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Sep 10 2012

Bridges and barricades

Atheists are a pretty diverse group, and maybe absolute unity lies somewhere between unrealistic and undesirable. We have enough in common, though, that it makes sense for us to form a united coalition, and that means being willing to build bridges instead of barricades.

In that light, consider the following hypothetical post and comments:

POST: It would be foolish to try and build a social movement based on antisocial behaviors.

COMMENT #1: Oh, so you think everyone who disagrees with you is stupid. Great.

COMMENT #2: I think that’s an oversimplification. Antisocial behavior is annoying, but we need everyone’s support to succeed.

Everyone is entitled to express their opinion, but comment 1 isn’t actually an opinion. It’s an attack on the original poster, and a barrier to dialog—reading it tells you nothing about the original poster’s actual position on the issue is, nor does it inform you as to the commenter’s position, other than to express a certain vague hostility. This is the kind of approach that creates divisions and animosity within a movement.

Comment 2 also disagrees, but instead of erecting barriers, it builds a bridge—it expresses both the commenter’s position and the reasonings which led to that position. There’s enough information here that the commenter and the poster can have a dialog about whether tolerating antisocial behaviors actually does increase the amount of support. Maybe one has misunderstood the other, maybe further dialog will shed enough light on the topic that they can come to an agreement on at least a subset of the issues that divide them. But at least they’re being open, and the coalition as a whole can benefit.

Comment 1 was probably more satisfying to write, in a vent-your-spleen sort of way. But we should stop and think before posting. Is this sort of thing going to produce results that will make my life better? I think more often than not, the answer will be “no.”

6 comments

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  1. 1
    mikespeir

    Well, the POST does seem to be poisoning the well a wee bit. It’s not hard to understand why someone might throw back a rejoinder–however unjustified–like COMMENT #1.

  2. 2
    EllenBeth Wachs

    This is the behavior that spawned The Atheist Empathy Campaign. We are trying to educate the atheist community that empathy builds bridges to friendships and ridicule merely feeds flame wars. Having a productive conversation rather than a cagefight on the internet is certainly more likely to lead to solutions to our common issues.

  3. 3
    Artor

    Comment #2 comes across to me as tone-trolling. Sure, there’s more to be said on the subject, but I don’t think it’s oversimplification to say that building a social movement based on antisocial behavior is foolish. It’s nearly axiomatic! And while we could use all the help we can get, buddying up with the barbarians who want to tear everything down isn’t going to get us anywhere.

    1. 3.1
      nicholasmatzke

      It’s going to be tough to build bridges if every attempt at bridge-building and expressing a desire for civility is accused of tone-trolling in kneejerk fashion. Which is what I’ve often observed on New Atheist-type blogs. (And, here, even an imaginary comment draws the accusation!)

      1. Artor

        So…how exactly would you go about integrating anti-social behavior into your fledgling social movement? When you want to include respect for the rights of everyone, but the MRA’s and racist assholes complain that they’re being left out, do you just say, hey, we need their support too? You end up losing alot of decent people and the assholes end up running the show.

  4. 4
    rutty

    Building bridges and having meaningful discussions with ideological opponents is bloody difficult & I don’t think a lot of the “tone” of these discussions encourages that – hence the tone trolling perhaps.

    It’s impossible to keep up with all the posts on FTB but has anyone considered IALC (Interpersonal Action Learning Cycle) for this purpose? It’s a bit “wishful thinking” on the most part but it does bring to the fore the ways bridges could be built

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