Atheist Ireland recently disassociated itself from PZ Myers. I won’t bore people with the specifics that led to the disassociation, the post speaks for itself plus I am sure people are well aware of it. However, I will briefly say why I think it was an important move.
The tactics used by PZ Myers is well documented. If somebody disagrees with him then the dissenter is misrepresented, personally attacked and smeared. It’s not a tactic solely utilised by PZ, others on the Freethoughtblog network often employ it too, such as Stephanie Zvan and Ophelia Benson. So too does Skepchicks. The tactic has the effect of silencing dissent. If people know they can’t disagree without having their character being unfairly dragged through the mud then they are more likely to just keep quiet. I have lost count the amount of people I know who have been labeled “sexist”, “misogynist”, “harasser” for no reason other than the fact they have voiced disagreement. I myself was put on Ophelia Benson’s page of harassment for the crime of sending two tweets saying not everybody who disagrees with her is a misogynist. That’s it, two tweets and I am a “harasser”.
That is why Atheist Ireland’s disassociation is important. It highlights the violent rhetoric and defamatory smears which PZ so frequently uses. But it also might give organisations and individuals the courage to speak out against these tactics. So far Hemant Mehta and JT Eberhard have shown their support, so too has Atheist Northern Ireland. But not without a price, true to form the dissenters’ names shall be smeared. Skepchicks falsely claimed Hemant endorsed a hate forum (slimepit) even though he did no such thing, the post was shared by PZ, Ophelia and Stephanie. Michael Nugent was labeled a harasser by Ophelia Benson because he tagged her in a tweet even though she has him blocked. Just because something is against twitters TOS (is it? I am not sure) doesn’t mean it is harassment.
The casual usage of such labels must also be tackled. Sexism, misogyny and harassment are serious issues, not weapons to be used against people you disagree with. By accusing people so flippantly PZ et al. erode away the gravity of the labels and actual charges of sexism and misogyny may not be taken as seriously.
If this pattern of behaviour is to stop then we need more people and more organisations taking a stand and proclaiming they will not be associated with people who continue to behave in such an unethical manner. Hopefully Atheist Ireland is only the first organisation to do so but I am not hopeful, I fear most organisations will stay below the radar lest they are the next group labeled to be rife with “misogynists”, “sexists” and “harassers”.