Update July 5th: This post is not a personal attack. I have removed a quote from Martin Luther King that some readers thought was personally attacking people mentioned in the post, when that was not the intention. I have contacted those written about and they’ve informed me they do not see this post as an attack on them. The point that I am writing about in is how people can be unfeeling when abstracted from each other and how that effects people differently. I hope that clears any misunderstanding up.
Those who work hard to reach out to others with critical thinking are often the targets of misrepresentation and harassment, and although I’ve been at the receiving end of such behaviour on a few occasions with people trying to get me sacked from my job and threatening me, I wont pretend I have it as hard as many.
Rebecca Watson, for example, is a constant force of nature for feminism within skepticism, and the fact she has a folder on her computer where she keeps all the threats of rape that she gets saddens me immensely, as it should any rationally minded human whether they think she is right or wrong. She also inspires me by never giving up in the face of all the abuse.
Another example, today the news broke that police officers had visited the home of noted skeptical activist Sanal Edamaruku to arrest him. His crime? Solving the alleged mystery of a weeping statue and pointing out that it was a plumbing issue. The harassment from The Catholic Church is horrendous, but he isn’t backing down because he has evidence on his side, as well as the Indian Constitution that explicitly obliges all citizens to develop “scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Sanal, whom I saw speak at Denkfest in Zurich last year, is one of the few people I consider a real life hero.
I think also of Jessica Ahlquist who campaigned for her US school to remove a prayer banner from display. When word got out about this she became the target of so much hatred, harassment and misrepresentation online, but she stood her ground, held her head high and maintained a level of dignity that I’m not sure I could.
Sometimes when you speak out about something, and you know you’re going to face a lot of opposition, you consider it and still speak out because it is the right thing to do, and that drives you on. I know because when I came out as the person who had complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the Christian group ‘Healing on the Streets’ I knew people would paint me as the bad person who wanted to oppress others, and they did. However, knowing I was right pushed me on and I didn’t care what insults people threw at me or what illnesses they wished upon me and my family so they could see if I’d pray for healing.
Sometimes you do what you’ve got to do because you know it’s worth it. You stand by your word or actions and you roll with the punches. You face up to those obstacles that stand in front of you, and you tackle them as best you can.
No good thing ever came from a person giving up as the hurdles fell away beneath them, causing them to stumble as they progressed on. When problems stack up in front of you it’s almost impulsive to turn your back on them and walk away, but nobody ever overcame challenges by not facing them down.
Today it was announced that the blogger accused of calling Rebecca Watson a ‘cunt’ in email, when in reality he had called her a feminazi on his blog, will no longer be operating the Coffee Loving Skeptic blog.
On the Facebook group of the Coffee Loving Skeptic blog he writes he is
Sick of being misrepresented. Tired of being harassed when this is supposed to be my “hobby”.
We all react differently to harassment and it’s anybody’s right to quit and turn their back on it all, especially if it makes them unwell. It’s horrible to be harassed online where hardly anyone – even the smart ones – stop to think about what they’re writing. Hitting enter and sending your message can have a horrible impact on another human being that you’ve probably never met or gotten to know. Nobody deserves that no matter how terrible they may or may not have been.
It’s easy to dehumanise someone to the point that the impact of what you say to or about them doesn’t even cross your mind. Strangely, that all changes when it’s you being dehumanised and abused. Suddenly, you realise just how unmighty the keyboard makes you.