A Tale of Two Communities (Part 3/3)
As I mentioned last time, both the SlymePit and the Atheism Plus forums are satisfying and enjoyable to their respective insiders and regular posters. What I didn’t mention last time is how much they’ve come to look like a sort of self-reinforcing self-parody to outsiders.
Atheism Plus as seen from the outside
The outsider caricature of the A+ forums is that they are so heavily moderated that it’s hard to find a thread in which no one gets warned off for being insensitively privileged in some way. Usually this involves some poster being told to “Check your (fucking) (cisbinary) privilege!” and then issued a formal warning. Oftentimes, it is accompanied by an explanation of how the A+ forums don’t have the luxury of assuming good faith, and how they have a sort of spider sense for online oppression which tingles and warns them of impending text-based social injustice. Essentially, the A+ forums engage in an unending tournament of underprivilege überpolo, a novel online sport which is far more about “shaming, righteousness and public performance” than about winning over potential allies or actually getting anything done to improve the freethought movement or prevent social injustice. I cannot say as I’ve can find much fault with this particular caricature, although I have seen at least a handful of interesting and productive threads in which no one got called out.
Slyme Pit as seen from the outside
The caricature of the SlymePit, of course, is that exists primarily to spew hate and hyper-skepticism at outspoken atheist feminists. Alas, this characterization is not entirely without merit. Certainly I’ve seen a fair bit of hate directed at certain freethought bloggers and a couple of outspoken skeptical women. I’ve also seen quite a few jokes at their expense, which isn’t necessarily the same thing, especially when well executed. Of course, sometimes it’s hard to tell insightful parody from hateful screed, especially when you’re already emotionally invested in the subject for good or ill. I’ve also come to believe that much of the perception of hate springs from the fact that certain naughty words are presumed to be hateful instead of just trollish. The SlymePit ethos of untrammeled free speech means that some people are going to be vulgar just to bother the kind of people who are bothered by vulgarity.
As to hyper-skepticism, yeah, that happens too. Even fairly ordinary claims such as “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer” and “I was awkwardly propositioned at a conference” may be considered extraordinary and unbelievable in the ‘Pit. This indicates that at least some of the posters have fallen prey to the idea that the “other side” is so thoroughly malevolent and untrustworthy that they cannot be extended the benefit of the doubt, which is just one more thing that many Pitters have in common with most Plussers. Two sides, same coin, insert prosaic metaphor of choice.
All that said, it must also be noted that the ‘Pit is a place where you are allowed to disagree without getting modded or threadlocked. They know about my (somewhat circumscribed) support of Rebecca Watson, and yet allow me to keep posting there. I’ve even seen Pitters try to reign the moderator in for posting something considered in poor taste. Try that over at A+ and see how quickly you get labelled a tone-troll and smacked with the banhammer.
Paradoxically, I’ve found the forum created as a safe space with lofty ideals to be stridently unwelcoming and less than ideal, while I’ve found the forum created as a free speech zone with no particular ideals to be a fairly thoughtful place with an organically emergent ethos of free speech and self governance. In general, I’d say that the Pit is gradually becoming more of a laid back place to basically just shoot the shit, while the A+ forums are caught in a cycle of perpetual purification and one-downmanship.
While the regular posters at both sites are having a great time, I wouldn’t recommend either forum to n00bs. There is too much backstory and very little of it proves even remotely edifying. I look forward (with pointless and irrational optimism) to the day when people on both sides are able to work together on common goals, such as liberating men and women alike from the constraints of religious doctrines which warp their views on sexuality and gender. Meanwhile, I’m going to head back over to the JREF forum, which more than makes up for its lack of visual flair with highly substantive posting.