Steve Shives is Nickelback
We need to talk about Steve shives. Now if you’re reading this there are really only three distinct possible reactions to when I say that. 1. You have no idea who Steve Shives is. 2 You know steve’s stuff and you know EXACTLY what this blog is going to be about or 3. You know who Steve is and you hate him and everything he represents and this third group makes up a tremendous amount of the online atheist movement. Because for online atheism hating Steve shives is like hating nickelback.
Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer…and now…Nickelback. This blog has had me defend some weird people but here we go.
You…dont actually hate Nickelback. Ok, maybe you DO hate Nickelback but when someone says “I hate nickelback” what they mean is they hate the way 90’s music commercialized rock country grunge, they hate how the boy band model and the cult of personality took over music, how nobody unnatractive seems to have picked up a guitar since 1992, they hate low income pandering by multi millionaires who don’t write their own songs, in fact the only thing they mean when they say “I hate nickleback” is “I have listened to Nickelback’s music and I don’t like it.” and along the same lines when someone says they hate Steve Shives they mean they hate the perceived corruption of the feminist movement, they stand for free speech, mens rights, they hate social justice, they don’t like being blocked on twitter, the only the they dont mean is, “I’ve heard what Steve has to say and I disagree.”
So let me catch up those of you in the first group. Steve Shives is an atheist youtuber who gained popularity on his channel for his excellent “An Atheist Reads…” series. Using his education in English Lit Steve broke down several popular books on christian apologetics by everyone from William Lane Craig to Ray Comfort. He had a series called “5 stupid things” that broke down conspiracies and pseudoscience and was generally a higher quality version of the “white guy yelling into a webcam” that made up early youtube atheism.
And then…everyone turned on him. If you Youtube Steve you’ll find dozens and dozens of take down videos. He’s been doxxed, threatened, mocked, ousted from the youtube atheist community, and remains a target of inconceivable harassment and ridicule today but to understand why one needs to examine the history of new atheism as it relates to the internet.
See in 2001 the world, the united states especially, got asked the world’s easiest multiple choice question. As the twin towers fell we were all asked “Is this religion thing REALLY worth it?” and for the first time in popular public media a lot of us answered….NO. Not to insult the older more vocal atheists in my audience but atheism felt well philisophical. Atheists were professors and authors not movie stars. They were Bertrand Russel not Bernie Sanders.
And this sudden unity gave rise to a movement that really hadn’t existed before, otherwise obscure figures and authors like Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens became best selling authors overnight. The other things they thought and believed weren’t really relevant at the time because the message they were sending is one the world needed to hear. That religion…had to go.
And for about 10 years. That was all we needed. Religion and its defenders were the enemy. It’s idealogues and proponents were the subject of our blogs, vlogs, and debates. But the problem with a question as easily answered as the question of god is that it quickly runs out of arguments. Out of content. And if you wanna sell books, get click, downloads, and stay relevant you NEED content.
So the community shifted for two major reasons. The first is that a community that’s largely young, white, male and anonymous is going to have a lot of crossover with another young, white, male, and anonymous community…assholes and secondly those other ideas that those leaders had that didn’t matter because what they had to say about atheism was so right started to get noticed and some of them…we’re really wrong. And nowhere was this more obvious than on Youtube.
Look there will be a blog about the problems with the four horsement and when I write it, I’ll write it carefully and throughoughly but say what you will the hosemen had a barrier to entry. They we’re writers, debaters, well spoken, intelligent. For youtube you just honestly needed to be…on youtube.
And so slowly but surely the movement shifted. Channels that used to be about counter apologetics started talking about Anita Sarkeesian…exclusively. And now if you look across the landscape of youtube atheism you would be hard pressed to FIND a current video about faith that isn’t sandwiched between a dozen more about feminism…except…for steve.
At the breaking point of this divide Elevatorgate (an event worth its own blog) while the community firmly chose the side of anti-feminism and it’s leadership, Steve (and a few others who would also go on to be targets and pariahs) chose the another direction. And again what happened exactly and who it happened to is worth its own blog (in fact I suspect this blog is the seed for an eventual book) but Steve was the only youtuber and like Nickelback it’s what Steve represents rather than what he is that people grew to hate.
So what does Steve represent? What do his critics criticize him for the most? For this we need a bit more of the story of what happened to Steve and why.
See not ALL of the movement drifted to antifeminism, the problem with brilliant authors like the four horsemen is that the movement grew exponentially and as it grew so did many of its leaders. Popular figures like David Silverman, Matt Dillahunty, Seth Andrews who did and still do great work in atheism recognized and that the movement was becoming about humanism than the God question and with that, much to the horror of many, came intersectionality with social justice and Steve represented that for youtube atheism. While others talked about Gamergate he talked about the abuse, while other made take down videos Steve talk about a new, younger community that was no longer concerned with the problems of our leadership.
He had to go.
From the research I can do (and there is a lot to be done) it’s a video about the Men’s Right’s Movement that begins the harassment against Steve in earnest but these videos are buried, some of the channels that made them are abandoned or banned but it was at this point that two other major atheist youtubers started to attack Steve.
Problem number 2, Steve…is married. Now, I know for those of you who don’t follow these things closely that’s going to sound like a crazy item to bring up but the role women had represented in youtube atheism has been and still is today, almost exclusively as women who didn’t need feminism. Though later secular feminists would come along the women with atheist channels were starkly part of a subsection of youtube dedicated to proving to young men than there were women who agreed with them and Steve’s wife wasn’t that.
She appeared, as far as I know in one video with steve to talk about joss whedon. I’ve watched a mirror of it and I encourage you to do the same because from the reputation both the video and steve’s wife received and still has today you’d expect her views to be extreme when in fact they’re anything but. They sit on a the couch and talk about movies. She scolds him jokingly. He laughs along.
But the reaction was insane. The internet exploded. She was doxxed repeatedly. Thanks largely to a movement on the website 4chan she was sent death threats, rape threats, people tried to get her fired, she was photoshopped into porn and Steve being “cucked” by his wife was the running joke picked up by everyone who disagreed with him a joke that continues today
And this led to the final reason people don’t like steve and the reason that if you ask a random person on twitter today why they don’t like him they’ll give. Steve had had enough. Faced with the abuse towards his wife and himself Steve used a very early block bot (a bot he still uses) and his abusers and everyone who followed them was blocked on twitter. You cannot imagine the extent to which this enraged his detractors. They started a hashtage “blocked by steve shives” and purposefully created multiple accounts to harass him in an attempt to be blocked. To this day if Steve and I tweet back and forth someone will inevitably tweet us both “block me” in an attempt to harass him
And this to me gets to the heart of what steve represents that drives people so crazy, why he became internet atheism’s nickelback. Steve hasn’t said or done anything I haven’t done. I’ve said before, on this blog, that if I ever face the level of harassment that steve does it entirely possible i’ll employ a block bot and stop being willing to have conversations with the people I do. The statements steve has made that are so controversial for them to look the other way at the abuse he recieves or in the worst cases applaud is aren’t any worse than what I’ve said and they’re fathoms better than anything our current president has expressed but the youtube atheists don’t make take down video’s of Trump. They don’t dox republican lawmaker’s friends and family. They do it to Steve because it’s not about what he says, It’s not about the blocking, its about what he says and the blocking represents.
Steve represents the new movement within atheism to stop debating answered questions
But here’s the problem. Atheism, as a movement, as an ideology requires re debating an answered question. A question that’s been answered well and extensively for hundreds of years if not LONGER so to ask a community BASED on that ideology (of asking the same question over and over) to abandon it…is heresy. Beneath the cries of echo chamber and avoiding his critics is the belief among the new atheist movement that they are not just entitled to their opinion but that they are entitled to acknowledgement of their opinion. To engagement. That free speech is not the freedom to speak but the freedom to be heard.
Now I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve told a cursory version of this story. The first draft of this blog was almost 20 pages and I have a feeling that this is a topic I’ll try to explore more in future but rather than get dragged down in the details I want to try to end this blog with a story of hope.
See Steve has been through a lot and about two years ago it really did look to those of us who were watching as though he might shut his channel down, that he might join the legion of other atheists bullied out of the movement for breaking the party line but luckily…that…isn’t what happened.
Humanism continues to grow and with it the ranks of youtube have filled with social justice advocates. People with large platforms like Vlog brothers and Francesca Ramsay over at MTV’s decoded have started to talk about issues like the wage gap and black lives matter. But smaller channels like Contrapoints, HBomberguy, Kat Blaque, and Kristi winters have come to represent A younger generation of secular youtuber viewers coming to the platform looking for leadership and like it or not as a pariah Steve has inherited that role.
Just over a year ago at Reason Rally I met Steve for the first time. I sort of RAN UP on him and looking like me I’m pretty sure he was worried I was going to call him a cuck and try to steal his hat but we had a nice chat and later that night I saw him confronted by someone who looked just like me for ruining the internet. But last week, I was at the Inciting Incidents 100th’ episode and I got to watch him SWARMED by fans. Steve is wary of people. He’ll be horrified by these last two paragraphs, when I asked him permission to write this he answered yes in the way you tell someone they can bring their homemade beer to the potluck because you know they’re going to and they mean well but like it or not Steve is the one who stepped up first and that, despite what his detractors may wish upon him, will be his legacy.
Of doing what was hard…first. And that, I think, will last longer than the takedown videos