Ok, there's no point reading this unless you have read through this existing thread -

Stop the madness! And a possible new site rule?

There is just so much wrong here, it is difficult to know where to even begin. You look at the catastrophist hyperbole and you are led to believe that a|n is a cauldron of smouldering hatred and abuse where none dare raise their voice lest they be incinerated by foul-mouthed barbarian hordes and those that aren't driven away immediately are hunted and stalked into submission. Heady stuff. But as is the case with all the other self-hating memes this community loves to flagellate itself with that keep re-occurring and reinventing themselves, the line between fantasy and reality is dispensed with. Surely, if the problem was of the scale intimated, you wouldn't be able to click on a single link without finding a caustic flame-fest burying everything? Well you can't. In fact, you would have to spend a fair amount of time digging to find anything that even remotely approaches the level of hostility being implied.

Why does this community do this? What is this compulsion to shit-talk ourselves, talk ourselves down, to self-denigrate and self-slander? To take a smattering of isolated irrelevancies and apply them as a universal truth to all? It's all so TULIP I want to barf.

This is going to be a long post, as I am not just concerned with just Brother Richard's item, but want to conflate it with the myriad of related discussions I've had with many members here over a long time on the topics it touches and skims over very superficially. It (BR's post) was not a post that wanted to genuinely fix or resolve any issues here; it was a post that only sought to create the appearance that it wanted to fix things. Nothing will get fixed by it. Many things will only deteriorate further. I have been spurred into writing all this down largely due to the folks I have been speaking with and sharing their deep feelings of angst, unease and despair as we watch these petty dramas being played out around us. They have goaded me into writing to express these feelings because either they feel they are unable to adequately articulate them themselves, or they fear repercussions in doing so (I have no such inhibitions, nor do I really care any more if there are). I make no apology for the length, all of it is relevant and it does ultimately have a conclusion and a point. Whether you read it or not OTOH is entirely irrelevant. I have written it all down in one place so it is not scattered all over the site as I currently have no interest in spending any more time than is necessary here to chase multiple threads. It is a sad comment in its own right that at the moment I feel my time is more usefully spent seducing Russian webcam girls than dodging bullets from the "community" politburo dick haters here.

1. DICKS

To begin, the choice to point us to Plait's Don't be a dick talk is a bit strange considering it is focussed at unbelievers in general (and skeptics specifically) dealing with those that choose to sacrifice reason for faith. It's relevance to the godless interacting with the godless in a godless community is not entirely clear and using it is as some kind of measuring stick for behaviour is probably not a good idea. Considering the increasing numbers of folks here who's critical faculties leave a lot to be desired and who are in the habit of simply accepting sound bites without digesting them, then regurgitating them at others when they have nothing else to say and it will all probably only end in more tears.

The perceptive have noticed that the talk was a thinly veiled jab at PZ Myers, so the implication is this site isn't somewhere where he should feel welcomed. Similarly, there would be no welcome mat for James Randi, Penn & Teller, Hitchens or even Dawkins. The list is actually endless. In fact, it's a fair bet to say those omitted from the list of being criminal dicks are folks no one wants to read or listen to anyway. So again, the point of directing us to this video is lost on me.

Agreement is the mother of boredom. If all people want to do is sit in a circle and agree with each other, I would suggest a bible study group, or maybe to join the Zeitgeist clowns. Discussion is born of disagreement and conflict, and it is through this that new ideas are born and existing knowledge cross-infects. As supposedly intelligent people, the onus is on us to create new ideas and disseminate knowledge. Christopher Hitchens expands on this far more eloquently than I ever could, particularly on argument defending unpopular ideas, in much of his writing, but for a very brief and excellent series of essays, Letters to a Young Contrarian is a superb start - in many ways, it is the antithesis of Plait's position. The crux of the matter is that there are far too many people here who are incapable of supporting their arguments and/or are promoting arguments and memes that are nonsensical to begin with - and they don't like being told so. This is magnified by their inability to differentiate rebuttal and criticism from personal attack and having the mental maturity where throwing a tantrum and squealing about abuse to the nearest authority figure is deemed an appropriate and acceptable response - all catalysed by the repeated statement from management to click the complaint button without hesitation for even the slightest whiff of offense. To then elevate these complaints to the level where they are the number one critical issue affecting Nexus in general is not only absurd, it is a recipe for disaster. Much, much more on this later.

The really noxious implication from what has been said is this post-modern relativist mumbo-jumbo that all opinions have merit, should be treated equally and with respect and that ridicule itself, an art developed and perfected in the earliest Hellenistic times (and held sacred), is a crime, and those that use it are vile and despicable low-lifes that are corrupting our communities.

It is very appropriate that in the inevitable blog firestorm Plait's talk generated, the very first response I read opened with the following quote from Thomas Jefferson, one that I hadn't seen before -

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them… -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

The wisdom of the ages. But then again, it was from a time when dismissing nonsense as nonsense was not a criminal offense and nonsense mongers were not celebrated as folk heros or poor oppressed victims. All opinions are not equal. Some opinions, and a good example is something like in utero sinning, not only do not deserve any kind of serious response, but ridicule is the only response. Nonsense not much better than that gets spouted here every day. And what we are being told is that we must tolerate it and treat it with respect.

2. RULES

It is more depressing than amusing to also see in the post that in order to address existing problems, the solution is immediately seen to be a legislative one and that we need to have yet more rules imposed.

Much effort was put into formulating and wording the existing site rules and guidelines in an effort to cover all bases. I happen to think the guidelines are quite good, as good as any I have seen. But, rules and guidelines are little more than bureaucratic babble if no effort is made to apply and enforce them, or if when they are enforced, they are enforced selectively and concentrated exlusively at some members yet entirely overlooked for others.

I find rule 2 interesting in that I have been targeted with this violation by a person that keeps relentlessly accusing me of stalking, abuse, harrassment etc. and keeps repeating the same old slur that I should be prohibited from posting on the grounds that I have an autism spectrum disorder (!) - the diagnosis based entirely on comments I have made that I can relate to a lot of the indicators and that I defend genuine ASDs from precisely these kind of clueless and idiotic attacks. At no point have I stated whether I have been diagnosed as such or not, and quite frankly, it's none of anybodies business anyway - so why is it in any way relevant to begin with? Is it because one of the worst symptoms is meticulous fact checking prior to speaking? Is that an insult? It's certainly, given the general level of discussion here, neither an expectation nor a requirement. True, I did not make any formal complaint about "getting fixed good if we ever meet", yet it was noticed and no action was taken about it. Nor about the insinuations that I am less than human, which correct me if I am wrong, fall under rule 3. But there is nothing to be gained politically from looking after my interests, therefore it is ignored. It is pure pragmatism - I take care to not imply it is premeditated malfeasance - it is more a matter of expedience, to focus limited resources more fully on those to whom complaint is their raison d'être in the hope that it may make the complaints abate rather than try and deal with problems that have actual substance and impact. It's basic economics. Of course they never stop (as with children's tantrums, it just seems to encourage more) and the complaints just cycle on.

This crap in itself does not bother me, I've been dealing with it all my life and because I have both a spine and a hide, I just deal with it and move on - but not when in return all you get is accusation and insinuation and threats of disciplinary action for unsubstantiated, usually non-existant, crimes. You develop a sour taste in your mouth very quickly and begin to wonder why you are even here to begin with. You learn that all members here are equal, but that some are more equal than others.

But that's all trivia. The real killer is rule 9 [*]. Because apart from the most blatant acai berry or Mumbai Furniture Freighter spam, I have yet to see any of rule 9 be applied anywhere. Ever. If this rule were applied diligently and consistently, 90% of the grief would vanish by itself. But this rule is not applied. There is the constant excuse of too much to do for too few people. Fine, but that does not sit well with the fact that there are mods that do see this as a problem as well, yet have their hands tied and are reduced to doing the boring paperwork of processing new members and controlling genuine commercial spammers. What is the point of having moderators if they are prohibited from moderating?

There is nothing either complex or vague about rule 9. Posts of broken or blind links with no explanation; incoherent one sentence items; self-promotion links with no added content; inane, tired jokes as standalone blog entries; repetition of content already posted 20 times; flooding and derailing of threads and groups with voluminous cyclic repetition of gibberish; the list goes on. It's all in there in rule 9. It's not rocket science. Nor is it censorship. It is hygiene, it is taking out the trash - removing mindless noise that pretty much everyone would be happy to never again see. It is not applied, it is ignored. And it pisses people off, nerves fray, feelings get hurt. Then - and only then - does anybody begin to pay attention and never is the source of the garbage considered to be any part of the problem. It is the asshole that bulldozes someone's precious self-esteem and graven-in-concrete right to be stupid, and by extension, make the whole site look stupid, who gets the blame and the lectures and has posts deleted (which is absolutely marvelous - removing any evidence with which you may defend yourself). The gibberish, of course, remains intact.

I am a member of many sites that have been around for a decade or more. None allow behaviour listed in rule 9 to ever get out of control - which is why the sites have longevity and generally high signal to noise ratios for interesting content that keeps people coming back. First offense gets a polite request to read the guidelines; second, a sterner request to lift one's standards; third, and it's open community hostility and/or suspension and/or a permanent ban. Gratuitous, self-serving, self-promoting vanity spam usually incurs an instant ban, no arguments, no appeal. Here? Not only is this behaviour tolerated, it is sanctified as a "right". So much as raise your voice in protest against it and you are the one reprimanded and censured. "Leave it to us to deal with these issues, don't take it upon yourself". Yes, we generally do. And nothing gets done. Ever.

3. FAIRNESS

These are only symptoms however of a much deeper malaise that is poisoning this whole community. We are effectively being held hostage by a small, but very vocal, minority of professional victims - those that complain purely for the sake of complaining and because they know they can do so without repercussion, and who otherwise contribute nothing meaningful to this site. We have become a "culture of complaint". This culture revolves around very diseased perversions of the concepts of "fairness" and "critical thinking". Through the very best of intentions to create an honest, open and inclusive environment, we have instead created an environment that has enabled a minority to exploit and abuse those good intentions for various petty, selfish and occassionally even spiteful reasons. In this regard I do believe Brother Richard when he says he is snowed under with issues - and whether he says so or not, it is readily evident that the majority of these issues seem to consist of these endless, spurious, baseless and opportunistic complaints. Given the sheer volume directed just at me, the overall volume must be staggering.

First off, we need to drop this pretence that all people are treated equally and fairly here. It really doesn't work that way. I know that, Brother Richard knows that (though he doesn't dare say it) and 99% of the other folks here know it too. This idea that there is "fairness" is the very model of cognitive delusion that inspired Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes. It is a vulgar nonsense and it only fools those that want to believe it.

This "fairness" myth only really needs one piece of evidence to show it for the sham that it is - Jacqueline Sarah Homan (who is no longer a member in case anyone is fishing for an excuse to delete this post on the grounds of "naming members"). She was a hate speech machine that slandered and villified any that crossed her path and dared to speak back at her. Not only that, she would publicly name individuals and accuse them of appalling crimes of which they were wholly innocent. During her reign of terror, not once was she reprimanded are held accountable for any of her actions. Fairness? Indeed.

What "fairness" boils down to here is this - if you can qualify yourself with sufficient reasons to terrify people into believing that they will be charged with one kind of "-ism" or another should they dare to ever criticise you, you have pretty much free reign do whatever you please here with not only complete impunity, but with the comforting knowledge that any complaint you would care to make about others will be instantly acted upon and you will never be required to substantiate anything because, after all, that would only hurt your feelings and your feelings are the most precious thing in this world. Naturally, those that choose to refuse to play the victim game for reasons of ethics and personal integrity immediately place themselves at a great disadvantage. The game ceases to be "fair".

4. VOODOO STORIES

As far as spurious and baseless whining goes, there is no better place to start than the "stalking" stated by Brother Richard in the originating thread. It is constant accusation levelled at me that I "stalk" people, even to the extent that I apparently follow them onto other sites in order to continue my "stalking" there. What began as an instance of one-off nuttery has now become monkey-see-monkey-do of one accusation after another from various sources that on the surface don't seem to have anything to do with each other.

One of the fundamental lessons in combating nonsense is understanding correlation does not imply causation. To those that accuse me of stalking, I counter with you being paranoid, delusional and having an over-inflated sense of your own importance. In short, it is nonsense that is clutching at straws to construct a complaint where no grounds exist. I have my regular pastures here and I rarely venture from them. I may have some extreme disagreements with various -isms, but I keep that in the public square or within the confines of groups I belong to. I certainly do not barge into those -isms personal group space to harrass and disrupt - let alone try and track you down on external sites and continue to work my evil there. I don't really care how batshit insane your gibberish is, if you choose to create your own space, you can do what you please in it and I will be the first to defend your right to do so. But if you venture into my areas and then proceed to throw yourself under my feet, that is not "stalking", that is fair game and you forfeit your right to whine about it. Concocting "stalking" fairy tales purely for the sake of leverage to add weight to other equally spurious complaints made against me is beyond simply deranged - it's pathological.

It is curious to note that the latest person to accuse me of "stalking" chose to wade into BR's thread, pumping out out 3,023 words (yes I counted, alleged Aspie remember?) of the same recycled and irrelevant nonsense that they have derailed dozens of other threads with, peppered with the same reminders of precisely why we are supposed to feel sorry for them and excuse their behaviour, and, finally, expressing surprise and bemoaning the fact that I did not appear on cue to continue my "stalking". Happy to disappoint. So exactly who is stalking who? It doesn't really matter. Iniatiating the complaint is the only evidence that is required and I am guilty as charged and have no say in the matter. At least I find some comfort in the fact that there still are some members here that are astute enough to notice this obscene little game being played out.

Of course, were my defense even listened to, it would be a matter of supreme simplicity to destroy my denial of these "stalking" accusations - all that it would take is one link that shows where I have "stalked" a person off site and the whole issue would be settled. But as with all the other mountains of evidence of my monstrosity it's "oh, I can't find it... I lost it... but it *is* there, it *did* happen..." There is no interest in pursuing the veracity of these claims and even less in the idea that I may actually be innocent. There are other more pressing priorities.

More popular though than the "I can't find it, I lost it" case for the perprosecution is the ever reliable and unchallengable "It was so horrible I had to immediately delete it!!!" angle. Oh if I had a dime... This one is perfect. It has the plausibility of genuine outrage and really is impossible to defend yourself against.

Around a year ago, a former member here instigated a colossal hissy fit to announce their imminent departure from this site (the same member to later find fame twittering and youtubing an RU-486 experience). It was truly a massive spectacle. It had culminated after a series of very noisy, vehement and poisonous forum arguments. I made the mistake of bidding the person farewell and wishing them all the best. The result? A caustic spray implicating myself and a handful of others as being the prime reason for leaving - all of my "It was so horrible I had to immediately delete it!!!" contributions to the arguments in question. There was a problem though - I had taken care to bookmark all of the threads in question *before* the tantrum began, clearly marked in a folder labeled "Danger - radioactive nonsense. Do not touch with a barge pole", and did in fact avoid them like herpes. It didn't matter.

I raised my concerns at being maligned in this unwarranted manner. And?

* Interest in pursuing my claim of innocence and that the accusation was entirely concocted - zero.

* Interest in doing backflips to appease and pander to the tantrum thrower, despite them already badmouthing a|n externally to anyone who would listen - absolute.

* Realisation that this is how the site works - priceless.

This is what "fairness" looks like if you walk in my shoes.

5. SERIOUSLY, WTF?

The logic of bestowing protected and sacred status to some members who only turn on Nexus like vipers on a whim, while treating other members here, who's loyalties are fairly clear and unambiguous, as perpetual suspected criminals eludes me. There is a long list of similar people who whilst here caused little but grief, division, resentment and chaos, yet had every whim pandered to, every sensitivity coddled, that all ultimately walked out and began spitting on this site in general and at Brother Richard in particular in very personal ways. Richard doesn't need to be reminded of them. The question is why? The answer is distasteful - they managed to check all the right demographic boxes to guarantee them special and preferential status. They managed to put a chill of fear up all the right spines.

Trading populism for integrity and appearance for substance is how the whole world works, so it should not be surprising to see it here. It's easy to say you "expect more from atheists", but I've abandoned that trite naivety. Atheists are made from the same clay as everyone else, and have the same distribution of virtues and flaws as the rest of the planet. That will never change. Wave around all the confirmation bias propaganda that "proves" we are more intelligent and more morally upright than believers that you like, but the behaviour of folks here tells you a much different story. It is also a distraction from the real question I want to ask, which is -

Where do atheists that bear false witness against their fellow atheists stand in the grand scheme of being dicks?

People don't "accidentally" make accusations like the ones described above, which incidentally are just a token sample of the overall picture. I have no doubt there are other people here who have similar tales to tell. These are entirely premeditated acts. There is no ethical or moral grey area about it. Stories are being fabricated by some members of this site with clear intent and purpose to deliberately cause grief to other members of this site. I don't care what excuses people may give for making such accusations, but you just don't unless you are entirely 110% sure of your facts. Anything less and it's abject moral bankruptcy.

So how does this rate against the crime against humanity of calling someone an idiot? Given the level of interest shown in it, it doesn't even register a blip. There is no political advantage to be had in pursuing it.

(And don't anybody even fucking think about feeding me the "but why didn't you tell us?!??!" line...)

6. PLAY THE BALL NOT THE MAN

The general gist of both Plait's talk and BR's post is the old rugby saying "play the ball not the man" (for the slow, it means address the argument not the character). And both are made from the Pollyanna perspective that we are in the best of all possible world's. What is completely disregarded though is that we're not and it all falls over in a heap when the people you engage are incapable of differentiating the man from the ball. There are only really two possibilities for this - general intellectual incoherence, or deeply ingrained habit, formed after many years of martyr fantasy play, which frames any and all criticism in the context of personal assault and harrassment, reading into it all manner of poisonous meaning which simply isn't there [**]. There is little anyone can do when engaging such people in discussion other than trust that forum administrators are sharp enough to spot bullshit for what it is (something about snowflakes and hell springs to mind). When they are not, or refuse to pay enough attention to make a fair judgement call, you are basically screwed and the professional whiner will win every time - the only variable is the degree of reprimand or punishment you will face.

Those that deliberately confuse the issue are particularly odious creatures and when confronted about their behaviour will go to inordinate lengths to justify it. Sorry, no. There is no justification. Consider how annoyed people get when they are endlessly confronted by theists who with selective editing, context abuse and all manner of other sophistry contend that Nazism, eugenics and genocide are a direct result of promoting evolutionary theory. How is fishing for specific words, stripping or mutating context and misrepresenting a person's intent in a discussion for the sake of fabricating offense which does not exist any different? It's not. And it constitutes an enormous slab of pointless whining that has no reason to exist. Skilled practioners of this kind of semantic mischief can grind the admin team here into dust. I have seen it happen before, and the learning curve being a flat line, it will happen again. As usual, this practice is not even noticed let alone discouraged and is only spurred on by encouragment to hit the complaint button as a first resort.

7. THE RIGHT TO BE STUPID

I make no claim to speak on behalf of other atheists, but I have more than a sneaking suspicion that maybe just a few will agree with me on this one. Atheists that choose to deride theistic beliefs on the grounds that they are unsubstantiated nonsense forfeit the right to spout unsubstantiated nonsense of their own and expect to not be taken to task for it. It really is that simple. Yes, you can be an atheist that believes gibberish. No, you can't be an atheist that believes in gibberish and at the same time laughs at religion. You just can't do it and expect to be treated seriously. Stamping your feet and holding your breath until you turn blue doesn't change that. Conversely, those that do laugh at theism (and therefore are, paradoxically, dicks who need protection from dicks) should feel honour bound to laugh equally at all other unsubstantiated gibberish and discourage its presence here. So let's have a look at the type of nonsense that gets a free pass here and little but grief and complaints of harrassment if challenged. Take for example one of the most frequent parrot squawks - Joseph Alois Ratzinger is a nazi.

Accusing pope ratboy of being a nazi just because of what he did as a child is appallingly ignorant. It is ignorance on the scale of agnostics or theists criticising atheists on the grounds that atheism is a "faith". Two words typed into google, +ratzinger +nazi, is all it takes and the very first hit explaining the facts will be one at atheism.about.com. Not doing so is beyond simple intellectual laziness, it is deliberate wilful ignorance fueled by confirmation bias. It is also shows how devoid of self-respect and intellectual integrity a person is. Just because it's easy, and tempting, to pour shit on catholics, it is not an excuse to not substantiate your claims. Yet this dumbness just keeps getting repeated and each and every time you confront the person who makes the claim to back it up, the reaction is always surprise, almost always hostility and quite often complaint. "How DARE YOU doubt the word of a fellow atheist?!?!?!"

Not far behind in the stupid stakes are the twin memes/mantras of "the prevalence of atheist misogyny" and "Wikipedia is unreliable". Though the subjects aren't related, the nature of the memes is identical - they have that glib air of plausibility that really doesn't need to be substantiated and only stupid people, troublemakers and haters would actually demand corroborating evidence. Let's just look at the second one then (the first is way too much trouble) - "Ok. So do you have any corroborating data to give us an idea of how unreliable Wikipedia is? Can you point us to some examples where it has failed?" There never is. You just have to have faith. I may be mistaken, but I thought the one common ground we all shared was the rejection of "faith". Yet the expectation is that we just have to nod and agree with these mindless proclamations or there will be hell to pay.

These are just a small example of a relentless tide of nonsense that sweeps the place. Some of it is even more superficially plausible, some of it is just so awesome it surprises even me - like one person who proclaimed here with a totally straight face that the Jews own the Vatican, and when asked to substantiate it, reacted as though the unbeliever was drowning kittens. But plausibility is irrelevant - just because something sounds right is not in itself evidence that it is right.

The nonsense mongering follows a predictable and repetitive pattern. A poster utters some gibberish that is meant to be accepted on faith. A doubter asks for proof. The poster begins their indignation cycle - how dare you doubt a fellow atheist? The doubter again, patiently, asks for evidence. The poster gets snarky, presents some kind of logical fallacy or worse, attempts to derail. The doubter shoots these dirty tricks down like fish in a barrel, from long and tired experience, and again asks for evidence. At this point the thread usually melts down. So what are you supposed to do? There comes a time when saying "You sir/madam, are an idiot" and it is no longer name calling or insult. It is a statement of objective fact, independently verifiable by anyone that chooses to trace the thread back. This is where Plait's hug-each-other-for-a-better-world thesis falls over in a feel-good nonsense heap yet again.

How we are supposed to deal with it, as we are being told over and over again, is to ignore it. No. Nyet, nein, non etc. To ignore it is to tacitly condone it. Again I am probably not alone, but when I see an atheist spouting gibberish when so many of us are taking the fight to theists using reason and logic, it undermines the work we do and it must have zero tolerance. If this is unacceptable to this site, then the answer is simple. "Critical thinking" needs to be purged from all site charters, FAQs, advertising blurbs and dropped from all external interviews and podcasts altogether. The evidence is overwhelming that, as I said earlier, critical thinking is neither an expectation nor a requirement here, and in fact over-vigorous application of critical thinking can constitute harrassment, bullying and worse. So let's just drop it altogether as being in any way relevant because it's not. It only makes people feel inadequate, which breeds resentment and that always spirals and ends in tears. Why not even formalise it with yet another rule? How about -

Where critical thinking and people's sensitivities collide, sensitivity must always come first; any other result is a violation of the ToS and must be reported.

As it stands, it's pretty much the house rule anyway. We do not discriminate against nonsense, all opinions are equal and equally valid, and we have an open door policy where all nutjobs, ideologues, petty axe grinders and career victims are welcomed and encouraged to say and do whatever they please free from all criticism or accountability, and a complaint button with their name on it. Be honest and state it. You can't live in both worlds.

[continued in part 2]

Tags: complaint, culture of complaint, dicks, opportunistic, phil plait, spurious, victims, whining

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