Matt Dillahunty, “Elevatorgate,” and Facebook

So yesterday, I’m fishing around Facebook, minding my own business, and I come across a new post by Matt Dillahunty.  It was bizarre. . .

Let me preface this by saying that I’m a fan of Matt’s.  For those of you who don’t know of him, he’s the host of The Atheist Experience (AE), an atheist cable access show out of Texas.  In fact, when I first became an outspoken advocate of atheism, Matt and the AE was probably my first and best resource for good information for debate (and a few laughs at the expense of uninformed Christians).  Matt is very good at his craft.  He’s knows a lot, and is pretty good at debate.  Matt also recently married a feminist, and has proclaimed himself one, as well.  I just want you to know that, as it sets up his position, as will become obvious later in the post.

But when I read this post, I was completely dumbfounded.  But let me premise the situation with what I know.  Last year, a woman name Rebecca Watson, who is both a feminist and atheist, posted a YouTube video, in which she stated that she was propositioned on an elevator, at 4AM, at a conference in Ireland.  Her comments were brief, but simple.  She entered the elevator, so did a man.  He asked her to join him in his room for coffee and to talk, and she declined.  That’s it.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some minor details, but that’s pretty much what happened.  In her video, she outlined the series of events, and stated that this was not an appropriate way to talk to a woman.  Period.

Well, after this, the situation went completely insane.  Richard Dawkins, Thunderf00t, PZ Myers, and Matt Dillahunty all got involved somehow.  Everybody took their sides.  Dawkins and Thuerf00t said that event was blown out of proportion, and PZ and Matt sided with Rebecca.  Why this ever turned into anything is beyond any logic.  Also keep in mind that this event took place over a year ago.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I’m checking out Matt’s page when I see this crazy post, basically baiting people into to disagreeing with him, so he can block them.  Unfortunately, Matt deleted the post about a  half hour later, so I can only paraphrase what he said, and the ensuing madness.  Here’s my attempt at a paraphrase –

If you believe that “elevatorgate” was blown out of proportion, comment “yes.”  If you disagree, do not post anything.  Mass blocking to ensue.”

So even if Matt did not explicitly state it, his implication was that those who disagree with him will be blocked.  Of course, lots of people commented “yes,” including me.  Some of us added some commentary as to why we think it was overblown.  Others called Matt out for his behavior.  I also asked Matt if he planned on blocking all of us, and if so, why.  He did not respond to my question.  Apparently, many people were blocked, which Matt later admitted in a subsequent post.  To my knowledge, I was not.

What the hell, Matt?  It seems to me that someone really pissed Matt off, and he felt like blowing up everyone who disagreed with him.  That is not OK, especially from a so-called leader in the atheist community, especially considering that the original issue has nothing to do with atheism.  He denied this, but I don’t see it being any other way.  At one point, Matt tried to defend his actions by excusing himself through a hyper-technicality in his original post.  He’s good at that, and it is sometimes useful, but in this case, he was trying to cover his own mistake.  He also called some people “idiots” for not understanding that he would block anyone who disagreed.  He also used some other derogatory comments, but unfortunately I cannot recall exactly what they were, because post was deleted.

He later posted a follow-up, not to apologize for his erratic, rude, judgmental, condescending words, but to inform people that they have been unblocked (a “correction” but no apology).  Then he went on a tirade, calling more people idiots.  Nice job of treating your “fans” with respect.  Needless to say, Matt alienated a huge part of his fan base.

Although several people called Matt out on his actions in the second post, I chose a more peaceful route, as follows –

I am very troubled by this series of events. We’re (presumably) all atheists. That’s it. There is nothing else we share in common. We’re not all feminists, liberals, or democrats. We all don’t have the same views on abortion, gun control, or for whom to vote for President. We are a diverse group. Now, we have a situation involving an atheist, who also happens to be a feminist; a situation that has nothing to do with atheism. Over time, through YouTube, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, an all-out war has enraged over this incident. Some atheists take one side, some another. Now, it’s Richard Dawkins vs. Rebecca Watson vs. THunderf00t vs. Matt Dillahunty vs. PZ Myers. Next thing you know, an already fragmented community is torn in half over an issue that has nothing to do with atheism. Why is this? How does this help achieve the goals of positive atheism (or feminism) and the advancement of equality; rational, evidence-based thought; and the true separation of church and state? Personally, I’ve been an atheist for over 20 years, and thanks to people like Matt Dillahunty and the AE show, AronRa, and Seth Andrews, I’m really looking to take an active role in this community. But what kind of community has this been reduced to? The theists (especially Christians) are already winning the battle, in numbers, dollars, and exposure. How is all of this petty bickering, name-calling, ass-kissing, and user-blocking helping? And I’m not putting this on any one person. It’s a lot of people, and I’m appalled. How are we to accomplish anything good, whether it be in atheism or feminism, if things boil down to this?

In 24 hours, I got 23 likes! 🙂  Below is an actual screen shot of my post.  Sorry if it’s difficult to read.
 
 
Sorry Matt, but this kind of petty stuff (threats, insults, and an unwillingness to accept dissenting opinions or have a productive dialogue) does not help your credibility, nor does it positively advance our shared agenda or bring people together.  It only divides.  This goes for everyone in this mess.  I just happened to see this post.  If this is what the atheist community is resulting to, my place is not with yours.  I will make my own mark, without supporting yours.
 
And for the record, this post has nothing to do with whether Rebecca Watson’s reaction was appropriate or the ensuing reactions were overblown.  It’s about the fallout of the incident and a Facebook post.  Don’t take it out of context.
 
———————————————–
Update: 8/8/12
 
I have obtained a screen shot of the original post by Matt.  See below.
 

Matt’s Original Rant

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Matt Dillahunty, “Elevatorgate,” and Facebook

  1. “That is not OK, especially from a so-called leader in the atheist community”

    Why not?

    He was posting on his personal facebook page, as an individual.

    “especially considering that the original issue has nothing to do with atheism. ”

    Sure it doesn’t.

    Is atheism the only subject that Matt can address?

    “He’s good at that, and it is sometimes useful, but in this case, he was trying to cover his own mistake. ”

    I might be wrong, but I think his mistake was using the term ‘elevatorgate’, as that encompasses the entire craziness that followed the initial comments from Rebecca Watson. If I read him correctly (and I could be wrong), he was looking for people who believed Rebecca’s initial comments went too far.

    “Nice job of treating your “fans” with respect. Needless to say, Matt alienated a huge part of his fan base.”

    Perhaps. Perhaps not. If you disagree on a subject that creates high emotions in multiple parties, it might not be seen as a negative if those parties part ways.

    “Next thing you know, an already fragmented community is torn in half over an issue that has nothing to do with atheism.”

    Why do we have to have a community?

    I (and this is just my personal view) am all for promoting atheists and encouraging the non-religious to come out. But if I disagree on somewhat large issues with other atheists, why do I want to be in a community with them? All we have in common is our atheism.

    Raliens are also atheists, but I have no intention of forming a community with them.

    “but this kind of petty stuff (threats, insults, and an unwillingness to accept dissenting opinions or have a productive dialogue) ”

    Sorry, but this all amounts to free speech and privacy.

    One’s facebook wall is not a democracy.

    “nor does it positively advance our shared agenda or bring people together. It only divides.”

    Again, all we have in common is our atheism. Why does that mean we have to form a community based solely on that?

    • Thank you for the post. I’ll try to respond, issue by issue.

      “That is not OK, especially from a so-called leader in the atheist community”

      Why not?

      Matt’s posts were childish, intending do block/delete people who are not like-minded, which is ludicrous. It’s exactly what Christians do. He verbally provoked his entire audience, used demeaning language, and taunted people, who provided no reason to be taunted or demeaned. It was simply a hateful rant directed at no one in particular, so everyone got to feel his wrath. As a “leader” in the atheist community, I expect more from him. It makes me question his legitimacy as a voice for what I believe in.

      He was posting on his personal facebook page, as an individual.

      True, but that does not dismiss his actions. My reaction would be the same of anyone who posted something like that.

      “especially considering that the original issue has nothing to do with atheism. ”

      Sure it doesn’t.

      Is atheism the only subject that Matt can address?

      No, but again, I am questioning his tact. His core audience is going to be atheists, because that is what he is known for. Then he starts attacking his entire audience (or at least those who don’t agree with him) for an entirely unrelated reason.

      “He’s good at that, and it is sometimes useful, but in this case, he was trying to cover his own mistake. ”

      I might be wrong, but I think his mistake was using the term ‘elevatorgate’, as that encompasses the entire craziness that followed the initial comments from Rebecca Watson. If I read him correctly (and I could be wrong), he was looking for people who believed Rebecca’s initial comments went too far.

      My interpretation was the same. He seemed to be asking if people thought that Rebecca overreacted to the intial “incident.”

      “Nice job of treating your “fans” with respect. Needless to say, Matt alienated a huge part of his fan base.”

      Perhaps. Perhaps not. If you disagree on a subject that creates high emotions in multiple parties, it might not be seen as a negative if those parties part ways.

      Agreed, but what Matt seems to have done is alienate atheists because of an unrelated topic. Otherwise, no one would every associate with anyone else, because they would have to agree on everything. One disagreement should not generally end a positive relationship, but again, it was Matt’s demeanor. I have no problem with disagreement. I have a problem with how it was handled. Whether I agree with Matt on this particular issue is trivial.

      “Next thing you know, an already fragmented community is torn in half over an issue that has nothing to do with atheism.”

      Why do we have to have a community?

      I didn’t say that we had to be one, but I am saying that we are one. I mean, Matt is the head of the Austin Atheist Community. I attend atheist events from time-to-time, and I consider those to be communities. They don’t have to be, but they are.

      I (and this is just my personal view) am all for promoting atheists and encouraging the non-religious to come out. But if I disagree on somewhat large issues with other atheists, why do I want to be in a community with them? All we have in common is our atheism.

      Sure. But because atheism is limited to a single belief, how different could our goals be? I would think that other “large issues” would be unrelated to atheism. What would they be?

      Raliens are also atheists, but I have no intention of forming a community with them.

      Well, it depends on what the goals of the community is. If the community goal is to support Ralienism, then no, it wouldn’t work. But that would no longer be an atheist community. If I met a ralien who wanted to join my tennis team, and he/she was a good tennis player, my opinion on their raleinsm would likely be irrelevant, unless it impacted a tennis match.

      “but this kind of petty stuff (threats, insults, and an unwillingness to accept dissenting opinions or have a productive dialogue) ”

      Sorry, but this all amounts to free speech and privacy.

      One’s facebook wall is not a democracy.

      I’m not questioning Matt’s right to free speech. He just shouldn’t be a jerk about it, especially to people who value his opinion. It’s like if I went to visit my mother, walked in, called her a bitch, then dared her to disown me. Why do that? It’s just rude and unnecessary.

      “nor does it positively advance our shared agenda or bring people together. It only divides.”

      Again, all we have in common is our atheism. Why does that mean we have to form a community based solely on that?

      To promote atheism. Without a community, we are just single people getting the word out about reason, science, rational thought – all that stuff. It’s much more effective when you’ve got strength in numbers. The Christians have that, and we do not, so we are already at a disadvantage.

      All I’m really saying with all of this is that Matt shouldn’t be a jerk. The work that he does with the Atheist Experience is important, and treating people the way he did will do nothing but discredit him as a good voice for atheism him and he will lose respect.

      • “The work that he does with the Atheist Experience is important, and treating people the way he did will do nothing but discredit him as a good voice for atheism him and he will lose respect.”

        I believe, and I don’t want to speak for Matt, that he feels he will only be losing respect from people whose respect he doesn’t want.

      • If that was the case, I would consider Matt’s treatment of this issue unreasonable, and I question whether he deserves our respect. I know that Matt was engaged in this Twitter war with Thunderf00t over all this. I didn’t quite follow because there were so many tweets, and frankly, I wasn’t interested in reading all the bickering, but perhaps that played into Matt’s hostility on Facebook. Maybe he was just in a bad mood. I don’t know. But if Matt simply wanted people to volunteer to be blocked, for the sole reason that they disagree on a single issue (agree with Thunderf00t on the general principle), one which really is a non-issue (in my opinion), doesn’t seem rational. It just seemed like Matt was the firing squad and he was looking for volunteers to take a bullet. I would never get on Facebook and ask everybody who disagreed with me on issue X to make themselves known, so I can block them. Why? I would rarely, if ever, discard a person entirely, based on a single opinion.

      • I would like to clarify a previous statement. Based on Matt’s initial post, my interpretation of the term “elevatorgate” was to mean the entire series of events, not just the original blog/video by Rebecca. However, based on the ambiguity of the original statement, I can see it going both ways.

  2. Michael

    I like Matt, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him twice and even having a few drinks with him one night. I still think intentionally baiting people you don’t agree with just so you can not discuss what ever the issue is, is borderline childish. I would expect more from someone who promotes critical thinking and reason. If he does not wish to discuss it don’t bring it up, if he does then don’t be suprised when people take alternative viewpoints.

  3. ” one which really is a non-issue (in my opinion), ”

    Well, there’s your problem.

    To Matt (and myself, not that it matters), it isn’t a non-issue. It’s an important one. Or indicative of a larger, more important issue at the least.

    • Perhaps I shouldn’t have sprinkled my opinion into this, because it’s not really relevant to the post. You and Matt are perfectly entitled to your opinion, and I take no take issue with your opinion, whether it should be important to you, or your right to have it. I question Matt’s behavior.

  4. aether

    I actually interpreted the post a little differently. I thought he was saying that he wanted only a single word answer or no answer at all, and that the “mass blocking incoming” would be the result of people’s inability to refrain from expounding on their answers, thus the “anything other than yes, steer clear” ie: if you say anything other than “yes” or anything in addition to “yes” you will be blocked.

  5. Joel B Groat

    This whole discussion is fascinating. You almost sound ‘theistic’ in that it sounds like you are appealing to some sort of “higher” standard for Matt. So what is the objective standard that would allow us to criticize Matt or anyone else for their actions? You seem to be appealing to some standard outside all of us that we all should be beholden to and submit to. If there is no god, there is no objective standard, so no one has any basis (outside their own personal opinion) for calling to account anyone else for anything they do. You can have your opinion and voice your opinion, but it seems really inconsistent to lay claim to some “higher moral” ground for behavior and appeal to that, unless we’ve all agreed that such a standard exists – which, if there is no god, it cannot, so logically, we cannot.

    • Wow…where should I start.

      First, I made no claim regarding Matt’s morality. You interpreted it that way, and incorrectly at that. I simply expressed my opinion about Matt’s actions. I make no claim about whether Matt’s acts are moral, or whether he is a moral person, in general. I have no basis to make such claims. I don’t personally know Matt, and my exposure to him is limited.

      Second, there is no objective standard for which I am judging Matt’s actions. My standards are simply my own, based on my own personal observations, and my own opinions of good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral, or good and bad taste. My standards (whether you call them morals or just personal opinions) are entirely subjective. They were not given to me, and no one has commanded me how to think. I make those decisions myself.

      Third, your claim that a god is required for “objective standards” is without any basis. There is no evidence for this claim. This is a common, and patently false, claim made by theists who try to prove their regionally-popular god through means of long-debunked philosophy.

      Fourth, there is no evidence that any of the thousands of gods currently being recognized on this planet actually exist.

  6. Amy

    I’m so glad I stayed out of this…
    Though… until thunderf00t gets back to actually doing science related videos instead of his anti feminist thing… I will be short one source of amusement.
    I think it’s telling when he burns his bridges and pretty much just speaks to a choir…

  7. dan

    i don’t understand what atheists think they’re movement is actually doing. To me it just sounds like a soapbox and a shortcut to self-proclaim intelligence.

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