I've Moved!

Atheist Morality is now West Coast Atheist at Wordpress. Stop on by and feel free to comment over there!

18 January, 2013

Driven Well Past the Last Exit to Relevance...

First, I'd like to thank the awesome Brian Williams for the title of this post. He made the remark describing Donald Trump and his election-night rant about Obama stealing the election by not winning the popular vote (he did win it, btw), but I think it fits.

I don't go perusing Freethought Blogs for material. The times I visit are generally when I notice a kerfluffle on twitter or other social networks has taken place. Usually, it's very petty stuff. Someone called so-and-so this, someone said this-or-that (usually cherry-picked and thrown up out of context with a damning invective to go along with), but today I was pointed to a post by Ophelia Benson that made my skin crawl.

She starts out right away comparing the atheist community to the "Bolshoi ballet" that, I admit, I had to look up (because I could care less about ballet or opera, and I'm willing to bet -- if she were honest about it -- Benson also had to look it up). So what is Bolshoi that she is referring to? According to the article she herself linked to, it's a very famous, highly competitive theater company in Russia with a decades-long history of sabotage and infighting:

"Bolshoi dancers have been known to place crushed glass inside each other's ballet shoes, or set an alarm clock to go off during a tour de force (a feat of technical skill during a ballet performance)."

(Off topic rant: Holy scheiße! These people are actually doing this to each other so they can end up like Natalie Portman in Black Swan? Not cool. Competition in arts like this is degrading to the art itself! What is wrong with these people?! /rant)

So what does this have to do with the atheist community? Let's see. Ophelia's piece is titled, "From hacking to acid-throwing." She says, "Apparently the Bolshoi is riven with deeeeep rifts," which I suppose is meant to remind the reader of the "deep rifts" in "the atheist movement" (rather, the interent-famous people who are squabbling over who gets to inherit the movement after the smear campaigns finally bring down a few "old, privileged, white guys" who made such an impact in the first decade of the millenium).

She then quotes the article:
…even before police find the culprits – if they ever do – many will connect the attack to the ongoing squabbles and infighting that have been plaguing this jewel of Russian culture.
Most of the squabbles that have affected the theatre have not been about money, but about personal competition, and they appear to have degenerated into nasty attacks on the talented dancer-turned-director.
Before acid was used in Friday’s attack, Sergei Filin had already received numerous phone threats, and his email and Facebook accounts had been hacked.
and concludes by saying, "One minute it’s just hacked Facebook accounts, the next it’s acid attacks."

No, Ophelia (and this is why I think she doesn't even know what Bolshoi is and probably didn't even read the entire article), the article says, "Acid may be the newest and nastiest weapon in instances of infighting at the Bolshoi, but the tensions go back decades." This is not an instance of some disagreements forming and BOOM! acid throwing. This is a highly-competitive, sought-out theater company with a long history of attacks and physical abuse among competing performers. But whatever, she's human and has every right to be wrong sometimes.

The next sentence, however, really really gets under my skin: "Maybe I should start wearing protection."

Read it, take it in, really think about that for a second. Acid attacks are horrendous, and each new one I read about (they are common) squashes my faith in humanity a little bit more. For her to exploit this instance of such a horrible, deplorable, rotton action is beyond the pale. 

We know that Ophelia recently was parodied by two twitter accounts that spelled their names similar to her twitter handle to make fun of her. We know that the online atheist/skeptic movement has had some serious back and forth over which feminism is the "right" kind and who we should regard as "leaders." We know that there are people promoting an unfalsifiable claim of sexism and patriarchy in the community, leading to contentions and an environment of fear

We know that some good changes have been effected because of some of this, but that often, nothing is good enough (such as in this thread commenting on the then-newly-adopted harassment policy for Skepticon 5). 

We also know that the parody accounts and trolls have enabled people like Ophelia to avoid legitimate criticism and that calling for a scientific survey to objectively answer the question, "Why don't more women go to atheist events" has been said to be proof enough of their claims of sexism. What we haven't seen is anything like the Bolshoi. Not even the most harassing troll on twitter can take credit for doing anything violent to anyone else in the skeptic movement. What we have seen is people's real lifecareers, and reputations smeared...by the people that Ophelia calls her friends. 

It's shameful, because calling her out on this deplorable blog post will only be seen as one more "sexist, misogynist, MRA rant," despite me being none of those things and her deserving to be held accountable for her words and actions. Still, this seals it for me. She's no longer worth thinking about, reading about or hearing about. She disgusts me, and it's not because she's a woman, it's because she's a bad, bad, bad, bad person.


  1. It is in line with what PZ has already compared his critics to, which is the person guilty of the Montreal Massacre.

  2. What has she to fear from acid? It runs through her veins.

  3. Benson has form with this kind of hysterical (yes hysterical) hyperbole. She previously equated critics of Rebeccas Watson to car bombers -


  4. She NEEDS to be the victim. I did not realise this before, but there are quite a few people who can work themselves into a state of mind where victimhood become their raison d'être. And when they do it, this is what their blog posts and public speeches sound like: rape this, threat that, harassment over here, persecution over there. It does not faze them that most if not all of their frenzied histrionics have nothing at all to do with their own personal experiences (eg the prune never suffered an acid attack). They are so obsessed with this idea of being a victim that the very imagination in their heads sends them into hysterical fits of panic and self-pity.

  5. I really do wonder when all of this will end. ALL of it, not just the individual smear campaigns and self-promotion campaigns. I vaguely remember when the atheism/skeptic movement spent time discussing atheism issues, not fighting over who's version of feminism is best.

  6. I have always found Ophelia Benson to be a person of great goodness and integrity. I think you should listen properly to what she is saying.

  7. Listen properly? She makes herself clear.