I won’t stop standing up for kindness and fairness in the freethought community, even if it drives prominent skeptics to scold me publicly, shout me down, or dismiss me with the mother-of-all freethought insults… by calling me a “concern troll”. These are classic tactics of arrogance that are inherently designed to dismiss dissent, and I’ve seen them employed against me and a few of my allies in this fight. But, I would argue that the ‘concern’ epithet is just as much an insult to reason and logic than someone shouting me down (which has actually happened to me recently) for the very reason that it’s a lazy way to argue a point.
“Concern Troll” is a term that is used as a way to isolate a critical opinion and dismiss it as trivial, the equivalent of a schoolyard bully taunting other students for being “babies”. Besides being a juvenile way to argue, the accusation is hypocritical because “concern troll” could be used against any skeptic for any argument that we make. We’re all “concern trolls” if you think about it.
Vaccine deniers could say, “oooh, you’re so ‘concerned’ about whether my kid gets chicken pox. Get over it!”
Christians could say, “Oh, poor babies ‘concerned’ about whether they get to eat gelato. Are they gonna cry to mommy that they don’t get to put up their billboard?”.Etc.
One example of when I was personally accused of “concern trolling” is when I made a comment on Greta Christina’s blog. Greta regularly gives a popular talk where she gives a biased sample of reasons why atheists are angry. Atheists eat it up because it highlights all the flaws of organized religion and omits all the good or neutral things about religion. She quotes Ghandi and MLK Jr, who have both admitted that they used anger to affect change, but she fails to follow their example and guide the people she has riled up into peaceful, thoughtful activism. Instead, her follow-up to this speech was an article that said that she “pretty much doesn’t care” what people do with their anger. This ambivalence to how atheists respond to their anger was what I dared to challenge.
Color me as obtuse, but I think that anyone who writes about anger should make it clear that violence is not something they advocate. I absolutely understand that Greta’s article was never intended to spur anyone to violent action, but an appeal to pacifism certainly merits a tiny mention when discussing an idea as intense as anger. But, my greater concern was that she didn’t care how people responded to their anger: she didn’t care if they went to a random church on sunday and shouted down the preacher, she didn’t care if they ripped up the pages of their parents’ bible, she didn’t care if they were to tell little children on christmas day that Jesus is just a myth. Or, I should clarify to say that she “pretty much” didn’t care, which gave her a whole lot of wiggle room out of any example of improper responses to anger that I could provide.
Let me just say that I DO care how angry people represent atheism. We atheists have friends, family, and acquaintances who just want to live their lives in peace and not be reminded that they are idiots on a daily basis. Activism in the name of anger can cost us personal relationships (hint: most christians don’t mind being friends with an atheist, but they do actually mind being friends with a dick). And if that makes me a “concern troll” then so be it.
Greta seems to think so. After labeling me a “concern troll”, she goes on to say, “So for this comment thread, all my regular readers are hereby authorized to respond to Ticktock in my name with the following: “Your concern is noted. Thank you for sharing.”
Glad we resolved that in such a reasonable way.
It’s a trend with the proudly dickish atheists that they sick their readers onto people that they disagree with. As if they are above any form of dissent against their far superior tactics. I dared to disagree on Jen McCreight’s blog that the Skepticon convention invited a comedian known for mocking religion to their conference as a featured speaker. It was Sam Singleton’s spirited performance (featuring a crowd yelling “god damn” in unison) that inspired a certain christian gelato store owner to respond with a bigoted unwelcoming sign to atheists on his front window. My argument was that this comedian made skeptics seem equally intolerant and unwelcoming and that this comedy show was just as bigoted as the gelato store sign (just not as illegal).
Jen’s answer to my criticism…”…You just killed so many brain cells with The Stupid that I cannot reply. I’m going to bed. Someone else will fill you in on what the word “bigotry” means, or maybe you can open a dictionary.”
Ouch. So hurtful, except that the only person who defined bigotry in that comment thread was me… “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” I just don’t want to be a part of a community that ignores it’s own intolerance of others’ beliefs. Nor, do I want to be a part of a community that uses personal insults (“The Stupid”) instead of carefully constructed rational arguments. That’s not what I signed up for.
But, I refuse to be pushed out. I will still advocate for neutrality, kindness, fairness, and responsibility, even if I fall short of my own goals. As skeptics, we all have a vision of what we want from the freethought community. If I held a skeptic’s conference and invited a global warming denier or a 9/11 truther as a prominent speaker, I would expect some complaints from people within the movement for featuring unscientific guests. Would the people complaining about my convention be “concern trolls” for trying to shape how we appear to the outside world? So why am I a “concern troll” for voicing my complaints? Because the blogs where I write dissenting comments have writers and readers who disagree with me? Does that seem reasonable?
Finally, I’d like to respond to PZ Myers, a biology professor with a devoted following of sycophantic acolytes, who did the honor of quoting me on his wildly popular blog. This is part of his response to my comments about reverse bigotry…
“How dare those atheists reject and mock a belief — excuse me, choice — that is antithetical to science and reason? Choosing to believe in a magic sky fairy, choosing to believe in evidence…they’re all perfectly equivalent, after all.”
He says that it’s a “choice” to believe, but we all know that many people are born into families or cultures where that “choice” is not evident. And even if the choice was easier to make, why would anyone choose atheism when our side prides itself on being unforgiving dicks, when our side resorts to insults and mockery, and when our side shuts down dissent with a papal-like presumption that the followers be obedient and not “concern” themselves with the tactics of their leaders. Often this war of tone breaks down to one side saying to the other side that their tactic is better, or both sides agreeing that multiple tactics are better, but putting tactical awareness aside, I think we might be better off focusing on how we treat people within our own movement and whether it speaks well of ourselves to force a pillow onto the mouths of critics and suffocate their dissent with a “fuck you and your smiley face, too“.