Yet here I find myself at the precipice of one of the largest pieces of drama to hit the Youtube atheist community since "Wafergate". That too I commented on, yet I tried to remove myself from the personal side of the drama and focus on the intellectual side of who was in the right. That will mostly remain my objective here, however the situation may cause me to take a step further and dip my toes in the proverbial waters of drama.
Why, you ask? If there is anything that all sides of "Dramagate" can tentatively agree on, it is that there is too much drama, so why would one of the few members of the community who routinely avoids drama cross the line over to the poor man's Broadway?
The answer is simple: Dramagate isn't really about who did what, but instead it concerns itself with the direction of the atheist community itself. There is no more important topic in a community than that, and thus this requires a deeper investigation, and a wider perspective than most commentators have given it credit.
It also concerns individuals that I (still) have a high level of respect for, most prominently that of DarkMatter2525 who remains at the center of the event. For those of you who have been patient enough to read up until this point without knowing what "Dramagate" is, you will be less than pleased to know that the aforementioned DarkMatter, along with a few co-conspirators such as BionicDance, generated false rumors than DarkMatter had done something reprehensible in the eyes of a few people. Many a vague video was made alluding to these rumors, which lead me to an early conclusion (along with many others) that the drama was indeed fake.
Once it was admitted to be fake, it was revealed that the purpose behind this ruse was to illustrate our level of addiction is to drama, to point out how views went up when people talked about it in comparison to the more intellectually driven material on the same channels. AtheismTV compared the lackluster views of my interview with James Randi with the views of an interview with the far more controversial Thunderf00t as further evidence of this problem.
The criticisms of this move were passionate and filled with conviction at the inherent problems within Dramagate, though to my knowledge only fell into two categories. Some found the entire exercise pointless, they claimed with great accuracy that it was obvious to any observer that the community was largely drama focused and therefore the effort expose it as such was unnecessary. Analogies to water being wet or simple references to the word "duh" could be heard from many mouths and read from many screens. Others were more hurt, feeling this attempt to deceive, regardless of its success, breached a form of trust.
It is my humble opinion that both of these criticisms fail.
It is true, little imaginative muscle is required to view Youtube as drenched and entrenched in drama. It is also true that proving that fact was unnecessary. The issue arises from detractors of this event having unintentionally glossed over one important detail: more than merely 'illustrating" the problem, the perpetrators of this particular farce attempted to do something about the problem. One could possibly accuse the attempt of a level of ineptitude, but that hardly comprises the main thrust of the argument being made, if it is even present at all. This is not a criticism of all those who have not made an attempt at bettering the situation. It is perfectly reasonable to chalk drama up to human nature and therefore not something that can be solved. However to declare the obviousness of the problem, while participating in its proliferation, leaves one without room to rebuke those who honestly seek to combat it, regardless of their effectiveness.
As for those left feeling hurt or betrayed, who claim they were lied to and deceived, I believe a brief lesson in history is in order. As strange as it is to say it, even Youtube now contains a level of history that helps us understand our own situation all the better. It was years ago when DasAmericanAtheist and AHughman08 decided to play a little April Fool's joke on their subscribers. They pretended that each had stolen the others' channels. At first they played it as a joke, which then turned more serious as they began deleting (or privating in real life) each others' better works, and eventually claiming the channel they stole for their own.
It was not a largely successful endeavor. Despite my intervention and attempt to lend credence to their story, the fact that it happened on April Fool's Day made few people buy the story as legitimate. The difference between this event and Dramagate is that the former was done as a joke, and the latter to benefit the community. The other difference is that the the fomer lacked any serious backlash. Individuals seemed amused at the attempt, but little anger came from it to my knowledge. If we are to have outrage, it should at least strive for consistency. If we can forgive a joke, we can forgive Dramagate. There is nothing immoral in deception if it be both temporary and intended for good, as was the case here.
Now that I've exposed myself as shill for DarkMatter and his co-conspirators, hopelessly biased in their favor and unable to admit any wrong-doing on their part, let me begin my own criticism of their work. I do not disagree with their actions insomuch that I found their execution to be lacking, and largely responsible for the backlash that occurred.
For example, AtheismTV confesses that the overly vague set-up was intentional, and that those that recognized it as fake drama should be lauded. While exhibiting a healthy dose of skepticism is justifiably an important and advantageous trait in the atheist community, it has little to do with the prevalence and overpowering presence of drama. By allowing the ruse to be largely detectable, it shifted focus from the actual issue of drama to whether or not this instance was real, creating a legitimate instance of drama that distracted from the fake drama and thus weakening the overall case. The discussion of the legitimacy of a claim is integral to our community, and thus not something you can criticize one for getting involved in like you could for the personal life of DarkMatter.
By intending for some people to see through the facade, the creators of Dramagate forced themselves, unknowingly of course, into a no-win situation. There were three possibilities as far as reaction to the event. Either it was ignored as drama, focused on as drama, or it was understood to be a sham. Those that ignored the drama as it did not concern them are still to be congratulated, but other than providing a metaphorical pat on the back this group gains no benefit from Dramagate as they were not the intended targets. Now among the ranks of those that saw the hoax for what it was, perhaps there exist a portion of the intended targets. Perhaps though they may have passed the test of skepticism with flying colors, they would have failed the drama test had the story been legitimate. Sadly, we can never know from this experiment who these individuals are, and without evidence they can boldly assert the contrary and we have no recourse to disagree with them. Their beliefs in their resistance to drama strengthens, regardless of the reality they live.
Surely though, you argue, between those members taken in by the deception they will see the light and perhaps even benefit enough to not feed the fires of drama within the community, or at least feed it with less fervor. Perhaps some, but unlikely many. Most certainly the list is scant compared to one in which the majority fell for the deception. With the safety of numbers, with a common experience among a large group, there is no shame attached. Compare the experience of being the only one naked in crowded room with one in which all are naked and of the same body type. The former elicits feelings of embarrassment and shame, while the latter allows for contemplation of the shared experience. How does that compare to our current state of affairs? In a community which prides itself on intellect and skepticism, we now have a group that has failed tests for both, in a very public way. Rather than encourage awareness of how they react to and proliferate drama, we instead encourage an intense session of social self-preservation. Rather than look at how to change, efforts to explain away their now public failings abound, excuses rain down from sky, and ways to shift the metaphorical mountain of shame onto a proper scapegoat for all to witness are processed and implemented. Here the scapegoat can only be those who started it all, those individuals who dare lie to us and violate our trust. What gives them the right to police the community and declare there's too much drama? They're acting like the gods of atheism with their high and might message about how we're all wrong. I was concerned about DarkMatter for nothing. Pay no attention to my reaction behind the curtain! These reactions are as understandable as they are human. It is part of our human psychology to do these things, do not think of what I say in regards to those that fell for it a criticism. We've all fallen for tricks before, and we all rationalize and divert attention when we do.
I think Dramagate was a mistake, but a mistake blown out of proportion. One that at most deserves an eyeroll and at least deserves forgiveness for any negative repercussions. We all make mistakes, and to stay upset at this one goes above and beyond. We are better than this, and even if this was something to be taken more seriously than I advocate, clearly it must be tempered with the significant contribution that DarkMatter has made to the community. Let's learn from this and get past it. Unless of course, we'd rather dramatize it further.