As some of you may be aware (and not just because I mentioned it in last night’s Daily Blend), atheist journalist/activist Al Stefanelli recently made a video wherein he launched a veritable Gish Gallop’s worth of attacks and smears against several writers involved with Freethought Blogs (where he briefly resided), Atheism Plus, and the social-justice-oriented atheosphere in general, accusing them of being “radical extremists” out on a witch-hunt against White men and who give other, “real” activists a bad name and so on and so forth. It’s a remarkably dreary and absurd rant, and given that even my SIWOTI syndrome only goes so far, I was content to link to Ed Brayton’s excellent debunking and leave it at that (I found his comparison to the rhetoric from religious-Right cranks particularly fitting).
However, Stefanelli himself was apparently dissatisfied that I supposedly misunderstood his argument, and additionally claimed that I hadn’t even watched the video (an amusing assumption, considering that while I did skip past some of the more lengthy segments devoted to explaining in mind-numbing detail exactly why certain bloggers he disagrees with are like a “cult”, I did sit through the majority of it and understood his arguments perfectly).
But let it never be said that I’m not one to rise to such an easy challenge (even if it entails spending hours of my own freaking birthday typing down some weird rant about how myself and my allies are something like the bastard child of Jim Jones and Pol Pot of godless social justice). And so, I took the liberty of transcribing every painful second of Stefanelli’s tirade, below, in the hopes of sparing anyone else from sitting through the wretched thing:
To get things started, let’s examine Stefanelli’s frequent defense against the criticism he’s ever-so-rightly receiving for his bullshit, which is that “[he] never stated that FtB was an atheist cult. Not once, ever”.
Hmm. Let’s see:
The title of his video is ‘An Atheist Cult: Those Radicals From Freethought Blogs, Atheism Plus, Etc.’;
His video’s description declares that Myers, Benson, Zvan, Watson, McCreight and others’ behaviors fit “squarely within the definitions that identify religious cults” and that his video is about “what can only be described as an atheist cult”;
In the video, he claims that “they appear to be nothing more than just another religious cult”, that “[a]s a group, they exhibit almost all the factors that define a religious cult”, and that “a number of bloggers on the Freethought Blogs network, Atheism Plus in general” and others “[fall] well within what defines a religious cult”; and
He spends several detailed paragraphs comparing them to various “aspects of cults” such as allegedly exhibiting “internal [and] external control over their members”, declaring the “infallibility” of their “leaders”, and even engaging in “recruiting, censorship, paranoia” and – of all things – “grimness”.
You know, on second thought, he’s actually right. He never did say that “Freethought Blogs”, in and of itself, was “an atheist cult”. Rather, he just maintains that many FtBloggers, along with several other entities, together exhibit the clear and undeniable characteristics of a “religious cult”, except they’re atheists, so that makes them an “atheist cult”, only not really, because they’re just like an “atheist cult”.
See? Totally different. And also makes perfect sense. I think.
What’s immediately evident to any astute observer is that this sort of blustery rhetoric is all Stefanelli and nearly every other anti-FtB/A+ critic like him have in their argumentative arsenal. Time and time again, these people have been asked to provide the slightest shred of evidence to support their wild claims about PZ, Ophelia, Rebecca & co. forming some sort of femi-stasi clique, yet every such request has inevitably been met with either silence, or (more commonly) renewed vituperation. You would think that if these maligned bloggers had actually committed any of the offenses they’re ritually accused of, there would be some form of proof out there – quotes from PZ declaring that he’s out to assimilate all of atheism, Jen demanding that everyone adhere to her own Atheism Plus definition under penalty of excommunication, Rebecca throwing lawsuits at Richard Dawkins for being a horrible misogynistic cad – something. But all we’ve ever seen is yet more of the same baseless, insubstantial accusations with zero evidentiary basis.
The reason I can say these things with some confidence is because I am sufficiently informed about their actual words and behavior to be able to judge the merits of the accusations they receive. Pharyngula, Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Blag Hag are some of the first sources of blogging fodder I visit every morning, and nary a day goes by without me also finding myself checking out what’s happening elsewhere at FtB, and occasionally Skepchick and others (though I don’t go there quite as often as I arguably should). I read these people regularly, and while I occasionally find some fragment of a bone to pick with them, they come across as nothing more or less than committed and passionate defenders of justice and equality for all, as decent human beings with different stakes in different arenas, and as intelligent, rational and reasonable people who tackle the messy issues that few others are able or willing to approach, even if it means getting their hands dirty – or, as it were, finding themselves on the receiving end of a whirlwind of obsessively hateful stupidity.
On the other hand, what arguments do the critics of FtB and Atheism Plus generally have to offer? Wanton assholery (upon assholery), persistent cluelessness, rank dishonesty, petty childishness, and most of all, just a heapin’ helping of generalized foulness. (And those are just a handful of examples I bothered to dig up on the fly; give me enough time and patience and I’d fill a goddamned anthology. But of course, I now take bets on how long before some dweeb accuses me of not presenting any evidence for my claims, as if the previously linked examples weren’t conclusive enough. I’m afraid it really is all that predictable.) It isn’t that their tone contaminates their substance; the majority of them have no substance, and their vileness thus consumes the whole of their arguments until there’s nothing left but a puddle of sick in place of a discussion.
I mean it: If there ever comes a time when one of these critics actually presents something worth taking seriously – an argument that doesn’t fall apart under a minimum of scrutiny, a screenshot or recording of genuinely bad behavior on an FtBer/Plusser/etc.’s part that isn’t blatantly ripped out of context or otherwise misrepresented, or anything else that would give any amount of credence to their arguments, then they might actually have a leg to stand on. But as it is, I’ve yet to see any indication that they have any interest in playing honestly as opposed to kicking up all the dust they can muster. When they behave like immature twits, it’s no longer a mystery or remotely unfair that they would be treated as such.
I really have little else to say on the matter of Stefanelli’s video in and of itself; it’s so full of transparent and ridiculous nonsense that it makes self-defeat into an art form. I don’t generally lower myself to the level of those who espouse such idiocy in the futile hopes of reasoning with them, and the only reason I wrote this post at all is due to a mixture of idle boredom and a curiosity for measuring just how many times Stefanelli manages to shoot himself in the foot in a mere ten minutes. The fact that he continues to shovel up blithely disingenuous excuses to try and weasel his way out of his critics’ scopes concretizes the notion that there’s little point in trying to engage the man seriously.
(I won’t even touch on how Stefanelli devotes the last third or so of his video attempting to extoll the virtues of the ever-so-aptly-named Slymepit, essentially a hub for the anti-FtB/A+ camp, which really tells you every single last thing there is to know about the man and the sort of company he chooses to keep. Just a hint: It includes the likes of Franc Hoggle, who’s now expanded his line of sophomoric image macros to include yours truly. Point, meet proof.)