"And sometimes he's so nameless"

A Nation of Shopkeepers?

Posted in History, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on February 24, 2012

So Napoleon famously mocked the English, or so it is said. Actually the phrase came from Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, where he wrote — “To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.” Napoleon may have taken up the phrase, and used it, but I seem to recall that actually his tone may have been rather more respectful than is general believed. Still, whatever the truth, has anyone wandered down the Regent Arcade, Cheltenham recently? It was Lisa who pointed out to me the large number of empty shops — when this happens to Cheltenham, you have to wonder. I think I might try soon to interview either the Town Centre Manager or the Economic Development Officer for the borough, though to be fair they probably have rather more important things to do. Cheltenham has weathered the recent economic storms quite well, but the changes are visible on the High Street, and a host of innovative new shops appear to be opening to offer the cheapest of the cheap to the once prosperous shoppers of this fine city. I’m not moaning, as I say, Cheltenham is still much more prosperous than most places, even if that prosperity is rather unequally divided among its citizens, with areas of (in 21st century terms) deprivation, but nothing like the real poverty of some cities districts.

I’m moved to write by something I read yesterday, by of all people Prime Minister David Cameron. Amid much nonsense (he seems to think businessfolk are motivated by altruism and social concern, and the belief they might be motivated by personal gain is “dangerous”!) he accused the British of having a snobby anti-business attitude — and I happen for once to agree. In fact it has often been said that I have a Cavalier attitude to work, and I don’t think those who accused me of idleness realized how right they were. The real “cavalier” attitude of the Seventeenth century, but which existed for centuries before and centuries after, was that Trade and Commerce were little better than manual labour, being the lot of the unwashed asses, and certainly not at all respectable. One did not worry about where one’s money came from: and one certainly did not indulge in crude money making schemes. One sets one mind on “higher concerns”, and academia, the clergy, government or administrative posts are just fine, as is a career in the Armed Forces — but running a business? That is for peasants! :D

For all their aristocratic aloofness, the ruling class of England have actually never been adverse to owning money. If they had adopted Apostolic Poverty one might have more sympathy for them, but the cavalier attitude of anti-trade that I am said to be (mistakenly, but according to my friends) an arch-exponent of was always tempered by a desire to live well and have plenty of money. Historically one achieved this by various means, such as marrying well, inheriting vast amounts of money, exploiting the labour of the lower classes, gambling, carving out a private domain in some other foreign lands and if worse came to the worst investing in some scheme or other. (I guess nothing changes much ;) ) Jokes aside, there has always been an element of the British upper class who have troubles themselves with improving crop yields, creating new machines to make labour more efficient, and running commercial concerns, and another element who have jumped on get rich schemes like the infamous South Sea Bubble, or the Dotcom Bubble.

Generally though Cameron is right – historically there has been a desire to own land, avoid grubby commerce, and spend ones time in other pursuits, such as chasing members of the Vulpes family, chasing a Mr Darcey (or young actresses), snoring through sermons or engaging in heroic-age science, like that of Buckland, Darwin or Kelvin. Yet despite this, Britain had developed, even in those cavalier times, a great tradition of tradesmen, artisans and merchants, and in fact by the time of Napoleon we had half the population of France, but greatly exceed it in industrial output.

And in fact our great Empire, and all the abominations which came with, was founded on trade and commerce: Napoleons was at least based on the ideological principle of “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality” albeit much tempered with his dynastic ambitions and the inevitable rise of the bourgeoisie. The British Empire was a trading empire – the vast wealth of Victorian England founded on the horrors of colonialism, and the good things which came from it too, as well as the wonders of the Industrial Revolution. And the Victorians knew that, and many of them, like Prince Albert, believed that trade and commerce were the way the world could be improved not just for the British but for all, and knew that commerce and industry underlay the great literature, judicial and engineering achievements of their rapidly improving world. Faced with global warming, pollution and scientific atrocities we fear technology and progress: most of our ancestors seem to have embraced it lovingly with a feeling of optimism, with the exception of those dispossessed and ruined in the name of progress. We are all Luddites now, compared with the world known by H.G.Wells.

In recent decades we have seem something of a return to the world of HG Wells – in the last few years I have watched with wry amusement the rise of the New Atheists, whose faith in Science is untempered by the horror the previous generations felt at a world where ‘progress’ had led to the threat of nuclear ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’. In the 1960s and 1970s a lot of popular music looked to a lost Eden, and pre-scientific Golden Age that never was; an Atlantis of “Merry England”. The Hippy/New Age advocates of that generation were castigated by the punks, but it is the New Atheists who really embody the reaction against this mythic woo, and fervently embrace the hope that Science van lead us forward, as it has extended our lives, saved us from the ravages of disease and fed millions. It’s hard not to sympathise with their optimism and hope, rather than the doom laden nay-saying of the hippies. I am thinking of things like Eve of Destruction (YOUTUBE sound link) by Barry MacGuire, or In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Termius) (YOUTUBE sound link) by Zager & Evans, typical of the apocalyptic end of that era.

Now the old post-war critiques of science as enslaved by what the hippies called the “Military-Industrial complex” are largely forgotten I think – certainly the rhetoric of the New Science fans tends to look to what I have termed the “heroic age” of 19th century gentleman scientists of independent means, not the reality of commercially driven science research programmes of today, but the point could be made there is little scope for the amateur scientists these days, with a few exceptions – astronomy still throws up discoveries by empirical observation by the amateur, and the natural historians still do invaluable work as do volunteer conservationists learning about ecological systems, and the Zooniverse Project is an amazing example of what can be done with public participation, as was the recent work in protein chain folding by gamers. Science is hip, and the fact that for many science graduates the career outlook is very bleak indeed is largely overlooked.

If there is part of our society that is invaluable but has really suffered from a loss of prestige, I’d say it was the poor engineers. Engineers used to be heroes, and still should be, but outside of late night cable TV shows, when did you last see a big name British engineer lauded? In the 19th century we produced an awesome crop of engineers, with a disproportionate number of Scottish or Welsh, and yet nowadays engineering seems to be neglected, unless you happen to create microcomputers. I’d love to see greater public awareness of the amazing achievements of the engineers of the past, and even more so greater public appreciation of what engineers continue to do for us today, but somehow I doubt any will be pushing Cheryl Cole off the covers of the tabloids soon…

David Cameron - from Wikimedia

So is the British attitude to commerce and wealth creation really ambivalent? Hating investment bankers has certainly become a national sport (with some good reason I fear) but actually we have long been pretty negative about the world of business. I grew up in the 70′s and 80′s, and the TV dramas of the period often had villains who were corrupt amoral grasping businessmen, or mad scientists. Was there any thing extolling business? Perhaps Dallas from the USA, or are more parochial Crossroads Motel, but as far as sitcoms go there were leftist gentle critiques of our rat-race like The Good Life, and Rightist critiques embodying cavalier attitudes like To The Manor Born? Actually Only Fools and Horses gently mocked the yuppy mentality, and Open All Hours and Are You Being Served? arguably at least showed businessfolk as heroes, but the inherent drama of the Public Sector jobs in The Bill, London’s Burning, Casualty, Soldier Soldier and other shows arguably did a great deal to gain public respect and lead to the pay rises and improved conditions public servants gained in the last three decades. I would not push it too far – I doubt many peoples career aspirations were shaped by Porridge!

The social class struggle in the English sitcom still awaits a definitive treatment – Polly Cox did good work on it in her undergraduate dissertation, but I have seen little since. Still, business does not come off well in our popular culture, even in the yuppie 80′s. Now for Prince Albert there was a great hope that trade and commerce would build a peaceful world, and the Victorians seem to have seen globalization as benign and a huge positive — something few do today it would seem, but Albert’s beliefs were something along the lines of the modern adage that no two countries with a Macdonalds have ever fought a war, though since the 90′s that is no longer true. It is however a tempting vision of peace and prosperity, and today I don’t think many people see business as a major benefit – most kids really do seem to regard employers as oppressors, which in an increasingly de-unionized society could happen. There are still good employers out there, and millions of people who love their jobs though.

So yes, Cameron is probably right – and the division between the commerce loving right and the commerce hating right may have been healed, with everyone an heir to Thatcher, Blair and Cameron at least. Us Britons are not enthused by wealth-creation – we want instant gratification, via the National Lottery, instant fame by the X Factor or some other get -rich-quick-scheme like those Del-boy and Rodney dreamed of. More interesting to me is the changing social attitudes, the different heroes of each generation.

In the 19th century industrialism was associated with horrors, but actually Whig Liberals and Fabian Socialists, left-leaning Nonconformists such as Unitarians and Quakers, owned and built many of the great mills, and many did much to try and help the poor trapped in the industrial city hellholes with their philanthropy and model communities. Their fate was probably at times little worse than those left to starve in the countryside in the agricultural slump of the 1880′s, where right-leaning Tory squires likewise did much to assist in some cases.

Where are we now? I think Cameron should be mollified – while I despise The Apprentice, a lot of people love it. Alan sugar, Richard Branson, even dare I say it Clive Sinclair, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates – all household names, all major entrepreneurs, seeming loved, even idolised by the public. There is perhaps a new enthusiasm for business; or was, when The Apprentice was conceived in 2004. I remember hearing from a Commisioning Conference that TV back mid-last decade was to be “aspirational” – that was the buzzword. The crash of 2007 caused it to falter, and perhaps now the slump has killed it, but I think last generation was in the UK broadly that. It was the decade when grunge was abandoned by students in favour of a lifestyle more like Friends – and when I see students now, they look attractive, well dressed and wealthy, far more so than in my day — because their expectations were shaped by two decades of wealth from the businesses they despise now.

I started this ramble, which in no way should be mistaken for a coherent critique – I was thinking as I wrote — with Cheltenham. Cheltenham today is arguably one of the very few pieces of evidence for the trickle down effect, where the poor benefit from the rich, working spectacularly. What could have been a tiny market town much like Tewkesbury benefited from the immense wealth of the 18th and 19th century visitors, and the quack spa cures they enjoyed. It’s a town built on “alternative medicine”, and on snobbiness, but it is a lovely place to live. Ironically it was never much of a producer, or manufacturer, until well after it was wealthy – Dowtys and others went on to make it a major manufacturing centre, but Cheltenham was really little more than a quack cure super-casino for dilletantes to pursue each other, find mistresses and enjoy the snobbery of their exalted social position. Thanks to the generosity of James Agg-Gardner, Baron Ferrieres and others who donated and subscribed to the parks and museums, art gallery and library, we all benefit from that past, and reading the towns history there was little oppression and a lot of opportunity, albeit with much horrible poverty and illness, for the poorer inhabitants.

I’m left wing as most of you know, but Cheltenham does seem to show that business is not all heavy industry, investment and mercantilism – there is room for prosperity based on a service culture of entertainment, so long as wealth is being created **somewhere** to be spent here. So come back Cheryl Cole, all is forgiven, and come and spend a few million in our town. Maybe Cameron forgets that in some industries, like pop music, TV, and entertainment software, services and tourism, we are still world class business folks.

I think it’s gonna be OK, but I was always an optimist.

cj x

Dawkins.net Meltdown — New Forum for Exiles; rationalskepticism.org

Posted in atheism, Debunking myths, Paranormal, Religion, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on February 26, 2010

A brief post for me, but a very important one. I know (from emails and comments) that a large number of ex-Richarddawkins.net forum members are passing this way in search of information. After a few days of gracious hosting from Rationalia.com and Thinking Aloud Forum, we now have a new forum of our own — Rationalskepticism.org

I am a mod over there (yes a Christian mod on a sceptic site!) and would like to take this opportunity to invite any of my readers, atheist, agnostic or religious, and anyone who enjoys good debate and good company to come join us there.  It’s been a hectic few days, and I am still recovering — the British media have taken up the story, but I’m happy to move on and make something new. (I also have  ghosthunting forum - email me if interested in such matters)

Thanks for reading!  I really must move on to other topics soon. :)  For very intelligent commentary on the affair (saying things I as a theist dare not!)  from an atheist activist perspective do  see Gurdur’s blog at Heathenhub.

rationalskepticism.org banner and link

cj x

In Praise of Josh Timonen…

Posted in atheism, Debunking myths, Science by Chris Jensen Romer on February 25, 2010

Update:

I have something extraordinary and positive ot report at last.

Search is now working on RD.net, and those of us not deleted can retrieve our posts laborious a sit might be for our personal usage. :)

A sincere thank you to Josh and Richard for this.

So, the anger and outrage about recent events at RichardDawkins.net continues unabated.   I think it’s two days now  since I jokingly posted a thread at Rationalia.com called “In Praise of Josh Timonen”, the rather feeble joke being that I could not find anything to say.

Well now I have, so I’ll say it. I have never met Josh, and i have no idea who he is., apart from Richard Dawkins dedicated  book to him I’m sure he is lovely, kind and well meaning. He has on this occasion shown a VERY sick sense of humour, rickrolling people trying to back up the database of posts.  He has acted incredibly poorly in his dismissal of the  forum mods  after repeated assurances they would be consulted on the new forum: utterly bastardly in fact.

I don’t think however he has horns and a tail, and even though I disagree violently with him and Richard Dawkins, deplore the petty deletion of millions of words of admins posts, and the clunky mishandling of this whole mess, it’s nothing personal. I feel outrage just like Richard, but I also feel gratitude to Josh and Richard for all the years of good times, the fun on the forum, and the fact we had the forum for so long.

No I’m not going back. I have had enough, and I will now go find other things to do, where comment is free, and I do not need to be moderated in some authoritarian comment system – because i enjoy, indeed love the anarchy of web discussions. I’m a populist, not an elitist, and I have no time for people telling me what to believe or what to think.  I hold  Dawkins and Josh entirely responsible, both of them, for this bad management decision and the outrage stirred up – and as a long term participant on the forum I know that ut was filled with good, rational friendly folks (a few loonie fundie atheists who gave me much grief :) ) – but on the whole they were great, sensible people, and i really liked and admired them.

But Josh is not the devil, he is a bloke with a job to do, who like many a manager made bad choices and walked roughshod over the backs of loyal employees who deserved better – he is human and made a mistake. And so is Richard -  human being, fallible, loyal to his mate, and at the end of the day an egotistical selfish muppet as we all are – hin short he is human. The irony of this all is rather disturbing – no angels, no demons, just humans being human.

A lot of commentators on the web have made reference to how Russian peasants before the Revolution reputedly believed that if the ‘Little Father’, the Czar knew what was going on, everything would be just fine. The Czar was invested with godlike benevolence, and could do no wrong in the eyes of those subjects (May be a historical myth of course, no idea!)

Many still believe Richard did not intend events ot pan out as they did, and lays the blame squarely on Josh Timonen and Andrew Chalkely, the forum administrators (who were reduced to the pathetic joke of rickrolling people trying to make back ups.)  I find this touchingly close to religious faith in RD’s benevolence. I think RD has clearly posted his opinions, his support for Josh, and to claim that he is misled is a peculiar kind of wishful thinking, that vilifies Timonen to no avail.

Angels and Demons…

In many ways they have done a good job under difficult circumstances. But we are revamping the whole site. It is going to be very wonderful when it is done. Part of that is going to consist of taking more control of the forum which will be called the discussion section. We cannot stop anonymous comments.’ (Richard Dawkins)

Dawkins knew, Josh knew. They cocked up, hurt people, an Richard downplays the mess as a “storm in a tea cup”.

How terribly human. But for all the good times, here is to Josh and Richard! They  are crap, but so are we at times – and they have misrepresented events, but we still owe them a debt of gratitude for the good times we shared on their forum in the past.  It still stinks: but I’m a forgiving chap.

And to all my mates from the forum, onwards and upwards lads! :)

Remember, no angels, no demons, just humans being human…


There’s probably no Forum – Now relax and enjoy your Life: Richard Dawkins on changes at the forum

Posted in atheism, Science by Chris Jensen Romer on February 25, 2010

(Title nicked from brilliant Twitter post by someone, mentioned on Rationalia.com  The image is by Gurdur)

OK, OK, I know I said I would not write on this tedious topic any more. But the despondency of this morning at seeing a lot of hurt unhappy people and musing over ‘rationalist’ websites ability to explode has no turned to mild good humoured amusement. Richard Dawkins managed to cheer me up – not because I agree with him or anything he says on this topic; completely the opposite — but because it was good old bellicose belligerent Dawkins coming out fighting, and because now we know not to blame Josh.  PZ Myers  has washed his hands of the matter, not wanting to get dragged in, but Richard Dawkins has now posted on his forum (shame nobody else can!) You can read his modest opinions on there…

A Message from Richard Dawkins about the website updates

Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. Suppose you found yourself described as an “utter twat” a “suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.” Or suppose that somebody on the same website expressed a “sudden urge to ram a fistful of nails” down your throat. Also to “trip you up and kick you in the guts.” And imagine seeing your face described, again by an anonymous poster, as “a slack jawed turd in the mouth mug if ever I saw one.”  (More there…)

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=110356

All of the quotes he ascribes to posters are not from the few minutes between the letter being posted and the locking of the forum – they are all from Rationalia.com I can’t get on rationalia at the moment – the server is overloaded, but you can see there a discussion of how each quote was originally framed, and I note that many of them applied to Josh the administrator, not Richard. I’m not apologising – I never said any of those things.


UPDATE: More amusingly the row has made The Times Online – go read the (fairly inaccurate but well intentioned!) piece…
UPDATE: Gurdur who sounds like a sensible kind of chap comments on the mess at Heathenhub (love the name!)
UPDATE:  Hackenslash adds his informed and very good opinion.
UPDATE: A new forum for exiles - Rationalsceptics.org
UPDATE Ruth Gledhill seem to take DAwkins’ side – and Dawkins says “it’s a storm in a  tea cup”
UPDATE: Guardian Online pick up the story
Richard says in Ruth’s piece

‘I do think that the cloak of anonymity under which so many posters on the internet hide does encourage a culture of rudeness and extreme language which people would never indulge in if they were writing under their own name. I think anonymity does have bad consequences and we see them all the time. On the other hand, there are times when people genuinely need to be confidential. So I can see why, for example, people in America who lost their faith and do not want their families to know, or perhaps more seriously, people of an Islamic background who have lost their faith or become Christian, have every reason to be anonymous. But the culture of anonymity whereby the default expectation is anonymity does encourage rudeness.’

have fun!
cj x

Death of an Atheist Forum; the lessons of history

Posted in atheism, Debunking myths, Religion, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on February 24, 2010

Following the bizarre collapse of the Richard Dawkins forum, I posted this on the excellent Rationalia and  Thinking Aloud Forums. It will be my last blog entry on atheist forum politics :(  I am after all not actually an atheist!

OK, I think I’m giving up on the whole atheist  forum thing. I’ll tell you why, then move on to other topics tomorrow…

Firstly, I am still shocked, saddened and miserable about the demise of the wonderful RichardDawkins.net/forum. The problem is I have seen it ALL before, and not so long ago.  If I thought this was Josh Timonen’s fault, or Dawkins, I could just laugh and move on, and help fight. The thing is I can’t any more. It’s something fundamental and deeper.

Years ago I knew a wonderful cryptographer, medium, and cynic, who I will call James. James joined a psychic research group I belonged to, and noted that every group tends to do the same thing: the leadership cock it up, it fragments, and two new groups appear.  A few years later the pattern occurs again. James was an atheist spiritualist (there are a LOT of them, and one often sees their stuff cited by other atheist who are unaware of their rather strange ideas to modern atheists minds) and in a thoughtful moment he confided in me that exactly the same was true of every atheist group he had belonged to. I guess it’s true of gardening clubs, poetry societies, fan clubs and stamp collectors as well. As he noted, there must be something wrong with human nature. (In fact one sees it less in religious groups – because they can appeal to external authorities and impose their will by divine mandate, which makes them even nastier when it all goes tits up). Of course many groups do survive and prosper, but one thing ghostthunting groups (not parapsychological organisations) and atheist forums have in common is this incredible failure rate.

Now in fact Old Soul posted on my blog entry, and reminded me of something. We have seen this all before, just two years ago. Here is the Encylopedia Dramatica version of events back then on IIDB – http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Iidb The interwebs are serious business. :)

Many of the IIDB exiles fled to RD.net, and discussed what was happening there: and in fact the response was largely one of disinterest, mild sadness, and modding to stop the fight spilling over on to our forum. In fact it is much like the very ambivalent if not positively unsympathetic responses one sees from the JREF today – http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=168039 (There are of course many deeply  sympathetic JREF members, including tsig and Darat, and RD.net exiles should seriously consider registering there>)

Let’s face it, its the internet. No one will die of this. :) Still we can learn a lot from it, maybe…

Now Internet Infidels and Secular Web had a history going back to 1995, and were absolutely huge. I think it is fair to say that IIDB was in its day the largest Atheist site on the web – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Infidels- and it’s collapse left a vacuum that RD.net quickly filled, along with the Rational Response Squad. The RRS had its own problems in 2008/2009 including a highly publicised (physical, literal) punch up and a falling out with Richard Dawkins over allegations of his having an affair (even if true, who gives a f*ck, and it wasn’t anyway…) However the IIDB melt down,mass deletions, sacking of mods and general shittiness gave birth ot a number of forums, including Rants n Raves, a splendidly irreverent place which is sort of 4chan meets Atheism — http://www.rantsnraves.org/

All of this may seem by the by, but in fact you probably really need to look at this whole mess on IIDB, that we all chose to ignore.There are threads on RD.net – maybe someone with access to the database can find them? However the same things happened – admins sacked, mods dimsissed, members expelled, complete meltdown.
http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/2007/10/31/internet-infidels-seems-to-be-melting/
http://www.daylightatheism.org/2007/11/a-note-on-the-iidb-situation.html
http://rantsnraves.org/wiki/index.php/Category:IIDebacle

Hey there must be people here who lived through all this, and know first hand what happened? Old Soul wrote on my blog

In 2007, the Internet Infidels Inc, a nonprofit educational group, shut down their extremely popular “IIDB” Internet Infidels Discussion Board, driving away thousands of people, many of whom had donated money to the group for both its regular operations and the upkeep of the forums. When the II, Inc. began banning and silencing its forum users, it lost very little real revenue, as the major donors who supported the organization did not care one bit about the teeming masses on the message board. The II, Inc. did not lose any real income or its reputation amongst the atheist elite. It sold the IIDB to a woman from New Zealand, who changed the forum name and continued to silence all dissidents. The II, Inc. did not suffer any loss or long-term damage after divesting itself of its forum. No problem there, either.

Yep, that was my understanding.He also has a very long term perspective –

Decades ago, Madalyn Murray O’Hair shut down every chapter of American Atheists, alienating thousands of people, but doing no long-term harm to herself or the group. No problem there.

I suspect the young and British influenced RD’ers may not all know about the tragic and bizarre story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madalyn_Murray_O%27Hair Some of the links like the Time article are REALLY good reads.  Anyone spot similarities with how AA was run and the current situation? OK, we don’t have claims of fraud and dodgy accounting, or blatant theft. Yet we have exactly the same  pattern of self-proclaimed atheist leaders fleecing members, f*cking over the organisation and so called rationalist acting like compete arseholes.

Even after the great October Purge, when many of us left, I eventually drifted back to RD.net. TAF and Rationalia split: I can’t help but being reminded of the South Park episode Go God, Go! where the United Atheist Alliance (UAA) fight the United Atheist League (UAL) and the Allied Atheist Allegiance (AAA) –sure it was a shit episode by South Park standards, but there was more than a grain of truth in it.

Old Soul really hit the nail on the head though when he wrote

This is just business as usual for atheist organizations, why are you all so surprised? This is how it is done. Richard Dawkins will not lose any face. He will not suffer a publicity backlash. As far as his staff is concerned, you are all ungrateful for complaining about not being able to use the forums any more. Guess what? They do not care. They will make new websites, write new books, and speak at new conventions. Where thousands of you dare not tread, thousands more unsuspecting atheists will fill the seats you won’t occupy, and buy the books you won’t read, and visit the websites you won’t support. No problems.

It gets bleaker

There are millions and millions of atheists worldwide and no major atheist group has ever lost any money by not accommodating all of them. For every hundred of you who leave in disgust, two hundred more will take your place. For every post that is deleted… the same. The outcry of atheists who are offended by being silenced is not a problem in the grand scheme of organized atheist groups.

These groups operate in a realm that none of you occupy. It is a world in which *you* do not exist, and none of them (on the national or international level) are focused on “atheist community” or “the needs of nonbelievers.” They are money-making operations supporting authors, lecturers, philosophers, and publicity hounds, all in the name of atheism, and all for naught.

If you are operating a large atheist organization, shutting the internet out of your atheist group will not hurt you in the long run. This is demonstrably true, and the RDF staff certainly knows it. Now you all know it too. Visit this page again in 2 years, when Dawkins’ books are selling like hotcakes, his lectures are standing-room-only, and his new website discussion area is busy and bustling with passionate atheist activity. All of this complaining is not going to change anything.

There will be no problem for the RDF. Atheist herd migration will not disrupt the activities of any major atheist group, certainly not the biggest moneymaker of them all.[

He is indeed a wise old soul. :(

This has seemed I am sure to many of you yet another betrayal, but really, I am deadly serious. If we can’t get it together, are we (and I guess  it’s not really we is it, I’m a Christian, but I count myself as one of you lot in that I remain a loyal member of the Richarddawkins.net internet community) any better than the religious groups etc?  Sorry, it seems that the loss of the forum is irrlevant to most atheists, and will remain so, based on the examples of history. We will be a footnote ina  wiki article, and spawn threads on a few secular websites, but no one is listening, and the RDF will laugh all the way to the bank. If you think people really care, look again at the JREF thread, or look at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe one – http://sguforums.com/index.php?topic=26298.0 Think about how much you heard, or cared, about the demise of IIDB – now sucessfully running as a series of small forums from what I can see, with new names, and a new identity.

People don’t just not care, THEY DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT. It’s just like us at RichardDawkins.net when IIDB went down – some one lese politics, proof the rationalist dream crashed when it meets the reality of messsed up humans. Good people will carry on and have a laugh, but the majority of the atheist population will just say “shut up and stop whining”. Bleak I know, but do a Google search and you will find its true… http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?t=99807

In fact even the blogosphere only returns Darkchilde, myself and Peter Harrison’s blogs.  This is not going to hurt the RDF, or makke any difference; We lost, people got treated like shit, and no one will care outside of TAF and Rationalia.

I have had enough. I’ll find better things to do with my time :)
j x

The End of an Era: Richard Dawkins forum to close


I was going to write a brief piece tonight on my new board game “Earth: Our Home” I created for the the Richard Dawkins Science Writing Contest. I test played it with Luke, Kev and Tom tonight, and we had a wonderful time slaughtering each other species and fighting for control of this pale blue dot.  500 million years passed in two hours, and at the end it was incredibly close, but I won. :)

Unfortunately I popped over to RD.net to see what was going on, and found that an announcement had been made that the forum is to close. It will remain live for 30 days to allow us to retrieve anything we want to save: given I had written over 10,000 posts (7,000+ remain after an earlier purge)  and I guess many million words as I am not known for my brevity, that will prove immensely difficult. Given that the search has not worked for months, in order to protect other parts of the website and keep the bandwidth manageable, well it will be next to impossible. I have tried waybackmachine: no good. :(

Jerome's avatar

My RD.net avatar designed by Thwoth to mark my Science Writing victory...

I had a hilarious exchange on this blog once before with someone who had a rather bizarre view of the history of RD.net: the details don’t matter, but I will briefly now discuss the matter. A few years ago the great man Dawkins0 became aware that there were forum posts which were rather er, colourful (“What does sperm taste like? was the infamous example always cited) and suddenly over night a large part of the forum was just deleted.  The bit which went comprised the chatty silly areas -  I lost about 20% of my posts, as i tended ot post mainly in the Faith & Religion and General Science areas anyway. This led to a major row, with a  number of atheist who saw this as censorship buggering off to create their own communities: it was not really the imposition of community standards which did it, but the clunky way it was handled. We lost the original admins (OBC, Kevin Ronayne)  about that point, and by 2009 a new set of mods had taken over. It was still a great site though, though I miss the early days – but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be… :)

Tonight the proverbial has really hit the fan. Again the closure of the forum may NOT be all it seems: a new kind of heavily moderated discussion area will exist, and approved topic can be discussed. What it does mean is the death of the forum community, and like the end of the Living TV Most Haunted forum dozens of new forums will spring up, but I’lll lose touch with most of the friends I made in my years over there since December 2006.  We can’t even talk about iot now – I tried to log back in and found a message telling me “Sorry but this board is currently unavailable.”

It is such a blasted shame: to try and name them all would be impossible, but my thoughts really go out to all those who worked so hard to make it a success – firstly Sciwoman, so long a mod, then an admin, and a good friend. We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of misery, and she has been a good friend to me. Then there is the excellent CJ – no not me, CJ was an admin or possibly just a mod I think and was one of the best, and used to welcome every new poster. In the great purge he was demoted to ordinary member status for something that had nothing to do with his work as a mod: the backstairs politics of the forum was always machiavellian, but CJ happened ot have publicly discussed things which were considered verboten from his own personal life – ironically things this CJ discusses just as openly.  Who else? The Old Farts were all great, and much missed – they were a loose collective of posters who had a great time. JimC was always one of my faves, a wonderful Australian biologist with a sharp sense of humour.

My life will be poorer for not hearing from the splendid Aussie atheist Goldenmane: I’ll miss Hackenslash, Ilovelucy, Durro, MedGen, Mechtheist, MacDoc, FlyingScot, Natselrox, and me and Tim O’ Neil had a wonderful time together fighting Jesus Mythers and the terminally ill informed. Mercer is a thoroughly fine fellow: and my companions in faith Imperiatorium and of course my good mate Grahbudd, plus the really decent Jewish engineering student whose name I  just can;’t for the life of me recollect right now.

There are SO many others – Darren from Canada, whose profanity was always laced with awesome humour; Mazille, who brought me back to the forum with the science writing contest I have invested so much time on, Thwoth the brilliant artist and sharp wit, Hyrax a truly lovely guy and great mod, Campermom who was always great on science,  the simply awesome FedupwithFaith, and one of the sharpest minds of all Spaghettisawus who is a really top bloke.

So I’m sad: rather than carry on with the litany of names, which is so difficult as i’m missing dozens of really great people out (Topmum?- I just can’t recollect user names right now) I’ll make a few general comments… (but not forget Jerome Serpenti, Homo Economicus, Matalnifesto, Dave C, Pdavid…)   The sad thing about the death of an internet forum is in some sense all these people become part of your life, and they touch you. I really got to care about people I only ever knew as words on a screen. Sad? Maybe, but its a part of life in the 21st century – some of our friendships are with people we may never physcialy meet. (I was lucky enough to meet three members – sadly the accounts of our meetings were lsot in the first great purge.)

I enjoyed being Jerome (a contraction of Jensen Romer), the Anglican who always had something controversial to say. I enjoyed my arguments with the great and the good, my ill fated challenge to Richard Dawkins to a debate on the history of Science, my fun debates on the rationality of theism and on life after death.  Most of all though I enjoyed the people, the new ideas, the constant challenge to my beliefs, and the ability to ask others to question theirs.

Apparently the new website to replace the forum will only allow posts clearly in the areas of Reason and Science, and that is in itself interesting. I wonder what that means? Will Atheism cease to be a major plank of the new website? Will religious believers like me now be officially banned? In my more more egotistical twat moments I’d like to think my success at arguing for actual history over myths may have hastened the demise of the old forum, and this is a ridiculous attempt at censorship — but I VERY much doubt it: in fact it’s absurd.  What I doubt will ever happen on the new website is that someone will win the say writing contest with an essay ripping to shreds the nonsense about the conflict of religion and science, or we will have a sensible discussion about parapsychology, or the evidence for the historical Jesus, or any of the things I spent so much time  writing about on the forum.

That’s a damned shame. Reason and Science were furthered by those discussions I think: people came to examine their personal beliefs (I certainly did) and were exposed to opinions sharply divergent from there own. I learned a helluva lot, but above all I learned tolerance and respect for my opponents, even if I still disagreed with them after all the shouting. :)

So why has it happened?  No one actually knows. The mods have been dismissed, or rather given notice, and the website administrators made a unilateral decision to withdraw the forum for the new website. My utterly cynical guess is simple: it comes down to money. I have no idea how well offf the Richard Dawkins Foundation is, though it’s a registered charity so the accounts are public domain I think: but ultimately the forum must have eaten a hug amount of resources and bandwidth.  I have no idea if the Rational Response Squad is till going after their troubles in 2008 , but running an atheist forum is probbaly a license to lose money. People loved the forum, but did they buy from the shop, read the main pages and support the RDF? I don’t know, but I suspect most forum users went staright to the forum and ignored all that stuff.

And so I appreciate this may have well been a sound commercial decision: to support the RDF,  more traffic needs to be routed through the main site.  Looking at ALEXA the site had continued to grow slowly in popularity, and was ranked 14,799 in the world (top 2000 in New Zealand and South Africa, top 4,000 in the UK, top 9,000 in the USA) – a tremendous success.  Yet the search function had gone, and as always the forum often fell over through sheer weight of numbers. It desperately needed investment in servers and infrastructure: instead it has been decided to kill the forum, and create a new streamlined website.  I can see why — but it does not help those of us who invested so much in making the site what it is.

Ultimately the decision is one man’s: Richard Dawkins.  I never really got to know the bloke in all my time on the forum, as he posted less and less, and when he did it was often after something like this, when he gets the stick. The Great Purge was necessary to protect his reputation and that of the rDF when it was going for charitable status: some of the stuffon the site might have upset the Charity Commissioners, but I think they could differentiate between what the RDF stood for and the opinions voiced on an internet forum – but maybe not.  Still, if he is digging deep in to his own pockets to support the forum, and would rather spend his money on “God probably does not exist” adverts on the side on buses who are we to complain. Ultimately it’s Richard’s site – and Richard calls the shots.

Still, I think a lot of people are as usual not so much upset that it has happened but at the usual complete lack of communication that have left us with thirty days to save what we can and make our escape plans. And that si really not something i can forgive lightly. Oh well, so be it…

I returned to the forum to say my good byes and found I could not actually post any more.  What I found was a hilarious piece of craven cowardice and stupidity. A notice appended to the previous announcement, which reads –

Update: We had intended to leave the forum fully-funtioning (sic) for 30 days, but due to the inappropriate posts by some users and moderators, we have decided to leave the forum in a read-only state. You can still download and archive your posts and private messages, but the ability to enter new posts has been disabled. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this. We know that change can be difficult and sometimes frightening, but we are all very excited about the direction of the website and the future.

I’m not, and I suspect over 85,000 other forum users will join me in calling on Richard Dawkins to sack those responsible for what has been a lousy piece of absolutely moronic administration, and boycotting the new website entirely. I don’t mean the decision to close the forum – I can understand if that is necessary – I mean the appalling, insensitive and now frankly ridiculous way it has been done. I wait with interest to see what Dawkins himself makes of all this. To be honest it is a particular kick in the teeth for everyone who has worked so hard on their entries for the Science Writing Contest — voting was due to start tomorrow.

If any one from the old forum reads this, please do comment, I want to stay in touch!

I’ll end with a public service announcement

Atheist forums you might want to try

http://www.rationalskepticism.org/

(a forum specifically set by poster Life up for ex-RD.net folks, where I also happen to be a mod)

http://rationalia.com/forum/

http://forum.herd-of-cats.com/

http://freethought-forum.com/

http://thinkingaloudforum.com/

http://www.thinkatheist.com/


and forums that are intelligent fun and atheists may enjoy, but which are NOT atheist forums

http://www.ukskeptics.com/forum.php

http://forums.randi.org/

have fun guys, and may your gods go with you…  ;)

UPDATE: Former mod Darkchilde’s blog offers inside perspective  on this extraordinary mess:  http://tenebra98.blogspot.com/2010/02/death-of-forum-death-of-rdnet-forum.html

UPDATE: Hackenslash rallys the refugees! – Good on you man… (YouTube link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyLnxu19DM8&feature=player_embedded

UPDATE: Several mods deleted, along with all their posts.. Mazille, CJ (the other one), Valden, kiki and Darwinsbulldog — about a 30.000 posts gone in this most peculiar purge.

http://rationalia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=75&t=8864

UPDATE: Former mod  Peter Harrison blogs on events at the forum -

http://realityismyreligion.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/locked-entry-will-open-soon/

Update: Richard Dawkins responds

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=110356

As I have engaged in no such vitriolic attacks i will not be apologizing: they are ridiculously over the top, and i’d love to know where they were posted and take the idiots who said it to task.  I will apologise I personally villified Richard Dawkins in anyway. Yet I stand by EVERY WORD I wrote: this whol ematter was dealt with dreadfully, and the deletion of the mods posts was shameful.

J x  (who is an Anglican: prejudice declared!)

The Second Sermon of the Rev. Jerome

Posted in Dreadful attempts at humour, Religion, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on November 24, 2009

More silliness from the Dawkins forum, from my series of sermons. This one was much misunderstood at the time!

In this, the second of my Sunday sermons, I would like to take a moment to thank you all for the stunned silence which met my first sermon. At least I would like to think it was stunned silence — I suspect in reality it was either utter indifference, or an unwillingness to sit through a lengthy exposition. With these thoughts in mind I will now ask Mr Grimble on organ to play “Anarchy in the UK“, and for us to reflect deeply on the moving sentiments of that 20th century divine, the Rev. J. Rotten.

Thank you, especially to the choristers whose enthusiastic moshing brought a tear to my eye, especially that low aimed kick from Scrubbage minor. Let us proceed…

This evening, as we have all just witnessed, I received a right kick in the balls. And as I reeled around clutching my testes (and let us not forget testament derives from the same root, from the Roman custom of swearing veracity upon the testicles: still I know many of you know this for i have frequently heard you refer to the New Testament as “bollocks”, a knowledge fo ancient linguistics I find surprising in this remote village, but which assures me of your intellectual fervour and that my sermonizing has some effect… anyway, I was moved to think by Scrubbages attack on my manhood, “how often in life do we need a sharp metaphorical kick in the nads; and how often do we receive it without asking.”

Now it is fashionable these days to decry old fashioned notion of good and evil, and to pretend that evil and sin simply do not exist. How can such nonsense persist in a culture filled with learned scientists, dedicated to truth and rationality? Empirically i can assure you that sin and evil exist – for evil even now dwells within my nads, a nagging ferocious pain, and the look of ferocious malice and delight on Scrubbages face as he kicked me left me no doubt that he has a black sadistic soul, and a sadistic streak which would put the divine Marquis to shame: in short that he is exactly of the normal character of choir boys everywhere. If there is one error popularly ascribed to Rome I can have no understanding of, it is the often claimed propensity of their priests for choir boys. I doubt it can be more than a myth, as would anyone with even passing acquaintance with the breed who sing here.

Now does any here doubt the existence of evil? Scrubbage will deliver empirical evidence to your satisfaction, if you would care to come forward? He has a most excellent right boot? No? Why are my altar calls so unpopular these days? Very well, let us proceeed…

It would be easy for me to administer my wrath upon the unfortunate Scrubbage, were it not that I too was once a boy, and know that the urge to aim a kick a pompous old balding jackass in a cassock in the balls is one not lightly resisted. This is part of that burden of sin we all face — the urge to do what comes naturally, but what one really should not, for the benefit of others. I don’t care much if you want to spend an evening with the entire Welsh Rugby team high on drugs in a San Francisco bathhouse: what you do in the privacy of your own head is none of my business. Despite rumours about me climbing a ladder to stare in to the voluptuous Edna Nibbins bedroom window, I can assure you what you do in your bed rooms is no concern of mine. Looking at the size of most of you reared on a diet of MacDonalds and super-sized choco milkshakes, oozing out of your Sunday best, buttons straining against cheap polyester even imagining your sex lives renders me nauseous. I’d prefer to develop a mental lens cap when it comes to your vices – solitary, communal, or with the goat, the fetters, and the lard.

What bothers me is when you do not act in a spirit of love, charity and forgiveness. Note I say ACT. You can mentally act like a James Bond Villain for all I care, torturing unfortunates, sleeping with a bevy of beautiful women and winning the Church Bingo four weeks running. If however your actions bring misery upon others, then we have a problem. To think about such things – well it’s none of my business, and who am I to know? Yet to act with malice, to bring about deliberate evil, that is to engage in sin. And the problem with dwelling on evil thoughts is one tends to get rather caught up in them, like a girl trying to work out where her boyfriend was on Tuesday night after the pub, after Chastity Entwhistle gave him a lift home. She thinks and thinks and thinks: Chastity is a slapper, as many here can attest (nods to Chastity), and Brian a Dork – but Fiona’s mind dwells upon it till she calls Chastity a slag in public. Oh how easy it is to sin! See, I just did!

Now we often sin quite inadvertently. and cause misery to others. We should be sincerely repentant, and do our best to make amends – Chastity, did i forget to mention the Miss Joyful Prize for Raffia Work you won this has had the five pound prize replaced with a mini-break to Disneyland? – and we should sincerely ask for forgiveness, which looking at the surly pout on Chastity’s prize haddock face may be some time in coming. Damn! I did it again! Er, Chastity, see me after the sermon…

So why does evil come, when all we desire is good?

SEX.

Yes, you heard me, it’s all down to SEX. And I am deadly serious. For in the act of sexual reproduction, we take on Original Sin, the base mammalian traits and survival characteristics encoded in our Selfish Genes. In short, we act with animal instincts, because we are biological beasties, born through sexual reproduction. And let us never forget the stirring final chapter of the Book of our Prof, in which RD tells us a great truth – that we are by nature, naughty, wicked and inclined to act like irritating little shits, like in fact, choir boys. Yet RD reminds us that we have a true Grace, a chance of Redemption, for we alone of the greater primates (excluding possibly choir boys – I understand one once acted altruistically, a little angel in South Park Colorado called Eric Cartman, though others have expressed doubts) are capable of making moral choices, seeing ahead, and acting for the good of others – in short repudiating our selfish genes, and embracing loving kindness through imaginative sympathy with our neighbour.

Miss Jones! Mr Louder! Not that kind of embracing and loving! there is a place for that sort of thing – its the vestry cupboard, through that little door over there! And yes the flying helmet and the wet stick of celery is imaginative, but not that imaginative – I watched ‘Allo ‘Allo too!

Anyway, lest I drone on till the older members need funerals and someone decides to try and get a discount rate, yes, I can see you yawn. Yes, this is an awful lot like Christianity, and the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Yet if CS Lewis can get a Hollywood blockbuster deal, and so can JRR with his trilogy, well there has to be a place for crypto-Christian messages in todays society. And unlike those gentleman, I’m here and happy to be called a boring old fart and answer back.

Now if we can all sing Hymn no. 23 I fell in Love with a Starship Trooper – I trust you all brought your torches??? – I will just take Chastity outside for some much needed personal catechism.

May Your Mods be With You…

j x

Ambiguity, Belief, Religion and Terror

OK, so today I picked up New Scientist, because I’m interested in gravity, and there was a fairly basic bit on it in there. Nothing very exciting I did not know as it turned out, but New Scientist is always worth a read anyway.  There was an article on how engineers form a disproportionate number of rightist and Islamic terrorists – well I hardly thought this was news, the only profile I ever saw for a religious terror suspect a few years back in a book on terrorism said exactly the same thing as this new research. Disaffected intelligent and well educated people tend to blow things up? No surprise there! I could have told you that… Anyway, I’m not planning to blow anything up, but I strongly suspect that massive social injustice, lack of opportunity and economic disempowerment, poverty to the point where you have no choices left to make at all, but just survive, lead to terrorism. No that is not a confession. :)

Seriously though, if you face serious injustice, serious lack of ability to do anything much with your life and yet see people enjoying vastly superior lifestyles, you might get annoyed – especially if your kids are dying, or you lack basic clean water while others jet ski and bask on beaches? I think the root of terrorism is human nature and anger at injustice. That’s not to say it always is – we get ideologically driven super-rich terrorists, and political types, and I expect religious ones – but it does strike me that Westerners often fail to reflect on atrocities, massacres and injustices that create militants. I’m guessing it’s easier to be complacent and not want to kill anyone if you are comfortable, not hungry, and your friends are not the victims of genocide. Frustration, resentment, poverty – coupled with intelligence and technology, and you have the capacity for people to lash out in frighteningly destructive ways. Not a legitimate form of protest now, but people in pain react irrationally… Want to beat terrorism? Provide educational, social and economic justice maybe?

Anyhow, while the actual article was not exciting — it is well written, the research well formulated, but hardly going to help profile future terrorists especially given that leftists ones aren’t engineers anyway, so it’s a bit limited in that way, the Editorial interested me more, and brought my thoughts back to something I planned to write on anyway.  The Editorial suggests some engineers may dislike ambiguity, and want a clockwork well ordered world, and lash out when it is not so, adopting terrorist tactics. The key bit here to me is “dislike ambiguity”, because as long term readers of my writings on the JREF and Dawkins forum will know, that si exactly the trait I noted in many “New Atheists” and sceptics. One can not generalize – I know a good few New Atheists with a great appreciation and understanding of ambiguity, and there is one literary critic on the Dawkins forum who could certainly teach me a thing or two about the notion – I did read Seven Types of Ambiguity, but that was many, many years ago.   However the very literalist/concrete reading and failure to understand the symbolic nature of religious language one comes across on both forums, coupled with a dislike of mystery and the unexplained – well except as a research challenge, an attitude I heartily share – made me propose that actually people with strong ideological beliefs may simply be less able to process or deal with “insufficient data” or ambiguous concepts. “woo” sometimes seems to be any mysterious or hard to explain concept that threatens an ordered mechanistic worldview. Wonder hwo they deal with gambling, chance and fate? Denying Free Will and embracing materialist determism is one way I guess. :)

I actually have been trying to get a research methodology together for this – my divorce from the University of Gloucestershire, an institution with which I have no connection at all now – makes it harder, and the very notion of ambiguity appears to have been ignored in the psychology journals. I was willing to self fund, but the person I hoped to collaborate with on my research in to belief  structures and ambiguity has vanished, or is not returning my calls, so I guess I’m going to have to pursue this alone.I don’t want to do a PhD on it – just an exploratory paper. :)  I’m not interested in finding terrorists – I actually think it has no useful potential there for reasons outlined in New Scientist - but I am sure as hell interested in what makes people adopt their religious worldview, or active anti-religious worldview. Sure i can see where Dawkins is coming from – he sees Natural Selection, a beautiful and useful idea, as invalidating religious thinking. No, it invalidates forms of Latitudinarian natural theology common in the 18th century — if most religious believers think like Paley or Newton, I have yet to notice it!

Still, I’m interested in the relationship between ability to cope with ambiguity, new ideas and the authoritarian personality. I might try and retrieve Male Fantasies: Women, Flood, Bodies, History from DC, a classic study of Nazi masculinity and psychology. I always wondered if it influenced Andrew (definitely NOT a Nazi) Eldritch when he wrote the Sisters of Mercy album Floodland – he reads widely and is extremely intelligent and articulate, and it would not surprise me at all.  IF I had access to a JSTOR, Athens or other journal database i’d search for the literature on ambiguity – as I may have hinted, I know it mainly from Lit. Crit (which I only really dabble in) but the concept strikes me as extremely important.  Or maybe I’m just pleased because someone at New Scientist is clearly thinking along the same lines that I have been arguing?

All this really shows that I should actually get on with applying to MacDonalds for a job, and that I think too much, but hey, there must be a way of devising a scale that deals with how people deal with this process of ambiguity. It’s a bit outside of my usual parapsychological interests, but all the same I think it really could bode well for research,a nd my reading from Lacan to Eysenck has never really turned up anything on this issue. Attachment Theory does not say much about it, but the old concept of “fuzzy boundaries” we used to use in psychiatric nursing may well impact here. Hrmmm, maybe I should ask Ian Hume – maybe the concept is already well explored?

Anyway I have whittered on enough for one day. Hope everyone well, and I’ll return to moaning about my life in my next post I expect! Still if anyone fancies helping devise a decent experimental exploration of the concept of ambiguity in self perceptions of belief, do drop me a line…

all the best

cj x

I get banned from Dawkin’s forum. Netdrama!

Oh dear! I have for the last few months been pursued by a small but incredibly tedious group of three or four fundie atheists  around the Richarddawkins forum. Today I find that I am again warned, and this time banned. Not in itself a big issue – I probably deserved it, and it’s only for a week — but the issue is that the parties responsible seem to once again remain unwarned and completely free to continue their harassment.

The bigger issue is that in a website dedicated to Reason and Science no rule exists to forbid ad hominem attacks. Personal insults are banned (yet are employed extensively – the intelligent and astute poster Tim O Neil throws insults that make me cringe, and regularly tells people to F*** off –   but my use of gentler terms to rebuke those who keep harassing me, including the F*** off  result in formal warnings.

The rules preclude civilized behaviour by allowing one to cry “tactics” — I could explain, but basically the posters in question endlessly accuse me of everything under the sun, and keep diverting from the actual arguments, even blatantly lying about what I have said on occasion..   I must say that there seems little point in trying to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue on the site anymore. This is a real shame.

Now I’m not saying that the mods are bad – most are pretty excellent – but there is a definite bias towards some parties as with any forum (and to be fair they are often biased in my favour), but the continued harassment of those with any kind of opposing viewpoint by a handful of dogmatic fundamentalist atheists is allowed to continue – but then again it mirrors Dawkins own polemical style of ridiculing those who disagree with him, not one of his more attractive attributes. I think at the moment however I prefer Dawkins to his forum.

Last year a substantial group of the RD.net community left when Richard Dawkins suddenly imposed new community standards, removing some of the the more risque content, and they went off to pursue freedom from censorship at Thinking Aloud. I guess i might join them, but to be honest I will probably stay with the JREF, woo about Nazareth being more tolerable than personal abuse and constant harassment by a handful of morons.

99.999% of the posters on RichardDawkins.net remain fine fellows, as do all but one mod in my opinion – they are  not shamefully partisan or just incompetent like this chap; but despite my oft voiced claim that Christians can post on RD.net freely and express their opinions and intelligently debate without harassment, and are not mistreated, and that the site is in no way a haven of rabid fundie loonies pursuing a dogmatic line — well I was wrong. The vast majority are not like that, but the tiny minority who are allowed to conduct personal harassment can poison the place. Grahbudd has left already, and I think others too – and after the debate is over I am planning to. For now I can only say what a terrible shame – and what a pity the place is associated with Richard Dawkins name, assuming he objects to ad hominem, personal insults and harassment and actually believes in reason, education and dialogue?

Ah well. The interweb is serious business.  It’s hardly worthy of Encyclopedia Dramatica – that spat is still to come. :) I’m preparing for it though! Fortunately working in the media gives one rather more options than just being irritated, and my vindication in terms of the ongoing actual debate at least in the eyes of the public may not be too far off now. :) I am working on a History of Science project which will not please this bunch, as it’s  a full blown assault on the conflict myth, and hopefully it will prove very influential, so we will see, but for now, I am miffed!

cj x

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