At CSICon last weekend, I introduced myself to Ron Lindsay. It had been almost a year since we’d talked on the radio, and if we met at Women in Secularism, it was only in passing.
I thanked Ron for what he’s done to professionalize these movements as the head of CFI, CSI, and CSH. I have some sense of what he inherited from Paul Kurtz. He’s worked through the growing pains of both atheism/secularism and skepticism. He’s done a good job. He’s surrounded by amazing people in his organizations. I thought he should know it’s visible from the outside.
In reply, Ron noted that he doesn’t read everything I write and doesn’t agree with me on everything he reads. However, what he does read is well-reasoned, and that’s important.
It was one of the better compliments I’ve had in a while. More than that, though, it made me want to sit down with him and hash out our differences. I wanted to know which of our disagreements are matters of priorities and constituencies and which are substantive.
We didn’t do that. There was a conference to be run and tweeted and enjoyed. But I definitely found it tempting.
One of the great ironies of my current blogging life is that there are a couple of groups of people who sit around endlessly vomiting up the assertion that I don’t want or can’t handle disagreement when what I enjoy more than anything are opponents who can challenge me. I want people who can engage with my ideas, find holes in my thinking, present me with information I haven’t already considered.
Instead, this is the sort of thing that happens.
- Somebody who disagrees with me comes along, drops a link to a post roughly addressing a position of mine, and tells me he awaits my response. I respond, pointing out that his post is both making a ridiculous assertion and making a ridiculous assertion that is very self-serving. What does he do with my response? Does he comment on it to acknowledge any of my points? Does he write another post telling my what I got wrong?
No, he just drops a link to my post into a forum of people who engage in vigorous insults as though they had any bearing on my post. End of discussion. Let’s all pretend that didn’t happen since it didn’t go as planned.
- I write a post about the commonalities between being raped and being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term to point out that calling rape babies an act of God is a particular sort of cruelty. I specifically list those commonalities. Somebody who disagrees with me comes along. Does she tell me why those commonalities aren’t valid? Does she say why they only happen in one case but not the other? Does she acknowledge at all that I’ve listed specifics?
No, she just says she’s been through both and they’re nothing alike. She tells me never to talk about the subject again. Then she goes and complains about what a horrible person I am on Twitter.
- I write a post arguing for sexual harassment policies at conferences and conventions to address problems that many women have had in the secular and skeptical movements and that they say limits their willingness to participate in these movements. A few people come along who disagree with me. Do they provide evidence that harassment policies don’t work? Do they make an argument that the goal of getting rid of a barrier to women’s participation is a bad goal?
No, one of them just calls the model code of conduct offered “Talibanesque“. He doesn’t specify what particular part is objectionable. He doesn’t draw any parallels between anti-harassment policies and a movement that restricts the freedom of women to fully participate in their society.
No, one of them calls me “Femistasi” for my efforts. She doesn’t specify how rules about nonconsensual sexual interactions are bad when rules about things like interrupting speakers are fairly normal. She doesn’t make any argument for how giving people a procedure to report being harassed makes one like a government agency that spied on people in their own homes.
No, one of them claims that women aren’t staying away because of harassment but because women falsely talked about having been harassed. He lies about having had harassment reported to him. He gets rid of his conference’s policy and replaces it with a secret procedure to put women who report problems under surveillance. He doesn’t explain how that’s supposed to make any woman feel more welcome.
No, one of them claims I’m trying to ruin a convention. He doesn’t say why this convention in particular would be ruined by a sexual harassment policy when other conventions have happily adopted them. He just says I should blow him.
- I write a post challenging people to make an argument for Dawkins’ “zero bad” comment that doesn’t involve leaving out parts of the story. A whole bunch of people come along who disagree with me. Do they take up the challenge and explain to me the error of my ways? Do they explain why everything that happened is good, or at least neutral?
You’re kidding me, right?
Really, by this point, I shouldn’t even have to ask. You can read the comments for yourself. You can understand that this is when the slimepit really turned its attention to me. They did nothing like make an argument. They did nothing like trying to understand what I had to say so they could even know where we agreed or disagreed.
They still haven’t. It isn’t the point. As far as I can tell, the point is to combine a massive obfuscation campaign with a steady stream of ad hominems.
This? This form of trying to stop what I’m doing without ever giving any good reason or even challenging the reasons I give? It gets very dull very quickly. I like good arguments. I don’t get them nearly often enough.
I need better opponents.