Monday, 22 October 2012

Atheism Plus; the Last Rites

Atheism Plus, it seems, has passed away.  Many of us predicted it, although I think we're all pleasantly surprised by just how quickly reason has prevailed among the sceptic community.

Many reputations have taken a hit with it; sorry PZ, you handed people a share of your influence for no better reason than that your fear of being thought a misogynist mattered more to you than whether they were actually worth listening to. Even if you HAD then actively disavowed the illogical and spiteful use to which they put their new power you'd still have looked a fool - and you didn't do that, so you look a coward too.  The name Richard Carrier has become short-hand for the kind of vitriolic with-us-or-against-us mentality that characterised fundamentalist APlusism from the beginning (whatever its sophisticated moderates might have tried to say later), and Jen McCreight has shown herself to be so self-obsessed as to feel no compassion for a homeless man and to think people should ask her permission to masturbate.

Self-obsession, really, is the overwhelming impression Atheism Plus will leave with me.  Well, self-obsession and a devastating want of introspection.

I think the most contemptible thing about Atheism Plus, though, was the fact that it had two purposes; a superficially admirable ostensible goal, and an underhanded, dishonest and rather sinister ulterior motive. In the beginning, A+ was about helping marginalised people within the atheist/sceptic community to feel more included - many of us thought that laudable, as in fact I did myself when I first read about it.  It became clear pretty quickly, though, that its real purpose was to exclude white men above a certain age (unless they demonstrated total and unquestioning faith in the teachings of APlusism), shout about how tough it is to be an educated white middle-class American woman - and to shut us all up if we tried to ask questions or disagree with them.

In case my contempt is not clear on this point; the "feminists" behind Atheism Plus started out trying to tell us they were going to help gay and bi people, transsexual and transgender people, black people, Latino people and other groups underrepresented in the atheist movement. They used that platform to bitch about men trying to make conversation with them in public places.  No one should be more pissed off with them than the people they co-opted, shamelessly exploited, and then ignored.

Once it had stopped pretending to care about gay people, black people and transgender people, Atheism Plus was supposed to be about helping women to feel safe in the atheist community. Not only did many of us feel perfectly safe already, but those of us who've had the temerity to point this out have rather amusingly then found ourselves experiencing abuse and anger from other members of the atheist community for the very first time.  Devising a product then manufacturing the need is a time-honoured method in business - just look at mouthwash.  But A+ don't seem to have grasped the idea terribly well; what they've done is try to sell us a mouthwash to cure dog-breath we don't have, then force-feed us garlic when we didn't want to buy it.  Then wonder why we told them to get the fuck off our property.

If I have one good thing to say about A+, though, it's that it's failed equally in both its goals.  It took a while, but the sceptic community has now almost unanimously rejected the dogmatic tyranny of Atheism Plus.  I think many of us wish the whole embarrassing melodrama had never happened - and I certainly sympathise with that position - but for my part I have to say I find myself reassured about the ability of the atheist movement to make the rational decision as a group.

So Atheism Plus has left me with a pretty bad taste in my mouth.  It was petty, small-minded, vicious, dogmatic, hypocritical, exclusionary, dishonest, irrational, selfish, uncaring and deeply, deeply sexist.  We shall not miss it, but we are wiser for having known it.


  1. Other than the entry for Atheism Plus in Urban Dictionary, what solid quantifiable evidence is there that the A+ movement has been largely rejected by the community?

    They still boast forum numbers at least equal to the SlymePit, which indicates (at least) that a dedicated minority will be carrying on.

    1. How many of those forum members agree with them and are still active?

      I ask this because I have an (unused) A+ forum account.

      Also, I'm not sure the SlymePit is the best comparison since it isn't a movement, and nor does it include every opponent of A+. In fact, I'd say the most vocal opponents of A+ (like the author of this blog) don't post there.

      I'm pretty sure SoggyMog is right to say that A+ has died. I can't think of any 'famous' backers who still seem to care about it (all those who backed it before have gone silent), and so the only remnant of The Movement That Never Got Started is the rather hilarious forum. Perhaps that means it's still (just about) standing, but that's a far cry from the enthusiasm when Jen first posted about it, and a VERY far cry from getting written about in the New Statesman, the Guardian etc. and talked about on BBC Radio.

      I predicted that it wouldn't last long in my essay about it here.

    2. Slymepit is not a "movement", it is a stronghold of everyone that objects to the neo-Jacobinism of A+ (there is little commonality beyond that) and is far more genuinely diverse and inclusive than the vanilla, middle class American whiteness of A+. It is also just a single thread documenting stupidity beyond A+. Notably the root of all that is dumb in godlessness, FTB and Skepchick. It also had its millionth pageview a week ago - that does not include it's predecessor threads on SciBlogs. Somehow, I doubt that A+ will share their figure. A+ is a noisy minority, just like Westboro Baptist. That you fall for the illusion Damion is telling.

    3. If you would like numbers, a quick look at their members listings show us that less than 20% of members have made more than 10 posts, 13% have made more than 20 and 4.5% have made more than a hundred, out of 2437 members on the Atheism+ Boards 109 are participating, and the Blag Hag herself only has 35 posts

  2. Couple of points. Pz was never a bystander in all this, nor a hapless victim. There are monkeys and there are organ grinders. Aplus was vomited out of the putrid sewer that is the FTB back channel.

    Secondly, it was always primarily about the maladjusted neurotic white middle class american female clique that buzzes around Rebecca Watson, and their first world problems, and incessant need to portray themselves victims, of, well everything. Atheism plus was supposed to be the movement that usurped Atheism, and placed them in positions of influence where they could railroad the movement to serve their wacky backy ideology.

    1. Victim feminism never had much appeal anyway, even among those who support the reasonable goals of gender equality.

      The attempt to hijack atheism and make it serve the radical-feminist agenda (itself very hostile to skepticism and reason) was shameful.

      Good riddance.

  3. It looked to me like a classic Leninist tactic to take over a mass movement by a self-appointed bourgeois 'born to lead' intellectual elite and use it for its own ends - something all too familiar to anyone with experience of the 20th century European political left, and something with an all too predictable outcome - splitting and weakening the movement.

    The final straw for me was the deleting by Rebecca Watson from her blog of a long and considered contribution to the debate by me on the grounds that I was a sock puppet, after repeatedly denying having done it. Obviously, nothing but unswerving loyalty and adulation were to be tolerated or the Gulags and non-person status awaited traitors to the cause - as defined by a small, self-appointed clique.

    I'm sorry if PZ has been tainted with it. He was (is) one of my blogging heroes. The bigger disappointment for me is Richard Carrier with his unashamedly Stalinist, "if you're not with us you're against us", announcement, especially since he was one of those deciding who was one of them and who wasn't.

    Fortunately, Atheism, which is nothing more or less than acknowledging there is no definitive evidence for gods, is not affected by the antics of a few non-believers.

  4. Notung,

    I agree that it's a far cry from becoming a "third wave" of the larger movement, as originally conceived and as described in the major media outlets you mentioned, among others. It has become an insular movement comprising largely of semi-formalised tourneys featuring the champions of an ugly sport for liberal commenters aptly described by Ariel Stallings.

    That said, an insular but active forum of devoted contributors (whether phpBB or Reddit) is itself a far cry from digital death. Not to mention certain comment threads which have supported the ends and means of A+ well prior to Jen's rebranding of the movement.

    So long as movement atheism continues to consist of a significant plurality of progressives who enthusiatically engage in the ugly sport described by Stallings, the spirit of A+ lives on.

  5. Hmmm...if something is dead but the adherents do not know that it is dead, is it really dead? I'm not sure it is really dead just yet.

    1. "if something is dead but the adherents do not know that it is dead, is it really dead? "

      That sounds like a description of Schrodinger's Movement, which is ironically apt.

    2. They become the walking dead. Zombies!!!!!!


  7. As far as I can tell, Lucy, the only 'evidence' you've provided to support your contention that Atheism Plus is dead is a baseless assertion on the Skeptic Ink Network - a network that has been consistently hostile to FtB.

    I've already commented at length on Loftus's article and won't bother repeating that here, suffice to say that whilst I won't argue against your reasons for wishing that Atheism Plus had died I am disappointed that you seem to have suspended your critical faculties in the pronouncement of its death.

    As the great man said, "That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence".

    Perhaps being chased by zombies affected you more than you might have thought?

    1. I don't know about *consistently* hostile (I've personally praised a few of them on various occasions) but I take your meaning, and I agree that this is a [citation needed] moment where anecdotes just won't do.

      That said, all I have at the moment is a handful of anecdotes:

      1) The voting war over at UD is the closest thing I've seen to a publicly published plebiscite on A+ so far.

      2) The #AtheismPlus hashtag is pretty much overrun with critics despite repeated attempts to reclaim it.

      3) The relative traffic at the A+ and SlymePit forums is, well, indicative. At any given time, the A+ forums will usually have just a few more users online than the Pit, and sometimes even fewer. One of these forums is essentially just a collection of bitter refugees from other websites, while the other was intended to be a globe-spanning third-wave of atheism. These numbers should not even be in the same ballpark.

      Unlike the OP (and many of my fellow SINners) I doubt that A+ will ever die, but it does seem that it will become ever more irrelevant and insular as the champions of privilege polo (a new and ugly sport) refine their techniques and sharpen their weapons in an unending internal tourney.

    2. You are quite correct - my use of the word "consistently" in this context was unwise and inaccurate (perhaps 'generally' or 'mostly' would have been more appropriate).

      Although I'm tempted to agree with your interpretation of the 3 pieces of anecdotal evidence you provided I am also aware that a similar situation could be expected to obtain from a fledgling movement yet to hit its stride. Time will tell no doubt.

      >>One of these forums is essentially just a collection of bitter refugees from other websites, while the other was intended to be a globe-spanning third-wave of atheism<<

      I don't really think the slymepit was ever intended as a 'globe-spanning third wave of atheism' but your description of A+ sounds about right :-)

  8. Lucy you might want to read the comments to Loftus' post. A half-dozen or more of us there pointed out that John had not actually presented any evidence that A+ is dead.

    Dave H.

  9. Putting atheism plus in perspective

    And consider that a good amount of that traffic is people that search out news on atheism plus like they would if they were watching a train wreck.

    That also doesn't take into consideration most atheists aren't even interested in involving themselves in online atheism. For all intense purposes atheism plus is dead.

    1. By that criteria I also appear to be dead (which may account for the odd looks I got on the bus this morning now I think about it).

  10. From an observer that is not atheist (I am agnostic) it appears atheism+ is a reaction against popular atheism's inability to address concerns over discrimination and the "dumbing down" of much atheist rhetoric.

    Observing statements made by twitter users who use the #atheism tag presents a sample that contains a large percentage of overly emotive, value-laden subjective opinions that are not the product of rational and reasoned thought.

    The language of many "atheists" on twitter is littered with aggressive and baseless accusations that would make Richard Dawkins blush. There appears to be little motivation of any self-correcting processes and as a result atheism risks becoming the approach of the bigoted and uneducated.

    If atheism wishes to address the real causes of the creation of approaches such as atheism+ then perhaps addressing some of the prior mentioned issues may be a place to begin

  11. Hi SoggyMog -

    I hope you're right - and maybe we should think about the "What Now ?" now that Atheism+ has blown over.

    One thing that I hope doesn't happen is that women in the movement feel under pressure to distance themselves from feminism, because any mention of that word will trigger terrible memories !

    I fervently hope that all women, feminists included, feel as fully welcome in the movement as possible. As skeptics we can discuss all issues, including "Does being a critical thinker imply that you must accept patriarchy theory ?", and hear from people on either side without this necessarily turning into a divisive call to identity politics.

  12. Lucy I've just had an article published that relates to Atheism Plus:

  13. The elephant in the room in third wave feminism. I support gender equality, but find the lengths A+ takes feminist social critique to be absurd. If you can't understand how some people might find the very term Schrodinger's Rapist offensive, then well, you are just doing it wrong. I hope Atheism can come back from this craziness. I don't believe in God. I also don't believe that my neighbor Bob is a privileged rapist in waiting.

    1. Ugh yes I agree, some of the shit is TOO FAR. I really want to start a site or a statement of movement that's for gender and all equality, that doesn't go overboard or become hypocritical or plain awful.

      I was banned from A+. I was accused of - supporting the dehumanizing of women (guess I'm one of those self-hating woman enemies?), apologizing for a misogynist (wow, seriously? I should slap her.), and being ableist (for treating someone with a condition like nyone else and asking them a question. Now, I understood, "hmm, I guess my question could have been touchy" but seriously? Ableist for asking someone details on a condition they seem very open with?)

    2. Well shame on you for going and making them try to think critically in their hugbox /sarcasm /loop