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Posted by on Nov 11, 2012 in Atheism Plus, Secularism, SlymePit | 9 comments

A Tale of Two Communities (Part 3/3)

[This post is part three in a series. Here are part 1 and part 2.]

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.

Before the Feminist Freethought Schism (FFS) we all used to party together

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.

Conclusions
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.

  • Rebecca Bradley

    Nice mini research project, Damion – well done. I’ve posted a link to it on the Atheism+ thread at JREF.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Thanks!

  • http://www.skepticink.com/notung Notung

    Interesting you mention the JREF forum. The Slymepit is supposedly a ‘hate site’, but I don’t really see much of a difference between the threads devoted to ‘Slymepit-topics’ on the JREF forums and the Slymepit itself.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      From what I’ve seen, the JREF is much less likely to have humorously degrading nicknames for their opponents.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/notung Notung

      Yep, that’s true.

  • http://twitter.com/ool0n oolon

    Thought I’d have a read on the results of your experiment which you announced on the A+ forum… Don’t you think you rather screwed the pooch by announcing to the A+ forum that you were comparing them to the Slymepit? They have been trolled by all and sundry and probably (rightly or wrongly) blame the Slymepit for the majority of that. No idea what your background in the sciences might be but setting up an experiment with such inherent bias is not going to produce a particularly valid result.

    Despite that I like the articles, you are obviously trying to be objective at least. Which as you imply is more than can be said for the majority on the Slymepit and FtBs. As an FtB’er who had a lot of fun laughing at some of the pitters on ThunderF’s blog I was surprisingly well received on the pit. As you say it is friendly, they have a good laugh and have no problems with someone like me indulging in a little bit of piss extraction of their more extreme members and ideology (+1 for the pit). However to paint it as all unicorns and fluffy teddies is a little disingenuous, you probably missed me arguing on there about their use of ‘cunt’ when describing the female feminists they disagree with. I won’t bother you with that but suffice to say paranoia kicked in fast as I was using other ‘naughty words’ to make my point and was therefore trying to Google bomb them :-D … Anyone without thick skin just simply could not argue on there, anyone who is a woman or gay or X and from FtBs simply could not argue on there. A small example of the constant abuse of a sexual nature an ‘FtB’er’ feminist gets in the wild -> http://thunderf00tdotorg.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/ftb-and-the-conspiracy-to-defraud-drawing-a-line-under-this-pointless-crap/#comment-9807
    –> Totally their right to do it, Sally can stand up for herself anyway and makes them look total fools. But why should she have to day in and day out wherever she comments? Or women like her on the internet? If nothing else the A+ forum allows you to talk and discuss without having to explain feminism 101 over and over and over… If you don’t like it or ascribe to it then fine — but no one has the right to insist you listen to them misunderstand it constantly.

    The pit won’t ban you though! Which seems to be all important to the pitters… But when the pit is set up as a paean to free speech where anyone not being able to take shit is derided as a ‘weak victim’ (Jen being a good example) there is no comparison. How could the A+ forum possibly be a ‘safe space’ if they let Boss Hog and his piglets have free reign?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      “Don’t you think you rather screwed the pooch by announcing to the A+ forum that you were comparing them to the Slymepit?”

      Why not ask whether I screwed the pooch by announcing to the Slymepit that I was comparing them to the A+ forum? Either way, I was just being forthright. Had I failed to disclose that the exact same post was going up on both fora, it would have come out eventually and freaked someone out.

      “Anyone without thick skin just simply could not argue on there, anyone who is a woman or gay or X and from FtBs simply could not argue on there.”

      I’m not unclear on what you’re saying here, but it sounds as if you’re implying that it takes straight-cis-male privilege in order to grow thick skin. Surely Rayshul and Justicar and Abbie provide salient counterexamples. Not to mention Rebecca, who regularly laughs off threats which send others on hiatus.

      “But when the pit is set up as a paean to free speech where anyone not being able to take shit is derided…”

      Pitters and Plussers alike have demonstrated a knack for insulting and deriding people who aren’t enlightened like them, they just have very different ideas of what enlightenment entails and what sorts of insults are taboo.

    • http://twitter.com/ool0n oolon

      By not being able to argue I mean whenever I see the pitters around the well known FtB’ers they go off the rails. As per my example. Sally S was more than able to blow them away — it was not quite the “knack for insulting and deriding” you paint it as — it definitely was not an argument unless trying to reason with a monkey while it throws poo at you is an argument.

      You do realise that just being able to use words that demean and degrade it doesn’t mean you are very good at insulting? Seriously there are 13yr olds that could out insult an average pitter if just saying ‘cunttwatcockarse’ is your benchmark…

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I’m not generally into defending the ‘Pit, but the plural of Hannibal is not them. If you want a good example of the Pit interacting with FtB, go back to the original threads on Scented Nectar’s archives.

      As to your point about demeaning words, I personally don’t see the need for using slurs or insults to put people down. It’s all to easy to wind people up with the tiniest slight as it is. However, both the Pitters and Plussers both heartily disagree with me on this. Once again, they have far more in common than they would care to realize.