Atheism Plus: Atheism, but now with fuckwittery!

If you’re reading this, it can be of no surprise to you that Atheism Plus has come up as a topic of conversation again. As usual, I have an opinion, and am here to share it. Let me start by providing a run down of my understanding of Atheism Plus.

Atheism Plus is a relatively new movement which seeks to go past a simple lack of belief in gods, and into the realm of social justice. They tackle issues such as homophobia, transphobia, feminism, misogyny, racism, and basically every form of bigotry or “ism” you can imagine. How they actually group together to counter any of these things I admit I do not know and do not understand, outside of online forums and Twitter.

My personal opinion on Atheism Plus is that it is not necessary. The majority of atheists I’ve come across are vocal about LGBT rights, many are feminists, and I’ve yet to meet a racist or homophobic atheist. I can support equal rights for women and preventing bigotry and homophobia without labelling myself as belonging to a group. I don’t care if others want to be a part of some group, but personally, I don’t see the need for it, and in my experience, all it has done is successfully fractured the atheist community into an “us and them” mentality. It says on the atheism plus website that this is not the intention, and I believe it- but many of the Atheism Plus members I’ve come across have immediately cast me and other non- A+ members as being unsupportive of the “issues”. I have had several A+ people come to me out of nowhere, badly misunderstanding and misconstruing things I’ve said, and labelling me as they see fit without bothering to listen to an explanation. This is the first way in which I’m reminded of theists.

People have gotten very upset at me for “painting all of Atheism Plus with the same brush”. The fact is, when you identify as part of a group, the actions of the individuals within that group reflect back onto the group as a whole. Is this fair? Probably not. But it’s reality. That’s the trouble with groups like this. The idea itself isn’t a bad one- more people working towards equality can’t be a bad thing. But trying to put so many individuals with so many opinions into a single heading just doesn’t work. My interactions with Atheism Plus members have been 100% negative, and as such, this has coloured my opinion of Atheism Plus as negative. Add to this the fact that they don’t seem to do anything I can’t do on my own, and the entire thing seems wholly useless to me.

Up until the block bot came out, I didn’t even know what Atheism Plus was. This is a whole different pile of horse shit that I struggle to know how to address because it’s so fucking stupid.

The block bot is a service created in conjunction with Atheism Plus, which adds unsavoury people from Twitter to one of three levels; Level 1 (most severe), for “stalkers” and “doxxers”; Level 2 for “assholes”; Level 3 for “annoying people”. Users can opt in to Level 1 only, Level 1 and 2, or all three levels, and the bot will automatically block the list of users the blockers have deemed fit into each level.

Now let me be clear- I don’t actually hate this idea on the surface. I can’t begin to imagine the harassment transgendered individuals in particular probably face from a plethora of dickheads on the internet. That happens. If the purpose of this bot was actually to target just these relentlessly harassing individuals in order to prevent LGBT or others from being harassed, then great. I can absolutely see a place for it among people who are constantly targeted with relentless attacks on Twitter. The trouble is the people who are allowed to add people to the block list are apparently power hungry idiots who have completely ruined the interesting premise of the bot by adding people they simply don’t like to the block list. I was added to Level 2. Was I being an asshole? Definitely (That’s kind of my MO). I committed the mortal sin of speaking up that the block bot adding @secularbloke to its block list was downright fucking ridiculous- because it is. @secularbloke and many others (myself included, now) were added for either having a disagreement with the bot creators, for voicing a dissenting opinion about the bot itself, or saying something “rude” about Atheism Plus. Please explain to me how any of these things are considered “harassment”. If you cannot, then the premise of your bot has utterly failed. Silencing your critics rather than listening to their criticisms shows incredible immaturity, and in this case has ruined whatever good intentions there may have been with this bot. The inability of the creators to have a civil conversation or accept criticism for their idea has completely sunk the idea and turned it into a playground farce and pissing contest. This idea could have worked, if the blockers had a shred of integrity or maturity. Sadly, they did not.

I’ll only briefly mention the incredible irony of being a group of “free thinkers” and letting someone else’s judgements, biases, and personal vendettas decide who should be on YOUR personal block list. Like I said, I understand the purpose if it were to prevent relentless attacks from transphobic assholes. But to allow someone else to decide who is “annoying” and let them be blocked on your behalf shows an unbelievable amount of laziness. If you do have a bad experience with someone, guess what you can do? You can hit the block button yourself.

To illustrate how ridiculous their blocking decisions are, I’m going to go ahead and note some people who have been added to the list, that I know, follow, and think are excellent tweeters and better people- and none of whom are harassers, homophobic, transphobic, misogynists, or rape apologists. Certainly none of whom seek out LGBT, feminists, etc to harass them.
Level 3:
@ZachsMind
@WhiteLighters
@SelfExamineLife
@secularbloke
@MsGrumpy
@Lenn_Len
@Kieran_Madden
@ihaveoreos
@idebunkforme
@GodlessSmeghead
@god_sucks
@ex_muslim
@EuropeanAtheist
@dawkinsassange
@DamnedAndromeda
@curtfox
@CompleteCulture
@chrisrenfrow
@francosoup

Level 2:
@TelfordAtheist
@Ratzsa1
@jen_august
@GreenBudAtheist
@fieryskulldiary
@CommonCormorant
@AtlanticCanuck
@ascotsmanabroad

This is by no means an exclusive list but some I happened to notice while looking at the block list (http://www.theblockbot.com/?page_id=35)

One in particular I’d like to mention is @Lenn_Len. I haven’t followed him for long, but all reports and my own witness have shown him to be nothing but an absolutely lovely person. Recently he got into a discussion with one of the block bot creators, at which point he tweeted something that was VERY badly misinterpreted, to the point where the block bot creator decided it was fair to label him a rape apologist. This, quite plainly, is fucking bullshit. To make such a character judgement based on 3 tweets, all of which were innocuous to anyone who understood what Len was trying to say, is a perfect example of how this A+ block bot nonsense has gotten completely out of hand. I can assure you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Len is NOT a rape apologist, no matter how many holier-than-thou A+ idiots try to paint him as such based on a misunderstood tweet. It’s been explained ad nauseum, and those involved refuse to listen, and refuse to even attempt to understand what happened. This is the kind of shit that makes A+ look bad. It’s the behaviour of these people that sour the entire concept for me and a fair few others. To see how the A+ group refuse to listen to sense and simply label people as rape apologists, misogynists, transphobic assholes, etc illustrates a disturbing level of group think that I haven’t seen since my exit from religion. To see people like @secularbloke, @damnedandromeda, @fieryskulldiary, @francosoup and @jennaugust on this list, among the others, shows exactly how fucking ridiculous the whole thing is. It shows that the creators of the bot and the other A+ individuals I’ve spoken to really seriously don’t give a shit about helping to create a “safer” environment on Twitter- they simply want to make themselves feel powerful and special by publicly shaming and blocking people they don’t like, or who have criticized them, and as a result, have created an incredible divide among atheists on Twitter.

So my conclusion is that, despite intentions that may have been good, personal egos, silly vendettas, and holier-than-thou attitudes have made the block bot, and the greater Atheism Plus movement, a complete and total laughing stock. Things have spiralled so far out of control that I can’t imagine how anything good can come from this. For me, I’ve decided to take my own advice and just block those people who I don’t care to talk to. And can you believe it- I’ve managed to do so without the help of a bot.

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17 Responses to Atheism Plus: Atheism, but now with fuckwittery!

  1. Ratzsa says:

    I agree with this (naturally), but lack the eloquence to express it as well as you did.
    I have not found any rational or even remotely intelligent A+ members, despite a lot of them having contacted me. They are a sad group of people. And seemingly very hate filled.

  2. I agree with almost all of what you said but I would also like to say that their is something inherently wrong with the very “concept” of a block bot. Even though the supporters keep saying that every subscriber can review who was added to the list and can override it, there exists a theoretical possibility (and it’s not implausible that it realizes too) that not every subscriber goes through the whole list reviewing every person in it. Otherwise, the very point of a block bot would be questionable.

    And apart from the problem with the concept, the don’t-care attitude of the people who themselves endorse its use is appalling. A person James tagged a number of people associated with A+ telling them to explain your addition to the list. And the replies were simple “I-don’t-care” types which totally belie their motto that they take care to not add those who just disagree.

  3. Kieran says:

    Nail. Hit. Head.

    I’m less concerned about being listed on their silly bot now that they’ve added a clearer clarification after @AtheistMummy tore them to pieces. I was really quite bothered before that about having my real name slandered by association with genuine harassers & abusers.

    This has taught me a valuable lesson. Slander on the internet is incredibly easy, and defending yourself with the law is far harder than is made out. People can write stuff about you that might be there for ever and could show up in a Google search. I had thought that as long as I never said anything I couldn’t defend and stand by then I would be OK. This was naiive. I shan’t be using my real name online again except in very exceptional circumstances.

    This is a shame as I think the Internet would be a better place if more people used their real identities.

    • Mike P. says:

      Just be very careful with what you say if you do not use your real name. It is easier to track someone than you might think. This is not a threat of any sort – just an observation I have made after trying to find a friend that disappeared. Never talk about the weather! Or lie if you do.

  4. I’m disgusted with you. You didn’t put me in Level 3. Won’t be around again.

  5. The block bot’s website is now claiming that their policy has changed so now they don’t block people solely for criticising the block bot. I wonder if this means they’ll remove people who were added for that reason. One thing I’ve noticed is that the block bot twitter account and other people they follow seem to think that everyone criticises them only for blocking, while the majority of people I’ve seen criticising them are talking about things like what you’ve said above, i.e. blocking people who criticise the bot or the sheep mentality of allowing someone else to block for you (I wonder how many people have blocked people they would actually get along or agree with?). Seems like they prefer to ignore these criticisms and focus on the points they can easily attack.

    I’ve only started interacting with Atheism+ members recently, but what I’ve seen is absolutely mental, so I agree with what you’ve written. I’m sure there are some decent people in it, but it’s evident that the factors listed in your closing paragraph are what Atheism+ as a group generally typify, whether they originally intended it or not. It surprised me how aggressively hardline they can be, for example telling men they can’t be feminists (again ostracising people who would otherwise be allies), and there seems to be no room for differences of opinion among them. It’s no surprise that so many other atheists think of Atheism+ as a bit of a joke.

  6. thejynxed says:

    All I have to say is, that Atheism+ is a laughingstock on reddit.com. That says it all, right there. No further explanation needed.

  7. Thanks for this article! The more people “going public” about AtheismPlus, the sooner it will either self-immolate, or more charitably, reform itself into something truly useful.

    I got added to the BlockBot list for following (the now extinct) @ElevatorGate account, without apology. Early on I tangled with Billingham (blockbot programmer) about the irony of “skeptics” deferring to some unaccountable clique deciding who to avoid on Twitter. A pointless exercise.

    I must correct one point you raised about AtheismPlus not being intentionally divisive. They may state this for “PR purposes,” but that has been their >precise< intention all along. Check out this blog post (http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2207 & note Carrier's own contributions in the comments) and this video (http://youtu.be/au2i3xxgv7U) by prominent A+ supporter, Richard "Intellectual Artillery" Carrier, for further proof.

    Next, please check out these YouTube videos (http://bit.ly/1aSs8MP) by Jim / @NoelPlum99 about AtheismPlus and some of their anti-skeptical positions as they are entertaining as will as insightful.

    Finally, the BlockBot's flawed list assembly methodology has (ironically) become a sort of "must follow list" of people (to at least check out) on Twitter. Sure–there are a few unsavory peeps there, but many share the unifying (and offensive) trait of refusing to drink the FTB/A+ Social Justice Warrior koolaid.

  8. Steersman says:

    Excellent post. Very important, I think, to speak out about such egregious and problematic manifestations of group-think. “The price of freedom ….” and all that.

    And I also agree with your suggestion that the idea of AtheismPlus seems not intrinsically bad – all sorts of groups are formed around common principles, many of whom manage to generally do more good than harm. However, not all “principles” are created equal, and many of them can become hell on wheels which certainly seems to be the case with several of AtheismPlus. For instance, I’ll draw your attention to their “Glossary” (1) which looks more like a catechism than not, specifically these portions of it:

    In social justice terms, marginalized groups cannot be guilty of -isms [e.g., racism, sexism, ableism, etc.] in regards to the axes of privilege that they fall low on, because they don’t have the power to institutionalize their prejudices.

    Racism – discrimination or social prejudice against People of Color.

    Sexism – discrimination or social prejudice against women.

    It is those very selective, and dogmatic if not egregiously hypocritical, “definitions” which have, I think, materially contributed to AtheismPlus becoming a seriously poisoned chalice.

    —–
    1) “_http://atheismplus.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=2632&p=42878&hilit=definitions”;

  9. Pingback: Atheism Plus and How to create new internet trolls |

  10. Barry Lyons says:

    Not to be a grammar Nazi or anything (or a troll), but I wanted to make a comment about the use of hyphens.

    I see this misuse all over Twitter and in many other places. It’s what I guess could be called a word with a “hugged” hyphen (no space). It’s not a punctuation mark, and in terms of the tone or flow of the text, an em dash or a colon would be better. Two examples from this piece, each followed by a suggestion on how they ought to be handled (when a comma won’t suffice):

    It says on the atheism plus website that this is not the intention, and I believe it- but many…
    ought to be:
    It says on the atheism plus website that this is not the intention, and I believe it—but many…

    The idea itself isn’t a bad one- more people working towards equality can’t be a bad thing.
    ought to be:
    The idea itself isn’t a bad one: more people working towards equality can’t be a bad thing.

    The simplest way to think of the difference between the two is that a colon should be used when you’re in an “announcing” mode, and an em dash ought to be used for interruptions of thought.

    Hope this helps (and doesn’t annoy).

    By the way, this is a really good piece. I’m also an atheist, and like you I have no use for the Atheism+ crowd. “I’ve yet to meet a racist or homophobic atheist.” Perfect. How very true!

    Barry

  11. Pingback: Blaming Helen | The Discordian Times

  12. alanwheeler says:

    I have been an atheist for over 30 years. However the worst thing about being an atheist is that there is no hope in an afterlife. That is why I created my own belief system that has current scientific knowledge as its basis but fills in the gaps that science cannot currently explain with religious answers. There is no deity and as science advances so will my beliefs. I would appreciate if you could check out my blog at
    bangism.wordpress.com

  13. Awesome blogpost. I couldn’t agree more.

  14. I think it would be interesting to have a comprehensive list of the reasons for every addition to the list. In my case it was because Oolon didn’t like me posting a tweet to GirlWritesWhat regarding the BBC Newsnight article that included an interview with Oolon and a demonstration of the Block Bot. My issue was with the poor reporting rather than A+/FTB/Block Bot, but facts apparently don’t matter.

    As far as I’m concerned if you want to be closed minded and avoid voices of disent then that’s up to you. Hell, creationists do it all the time. The problem with the BlockBot is how it has been advertised as a way for anyone to block trolls (and not just A+/FTB members). This also raises an interesting question: If a religious group did the same thing, and advertised their block list on national television as a way to block trolls (when in reality the bulk of the list is just people they don’t like or agree with) would the A+ members applaud them, or cry censorship as their voices were hidden from the very people they hoped to engage in rational discourse with? And before anyone cries “But there’s different levels!!!!”, labeling Level 2 as “Assholes” is a rather obvious attempt to encourage people to subscribe to Level 2 at the very least. After all, who wants to get tweets from an asshole?

    I don’t know, call me old fashioned, but I’d much rather choose who I block, and surely that’s what everyone on Twitter should be doing – taking responsibility for their personal block lists, rather than outsourcing it.

  15. Keith says:

    Yes I found the whole “Atheism Plus” thing to be pretty strange.

    It seems like all they really ever wanted to do, was to have an internet “safe space” for a small clique of atheists who feel marginalised for things such as their sexuality, disability, or race, in addition to being atheists. And then also to make atheist conventions more “family friendly”.

    Both of those things seem perfectly reasonable, and I think they could have been achieved quietly over time and with very little opposition without “Atheism Plus” being a thing.

    But then people like Richard Carrier, and various bloggers, decided that they wanted to conflate these goals with some “new wave” of humanist atheism, and challenged all atheists to pick sides and to start a witch hunt for the “MRAs” and other “douchebags” in the “atheist community”. And that anyone who gets rejected by the movement, is an “asshole” or a “douchebag” to be shunned and socially ostracized. Of course that was going to piss people off, especially when they’re so easily offended by things like “privilege” and ban people and add them to block bots left, right and centre.

    Shunning people in the atheist community who make rape jokes, threats, and engage in abusive behaviour or harassment, is perfectly reasonable and understandable to the broader community. Doing the same thing to people because they’re “privileged” and do things like “tone police” and dismiss things as “first world problems”, is a different kettle of fish.

    Of course no one wants to engage idiotic trolls and so they should be ignored and excluded, but that shouldn’t extend to people like Richard Dawkins and Matt Dillahunty. They are very intelligent and reasonable people, and are perfectly capable of having reasonable discussions with even the most hysterical and delusional religious fundamentalists. Choosing not to engage them, or to react with hostility to their perceived privilege and shun and exclude them, is very counter productive and divisive.

    Atheism Plus has way too much political and personality baggage attached to it. Lots of people do not like Rebecca Watson and co and all the drama they create, and simply don’t want to be associated with them. Ironically these bloggers who apparently started and championed the “movement” don’t really have anything much to do with it, certainly don’t participate on the forum.

    It’s all very bizarre, and it has completely failed as a “movement”. All it’s done is created a huge amount of manufactured drama that I think leaves most people just shaking their heads in mild disbelief.

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