Damion Reinhardt has decided that he would, sort of, accept my terms for having a discussion of our differences (although he talks about “ceasefire terms”). He has some conditions of his own, however. I thought they were worth dealing with at a detailed level, so you’ll find both his post and my reactions below.
Adam Lee isn’t the only one laying down terms, we also have this much shorter set of conditions from Stephanie Zvan:
What are my terms? Any participant from that “side” renounces the slime pit.
I inadvertently sprayed out some of my beer upon reading this, because it sounded so reminiscent of the Catholic christening ceremony, in which participants are asked to “renounce Satan and all of his works” in order to validate themselves in the eyes of the Sancta Mater Ecclesia. The longstanding narrative within the Pit is that they are continually vilified as Satanic for propagandistic reasons, as noted here:
Concoct a vile and powerful Satan looking to destroy your group, and the members will not only unite under you, but become even more ready to eat your bullshit, and even more hostile towards any outside influence. It’s the perfect tool for any demagogue to solidify their power and influence.
The fact that the word “renounce” rings religious bells for Damion doesn’t actually mean that any call to renounce something is religious or anything like religious in nature. “Renounce” simply means “to give up, refuse, or resign usually by formal declaration” or “to refuse to follow, obey, or recognize any further”. Both meanings are at play here.
Damion frequents the pit. He gets benefits from it in terms of people to spread his message without him doing it personally and of participants in his drive to “test” the Center for Inquiry by sending Justin Vacula to the Women in Secularism 2 conference. He’s being asked to give that up. He also benefits the pit by lending it what reputation he has as a “reasonable” party in these matters. When his comments appear next to the ugliness, he legitimizes that ugliness, particularly when he turns a blind eye to the behavior. He is also being asked to stop doing that.
My use of the word here is entirely unreligious, and the introduction of religion is a non-argument, a mere emotional appeal.
It’s all so Lemony Snicket, isn’t it? I don’t know about Damion, but I talk about the pit as the pit as the squalid thing it is, not some big, scary monster. Slime doesn’t usually get capital letters.
The original slime pit thread kicked off on July 1st, 2011, and I first joined in four days later in the second of six threads. The whole collection of ERV threads criticizing PZ et. al. was first christened as the “pit o’slime” by one of the commenters on the original Butterflies and Wheels website a few weeks later, about one week prior to the auspicious launch of Freethought Blogs. This makes for the bizarre situation in which the loyal opposition coalesced somewhat prior to announcement of the new ruling party.
There’s a funny thing about the term “loyal opposition”. It means that those so described recognize the right to rule of the people so opposed. First, nobody at FtB has asked for the right to rule anything (except those of us who have leadership positions in various organizations, and that’s really a matter of service and representation, not ruling). Second, there’s a not-insubstantial segment of the pit that thinks we should be drummed entirely out of the movement, removed from any public stages, and shouted over whenever we say anything (or are mentioned) in spaces we don’t control. That’s not a loyal opposition.
For that matter, abuse is not opposition, not in any reasonable sense of the word. It’s intimidation, intended to stop participation. For example, Justin Vacula has gone as far as to tell people who don’t like it to “get out of the kitchen”.
Additionally, this is ahistorical. Those threads were created to castigate Rebecca Watson. She doesn’t blog at FtB. She never has. PZ became part of the target when he “betrayed” Abbie by disagreeing with her.
The opinion leaders over at Freethought Blogs did not relish the idea of having any sort of dedicated opposition, so they began a campaign to have the slime pit threads taken down, which consisted primarily of harassing Abbie Smith by contacting her employers and blog hosts. This campaign culminated in the equivalent of a massive digital book-burning, as all six threads (16.6 megabytes from countless diverse contributors) were taken down from the web, and Greg Laden received an ovation from the Skepchick crowd for having lighted the pyre.
Greg and I are now apparently opinion leaders at FtB. Who knew.
It’s a funny (I may use that word a lot here) thing to suggest that vocal atheists who come together as part of a freethought network are shy about the idea of having “dedicated opposition”. It may be a little telling that Ed’s and PZ’s dedicated opposition are people like Vox Day and Kent Hovind, while mine and Greta’s and Ophelia’s are other atheists and skeptics, but what can you do aside from continue to point that out. The very point of this network is to have a place of shared strength from which to address that constant opposition.
Damion and friends don’t seem to like it when I point out that the strategy of posting crap about us when we get mentioned or the practice of demanding that I listen and respond to people is harassment, but he’s apparently okay labeling an email from Greg to Abbie’s supervisor–regarding this commentary that suggests they talk to Abbie before she faces the career consequences he talks about just a couple of comments later–as harassment. As far as I know any “campaign” to have the pit threads removed from ScienceBlogs consisted of Greg pointing out to his bosses(and I use the term loosely) there that the threads violate their terms of service and me writing one letter to the same effect after pointing out that these threads were being used to defame and stalk me, including the posting of the name of my employer, information only available through election contribution records. (For the record, no one at the pit has objected to the dropping of that piece of information.)
It was at this point that I finally realized what we are up against as freethinkers. These are not opponents who hope merely to persuade us to conscientiously avoid threatening language or personal attacks (as we surely should) or who hope merely to tamp down disagreement and dissent. These are people who actively applaud the wholesale elimination of entire threads from shared digital spaces, because those threads contain some objectionable material interlarded within reams upon reams of dissent. They are, in a word, fundamentalists, looking for an excuse to suppress anyone who dares speak out against the received wisdom.
Ah, fundamentalism. I’ll assume Damion is going for the definition of “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles” while inviting the emotional response appropriate to the religious definition. The only fundamental he mentions, however, are avoiding threatening language and personal attacks. If that were true, that would make us dull and unthreatening fundamentalists indeed.
I’ve already covered the high terror that is persuading National Geographic to stop paying Abbie Smith for hosting such things as my employment information, musings about slipping something into PZ’s pocket at a conference, or jollying around about turning Rebecca Watson upside down and using her as a planter. Damion has decided, however, that he has some secret, inside information about why that isn’t the real reason (as though it weren’t enough of one) to have those threads removed from ScienceBlogs. It’s because we want to suppress dissent.
So…Franc Hoggle/Victor Ivanoff has a blog or three. Justin Vacula has a blog. Damion has a blog. Russell Blackford and Miranda Celeste Hale, who posted at the old pit, have blogs. There are blogs dedicated specifically to hating Rebecca and friends. Ed Clint built a fake blog network to “disagree” and “dissent”. Then he helped create (at our suggestion) a whole new blog network that seems to exist largely as a forum to talk about how much the bloggers dissent from FtB and Skepchick. A bunch of the other people who posted at the pit have blogs and Twitter handles and podcasts and pseudonyms to make themselves look like multitudes. They don’t need the pit for that. I pointed that out two days ago.
Moving the pit off ScienceBlogs changes nothing about whether it exists. It does what I said then. It “cut[s] cut off all social support for that inexcusable behavior.” Or it would, if people like Damion used the spaces they already have for that “dissent” instead of continuing to post their names right alongside the abuse. Ever so fundamentalist, I know.
Naturally, high hopes for total suppression are bound to be let down in the digital age. Not only did Scented Nectar create an archive of the old threads, but a level-headed fellow called Lsuoma created a replacement forum which had steadily gained in membership and popularity as those driven out of the Freethought Blogs and Atheism Plus threads have sought out a please to voice their opinions without getting hit with the one-two punch of dog-pile followed by moderation. It is that new forum which has taken on the mantle of a vile and powerful Satan which must be renounced.
Oh, Satan. That first fall wasn’t enough for you? You had to mar the grand with the petty? Stomping in the muck just doesn’t have the same poetry as being ejected from Heaven, you know.
Yes, I’m mocking the hyperbole again.
Let’s just note that the same blogs in which the dissenters can dissent have commenting functions.
Enough history, back to the question at hand. Shall I renounce the SlymePit for the chance to have a sit down with Zvan herself? I have to admit that it’s just a bit tempting. I’m not particularly partisan about where I post, and I’d be completely content to move on to another forum. That said, I require clarification on what exactly a fully qualifying renouncement must entail. Do I have to honestly believe that the SlymePit should be completely shut down, as Greg and Stephanie appear to believe? Must I enthusiastically applaud when the bytes are consigned to the bit-bucket?
If so, it’s a no-go.
I will happily renounce every comment designed to mock individuals for their appearance or sexuality instead of their bad ideas. I’ll renounce personal attacks in general as both needlessly hurtful and generally ineffective. I’ll go beyond renunciation to condemn outright anything that resembles fantasy violence or threats. However, I cannot honestly say that the Pit should cease to be. It plays host to many insightful diatribes, many effective (relatively impersonal) satires, and countless honest conversations in which skepticism is allowed truly free range over subjects such as feminism and gender relations.
Earlier Damion seemed to think renunciation was some sort of religious thing. Now it means “denounce”. Could this entire post have been avoided with a dictionary?
Renounce. It means give up. Walk away from. Don’t go back. That’s not hard.
So here is my counter-offer to Stephanie: Renounce any and all attempts to hinder free speech and free thought.
Given that I’m not a governmental unit, nor am I lobbying on any non-religious issue having to do with the First Amendment, I have nothing to renounce regarding free speech. Does Damion want me to campaign to outlaw terms of service or apologize for asking that they be enforced? No that’s not going to happen. Nor, as I’ve argued repeatedly in this post, does that put anyone’s free speech at risk. It doesn’t, as he just said himself, even cut down in any substantial way on his opportunities to exercise that free speech.
I haven’t got a clue what he means by hindering “free thought”. If he thinks I’ve tried to be the thought police, he can explain just how I thought I’d go about that. If he’s talking about offenses against “freethought”, he’s a year or more behind the argument. “Freethought” is “thought unrestrained by deference to authority, tradition, or established belief, especially in matters of religion.” It is, in fact, the opposite of arguing for the status quo, which is the entire point of “equity feminism”. So Damion’s going to have to explain what he means here.
Publicly apologize for supporting Laden in his digital book-burning campaign against Slime Pit 1.0 and declare that the Slyme Pit should be allowed to exist in its current form, under its current rules.
Yawn. Yeah, again, no “digital book-burning” happened. That’s transparent hyperbole. You don’t get to point out that nothing was lost, then claim that I tried to make things disappear because…I don’t know. Because I’m such a naif in matters of the internet, I guess?
Also, nowhere have I even come close to saying the slyme pit shouldn’t be “allowed” to exist. It has every right to exist, and I have every right to choose not to give the people who support it my time, attention, or platform.
Renounce your efforts to prevent known ‘Pitters and others falsely accused of misogyny from obtaining positions of responsibility and leadership in the movement.
Well, here we get into ahistorical territory again. I’ve “made efforts” (and was successful) in exactly one case, that of Justin Vacula. You can see that I made no accusations of misogyny in that petition. I spoke to his actions, actions that condoned and encouraged harassment, including but not limited to the harassment that comes from the pit.
I note that Damion doesn’t make an argument for why I should do anything but exactly what I did. It’s apparently an arbitrary demand. Either that, or Damion thinks that leadership is a right rather than something to be earned.
Do all that, Stephanie, and I’ll gladly leave the Pit and come to the table. Having done so, of course, I would not be representative of anyone but myself. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you have any questions.
I think the only question I have left after all that is, “Do you know how hard I’m going to laugh the next time someone accuses me of ‘redefining words’ to suit my purposes?”
Damion’s whole post is an exercise in slapping on emotionally evocative labels that don’t fit the situation. I tend to think that if I’d done anything for which renunciation were inappropriate, it wouldn’t be difficult to state the case plainly and simply–and accurately. After all, that’s what I did. I let the pit the pit speak for itself.
The only honest and accurate bit of Damion’s post is the part where he says he could give up the pit. It’s the most interesting too, since it raises the question of why he doesn’t. Sadly, he seems to want to try to put the responsibility for that decision on me. I’m not going to take it.