There are quite a number of atheists and skeptics who use these concepts and ways of thinking as springboards for advancing social awareness. I like to number myself among this group even though I lack the eloquence or the audience of leaders in this area. However, among those who see the negative aspects of religion, pseudoscience, and magical thinking are those who refuse to see the equally negative aspects of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and other barriers to equality.
Some of these people are absolutely despicable and run a constant campaign of harassment against those who do work towards equality. Last year, I wrote about one writer, Jen McCreight, who was driven away from her blog because of this abuse. This week another writer was chased away from her primary blog (and a source of income).
Natalie Reed, has been a writer at Free Thought Blogs, whose focus, besides atheist and scepticism, has been to educate many of us on the issues facing gay, lesbian, and especially transgender people in society. This week she succumbed to the hate.
I’ll be stopping writing here on March 15th. The blog will stay up for three or so weeks afterwards, so people can enjoy the archives for a bit before they disappear.
The reasons for this are complex and numerous, but most of them relate to feeling a lot of alienation from the Atheist Community, a lot of fear about the increasingly hostile attacks on women within that community, and the fact that my efforts to distance myself from all that while keeping my blog here haven’t really worked out. I’m still a target, and some of the stuff that Jen, Ophelia and Greta have had to deal with lately have been outright scary. Skepticism and Atheist just aren’t important enough to me to feel comfortable putting myself in the way of that for their sake.
One particular instance that demonstrates the abuse these women face is from Ophelia Benson, another blogger on the same network. Ophelia has been targeted on some other blogs and forums as well as Facebook and Twitter. Recently, a Twitter user went into overdrive.
Following this, she has been accused of being a professional victim, an attention whore, a liar, and many other things. She shows some of these in another post. While these attackers claim they are only using words and not threatening any actual violence, the consequences may not be in their hands.
Let’s apply some scepticism to this and see where potential harm may lie. There is even a term for this: Stochastic terrorism.
Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.
The article specifically references violence following extreme rhetoric by Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity but the same thing can apply to others.
Here’s the mechanism spelled out concisely:
The stochastic terrorist is the person who uses mass media to broadcast memes that incite unstable people to commit violent acts.
One or more unstable people responds to the incitement by becoming a lone wolf and committing a violent act. While their action may have been statistically predictable (e.g. “given the provocation, someone will probably do such-and-such”), the specific person and the specific act are not predictable (yet).
The stochastic terrorist then has plausible deniability: “Oh, it was just a lone nut, nobody could have predicted he would do that, and I’m not responsible for what people in my audience do.”
The lone wolf who was the “missile” gets captured and sentenced to life in prison, while the stochastic terrorist keeps his prime time slot and goes on to incite more lone wolves.
Further, the stochastic terrorist may be acting either negligently or deliberately, or may be in complete denial of their impact, just like a drunk driver who runs over a pedestrian without even realizing it.
Finally, there is no conspiracy here: merely the twisted acts of individuals who are promoting extremism, who get access to national media in which to do it, and the rest follows naturally just as an increase in violent storms follows from an increase in average global temperature.
Words have consequences, and words that promote violence and hatred can lead to violent acts. Unfortunately, if the vitriol spewed against the women results in physical violence, the real perpetrators will not be likely be held legally responsible, nor will they admit moral culpability.
Besides the possibility of physical violence by others, there is also the emotional harm that the victim can suffer. In recent years there has been a recognition of the number of suicides caused by bullying.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
- Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
- A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
Given my own history of mental illness, I fear what might be the effects of such abuse on me. As I wrote in my post last year:
So, to all the insecure, infantile men out there – I hope you’re happy. You’ve managed to chase one of your enemies off the web.
I wish I could apologize to Rebecca, Jen, and the others on behalf of the male gender, but I really don’t feel that, other than having a penis, I have very much in common with these troglodytes.