A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

***

Anyone who’s close enough of a Facebook friend with me, knows that I’ve been doing quite a bit of “unfriending” of late, and at a lesser rate, over the past couple of years. People of a defensive ilk may like to view this as being an ideological “purge” (anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-transphobia, anti-nationalist, etc), but the reality is that it’s more about attitudes.

Particularly, I don’t like narcissism, passive-aggression and/or self-pity. Truth is, I’ve unfriended a number of people I ostensibly agree with, while maintaining friendships with people I don’t. Of course I’ve unfriended any overt misogynist, or racist, and there are a few people I’m watching out of the corner of my eye, but if there’s one sure-fire way to get me to bring a wall down between you and I, it’s to whiiiiiiiiiiine!

Sure, it’s logically possible that someone can be falsely accused of X, Y or Z, but if your first response to criticism of X, Y or Z, where you’re not being accused of a damn thing, is to express your concern about being falsely accused of X, Y or Z, you’re making the discussion all about you. What you’re saying is “take a bit of time out from discussing X, Y or Z, because the maintenance of my reputation, even when not threatened, is that much more important”.

Forget what for a moment what X, Y or Z may be, this makes you a self-absorbed ass. This is not an ideological contention, it’s a poor-mixing of psychological dispositions – an arrangement that a number of people (including myself) just happen to find toxic.

You’d be surprised though (or perhaps you wouldn’t), just how often over the last few years this particular breed of self-pity has repeated, and just how often it’s repeated in atheist circles.

I love accusations to be substantiated, not so much because of people’s “good name” (although that’s not 100% irrelevant either); I like substantiated accusations because they make for better analysis. If you’re left cleaning up after someone has done something bad, then the way they did it, and what they did specifically, may very well decide the best way to go about fixing the damage.

Or if someone espouses a harmful ideology, successfully correcting them may very well hinge on the particulars.

In this way (in addition to others), the truth matters to me. But by fuck (which is sacred around here), enough slighted egos, please!

***

Looking as far back as 2006, up until about 2010/2011… Narcissistic Dawkins (et. al.) haters: I’ve worked out what I don’t like about them (aside from the obvious – narcissism). It’s not enough that you don’t expect them to adore Dawkins, nor that you may not positively adore him either; it’s that you’re supposed to hate him as well – it’s often a matter of tribal loyalty.

The problem with this kind of vex is not that it spurs criticism of Dawkins (et al.), it’s that it prejudices investigation and sound criticism. I’m sure there are a hundred-and-one things to validly criticise Dawkins over (e.g. some of his recent Twitter comments; his downplaying of the consequences of child-sexual abuse; a couple of poorly researched speculative essays he wrote on workplace discrimination; an insufficient respect for/understanding of the humanities, or his buying into Sam Harris’ nonsensical critique of Hume), but unless you hyperbolise and/or affirm outright fabrications, you risk not being on-side with the tribe; “scientism!”; “he wants to teach atheism in schools and ban the burka!”; “he wants to marginalise religious people out from the public square!”

(My own – I think sober – criticism of choice, at the moment, is of Dawkins’ attitude towards harassment concerns in atheist circles.)

Broadly, I think there are two motives behind this tribalism. The first, among the outright narcissists, is that they regard themselves as exceptional, particularly in intelligence; they’re heavily ego-invested in your accepting their analysis. If you reject their more colourful screeds it threatens to remind them that possibly they’re just normal, or even entirely unsuited to the task. They don’t like this.

Then there are those who flit around the narcissists, with slightly different interests and needs; taking the scraps of assurance and comfort that fall from the table. They often don’t have any illusions of their own exceptional nature (and indeed, they may very well underestimate themselves), but questions about the intelligence of their narcissist friends/surrogate political-parents, threatens their comfort zone.

It’s not a politically or intellectually productive environment, and it’s not remotely healthy either. It’s not that Dawkins shouldn’t be critiqued, it’s that he can be critiqued better, and for better reasons than cheap in-group rewards (which come with ugly implications and consequences).

Whether it’s Dawkins or someone else being used as the object of supererogated derision, I’m always glad to leave this kind of environment behind, and always seem to regret to some extent, not leaving sooner. I’m glad though, not to have had too many of these “Dawkins arguments” over the past couple of years.

It was getting so incredibly tiresome, humouring these kinds of egos.

***

Of course, it’s not always the narcissistic, the passive-aggressive and the self-pitying that you want to put beyond arm’s length. Sometimes ideology can be so foul that only walking away in the first instance will stop you from doing something stupid.

Toxic self-pity has seen me cut ties with people and online atheist and Humanist communities I’ve associated with as far back as a decade ago. Narcissistic hyperbole has been getting me off-side (in left-wing political circles) for about the last seven years. But before this, and to some extent during this, I was too numb to properly notice.

Yet all of this pales…. Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed online, the presence of some folk I knew over twenty years ago; former childhood friends. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure I should have expected any different, some of these people are intensely racist, and that’s probably putting it mildly.

In fact, it wouldn’t be all that much of an exaggeration, or an exaggeration at all, to call some of them fascists…

I’m not just talking about the few old friends I now don’t want anything to do with, because amongst other things, they repeatedly and unwittingly shared memes started by neo-Nazis on Facebook. No, I’m talking about people I used to know, who have joined crackpot racist/totalitarian parties, and who threaten people online with violence; far-right, goose-stepping shit-heels.

Funny story… There was a guy I knew decades ago who loved martial arts and Bruce Lee, and who now I’m lead to believe, is a black belt in taekwondo. I can remember one night, him happily sharing drinks with a number of Aboriginal Australians and myself in a pub in Hindley Street in the 1990s. And I can remember him wanting me to join in with him, in performing double penetration on some lady he met in a night club (I declined).

Boiled down: He obviously enjoys some Asian culture, has enjoyed drinks with blackfellas, and essentially wanted to get close enough to rub dicks with me.

Yet now he’s complaining about Asian culture being a threat to “white culture”, he hurls racist epithets at Aborigines, and slags-off at gay folk. Hell, he even goes to marches with political parties who espouse this crap – I’ve seen the photos! If only his fellow travelers knew (or cared about his hypocrisy).

Fortunately I have him and his family blocked on Facebook.

It’d probably be accurate to call him a narcissist, and self-pitying, but neither of these dispositions on their own, or in combination, seem even remotely adequate. Clearly, he’s of worse character than many of the types I’ve mentioned thus-far.

Falling just short of precisely this degree of malice comes the afore mentioned group of people I’ve tried to be patient with, having known them for decades, but have ultimately decided to disassociated with; the clueless sharers of neo-Nazi Facebook memes.

Recently one of this lot has, amongst other things, taken to chumming around with the thrice-incarcerated, psychopathic thug who threatened to kill my Grandmother (and who stole my Father’s rifle). Oddly enough, in addition to befriending such violent people, she also complains about immigrants being violent gangsters, terrorists, and the like.

I’m glad I’m not in orbit in the vicinity these people anymore. Sometimes patience is just a dangerous form of self-harm, and clearly this particular breed of “friend” is in a different league altogether to both the Dawkins haters, and the ultra-defensive types.

***

Working my way back to the present, partially in explanation for my relative absence from the blogosphere, is my involvement in Adelaidian atheist/secular/Humanist circles. For those of you who don’t know, I was recently treasurer of the Humanist Society of South Australia for a while, although most of what I did didn’t entail the usual chores of a treasurer. I resigned a couple of weeks ago.

I won’t go into the specifics of my resignation, because most of the points I touched on in resigning, while not secret, aren’t overly public, and this isn’t an exposé. There are however, tangential matters that seem to have driven a number of good people away from the scene here in Adelaide, and I’m happy to discuss these matters, generally, at this juncture.

Did I say “discuss”? Sorry, I mean “unload”.

Here’s a random sampling of shit I don’t like to be expected to casually put up with in a community that supposedly values critical thinking in service to compassion; the idea that hosting a talk on Palestine/Israel centred on the views of, and given by a 9/11 Truther, is somehow defensible; the conspiracy-theorist double-standard that based on circumstance and speculation, Julian Assange’s accusers can be assumed to be guilty of lying about rape accusations as a favour to America, all while Julian Assange is assumed innocent until proven guilty; the idea that women should simply just avoid rape by drinking less alcohol; the crackpot notion that it’s just genetics when it comes to alcohol and Aboriginal Australia, and that people who’ve actually studied biology in university should be happy to be lectured on this by graduates from arts degrees, who’s sole source of “evidence” is personal anecdote; the belief that anything that makes it easier for sexual harassers to be charged is automatically a bad thing; the belief that Humanism necessarily implies support for a considerable lowering of the age of sexual consent, ala NAMBLA; the confused state of mind that leads people to assert that Israel and “TEH JEWZ” are synonymous; the ideation that Carl Friedrich Gauss and statistics are biased towards women, because Women’s Studies exists (and apparently propagates effects backwards in time); the belief asserted somewhat askew (because I defy you to say it straight-faced), that Great (True) Skeptics of History are in some way immune to criticism in a way that others are not; the idea that ‘Great (True) Skeptics of History’, as a notion, is anything better than low-brow kitsch; the convenience that it’s okay to skip democratic procedures if people are apathetic and kept uninformed enough; the predisposition towards treating Humanist meetings as a great place to to make up stories of sexual conquests that didn’t happen, and to use Humanism as a (failed) pretext to get laid (again); the unthinking, self-unaware urge to assume that Humanist meetings are a great place to identify women who are creeped out by you, so you can ask them the address of the school their daughters go to; the position that secular circles are a great place to lecture secularists on the politics surrounding Geert Wilders, without actually knowing any of the specifics of the politics surrounding Geert Wilders as pertaining to secularism; the notion that secular circles are a great place to either criticise or advocate for classical liberalism, as expressed on Facebook, without reference to anything written before 1900; the political ineptitude that makes it impossible for some people to tell the difference between a fascist and a left-wing unionist, and all the Dunning-Kruger effects you’d expect to accompany said ineptitude; the belief that you should interpret something a conservative/libertarian think-tank argues with the utmost charity, despite a multi-decadal history of them publishing false factual claims, and despite the fact that the libertarian essay you’re expected to treat favourably, demonstrably contains multiple misrepresentations of the work of cited academics; the epistemological self-knee-capping beloved of some “Skeptics” that has it that hypothesis testing is all, and that deciding which hypothesis to test (and decision making in general) is nothing; the idea that it’s all up for discussion, with the exception of the matter of the mere possibility of how it can all be discussed in the finite time available – that’s not up for discussion; the idea that even if it can’t all be up for discussion, that there will be no discussion of how discussion is prioritised (AKA “debunking Bigfoot is as important as debunking racism if I put my fingers in my ears and yell over the top of you so nobody can hear you”); the idea that there is no bias, there is no angle, there are no implicit value judgments, when the people deciding what will be discussed in The Movement(tm) don’t explicitly tell you so, and that in any case, these things aren’t up for discussion either. And finally, the idea that a line of inquiry into the biased/interested/value-loaded nature underpinning any given discussion, is even more unacceptable if it questions the interests of libertarians, who as we all know, are automatically above all such things, beyond ideology, totally founded “Skepticism”, and could get me published and/or a public speaking gig if I play my cards right, Q.E.D.

Consider all of this, plus the usual shit, plus some other crud, compressed into two years of community involvement. Whack-a-doodle-dandy, huh?

Aside from the pointlessness of all this clownery and tomfoolery – the wasting of political time and energy – this crap is just so damn toxic.

***

So right now, I’m on an outward trajectory from the Adelaidian secular scene. Whether I’m in some wild, elliptical orbit and will return, or whether I’ve been flung free of the scene’s gravity altogether, I’m not sure.

What I have noticed though, is that there are other people in similar orbits to me. They have similar directions in life, similar interests, and similar frustrations, even if our starting points are a little different.

Perhaps we can call our course “totally over some shit, heading towards things more interesting”.

~ Bruce

Photo Source: Creative Commons 3.0 – Thomas Bresson (2012) – use of this photograph does not imply the owner’s endorsement of the content of this article.

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