Saturday, December 29, 2012

On Al Stefanelli’s “Atheist Cult” tirade

| »
Al Stefanelli
Al Stefanelli

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:

Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

‘An Atheist Cult: Those Radicals From Freethought Blogs, Atheism Plus, Etc.’ by Al Stefanelli [@ 12/23/12]
Transcript and emphasis by Joé McKen [@ 12/29/12]


AL STEFANELLI: Author, Writer, Journalist, Civil Rights Activist

Today's Topic…

Our friends at Freethought Blogs, Atheism Plus, Skepchick International, and others.

AL STEFANELLI: So, what the hell is wrong with these people?

Who? Well, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Rebecca Watson; to a degree, Jennifer McCreight, Melody Roth, Melody Hensley, several people over at the Atheism Plus Forum, a handful of others who have managed to not only drive people away from non-sectarian activism in droves, but have driven a wedge deep into what should be a unified cause. They aren’t helping, anywhere. They’re radical extremists in several genres, including feminism, and are giving a bad name to several groups – several marginalized groups, including real feminists, the LGBT community, and they appear to have an incredibly unhealthy vendetta against men in general, and as it appears, the entire Caucasian race as well.

These people are living in a bubble that they created for themselves, and what they fail to realize is that from the outside world, well, together, they appear to be nothing more than just another religious cult. They’ve not only become a caricature unto themselves, but they’re blighting the entire concept of social justice and equality and trampling on the rights of several other demographics.

Social justice activism is supposed to bring marginalized groups to a point where they are enjoying whatever rights they’ve been denied, not to bring down or to usurp the rights of other groups. You don’t advance any one group by taking away from another group. That’s not equality, but behavior indicative of children. When my kids were adolescents, they behaved as such, and when one of them felt that they were being treated unfairly, the choice to argue their case as to why they should be treated differently was ignored in favor of providing my wife and I with some information to make the other one look bad. Like many children do, they brought down a sibling to make them appear at least equal, if not better.

When this behavior is present in adults, it becomes discrimination and bigotry in its own right, and it’s deplorable. Don’t even get me started on their attempts to redefine misogyny, sexism, racism, and all the other —isms to the point that everyone except them are to be targets of their pitchforks and torches, branded as women-haters and sexists and potential murderers and rapists, or rape apologists, or whatever the hell else they’ve decided to add to their fucked up version of reality. As a group, they exhibit almost all the factors that define a religious cult, and as much as he would like us to believe otherwise, PZ Myers functions as one of their de facto leaders, if not the most influential person in the group. That influence, however, is waning, as PZ tumbles deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of cognitive dissonance, taking with him everyone who hangs on his every word like he’s the pope of skepticism or something.

Oh, and Greg Laden? I’m very disappointed in you. I’ve never been anything other than friendly towards you and have defended you rather publicly and promoted your science blog to the 60-somewhat-thousand people who populate my social networks. Because you don’t agree with someone I happen to be friends with, you publicly post a “Do Not Contact” order? Okay, Greg, have it your way. You will never hear from me again.

You know, I hesitate to refer to Freethought Blogs as a hole, mainly because there are many, many talented writers there who have managed to stay out of this mess. But I can imagine the facepalming they’re doing as the reputation of the entire network is further sullied by a few irresponsible and unstable bloggers. I feel really bad for Ed Brayton; he’s actually a really decent guy and someone I’ve known for a while. He’s put an incredible amount of effort, time, and personal expense into creating and developing Freethought Blogs. It’s gotta be incredibly frustrating for him to see his baby at the center of all this controversy.

The fact remains, though, that the behavior of a number of bloggers on the Freethought Blogs network, Atheism Plus in general, and a handful of others who have labeled most of humanity as “evil-doers” falls well within what defines a religious cult. One of the aspects of cults is their penchant for internal control and the amount of internal political and social power exercised by their leaders over their members and the lack of clearly defined organizational rights for their members. Basically, they’ve got their followers walking on eggshells, afraid to exhibit their own opinions or speak their own minds. This has resulted in some of the most idiotic justifications of why they believe the things that they do to the point that all you can do is just laugh at them.

Influential leaders in cults also exhibit external control over their members with emphasis on directing the external behavior of their members. Atheism Plus [Forum] recently put out a new rule that demands their members obey the dictatorial rules, not only while on their forum, but everywhere else, at the threat of being banned. There are those on Freethought Blogs who routinely alter comments, they ban people who offer differing opinions, and have routinely called for the shunning of many.

Another aspect of cult behavior is the wisdom and knowledge claimed by their leaders and the amount of infallibility declared or implied about their decisions or interpretations of things. This includes the amount of trust in the decisions or interpretations made by the leader, and the amount of hostility by members towards internal or external critics. Then you’ve got the dogma, or the “rigidity of reality” concepts put forth by the cult, as well as the amount of inflexibility or fundamentalism or hostility towards those who are worldly. This is the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” bullshit, as well as the call to separate the wheat from the chaff and more shunning opportunities.

Other culted[sic] aspects of these people include recruiting, censorship, paranoia – we can’t forget the grimness, which includes the sheer amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, or its doctrines, or its leaders, and any actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical. Most damaging of all is the hypocrisy, which is epic.

There isn’t enough time in the day to touch on all the bullshit, division and damage that has been done to the unbelieving Internet community thanks to this small group of individuals who insist on living in their isolated little world of imaginary slights, complete with its own ever-evolving dictionary. So much so, that their Internet folly has bled over into the real world and their actions have resulted in detrimental effects towards real activists who are actually out there doing things to advance the collection of movements that make up the non-sectarian cause.

Their biggest target to date is the place known as the Slymepit. If you ask them, it is the ninth level of Hell, filled with misogynists and sexists and ableists and rapists and potential rapists and potential murderers and rape apologists and whatever the fuck else they can dredge up. They warn everyone that they never should go there, and at least one person who has gone there was rewarded with threats of physical violence.

Well, let me tell you the truth about the Slymepit. It’s an Internet forum consisting of over 400 members with over a million views and getting up onto about 40,000 individual posts on one thread only. The people who post there are skeptics. They’re students of critical thought who refuse to accept anything they are told at face value and that nothing should go without careful examination. Thus, they question the antics of our friends at Freethought Blogs, Atheism Plus, and their handful of allies. I’ve been hanging out there for months, interacting with them, reading through thousands of posts, looking for the things I [was] told I would surely find there, and you know what? They don’t exist. I found no misogynists, I found no racists, no rape apologists, no sociopaths, no psychotics, none, nada, zip, zilch. Instead, I found a group of people who actually spend the time to fact-check things, to investigate claims, and to post intricate, detailed replies that are indicative of what a skeptic should do.

Yes, they tell jokes. And some of those jokes are a little off-color, because they reason that nothing should be safe from lampooning. They’re not politically correct all the time, but they are honest in their approach to the topics they cover.

So you know, the choice is always ours to make. We can choose cognitive dissonance by planting our heads firmly up our asses, maintaining the belief that the cult of personality exhibited by those Freethought Bloggers, the Atheism Plussers, the Skepchicks and the others as accurate, fair, reasonable, or we can choose to exercise our critical thinking skills by looking elsewhere for opposing points of view and information. I suggest you start with the Slymepit, which is growing every day, if only because it’s the last place they want you to go. Don’t worry, you can post as a guest, and even if you lurk, your presence there will not be revealed. That’s called integrity. There’s a permanent link on the right side of my channel that will take you to the Undead Thread.

Oh, and just in case you decide to post there, you should know that there is no ability to edit or delete your post. This is because we take responsibility for what we write.

Anyway, I’m done. That’s it. Take it easy.


AL STEFANELLI: Author, Writer, Journalist, Civil Rights Activist

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”.

Tommy Lee Jones “srsly?/facepalm” meme

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.)