Friday, 12 October 2012

Insight into the Atheism Plus mentality; "It's all about MEEEE!"

I should make it completely clear right now that this post is not directly related to Atheism Plus. However, like many others I've been trying to get my head around the mentality of a sect that conflates disagreement with abuse and has given the world "Shroedinger's Rapist", so an insight into the thought processes of the woman who came up with the whole idea seems less than totally irrelevant.

A couple of days ago, McCreight tweeted the following:

Any of us who've had the joy of being poked in the back by some random's boner on the London Underground can probably sympathise.

However, I confess my interest was piqued by a follow-up tweet:

Now, McCreight's Twitter settings prevent me from expanding her tweets to see the responses she's getting, so I can't actually tell you exactly what was said to provoke this response.  However, it struck me as such a strange and hyperbolic thing to say - given that based on the original tweet all that had actually happened was that she walked past him while he was engaged in masturbation - that I replied and this conversation happened:

I never received a reply to my last question.

I'll happily admit that at this point I didn't really know where I stood on what McCreight says she experienced.  On the one hand, yes it's a bit grim to unexpectedly see someone masturbating on your walk to work - and of course what the homeless man was doing was illegal.  On the other hand, I couldn't work out why McCreight seemed to have taken it as such a personal attack on her rights, as in her own words all that had happened was that she'd seen him masturbating while she was "walking by".

The other thing that bothered me was the total lack of concern for the homeless man himself.  Here we have a person who is already living on the streets - with all that that suggests about the chances of his having mental illness and/or drug addictions - and who is now so far removed from the societal inhibitions that usually govern our public behaviour that he is masturbating openly in a public place.  There is a REASON that most people don't do that.

I totally acknowledge that had I been in McCreight's place there probably WOULD have been a moment of "ew, gross" when I saw this homeless man and registered what he was doing.  I'd also probably have got the hell out of there in a hurry.  But I'd like to think of myself that once the initial shock had subsided I'd have felt at least a little concern for this man, for his safety and well-being.  If I witnessed a homeless person shrieking in conversation with himself at the top of his voice, or engaging in self-harm, or doing anything else that most mentally-healthy people do not do in public, I would have felt uncomfortable and probably scared... but I would also have felt compassion.

Why does this not apply because the particular eccentric behaviour this man was displaying happened to be sexual in nature?

Then I saw this tweet:

...and suddenly I got it. The reason McCreight expressed no sympathy or concern for the homeless man is that, in her world, everything anyone does within the scope of her perception is about her.

Seriously, is there any other conclusion we can draw from this?  Never mind everything else that ought to strike us as strange and concerning about what the homeless man was doing; the point so far as McCreight was concerned is that he didn't ask her permission to do it (never mind the question of how he was supposed to know or care who the hell she was OR that she was going to walk past).

Apparently I wasn't the only one struck by the total lack of empathy McCreight showed for this man, because shortly after the above she tweeted this:

When I first saw this one I sincerely thought - hoped! - it was a joke, but I'm forced to the conclusion that she was serious; another example of quite epic self-centredness. Never mind the details of what anybody said, never mind the validity of their points about her total want of compassion (which, you will notice, are not actually refuted in that tweet); the people expressing concern for the homeless man's well-being are uncaring, insincere haters just looking for an excuse to get at McCreight.

Quite apart from all else that's breath-takingly irrational and presumptuous in that statement, who exactly is promoting a "Male-Sexuality-Trumps-Everything agenda"?  What IS a "Male-Sexuality-Trumps-Everything agenda"?  If we take the words at face value, what McCreight is saying here is that anyone who feels concern for homeless people or those with mental illness thinks rape is acceptable.  That's jingoism worthy of Richard Carrier, it's hilarious.

The attitudes of people in the Atheism Plus movement have puzzled me for some time; as I have commented elsewhere, I am neither vain nor self-loathing enough to assume that the only interest a man could feel for me is sexual, for example.  Neither am I sufficiently scared of men that I feel the need to consider them all misogynists - and, these days, potential rapists - until they prove otherwise (if such a thing were actually possible) by my very specific criteria. Nor do I understand a mentality that by default brands all dissent and disagreement (and even questions!) as abuse from either misogynists or sister-punishers.  Most of all, I don't understand how a group that was supposedly set up to support marginalised groups in the atheist "movement" can produce little more than self-righteous whinging from wealthy, educated, middle-class white women living in democracies about how no one understands how hard it is to be them.

Next time you visit the A+ website, keep the words "it's all about meeeee!" in mind. You'll probably find it's all a lot more comprehensible... although if anything even less palatable.

Edit: I am told that some people on Twitter have been mocking Jen McCreight for having said that she is experiencing depression. Not cool, people. You don't make a joke of mental illness, and you don't get to tell her she's lacking in compassion if you then behave like that. Out of order.


  1. " ... potential rapists - until they prove otherwise ... ".

    Unfortunately, Schrodinger's rapist suggests worse than that. It assumes any man is a potential rapist until he actually rapes. If he doesn't rape then he is still a potential rapist.

    It also makes the dangerous fallacy that most rapes are carried out by strangers which is what went wrong with the "stranger danger" campaign.

    At what point did the whole skepchick thing all go so horribly wrong?

    As many others have said, it's reminiscent of victorian middle-class women swooning at the slightest hint of a man's sexuality.

    Remember this positive message about women that Skepchick used to convey?

  2. Nice analysis and breakdown of this situation. A+ have been eating themselves up from the inside since day one. Not being a member of any group of atheists I have watched this from the sidelines with mounting alarm.

    It has become a cult of personality focussed around a few key members and woe betide anyone who crosses that line. I was blocked (on twitter) by one of their members a few months back for daring to question my right to talk to a girl in an elevator, it now seems they have turned against him in recent forums as he refuses to admit to being a potential rapist.

    It is such a shame to see otherwise excellent thinkers get sucked into believing their own hype over rational thought.

    Thanks for writing this, such reinforcement from women is a great boost to those of us who do not consider ourselves potential rapists.

  3. McCreight seems to have a broader distribution of "moral foundations" than the typical non-mythist; higher on sanctity perhaps? Let's get Haidt to break out A-Plus's from A's in his next morality study.

  4. I think it's a strange mix of ego and victim mentality. These A+ers seem to be much more interested in moaning about stuff than actually empowering themselves or doing anything about it. Their response to elevatorgate was to get *someone else* to put guidelines in place to get *someone else* to deal with perceived miscreants. Call me a chill girl if you like, but when a bloke gives you unwanted attention, you put him straight and get on with your life. I certainly don't want to spend my life cowering in my corner of the web for fear of all these 'potential rapists'.

    Oh how that term makes me shudder. I don't think my father, uncles, brothers, friends, colleagues and husband are rapists, potential or otherwise. If we follow that reasoning, technically they're all potential murderers, muggers, thieves, burglars, hit and run drivers, fraudsters, stalkers and so on too, and so are the rest of us as well, but you can't possibly live your life like that.

    Yes, bad stuff happens, yes, bad people exist, yes there is a massive issue about how our legal system and society in general deal with rape, but it doesn't follow that you have to treat everyone you meet with suspicion and run away to moan at someone else. And you can't wait for the world to evolve into some kind of utopia where there are no more criminals. You can only change your own behaviour, not anyone else's.

    Essentially, if someone takes your power away, take it the hell back. A lot less victim mentality and a little more channelling of Lisbeth Salander (minus the GBH) would be a joy to behold.

  5. "But I'd like to think of myself that once the initial shock had subsided I'd have felt at least a little concern for this man, for his safety and well-being"
    or... if totally lacking in empathy for the homeless man at the very least concern over the safety and well being of the next person confronted by the poor guy(she did after all seem to consider herself a "victim"), the next could be a child.
    Some action, any action, to determine that the guy was not a danger to HIMSELF or OTHERS would be deemed appropriate from the stand point of being a human being, let alone some one who claims to care about the welfare of marginalized groups and the safety of women (and i would hope children)
    This "oh I have been victimized but its way easier/more fun to complain than to actually do something about a situation" would seem to be in contradiction to "activism"

  6. Lucy I'm impressed by your keen insight here and the way in which your reactions are guided by compassion and the desire to understand. Great post.

    Dave H.

  7. I caught this peripherally, and looking further it's a mess. OK, so McCreight was squicked out, that's natural. We don't know if she felt any pity or compassion, or called the police, or anything; she didn't communicate that. For all I know, she might have done all that. At the same time, all she did communicate was "OMG that was gross!" and "Consentconsentconsentconsent!" Based solely on what she communicated, it's not hard to assume she's simply self-absorbed and thinks of this only in terms of how it affects her. And if she's pissed about people assuming that...well, the blame starts with herself, and she needs to take responsibility for what she communicated and the feelings she expressed. In reality, the guy was committing a crime, and probably mentally ill, not a vile evil "I must expose poor delicate you to my male sexuality!" sort of person. And her aggressive dismissal of those criticizing her as "not giving a shit about the homeless" is very obviously out of line and shameful, but also smacks of projection and a belated attempt to cover up what might have been her own not giving a shit. (Or not. I could be wrong.) She's also tweeted frequently about suffering from depression and anhedonia, and that can totally warp your perceptions (Diane Ackerman once wrote of depression as a lens that distorts reality, a very apt description). She may very well look back on this later on and feel the compassion that she may or may not have felt but certainly didn't express...not to mention a good share of embarrassment. Time will tell. But my experience, "social justice" includes advocating for aid to the homeless, and if Atheism+ is really about Social Justice as a big concept, then he should be someone she feels compassion for...and EXPRESSES compassion for. She may not realize it yet, but she's put herself in a position where she has to watch what she communicates or it reflects poorly on the movement she started. She needs to get it together or the leader and founder of Atheism+ will turn out to be an albatross around its neck.

    1. What I see in McCreight's comments is that she considers this encounter just another form of rape, i.e., unwanted sexual activity that she was somehow 'forced' to participate in without her consent.

      Seriously. That's what she's saying. Her glancing at a homeless man's behavior was a sexual attack... on her. SHE's the victim here. Also note that McCreight has commented that the thought of a man masturbating at home in private would "still make me feel violated."

  8. I think Jen has simply been quite thoroughly broken by her "boobquake"-experience. She wasn't prepared - and apparently isn't mentally equipped - to deal with that much publicity. She *did* have to deal with an awful lot of hate-mail, a form of exposure that would skew everybody's perception after a while. I think that after being in over her head so suddenly, she simply lost some of her grip on reality, and certainly lost the ability to distance herself from what's been happening to her life.

  9. She was walking through his living room...