[guest post] Thoughts on the Assumption of Good Faith


Mitchell of Research to be Done wrote this post after he and I and some other friends had a great discussion about social justice and giving people the benefit of the doubt, and how to adjust our beliefs and expectations when we’re proven wrong time and time again.

It wasn’t so long ago that Lawrence Krauss defended Jeffrey Epstein in the wake of accusations that Epstein had had sex with underage prostitutes, and I thought, “Well, that’s messed up, but maybe I can see how someone might think some of the things he thought, even while being incredibly mistaken.”

It wasn’t so long ago that DJ Grothe accused female bloggers of making women feel unwelcome or unsafe at TAM, and I thought, “Well, that’s shitty, but he probably just doesn’t understand what it looks like from the other side.”

It wasn’t so long ago that Michael Shermer responded to the criticisms of comments he made about skepticism being “a guy thing” with a piece that included the phrases “witch hunt”, “purging”, and “Nazi party”, and I thought, “Okay, that’s pretty over-the-top, but on the balance of things, he still seems like he’s a generally reasonable person most of the time.”

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to have faith in people, to believe that their intentions are generally good, to believe that they want to do right by the rest of us.

And yet…

And yet in the wake of recent events in the skeptic community, I find some difficult but inescapable realities have come crashing down on me.

While it’s possible that Krauss was simply incredibly mistaken about the situation with Jeffrey Epstein, I am forced to acknowledge that an environment in which such accusations are so easily dismissed is an environment in which it would be easier for someone who frequently engaged in sexual harassment to continue to do so without consequence. While it’s possible that Grothe just didn’t understand where the women who blogged about harassment in the skeptic community were coming from, I am forced to acknowledge that an environment in which the concerns of women are not taken seriously is an environment in which someone who doesn’t respect the women in their workplace is less likely to be called out on it. While it’s possible that Shermer was just having a really bad day when he compared criticisms of his comments to witch hunting and Nazism, I am forced to acknowledge that an environment in which criticisms made by women are routinely gaslighted in this way is one in which women would find it more difficult to criticize problems like sexual harassment.

I want to believe the best of those I have looked up to in the skeptical and scientific community. I want to, but I am finding it more and more difficult. In each of the above examples, my initial instinct was to assume good faith, and later events made me feel naïve for doing so. Later events made it obvious that none of these people just needed someone to sit down and civilly explain things to them.

In watching conversations in the skeptic community over the past few years, nearly every time I have seen someone say something that I thought was harmfully wrong, but said to myself, “They probably just don’t get it.”, later events have suggested that much deeper problems “just not getting it” were at work. It feels like whenever my instinct has been to give someone the benefit of the doubt, it’s later come about that their actions have been consistent with those of someone steering the community in a direction that benefited them at the expense of others*.

I don’t know what to do with this realization. I don’t want to be overly cynical, but I also don’t want to be naïve. I would rather not go through life assuming that every time anyone says anything that reinforces problematic ideas that person is secretly twirling their misogyny mustache and readjusting their monocle of twisted rationalization. At the same time, I want my perceptions to be accurate, and it seems clear that they haven’t been particularly accurate recently.

I put the question to the audience: at what point is the assumption of good faith not deserved? How do you decide when trust is overly naïve or mistrust is overly cynical?

If we err too far on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt, we run the risk of providing leeway and power to people likely to abuse what they’re given, as seems to have been the case in situations like the examples above. I also find that, at least in my case, I am more likely to identify with people whose good faith I assume. That is, if we assume that I’m a thoughtful, well-intentioned person, and that Public Figure X is not, but I think they are, then when I see Public Figure X excoriated for saying shitty things, my reaction is going to be partially, “Jesus, these social justice people might one day get all angry at me for just misunderstanding something, too!”. If, however, I don’t assume that similarity, I am less likely to see the legitimate complaints against Public Figure X’s actions as unfair or ridiculous, because I won’t be able to as easily imagine myself saying those same things while honestly misunderstanding. It it seems to follow from that that if we assume good faith, we might, correspondingly, assume that the shit storms that we see are more unreasonable than they actually are.

On the other hand, if we err too far on the side of assuming the worst, then, well, we are unfairly assuming the worst.

In the grand scheme of things, maybe there is no good answer. Maybe the only actionable solution is to continue calling out bad behavior, and to not apologize for calling it out, and to pay attention when it starts to look like a pattern. I know one thing I have gotten out of recent events is that I’m going to be enormously more wary of the suggestion that people would come around if only we would engage more civilly**. That ship has sailed. Too many important problems, both with people and organizations, have been identified by skeptics who were unwilling to compromise on calling out bad behavior.

But I genuinely am curious: what say you, skeptics? Are there any decent rules of thumb for separating good faith from bad faith? When do you assume honest ignorance and when do you assume willful blindness? Are there any decent rules of thumb for how to engage (or not engage) if the truth is uncertain?

Or, in short: what is there to be learned from all this?

~~~

*I want to be clear at this point: I do not, in any of the above situations, think that any of these people ever consciously thought, “What I really want is a community steeped in harassment and misogyny.”. I simply think that they are capable of rationalizing behavior that has that effect when it benefits them, even when it has a detrimental impact on the community.

**I also can’t help but notice a certain massive irony in all of the calls for civil discussion over the last couple of years in light of the fact that all three of the people I use as examples in this post are operating on a civility level which we might fancifully term “Lawsuit”.

Mitchell Greenbaum is a geeky, poly, kinky, skeptic blogger who writes about social justice, relationships, depression, and chronic pain at Research to be Done, and engages in a wholly excessive amount of… auto-metacognition? Or does it make more sense as meta-auto-cognition? He isn’t really sure, but playing with prefixes is fun and writing bios is hard. True story.

Comments

  1. R Johnston says

    I think that at some point it pays to come to the realization that good faith is often an irrelevancy. Even when people act badly in good faith they’re still acting badly, and being people their reaction to being called out for bad behavior is more likely than not going to be defensive doubling down. Good faith doesn’t stop rape and harassment apologia from causing harm.

    The best you can do is call out bad behavior when you see it; explain for the sake of bystanders exactly how and why the behavior is bad without concern for the feelings of the perpetrator; don’t pull your punches or mince words because that only serves to treat the misbehavior as something within the range of acceptable behavior, undercutting your message that something is seriously wrong with the exhibited behavior; and if behavior changes in a sustained fashion after you’ve leveled your appropriately harsh criticisms be willing to accept that the change of behavior is in good faith and kindly encourage it to continue without beating up the perpetrator about the past. You have to expect people to be people and to refuse to acknowledge that their behavior is unacceptable, but you also have to be willing to let people pleasantly surprise you.

    • says

      I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I think for me the question has the most impact on how I engage and how I would think about involving the person in future projects. That is, if I think someone is genuinely trying to understand but doesn’t, I am more likely to spend more time trying to carefully explain things to them. If they are genuinely trying to understand, then I don’t think of that as wasted time. If, however, I don’t think that, then I am less likely to take the same amount of care to explain, and more likely to be focusing my explanations on our shared audience, rather than the person themselves.

      In a similar vein, if I think someone just genuinely misunderstood this one thing, I am less likely to assume they will make similar problematic mistakes on other things, and correspondingly less likely to decide I don’t want them participating in other conversations or projects.

      That’s how I tend to frame it when I’m thinking about people in the midst of these discussions, anyway. Your way of thinking about/approaching it might be functionally more sensible than mine.

  2. kittehserf says

    I don’t want to be overly cynical, but I also don’t want to be naïve. I would rather not go through life assuming that every time anyone says anything that reinforces problematic ideas that person is secretly twirling their misogyny mustache and readjusting their monocle of twisted rationalization.

    They don’t need to be doing a deliberate, conscious misogyny-villain thing. They could be as dismissive of the idea that they’re misogynists as they are of criticism from women, of women’s concerns, and of the idea of their own privileges – white, heterosexual, male, and educated. They’re so wrapped up in that and the sense of entitlement that goes with it that they don’t need to be actively saying they don’t like women. I doubt they even think about whether their community is steeped in misogyny and harassment and rape. If they do, the rapists-who-shall-remain-nameless are obviously happy with the status quo. They’re benefitting from it, keeping women out of the tree-house and punishing those who dare venture inside. Just because these men are sceptics about religion and so on doesn’t mean they’ve any interest in being sceptical about things that benefit them.

    • says

      I agree. I’m not sure I think anyone ever deliberately decides, “I’m going to be more sexist and do more sexist things.”. Perhaps I should have worded that differently. In my head, it’s more like, “Does this person seem sufficiently capable of rationalizing harmful actions to be functionally equivalent to someone who was engaging in them deliberately.”

      DJ Grothe holding the vaccine project hostage is, I think, a good example of the rationalization of harmful actions. He doesn’t have to be happy that some people might die on account of not getting vaccinated as a result of that project being held hostage — it’s still a potential consequence of his actions, and by holding the project hostage, he has still shown that he is capable of justifying such harmful actions to himself. I doubt he sees it as valuing his PR over people’s lives — I assume there are layers of rationalization between him and that perspective — but that’s more or less how I see it.

      • F [is for failure to emerge] says

        I’m not sure I think anyone ever deliberately decides, “I’m going to be more sexist and do more sexist things.”

        I am. I see it all the time. Some people are proud, self-identified racists, sexists, etc. They are real. And they will at least announce plans to go do something even more, e.g., sexist, (or do so immediately) just to spite the people they are interacting with. They just don’t really fit into what you were discussing. They are bad actors in good faith or bad, and rather generally unreachable through conversation.

      • A. Noyd says

        Here’s an example I came across just yesterday of someone deliberately deciding to be more racist and sexist and do more racist and sexist things. So yeah, it happens.

        Now, Shermer, Krauss and Grothe aren’t necessarily so deliberate, but they have more in common with people like that than they have in common with feminists. If they don’t like the association, they can stop being shitty people.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    here’s what I do:

    Assume honest ignorance, but whenever possible, make it clear to the person that you believe that this is honest ignorance. People in the skeptical movement, educated people, all smart people all have trouble admitting ignorance.

    So you just tell them, wow, that was messed up. Thank goodness you ddin’t have any idea what you were saying!

    Then they will, typically, serve up in their vanity all of the things about which they were not ignorant.

    At which point you thank them and can then write a reasonable post about how they were either

    1) intentionally indifferent
    or
    2) just plain evil

    with the supporting evidence of their own denials of ignorance.

    the downside of this is that they will occasionally deny ignorance in areas in which they actually are ignorant. But if you convict them based on their confession, you can hardly be blamed for their (voluntary) false statements which stem from their own ignorance about the limits of their own knowledge. You can’t know the limits of that other person’s knowledge.

    So that’s my approach. Trust first. Allow them to crucify themselves, if necessary. Don’t do any attempt at all at trying to figure out what they “knew”. Just figure out what they **might have known** that would have an impact on the ethical calculus, and make it clear that you deplore their statements, but presume them ignorant in each of those areas.

    The rest generally takes care of itself. At least in the contexts we’re discussing.

  4. says

    Crip Dyke, I often favor a similar approach, which I’ve labeled the Toddler Method. Basically it consists of cocking one’s head to the side and asking “Why?” or variations until the speaker thoroughly buries himself in bigotries and contradictions.

  5. says

    The main issue with that approach is a lot of times labeling something as bad is begging the question. That is, they say your preferred policy causes harm, too. You may both be right and it’s a matter of priorities or there may be facts in dispute. At any rate, I don’t think speculating about people’s motives accomplishes anything, at least not usually because it’s mostly irrelevant as you say, and tends to derail the discussion into being about people instead of being about ideas.

  6. kittehserf says

    The main issue with that approach is a lot of times labeling something as bad is begging the question. That is, they say your preferred policy causes harm, too.

    Okay, I’ve got the early-evening befuddleds, but is it really begging the question to say sexism/misogyny et al are bad? How is that yet to be proven? Wouldn’t anyone arguing it isn’t just be outing themselves as a total dirtbag?

    And what policy – d’you mean official ones of conferences not allowing sexual harassment? How can anyone argue that causes harm?

    I’m not snarking, Ace of Sevens, I really don’t get it. Apologies if I’ve totally missed what you were referring to.

  7. machintelligence says

    Crip Dyke @ 3
    I like your method, and it is quite similar to what I try to do, but

    the downside of this is that they will occasionally deny ignorance in areas in which they actually are ignorant.

    I find this is more than an occasional occurrence. (Dunning-Kruger, anyone?)
    Arguing with folks like this is generally useless, since reductio ad absurdum goes right over their heads. On minor points I usually agree to disagree, but if their view could cause serious damage, I just have to write them off.
    Of course, those who think that they know it all are a real pain in the ass for those of us who really do. ;-)

  8. says

    Part of being a skeptic, to me, is judging based on the evidence we have, and only the evidence that we have. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. When someone says something problematic, but it could just be the result of naivete, then I think “I don’t know” is the only reasonable answer.

    Context seems to matter here. What occasion do you have to judge the character of the writer in question? Just as a reader and fan? Why bother judging their character at all? Why not just judge their writing? I don’t know Michael Shermer, DJ Grothe, or Lawrence Krauss, and I don’t have any expectations of knowing them on a personal level, so the question of their character is not all that relevant to me.

    In other contexts, it makes sense to err on one side or the other. If you’re a conference organizer, it makes sense to err on the side of the safety of your guests. If you’re hiring a spokesperson, it makes sense to avoid people who say problematic things. If you’re hanging out socially, it makes sense to get to know the person before making judgments.

    Generally, though, trying to see into someone’s heart is a mug’s game. That sort of thing is unknowable without, at least, a personal relationship with the person is question. This is the reason why I agree with the popular sentiment that it’s much better to criticize IDEAS than it is to criticize PEOPLE. As in, it’s better to say “that thing you said relies on sexist assumptions” rather than “you are a sexist.” It’s better to say “your statements are helping to create an environment where sexual harassment is minimized” rather than “you don’t care about sexual harassment.” It’s better to say “DJ Grothe’s statements reflect badly on his organization” than “DJ Grothe is an asshole.”

    If you don’t know whether someone is acting in good faith, I think it’s ok to say “I don’t know if that person is acting in good faith. I require more information before making that judgment.” Unless your in a position where the answer to that question is very important, I think it makes sense to avoid assumptions.

  9. says

    When I first started reading around FTB, I had a lot of questions that, in retrospect, might have seemed to be JAQing off (or maybe not). A few people explained things to me quite patiently, and I appreciated it.

    However, I don’t think I was dismissive, and certainly never engaged in the hyperbole akin to “witch hunts” or “locker room gossip”. I don’t think too much will be lost from assuming that people who use that terminology are not receptive to the notion they are in the wrong.

  10. dezn_98 says

    This question does not have an answer. There is no “best way” to deal with what could be construed as bigoted statements made by either hateful bigots or socially unaware folks who “do not get it.” You have to make your own personal choice on strategy – and part of the criteria for that choice is determining what you can personally psychologically handle and what style works for you. Then you just have to come to an understanding that different strokes work for different folks, and that multiple strategies are needed to attack an issue.

    The more diverse strategies utilized, the better the chance to spark that “oh sht, I get it” machinery that many of us desire to spark in various people of privilege – especially because people are going to be at different places in life and awareness levels where one almost never knows which strategy would work best. There will be times were we have to realize that, this person is just, not at this time, ready to understand the positions we are espousing and this is primarily because they are simply not aware enough and not due to us “picking the wrong strategy” to engage.

    Now, even though there is no “ultimate” strategy, I think there are many general ways of thinking about the issue that would help us inform ourselves on what strategy is the best to take in personally, while also understanding why others take a different route.

    1) In America at least, bigotry is everywhere. It is built into the very culture and social structures that we take part in everyday. As progressive america is on various issues, there is still a lot of room for bigotry to move in.
    2) We are all vulnerable to such biases based on bigoted cultural influences, and we all occasionally act on them.
    3) The only real way to combat and mitigate such biases is to be willing to explore the socio/political and historical context about whatever minority issue we are attempting to talk about.
    4) Not many people are willing to put the time in to explore such a context on every minority issue.
    5) People of privilege are frequently unaware of such a context or chose to ignore such a context.

    Granting these 3 statements true what does this mean?

    It means that what is “good faith” or “bad faith” is not really the issue… Instead…

    It means if we are to engage with society at large, we need to be able to give that social/political/historical context in a rational and defensible way. It also means that most people who are privileged, in one area, and enter a minority space are going to behave in various bigoted ways. It means that minorities are going to have to deal with such bigotry and ignorance daily, and are going to have to go over points again and again and again because after changing one privileged persons mind, another walks in right after. Minorities are also going to have to face other minorities who are ignorant of the socio/political historical context of the discussion, and as a result have internalized bigoted ideology and seek to defend various bigoted cultural norms.

    Anyone fighting for any amount of social justice in any small way that involves merely speaking out… is going to have to deal with this sort of stuff on the daily. Which is why most people avoid these issues entirely and concentrate on other aspects of their lives. Knowing all this, and knowing that change comes very slowly if at all… means that you are personally have to make a choice on what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do.

    The good faith and bad faith distinctions come much later in the game. In that sooner or later, after speaking out, you are going to start to see underlying trends that typically but not always lead to people revealing various bigoted ideologies. I will give a quick example from my end…

    White people against affirmative action.

    In my lifetime, I have not met one white person who was against affirmative action for non-racist reasons. So from my point of view, anyone who says this is probably a racist.. and I personally made the choice a long time ago to, most of the time, “fire when ready” when I see any white person want to put up an argument against affirmative action. I merely got tired of “holding hands” only to reveal that 100% of the time this person was either ignorant and acting racist because of it, or just plain racist themselves and playing the “naive fool” so they can send out bigoted coded messages. So yeah, me personally.. not ganna deal with it. This decision came much later, after having many discussions with white people and their views of affirmative action. In the beginning I was willing to explore their view points, and now after years of conversing, years of seeing the same ignorant bigoted talking points spewed ad nauseum, I am simply unwilling to explore their viewpoints of enlighten anyone on this particular issue.

    This is how I personally decided to handle one trend that began to make me uncomfortable. In that there was way too much effort that I was putting in, to danger I was putting myself in, when I talked to white people about affirmative action… and if I continued I think I would have, rather than avoiding this one issue, I would have been burnt out of all issues around racism. I would have just left the arena as a whole – I did not want to do that, so I had to put “white people against affirmative action” into the “bad faith” pile.. because the reality is, it is easier to deal with someone acting in bad faith than someone acting in good.

    If your experience has lead you to spot similar trends on different issues, and those trends are becoming tiresome such that it might cause a burn out of the entire social justice issue all together… then you are going to have to make the decision on what to do. Either continue to engage in “good faith” which often, as you experience turns out not to be the case, and is often an exhaustive, hurtful, and terrible experience for you… or stop engaging in that fashion and cut right to the point. I mean if everyone you ever met that was against affirmative action was a racist… just cut to the point and call them out for racism and deal with their racism rather than, tip toeing around their ideas trying to figure out if they really are “that racist.”

    Ultimately you are going to have to decide if that tiny percentage of “good faith” people are worth your time and energy and ware worth risking a “burn out” or “emotional breakdown.” In order to say they are worth it, you are going to have to be the type that has a high tolerance and have a lot of patience. If you are that type and can handle such things, that is fcking awsome. I will say that, that is fcking totally awsome and you are needed. If you are not that type, that is OK, and you can chose to take a different less compromising tactic. Both tactics actually work for different types of people.. so I actually do not see any reason to “debate” tactics, telling other minorities how to behave “properly”.. rather just having respect for different tactics and understanding there are different styles with positives and negatives attached to them. Yes, the fiery answer might run some type of people away (fiery and confrontational answers can run certain types of privileged people away because of fear they will be the next ones to “get it.”), but also the polite type can run others away (often times being patient with blatantly bigoted trends can run certain types of minorities out of the conversation that do not want to be patient anymore than they already have been on this issue in their lifetime). You just have to decide what tactic to take based on who you might alienate from this tactic and the personal tole you might take from this tactic (the fiery ones can cause isolation an issue, and the patient ones have to be willing endure a lot of bigotry).

    So yeah… pick it. I a mostly the fiery type, once in a while, if you catch me in a good mood.. I may hold a hand or two.

    • says

      I feel like I should have something equally substantive or insightful to say in response to this, but I don’t. This was awesome. And I think you have the right of it – the decision to engage in one way or another is as much about ourselves and our style and level of stamina for such things as it’s about the people we are engaging with.

      Also, for the record, I don’t think I have responded to any of your comments elsewhere on racism, but they were immensely helpful for me in understanding a lot of things I didn’t fully understand before, and while you’re here, I would just like to say thank you for that.

      I started reading your post before looking at your screen name, and then I was like, “This person is really insightful, I wonder who… OH, it’s dezn_98! Of course it’s insightful!”

      • says

        Bah… I have my fair share of these conversations with other people of color who are not so fond of my style of communication. I just fcking hate racist hommies…. and I want to stick it to em real fckn hard. As I do I frequently get “called out” by not only the people I am going after but other people of color too.. so I found myself forced to explain why my method of communication is not categorically worse than theirs. Anyway, this debate goes way way way back in time… even Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois – the premiere black intellectuals of the era…. argues like rabid dogs about strategies.

        From my point of view.. they all work, and they all have selective disadvantages. Even social justice activists do not have “the method” for success.. more often than not they are willing to deploy every method imaginable, holding none off the table. The truth of the matter is that methods to penetrate cultural norms take all kinds, and there is no solid evidence pointing to a specific method of communication when it comes to crashing cultural barriers… most of the time not even historical scholars can definitively tell us why this movement in at this time succeeded and why this movement in that time did not. There are justifiable opinions on both sides of the issues…. however the current cultural climate always supports one side rather than the other. The status quo will always support the less radical side, and not because the less radical side is right… but because the less radical said is simply less demanding… as such I find myself defending the radical side of things because that is the one that needs defenders from the status quo. The status quo is all too happy to accommodate easier goin minorities.. and there are reasons for that, that I also trust these easy going minorities are aware of.

        So yeah.. this debate is age old and has no conclusion. It is left up to the individual to seek their own justification, and in this one instance the justifications that are contradictory meet up to the same goal and are equally justifiable. They also bash heads a lot.. I like to think of both sides checking the other, and both are needed.

  11. besomyka says

    I more or less have a two strike policy (it’s an emergent policy, in that after it happening twice I’m fed up and done). Once you politely challenge someone on something shitty they said or did, if they come back with more hostility, then that’s strike two and I’m generally no longer in an ‘educational’ mood. If they seem honestly surprised, confused, or curious, then I’d have a conversation. Time permitting.

    It’s generally pretty easy to tell the difference between the people that you can talk to and the people you can’t — just like how you can generally tell if you’re talking to a Christian that you can have an interesting and productive conversation with or an apologetic soaked advocate that isn’t going to listen.

    I figure, if I at least call it out maybe, just maybe, when they are alone and reflecting on things, they’ll start to question things.

  12. Craig Mansfield says

    ace of sevens:
    “I don’t think speculating about people’s motives accomplishes anything, at least not usually because it’s mostly irrelevant as you say, and tends to derail the discussion into being about people instead of being about ideas.”

    I tend to agree with this. Is it necessary, or even useful, to make an ultimate judgement about a person, based on our perceptions and assumptions about their intent? Can’t we address a person’s particular behaviour – including statements – without requiring that we come to some final verdict on that person? Can we, with clear conscience recognize a statement or behaviour as bigoted without labeling the actor as a bigot? Is it true that “bigot is as a bigot does” ? Clearly, we all have the right, or even responsibility, to react to patterns of behaviour that we judge to be destructive. But even then, does that reaction require that we come to some ultimate decision about that person’s motive’s?
    I guess my question is this: Is it possible to recognize, address, judge, and react to a particular behaviour or pattern of behaviour without ever needing to judge the ultimate intent/motivation for those behaviours, and in doing so the actor her/himself?

    • F [is for failure to emerge] says

      The good news is that you don’t need to generalize a quality of behavior, thought, or attitude to the entire person until it becomes obvious that it is generally true of a person. For example, Crommunist’s advice to call a behavior racist, not to call a person a racist. A lot of people operate that way, so your question is already addressed by thinking (convention, even) around here and in various other places. Which really is a good thing.

      • Craig Mansfield says

        That’s good new indeed. Do you have any thoughts as to where the line separating bigoted behaviour from being a bigot is? How do we decide when to address person X as a bigot rather person X’s bigoted remark(s)? Person X, having behaved in a bigoted manner at some point, may nonetheless be welcomed by us into our groups, or chosen as a speaker at an event. But person X, when identified as a bigot, would no longer be welcome at those groups or events. I know there’s no mathematical rule, but should we have a process for deciding these things? If not, then otherwise valuable assets to a community may be shunned – for personal reasons rather than any rational process of elimination – while toxic elements may continue to be welcomed, again, for personal rather than rational reasons. Thoughts?

        • says

          When talking about who is welcome in the community, it’s usually a pretty high bar to ban someone outright. I think that decision out to be made only when someone is actually dangerous, not merely unpleasant. I.e. banning Michael Shermer because he rapes people is a good idea. Banning Justin Vacula because he’s a blowhard is not a good idea.

          In terms of inviting speakers, subject to the caveat above, I think the decision ought to be made on the quality of their presentations, audience interactions, etc. You don’t have to see into their mind to decide if they would be a good speaker. If they say bigoted things in their talks, don’t invite them to speak. If their talks consistently give positive messages and are well-received, a secret bigotry in their heart-of-hearts doesn’t seem all that relevant.

  13. says

    Personally, I want to be called out when I unwittingly say or do something sexist (or racist, or homophobic, or transphobic or whatever). I am not any of those things and actively fight against them, but I accept that might make the occasional misstep out of ignorance, and I want those to be learning experiences. (I’d certainly prefer that the callout be done civilly, but I can’t control what’s going on in other people’s heads and I don’t know their experiences, so my job then is to ultimately to listen to complaints and have a thick skin), So since I want to be given the benefit of the doubt, I figure I need to give it in turn. But there’s a limit. By equating the benefit of the doubt with the opportunity to teach/learn something, the person being called out must make a genuine effort to listen and learn. If enough incidents occur and they don’t seem to be learning, to me they’ve exhausted their doubt benefits and will have to work extra hard to convince me that they’re even not a lost cause, let alone someone worth listening to. My limit for establishing a pattern of behavior is usually three to five ostensibly foot-in-mouth incidents, depending on how much I liked the person to begin with.

  14. John Phillips, FCD says

    Bloody hell Miri, yet another blogger to add to the roll, there just aren’t enough hours in the day :)

    Excellent guest post by the way.

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