• Building Up the Middle Ground

    scorched_earth_largeSupporting civility and moderation isn’t a particularly popular stance in some quarters, and I’ve seen a few people take a bit of heat for doing so. I’ve even seen people who each support civility and moderation get into little online tiffs with one another over the finer details. That said, I remain supportive of everyone who remains committed to an open and civil dialogue, notwithstanding the variations in their respective approaches.  I remain opposed to those who practice the politics of personal destruction, whether by flaming, flame-baiting, defaming, or by slapping bigoted and conclusory labels on perceived adversaries.  I also remain in a constant state of trying to will myself out of the latter category and into the former, which is why I need the sort of friends who will help keep me accountable.

    One of these people, of course, is Ed Clint. His site-wide comment policy here at Skeptic Ink demands a certain level of basic consideration, noting that “no position worth defending requires the sacrifice of either manners or respect for other people” and he will let you know if you’ve crossed the line.

    Another one of the people who helps me keep myself in check is Dan Fincke, as you might well expect. I’ve previously written about how a personal committment to civil discourse seems to me a viable path forward, and I commend him on his willingness to engage directly and politely with those with whom he disagrees, such as this recent discussion with Justin Vacula.

    Another person who has been moving forward in building up a middle ground for freethought is Tim Skellett. If you haven’t see this yet, he is striving to carve out a space where it is acceptable to forcefully but civilly argue about the most sensitive issues, even the ones that sharply divide the community. So far, it’s been a lively place, and though most of the action is going on behind the digital curtains, rather than in the public forum, I expect that will probably shift over time.

    I’m confident these three men have significant differences when we get down to details, since everyone draws moral lines for themselves, but I am strongly encouraged to see that each of them are helping to curate a community of freethought that engages in vigorous discussion while respecting the people involved.



    Category: Secularism

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.
    • Gurdur

      Nice of you to say so. Thanks!

    • Brive1987

      On what basis do you think it’s possible or even desirable to meet in a middle ground?

      My perceptions are that the motivating factors driving the split are immune to resolution via intellectually curious debate.

      Is either side really interested in re examining the base premises to what are essentially their moral / values based world views?

      • I doubt that the differences are generally rooted in ideas so much as personalities, personal histories, and personal allegiances. That said, even the differences turn out to be ideological and deeply rooted in unshakable worldviews, surely there is still hope that at least of the people firmly on each ‘side’ can still discuss things one with another. That is the middle ground, not a set of ideas halfway between two trenches, but rather a meeting place built on a commitment to civility and dialogue.

      • Brive1987

        I suspect it’s a combination of issues.

        Yes there is personal identity and in-group mentality at play with major stakeholders and followers requiring defined ‘enemies’. Shades of grey are problematic.

        Point in question, the DJG TAM blow up this week. I understand Ftb’s frustrations with what can be seen as reactionary skepticism retarding progressive subsets. I am also concerned with some of DJG’s past tactics and concepts. However the rubbish applied to him this week on the basis of a TAM marketing blurb together with the misuse and continued leverage of his non-public emails suggests civility and dialogue are not high on the agenda. It felt like a case of the horde dog piling … because that’s what you do to the enemy.

        Similarly Ron’s WiS drama has not suggested to me that “your side” is interested in understanding that the ‘opposition’ may have legitimacy, per their worldview, to feel angry and betrayed at their convention by what was thought to be an ideological ally (he was putting on the event after all). No they are just wrong and shrill.

        But there are also really different philosophies at play too. My working thesis is there’s a split between some form of consequentialism and virtue ethics which can’t be bridged. Case in point – our discussions on the whole WBC thing.

        Each belief system is equally appalling and alien to the other.

        Then on top of all this there’s social media where every howl is screencapped, reposted, and block-quoted for eternity, then removed from context, shared and relentlessly commented on. It makes for an impossible situation. How do you reverse that?

        There is not much motivation or desire for cross group open dialog. More to the point I wonder if that’s really what the SallyStrange and Blueharmonies really want now – or has the game moved on?

        BTW I took the time to listen to you on the Angry Atheist this week.

      • My working thesis is there’s a split between some form of consequentialism and virtue ethics which can’t be bridged.

        It’s not often in this rift business that I come across a striking new hypothesis. I’m going to chew on this one awhile.

        It makes for an impossible situation. How do you reverse that?

        By talking to each other calmly, with a deliberate mindfulness of the difference between making an argument and winding someone up. Like you’ve been doing, like I’ve been trying to do.

        There is not much motivation or desire for cross group open dialog.

        Yeah, I’ve noticed that. We need more social justice or virtue ethics types at the Hub.

        More to the point I wonder if that’s really what the SallyStrange and Blueharmonies really want now…

        People who have been personally attacked from the ‘other side’ are going to be much less willing to engage across the aisle. Luckily for me, I’ve been attacked most vigorously by my own side.

        I took the time to listen to you on the Angry Atheist this week.

        What did you think?

      • Brive1987

        It was good to “put a human” to the name.

        It appears most American outspoken atheists come from devout backgrounds.

        I completely agree you do not have to be a skeptic to be an atheist. But I think it’s hard to be an informed atheist without the skeptical toolsets.

        A better question, not brought up, would be “what are the meaning of life implications of being an atheist”. From my perspective an atheist who wants something positive and unselfish out of existence needs to celebrate those qualities that make us human. And on the reverse we need to reject attitudes that belittle the importance of being human. Hence I believe “moral atheism” requires a commitment to social justice. I guess this is my very own brand of A+.

        I’m not sure about your complaint re skepticism and third wave feminism. You need to be careful when you are dispassionate about something that has such a strong emotional resonance to those impacted. Same deal as for instance, with PTSD type incidents. In addition while patriarchy has measurable outcomes (salary disparities, representation, testable stereotypes etc) the term itself is an abstract social model / explanation / descriptor for negative ingrained social norms. Not a discrete testable “thing” in itself.

        That said I do agree that in general civil conversations are the the only way to maintain intellectual rigour. While I am closer to Ftb in most SJ values, I find the comments section hostile to contrary views. It’s not so much that it is an echo chamber. It’s more that many of the regulars have moved beyond re-evaluation of ideas. They genuinely don’t want and don’t feel the need for criticism. Generally I will post there only when I feel particularly aggrieved with a default line. Needless to say its usually doesn’t end well 🙂

        I find the Slymepit poorly structured as a site and don’t have any time for mindless bagging of Ftb. They are part of the overall dumbing down of the social media debate.

        So overall an interesting interview. And finally, the Angry Atheist didn’t seem particularly ……. Angry.