve been identified by others as part of this group (under many names) for years now. People who talk about outrage brigades don’t step up to say, “No, these critics are raising real concerns here and doing it thoughtfully. Listen to them.” They don’t chime in when they agree with us. They don’t give us air time. They don’t cite us in their own occasional critiques.

Until that happens, we know we’re part of The Outrage Brigade(TM) because we’re treated like it. So I asked a few questions from that perspective. My friend ended up not being up for hosting that kind of argument, which is understandable, but my questions remain. Here they are, with several additions for completeness.

  • Whose friend do I have to be, or whose life do I have to affect, to not have my work in this movement and my identity erased in making me part of this disposable group?
  • What level of celebrity do I have to achieve to have someone argue that I should be spoken of with nuance?
  • Does posting an emotional status like this one qualify someone to be part of the Outrage Brigade?
  • How many years of continued problems qualify as “immediately” shit-canning someone?
  • Are we always wrong to apply the label of “bigot” or only to apply it to people you feature in your media?
  • What does Peter Boghossian (or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris) have to do, who does he have to denigrate to become part of the Outrage Brigade?
  • What qualifies you to judge us as “frothing” or “gleeful” when it’s ridiculous for us to call one of your media partners a “bigot”?
  • What does it take for you to think someone is a bad choice for a leader or role model aside from from anger, or at least anger at anyone who hasn’t been sorted into the Outrage Brigade?
  • What makes those issues or limits more valid than mine?
  • Does bigotry not make you angry, or is your position on what constitutes bigotry informed by a particular expertise I lack?
  • Do you have some kind of expertise in making our movement welcoming to a diverse group of atheists, particularly those disproportionately affected by bigotry?
  • If you don’t, what do those people whose expertise you recognize have to say about all this?
  • Have you asked them?
  • How much does that group of experts overlap with the Outrage Brigade, either in people or in message?
  • If I (or other more-frequent critics) aren’t part of the group you’re labeling the Outrage Brigade, do you find major differences between my critiques and theirs?
  • If our messages are the same, why are you pointing to this Outrage Brigade instead of dealing with the critiques from those people you consider valid critics?

It’s not a terribly long list of questions. I think it’s an important one, though. I want to see them answered by anyone going on about Those People Who Complain About Every Little Thing, whatever name they use to refer to them/us. I’ve been waiting for years. Will it happen now?

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Questions from the Outrage Brigade

6 thoughts on “Questions from the Outrage Brigade

  1. Jim
    1

    Did you assume that this famous YouTuber was talking about YOU when he or she said “Outrage Brigade?” Is that why you’re so offended? Did they say specifically that you were a member of it, or did someone else, earlier, and you wound up jumping to the conclusion that the YouTuber meant YOU? If so, then you’re making this about yourself.

    I don’t think any reasonable person is in favor of racism or sexism. I think what your YouTuber was getting at is that there are those who, at every opportunity possible, choose the tiniest microaggressions possible in order to accuse someone of being racist or sexist. Familiar tropes from these people are things like: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” and other such nonsense.

    People aren’t bigots because they don’t spend all day every day checking every statement they make for microaggressions. There is an acceptable level of privilege checking that people need to do in order to be decent citizens, but for some people, the privilege checking bar is never high enough, and if someone isn’t aware of a particular privilege, they get automatically categorized as a bigot.

    Richard Dawkins does have some pretty big problems with his behavior, but not every person needs to join the chorus of virtue signaling screech-owls in order to scream him down over sexism or doing bad shit in elevators. That was so 2011, anyway. Get over it, already.

  2. Jim
    3

    Why would I be angry over your voluntarily including yourself in a group that thinks Ellen DeGeneres is a racist for photoshopping herself onto a photograph of Usain Bolt? Same crowd, different day. I am sad, though, that some people try so hard to censor free speech and stifle creativity, all for the sake of political correctness. Being polite and treating all as equals is a worthy goal! Having to examine every syllable for perceived microaggressions, though, is also oppressive. I don’t understand why you would be proud to include yourself in something like the thought police. That sort of thing went out in 1984.

  3. O
    5

    Whose friend do I have to be, or whose life do I have to affect, to not have my work in this movement and my identity erased in making me part of this disposable group?

    No ones and nobody. Why would I consider you disposable over a relatively minor disagreement? I mean it might piss me off sometimes, but on most matters I presume we would remain allies. Not alienating you when we can work and vote together is, for me anyway, the point.

    What level of celebrity do I have to achieve to have someone argue that I should be spoken of with nuance?

    Um, none. Perfectly willing to grant it to you or to anyone.

    Does posting an emotional status like this one qualify someone to be part of the Outrage Brigade?

    Your post does not strike me as particularity emotional.

    How many years of continued problems qualify as “immediately” shit-canning someone?

    Can’t really answer this. What you might consider a problem I might consider a disagreement – maybe even a strong disagreement. I am sure though that we would agree on certain behaviors that would merit an immediate “shit-canning”.

    Are we always wrong to apply the label of “bigot” or only to apply it to people you feature in your media?

    Question not meant for me.

    What does Peter Boghossian (or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris) have to do, who does he have to denigrate to become part of the Outrage Brigade?

    I think that they are already members. I am not really familiar with Boghossian, but his comment about third wave feminists brings him real close to that shit-canning of yours. Dawkins and Harris make me shake my head sometimes, but I believe in their basic decency. I admit to giving Dawkins a little leeway because he was raised in a completely different time. I pretty much always give the elderly a little leeway.

    What qualifies you to judge us as “frothing” or “gleeful” when it’s ridiculous for us to call one of your media partners a “bigot”?

    I do not have any media partners. I do suggest that one should be careful about calling someone a bigot or a racist when there are other explanations. Especially when they have a history of acting in a non-bigoted way.

    What does it take for you to think someone is a bad choice for a leader or role model aside from from anger, or at least anger at anyone who hasn’t been sorted into the Outrage Brigade?

    Gosh, lots of things. I do not really look to people to be my role models or leaders when it comes to the atheist movement. But you deserve some sort of an answer. Violent people. Racist people. People who do not consider facts when making a judgement. I realize that we may disagree on terms. Honestly, in as much as I do not really look for leaders, I do not expect anyone to be perfect. So for me this is a largely uninteresting question. This may be reflective of my privilege and I will ponder it as such. If you were talking about leaders and role models for children I would answer differently.

    What makes those issues or limits more valid than mine?

    Nothing. I just really really want – for example – for there to be a lot fewer police departments. I want each of them to have strict standards, a culture of accountability, and to have robust civilian oversight. I want us to realize that police corruption is a reflection of each of us. And if changing this means partnering with someone whom I profoundly disagree on another key issue like, say, LGBT rights, I can internally justify that. Of course, I will fight them on LGBT rights, but I will find common ground where and when I can if I feel it can make a difference.

    Does bigotry not make you angry, or is your position on what constitutes bigotry informed by a particular expertise I lack?

    Answering these questions is taking more time than I expected. If you want me to continue, I will, but I expect that the answers I have already given tell you where I am. Of course bigotry makes me angry. It also makes me tired and it makes me sad. But you know, it is possible that I do have expertise that you lack, Age. I distinctly remember when being gay was a horrible thing. It was a little more than 20 years ago that our (American) culture was upended by Ellen coming out as gay on her sitcom. Major advertisers boycotted. If it was today, it would have completely broken the internet. Go back another dozen years and AIDS was not that big of a deal because it mostly affected homosexuals. Today – largely – no one cares if someone is gay. But if someone dares question giving a transvestite access to a bathroom we declare them as evil. So what if they agree on BLM, gay marriage, and $15 an hour. But you know something, they are going to get there. And for now, lets not push them away. Lets encourage them to vote and to embrace our “shared” progressive values.

  4. 6

    O, I appreciate the attempt at answers, but you’re right: These aren’t really questions aimed at you. At least, I don’t think they are. I haven’t seen you dismissing people who disagree with you by dumping them in a category like Outrage Brigade.

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