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  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    from linked announcement: … in the case of stalking and threats, only trained experts should be offering advice.

    So hush up, Ophelia & Rebecca & Stephanie & Amy & Greta & … – mere field experience don’t mean nuffin’!

    (Actually, the other points made are pretty good, but this one calls out for a few sharp words…)

  2. LeftSidePositive says

    Great. Secular Woman also has some great things to say about this misguided effort:

    http://www.secularwoman.org/ourresponse

    And, seriously? This whole open letter is going on about “the tone”? Fuck the tone. I don’t care how blue you get, just don’t be bigoted. This is the same misguided bullshit as Dan Fincke’s civility pledge.

    And another thing–did that open letter really say that we have to approach people privately before criticizing them publicly? Fuck that, man. When Michael Shermer says some stupid shit about “being intellectually active” being “a guy thing,” the problem is much bigger than Michael Shermer saying something stupid by mistake. The problem is that this is indicative of attitudes that are widespread in our culture, that need to be called out and learned from.

    There are shades of how many are tut-tutting Adria Richards for not keeping harassment “a private matter,” the excuse used by domestic abuse enablers since time immemorial. No. This does nothing but reinforce existing power structures (like DJ whining that the feminists criticizing him didn’t go to him privately, after he’d publicly criticized them on Facebook! And for the record, I’m not mad that he made a public criticism, but that the content of it was sexist, minimizing and factually incorrect).

    Why not have a standard that when someone criticizes you publicly (and I mean actual criticism, not harassment disguised as criticism), you try to see if their complaint has merit, and answer them openly, thoughtfully, and honestly. PZ didn’t whine his head off about Melissa McEwan criticizing him publicly–he accepted the criticism, apologized for being unclear, and moved on. Why is this so hard?! Could it be that certain privileged people are really not that mature about being criticized, despite being, y’know, skeptics?!

  3. says

    I’m with LSP above, how about ppl like Shermer taking some criticism a little bit better. I’m sure Ophelia can only dream about her “critiics” at worst misunderstanding her intent and writing that up as an aside in an article!

  4. Ulysses says

    LeftSidePositive @2

    This whole open letter is going on about “the tone”? Fuck the tone. I don’t care how blue you get, just don’t be bigoted. This is the same misguided bullshit as Dan Fincke’s civility pledge.

    I was wondering if Fincke had a hand in writing the letter (I doubt it though, it wasn’t a bazillion word treatise). But there was much too much concern about tone and not enough about making atheism/skepticism safe for women and other non-privileged people.

    Go offline before going online: pick up the phone.
    When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it.

    I’m sure a phone call from Ron Lindsay or Edwina Rogers to Reap Paden or Franc Hoggle will show them the error of their ways and turn them into reasonable human beings. </snark>

  5. Ulysses says

    Clarification for my post 4: The second quote is not from LeftSidePositive but from the Open Letter.

  6. screechymonkey says

    Really a great response by ASC. I especially liked them pointing out how the letter is barely a pledge at all because it is so focused on the signatories telling other people how to behave.

    No thank you, “leaders.”

  7. LeftSidePositive says

    @Ulysses, #5. Thanks for that clarification–I would not allow such a slanderous accusation on my ‘nym to stand!!!

    (actually, first I read you backwards and thought you were clarifying that “Fuck the tone” didn’t come from the Open Letter…and I was, like, “duuuude I think they could have figured that one out themselves!” :D)

  8. says

    @Pierce R. Butler: I would include field experience in the category of expertise. I agree that my phrase “trained experts” didn’t convey this, but real-world experience is probably the best training there is (and in the case of harassment, that’s unfortunate). My deep concern about secular leaders offering advice to victims is that they are unqualified to do so and could cause harm (and I count myself in that statement). I felt that law enforcement officials, psychologists, and others with relevant experience in this area should have been consulted if advice were to be offered. How is it helpful to suggest that a woman “pick up the phone” and call her harasser? I don’t think this was intended, but it could come off that way to some, and cause real problems. I expressed this reservation to the organizations during the statement’s development, which occurred without any input from victims or anyone else who might have relevant insights or expertise. I felt it risky and misleading for a group of nonprofit managers to present themselves as authorities in this area without a single disclaimer, and therefore wrong both ethically and from a judgment standpoint to endorse. I hope this clarification helps. – Mary Ellen Sikes, President

  9. lasthop says

    Olivia

    ASC didn’t actually seem to identify a clear objection to the letter, rather their criticism seemed to boil down to “They didn’t write the letter we’d want to sign.” I think that’s fine in terms of justifying their abstention, but I’m curious as to why they didn’t just sign the letter that they admit they agree with and then get the other signatories to sign on to a NEW letter that addresses the (important) other goals identified by the ASC?

    LeftSidePositive

    My takeway from the letter was the exact opposite of Secular Woman’s – The letter identified a major problem with the current discourse: the idea that there’s a debate over the definition, interpretation and relevance of feminism. Then the letter went on to repudiate that idea by giving the real definition of feminism and affirming feminism as integral to the secular movement.

    screechymonkey

    Really a great response by ASC. I especially liked them pointing out how the letter is barely a pledge at all because it is so focused on the signatories telling other people how to behave.

    I really didn’t get this criticism. The ASC acknowledged that it was a pledge by the signatories to behave in the described fashion, and then criticized the signatories for the presumed intent of telling other people how to behave. It’s one or the other, and frankly it makes the case the for the principle of charity advocated by the letter itself. There may be plenty to criticize in the letter, but criticizing it for what it doesn’t seems silly.

  10. says

    Mary Ellen Sikes @ 7

    (First of all, hi! And thanks for commenting.)

    How is it helpful to suggest that a woman “pick up the phone” and call her harasser?

    Really. That’s basically why I’m so annoyed (that’s actually putting it too politely) by Michael Nugent’s insistence on staging a “dialogue” between harassers and the people they’re harassing, on trying to push the people harassed to participate, and on hosting many hundreds of comments by the harassers with new iterations of the harassment. How is it helpful to pressure me to join a “dialogue” with people who target me daily and hourly?

  11. screechymonkey says

    lasthop@9:

    I really didn’t get this criticism. The ASC acknowledged that it was a pledge by the signatories to behave in the described fashion, and then criticized the signatories for the presumed intent of telling other people how to behave. It’s one or the other, and frankly it makes the case the for the principle of charity advocated by the letter itself. There may be plenty to criticize in the letter, but criticizing it for what it doesn’t seems silly.

    I disagree with you on both counts. First, I don’t think that the ASC “acknowledged that it was a pledge by the signatories to behave in the described fashion.” Here’s what the ASC wrote on that topic:

    While the above statement has a laudable intent, I regret saying that it just didn’t seem like much of a “pledge” to me. It appeared to be more of a statement of what groups want to see generally, with a lot of suggestions for how others should now make that happen (“pick up the phone,” “listen more,” “dial down the drama,” etc).

    And second, I think (as I said before) that the ASC is right in its criticism. Yes, one can apply the principle of charity to infer that the signatories are agreeing that they, too, should “pick up the phone” etc., and I’m sure if asked directly, the signatories will say, “oh, yes, of course.” But that’s not really my point, and I don’t think it’s the ASC’s, either.

    The point is that the letter is predominantly about telling others how to behave. The actual “pledge” is the vague promise “to make our best efforts toward improving the tone and substance of online discussions.” Which is nice and everything, but one expects a little more from a letter that presumably involved a lot of effort and discussion.

    So where are the specifics? Well, take a look under the heading “Our Approach”: only the first item, “moderate blogs and forums,” really seems to apply primarily to the organizations themselves. And even this falls woefully short of anything concrete. Most (all?) of those organizations already “moderate” their blogs and forums to at least some extent, even if only to delete spam. So they’re going to keep their online fora free from “Slurs, threats, and so forth”? Well, I’m all for keeping out slurs and threats, but it would be nice to know what the “so forth” refers to, given the letter’s repeated conflating of insults and strong rhetoric with the former categories. (I’d also like to know what definition of “slurs” they’re proposing to use: no doubt some people think that means that “misogynist” will be banned. But I acknowledge that may be asking for a little too much specificity in this letter.) Compare this to when the issue of conference harassment arose: it wasn’t good enough to say “oh, we deplore harassment and we’ll put some policies in place,” organizations felt compelled to actually put forward a specific policy.

    And then it’s all downhill from there, with all of the condescending lecturing, the false equivalence, and impractical if not counter-productive (“pick up the phone”) advice that others have pointed out.

    For the most part, I don’t think that this letter is a bad thing, and it doesn’t lower my opinion of the signing organizations. (Though I understand why others here disagree.) And that is precisely because I am applying the principle of charity that you accuse me of ignoring: I’m willing to attribute this failure to the natural bureaucratic instinct to offend no one (especially donors!) rather than a genuine lack of concern about the issue. Certainly it does nothing to raise my opinion of them, and it’s a huge disappointment that these people got together, put some effort into this, and could only come up with this nothingburger.

  12. lasthop says

    I don’t think that the ASC “acknowledged that it was a pledge by the signatories to behave in the described fashion”

    Perhaps I misread the ASC’s letter. I thought that they acknowledged that it was a pledge, just “not much of [one]”

    If that’s the case, I just have to disagree with the ASC’s assessment. The letter clearly says:


    We, the leaders of the undersigned national secular organizations, pledge to make our best efforts toward improving the tone and substance of online discussions…
    Here are some things that we plan to do…

    It’s a pledge outlining what the signatories will do. They clearly ALSO want to influence other people to think and behave in a similar way, but would we expect otherwise? That’s half the point of any open letter.

    only the first item, “moderate blogs and forums,” really seems to apply primarily to the organizations themselves

    On the contrary, the most mocked action, “Go offline before going online: pick up the phone” is a best-practice used by public figures everywhere. Just look at how Sam Harris handled his disagreement with Glenn Greenwald. This is exactly the kind of thing that heads of secular organizations should be pledging to do, to avoid unnecessary infighting and conflict in the movement.

    Certainly it does nothing to raise my opinion of them, and it’s a huge disappointment that these people got together, put some effort into this, and could only come up with this nothingburger.

    Hah, I agree that it’s pretty bland – nothing in it is new. That said, I took the letter at its word – the signatories believe that there’s a problem with the status-quo in secular online discourse. I agree, and I think the problem is separate from, though related to, the problem of sexism. I think it’s fair and important to address both. I actually hope that they issue another statement that addresses the issue of sexism directly

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    americansecularcensus @ # 8 – Thanks for spelling that out – and for being more open to constructive criticism than certain conference organizers we could name…

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