My Response to Hank Fox, the Blue Collar Atheist

Now I wouldn't generally single out a guy who doesn't claim to be an academic, but since fellow FTBlger Daniel Fincke linked to what Hank wrote on his Facebook page, claiming Hank "answers" me (rather than saying he "responded" to me), I thought that by engaging Hank I would also be engaging Daniel, who is part of the bullying crowd there. I have engaged Daniel on more than one occasion where I have come away thinking to myself he needs a basic course in critical thinking. Oh, not very often of course, since he writes some really good stuff I recommend. It only comes out when defending the herd at FTB. This is why David Eller argues a true freethinker is someone unattached to a community because a community will influence what we think. Daniel has dehumanized (or even worse, demonized) me because of these disagreements. Well then, let's just see what this demon has to say in response and see if Daniel still thinks Hank "answers" me. ;-)

Writing to me link, Hank (in blockquotes) said,
Quoting you: “I know you have a herd mentality and have a strong tendency not to listen to outsiders …”

John, if you really wanted to catch the attention of someone, starting out with an insult is probably not the best way to go about it.
Uhm, okay, but this is exactly what I have experienced from FtBlgers. In fact, this is what you are doing in this post of yours. The phrase “herd mentality” is meant to signify protection of the herd, that is, the people at FtB. The tendency is to attack anyone outside the herd, that is me, out of loyalty to the herd.
But as to your accusation, which is basically that nobody there actually THINKS in an independent, rational way, that hasn’t been my experience at Freethought Blogs. I myself am something of an outsider — a non-academic (I’m not the only one, of course) with roots in the Deep South, older than everyone else there, and more prone to write on philosophical points rather than the news of the day. And yet I feel listened to and included when things are discussed or argued. If anything, FtB has a “heard” mentality.
First off I have never ever said that "nobody there actually THINKS in an independent, rational way." Where do you get this idea from? Not from me that's for sure. In fact I just commented above that Daniel Fincke "writes some really good stuff I recommend," as do most all of the FTBlgers most all of the time.

Second, I'm glad you feel comfortable being there and listened to. But just try disagreeing with the consensus and then see what happens. You see, disagreement from real outsiders like me is shouted down, as I said in the above link. You couldn't understand this unless you were an outsider and wanted a reasonable discussion about an issue of disagreement with the consensus. I can't expect you to understand either.
I watched the process of your own departure from FtB, and I’m still sort of baffled by it. If you feel so strongly about the “herd mentality,” and yet think of yourself as an “outsider,” the cure would have been to stay, where you could offer your insights on a daily basis. Yet you left voluntarily, and not over any issue of substance I could detect.
Justin Griffith asked me why I didn't stay and I answered it already. I think a substantive issue is how people are treated at FtB. Why would you think it isn't? As I explained elsewhere I just couldn't tolerate the atmosphere there. I wanted to stay. I just couldn't do it any longer. I was told they wanted me so that I would attract more Christians to their site, that is, get them more hits. Okay, I thought, great. But my main target audience couldn't stomach being there and I was attacked by too many atheist commenters. When my suggestions were ignored or dismissed in the email discussions FTBlers had between us, it was too much for me. I couldn't take it anymore. I had to get out of there. And so I left gracefully and would have left it that way, except I was attacked for leaving, or that's how I felt. Ed suggests my criticisms of FTB spring from sour grapes, and some of that is true. The sour grapes I have are that I wanted to make a bigger difference and was prohibited by the circumstances from doing so. What Ed has never acknowledged is his own sour grapes because he could not keep me there, which would have increased the hits FTB got along with its influence. I'm sorry about this. I really am. But I just couldn't stay. Are you baffled any longer?
And this bit: “Ed, PZ, if you had just listened to me you would not be in this mess.” That comes across as a bit grandiose, don’t you think?
Perhaps yes, but I did offer some advice which they all rejected with that herd mentality I mentioned. My suggestions were hardly ever accepted when I was a FtBlger. I came to the conclusion that the only reason they asked me to be there was because I was a popular blogger and they wanted as many popular bloggers as they could in order to have a greater influence and make more money off increased numbers of hits. I came to feel as if I was being used. As I calculate it, PZ Myers makes over three grand a month there. Listen, if you do not treat people as human beings then do not expect them to feel welcomed. That is the general impression I get from not only many of the FtBlgers but from most all of the people who comment there. Why do so many of them dehumanize people who disagree? I suspect it's because of how PZ and Ed treats people. They are bad role models and one of the reasons I am calling on them to apologize to the rest of us.

For the record, I have no animosity toward them at all. This isn't personal with me. I'm sure I would like everyone there if we met and laughed over a few beers (it makes us "jolly good fellows" as the song goes). The internet is a bad way to judge someone's character. I used to be a minister. I know how to deal charitably with people. I am a kind, caring person. A lot of people in my churches loved me, and some of them still do even though I'm an atheist. When it comes to the internet this is a different impersonal venue. I know this. So many others don't. So I try to separate a person's argument from them as people. I try to treat people respectfully as much as possible knowing the temptation to blast anonymous names on the internet. And I also separate a particular disagreement I have with someone away from what we largely agree about. The myopic and utterly ignorant people among us will conclude that because we have one disagreement about one issue that therefore those who disagree on that one issue are totally ignorant and not worth paying attention to at all. Intelligent educated people can disagree on one issue and not conclude the other person is totally ignorant about everything else. The really ignorant people are the ones who dehumanize others because of one particular disagreement.

Listen, I have a great amount of agreement with the FtBlgers against religionists, perhaps approaching 99%, who knows for sure. I disagree with how they treat others who disagree. I disagree with their emphasis. And I think the Jesus story is probably not all myth. But that's pretty much it. I consider the first two to be important disagreements though. But the way they have dehumanized me is sickening. I am their ally not their enemy. They can either respond reasonably or not. It's their choice. But if they don't respond reasonably I'm going to call them out on it on behalf of many others who think the same thing.
As to the sexual harassment and equality issue, my own take on it The Funny Thing About Sexual Harassment, and Then the Unfunny Thing came about well after the atheist blogosphere’s general public response to the issue. In the post, I relate my own — male — experiences of sexual harassment at work, and explain how those experiences inform my view of the harassment of women.
Good. Sometimes I am so disgusted with how men have treated women that I am ashamed to be a man. I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist to the core. This issue is what motivates me like nothing else, along with the separation of church and state in America. The problem is that I am a man so I cannot bash men. I think men bashers are ignorant. They are ignorant of the fact that if they were men they would think like men, and men cannot bash themselves. I want equality. What I don't want are people who accept what some women say as gospel truth who subsequently want more power than men. And I don't like the present divisiveness over this issue either, where we are either on the side of the goddesses of FtB or an evil terrible person.
My overview impression of all this is that the movement is undergoing inevitable growing pains.
Hank, here you speak of "the" atheist movement as if it's a monolithic entity. As I've argued before, it isn't. There are only atheist communities. Therefore no one speaks for atheism. What FtBlgers are doing is trying to flesh out a new humanist vision for a society without a god, and so you're right we will have growing pains, but shouting down the opposition isn't the way to do it.
Even if it were true (and again, I don’t think it is) that FtB is beset with some sort of herd mentality, the fact is … there’s a whole Internet out here that is not the feisty, energetic, delightful Freethought Blogs. A potentially infinite number of places where all the other voices can be heard.

Like this one, come to think of it. [Since Hank's original comment was made here at DC he was referring to us].

So even IF there was a “strong tendency not to listen to outsiders,” those outsiders have exactly zero being taken away from them. And the history-making, still-growing movement we’re all a part of, assuming other people express their own unique views of subjects that come up, either in their own blogs or blog comments, benefits just the same from a diversity of viewpoint and voice.
Thanks for your recommendation. But about the internet we already know this. Please tell us something we don't know. Your task isn't to say there are other sites available. Your task is to defend against my claim that your particular site has a herd mentality, something this comment of yours is utterly irrelevant at answering.
” … I think you’re making atheism look bad for your own profit and influence, for your own privilege and power.”

Heh. To our majority-Christian society, atheism ALREADY looks bad. Might as well try out some passionate grand experiments as to how to be one’s best and most comfortable unbelieving self, right?
The fact that atheism already looks bad is utterly irrelevant to my claim that FtB makes atheism look bad, for I'm saying it makes it worse than otherwise to some degree. It contributes to it rather than helping to alleviate it. So to do this for your own profit and influence, for your own privilege and power, is particularly galling since I want to help alleviate the impression believers have of atheism rather than contribute to it.
And this is where I take greatest exception to your advice here, because what I hear you saying to PZ and Ed and the FtB bloggers can be boiled down to six words: “Be less you. Be more me.”

Nope. Even if that was a good idea, it’s not our style.
This argument isn't about style. It's about respecting other reasonable opinions and refusing to dehumanize one's opponents. I have an answer. It's a reasonable answer. I do not claim to have "the" answer. And I have offered it up in the post you are criticizing. But your counter-arguments are most definitely lame, sorry, but they are.

I gave reasons for what I think for people to judge for themselves. It’s not being more like me. Hell, I don’t agree with the mission statement I wrote for FtB since I think our focus should be on debunking the basis of religion itself, it’s theology, it’s holy books, and so on. This is the only thing we can all agree on. I tried to help because I care. That you may not think so is your right.

So now I challenge Daniel Fincke to show how Hank Fox "answers" me. No ad hominems Daniel. Don't shout me down. Act like a reasonable adult here. Deal with my response in a responsible way if you can. If you personally attack me I'll take it that you can't do it. I would expect better of you though.