Two answers and questions for Michael Nugent

Michael Nugent, writer and chair of the advocacy group Atheist Ireland, has authored a blog post addressing a recent Youtube video I uploadedI recently provided advice for people sharing controversial opinions to reduce the negative feedback they experience on the internet. I will respond to Nugent’s post, addressed to me, which has two questions. I will then provide two questions of my own.

The internet, I think, can be a volatile place in which people can experience nasty pushback. Those who want to share controversial viewpoints, I believe, should expect and prepare for vitriol. I believe that the behavior and language of some people who share controversial opinions on the internet may reveal why they receive a large amount of nasty pushback. Why do some people experience a great deal of negative pushback while others do not? There just has to be a reason why some feminists experience a tremendous deal of negative pushback while other feminists do not.

This leads me, then, to Nugent’s first question. He writes:

Justin asks why some feminists receive what he calls “nasty pushback” while others don’t, and he concludes that it is because of the way that they present themselves on the Internet. He says of this “nasty pushback”:

“It’s not to say the nasty pushback is morally justified, but it’s just to state a fact; it’s just to state how the internet “is.” It’s not to justify the behavior.”

Justin, here’s my first question for you. Can you go a step further than that, and say that at least some of “the nasty pushback” is morally unjustified, and can you give some examples of morally unjustified nasty pushback?

Indeed, some nasty pushback is morally unjustified. It’s difficult, though, to provide a one-size-fits-all definition of morally unjustified [internet] behavior. Anyway, here are two examples of morally unjustified behavior [which should not be tolerated]: unprovoked threats of violence and initiation of violence. On the other hand, other behaviors such as name-calling, parody, and satire exist. It can be difficult to ‘draw a line’ concerning what is morally justified, amoral (neutral), and morally unjustified.

The second half of Nugent’s post reads as follows:

Justin then concludes with his “Feminists’ million dollar question”.

“So the million dollar question once again is this: “Why is it that some feminists experience negative feedback on the internet while others do not?””

Justin, here is my second question for you. Do you think that we can more usefully ask that question in the active tense rather than the passive tense, and how would you answer this actively framed version of it:

Why is it that some people on the Internet direct “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” at some feminists, while others do not?

Note that this question – like your passively framed version – is not about what these people believe they are responding to, but about why some respond with “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” while others do not.

This is an interesting question indeed. I don’t know what is a more useful framing if there even is one. Perhaps it would be helpful, though, to examine ‘two sides of the coin’ and be candid. Let’s agree that it often takes two to tango. People behaving in a nasty fashion don’t just randomly appear AND we can’t, in all or perhaps even most situations, neglect to investigate the behavior and language of people who experience negative pushback.

Let us focus on, then, for the purposes of this question, the potential motivations for why people would resort to nasty pushback rather than civil, cool, and calm discourse.

Perhaps people are really upset about content they are reading and feel attacked. Rather than responding in a civil fashion or simply ignoring the content, they lash out. Anger, rather than cool-headed criticism and civility, can inform behavior. Maybe past experiences have lead these types of people to extremist positions [and clouded rationality]. Maybe not.

Perhaps people view antagonism as the only effective approach and do not wish to engage in civil discussion because past civil engagements were not successful or productive (for whatever reason). Such individuals might employ an over-the-top ‘shock jock’ approach of attacking persons rather than encountering arguments (or mixing the two).

Perhaps people are looking to push others’ proverbial buttons and take delight in doing so. When they see their behavior reinforced, they are likely to continue and experience great satisfaction.

Perhaps people believe that silence, in the face of what they believe to be hatred and nastiness, is not a reasonable option; they do not want to tolerate intolerance. Rather than responding in a calm and civil manner, they reciprocate what they believe to be nastiness with nastiness. Perhaps they would stop the nastiness if they people they believed were being nasty were to stop being nasty.

Rather than me simply guessing or offering interpretations of others’ motives, it would be very helpful for me to link “A letter to the Slime Pit.” This explains the history of the original ERV ‘slime pit’ and the motivation of posters.

Here is one part from that letter:

ERV blog entries related to Elevatorgate attracted a number of people who felt equally aggrieved by the dogmatism and hypocrisy on display from the pro-Watson camp. After brief spats with people like PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson in the comments section of ERV’s earlier posts on the gender politics of the atheist community, several of the commenters remained and continued with their criticisms of the regular torrent of perceived absurdity emanating from the pro-Watson camp on a day to day basis. As expected, the pro-Watson camp were not happy with the manner in which they were regularly criticised by ERV and her commenters.

Michael: here are two questions for you:

Do you believe people have any legitimate grievances against the behavior of feminists in the atheist community? Consider some individuals whom many believe were unfairly maligned — dubbed ‘witches of the week‘ — such as Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ben Radford, and Sara Mayhew.

People accuse popular feminist bloggers in the atheist community of shaming, blaming, defaming, and participating in ‘call-out culture.’ Do you believe that these claims have merit? Can you find fault with this perceieved approach and understand why people are angry?

I hope to hear from you soon.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula produces content about Stoic Philosophy; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and hosts monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is pursuing a degree in Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and formerly worked for the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign and plays at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • “Why is it that some people on the Internet direct “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” at some feminists, while others do not?”

    What about this question: Why is it that some people – including people who for the most part agree with mainstream feminism – direct criticism toward only these specific self-described feminists on the Internet, but not others?

    I know why I do it. People like Zvan and Myers are mean. Really mean. I probably have the same voting record as both of them. I live in lefty Madison, Wisconsin, surrounded by liberals and feminists. I don’t criticize many other feminist writers the way I criticize them in particular, because other people haven’t used their high traffic blogs to spread misinformation about me, or accuse people I know of being “rape apologists” or “chill girls”, or told me I’m a “fucking idiot” and other insults.

    Sometimes I think this “feud” isn’t even about feminism or anti-feminism at all. It’s a few bloggers who, when they decide they personally don’t like someone, use their highly public blogs to slam them. Wrapping up their personal, petty drama in liberal politics is just a way to get their reader base to jump in and help them bash people.

    As for any other hatred or threats of violence they might receive, I don’t have anything to do with that, and while I obviously don’t condone it, I’m also not about to let some narcissistic blogger who makes a living intentionally pushing buttons and generating public controversy complain about it, and then attempt to put someone like me in the position of answering for it as if I am responsible. I offer criticism of their claims and tactics. I once lost my temper AFTER being roundly insulted and demeaned by Greta Christina’s fans on her facebook page. And even then all I did was take something Ophelia Benson said to me FIRST, and facetiously turn it back at her. But the way it was twisted on FTB made it look like I was some kind of crazy right winger. It was totally absurd to anyone who knew even a little bit about me.

    The way these particular bloggers characterize their detractors, they routinely lump in valid criticism with troll comments and cannot seem to distinguish the two. They act like every disagreement with them personally is an attack on feminism or equality as a whole – even when it comes from other liberals and self-described feminists.

    So I’m done trying to reason with them, I won’t engage them directly. But I will poke at them on twitter and other public forums, because I continue to see them screen grab comments off of facebook and post them without context to misrepresent and demonize people, call people names, spread outright misinformation and enforce ideas that are not only bad but don’t resemble any kind of feminism I have studied or been involved with.

  • Stephanie Zvan

    Nice job of just repeating your claims verbatim without engaging with or even acknowledging that you’ve already received substantial argument against them: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/02/28/why-we-get-harassed/ You said you were awaiting my response, Justin. Why? So you could pretend it never happened?

    • My post wasn’t a response to you. It was a response to Michael Nugent. I should get around to addressing your piece, but have been spending time on other projects like the launch of the Brave Hero podcast. You should call in. All viewpoints are welcome. http://www.skepticink.com/justinvacula/2013/03/02/bravehero/

      • athyco

        If it was a response to Michael Nugent, you might want to take a little less time not answering his questions so that you’d have time to give him a pingback, link, or comment to lead him and his readers here.

        One of your mantras is “I’m open for discussion,” after all.

        • I interacted with him on Twitter multiple times and linked his post above, here.

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  • athyco

    I will respond to Nugent’s post, addressed to me, which has two questions. I will then provide two questions of my own.

    Yeah, you “respond,” but you don’t ANSWER. “The internet, I think, can be [blah, blah, blah, blah blah, blahblah blah blah for 175 useless, repetitive words].”

    Nugent: Can you go a step further than that, and say that at least some of “the nasty pushback” is morally unjustified, and can you give some examples of morally unjustified nasty pushback?

    Vacula: Indeed, some nasty pushback is morally unjustified. It’s difficult, though, to provide a one-size-fits-all definition of morally unjustified [internet] behavior.

    Hey, Vacula. Do you not know the difference between examples and definition? EXAMPLES, you self-absorbed, pompously verbose twit.

    Anyway, here are two examples of morally unjustified behavior [which should not be tolerated]: unprovoked threats of violence and initiation of violence

    Those are CATEGORIES. Now you don’t know the differences among examples and definitions and categories. Are you doing a bad parody of Monty Python? This is embarrassing. You ought to go back to start again and then forget about starting again.

    On the other hand, [blah, blah, blah blah, blahblah blah. Thank goodness it’s only for 78 useless, repetitive words this time].”

    Nugent: Do you think that we can more usefully ask that question in the active tense rather than the passive tense, and how would you answer this actively framed version of it: Why is it that some people on the Internet direct “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” at some feminists, while others do not? Note that this question – like your passively framed version – is not about what these people believe they are responding to, but about why some respond with “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” while others do not.

    “This is an interesting question indeed. [stalling] I don’t know what is a more useful framing if there even is one. [pretending to be considering weighty (but still vague) matters–stalling] Perhaps it would be helpful, though, to examine ‘two sides of the coin’ and be candid. [aha! The quick direction change so as not to answer the question! And look at that cute li’l “candid.” Justin, are you going to explain who HASN’T been candid in this exchange thus far? There’s got to be somebody, if you think it’s time to be candid NOW.] Let’s agree that it often takes two to tango. [Prove we’re dancing—oh, you mean the “fight” connotation. Damn, man. Draw on your humble, philosophical background that recognizes you just might be wrong and don’t write the cliché that ignorant people say when someone says “I didn’t deserve to have him hit me.” What, are you going to pull out “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” next?

    People behaving in a nasty fashion don’t just randomly appear AND we can’t, in all or perhaps even most situations, neglect to investigate the behavior and language of people who experience negative pushback.

    Explain The Atheist Asshole. Before January 11, he never had a single interaction with any of the big players. What caused his appearance? Look at his last video. He tells us exactly how much he knew about Ophelia Benson and how much he cared before he tweeted her that day. It ain’t much, and it ain’t direct from her. Look at the views on all his videos. See which ones go over 200 and which ones don’t. Now he’s been dubbed #BraveHero, given time on A-News and ReapSowRadio podcasts, had a video made in his “honor.” And from his OWN mouth, he makes it clear that he’d been “meh” and uninvolved before he got brushed off and–after 15 @OpheliaBenson’s, called a “creep.”

    Whatcha wanna bet 15 “nobodies” could call him a creep over 15 days and not get him that #BraveHero? Wanna bet that people wouldn’t accept him saying “Fuck her” about a hypothetical reaction from a nobody? Wanna bet that nobody would laugh when he @pings her to say it was “fun” to irritate her, so he’d keep on doing it?

    Let us focus on, then, for the purposes of this question, the potential motivations for why people would resort to nasty pushback rather than civil, cool, and calm discourse

    Yeah, there’s nothing there to the purpose of Michael Nugent’s question. Where do you get off spending the rest of your article focusing on their “potential motivations” for the nasty people by ignoring them and focusing on their targets?!? Look at the italicized section of this Michael Nugent quote again:

    Note that this question – like your passively framed version – is not about what these people believe they are responding to, but about why some respond with “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” while others do not.

    You’re doing exactly the OPPOSITE of what his question asked! So the rest of your article is an attack combined with a paean to humble you, unperturbed you, oh-so-reasonable you, philosophical you, charitable you, open-minded you, more skeptical you, benefit-of-the-doubt you. All those for your readers’ focus so that they won’t see the cowardly, hand-waving you who can’t gather up actual examples, can’t bring himself to change focus as requested, but will give SEVEN damned rationalizations beginning with PERHAPS and characterizations like “Witch of the Week” when that term was the label forced on them by their opposition. Add “dishonest” to “cowardly” and “handwaving” as your #BraveHeroes take on their #minions.

    • This is just way too much to respond to in writing (in addition to many of your other comments). It’s odd you chide me for using so many words when your comments here are so lengthy. Perhaps you’d like to Skype at some point?

      • athyco

        Perhaps it’s an assumption on your part that I’m capable–physically or financially–of accessing Skype.

        353/898 words were quoting you or Michael Nugent.
        You’re perfectly free to pick from the other 545. You’ve done it before.

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  • Haha USA

    The real problem with the Internet is that there are too many Americans on it. With them coming from such a dysfunctional society it’s no wonder spats like this are the order of the day.

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