Second correspondence with Michael Nugent

Michael Nugent has graciously responded to my previous posts “Negative Criticism and the Internet” and “Two answers and questions for Michael Nugent” with “Two questions for Justin Vacula about ‘nasty pushback’ against some feminists online” and, more recently, “Examples of ‘nasty pushback’ against some atheists/feminists on the Internet.” This post will address Nugent’s most recent post and continue our ongoing dialogue.

First, I have to acknowledge Michael Nugent’s openness and civility. He is actually willing to have an ongoing conversation which seems quite genuine and is not making plenty of unreasonable demands (he makes one, I think, but I will get to this later). While doing all of this, Nugent does not seem to assign bad motives to what I present and seems to be quite charitable. This is much unlike some of my detractors who utterly refuse to have conversations although they are happy to heap abuse on me within their websites and elsewhere. Nugent even said he would appear as a guest for a future (not yet scheduled) episode of Brave Hero Radio – the brand new, and quickly popular, program which Karla Porter and I are hosting on Blog Talk Radio.

Nugent did not respond to two questions I posed to him (in response to his two questions) and said he would do so in a future post. Fair enough, it may take some time. I will only, then, be responding to his newest post which has not yet answered my two questions at this moment.

Nugent acknowledges that it can be difficult to ‘draw a line’ concerning whether nasty pushback people experience online is morally justified, so he provides a list of comments — without any links or context — to a forum I post in called the Slymepit (not before providing a trigger warning and a reminder of a trigger warning). Answering to all fifty items Nugent provides, none of them authored by me, and most of them unrecognized by me, would be quite the daunting task; it is simply too much to reasonably expect me to do…so I will take a line from Greta Christina and say I could write an entire novel about what’s wrong with Nugent’s post, but I just don’t have the time. The first comment Nugent lists, though, is explained by the author here.

I’d rather not, anyway, be rebranded as a ‘vacuous shitbag troll’ or a ‘douchebag’ by Stephanie Zvan…which leads me into an important matter largely left out of this discussion I will later discuss. First, though, it may be important to quantify what, exactly, the harm of the comments Nugent provides actually entails.

Youtube user IntegralMath, also known as Justicar, has an interesting comment concerning this matter (watch his video or read the comment) in which he asks for explanation of the harm Nugent talks about. Is there objective harm? Is there a subjective component? If there is no objective harm, and the matter is purely subjective, it seems that one must be a hostage, as IntegralMath notes, to others’ feelings simply because one claims to be offended. [Personally, others’ coarse language doesn’t upset me too much or really at all when it is used in reference to myself. If I were upset by the coarse language, though, I probably would avoid the people using it and the forums in which the language were posted.]

Many people objecting to the coarse language, though, seem to be hunting for the language and intentionally trying to find something to claim offense to. Does this language, I wonder, happen to appear on Freethought Blogs — on the blogs of the writers objecting to it — or individuals’ Facebook accounts or Twitter pages? If commenters are blocked (and we know many are) and if Twitter users are blocked (and we know they are), how are these individuals who object to the language finding the language…and why are they hunting for it? If the language offends them so much, why would they try to find instances of it and complain about how terrible people on the internet — a place we know can be quite nasty — can be?

The language that they complain about, though, as we will see, can be found at Freethought Blogs – but it is not from the people they are complaining about. Instead, the complainers happen to utilze it themselves and engage in tactics similar to their ideological opponents. While Ophelia Benson, for instance, might not use the word ‘cunt,’ she is really no stranger to using diminishing and crude language to describe others while treating others with little or no respect.

I can provide countless examples of the hypocrisy in this piece but, again, that would be too much of an unreasonable daunting task. If you really care to see examples of the Freethought Blogs hypocricy, read the contents of the Slymepit, Franc Hoggle’s blog Grey Lining, or the Phawrongula Wiki [I will also provide more links with specific examples later in this piece]. While I was considering writing this post, the biggest hypocrite and moral grandstander of Freethought Blogs — from my estimation — Ophelia Benson — described my good friend Karla Porter as a ‘thug’ and accused her of harassment while unfairly assigning malicious motives to Karla [see my piece “Blame and Intent” for more charitable ways to look at situations before unfairly assigning blame to others].

Ophelia wrote (emphasis mine),

Karla Porter” – I didn’t mean I thought I’d never seen the name before, I meant who the fuck is she, what does any of this have to do with her, why is she helping Vacula harass me, why is she caling me “Ophie” in that matey-contemptuous way, who is she.

But since she is harassing me alongside Vacula, I’ll point out what a thug she is. It’s my impression that she has some kind of responsible adult job – yet she spends time jeering at a total stranger on social media and in podcasts, and even contemptuously calls her by a diminutive, just to belittle. How very odd.

One should notice that the only reason Ophelia Benson was being called Ophie was because Karla Porter used the name in a satire piece, an episode of ‘As The Atheist World Turns,’ titled “ATAWT: Please Be My Agent Ophie.” While Karla was writing the piece, she didn’t use real full names, but rather only made references to actual people [Notice the characters EB, L Moore, Ophie, and Porter (who isn’t even necessarily Karla)] . People ‘in on the joke,’ then, would easily get it.

But, no, that interpretation is the implausible one on Ophelia’s account and the name ‘Ophie’ is just to “belittle” Ophelia. Ophelia is complaining so much and taking great offense to a shortened version of her name. Give me a break.

* 3/4 update: Karla changed ‘Ophie’ to OB in the satire piece following more complaints from Ophelia…although on 3/5 she blogs about being called ‘Ophie’ and doesn’t acknowledge the change which happened on 3/4. Karla said that the use of ‘Ophie’ was not meant to offend, but Ophelia does not believe Karla.  More is here.

I suppose that if Ophelia Benson can pretend to be a victim and act like the people who treat her poorly come out of nowhere and do so for no good reason even though people explain why they, for instance, post in the Slymepit, her behavior can be justified…and the people who uncritically read her blog (especially those who comment there) excuse or otherwise overlook the constant abuses. The oppressed, since they are such a poor and desperate situation, can respond in kind to the alleged oppressors. All means are justified for the “djihad fi sabil Allah.”

The harsh language directed at Karla and I is really nothing new as can be seen here. Ophelia Benson, who demands people treat her with respect, is totally fine with calling us ‘dishonest,’ ‘disgraceful,’ ‘not too careful with the truth,’ and ‘dishonest hacks.’ She also believes my offer for her to appear on my podcast (which still stands, now moved to my new radio show) was a “calculated insult.” She’s also just fine calling me an asshole. How can she possibly demand respect from others, and expect to be treated with respect, when she is so disrespectful?

Ophelia continually laments the treatment she receives online (objecting to ‘bad names,’ people making fun of her, and most recently shortening of her name) and protests with battle cries of “the bullying should stop” while she, herself, engages in bullying behavior. She has no moral high ground and is simply grandstanding. She appears to be doing nothing to stop the treatment she receives and continues to engage with the dissenters she allegedly detests so much – only adding fuel to the fire. Just like prayer, Ophelia’s efforts at stopping bullying by telling people to stop bullying fail. It seems easy for her to do nothing and pretend like she is doing something. Further, when people start to fight back (read: respond via internet communications) against Ophelia or her friends, all bets are off. Don’t try to convince me with messages from God. You accuse us of sins committed by yourselves.

Benson is really no better than Bucky Bumpers — the leader of Bucky Bailey’s Bully Buckers (TM) — from the South Park “Butterballs” (read the Wikipedia decription and watch the full episode to have a better picture). Below is a short clip from the episode:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg8QLEiN1fc

Ophelia talks so much about how horrible bullying is (and how frequent it is), yet engages in bullying behavior while being completely unaware of her bullying behavior. Further, she and her friends demand people ‘take a stand against bullying’ and believe that this will somehow make the problem disappear. Those who refuse to ‘take a stand against bullying’ or happen to even merely associate with people who are the alleged bullies are, on Ophelia’s account, either bullies or complicit to bullying behavior. Guilt by association – quite the mark of sloppy thinking. You’re with us or against us! Those who oppose the Patriot Act are not patriotic.

…but guilt by association only applies to Ophelia’s ideological opponents. Nevermind, of course, the frequent vitriol posted in the comment sections of Freethought Blogs – much of it on Ophelia’s posts. Like Nugent, I can list many examples of morally unjustified behavior and ‘bad language’ directly from the people who demand civility of others (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6). Unlike Nugent, I won’t ask him to justify anything others happen to write, but rather will ask him to acknowledge that this behavior exists from the people who are complaining about it.

Might there be a ‘false equivalence’ between the Slymepit and Freethought Blogs? I don’t know. I don’t care. It is besides the point. …but only Ophelia and her friends will deny that they are partially responsible for the ongoing in-fighting in the online atheist/skeptic community. Can anyone reasonably deny that Ophelia Benson and her friends are not at all responsible for the in-fighting? I think not.

I really would like the in-fighting to stop. I would really like for Freethought Blogs and the Slymepit to tone it down. There have even been debates about this in the Slymepit (!), but this doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. If people from the Slymepit, for instance, do not respond to what they perceive to be the bullying coming from Freethought Blogs, the perceived bullying will go unchecked and get worse. Silence, some believe, is not an option. Perhaps the same sentiment comes from authors at Freethought Blogs – that they cannot be silent about what they perceive as bullying? Regardless, I think all of us, regardless of ‘side,’ can treat others more respectfully…but it will probably not happen. I will, though, do my part and keep it civil. I might have a snide comment here and there, but, as far as I can remember, I am not using vicious language or engaging in any alleged harassment (although some think otherwise and will probably consider this post to be more examples of harassment, no doubt).

Why does it rain, rain, rain down on utopia?

I await, then, Nugent’s next piece which will address the following two questions:

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 perceived approach and understand why people are angry?

Please leave your comments below!