• Anti-Drama Pledge

    Lee Moore of A-News recently offered to sit down with the two warring sides of the atheist infighting in an attempt to mediate the dispute. He continues to push for this and that’s great. Now Dan Fincke of The Camels With Hammers adds his own attempt to end the infighting by issuing a “Civility Pledge.”

    Fincke’s pledge is rather lengthy and I admit that I just skimmed it. First I want to applaud both Lee and Dan for their well-intentioned attempts to end the infighting. I do have a few minor issues with Dan’s pledge however.

    The first is that I reject the idea of a “safe space” from criticism. As a skeptic, I don’t believe there should be any safe space from criticism. I don’t think religion should be above criticism nor do I think any other topic should be above criticism. So I cannot respect safe space. If someone says something stupid, then I will criticize it.

    That brings me to the second criticism which may or may not even apply. The pledge talks about not calling people names like, “stupid” or “retarded” and I completely agree with that. I have written articles stressing that atheists shouldn’t call religious believers stupid and I have argued with atheists who are very close to me about this very topic. However, I don’t have a problem calling ideas and beliefs stupid and retarded.

    This is where Dan’s pledge is a little unclear despite his wordiness. Using words to insult people is not okay with me, but using words to insult ideas and beliefs is perfectly fine. This also applies to other words too. Calling someone a fuck, a cunt, a bitch, a dickhead, a prick, etc. is not cool, but using those terms in other contexts may be permissible depending on those contexts. I don’t believe any words are necessarily off limits. Context really is everything.

    While this wasn’t talked about in the pledge, I think it is important to the conversation. Some people want to restrict what has been called “rape jokes.” I don’t think that is okay. I think some humor revolves around serious topics and that jokes about rape are fine and funny in the right context. Jokes that make fun of rape victims are not cool and are generally not funny either. Daniel Tosh for example isn’t a very funny comedian, so it doesn’t surprise me that his rape joke wasn’t funny. But some people deal with pain and grief through humor and I don’t have a problem with that.

    My third and final criticism of the civility pledge is that it is a pledge. I always found that pledges are pretty useless. Those who sign them usually do so because it doesn’t apply to them and when it does apply to them, they can’t really be held accountable anyway. Pledges just seem so Grover Norquist to me.

    With that said, I am going to issue a pledge. It is an anti-drama pledge. It isn’t for the bloggers necessarily. People can blog about whatever they like. This pledge is for blog readers (which often times include bloggers). Basically, my pledge is this:

    Don’t read blog posts dealing with the atheist infighting drama or posts which attempt to create new drama!

    No fine print. Just stop reading this crap. If people stop reading about the infighting, bloggers will stop writing about it. Don’t contribute to this madness; just stop! You don’t have to sign anything or tell anyone. You can if you like, but I’m not going to hold you accountable for it. I just don’t have the time.

    If you want to end the infighting, then don’t fuel that fire. It really is that simple. Bloggers should be free to write about whatever they want and be as civil or uncivil as they like, but if people stop reading it, they will either stop writing it or they will be the only ones reading it. Supply and demand — if there is no demand, the supply will disappear.

    Why are you still reading this post? Go! Read some other post that deal with some other topic. Thanks you.

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    Category: Atheist Infighting

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

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    27 comments

      1. A safe space from drama, yes but not from criticism. If you don’t think my anti-drama pledge is good, please criticize it. If you want to write about drama, have at it. But I won’t read it and I am hoping others won’t either. But they may. If the drama you want to write about is more compelling, then people will ignore me and read it anyway. When you think about it, I’m not even advocating a safe space from drama. I’m just pointing out that I’m not interested in reading about drama and telling others who aren’t interested in drama to stop reading it if they want it to end.

        1. The essence of a safe space is that certain kinds of content are absent or even disallowed. An atheist safe space, for example, is one where theists don’t get involved evangelising or posting or maybe even reading. A drama-free safe space would be one in which people refrain from carrying on old grudges, name-calling, and generally propagating mass-hysterical butthurt.

          Personally, I’d be happy to participate in either sort of space described above, and I’ve done so often enough in the past. Don’t think that’s going to happen again anytime soon, not until people learn to criticise each other’s ideas without going after their character.

          1. I guess I disagree with your definition of what a safe space is. It seems to be more than a mere absence of certain thoughts and ideas, but rather a place where certain thoughts and ideas are restricted and as you pointed out disallowed. .

            1. I’m a member of a few atheist-only secret groups, which are safe spaces for atheists to hang out and talk about all sorts of stuff without having to constantly do counter-apologetics, argue against believers, or worry about the tender feelings of people of faith. The only real restriction of ideas is at the point of entry, but it’s a major filter. I love having that sort of safe space for my local atheist group, as well as the other local groups in the state, and I haven’t seen any persuasive argument that we should open those up to theistic participants.

              Now I suppose you aren’t really trying to carve out a drama-free zone here if you don’t mind having threads derailed towards drama, e.g. a post about evo-psych devolves into thread about personalities on each side.

            2. Like I said before, you have the right to do whatever you like, but I don’t think it is a good model for skeptical thinking to create safe spaces. If you had previously had hoards of Christians attending your meeting with the intention of disruption, then I can understand the restriction, but my local groups are open to the public and very rarely do any religious believers show up. When they do, it become obvious very quickly and it hasn’t been a problem. Their beliefs are criticized and they realize that they aren’t in Kansas any more. They are not in a “safe space” and the lack of evidence for their beliefs exposes those beliefs for what they are. Some actually de-convert (but not on the spot of course).

              One example is when I saw one guy come to a Freethought Society lecture on evolution. He sat in the back taking notes and asked very hostile questions in support of creationism. His questions were answered and after the lecture, a crowd of atheists came over to him and offered to answer any more questions he might have. About 6 months later I saw him again at another lecture and he was mentioned that he recently de-converted.

              Did a believer ever come to one of your meeting and did you ever have to kick out someone because you found out that they believed in deities? I don’t think you should do that. Our ideas are better than that. If someone is disruptive, that is different, but just because someone believes in something ridiculous doesn’t mean we should prevent them from learning about reality.

              On this forum, I try to give everyone a fair shake. I don’t hold comments for moderation, but I will delete comments if they break my pretty liberal comment policy. People can bring their drama here if that is what they want to do (as long as it doesn’t violate my policy), but I’m probably not going to entertain the drama. With that said, feel free to disagree with my opinions, criticize my opinions, etc. I don’t believe in a safe space from criticism.

            3. “Did a believer ever come to one of your meeting and did you ever have to kick out someone because you found out that they believed in deities?”

              No, but I wasn’t talking about real-world events, but rather online spaces. Our lectures are open to the public, we’ve had theists come to some of our meetups (usually with a spouse or relative) and never yet had a problem. Our private Facebook group is only open to atheists, however, and pretty much everyone prefers it that way. I would agree that this is not “good model for skeptical thinking” about the question of whether theism is true, but that is not a primary goal for that particular forum. The Oklahoma Atheists is primarily concerned with building up a community of unbelief, but we are actively involved with a separate group dedicated primarily to skepticism: http://www.caleblack.com/ucoskeptics/index.html

              “I don’t believe in a safe space from criticism.”

              Nor do I, at least not when it comes to running my blog. However, if an atheist group wants to shield its members from a constant barrage of religious apologia by making their group private or invitation only, I don’t see any problem with that. Not everyone needs to be doing skepticism or philosophy of religion all of the time.

            4. Sheesh, must be boring, only hanging around with people whose only point in common is not believing in gods. I’d much rather spend my time with people I actually share things in common with, whether they have imaginary beliefs or not.

            5. Actually, it turns out that most of the atheist groups I go to tend to be filled with people who share a lot of my interests. Most atheists are geeks who are interested in politics and progressive causes. Some of the groups I go to feature great speakers who talk about a variety of subjects from science and philosophy, to politics and journalism.

            6. It’s just the opposite of boring. We can argue about all sorts of political or ethical questions without anyone citing to divine authority or holy write to give us preapproved solutions from millennia ago.

              Boring would be to hang about with only Marxists, or only Objectivists, or only center-left liberal secularists. As it is, we have quite the diverse group.

      2. Also, I have no co-authors. I am responsible for all the content on DangerousTalk. I am not responsible for anything on any other blog in the network. Right now drama sells. That is why there is drama. But if people stop buying, then it won’t sell and people will stop writing about it. That is the whole point of this post.

    1. Personally, I disagree entirely with the whole idea of “safe spaces”. If you don’t want to be criticized for your beliefs, go hide in a closet. If you decide to put your beliefs out there, expect them to be questioned and challenged. There should never be a place where a belief, *ANY* belief, is totally safe from rational and critical evaluation.

      As for your second part, that was my one and only New Year’s Resolution, to leap off the drama train. I stopped following anyone on Twitter who primarily talked about the drama, I stopped reading blogs that focused on the drama and I ditched a couple of podcasts that spent far too much time reporting on the drama. And you know something? It’s been a wonderful 2 months so far!

    2. The call to stop reading posts intended to stir the proverbial pot is a sound one. Considering that so much of this drama is about pageviews and revenue, the evaporation of hits would do much to stem the nonsense.

      However, the most vitriolic and prolific name-callers and well-poisoners are the ones with the biggest stake in blog hits and speaking gigs, and controversy always creates cash. These people will take the longest to ratchet down the rhetoric and attacks- and sadly they are the same ones who are causing the most damage.

      I love that this conversation is even beginning to happen, though I still think the community is wrecked beyond repair.

      1. No matter how much the people at FtB claim it isn’t about money, it’s funny that the second that the pot starts to stop boiling, one of the most vocal people at FtB will say something idiotic to bring the page hits back up.

        I seem to remember that when Thunderf00t was thrown off FtB, PZ Myers had to hand out about $3000 in unpaid ad revenue funds for Thunderf00t’s time there. Don’t tell me they’re not doing it for the money, I’ll believe that the day they take all the ad revenue off their site and are still doing this.

    3. You misunderstand the idea of a safe space. I’ll limit this to online safe spaces since that’s mostly what’s relevant to Dan’s piece.

      Online, a safe space is a forum in which, yes, questioning certain ideas is not allowed. For example, there are safe spaces for rape survivors online where certain arguments and topics are not permitted because the people participating in that space find them triggering or simply want to be somewhere where they don’t have to deal with answering those arguments.

      There are safe spaces online for trans* people, where Human Sexuality 101 and Gender 101 questions are not allowed, where people arguing that trans* people aren’t real aren’t allowed, where statements like “trans* women are just men who’ve cut their penises off” or “so if someone says they’re a muskrat are you going to believe them” are deleted.

      These spaces serve a very important purpose for the psychological well-being of the people using them. Moreover, they have every right to say “in our space, these things are not allowed.” Why would you deny them that?

      1. Actually, I think that is exactly how I defined safe space. As a place where certain topics and criticisms are forbidden. I don’t believe any place should be safe space from criticism. I support a free speech and free thought ideology. While I agree with you that they people have the right to restrict, moderate, and censor as they see fit, I don’t believe they should exercise that right. In the interest of the free market place of ideas, I believe all ideas should be open to criticism. If their is someone in a particular forum who is abusive, then other people in the forum should take it upon themselves to criticize that person and those who are “triggered” should learn to ignore such people. This is particularly the case within the skeptical community.

        I understand your desire for a safe space in a professional situation, but not within the greater community of reason. If for example a psychologist wants to create a particular forum for his or her patients, that is one thing, but a forum for freethinkers which restricts the freedom of thought seems silly to me. A forum for skeptics which restrict skepticism, seems silly to me as well. This is what I object to.

        Christians also like to claim a safe space and I don’t approve of that either. Many Christians are angry that atheists criticize there beliefs at all and since atheism dominates the internets, many Christians like to claim any space they can to be a safe space. To me this is just a way to avoid criticism for bad ideas.

        1. In the interest of the free market place of ideas, I believe all ideas should be open to criticism.

          There’s a difference between all ideas being open to criticism and all ideas being open to criticism in all places and at all times

          A forum for skeptics which restrict skepticism, seems silly to me as well. This is what I object to.

          Then what you object to is skeptic-oriented safe spaces, not safe spaces in general?

          Look: there’s a couple extremely obvious and practical reasons to ban certain discussions in certain spaces. Here’s an example: sure, all ideas should be open to criticism and debate, but most math-forums and blogs online have at this point banned debate and discussion of Cantor’s set theory and things like .999…. = 1 because if we didn’t then we’d never be able to get anything else done. There are places reserved for debunking crank ideas about these and educating people, but most serious math places have declared them off-limits. A similar example: I like talking about gender with trans* people. We don’t want to have to justify the distinction between gender and sex in every freaking discussion in every freaking place. So in a lot of places we simply say, “this is not the place to question the claim that gender is culturally constructed. Here we assume this, and discuss higher-level ideas.” If we didn’t, literally every damn discussion would be rehashing the same basic ideas over and over.

          Yes, it should be possible to question every idea, but not in every space. Even without getting into aspects of safe spaces in terms of protecting marginalized voices, I feel like it is fairly clear that in some cases it is necessary to ban certain topics of discussion.

          1. I think I covered that in this paragraph:
            I understand your desire for a safe space in a professional situation,
            but not within the greater community of reason. If for example a
            psychologist wants to create a particular forum for his or her patients,
            that is one thing, but a forum for freethinkers which restricts the
            freedom of thought seems silly to me. A forum for skeptics which
            restrict skepticism, seems silly to me as well. This is what I object
            to.

            Also, there is the context of this post which is specifically talking about the atheist infighting and the civility pledge created by Dan to address it.

          2. I guess, oddly enough, I agree with Aleph Squared in the reasonableness of banning certain discussions for the sake of having productive exchanges rather than being frequently derailed by the same old canards.

            If I’m wanting to learn something from a conversation on gender and sexuality, I don’t want to have to keep rehashing the overwhelming evidence that gender is only partly socially constructed, and cannot be understood very well at all without reference to proximate biological causes like hormones and brain morphology, or to ancestral selection pressures. I’d like to have conversations about all of the major questions within the scientifically supported framework, rather than having to keep facedesking at social constructivists resorting to the Naturalistic Fallacy, or invoking an anecdote as “rebuttal” to statistical evidence, etc, etc.

            So, no, I don’t want them to stop banning me, just so we can keep on shouting to one another in frustration. No, what I would like is for them to move from their religious dogmatism toward scientific rationality.

    4. I can’t speak for anyone else, and it certainly appears that I’m in the minority even for my “side”.

      But for me, the problem has very little to do with drama or with personal animosity.

      I fully agreed with Watson about Elevator Guy, though “Dear Muslima” was a completely unprofessional slip from someone of Dawkins’ standing. I also strongly believe that atheism has very clear ties to some currently active political positions, though not all, and that it’s inevitable that an atheist movement will also be a socially liberal movement in some important ways.

      My problem is with the non-empirical, quasi-religious dogmas of “second wave” feminism and related intellectual movements of the anti-liberal left, and especially with the anti-skeptical, almost Orwellian techniques of intimidation and exclusion that have been, and continue to be, involved in their propagation.

    5. I can’t speak for anyone else, and it certainly appears that I’m in the minority even for my “side”.

      But for me, the problem has very little to do with drama or with personal animosity.

      I fully agreed with Watson about Elevator Guy, thought “Dear Muslima” was a completely unprofessional slip from someone of Dawkins’ standing. I also strongly believe that atheism has very clear ties to some currently active political positions, though not all, and that it’s inevitable that an atheist movement will also be a socially liberal movement in some important ways.

      My problem is with the non-empirical, quasi-religious dogmas of “second wave” feminism and related intellectual movements of the anti-liberal left, and especially with the anti-skeptical, almost Orwellian techniques of intimidation and exclusion that have been, and continue to be, involved in their propagation.

      1. Hm, so when I delete in order to fix a typo, it double-posts, keeping the first copy as an anonymous Guest. I’m guessing that’s a deliberate setting to avoid people taking back what they’ve posted, and not just a flaw of the software?

    6. As long as the infighting affects our community, it strikes me as “newsworthy” in some respect. I have little need to dwell on it, but I will likely address it periodically if there are new developments or I have something new to say about it.

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