"And sometimes he's so nameless"

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.

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


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