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Posted by on Feb 3, 2013 in Atheism Plus, Secularism | 17 comments

Ceasefire Terms (Part 1)

Last July, I changed the background on my phone to remind me to stop being such a dick online, in honour of Wil Wheaton. I know, I know, it hasn’t quite worked yet, which is why I’m still using that background. Humanism is a journey, and all that.

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Speaking of rude behaviour online, I was heartened to hear my friend Justin Vacula call for us to seriously consider Lee Moore’s call for a ceasefire between the two sides of the Deep Rifts this past week. That is, I was heartened until the responses from the ‘other side’ came rolling in. This post is about one of those responses.

Adam Lee offered some helpful “Guys, don’t do that” sort of advice last Thursday. I intend to take his advice, or most of it, but not without a few reservations.

Don’t make threats of rape or other violence.

Don’t remember ever doing that, so it should be easy enough to quit. We can all agree that threats of violence (especially specific threats to torture and maim the enemies of social justice) have no place in our community.

Don’t use sexist slurs like “bitch” or “cunt” to describe anyone, but especially not women.

Haven’t done that, either, though I’ve been occasionally accused of doing so.

By the way, Adam, where do you stand on nonsense slurs like tittybollocks?

Don’t imply that a person’s appearance, weight or sexual desirability has any bearing on the validity of her opinions.

Done.

Don’t ogle people, touch them without permission, or trespass on their personal space.

Got it.

Don’t act as if you’re entitled to other people’s time or attention.

Wait, are we giving up public speaking now?

Don’t contact a person in any way if she’s asked you to stop.

That’s fine, provided that we can all agree that it would be utterly ridiculous to take public potshots at someone and then attempt to deny them a right of reply.

Don’t defend or associate with people who do any of these things.

Now that’s a deal-breaker, Adam. Just because someone (let’s call him ‘Greg’) has made a couple threats of violence and used sexist language doesn’t mean that his friends aren’t allowed to defend him as a person or hang out with him anymore. That sort of freethought-policing is a bridge too far. We should only be held responsible for our friends actions to the extent that we personally enable or reward their bad behaviour.

When women object to treatment that makes them feel uncomfortable, unequal or unwelcome, listen to them and take them seriously.

I agree with this on its face, but by focusing exclusively upon women, you seem to be implying that men are either unworthy of moral concern or else are dispositionally incapable of being made to “feel uncomfortable, unequal or unwelcome.” Surely, though, that’s not what you meant, because that would be inexcusably sexist, rooted in the stereotype of male emotional strength and female emotional weakness.

Don’t get defensive if they criticize your behavior in particular.

Do you really mean to say men shouldn’t defend themselves against women when they feel they’ve been unfairly criticised or unjustly accused? Seems to me that anyone, of any gender, should be able to speak up for themselves when they are critiqued or accused by anyone else. That’s called equality, in case you need a word for it.

Don’t minimize their concerns, tell them they’re imagining things, or argue that you know better than they do what does or doesn’t constitute sexism.

In the wake of Monopod Man’s public pillorying for allegedly taking photos that no one actually saw him taking, we’re not allowed to consider the possibility that some people just might be misremembering or misinterpreting events? Wow. What’s your take on the admissibility of spectral evidence?

Don’t call them whiners, attention whores, or professional victims.

Not even if they are getting paid to tell and retell the tale of their victimhood? Ok, fine, I’ll just give you this one.

Show your support for reasonable anti-harassment policies and free childcare at atheist conventions.

Done.

Encourage the organizers of skeptics’ conferences to make a conscious effort to invite speakers of all races and genders.

Done.

Attend talks that address issues beyond just the traditional skeptical issues of religion and pseudoscience, talks that apply skepticism to entrenched power differences in society that disproportionately harm women and minorities.

How exactly does one apply skepticism to something which is not a badly evidenced factual claim but rather an unfortunate state of real world affairs? Skepticism would indeed be useful for debunking the specific claims used to prop up powerful groups, such as the ridiculous notion that women are particularly emotionally delicate and require special protection from brave men like yourself.

Encourage secular organizations to seek out people of all races and genders to serve on their boards.

Couldn’t agree more.

Don’t accept a secular movement with a lopsided majority of white men as normal, unremarkable, or unchangeable.

Agreed! Would you be willing to give up your slot at Patheos to make room for someone less privileged?

In return, we’ll stop calling you sexists and misogynists.

So all we have to do is obey your dictates, to the letter, and then you’ll stop smearing people for things they didn’t do and attitudes they do not claim to hold? Well, sign me on up! Where will you be installing the New Atheist confessionals?

Just kidding, of course. There can be no cease-fire with inane terms like these, which presuppose guilt and spread it around by association. Wheaton be damned, it’s time to reload the intellectual artillery carrier, and fire at will!

ETA: In case you are wondering, I still expect civility in the comments.

  • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

    Quite well said, Damion. I found Adam’s terms almost comically uncomprehending of what talk preconditions are (including, rare and brief). It sounds as if he is saying “surrender any appearance of disagreement with anything I believe, then we can talk about our disagreements which shall, by then, not exist”. Big think, indeed.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    Why do the words “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” come to mind? It’s not that I’m accusing anyone of being a terrorist. It’s just, I feel like people who are actually skeptical are being held hostage, with the threat of being labeled a bunch of nasty (and mostly untrue) things, just because they are being skeptical and don’t agree with a group that has built up a large cult-like following.

    • http://www.www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      The exercise is instructive in showing who is willing to listen, and who is not.

  • RebeccaBradley

    So it appears he’s saying, “I’ll talk when you stop beating your wife.” Oh well, kudos to Justin for trying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Moore/629246358 Lee Moore

    A quick correction. Justinisnt behind the cease fire. While Justin has agreed to be a part of the talks to bring about a cease fire he was not behind it.

    • RebeccaBradley

      Oh, right. Sorry, Lee, I was misremembering. Kudos to you!

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Sorry about that, Lee. Credit where due. Fixed in the OP.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Moore/629246358 Lee Moore

      No worries. Also thank you all for your support in my proposed peace project. I am about to release an update on where we are at in this project and would appreciate it if all of you continued to discuss it.

  • DrewHardies

    What are the benefits to a cease-fire? The only problem with the ongoing ‘conflict’ is that responding to criticism drains time and resources that could be better spent on the actual business of skepticism.

    And, if the only thing being offered is, “Give in to our current set of demands and we *swear* we’ll stop trying to harm pro-skepticism campaigns,” it seems like there’s no reason to negotiate.

    First, the promise isn’t credible. If people discover that they can use threats to co-opt other people’s resources, there’s no reason to think that they won’t invent new demands in a couple months.

    Second, it seems like it’d be much easier to end the conflict by letting the unhappy people block and ban their way into a self-imposed exile.

    In general, I’ve found there’s very little value in listening to people whose comments amount to, “We need to do X. And, I’ll complain until *someone* does it. But it’s not worth *my* time to organize and fund-raise for the project. Some less-important person needs to take the lead.”

  • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

    So, I guess they’ll stop associating with Tim Minchin since he actually calls a woman who got her eyes better a “middle class white bitch”.

    BTW, what cease-fire? As long as I’m concerned, there’s no one firing on our side! There are trolls, there’s us, and then there are femtheists! Since they’re the ones firing, why is they’re dictating the cease-fire terms?

    Shouldn’t they just say: “Ok, we’ll stop this crap!” and be done with it?

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I’m willing to unilaterally give up insults and anything that smacks of an attack on someone’s person instead of their ideas. In return, all I ask is an end to the false accusations and the constant refrain that anyone who disagrees is a pathological hater of women and should “die in a fire” as they say.

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

      So… keep doing what we’ve been doing so far. I don’t think they’ll give in.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I don’t expect anyone to give in, but I’d like to see a few partisans at least come to agree on what exactly the substantive disagreements really are. No one is arguing, for example, that women are “fuck toys and eye candy” as PZ would say.

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

      Ok – but I see that starting point as somewhat wrong. There’s no disagreement. There’s people manufacturing controversy and yelling “misogynist”, there’s us, and there are trolls who will take advantage (and give ammo to drama-manufacturers).

      There’s nothing to agree or disagree about.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      A little back in the ‘Pit, there was some brainstorming over resolutions for substantive debate: http://www.slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=58071#p58071

      I’d say that gives us more than enough to seriously disagree about, if only both sides are willing to have a go at it.

  • rg57

    “Don’t use sexist slurs like “bitch” or “cunt” to describe anyone”

    You just did at the top of the post.

  • DaveDodo007

    Agree with our dogma and then we will talk, how about a big cup of fuck you.