Want me to make a long story short for you? Thunderf00t, a.k.a. Phil Mason, said some things about misogyny that some people thought were controversial while on a brief run over at Free Thought Blogs, and regardless of whether his removal from FtB was warranted or not, he has seemingly been on a hack campaign against his detractors ever since. I’m not saying that his criticisms have not been legitimate in some cases — describing an invitation to have coffee in a hotel room as a “sexualization” comes to mind — but I am saying that what began with a brief mention of misogyny seven months ago has veered off the tracks and has devolved into a ridiculous Internet war between a two groups of people who should have more things in common than not and who should, with all their supposed rationalism and goodwill in tow, be able to play nice. But the silly infighting continues. People have been bickering about fake jewelry for god’s sake … for months.
During a video posted June 24, 2012, in which Mason tells viewers that he, along with a couple other bloggers, was joining FtB, he says,
On this very auspicious occasion, I’m going to do something that I would never normally do and indeed, something I would probably call tactically dumb. Well, mostly dumb. And that is to get involved in one of these issues that causes a disproportionate amount of fighting within the rationalist community.
That little bit of prophecy turned out to be his first mistake, of course, was also his worst.
In the video, Mason rather gingerly and briefly criticizes certain people within the atheist community for “haggling over trivialities” involving disputes about sexual harassment at conferences. He doesn’t name her, but he is referring here to Rebecca Watson and the rift-inducing, giant facepalm that has come to be known as Elevatorgate. In his explanation below the video, Mason explains:
I’m just tired of those presenting sexism as some horrible injustice at atheist conferences (by reporting troll comments as symptomatic of a problem (other than not feeding the trolls)) when in reality its a very minor issue.
This takes focus away from more useful ventures, and also makes the community look like a bunch of incompetents, incapable of focusing on more important issues.
Mason was quickly removed from the blog network on accusations that he passed along confidential information shared through an internal FtB email list. Here is Mason’s response. Since that time and not taking his own advice, he has been steeping himself in trivialities and tediousness, most recently in a series of YouTube videos titled, “Why ‘Feminism‘ is poisoning Atheism” (Here are parts 1 and 2). The first video made some personal attacks against Watson, P.Z. Myers and others and shamelessly pulled most of the content out of context, while in the second, he argued more saliently that any kind of internal harassment policy at secular conferences would be redundant since we already have laws against harassment. (While conference leaders are perfectly free to make their own set of policies that speakers should abide by, they can’t necessarily control the behavior of attendees. As Mason never tires of pointing out, we have laws in place to protect people from miscreants and laws to bring offenders, harassers and other riffraff, to justice. If some women don’t feel safe at skeptic conferences and if the organizers are really that concerned about it, they should arrange for extra security to be on hand and ready to file any complaints.)
I know that TF is criticizing behavior that he sincerely believes is harming the atheist and secular communities, but his personal attacks are disproportionate to his concerns, they are unfair to those who he is attacking, and they are not helping to resolve the issues that they address.
I have been critical of the neofeminists and Atheism Plus in general for the atmosphere of parochialism that has been created in the skeptical community, and I don’t agree with the approach that many of these feminist supporters have taken, name-calling not the least of their childish tactics used to chide their critics. For example, Myers seems to have no problem calling people assholes, idiots, morons and best of all, he has a whole category filed under Fuckbrained assholes, where he mostly blasts the religious but also summoned that category to file his criticisms of Mason.
But what makes me want to bang my head against the wall is the spirit of parochialism that has permeated both sides of this discussion, from the neofeminists to the men’s rights crowd, known commonly as MRAs. As far as I’m concerned, neither are doing the atheist community much of a service, and frankly, are linking atheism with other causes that may or may not be supported by other nonbelievers.
I’ve written enough about Atheism Plus and the neofeminists, so let’s take the A Voice for Men website and the MRA crowd. AVfM only has one sentence in its long list of “editorial policies” that I actually support with regards to gender issues:
AVfM supports the idea of total and complete equality of opportunity between the sexes.
All this rubbish about male privilege on one side and a pro-male agenda on the other side can all be scrapped, just like the notions of white privilege and black reparations should be scrapped. Along with Black History Month, all four of these are relics and do nothing to move the human species forward. I should not attempt to use my whiteness to get ahead in life. Likewise, were I a black person, I should not use my perceived disadvantage to get a one-up on a candidate of another race. Nothing short of complete equality among genders and races in practice should be desired, and to continue to speak in terms of some kind of privilege based on what sex a person is only continues to promote a problem where one need not exist here in the year 2012. And this applies on either side. I chafe at hearing feminists complain about privilege and people crying about misogyny as much as I would chafe at the suggestion that I approach life through some pro-male prism and people crowing about misandry on the other.
My perception is that people get a sense of belonging, and perhaps purpose, when they link up with these various groups, but it all seems like a resource-draining distraction to me. If we really want to move the species forward, the goal and the thing that we should all be working toward is human equality. Period. The rest is just childishness, territorialism and schoolyard-style clap trap.
I’m tempted to dovetail this post into a discussion about Myer’s recent post, “Atheism and the real search for meaning” because the topics are related, but I’ll get to that next.