Still Unapologetic, Thanks for asking.
For context, you may want to read this thread: Am I being irrational?
As for this:Quote:
Here is a quote from that forum made today relating to you guys:
no-one gives much of a shit about the RRS since they jumped the fucking shark a couple of years ago anyway
I'll come back to this in a bit, after reading your thread (second link I gave).
although we know that we're pussycats with a hefty dose of indignation and snark, there is an (undeserved) impression out there in the blogosphere that the RRS are a bunch of bullies. Again, I'll get to that later (the rumour mill)
Okay, so it's later. Had to take a break last night. Time to address this.
After reading Goldenmane's post, I'm disappointed, but I have a feeling his/her reaction was more in regards to how kimsland was posting, than it was directly against the RRS. Could be mistaken on that, but that's how it seems to me.
Goldenmane--and anyone else--is completely entitled to their opinion, but I strongly suspect that opinion is based on third- or fourth-hand rumours than it is based on actual experience with us.
Here's the deal... (continue reading)
The RRS is a very open forum (in the traditional sense of the word, from the ancient Greek/Roman practice). We need to be, in order to reach the kinds of people we want to reach. On one hand, we want to be open to anyone who believes irrational claims, so that we can confront them and put them to the test. On the other hand, we want to be open to anyone along their pathway to freedom of thought, and this may include many of us who simply want to be free to speak our minds without needless self-censorship.
In order to be this open, we have to be pretty accepting of even typically 'outrageous' stuff. Stuff that pushes the limits of reason, but is not actually anything more than free expression and freedom of speech. I speak of things like the Blasphemy Challenge, which was intentionally provocative, but not actually anything more than atheists speaking their minds. I also speak of our general tolerance for trolls, rude language, heated debate, strongly differing opinions, mockery, etc.
We are not "anything goes", however. As I've expressed in this thread, we draw the line at actual unethical, illegal behaviour, and we also have some rules against spamming, empty ad hominems (with no supporting argument), harassment of individuals, and a few other things that 'cross the line'. But the lines are fairly clearly drawn, as anyone can read in the forum rules.
Personally speaking, I was initially reluctant to join the RRS when it first began, because I thought it would end up being just a bunch of flame wars and pointless trolling. But I was wrong. I thought it would be immature and like revisiting high-school drama. But I was wrong. I thought it would be full of assholes who wouldn't listen to reason. But I was wrong. There was rudeness, yes. But the vast majority not only listened to reason, but made passionate and well-spoken defenses of reason.
So I lurked for a little bit, and to my surprise I started to learn a heck of a lot. I was cautious. I looked for hypocrisy. I looked for bullying. I rarely found it, and when it really did occur, the forum mods always (in my experience) came down against outright bullying or hypocrisy, even when it came from regular, well-known forum members.
It didn't take long before I really began to appreciate the openness of the forum, and how it allowed me to talk about things I had long been holding back, for fear of being shut down by people who merely get 'offended' by my opinions. There's a great saying: There's no such thing as a 'right' to not be offended. I agree. I would even add to that: And it is ridiculous to think that there even should be. So you're offended? So what? I'm offended at your being offended. Does that make me right? No! The only thing that matters is "Can you make a rational argument?" Politeness is nice, but you can't expect everyone to conform to your idiosyncratic standards of politeness. That, itself, is a form of bullying, in my opinion, if it is used to stifle dissent.
So, if RRS is so great, how did it 'jump the shark'?
<Looking around> We're still here, still active, still doing what we do, still contributing to the free thought movement, still open to dissent, still striving to educate about reason and science, and still having fun in the process.
What did happen was that the RRS fell prey to persistent and vicious rumour-mongering. Initially, from disgruntled theists with a grudge, occasionally from fellow atheists who came, shat, broke the rules (which is quite hard to do, actually), and left in a huff, or were banned if seriously trolling.
As I said, we are an open forum. Not everyone in the forum represents the RRS (I don't even consider myself a representative, though I'm currently helping as a junior moderator), even though they may be members of the forum. Member =/= representative.
Several people could not understand that distinction. They may have experienced some rudeness from some members, and took that as a 'sin' of the entire RRS community. We usually told them to fuck off. Again, rude, but what is the actual crime? None. If they wanted to make their case, they were given ample opportunity and failed to make their case. We can't force them to change their minds (nor do we want to!), but we don't have to respect them in their spurious accusations against us, either. So, they can fuck off. Or not. Up to them.
Well, unfortunately, we weren't ready for the brewing Rumour Mill. Behind the scenes, disgruntled people started making shit up about the RRS, and disappointingly, a lot of people who had never directly interacted with us started to believe these rumours.
At the time, I was concerned. I heard the rumours too, and wondered, "Uh oh, this is it. This is what I was fearing might happen. Maybe I was wrong, maybe the core RRS people actually were bullies and hypocrites and behaving unethically."
But you know what I didn't do? I didn't just accept the rumours. After all, I had been a victim of rumour-mongering when I was young (age 11 to 12) when it had come out at school that I was atheist. I had been called a "Devil worshipper" and worse by kids I had once considered friends. They shunned me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The rumours had a life of their own, and nothing I said had any effect to stop them. In fact, they often made it worse: "See how angry he is?! It's true, he's evil and immoral. I feel sorry for him." (I've learned a lot since then, on how to handle this.)
At the time, this link to my past experiences was just an inkling, but today I see a strong parallel to what happened with the RRS' reputation.
In any case, I followed the rumours, and I tracked them down. I found the original sources (by demanding people provide links and evidence! As any skeptic should!), and I found....
They were ALL fucking bullshit.
I'm not kidding. Don't take my word for it, either. Track 'em down yourself if you want. They are not hard to find.
I was severely disappointed in some of the 'skeptics' who simply repeated nasty rumours about the RRS, who never bothered to check if they were true or not, and I watched in sympathy as Brian Sapient and others tried in vain to fight them off. I had a bad feeling in my throat, but what could I do?
Anyway, that's what they mean when they say RRS 'jumped the shark'. In every case, it is an overblown, exaggerated-beyond-reality, misinterpreted-he-said-she-said, sometimes-outright-lie, bullshit claim.
But that didn't stop the rumour mill from doing its damage.
Which brings me to today. What has changed? Actually, a lot.
I want to focus on a couple fairly recent episodes in the greater free-thought/atheist 'movement' which will help illustrate my point.
1) Accommodationism vs. Gnu Atheism
There has been an on-going dispute among some well-known atheists over the question of the compatibility of science and religion. On the one hand, you have people like Jerry Coyne, who write opinionated-but-polite-and-reasonable articles against the idea that science and religion have any real kind of compatibility. And on the other hand, you have people like Chris Mooney, who--though an atheist himself--thinks it's 'uncivil' for atheists to write their honest opinions about this incompatibility.
At the end of the day, we saw NO significant incivility (aside from sarcastic and/or mocking jabs at absurd claims, which I--siding with Voltaire--do not consider to be incivility in the slightest) from the newly invigourated Gnu Atheists (itself a mocking sneer at the lame epithet "New Atheists"), but on the other side of the fence, we saw repetitive and vicious attempts at character assassination, endless tone-trolling, and a massively embarrassing case of sock-puppetry you just have to gape at in incomprehension of the scale and hypocrisy of it. For complete context, if you're interested, this is a good place to start: The Big Accommodationism Debate: all relevant posts
I was an active spectator to much of this debate, mostly watching and learning, not so much commenting.
What I learned?
- Atheists are not immune to irrational, strongly held beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them.
- When some of these folks get on their hobbyhorses, they will stoop. Very. Very. Low. Just to try to fuck you over. The atheist 'movement' is not immune from petty and disgusting political disputes.
- Gnus were right. Accommodationists... not so much.
One thing that I did contribute in my own little way, was a suggestion towards an attitude of "unapologetic" atheism, and this sums up my attitude well: I've got my opinion, and I'm not doing anyone any harm by talking about it, so stop trying to shut me up. If I've done nothing wrong to you or anyone, I have nothing to apologize to you for. This attitude is (if I may speak a little bit for others here) quite prevalent at the RRS, and is one of the reasons I like it here. As long as I'm not doing anything unethical or wrong, you can disagree with me all you want, and as long as you're not doing anything unethical or wrong, you are free to do so. But don't throw me under the bus just for disagreeing with you. That's not cool.
Not to get side-tracked into the specifics of this event (feel free to explore it via google if you're interested), but this has been a ridiculously heated and divisive episode in the 'atheist movement'. I only bring it up to make one (well, two) basic point(s):
- People (including atheists and skeptics) who you think are very intelligent, rational, reasonable, logical, defenders of science and reason... can nevertheless have enormous blind-spots that they are completely unaware of, in fact are in denial about, will aggressively defend as their hobbyhorse, will make wild and crazy presumptions about peoples' motives and character just for disagreeing with them, will forget all they learned about bias and fallacious reasoning, will not examine their own biases, will get incredibly offended at people for even pointing out said biases, will accuse said people of evil, disgusting things that said people would never support, and will congratulate themselves at the end of the day for their closed-minded bigotry directed towards others.
- You might be one of those people.
Yes, and I might be, too! That's the point! Self-skepticism is probably the most important kind of skepticism there is. It's how people break out of religion, it's how to free your mind from dogma, it is the bedrock of science, it is extremely powerful. Use it. Don't take my word for it either. Find out for yourself. I constantly ask myself, "How do I really know that? What if I could be wrong? Can I really justify that?" If only more people would do this!
Richard Feynman gave us one of the greatest reminders ever:
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
I dabbled briefly in Elevator Gate. It was an experiment for me. I had seen already, dozens of times, how readily people would jump at the chance to misinterpret what was being said, to engage in character assassination, to... well... bully.
I wanted to see if I had learned anything. Whether I could be bravely unapologetic, and withstand the inevitable shit-storm of abuse that would come my way (regardless of which side of the debate I happened to be on), merely for strongly stating my opinion on the matter.
So, I jumped in. And I survived! There was abuse. But I stood my ground and did not return abuse for abuse, insult for insult, misinterpretation for misinterpretation.
Instead I asked questions, to check my assumptions. I was open to being shown wrong, even though I was pretty sure I wasn't. But I also straight-forwardly challenged false accusations without getting 'offended' by them. I had a strategy, and I stuck to it. And it worked, from my perspective. I feel like I stood up for my point of view and for myself. I feel like someone out there may have read what I wrote and agreed gratefully with me for expressing the same idea, even though I only ever got responses from those who aggressively disagreed. I'm pretty sure, in fact, because I had experienced the same feeling of gratitude after reading some of the brave people who stood up to speak out their similar ideas.
The details of this debate are not important (if you really care, it's not hard to find). They are mere transient events, and will be completely irrelevant in a very short time (relatively speaking).
The important thing here is the tactics. The strategy. The long term.
I spoke out. I kept my cool, stood my ground. I wanted to remain unapologetic, and so it was important that I do nothing wrong myself. I had a long term goal in mind, and I kept it in focus. I didn't let petty personal slights distract me from that goal. I didn't let egregious irrationality ruin my mood or trigger my sarcasm/ridicule habit. I don't think sarcasm or ridicule would have been wrong, per se, I just don't think they would have worked in this particular situation. These were not hopelessly intransigent theists I was confronting. These were people who, under normal circumstances, on just about any other topic, would have been far more reasonable and measured. I didn't want to burn my bridges. I just wanted to say my piece, and maybe reach one or two other spectators.
Having met my own expectations in that encounter, I've been experimenting more and more in recent debates I've had. And repeatedly, time and again, this strategy has been quite successful, in my opinion.
It doesn't take much. It doesn't require me to change my convictions, or to compromise my principles. In fact, it is very much in line with them.
It allows my voice to be heard. It keeps my message afloat, though some would try to drown it. It allows me to speak my mind, without fear of retribution. It allows me to do something bold, without doing something wrong. It allows me to stand up for others, and encourages others to stand up for me.
I think if we, as a community, as individuals, want to have our voices heard, this is the kind of thing we need to learn about and practice. I've got my preferred method. Maybe it will work for you, maybe not. Maybe you just prefer to do things differently. I have no problem with that. More power to you. I'll support you, if you return the favour. Just don't throw me under the bus for merely disagreeing with you. That's just totally not cool.
We are all hoping for a more rational world, but none of us are perfect. Let's not demand perfection when none of us can give it. Let's be a little more understanding of irrational behaviour in others, in the short term, since none of us are perfectly rational either. And let's check our own irrational behaviours too, since we all have them. Rationality is still the goal, and we should still challenge irrationality unapologetically--as long as we, ourselves, don't end up doing something we will need to apologize for in the process.