Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Atheism Plus, The Word "Stupid", and Offense

I recently wrote about not calling all Christians stupid[1]. I stand by that, but I'm not entirely opposed to use of the word "stupid".

More recently, I shared a video by Steve Shives called "5 Stupid Things About the Men's Rights Movement"[2]. Given the subject matter, I thought r/atheismplus[3] might appreciate it. Hell, it's stupid shit like Men's Rights Advocates that make much of what Atheism Plus[4] aims to address necessary.

I was partially right, as the next day, the post was on the front page with a score of 7 (10 upvotes, 3 down).  But I was also partially wrong, as the moderators didn't like it as much.

It was removed because it contained the word "stupid".  The conversation that ensued didn't result in anything productive.  They say their goal is to create a safe space for who are hurt by words like "stupid".  I'm sure they think they're doing something good, but I'm not sure they're doing the good they think they are.

Just the use of the word "stupid" makes them think of the mentally disabled.  In other words, they associate the mentally disabled with stupidity.  They claim to not be attempting to protect them, but that's exactly what they're doing.  They really are taking on the role of White Knight, despite their insistence otherwise.

A cafeteria I frequent employs some mentally disabled people in various roles.  There are two kinds of ways I see people treat them.  Some people treat them like they're anyone else, speaking to them as if they're capable of handling being treated like they're not stupid.  Then there are others, who talk down to them, speaking to them as if they're five years old.  Atheism Plus, or at least the moderators of their subreddit, are of the latter group.

They took offense on behalf of people who never asked for it.  They attempt to defend people from things they do not need defending from.  They're not helping anyone by getting offended at everything.  If anything, they do more damage than good.  They think they're fighting a culture that harms various types of people.  But all they're doing creating a culture that keeps those people down.  A culture that sees them as less than.

When you find offense[5] around every corner, people get used to you being offended.  When they get used to be offended, they tune you out.

Misogyny[6] is real.  Discrimination against the disabled[7] is real.  Both must be fought.  But focusing on words instead of actions doesn't fight either.  Treating people like they cannot handle the real world[8] does not help them.  Plus, it's better to treat people like they're human beings.  After all, human beings is exactly what they are.

This is something I've been gradually noticing, but still hoping wasn't the case, about them.  I want to like Atheism Plus, but shit like this does make it difficult.  Being that overly sensitive is stupid, and I don't think saying that makes me ableist. It makes me realistic.  It makes me someone who doesn't associate the word "stupid" with the disabled.

This incident on Reddit, may not be representative of Atheism Plus.  I certainly hope it's not, and I've had plenty of positive interactions with people who identify as Atheism Plussers.  But the more direct interaction I have with people in leadership positions with Atheism Plus, the less I find myself wanting to defend them.

I'll continue to defend them when I see the irrational hatred they receive, as I still see an insane amount of obsessive hate aimed at them.  My interactions with people who actively oppose Atheism Plus have been far less positive, mostly being reminiscent of conversations with conspiracy theorists & Creationists.    But I don't see myself adopting the label anytime soon.  And I'll definitely be criticizing them when I feel it's warranted.

If the haters are right, I'll be vilified for criticizing them.  I don't expect that to happen though, even despite the unfortunate incident that prompted this post.

1.  http://aparticularblogbyaparticularatheist.blogspot.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-some-atheists.html
2.  http://aparticularblogbyaparticularatheist.blogspot.com/2013/05/five-stupid-things-about-mens-rights.html
3.  http://www.reddit.com/r/atheismplus/comments/1dljqh/five_stupid_things_about_the_mens_rights_movement/
4.  http://aparticularblogbyaparticularatheist.blogspot.com/2012/08/some-atheism-plus-links.html
5.  http://youtu.be/zwoqzb5R6vw
6.  http://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/war-women
7.  http://youtu.be/P7_cMziG1Fc
8.  http://youtu.be/_xrr_gV5K68


  1. Yeah, calling it "an ableist slur" is probably not the best way of putting it as far as contemporary English is concerned, and the moderator should probably not have framed it as one. Maybe they were confusing a real ableist slur like "retarded" with "stupid"? The only atheist I know of who really went after the word "stupid" is not someone involved in moderating Atheism+ on reddit AFAIK--Dan at Camels With Hammers, on this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2012/09/stop-calling-people-stupid/ . Here is his argument against it with respect to ableism:

    “stupid” is an ableist word that harms more than just its immediate target as it degrades people with less natural or developed intellectual skill. It reinforces their insecurities and their marginalization. In many cases this word blames people for what they cannot control, discourages their participation in intellectual activities, and demeans them by turning them into a standard for badness.

    But that ignores all the other uses of "stupid" that aren't a big deal, like the way you used it on reddit. When one "makes a stupid mistake", for instance, it isn't a particularly harsh word and even recognizes that there was great potential to have avoided that mistake for the person who managed to make it. It's much more like accusing someone of shallow thinking or sloppy thinking or thinking that they are the smartest when they obviously are not, and it probably has that benign sense in the majority of cases where the word is used. That's not to say that it can never be abusive, because obviously it can in certain contexts; the context in which you used it just wasn't one of them.

    As far as atheism+ spaces go, it's a grassroots thing. The people running the forum and subreddit and whatever else uses the name simply got there first or made a successful effort to organize around the concept. On Twitter, the haters of the concept got there first and own the account. I could care less about the label myself and prefer "gnu atheist" as a self-label; it's the concept that atheism needs to be more self-conscious and concerned about the way we treat others and what we want the future of our planet to be like that I care about, and as long as atheism+ encompasses that idea for atheists explicitly, it is useful shorthand.

  2. I am generally not a fan of censorship. And I particularly hate this type of thing where they want you to replace one word with another. Ideas can be offensive, but words are only offensive if they map to those offensive ideas.

    If you are offended by a word and make people replace it with a different word, how long will it be before that new word is offensive and you insist that people shift to yet another word? The whole thing just seems silly to me.

  3. If you're on reddit, then I think it's best to get your opinions on men's rights from the men's rights subreddit, rather than from other subreddits whose aim is to oppose or mock men's rights. (And keep in mind that it is reddit. It took me a while to realize that given the ease with which accounts can be created, there are a lot of people who envision themselves as James O’Keefe taking down ACORN. You have to observe the comments over a period of time.) The stupidest thing said about men's rights is that misandry doesn't exist.

    I want you to look clearly at what you said:
    "stupid shit like Men's Rights Advocates"
    You are directly attacking people, as a group, rather than ideas.

    As for the "5 things" video:

    1st thing: this is a textbook example of prejudice, generalizing the actions of individuals to not just an entire group, but the whole idea of any such groups

    2nd thing: if you swap the genders, the same is true of feminism, and that's not an unexpected thing. Why should any group that has been disadvantaged in one way work to give up privilege in another area? The difference is not one of "drinks vs the world" and such a facile description shows a disregard for truth. Compare your city's options for a battered man vs a battered woman, for example.

    3. Wow, I didn't even plan that. Apparently battered men are not important because there may be fewer of them. And, not only that, but because they fall victim to the same rigid gender roles that our society (men AND women) place on men, they are to be blamed and mocked when they fail to report? Stay classy, Steve Shives.

    4. All Steve's doing here is repeating #1, while admitting that he does agree with some men's rights issues. Apparently men's rights is stupid because it's not totally detestable, and saying things Steve agrees with makes it harder to hate with conviction.

    5. This is an embarrassing failure to understand events during the recent decades of feminism, as well as the nature of inequality due to rigid gender roles, and the false binary that is gender. Feminism has been harsh toward lesbians and transpeople. It has not been, and still is not, a movement that is clearly for everyone. And yes, the name does reflect the truth. Regarding rights, feminism is interested in elevating women where they are disadvantaged. Feminism is usually not interested in giving up privilege that women have. Feminism is usually not interested (and often strongly opposes) elevating men where they are disadvantaged. Regardless of the scale, Steve admits men are disadvantaged in important ways. Who is supposed to address this, in the current context, if not men? And why not men? While gender issues are divided into the warring camps of feminism and men's rights, and other people disappear in between, meaningful equality cannot be achieved for all. If something is wrong to do to someone, it's wrong regardless of their male, female, or other gender. I'm yet unaware of any single group addressing gender discrimination as a whole.