A couple of weeks ago, I was praising Mick Nugent for pushing Justin Vacula to get detailed on what Vacula considers to be unacceptable treatment even for people he disagrees with. Sadly, Vacula stopped responding the day I complimented Nugent on getting specific, except for plugging his new podcast:
and telling Nugent to keep doing what he’s doing even though Vacula has stopped participating:
Why does Vacula want to see this continue even though he doesn’t find it worth participating in? Well, I’m just guessing here, but that guess is that, like pretty much any discussion that has happened at a third-party blog in at least the last nine months, the folks from the slime pit have viewed this as an opportunity to go after the reputations of “the baboons”; i.e., a shifting group of people who are arguing for practices to make organized skepticism and secularism more generally inviting to women.
Nugent doesn’t see what he’s doing quite that way.
Thank you to everyone who has, either publicly or privately, welcomed the dialogue taking place here and elsewhere on how to move beyond the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities.
Dialogue is an important part of improving any situation where people disagree, particularly when dealing with groups composed of individuals with different motivations, and it becomes even more important the more intense the disagreements are. Without reasonable dialogue, these issues will continue to escalate.
These issues go beyond disagreements between individual people, and they go beyond the personal priorities of any one of us. There is now a complex interacting set of issues that continue to effect the wider atheist and skeptic communities in real life, including the day-to-day work of advocacy groups.
I agree that this is a problem that has far-reaching implications, and I certainly agree that this is not some personality clash or personal issue between a few people. I disagree, however, that Nugent is fostering is a dialog, much less providing the platform for reasonable dialog that he desires to create. What he largely has on his hands is a monologue, in which a number of people have pulled out every grievance they have, based in fact or not, and the people talked about have stayed away, having tired of this game months ago.
Nugent was told a couple of weeks ago that he was providing a prestigious platform for this kind of slander. His response has been to put the burden of proof on the accused.
In particular, we shouldn’t accuse each other of lying. From now on, any comments that include the words lie, lying or liar will go into moderation rather than being automatically published. If you believe that somebody has said something that is inaccurate, please make that point and substantiate it, without attributing malign motivations to them. If you believe that any comments published on this website are defamatory about you, please contact me via the contact page and I will deal with it.
He’s pointed out that he has deleted some comments. To the best of my knowledge, however, no one has lost their commenting privileges for demonstrated defamation. Certainly, no one is being told that any grievance they air at his blog has to be substantiated before being published. In other words, if you’re one of the people being slandered, you’d best spend your time reading those comment threads and digging up proof of your innocence. If you don’t, the slander will simply stand at yet one more blog. (I’ve told him I won’t be taking up the whack-a-mole challenge, so if defaming me is your thing, you know where to go.)
I will give Nugent the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t think that one through. Coercing participation with the threat of abiding slander is certainly not an ethical idea, and I believe he would be above that if he realized that this were the effect of his policy.
That presents a problem for dialog, however. Nugent can’t compel us to “come to the table” with bullies. He can’t, without their help, tell us there is anything to be gained by talking to people whose idea of disagreement is to:
- Blame us for having been sexually assaulted.
- Treat us as fictional characters for their hate-slash fiction.
- Delight in our friends’ illness.
- Engage in fat and age shaming.
- Continue to lie about us after having been corrected.
- Tell us they’ll keep harassing us until we shut up.
There is nothing he can do to convince us that this time, as opposed to the other times these folks didn’t want to hear what we had to say on our own blogs, things will be better because it happens in his space.
Besides that, we know this isn’t how you treat people who are being bullied. In case you haven’t seen QualiaSoup’s excellent video that cuts to the chase on workplace bullying:
You don’t tell the people who are bullied that they have some responsibility for patching things up with the bullies. If you’re going to take some responsibility for the situation, you also take on the responsibility of protecting the bullied. That’s a step Nugent isn’t taking here, probably because his experience in negotiating difficult situations is with groups where there is no clear “side” that is the aggressor.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is no clear aggressor here, despite one side demanding that they be allowed unfettered access to the other’s space and discussions no matter their behavior. Let’s say that it isn’t obvious that this isn’t an expression of disagreement:
There are still allegations–public, unmistakable, repeated, strong allegations–of bullying.
Can you have a reasonable dialog where bullying may occur? Can you have reasonable dialog where one party has been bullied by the other and may be at any time? No, you can’t, because there are unreasonable factors at work. Intimidation and other emotional manipulation are an impediment to reason.
Can you even have reasonable dialog where one party says they’re being bullied and the other party denies it? How could you? How can reason be applied to something that isn’t grounded in fact? (All right. Technically you could apply reason in that situation, but it may well be wasted. This is why empiricism is generally considered more reliable than rationalism.)
So if you want to host a reasonable dialog in an area where bullying may be occurring, you take on extra obligations. You can’t just tell the world you want reasonable dialog. You can’t just describe what it would look like. You have to make it happen. You have to keep that dialog on task, committed to the truth, away from emotional manipulation.
If you want a reasonable dialog in a situation like this one, you can’t be a passive observer. You have to be an active participant. You have to be a real moderator. You have to tell people to do better if they want to continue to participate. You have to reward reason and raise the costs of unreason. You have to get at reality.
If you don’t do that, you just see the same thing you’ve already seen in those unmoderated spaces that you weren’t so thrilled with to start. Your space becomes the same as that space. You stop having a reasonable dialog because you stop having dialog at all. The people who aren’t willing to spend any more time on unreason go elsewhere, and you’re left holding the bag.
I understand the need that Nugent sees here for that platform for reasonable dialog. I sympathize with it. I just don’t see him doing the things that need to happen for his space to become that platform.
Update: This is much better and more what I’ve come to expect from Nugent.