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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

General Tunderf00t Dropping Drama Bombs

Recently Thunderf00t joined the apparently prestigious Free Thought Blogs, and with his very first post got himself kicked off the blog.

While I do acknowledge a certain amount of hypocrisy in calling yourself Free Thought Blogs and then banning someone for what they wrote about, I really don’t care all that much. Not my problem.

Instead of dwelling on the latest round of epic drama between Titans of the internet (Thunderf00t VS PZ Meyers) let me give you some of my honest impressions on the situation.

First, the Rebecca Watson thing. Massively blown out of scale. Not only was it blown out of scale, but people seemed to go out of there way to try to rationalize away the whole event.
The people that reacted usually took one of two strategies:

1) Denial: The man wasn’t really making a pass at her, and his invitation to have coffee and talk in his hotel room at 4am should be taken at face value. I say: These people need to watch Seinfeld.
2) Use over-simplified evolutionary psychology: Men can’t help but hit on women, they argue. Men can’t be expected to actually be tactful in their advances. Women should just politely accept men’s advances in whatever form, and never feel uncomfortable for it. I say: These people should get a grip, and realize that if you make a woman uncomfortable, you aren’t getting laid, and there are two sides to the evolutionary equation so stop making excuses for someone’s poor judgment.

Those points out of the way, I find it ironic how many people used their influence on the internet, which dwarfs Rebecca’s, to tell her that she was making too big a deal out of the whole thing. Even I have twice as many subscribers as Rebecca Watson. Turning something into a big deal is telling tens of thousands of views or blog reader about something they otherwise would not have any knowledge of. Uncommented on, Rebecca’s statements might have been heard a few thousand of her regular subscribers and then have been forgotten about.  My interpretation of what she said is simple: Don’t be a creeper to women.

This first major round of drama died out some time ago, but it was dragged back up in the most recent events with Thunderf00t.

Thunderf00t’s ‘tactical analysis’ of addressing sexual harassment

Upon joining FreeThought Blogs, Thunderf00t wrote a blog making a tactical appraisal of the issue of sexual harassment at Secular conferences.

Personally, I have never been to such a conference, nor to I really follow the inner working of the “secular movement” and so my reaction was much the same as I image someone reading this blog with almost zero background knowledge on the subject would be: “wait? This is a big issue?”

In other words, Thunderf00t went on a rant about how the topic of sexual harassment at secular conferences was taking away too much time and resources from “more important issues” and this diversion of effort was harmful to the movement. And my reaction was, aside from the Rebecca Watson drama of almost a year ago, I had absolutely no idea that this subject was such a burning issue in the secular movement. Without TF to inform me as such, I would have been in the dark.

Thunderf00ts actions almost immediately lead to another round of drama on the issue, so his attempts to get people to stop talking about it had the exact opposite effect he was hoping for. It was a divisive move that simple lead to more internal conflict.

However, to step aside from the drama for a moment and give a more dispassionate opinion, I am actually puzzled by the very way Thunderf00t framed the subject. He made analogies to war, and to General Patton in particular and spoke of focusing limited resources on what ‘really matter’.

This immediately leads to a couple of central questions: what should people focus on, who should decide what matters, and what are these resources he is talking about? So here is my humble point of view:

1) I personally think that people such as thunderf00t cannot see the forest from the trees when it comes to advancing secularism and or challenging religion. I too once was somewhat blind when it came to this issue until I ‘woke up and saw the light’. And that light is this: promoting science and reason is not a bad thing, but all too often, what we see in the discourse on religion is people at polar ends of the spectrum, who are thoroughly entrenched, fighting each other to the bitter end in a struggle where neither side wants to budge. To use TF’s own WWII analogy, the American efforts in the war did matter, but the war in Europe turned at Stalingrad, before the US really fully entered the war. It was the Red Army, with its overwhelming numbers and relentlessness that did most of the breaking of the Germans. The sort of people (creationists, evangelical apologists, etc) that those such as Thunderf00t focus their efforts on represent the fringes of religion. Yet this is what they constantly conflate with religion as a whole. There is a broad mass of moderates out there, and they are the key. Turn them against extreme religion, and nature will take it’s course. But, in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people in the middle, over simplifications tend not to help the situation at all, but only alienate people. It is all to easy to convince yourself that debunking creationism is all it takes to turn the tide for secularism, but in reality, the vast majority of people do not have such a literal view of religion, and so this has little or no impact on them. The secular movement seems to be running out of steam, because few people are investing any thought into how to get the average person to think critically about religion and how to shift the public discourse. Instead, they continue to fight the fringes and start to seem like that are the fringe on the other side in the process, and not the sanest people in society.

2) It is not really up to Thunderf00t or anyone else to tell other people what they should care about or talk about. If a woman, or a man for that matter, wants to talk about how sexual harassment is a problem at conferences, it is not Thunderf00t’s or anyone else’s place to say it’s not important. If it is important to someone like Rebecca Watson, then the only thing anyone could do is not allow her to speak at conferences at all. They cannot tell her what to talk about, or what to care about. Just because you would rather hear someone give yet another speech about some well worn talking point like how stupid creationists are instead of about sexual harassment does not mean you have a say in what THEY chose to speak about.

3) Unless a significant amount of money is being spent on the issue, than more than likely, the only resources being expended on the issue are time and focus. As for time, most of it is voluntary to begin with, so it’s really up to the individual contributor on how they spend it (see point 2). To assert otherwise smacks of being a control freak. As for focus, so little happens in the world of online secularism these days that there is pretty well room for just about everything. What burning issue is attention being directed away from by talking about this anyway? Thunderf00t never specifies.

Aside from the general disaster that was this incident, I think that Thunderf00t lost face and came off as a bit of an asshole during this debacle. His attempts to play the ‘academic honestly’ card seem pompous and a way of say “I am special because I have an advanced degree”. Frame it in terms of fair treatment would have been one thing, but to make it about the sanctified world of academia just sounds arrogant and self important. Also, his calling Rebecca Watson “crazy” and “an idiot” is childish, uncalled for, and… not befitting the standards of academia he holds in such high regards.

Finally, while I may have some inclination to take Thunderf00t’s side on questioning the importance of Secular conferences in general compared with the impact of online, I find it baffling the way in which he tried to defend them meat markets. Yes, you do have to be an ‘adult’ to attend the after hours parties and blow of some steam with a few drinks at the bar with your fellow conference goers, but going there expecting to hook up is a different matter all together. Thunderf00t seemed to imply that it was all part of the deal, but I don’t see it that way. Maybe that explains why I don’t actually go to these events. In my observation, it does seem to be a part of ‘the secular scene’ (along with internet culture in general) that some people seem to make online the focus of their love life, and so IRL meetings are sort of a big deal in that regard. There have been several “YouTube Atheist Couples” spawned over the years. I am one of those crazy people that tries to keep my romantic life local, and tries to have a life offline in general, so it is hard, but not impossible, for me to grasp this mentality. My advice would be that as much as you might have an internet crush on someone attending the conference with you, try to leave your sexual frustration at home. Perhaps one source of the sexual harassment problem at conferences is people whose entire social world is online being inept with women IRL. Who knows? Either way, sexual harassment is never justified, and if it’s a problem at conferences, then it IS worth talking about.

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