The modern social justice warrior (SJW) movement acts in many way like a cult. This article will examine and provide examples of cultish behavior from two groups that exhibit cultish behaviors. Keep in mind that I’m not saying advocacy for social justice is inherently cultish or that everyone who advocates these issue behaves in a cultish manner. This article will primarily deal with two loose groups which fit some of the criteria. The two groups examined are the FTB/Skepchick affiliated SJWs and the anti-gamergate cabal.
I’m going to use information from the International Cultic Studies Association and their checklist of characteristics associated with cultic groups. As the list itself states, this list is not meant to determine if a specific group IS a cult, it’s just an analytic tool.
For each checklist item, I’m going to give my (subjective) rating for each group as to how closely the group seems to embody that particular item. I will provide links to supporting evidence for these rankings where applicable. Not all checklist items will apply, but at the end of this post we’ll see how many do and to what degree.
The first checklist item:
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
FTB: The “leaders” of this group could be considered to be PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson. There are of course other people who lead the rank and file, but these two seem to be the ones who “move the needle” the most. While they aren’t deified in exactly the way the list item specifies, these people are unquestioningly defended from any and all allegations of bad behavior. (rank vs this checklist item=50%)
Example 1 – PZ Myers: A recent dissociation from PZ by the group Atheist Ireland (AI) has been defended by several people incluing a “frozen” version of one (that attempts a tu quoque defense) here.
Example 2 – Rebecca Watson: In her own tu quoque defense of PZ against AI, Ms Watson uses some rather defamatory language and assertions against Hemant Mehta following his reporting of the event on his own blog. Ron Lindsey then calls Ms Watson out on her defamatory and untrue claims about Hemant. Enter Stephanie Zvan in the comments section (comments #8 and #16 in particular but please read the entire comment section, it’s hilarious) arguing an obvious straw man by “inverting” Hement’s words (using words he didn’t say as weaponized rhetoric.)
Anti-Gamergate (AGG): The “leaders of the AGG group are less of a tight knit cabal as FTB, but still manage to defend Anita Sarkesian and Randi Harper from any criticism. (rank= 60%)
Anita – This individual has had so many criticisms of her work and subsequent defenses of it by the group that it’s hard to pick one to demonstrate. You can start here.
Harper – She created and runs the GGautoblocker Twitter group blocking app. Some criticism of the app has been levied and true to form she’s been defended with a red herring.
Item 2 :
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
FTBs – This is a common criticism by people who once frequented the site (or various authors at the site) who came to be shunned by the bloggers there for mere disagreement. (rank=100%)
Example: EllenBeth Wachs, a former attorney and former member of Secular Women, was an ally of the FTB/Skepchick cabal until she decided to disagree on a very minor point. One can find dozens of similar anecdotes from other former “allies”.
AGG – These folks will turn on allies in a heartbeat for deviation from the groupthink. (rank=100%)
Examples: Claire Schumann and their own Brianna Wu (harshly criticized for merely meeting with an “enemy”)
Item 3 (Not applicable)
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel…
FTBs & AGG – See above examples of punishment (ranking=80%)
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members…
FTB & AGG – Both groups follow a doctrine known as Standpoint Theory. The belief that only women ( or the “oppressed” group have the true vision of societal structure. This is a tenet of modern feminism which both groups align with. (ranking=70%)
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
FTB – In the very beginnig of the FTB push for Atheism Plus, a “third wave of atheism” Richard Carrier published an article using those exact words “us vs them”. He later apologized for those words (after much criticism) but even later went on to fully support the sentiment behind them (rather nullifying his apology IMO) (rank=100%)
AGG – I can’t find any direct references to the phrase, but looking at the treatment of Brianna Wu for merely having coffee and a discussion with the enemy (above), looks like a match to the behavior if not the actual words. (rank=75%)
Item 7:(not applicable)
The leader is not accountable to any authorities
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group
FTB & AGG – I’m going to (for simplicity sake) just look at one nearly universally reviled behavior – doxing. Whenever doxing is done to the in-group it’s a travesty and harassment. Whenever it’s done to the outgroup, well…
Example 1 – FTB: Stephanie Zvan pens a rather lengthy defense of doxing ( which she euphemistically calls “unmasking” – a Poe reference, ironically) using several logical fallacies (left for the reader as an exercise) (rank=95%)
Example 2 AGG: There have been members of each “side” that have reported doxing, so AGG’s score will be lower than FTB’s. Here is an article which you might find interesting on the topic, however.(rank=50%)
Since I’ve reached 1,000 words in this post, I’m going to split it into two parts with part 2 to be released sometime next week. So far we have some correlation in behaviors between cults and both FTBs and the AGGs.