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Responding to A+ Accusations

Last year a group of atheists and skeptics decided that the only correct mode of thought was far left humanism and militant, man-hating feminism. They created the A+ movement as a response to those who dared to push-back against their nonsense. Their occasionally interesting blogs were transformed into cesspools of self-righteous name calling. They drove their most interesting writers away, leaving behind a relativity small group of miscreants who spend most of their time searching, searching, searching for something they can whine about. In nearly every case they misrepresent what the author actually said. Context doesn’t matter. Intent doesn’t matter. The author’s history and record and previous writings don’t mater. The only thing that matters is that someone feeds their desperate need for attention.

The most prominent among them are Rebecca Watson and PZ Meyers. In the past they occasionally provided insights and interesting takes on things, but these days they and their cronies spend most of their time desperately looking for something to be offended by and pissed off about.

The rift they created is now being discussed in the mainstream press, making the entire atheist movement look bad.

There are two ways to feel good about yourself. The first is to actually accomplish something. It can be something great or something trivial, but as long as it’s something you can be proud of, you can point to it, say, “I did that,” and feel good about yourself.

The second way is to look down on other people. We all do it to some extent, but some people use it as their primary source of self-esteem. They convince themselves they are morally superior to anyone who disagrees with them. They often season their disdain with a persecution complex.

The A-plusers have mastered the second technique. They carefully examine everything said or written by any atheist or skeptic outside of their self-important clique. The moment someone says anything they don’t like (and they don’t like much), they go into attack mode. They call out the offender by name, twisting their words out of context to present them in the worst possible light.

The natural response by those attacked is to defend themselves. They spend a great deal of time and effort explaining what they really meant, often inducing a detailed personal history that counters the accusations. This is the natural, obvious response to this kind of attack, but I’d like to suggest a different approach.

Ignore them.

Every time you address their spurious arguments and deeply dishonest accusations, they get the attention they crave. You’re training them that they can remain the center of their own universe simply by stirring up shit wherever the attention starts to fade.

Ignoring them very, very difficult to do. Our natural response, especially to potentially reputation-damaging accusations, is to defend ourselves. But every time we do it, we’re training them to keep flinging poo in our direction.

I made this suggestion to someone they’d targeted, and she replied that it was important to defend herself. She does a lot of freelance work, and was concerned that a potential client or employer would run a search on her name and see the accusation. If she didn’t respond she might lose the gig.

This is a legitimate concern. A friend lost two paying gigs because someone Googled his name and was offended by a conversation the two of us had on this very blog. (I made a change that removed it from Google’s radar.) I’m sure I’ve missed being hired once or twice because someone Googled my name and was offended by some opinion I’ve expressed here or elsewhere on the web. The only sure way to avoid that is to keep quiet on the net, which isn’t in our nature.

But in the long run defending yourself against these bogus accusations from the A-plussers is counter-productive. It inspires them to repeat their dishonest behavior. Linking back to their accusations improves their search engine ranking, making it more likely their nonsense will come up when someone searches for your name.

Some of the people pulling this crap achieved their original prominence by offering insights and worthwhile conversations, but now they’re like poorly mannered children at an adult party.  They are jumping up and down in the living room, waving their arms and shouting nonsense in a desperate attempt to get the grownups to abandon their conversations with each other and pay attention to them.

Don’t feed the beast. Dismiss them as you would a any other tiresome troll. It’s not easy, especially when they mention you by name, but it’s the only way to get rid of them.

“Oh, it’s just Rebecca Watson. Pffft. Did you like the latest Bond movie?”

“Oh, it’s just PZ Meyers. Ho hum, what’s for dinner?”

“Oh, it’s an A-Plusser making noise? Not now, I’m having a conversation with the grown-ups.”

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14 Comment(s)

  1. Well said on ignoring. I’m guilty of not having been terribly good at that and I fear I’m not quite done. But I promise I won’t grant The Whiners too much more attention. Promise. :)

    Anton A. Hill | Mar 3, 2013 | Reply

  2. I don’t know… it’s not easy. I find myself torn because there are a couple of quality bloggers out there that are fully on board with Fem+, and it grinds on me to believe that these guys can’t be swayed. It just goes against my sense of justice to think that people who are as obviously intelligent as some of them are have such a huge blind spot.

    Either that, or I have a huge blind spot. i’m still not sure which.

    Kacy Ray | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  3. Good post, DH, but I have to disagree with this:

    “Some of the people pulling this crap achieved their original prominence by offering insights and worthwhile conversations, ”

    As far as I can tell, pretty much all of the people involved achieved their original prominence on the coattails of the “big name” atheists and skeptics they have now turned against.

    I had written a number of posts about this and made a couple of videos, but then I realized the futility of it all.

    (I still have a video up at YT mocking the whole situation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTz_TyvW9Yo .)

    Cheers,
    J

    Jose C Silva | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  4. Reminds me of this –

    “First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    It is easy to say “ignore them” when they have not targeted you for character destruction. Standing on the sidewalk whistling is what allowed this mess in the first place.

    The Devil's Towelboy | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  5. That’s a very funny video, Jose. It won’t mean anything to the people who are unaware of this mess, but is perfect for those who are.

    Dave Hitt | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  6. … said the guy who made a 50 minute video about how someone on Twitter wouldn’t give him a link he was too lazy to look up himself. I guess it takes one to know one.

    oolon | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  7. Ignoring them maybe a good idea if they’re just a typical group of obnoxious trolls, but the people from Freethought Blogs, Skepchick and Atheism Plus aren’t your typical trolls. They’re dogmatic ideologues. They seriously equate silence with agreement. If no one calls them out on their bullshit, then they’ll continue to spout out their bullshit until it becomes fact. Like any bad idea we have to point it out for what it is: a bad idea. Ignoring the anti-vaccine movement is a bad idea, so why is it a good idea to ignore the bullshit being spewed by Freethought Blogs, Skepchick and Atheism Plus?

    BreadGod | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  8. I have no clue what you’re talking about oolon. My lifetime video output consists of two clips that run for nine seconds each. http://bit.ly/Z3JLlo

    The difference, BreadGod, is that the anti-vaxers are causing real, demonstrable harm to the public, while the plussers are just stirring up shit within the atheist/skeptic community. It’s the responses that keep the fight going, going strong enough and long enough that Time magazine has been asking about it. If, instead, the plussers were ignored, yeah, they’d keep spewing, probably for quite a while, but it would be nothing more than an echo chamber. It wouldn’t be jucy enough for the MSM to bother with, and if they did pursue it, those contacted could shrug it off and say, “Yeah, that’s a little cesspool of whiners we don’t bother with. But here’s something else that’s interesting…”

    Dave Hitt | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  9. “The difference, BreadGod, is that the anti-vaxers are causing real, demonstrable harm to the public, while the plussers are just stirring up shit within the atheist/skeptic community.”

    Strangely, Dave, this is contradicted by your very own post:

    “I made this suggestion to someone they’d targeted, and she replied that it was important to defend herself. She does a lot of freelance work, and was concerned that a potential client or employer would run a search on her name and see the accusation. If she didn’t respond she might lose the gig.

    “This is a legitimate concern. A friend lost two paying gigs because someone Googled his name and was offended by a conversation the two of us had on this very blog.”

    I would wager both your friends would consider loss of employment opportunities as “causing real, demonstrable harm” to them, as members of the public.

    Your friends are not the only ones who’ve been really, demonstrably harmed by the smearing and google-poisoning campaigns of these ideologues.

    There may be (probably are) legitimate cases where the best response is truly to ‘ignore them’, but this is not the universally best response, not by a long-shot.

    In many cases, if a person has the opportunity, a better response is to call them on their bullshit, calmly and rationally, but relentlessly; not rising to their flame-war escalations, but at the same time, not ignoring them or backing down from the rational position that they are simply, matter of factly, just wrong. Done with sufficient calmness, this tends to drive them nuts. In several instances, which I can reference if desired, this kind of response has much more rapidly exposed their hypocrisy and bullying tactics far more efficiently than ignoring them ever could have.

    Others respond with satire, humour, mockery, and the like. I personally find that while this works great with absurd religious views such as creationism, it has a high risk of backfiring when used against an adversary who is themselves highly versed in the use and countering of mockery and hyperbole. However, I won’t condemn those who choose this approach, because there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. I just don’t think it works as well in this different context.

    My point is, there are undoubtedly many different ways to respond to these bullying and smearing campaigns, and some will be more effective than others. And, just like in our responses to religious dogma, the context may call for different responses in different situations. Indeed, it may call for multiple various responses in the very same situation.

    Instead of advocating for a single one-size-fits-all response, I would advocate for more variety in responses. Experiment, try different things. If one is not comfortable with X, try Y. Invent Z and try that. Most of all, when you find something that works for you, keep at it, keep using it, refine it, and let others know you’ve found an effective tactic.

    If you’ve indeed found the ‘ignoring them’ strategy to work, I’d love to hear more ideas about it; even ‘ignoring’ someone can actually be done in different ways, if you see what I mean. Let’s share more tips and ideas to counter this invasive dogma. It is indeed much like trying different anti-theistic/atheistic arguments against different kinds of theists, and in different situations. I don’t think ‘one way’ has ever really been an effective overall strategy. Usually, ‘many ways’ wins the day in the long run.

    Cheers! :-)

    Thaumas Themelios | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  10. @Dave Hitt: It’s easy to say that we should ignore them when you’re not the one targeted for character assassination. Let’s see you try to say all of that when you become their witch of the week. They’ll drag your name through a mile of shit and set it on fire. Would you be willing to ignore them then? Also, you underestimate the damage Freethought Blogs, Skepchick and Atheism Plus have done to the atheist community. We’ve ignored their foolishness for years, and now look where we are. They’ve turned the atheist movement into a joke. Bad ideas need to be nipped in the bud, because if you don’t kill them off early, if we take your advice and ignore them, then they will fester and grow until their radical ideas become the norm in the atheist community.

    The fact of the matter is, mockery works. It’s already worked against Atheism Plus. People relentlessly mocked the idea the moment it was created, and now it’s been cast into the pits of irrelevancy. Freethought Blogs wanted to use Atheism Plus to impose their will onto the atheist movement, but thanks to the power of mockery, it’s been reduced to a cheap punchline. We’ve mocked it to the point where Jen McCreight, the person who originally created Atheism Plus, now wants nothing to do with it.

    BreadGod | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  11. “We’ve mocked it to the point where Jen McCreight, the person who originally created Atheism Plus, now wants nothing to do with it.”

    Really? Where can I read about this?

    Kacy Ray | Mar 4, 2013 | Reply

  12. She made a tweet where she basically said, “Leave me alone. I haven’t looked at the Atheism+ forums since they were made. I don’t care. I’ve moved on from atheism.”

    BreadGod | Mar 5, 2013 | Reply

  13. Thomas, I agree that there are many ways of dealing with these trolls; I’m merely suggesting one that I think could be more effective for addressing their endless stream of bile.

    If you must respond, mockery is one of the best ways. They respond to reason and respectful discourse about as well as your average fundy, making it a waste of time. A serious response also implies to them that you’re taking their nonsense seriously, which feeds their ego, which is their primary motivation. I rather liked this example: http://atheiststoday.com/blogs/reapercussions/?p=35

    You’re right, Bread, I’ve never been the target of these particular yahoos, but I have been dealing with online trolls since the days of dial-up BBSs. Mockery sometimes works, and is certainly more fun that ignoring them, but quite often it just keeps them coming back for more. The only thing I’ve found that will stop the relentless trolls is ignoring them. It’s very hard to do, because they keep providing you with low-hanging fruit. They don’t give up after a day or a week or a month. But eventually, if you keep ignoring them, they’ll realize they have to feed their desperate need for attention elsewhere.

    People relentlessly mocked the idea the moment it was created, and now it’s been cast into the pits of irrelevancy.

    The fact that TIME is interested in this supports your point – they don’t usually get to social trends until they’re nearly played out. But the plussers are not completely irrelevant yet. They’re headed that way, and you can smell the increasing desperation of those in their ranks. That desperation is encouraging them to open their bile spigots even wider.

    I’m suggesting, merely suggesting, that the best way to deal with them is to ignore them as much as possible. They’re already little more than a self-important echo chamber, accomplishing nothing except patting each other in the back among their bogs and forums, but whenever they stick their heads out of their cesspool and scream at one of the rational atheists, far too many of us respond. I think it would be best to just walk on by, and let them sink back into their own spew.

    And if you really, really must respond to them, do it with all the respect they deserve, which is approximately none. Say, “Aw, you have an opinion. Isn’t that cute!” Point at their genitals and giggle. Tell them to stop interrupting the grown-ups. Brush them off with a “Pffft.” Then move on.

    Dave Hitt | Mar 5, 2013 | Reply

  14. Dave, your reply doesn’t seem to work. I was addressing the massive irony in Anton Hills response that “they” are “whiners” when he made a lengthy video whining at length about Ophelia Benson not pinging him a link on Twitter. It was pretty unbelievable… But obviously he can see “whine” in others but not himself.

    I agree with ignoring, there are obvious massive differences of opinion. Like any two groups that differ we will likely never agree… This is part of normal discourse and to be expected, no? Do you feel the need to denigrate people from other political parties because they have different opinions on complex subjects? Maybe you do.

    Personally I find it bizarre that people feel A+ is part of the same community just because they are atheists. So there is this pointless need to repudiate, and claim harm because some people in “your” community have different opinions to you. Ideas are to be attacked and argued against, I find your claim that there is no rational discourse to be had with A+ and ridicule is the only option against A+ ideas very telling. You don’t need to convert everyone to your point of view to “win” the argument. Climate denialists still exist despite the evidence. Creationists exist despite the evidence. If you really think your way is the “truth” then lay it out and people will agree or disagree based on the evidence. If you find yourself marginalised and your arguments not accepted in a community of freethinking sceptics and atheists then consider Dunning-Kruger may apply. If you find you need to resort to labelling your opponents “creationists”, “ideologues” etc to score points and start claiming it is impossible to argue your cause then you may just be losing the plot… IMO :-)

    oolon | Mar 6, 2013 | Reply

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