Feeding the Trolls: Why Secularists Must Stand Up For Social Justice

by: Andrew Tripp

Note: For those of you who are unaware, I am the President of the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought, a student group at the university that serves its population of non-religious students. I am also, as you may have noticed from my posts on In Our Words, something of a pinko socialist, and definitely a political nerd.  As such, this post should not be taken as reflecting the membership of DAFT, but purely as my own opinions.

I’m writing this to tell you that a demon lurks within the secular movement.  Ironic, no?  But I find the description fitting.

Since I co-founded DAFT and began engaging with other activists about three years ago, my political beliefs have been a huge driving force in my activities.  So such, as time has gone by, I’ve grown increasingly tired of the general topics that atheists talk about: how religion is stupid and illogical, the Crusades and other such atrocities from history being terrible, whether we should be firebrand-y or accommodational when dealing with religious groups. That is not to say that these are not important, far from it; however, they are not issues that connect us with the general populace.

Within the movement, there are precious few voices who talk about politics, or feminism, or LGBTQ issues, or all the other fucked up shit that is happening in the world right now, or if they do, it is without a call to action. It’s always “look how fucked up religion is,” not, “register to vote to throw these theocractic assholes out of office.”  As such, the movement — especially amongst the Four Equine luminaries of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett — seems increasingly out of touch with the wider world.

As such, many nonreligious people who have come out because of their writings do not seem to have moved on from them.  Earlier this summer, Rebecca Watson, who writes at Skepchick, was approached in an elevator by a man at a conference in Dublin and asked her back to his room for coffee.  (Note: This is after she had made repeated mentions of the fact that she was tired and wanted to go to bed.)  She refused his offer, and later posted a video in which she asked men not to do that sort of thing.  Asked, not yelled or screeched.  The announcement wasn’t even the main focus of the video. Nothing to set off a firestorm, right?

Wrong.  She was promptly attacked by people from all over the Internet, and for months since then has been getting threats of rape and other forms of violence.  Richard Dawkins even weighed in with some horrible, ignorant, privileged crap.  Rebecca, instead of running and hiding, stood up and fought back with the mix of intelligence and snark that she’s fantastic at.  Most importantly, she called for people to call out the hateful and stand up to this kind of bullying.

And wouldn’t you know it, more of them appeared.  Just on Tuesday, Jen McCreight made a similar appeal in response to criticisms of Rebecca.  And she was called immature and a whiny feminist in response, by people in the movement I used to respect, mostly in Facebook bitch threads.  If you want to read the exchanges, check out the posts and their comment threads here and here.

If you could bear to read those threads, welcome back.  If not, know that they are wrong.  By not “feeding the trolls,” as it’s referred to, we’re allowing the prejudiced and the hateful to win.  That is how The Powers That Be remain so.  By encouraging us to sit down, shut up, and go about our merry intelligentsia ways, our voices will not be heard.  By allowing ourselves to be shouted down by the Bill O’Reilly’s and out-inaned by the Rick Perrys in the name of some grander being-a-grown-up thing, that means that we’ll never make our arguments, and the masters will continue to control the discourse.

We also need to speak out against these assholes for the simple fact that this shows others who are not part of the secular movement that we are fighting against them.  I would never and will never claim that atheists win, much less place or show, in the Oppression Olympics, but people out there do hate us for our non-belief.  Late last school year, I became aware that some of the other progressive groups on campus were unwilling to engage with us for that fact, that secularism isn’t an important issue when stacking up against anti-feminists or anti-LGBTQ people.

I can understand that critique, and certainly in context of how I have seen many members of this movement act in response to Rebecca and Jen’s complaints, I find myself often wondering whether the fighting I do is worth it in face of the vitriol from Smith and the other trolls.

But that is not an excuse to toss it aside.  We need to start making it better.  We need to make social justice issues foremost in our discourse.  There are already people doing it: PZ Myers, Amanda Marcotte, and Ophelia Benson to name but a few.  And we need to make it known that we are doing so, so that progressive allies will stop seeing us as a bunch of misogynists who spend all our time on the Internet and know that we are their allies.  In our time, no battle is won by one group alone.

Secularism must stand for basic human rights, or be thrown by the wayside.  It is my firmest hope that we can turn this movement into something that looks to make positive change in the world, rather than snipe and snark alone.  I intend to be a part of it, and I hope you do, too.

Andrew Tripp is a scoundrel, raconteur, and all around roguish individual who is studying Philosophy and Art History at DePaul University. He is the co-founder and President of the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought, the university’s first and only group serving its population of nonreligious students. You can find him on a barstool cheering on Manchester City Football Club on the weekends, at his blog dreamingofqueens.blogspot.com and on Twitter @ahtripp.

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3 responses to “Feeding the Trolls: Why Secularists Must Stand Up For Social Justice

  1. Pingback: When Rationalism Apes Dogma: Some Constructive Criticism for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard « In Our Words·

  2. Pingback: Temple of the Future·

  3. Pingback: Reason, Compassion and Hope in Community: A Response to Criticism for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard « In Our Words·

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