There was an interesting (in the Minnesotan sense of “interesting”) thread running on the Women in Secularism hashtag briefly during the conference. According to people who weren’t there to hear Ron Lindsay’s opening speech, criticism of that speech was “biting the hand that feeds” us. Fascinating, isn’t it?
The implications for what those tweeters believe are just a wee bit staggering. First of all, the majority of those complaining about Ron’s remarks were paying customers. A conference like this isn’t something an organization like CFI pays for out of the goodness of its heart. It’s a promotional event.
A conference like this (as opposed to Skepticon) is an event that captures the eyes of the press and eyes and wallets of the public. Attendees pay for tickets. They pay for food and drinks and travel to a nice building and a nice conference staffed by professionals with the help of a few volunteers.
Not all of those costs are paid by attendees. Student tickets are subsidized. Outside organizations and sometimes the hosting organization raise money from donors to pay the admission of some people who can’t afford to attend on their own.
That still doesn’t always cover the whole cost of the conference, but the additional money spent by the organization is generally considered advertising. Holding these events raises the profile and increases the prestige of the organization involved. Even then, from what I can see, Women in Secularism comes far, far closer to paying for itself than most conferences of its sort.
The attendees aren’t being fed. They’re buying a service. They are well within their rights to complain about it.
Of course, many of the speakers complained as well. Were we biting the hand that feeds us? Well, given that most of us worked for travel expenses and a dinner at which donors could pay to eat with us, I’ll say no. I’m out of pocket for this conference. I know other speakers honoraria didn’t cover all their expenses. It certainly didn’t cover the time they could have spent earning money by, say, writing.
The large majority of us gave our time and our audiences’ attention to make this conference a success. We actively managed what was an ugly PR situation at the conference with the cooperation of those ticket-buying audience members. We propped up the morale of (very nearly all of) Lindsay’s employees at the conference. We engaged in a mutual business transaction with CFI and were called on at the last moment to take on additional duties we hadn’t agreed to.
We speakers weren’t fed but bitten. If anyone wants to complain about me complaining about that, I’ve got a very nice hand they can talk to. They’ll find it a bit tough to chew on.
Finally, there’s the ugly little metaphor of all of us being hand-fed. We’re nobody’s pets. We’re not incapable of feeding ourselves. Nobody at this conference was passively consuming what was given to them.
Questions were frequent and challenging and made active contributions to the discussion. One of them I even feel I need to revisit in a blog post because what I said on stage could be taken as an excuse when I meant it to be exactly the opposite.
So not only is the metaphor wrong, but it’s pointlessly (and missing-the-pointingly) insulting to people with a legitimate grievance and the standing to complain. Of course, that’s about what I expect from that crowd of “dissenters”, but it’s worth pointing out just one more time.