Suspension of Critical Thinking, A+, & Why I’m Done with It.

Groupthink: thinking so dominated by the desire to maintain unanimity of thought in a group that critical thinking is suspended or rendered ineffective. (Chaplain, 2010, p.201)

Extrajection: attributing one’s own characteristics to another. (Chaplain, 2010, p.169)

Projection: 1. attributing one’s own traits, attitudes, or faults to others… 3. a prediction beyond the given data.  4. perceiving one’s personality traits, needs, desires, goals etc. in unstructured stimuli, such as ink blots… (Chaplain, 2010, p.358)

Psychological warfare: a general concept referring to all attempts to weaken the enemy’s ability to wage war by weakening their moral, with corresponding attempts to strengthen one’s own war potential. (Chaplain, 2010, p.366).

Groupthinking and extrajection…

In the last few months (and even years in some cases), I and others have been both witness to, and on the receiving end of all four of the above.  It seems a vast number of the Atheist movement are unable to exercise the same level of critical thinking that we demand from others or even mock people for apparent lack thereof.  This is not restricted to one side of the ‘A+?’ battle of wills, with one side declaring that what ‘A+’ is demanding (yes,demanding) already exists – humanism – and they do have a point, with some sneering before hearing them out, and the other side bull-headedly declaring that A+ stands for positive social justice and asserting that all who oppose or criticise them in any way are anti-social justice.  These assertions are rubbish.  For a start we only really have people’s online personas to go by.  We don’t really know any of the people we meet online.  We just have to trust, they are who they say they are and hope they’re not some cyber-stalking head-case.  So, that said, assuming we ‘know’ the politics of an individual that we meet, by sheer chance, based solely on a few comments made on a forum is utterly absurd.

This is where the groupthink has kicked in.  Anything less than 100% support to either side (in some cases) has become, to some, tantamount to an outright betrayal of  the ‘movement’ and condemnation of all ideas.  This is not the case as one can agree on principal with an idea and yet have qualms over the finer details.  The slightest criticism now results in slurs against characters, accusations of trolling,  and ‘questions’ about one’s moral integrity (you know, the same conduct that we condemn when we get it  from religious trolls that post on atheist threads). That’s one hell of an assumption to make about an acquaintance that you wouldn’t recognise in the street, and in most cases those making those assumptions and hurling labels around as epithets are the first to call people out when they are on the receiving end.

It is both naive and asinine to assume (or assert) that just being an atheist equates automatically to being ‘nice’.  It is equally naive to assert that those who choose not ascribe themselves to any particular cause or label are bigoted.  I have always had a humanistic outlook.  It’s how I was brought up.  I’m vocal about a number of issues about because I have neither the time or resources to apply that in a physical sense, but what I do is no less valuable an action than physically going out and ‘doing the work‘.  Many charities (such as which I’ve been supporting Hemley on since day one) rely strongly on volunteers giving up their time to raise awareness in whatever ways they can, while other’s volunteer for the on site grafting.  Nor I do not think other humanitarian causes are less worthy of attention: I have merely had to narrow down what I do and others are free to follow their own causes: it’s not a competition.

I’m all for positive action to achieve REAL social equality but we cannot expect everyone to jump to and support every cause and project around especially if there is a ‘by fair means, or foul‘ clause attached to it.  THAT does not sit right with me.  It should be ‘by fair means, or not at all‘.   If we cannot do it honestly, then how are we fit to criticise other injustices? Just because an individual does not support our chosen project or cause, it does not mean they are lacking in empathy or necessarily ‘against’ us, or any number of negative connotations someone might dream up and hurl at someone else in order to defend their own position.  That is NOT debate.  That is NOT discussion. That IS browbeating and guilt tripping and those who engage in the practice should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves.  Character is judged through action, and actions like that, I find sickening and I will not be a party to them.  Nor will I be tricked through, omission of information, into putting my name to a project which cannot live by its own standards of behaviour.  People will have their own reasons for joining in or not joining in: none of us are accountable to any but the laws of the lands we live in, and our own consciences. We give to charity and volunteer our time in other ways but must we therefore leap on the A+ bandwagon? No. It’s up to the individual and nobody has the right to guilt anyone else out of following their own conscience in favour of some hair-brained agenda or other.

When somebody disagrees with a course of action, or claim being made, it does not make them a libertarian or right-wing, or anything else: all it means is they disagree.

This is war psychology and it generally paired with projection as a result of group think, when other members cannot think of a valid counter-argument.  As we know, groupthink situations occur when there are a minority of critics/proponents of a course of action within a group situation and the majority is determined to either force, or not to allow, a change in either action or attitude.

Generally, on the online forum situations, it comes in the form of accusations of dishonest motives and projection undesirable traits such as aggression and other trolling behaviour, which weren’t actually there but were attached to the accusation in order to justify discounting any criticism.  It is used to attempt to discredit opponents and avoid giving an answer which might show the user of this tactic in a less than favourable light, rather than admitting that the criticism might actually be valid.  Other group members will chip in to argue the toss and try to bully any and all opposition (which is usually in the minority) round to their way of thinking by hurling labels around, and making negative assertions about their character.  When this fails the aggression is projected back on to the critic and they are threatened with banning (rather than just banning them) in an attempt to silence them and claim a virtual and public victory.  Any supporters of the minority voice are equally shouted down.

Suspension of Critical Thinking, Failure to Adhere to Equal Standards, & General Lack of Consideration for Others (when no longer convenient to need)…

It seems that the first project of A+ is in the planning stages: transcription of atheist podcasts and videos for the deaf and hard of hearing.  It’s a good idea.  My one concern when I first learned of this project, via Greta Christina’s blog, was that the producers of these videos and podcast would be consulted (a fair few in the atheist community are in strong disagreement with the A+ movement – or their conduct toward critics – and may understandably object to their work being tampered with by the off-shoot group).  I wanted to be sure, so I could make an informed decision before offering my assistance and then having to withdraw it after a disagreement, that if a video-blogger’s or podcaster’s decision was ‘no‘ then their wishes would be respected as they have a justified say over who does what to their work.   I did not suggest transcription should not be done. In fact, I repeatedly stated the that the project was a good idea.

My support for the idea was consistently ignored in favour of trying to shut me down with accusations of  ‘derailing‘, ‘dumping on a project‘, ‘being aggressive‘ (I was on the receiving end of the aggression btw), ‘sarcasm‘  (I’ll give them that one) etc.  Yes, I am sarcastic at times,  especially when pointing out such blatant hypocrisy.  Okay, it’s not a problem which has occurred yet, however I work on a philosophy that prevention is better than cure.  If you pre-empt potential problems and plan for their avoidance (like not deliberately circumventing people’s personal autonomy over their work, for instance), the problems are less likely to occur.  I can see their attitude of “we’re going to do this regardless of what anyone else thinks, and if a few people’s rights get trampled on, it’s for the ‘greater good’, so they and everyone else can stop whining” is going to cause them a great deal of problems.  I will say this, if the A+ers truly care about social justice as much as they claim to, then the protection of everyone’s rights should be paramount to their concerns: they don’t get to ignore inconvenient truths whenever it damn well suits them.

The people orchestrating the project seem to disagree with the importance of a private person’s authority over their work. They ‘won’t let the project be bullied like that’ (because producers objections to their work being co-opted without their prior knowledge or against their wishes is obviously ‘bullying’ behaviour, isn’t it. The same way objecting to having bogus religions (tautology, I know) down our throats is ‘persecution).  By that they mean they aren’t planning on giving people even the opportunity to refuse participation, but instead to just charge ahead regardless and impose it on people whether they like it or not. Besides any legal considerations, asking first is just a basic common courtesy that any of us would expect to be treated with. What is so heinous about asking for some simple good manners to be exercised? Do they cost anything? No. Do they hurt? Not the last time I checked.

They have decided that their project is for such a good cause that it trumps the rights of any objectors and that this web-page has given them a legal free-pass to transcribe the work of private individuals with or without their permission. Never mind that the site refers to in-video closed-captioning* (rather than full and separate transcription located elsewhere and out of their control) of commercially produced video media, and says nothing at all regarding podcasts or radio broadcasts. Add to this the fact that those, referred to in the article, who objected to the legislation were registered entertainment companies. They were not private individuals expressing their own views on blogs on the internet.

*Doesn’t YouTube already have an automatic in-video closed-caption function anyway?

Other Sources


36 thoughts on “Suspension of Critical Thinking, A+, & Why I’m Done with It.

  1. A few thoughts, pardon if I repeat what someone else or you said.

    That blog post about captioning (I suspect you know this) only covers adding captions to works that you already have a license to distribute; it says nothing about yoinking works from someone else’s website and throwing a caption on it. Whatever else they are, the people who were shouting you down are not lawyers (neither am I, get a lawyer, there is no substitute for professional legal advice, etc.).

    Second, I’ve been watching this online conflict unfold with mingled fascination and horror for quite some time now. Atheism+’s biggest problem is that the most vocal proponents are still focused on a year(s) long running battle with people who (for various and sundry reasons) made hating on said proponents a part-time job for many years. *coughs* *looks up at Elevatorgate’s post higher in the thread* As long as Atheism+ had this built-in group of haters, it had ugly and crazy baked in from the mix.

    Third (related to the second, and riffing off of your points above) is that many of the people for and against Atheism+ (especially on Twitter) are so caught up in the feeling of wanting to smite the unrighteous that they’re making snap judgements about people they will never meet, and I suspect this is because of the easy certainty they feel. The use of words like “clearly,” “obviously,” and “of course” used in these conversations is a possible sign that such magical thinking is firmly in place.

    Anywho, I loved your post. I think Atheism+ has some wonderful ideas (not as a replacement for Atheism, but as an idea in itself), but it’s not going to happen unless the group supporting it feels more involved in it than it does in the ceaseless online crap-slinging.


  2. This was a brilliant post. The FTB and A+ movements have given a large number of atheists and critical thinkers a bad name. This just goes to show the problems with plurality and group think in any community. The fanatics come out of the wood-works and try to shout their side of the “debate” louder than the people who are trying to genuinely do something productive about the issues.

    It seems that one key problem in the atheist/skeptic community is that this mentality is currently running rampant though the feminist community as well; with cases like the woman who broke her hand trying to assault a man for making a rape joke being held up as a role model for women everywhere.

    I think that you’re right though, rational minded people need to keep a safe distance from these fringe movements. We can still debate and discuss these issues. But, we need to understand that in the end, individuals who disagree with the fringe need a safe place to keep talking. This was again, a brilliant post. Keep on keeping on.


  3. Marc Jagoe says:

    I have been following many of these developments and came across your story through another blog and discovered this post on twitter. It’s nice to see you speaking out about what happened to you at FTB and the entire A+ thing, in general. This is the typical behavior of the FTB and now the A+ people, that I have observed for quite some time. Your assessment captured much of what I have thought about FTB for more than a year and it’s nice to see others come to understand what is actually happening there, albeit through unfortunate circumstances.

    I have said it before but I’ll say it again, I fully support anyone of good intentions who has become a target of this crowd and it was clear to any reasonable person that read your exchange that good intentions is what you came to the discussion with.


  4. Markov says:

    To quote the first response to your transcription question on Greta’s thread:
    “trinioler says:
    August 30, 2012 at 11:11 pm
    Hiya Anna. I’m the founder, etc of A+scribe. If someone doesn’t want their work transcribed, we won’t do so. This would be quite unfortunate.

    However, if its one hostile person of a whole group of people, say an interview of a creationist, we would go ahead and transcribe it anyways; the greater good is served by the transcription than respecting one person’s attempt at screwing things over.”

    So it sounds like they won’t transcribe things against the creators wishes, but if a work has multiple creators who disagree on whether or not the work should be transcribed then they will go with the ones who want it.


      • Markov says:

        False. The argument they presented was that it doesn’t mater to the law whether it’s in a group or not, not that they would transcribe anything. I don’t know if they’re right about the law or not since I haven’t read the law. Further more I just checked the A+ scribe web site and they have a list of creators who have said they don’t want their works transcribed by A+ scribe, and according to their code of conduct people who transcribe works from people on that list will have their A+scribe accounts suspended.


        • No mention of codes of conduct were mentioned before I was told to leave the thread and threatened with a ban. A link to the terms and conditions was issued as the link they used to assert that the ‘law was on their side’. I have screen shots of each exchange to back that up and as you will see, I left the thread at #27. The only comment referring to rules was Greta’s threat of a ban, prior to reading my posts. The reason I know that she hadn’t read what I had posted, because I haven’t been back, is Justin Vacula’s video blog (posted by elavatorgate, below). If the conversation has changed tone since I left, it was merely damage control.

          I take a very dim view of people sending sock puppets to my blog to speak for people who don’t have the nerve to come forward themselves, but I have a different approach: I don’t ban, I let people dig their own holes. I’m now being trolled on my own blog, as well as on Al Stefanelli’s (who had nothing to do with the conversation, btw) trying to press me into backing down.

          1) I will not be backing down.
          2) I have written nothing untrue.
          3) I will not be apologising.

          You might as well get used that. It’s perfectly clear what A+ ‘stand for’. It’s nothing more than a childish clique equivalent to teenagers in a playground who have declared themselves in charge of the rest of us and will do what they please, to whom they please and will do whatever it takes to shut down any and all opposition or criticism.


          • Markov says:

            You are correct that they did not mention the code of conduct for A+ scribe, that is something I checked out myself, to see what they said about transcribing things that content creators did not want transcribed. The code of conduct Greta mentioned was the comment policy on her blog, which is not related to A+ scribe. She was just promoting A+ scribe on her blog. As far as I know Greta has no other involvement with A+scribe. I was using my mention of the A+scribe code of conduct to counter the claim that they would be transcribing things by a single creator that did not want the works transcribed. Based on the context of trinioler’s comment #7 I think he was linking to the blog post about law to back up the idea that if a work has multiple authors who disagree about transcription, say an atheist interviewing a creationist, and only the atheist wants the work transcribed, that they could transcribe that work without worrying about the copyright. At no point did trinioler claim that a work would be transcribed by A+scribe when all creators opposed it’s transcription.


  5. Allison says:

    I agree with you and commend you for backing away from involvement with this ridiculous “A+” nonsense. Those people are nothing but a bunch of clowns and I am delighted to see more and more people standing up against them.


  6. According to a commenter on Al Stefanelli’s blog, in reply to my comment #4, they have now changed their terms and conditions to require that work used has the permission of the author. Having gone to check this, it is untrue. The terms have not changed.

    Their terms of service indicate they have merely abdicated “responsibility for the or the contributions of its members.” They specifically disclaim responsibility for the accuracy of their transcripts, nor does one of their transcripts imply the endorsement by the original authors of the work, and their creative commons license only protects them.


  7. Gumby says:

    Nicely done. The single-minded, determined obliviousness of these FTB/Atheism+ reminds me of the mindset of the deeply religious – people who can put aside all notions of what is truly good and right in order to push their beliefs on everyone else. Their refusal to respect the rights of authors is also of the religious mindset – “our beliefs and mission trump all, therefore all objections are irrelevant”.


  8. Lotharloo says:

    I gave up on them as well. I do not disagree with their goals or many of their viewpoints. But I find their leaders to be giant assholes with no respect the person at the other side of the keyboard. And I do not want to associate with them at all.

    Personally, I believe it all started with PZ’s encouragement of rudeness and aggressive commenting. Aggression is the child of internet where people are not treated at humans behind a keyboard but pseudonymes without feeling; if you make a human cry because your comment, you would not feel it and without any facial or vocal cues, it is easy to move on and feel no guilt at all. This is why building communities based on internet aggression is pointless and doomed to fail.

    My sympathies for what you have gone through and no, these assholes do not represent me or any other nice atheists.


  9. io says:

    This is a great post. It really explains very well why so many people just aren’t on board.

    I’ve suffered at the hands of A+ers online despite their mission being tolerance. It makes no sense why they’d advocate for so many things but when confronted by fellow friends & atheists who don’t want “in”, they turn around and call us haters.

    Anyway. Thanks again, this is bookmarked for reference in case I come up against any more aggressive A+ers.


  10. “we’re going to do this regardless of what anyone else thinks, and if a few people’s rights get trampled on, it’s for the ‘greater good’, so they and everyone else can stop whining”

    This, sadly, has already happened in a way. The A+ founders deliberately plagiarized the logo the Richard Dawkins Foundation has used for years in it’s “Non-Believers Giving Aid” campaign. And they simply cannot feign innocence or ignorance of this, given that many of the FTB blogs have an image link to in the case of PZ Myers, he has a big fat image link of NBGA’s “A+” logo plastered on the right side of the page(you’ll have to scroll down a bit). So they plagiarized from worthy cause to serve their “greater good” of forcing their version of social justice on everyone else:


  11. Dancing in your head says:

    You’re not the first case and you will not be the last, this has been happening for ages over at ftb and it’s why many of us “haters” simply don’t like them.

    Their comment sections look like some freaky internet experiment. I think that most of their regular commenters are conditioned into always agreeing and never questioning what the bloggers say, and also attacking whoever dares to disagree with the ftb norm.


  12. Dear Random Tangents, thank you for writing this and speaking out. Many more people are listening than you might imagine at first thought. Many more agree also. Your courage and honesty are much appreciated, and I hope to hear more from you about your views and philosophy. Subscribed!

    (Plus, I learned a new word! Extrajection. Right-click. Add to Dictionary. 🙂 )


  13. A lot of the opposition to A+ stems from the reality that the people behind it have, for the last year, already proven over and over again that, in the words of Paula Kirby, from the “Sisterhood of the Oppressed”. It started in an elevator and they (FTB as well as Skepchick) have been riding it all the way to the top, creating controversy whenever their page views started dwindling.

    It also strikes many as an attempt to “take over” the idea of Atheism and turn it into their own version of it. see them calling it the “third wave of atheism” in the original introduction.

    When Carrier shot his pen off it took them a few days to “disown” him only to then promptly act based on his declarations.

    Simply put: Atheism+ is bad news for anybody who considers themselves an atheist OR a humanist and the quicker these people are sidelined the quicker people who really want a fairer world can get back to try and accomplish just that.


  14. I jumped away instantly as I saw it failing in the same way the National Atheist Party failed. Simply put, herding atheists is like herding cats. Because of the impossibility of the task, it encourages people engaged in such a task to radicalism and threats. Such a task can slide quickly into forming a hate group. Because of my fear of any hate group association, I have as of yet even to join any atheist group. I support a secular society but stand outside any group. Given what happened at FTB, I don’t see this changing any time soon.


    • I had my reservations but saw potential (I have been sorely disappointed) and needed to see for myself before jumping in on either side. I never just take anything on the say-so of others and I don’t allow myself to just be told. I like to make my own mind up. Sheer bloody-minded independence has its advantages. lol


      • TFJ says:

        I was not quite sure what to make of PZ Myers ditching of critical thought around the issue of ‘victim feminism’ in the aftermath of Coffee Invite. Looking back, it is obvious that this is not new, and nor is his inability to acknowledge fault. Someone crystallised it nicely recently when they said that Myers and his crew only make sense when viewed as politically and ideologically driven. It is a mistake to think of them as skeptics and freethinkers. This, in my view, is what makes them so dangerous to the wider perception of atheists; it is as if they are on a mission to justify right wing/religious criticism of atheism as just another religion or dogma.

        I don’t agree that both sides of this divide are equally to blame for black and white thinking. The impetus for A+ was the alleged elevator incident, following which many people took issue with Rebecca Watson’s treatment of Paula Kirby, Steff (?) Mcgraw and her subsequent attempts, supported by Myers etc., to slap the label MRA or misogynist on anyone disagreeing with them on anything. They will not even entertain the notion that the dissent was not motivated by “Guys, don’t do that”. Quite frankly, Watson strikes me as devious, entitled and more than a little narcissistic, yet I will ALWAYS, without exception, be accused of disliking her because she’s a women if I criticise her. All I, and most of the other opponents I’ve seen, wanted was the right to engage in discussion without dogpiling and threats of banning. That didn’t happen on FTB and the FTBers showed a reluctance to venture into environments where they didn’t control the debate. Most of us can agree to disagree without bitterness and drama. It’s the A Plussers that have ditched that idea.


        • Thank you for your reply. In hindsight, I’m sorry to say that I suspect the milk began to sour back with Phil Plait’s ‘Don’t be a Dick’ speech. It’s been quite a gradual thing up until now, but now it’s upon us, it must be dealt with. We can start by reminding ourselves that we have fought for years against the accusation, that atheists are mercenary, self-interested, killjoys, who want the rest of the world to be as miserable as we are. You and I, and others both know this is an absurd claim, but it is slung at us nonetheless. If we do not do something to address the issues (not distance ourselves or try to find a group to pin the blame on) then they will start to stick.

          The A+ strategy of distancing themselves from the issues by simply trying to eject all dissent is doomed. Eventually they will end up with a mere handful of fanatics and end up marginalising themselves even further. What we can do while they are digging the grave of A+ is welcome back those who have lost patience with them or been given their marching orders. We don’t shun people. We all make mistakes sometimes but we learn and move on, shunning and referring to them as A+drop outs (as I saw suggested somewhere, can’t remember where just now) is not fair. They have shown they are capable of changing their minds based on new information and, last time I checked, we generally encourage that. We just need to keep discussion civil, free and open, with no topics off limits, with an emphasis on the fact that ‘dissent’ won’t get them’ kicked out’.

          We also need to call out bullying and groupthink when and where we see it. Bullying is not a simple disagreement, bullying is where you get chased around the internet by the same people who are out to shut critics up by making their lives miserable. We’re bound to come up against idiots at some point, but does that justify sinking to the level of trolls and cyber bullies? I think not. We’re not here to get a rise out of people, or go out of our way to provoke an emotional response, and we base our claims on evidence rather than juvenile, petty cliques and point-scoring against each other. We cannot control the actions of others but we can certainly watch our own conduct and hold ourselves to our own standards.

          Kind regards,

          Anna Johnstone.

          (Sent from my iPad)


        • They will not even entertain the notion that the dissent was not motivated by “Guys, don’t do that”.

          Bingo. Because that’s the root of their narrative. When Abbie Smith of ERV started up her epic threads on the issue, it was in response to what Watson had pulled on Stef McGraw.

          But, if you accept that, then you have to accept that maybe, just maybe, Watson did in fact pull a “dick move”. Maybe you might not see it that way, but you kind of have to see where other people might. That kind of crapped all over their narrative, and so PZ et al made sure to dismiss the actual, stated objections to Watson’s actions, (indeed, he *praised her* for her excoriation of Stef, which in his world was okay, because no bad words were used) and say it was all about Watson not wanting to be hit on.

          It got worse from there, and the sad thing is, other than the edge case trolls, even the people who don’t like watson said, in essences:

          “She certainly has the right to feel whatever she wishes about the incident. But we don’t have to *agree* with her.”

          But the FTB Fainting Couch 6, now 5, aka FC5, had to push their DISAGREEMENT IS MISOGYNY narrative, and so, we stumble into the current silliness.



        • choreboyscreen says:

          They don’t seem to get how US-centric they are. This is betrayed by the US high-school insults (eg “douchebag” whatever that means),US academic feminism & use of words like “cis”.( I always thought cis x = cos x + isin x = e^ix).
          I suppose because the left in the US died sometime around WW2, they don’t have the recent experience that many Euros have of all the splittist left wing parties that hated each other more than their opposition, like people coming to blows over whether they’re Marxist-Leninist or Leninist-Marxist. It just makes you a laughing stock, hence the Life of Brian references that many have mentioned. Notice though that A+ aren’t socialist or really left-wing,any resemblance is purely coincidence. That’s probably because they’d have to cope with all those awkward working class types then, who haven’t had their advantages.


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