The Ron Lindsay Debacle

[Note from 2015: Tornado survivors should be aware this post may be triggering. I no longer like my trivialization of the tornado disaster in this article. Or my defense of it in comments. All very clueless. I apologize for the insensitivity of it. I have changed the title from “What Do Ron Lindsay and an Oklahoma Tornado Have in Common?” to “The Ron Lindsay Debacle.” I am leaving everything else unaltered for historical purposes. But I would not write this article in such a fashion now.]

Besides raging over the same weekend? Both are ignorantly destructive blowhards, apparently. At least Lindsay didn’t kill anything (except his own common sense, and maybe his career in secular leadership).

Lots happened while I was away at the fantastic Imagine No Religion conference in Kamloops, BC. I recommend it for next year, it has been by all accounts great every year, and this year was no exception. But while I was nestled safely up there enjoying good scotch and martinis, a tornado ripped apart a community in Oklahoma (I guess by Pat Robertson’s logic, it must have been full of feminists), and charity aid is much needed (atheists can help: please donate to Humanist Crisis Response through the Foundation Beyond Belief, an umbrella charity organization specifically geared for nonreligious donors).

And over the same weekend at the Women in Secularism conference in Washington, DC (where a zillion feminists actually were…evidently your god’s aim sucks, Pat), the president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, Ron Lindsay (the sole male speaker), opened the conference by complaining about a campaign to ask men to listen to women before complaining about women, by telling women to stop telling men to listen to women before complaining about women…at a conference for women, funded by hundreds of women (since attendees forked over the registration fees, they actually paid for the conference). And then he acted like a stock sexist man and hysterically defamed the woman who criticized him for this rather than responding to her actual (calmly presented) arguments. Thus becoming the poster boy for a man who doesn’t listen.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s stranger than fiction. Anyway, I needn’t blog about the Lindsay Faceplant because that has already been excellently done. If you want to get caught up on this debacle, I highly recommend, first, Jason Thibault’s brief live description of what Lindsay said at the conference and how obviously wrongheaded it was, and then Amanda Marcotte’s Open Letter to the Center for Inquiry, and then An Alternative Universe by Stephanie Zvan, Taking It Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism by Ashley Miller, and The Silencing of Men by Rebecca Watson (the tone and quality of which has to be compared to the garbage Lindsay wrote in response: Watson’s World and Two Models of Communication…a title whose irony was completely lost on Lindsay, considering that he decided to respond to a reasonable and ultimately correct argument by hysterically accusing its author of “the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea” and then proceeded to pick at irrelevancies in her case and straw man what she said and ignore her every substantive point…nice).

[Since I first published this article, a really excellent analysis has also come from philosopher Dan Finke: Feminism, Civility, and Ron Lindsay’s Welcome to Women in Secularism, which reinforces many of the points well-made earlier by Adam Lee in Some Sadly Necessary Remarks on the #wiscfi Intro. Subsequently, Lindsay has since issued a lawyerly quasi-apology for comparing Watson to North Korea, yet in the very same remark treats her with veiled contempt by referencing the least relevant remark in her article and still ignoring her every substantive point, and all her evidence, and refusing to retract or apologize for any of his more substantive errors. This appears to be a trend with him. See the bemusing analysis of Nancy McClernan in Ron Lindsay’s Non-Apology Apology over His Non-Welcome Welcome.]

Lindsay on Atheism+

One thing I’d like to add to these critiques is his equally-ignorant treatment of Atheism+… Apparently he has never read (or at least paid much attention to) anything by Atheism+ advocates or listened to any of their podcasts or videos. Just as he evidently doesn’t talk to feminists or bother to learn anything about feminism before lecturing to an audience of feminists about feminism…for example, he doesn’t understand the difference between defining feminism, on which there is no disagreement among feminists, and deciding how to implement the goals of feminism, on which there is abundant disagreement and everyone knows it, whereas conflating the two is common among anti-feminists, a fact Lindsay seems quite unaware of, and thus he remains clueless as to why he’s getting his head bitten off over repeating an anti-feminist trope.

But back to his ignorant snarking over Atheism+…

First, Lindsay describes “the Atheism+ movement” as “atheism plus activism on social justice issues,” which is not quite correct; a better formulation is as I put it in my American Atheists convention speech, Atheism…Plus What?, where I explain to nearly 30,000 viewers so far (none of them Ron Lindsay, apparently) that Atheism+ means Atheism+Humanism+Skepticism (and that wasn’t my idea: it is how Jen McCreight described it almost from the very beginning: see Why Atheism+ and Not Humanism, yet another article Lindsay didn’t read, since he also asks why not humanism, a question we’ve all answered repeatedly, yet evidently he doesn’t know that).

Being an atheist, a humanist, and a skeptic entails not necessarily activism on social justice issues (only as much as you feel motivated to), but at minimum talking about the intersection of atheism and skepticism and social justice issues (as was perfectly clear in my first posts on the subject: The New Atheism+ and Being with or against Atheism+ and then updated to cover recent events in Atheism+: The Name for What’s Happening). Note the crucial distinctions here, and how clueless Lindsay is in his speech about this. He isn’t listening.

Then he says “because CFI was already involved in social justice issues, including women’s rights issues, I was frankly lukewarm toward the Atheism+ proposal,” which is a bizarre non sequitur (“I believe in doing x and do it avidly, so I’m lukewarm toward efforts to ask others to do x, too”…huh?).

Then he says “based on the rhetoric of some of its proponents, and I underscore some not all, it seemed to me to have the potential to be divisive,” yet he gives no examples. If he had, he would know that the only rhetoric he has objected to was directed at vile sexists and misogynists joking publicly about anally raping a teenager, sending rape threats to prominent feminist bloggers, and engaging in campaigns of disgusting and relentless harassment (and occasionally at trolls and people openly attacking humanist values). He then confuses those quite legitimate voices of outrage with all defenses of Atheism+ whatever (“I’m not sure about this Atheism+ movement, you’re being too mean to rape apologists and sexual harassers for my taste”…huh?), which is a mistake (or lie) that many haters of Atheism+ make.

So it seems he listens to them, but doesn’t actually listen to actual advocates of Atheism+. For a corrective, read Greta Christina’s Atheism Plus and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness, which I’m sure Lindsay has also not read–even though he seems to be aware of it when he backhandedly says “according to at least one proponent it was intended to be divisive,” a remark that suggests he wants to be inclusive of men who issue rape threats to women in secularism (among much else in the vile column), which is so appalling a conclusion I can only assume he doesn’t know what that “one proponent” actually said, because he didn’t actually read it.

Then he argues that “nomenclature is…not supremely important,” for example, “at the end of the day, you cannot force someone to call themselves a humanist, so if people prefer to call themselves an Atheist-plusser, or whatever the term is, that’s fine,” evidently unaware of the fact that this is what advocates of Atheism+ have been saying since day one (see, again, my painstaking explanation of this fact in Being with or against Atheism+ as well as my summary again in Atheism…Plus What?). So Lindsay again doesn’t listen.

Then he says “some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? You can’t do everything at once,” as if he has not read or heard a single word we’ve said on this subject. We’ve been very clear about this as well, from the very beginning (see all my links above), making all the same points he does, yet he seems to think he is introducing them anew, as if he’s being clever. So yet again, Lindsay doesn’t listen.

Then he backhandedly suggests Atheism+ might be a secret commie plot. No, really. That’s kind of the evident subtext when he asks, “Is the destruction of capitalism considered part of a social justice program? If so, that position certainly has very significant implications.” Really, Ron? Try actually listening to proponents of Atheism+ before purporting to know enough about it to lecture people on it. Act like a proper skeptic and actually learn something about what you are responding to before reaching conclusions about it and asking ignorant questions of faux concern (especially if you’re going to try the Red Scare tactic).

I happen to know that another major organizational leader in the secularist movement, Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, has his staff keep up on the exchanges online over feminism and Atheism+, reading what is written and giving him reports on it (staff that includes women). It seems Lindsay is too clueless to have anyone do that for him. And he must not be doing it himself. Silverman clearly understands how to do his job. Lindsay apparently doesn’t. Someone so stubbornly out of touch with atheism in the 21st century probably shouldn’t be leading an organization that serves that community.

Lindsay could fix this. He could start listening instead of ignorantly preaching about what he knows little about and offending and outraging half his constituency. He could also take criticism seriously, as an opportunity to improve his organizational message, instead of dismissing that criticism as North Korean propaganda. He could do all that. But he does not appear to be trending that way. And I cannot see that as a sustainable behavior if he hopes to keep his job.



  1. smhll says

    Then he says “some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? You can’t do everything at once,”

    Hey, if he can figure this out, I would think he’d be more clued in to the reality that individual people can’t listen to everyone at once. Thus, when people advance gob-smackingly ignorant arguments about what feminists say. (without quoting or linking to something they are paraphrasing), I figure it’s a huge waste of my time to continue to listen to such a poorly informed individual. Especially the relentlessly prolific ones. (And, yes, they do start to all blur together. Pro-tip to critics: if you want to make an unblurry argument, make a sharp one.)

  2. says

    And then he acted like a stock sexist man and hysterically defamed the woman who criticized him rather than responding to her actual (calmly presented) arguments

    She was far from the first person or only one to criticise on Twitter. I’ve got all the tweets from @hashspamkiller and its clear she was not the only one complaining. In fact I saw no one say it was good who was there, apart from Justin Vacula (Who went on to do an interview for A Voice For Men as their WIS rep, posted next to an article about how women actually like being raped. Not a good authority)

    The narrative from the RW haters is that she “started” the cry of sexism, despite her not actually saying that or starting it in any sense. First high profile ppl I saw were Miri, PZ and Adam Lee. If they can find anyone other than Vacula who was there and liked the talk I’ve not seen them. Of course all the Slymepit and assorted bumblefucks rushed out posts/tweets about how great the talk was…. But they weren’t there and it wasn’t a conference they are interested in or paid for. Rons customers were not happy.

    I reckon if WBC had a go at Rebecca the usual suspects would be cheering along and side with them.

    • says

      That’s an important point to make. I can personally verify the same criticisms were already in mind among numerous people there who had not yet even read Watson’s blog or tweets. Not that she has the power of mass mind control anyway, even if she did tweet a complaint first. As we’ve both observed, there are a lot of people very disappointed with Ron over this, and not because of anything Watson said.

  3. says

    One thing to note is that while Lindsay chose to focus on Rebecca Watson, and to treat her like a lone delusional crank, the reality is that Twitter absolutely exploded over his comments. There’s a timeline of the #wiscfi hashtag as Lindsay was giving his speech: I don’t think that was accidental in the least. Lindsay has seemingly gone out of his way to ignore the majority of his critics and focus on the one who is most hated by the anti-feminist contingent. It MIGHT just be coincidence that the same contingent is the main source of support that Lindsay is currently receiving.

    The only person being dishonest here is Lindsay, by insinuating that Rebecca Watson’s criticism was anything other than a fair and accurate reading of his words, shared by many of those in attendance and many people who read the transcript later.

  4. Ulysses says

    Then he says “because CFI was already involved in social justice issues, including women’s rights issues, I was frankly lukewarm toward the Atheism+ proposal,” which is a bizarre non sequitur (“I believe in doing x and do it avidly, so I’m lukewarm toward efforts to ask others to do x, too”…huh?).

    I suspect he was concerned that some new, upstart, uppity group would divert resources and people away from CFI.

    • says

      I can’t imagine he would actually say in a public speech that he doesn’t like other atheist organizations because they are drawing dollars from his. (However true that might be.) So I am charitably assuming that isn’t what he meant.

  5. Stacy says

    I know for a fact people have tried to tell him. Repeatedly. Without success.

    Then he takes offense at the phrase “Shut up and listen.” Evidently he can’t comprehend being asked to do the listening for once.

    Doesn’t Lindsay understand that you can’t listen without shutting up first? Fuckin’ conjunctions, how do they work?

  6. Matt Gerrans says

    Well, you cannot have very high expectations for someone who stoops to using the “at the end of the day” cliche. I have yet to hear anything intelligent follow or precede its usage.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal - formerly codemonkey says

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention perhaps the most egregious comment of the whole fiasco from Lindsay which I’ve seen.

    From his reply:

    But in her defense, perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying. (I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”)

    How could a professional leader of a diverse organization say that? I mean, seriously? I found this the most telling part of the whole exchange thus far that Lindsay hasn’t a clue, and/or lacks all professional decorum.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal - formerly codemonkey says

      I don’t think it’s important because it’s petty. Let me explain my reasoning.

      The first speech is reasonable IMHO if you lack all context, but with context, things change. I have just enough knowledge to make some sense of it. For example:

      In the speech, the “divise” comment. I think that was directed specifically at you. You responded to it in this blog entry, and I agree fully.

      In the speech, he says that there’s some confusion on what is sexism and sexual exploitation, and how to put those values into practice. Sure, but we can all agree that the horrible treatment of some women in our community is abhorrent and needs to stop.

      The whole of Lindsay’s speech seems to be a warning about the dangers of overreaching feminism. That’s a slap in the face to the attendees of the conference. What makes it really bad is that he doesn’t address – not even in passing – the horrible treatment of women in our community. He should know that this would be seen as downplaying that and saying that the feminist community’s concerns are unreasonable. This makes him an utter failure in his role as speaker.

      I don’t know if this is a recurring theme with this man. If it wasn’t, I would expect some apologies to start coming, or at least some better olive branches.

      Instead, we get his official blog reply, where he doubles down, and acts like a most disagreeable fellow. Which is quite funny considering Lindsay signed “The Open Letter To The Secular Community” just weeks earlier. Copy here:
      Oh irony.

      His response contains ad hominems of extreme hyberbole, mocking insults, crude and very inappropriate “jokes”, and so on. Furthermore, he still fails to address what I felt was the main concern of the critics from the beginning, that Lindsay is downplaying the horrible treatment of women in our community by critiquing the women and by his silence about their serious problems.

      That’s why I posted that quote. I think that’s the most telling thing about the entire exchange. That quote shows that he either doesn’t care about how women are treated at conferences (and in the community at large), or he doesn’t know how horribly they’re treated. It’s telling that he thinks the problem is that he’s a white man, and not what he said. Even if it’s a joke, it’s telling that he thinks this is a somewhat accurate characterization of the other people’s positions.

      Regardless of whether he said the things he said because of gross ignorance or malice, I want some impressive backpedalling, or for him to be fired from the organization that purports to represent us.

      PS: I do think he has a couple of points of merit in there, buried in that obtuse speech and reply, but I won’t dignify the man by pointing them out.

  8. says

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend WIS this year so I’ve been watching this all second-and-third hand over the week. But I gotta ask–has anyone else been strongly reminded of Rand Paul during this whole thing? Remember a while back when Senator Paul decided to go visit Howard University in his “reaching out to minorities” tour? And when he got to Howard, he decided to lecture a bunch of students at a prestigious HBCU about civil rights, in one of the most embarrassingly condescending and tone-deaf speeches I have ever heard. Of course, when he was understandably criticized afterwards (although I found that the students who attended were exceptionally civil, for the most part), all he could do was whine about how it was so unfair that a white guy can’t talk about civil rights (like that was what pissed everyone off), and the students at Howard were just racist. All said with an undertone that they should have just been grateful he came there at all, and doesn’t he get props just for showing up (shades of Romney talking to the NAACP)?

    Yeah. It’s really, really sad that the head of an organization like CFI can be so easily compared to Rand freaking Paul. I would take that as a major sign that I need to rethink my position. (Heck, for the brief few days when Senator Paul and I agreed on drone policy–before he changed his opinion, again–I was legitimately concerned that my thinking on the issue was faulty and reevaluated. Didn’t end up changing my mind, but it made me think hard. But that’s way off topic.)

    In the beginning, I was prepared to give Lindsay the benefit of the doubt. We all say stupid things. We all make mistakes, especially when engaging in ally work. I know I said some incredibly dumb–and, worse than that, hurtful–things when I first started trying to be more aware of racial issues and work with women of color, and more recently when I started trying to understand trans* issues and support trans* folk, and I will probably say more dumbass or hurtful things in the future, no matter how hard I try to be aware of my words. That’s what privilege does. It’s how you handle those moments, how you listen and respond when called out, that’s the most important thing. And Lindsay failed that pretty dramatically. (It also makes me less inclined to think Lindsay’s original intentions were good and the offense he caused was unintentional. When you accidentally hurt someone, the response is usually, “Oh, I’m so sorry” not “HOW DARE YOU?!”)

    • says

      Indeed. I used the Rand Paul analogy myself when explaining this to my wife the other day (she doesn’t follow the feeds, because they just make her mad, so I have to get her up to speed on thee things when I get home).

      BTW, an even more apt analogy is the way R.E. Cornwell (CFI board member the one woman speaker at WIS picked by Lindsay) apparently used Ingersoll to also underhandedly attack WIS in her talk at WIS, making exactly the same mistake Paul did (of not realizing that “Republican” meant something completely different then than it does now, etc.). Thibeault has a good analysis of that gaffe here.

  9. uberfeminist says

    Yes, Ron asked A+ what its priorities were, and A+’s singular priority now seems to be to have Lindsay resign.

    It’s almost as if he’s sufficiently herded the social justice cats.

    But you can’t somehow magically claim that A+ has any direction whatsoever.

    And what you leave out is that people also complained about what Jacoby and Cornwell said. But they aren’t old white guys.

    • says

      Who said A+ had a direction? It represents simply the values that result from combining atheism with humanism with skepticism. Period.

      Nor is it logical to say that A+ advocates have a “singular” priority.

      Nor is Lindsay’s resignation his only way out (I discussed another in my last paragraph).

      Nor is it the A+ folks alone who are outraged by his behavior.

      Nor is what Jacoby and Cornwell said relevant to my present article (neither said anything about Atheism+ nor said anything in support of Lindsay’s remarks).

      Indeed, I don’t think Jacoby said anything scandalous at all. And Cornwell just made a bad rhetorical slip betraying some embarrassing ignorance of history (although it did seem designed to be a backhanded attack on the very conference she was speaking at…at any rate, account here).

  10. Edward Gemmer says

    Is this for real? Nothing. The answer is nothing. Some comments at a talk supporting feminism have nothing to do with a tornado that killed and injured and displaced real live human beings. Your personal feelings being mildly challenged does not equate to being actually killed by a real tornado.

    • says

      Hence the third sentence of my article.

      The first sentence, meanwhile, refutes your “nothing” charge. And the second sentence picks up a metaphor that does indeed hold (albeit humorously).

      If you really care about those harmed by the tornado, heed my second paragraph and donate to atheist relief efforts.

  11. Jason Goertzen says

    “Then he backhandedly suggests Atheism+ might be a secret commie plot. No, really. That’s kind of the evident subtext when he asks, ‘Is the destruction of capitalism considered part of a social justice program? If so, that position certainly has very significant implications.’ ”

    Hmm. I understood this to be a rhetorical question, given the context. He intentionally chose an example few people would agree with to show the wide range of opinions of what counts as social justice. I don’t think he was making the point that social justice isn’t worth pursuing, or that those who do are communists. It’s *possible* he thinks so, and that he’s only paying lip service to social justice before this comment, but that’s a pretty uncharitable reading.

    All in all, I agree that some ‘amateur’ feminists play the ‘privilege card’ when they have no good rebuttal–but in my experience these tend to be men who just got into feminism and aren’t up to speed yet and don’t know what they’re talking about, but are trying (too hard) to show that they’re a real feminist. You don’t see this from thoughtful, educated feminists; so Lindsay’s case is pretty stupid and pointless.

    • says

      I agree that some ‘amateur’ feminists play the ‘privilege card’ when they have no good rebuttal” — indeed, Rebecca Watson likewise agreed in her first blog on this matter (just to be clear). Her words: “there are, without a doubt, people who misuse the term “privilege” and there are those who use the concept of privilege as their sole point of argumentation.” She then even gives an example. (I note this just to prevent trolls from trying to deny it.)

      As for Lindsay’s “Red Scare” tactic, his argument makes no sense if he didn’t think it was a serious conclusion anyone in the Atheism+ movement could reach. Otherwise he is engaging in the same slippery slope fallacy Christians do, rather like talking about gay marriage and asking what happens when people start asking to marry their dogs, “what then!?” (and even quoting a pro-beastaphilia blog so as to make it look like it’s a real concern). One can do that sincerely (and be a clueless nitwit) or one can do that insincerely (and be using a dishonest rhetorical scare tactic). But I agree we can only guess, I suppose, which Lindsay had in mind.

      More importantly, my point was that if he had read our blogs, he would know that we reject such ideological stances and are asking people to consider social justice from whatever political perspective they have. Thus, his entire complaint is ignorant, and misrepresents A+. I specifically mentioned in my blogs, for example, how Libertarians can also care about social justice and join the A+ movement and articulate their solutions to social justice problems–as long as they accept that the principles of skepticism will be applied to what they say same as anything else, and that they will therefore be expected to avoid fallacies and base their statements on good evidence, the same standards we want Progressives held to just as surely (and likewise, yes, Communists).

  12. shivar says

    “What Do Ron Lindsay and an Oklahoma Tornado Have in Common? Besides raging over the same weekend? Both are ignorantly destructive blowhards, apparently. At least Lindsay didn’t kill anything (except his own common sense, and maybe his career in secular leadership).”

    This, from the person who tries to tell us that AtheismPlus is all about “compassion”. Hey, let’s compare a person who made a speech I didn’t agree with to a disaster that’s killed dozens of people, including many children.

    This is one of the sickest things I have yet read in this nasty shit-hole called FreeThoughtBlogs.

    • says

      Right, because I didn’t say in the very second paragraph:

      …a tornado ripped apart a community in Oklahoma…and charity aid is much needed (atheists can help: please donate to Humanist Crisis Response through the Foundation Beyond Belief…)

      Have you donated yet?

    • says

      Then, Shivar, I suggest you just stop reading FtB (or blogs in general).

      That, or start reading entire posts before registering your righteous disgust. If you stop reading after the first apparently inflammatory statement – without, you know, bothering to check for context, qualifying statements or , you know, more words – you’ll (a) frequently find yourself enraged to the point of hyperbole and (b) come across like a disingenuous cherry-picker out to confirm some kind of existing bias that FtB is a hive of scum and villainy.

    • says

      And raging over the same weekend and being ignorantly destructive blowhards. Only at least Lindsay didn’t kill anything (except his own common sense, and maybe his career in secular leadership)…

  13. GrzeTor says

    Tornado – what a great nickname for a manly male! Ron “Tornado” Lindsay – wow! One needs some testosterone to understand this.

    First, a disclaimer – I’m totally against special interests and divisivnes by sex categories. If what you write is true – that this was „a conference for women” then not only it is an immoral special interest fest, but also it was broken by it’s assumptions alone. Secularism, suport for science, humanism, or fight with religious superstition don’t have a sex or gender, and don’t require any. Feminism is poisoning organizations standing for these goals, by artificially, superficially, unnecesairly and destructively dividing otherwise united people according to gender lines and trying to create conflicts along these lines. The British Empire was winning wars by the strategy of Divide and Conquer. „United we stand, divided we fall” was the motto of those who wanted to win. „Workers of the world, unite!” was promoted by older generation of those wanting to have atheism plus social justice in a single package. Feminists are trying to loose secular causes by the strategy of dividing and thus making it easier for external enemies to win. Thunderf00t is right – feminism is poisoning atheism.

    But if you already had such conference – was there somehting out there about very low Total fertility rates for feminists and liberal women? Were there representatives of conservative atheist, or libertarian secular women to promote the benefits such lifestyles and views? Were there some soltions to the issues that real-world women deal with daili, like raising kids? Or was it just under the dictate of feminists?

    This brings me back to Tornado and his speach, which you misrepresent in your post by quote mining, while carefuly hiding the gist of it. Why was it great? First of all Tornado was clearly trying to engage participants into thinking, by asking a lot of important questions to think about, like:
    “The first conference raised a number of questions in my mind, and if the vigorous online debate that has occurred over the last twelve months is any indication, in the minds of many others as well. […]

    So what should atheists or humanists who are interested in social justice focus on? Women’s issues only? […] But which other social justice issues are considered critical? […] Still, some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? […]

    What is the definition of social justice? And who decides what’s included within the scope of social justice anyway? […]

    This brings me to the concept of privilege […] In what way does it have validity?”

    This clearly means Tornado is a thinking man and he invides others, like the participants in the conference to also embrace thinking. Of course not everybody is happy with such approach, many prefer just to repeat slogans provided to them by an idelology or their subculture.
    A second important issue is that Tornado is clearly a freedom-fighter.

    “Freedom, real freedom, authentic freedom, that is what we want for everyone. […] Part of what allows us to give meaning to our lives is the ability to exercise certain core freedoms, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and reproductive freedom. We need these freedoms to take control of our own lives, to give shape and direction our own lives”

    And this brings him in a direct conflict with Atheism+. In the overall atheism, humanism societies A+ is the most anti-freedom of existing movements. It uses various social pressures, shaming, name calling, false accusations, emotional manipulation and even attacks on people’s employment positions to silence those with opposing views. This not only affects the attacked ones, but also creates a threatning environment, thus scaring away those just looking and listening, who otherwise would have joned a conversation or a movmenent.

    Tornado is clearly right here – the real freedom is possible not only when a government is not intervening in a conversation, but also when there are no social barriers, like bullies ready to attack when you say something you don’t like. Left wingers, this whole Political Correctnes, and now also Atheism+ utilize such tactics.

    The third important realization is that Tornado is considering women’s rights just as a part of a bigger scheme of things, not a lone goal itself:

    “It is obvious that religions doctrines have often provided the rationale for treating women as inferior beings, beings who should not be allowed to speak, which of course is one reason many secular organizations regard advocacy for women’s rights as an integral part of their mission. In working for a secular society, we are also working for a society free of oppressive doctrines.” => so women’s rights are for him one of the parts of a bigger and more general package of working against oppresive doctrines, especially religious ones. It’s not feminism – which is like women’s interests above all as a goal in an of itself.

    “this is where we see a fundamental connection between advocacy for women’s rights and humanism. Humanists are committed to the autonomy of the individual, the right of the individual to make decisions for herself, to decide which occupations, which relationships to pursue or forego. Women will not be able to secure that autonomy until they achieve complete social and civil equality and equal economic and political opportunity, and that is why CFI is committed to working toward those objectives. The notion that people are assigned, condemned to a certain predetermined role in life, whether by the church, the state, or society, is antithetical to the humanist point of view. ” – again: te main goals are the goals of a big, general package called humanism. The rights of women are supported not as special-interest-only-for-females-not-for-men entitlements, but are derived from a women being a human. The end goal is equality, not female privilege! This clearly means conflicts with feminists. Feminism is about only caring for women’s interests, which if pushed enough, whitout equivalent actions from MRAs or others, directly leads to women being favored over others – the direction of feminism is female privilege.

    • says

      Feminism isn’t dividing anyone. Hatred of feminism is doing all the dividing. And there is nothing of humanism in the hatred if feminism.

      Until you see that, there simply will be no reasoning with you.

  14. gwen says

    Wow, I somehow missed that shitstorm. I am simple gobsmacked. No, I don’t see him apologizing. I’m waiting to see how deep he can dig this hole…before the sides fall in on him…

  15. BG Haig says

    The mantra might be ‘We should have a rational discussion.’ That shouldn’t need saying, but unfortunately with many extremists their mantra is ‘Shut up and listen because I know the Truth.’ On the right, the Truth comes from revelation and authority, on the left, the Truth comes from personal feeling all too often.

    That said, for him to open such a conference by broaching this topic was a serious tactical error. The content of his talk is actually reasonable, and people jumping all over it are coming off less than rational. If people cannot handle the give-and-take of rational discussion, and are so sensitive when their Truth is questioned that they have to personally attack people, then they have made a wrong turn.

    Yes, his response was a bit over-the-top, but that doesn’t mean the people attacking him are being reasonable. Rationality is not a zero sum game. But I do notice that he has apologized for his over-the-top comment about N Korea. Has Ms Watson ever retracted anything (you know, like skeptical thoughtful people do)?

    • says

      No one I link to has “personally attacked” Ron Lindsay. They have quite reasonably shown flaws in his arguments as well as his judgment and subsequent behavior. Watson doesn’t have anything to retract in this matter. And Lindsay still hasn’t retracted what he said that was substantively wrong or misleading or apologized for the dismal judgment he exercised in the first place (as shown most recently by Dan Finke).

      In his lawyer-like quasi-apology he instead only referenced one of the least relevant statements Watson said and ignored everything else she said and all her evidence. He is thus still treating her with veiled contempt. He wants to deny that his rant on silencing wasn’t the “crux” of his argument, although Watson only said it “seems to be” that it was and I kind of agree, but the curious thing is that he wants to argue about whether it “was” the crux of his argument, and not whether it was a valid or appropriate argument in the context or the way he delivered it in the first place, crux or no. This is pathetic behavior on his part. He is treating his critics with contempt by refusing to actually respond to their most substantive criticisms. And somehow he thinks this makes him look good.

  16. BG Haig says

    PS It is sad that it seems many internet skeptics need to be reminded that an argument’s soundness does not depend on the race/gender/sexual orientation of the person making the argument.

    • says

      BG Haig: PS It is sad that it seems many internet skeptics need to be reminded that an argument’s soundness does not depend on the race/gender/sexual orientation of the person making the argument.

      That’s not entirely true, though. Context matters to an argument’s soundness insofar as it relates to the significance and interpretation of what someone is actually arguing (or not arguing). And gender (a lone man introducing a conference for women in a context of ongoing harassment of women) is very relevant to how what he says will be perceived and what in fact it communicates about his intentions and his point (because he himself was not ignorant of the fact that he was a lone man opening a conference for women in a context of ongoing harassment of women, and therefore he cannot claim he didn’t know the import and impact of the points he chose to make…the very thing numerous people, men and women, have rightly been criticizing him for, criticism which he continues to stalwartly ignore).

      The gendered context of his arguments (and how understanding that context undermines his argument as well as its appropriateness) is well explored by everyone I link to, but most recently, again, Finke, Lee, and McClernan.

      Notably, also, all the people I linked to (including Watson) acknowledged the one small part of his argument that was valid (sometimes, in rare cases, “privilege” is used inappropriately to attempt to end arguments), and often even gave their own examples (something he didn’t do). Thus, they are not missing that point. So do not mistake that for their argument against him.

  17. says

    I have added a paragraph to the article with updates:

    Since I first published this article, a really excellent analysis has also come from philosopher Dan Finke: Feminism, Civility, and Ron Lindsay’s Welcome to Women in Secularism, which reinforces many of the points well-made earlier by Adam Lee in Some Sadly Necessary Remarks on the #wiscfi Intro. Subsequently, Lindsay has since issued a lawyerly quasi-apology for comparing Watson to North Korea, yet in the very same remark treats her with veiled contempt by referencing the least relevant remark in her article and still ignoring her every substantive point, and all her evidence, and refusing to retract or apologize for any of his more substantive errors. This appears to be a trend with him. See the bemusing analysis of Nancy McClernan in Ron Lindsay’s Non-Apology Apology over His Non-Welcome Welcome.

  18. ildi says

    FYI: Your links to Nancy McClernan’s blog post actually link to Adam Lee’s blog post.

  19. GrzeTor says

    I think I have nailed where the problem is! It is in the framework of mind of politically-correct people, which is wrong. This framework requires to adjust every information they get to fit the basic model of dividing people into a fixed set of groups (eg. privileged/marginalized) with some fixed characteristics. Only after fitting information into this basic model they process it further to get the results of their thinking. Such framework of thinking deforms and distorts information in the process of trying to fit it to the inappropriate models, resulting in wrong results.

    Consinder the example of “shut up and listen” – the original version (reasonable) vs. the version deformed by political correctness (bad).

    As a part of a method of doing things (rather than a rude request) it originally comes from Ernesto Sirolli who runs an institute that helps entrepreneurship in Africa. It results from him witnessing that methods that simply copy exactly what’s done in the West fail in Africa, especially when it comes to agriculture. (My remark: such copy-exactly methods have been working well in formerly communist countries; but at the start of their journey into capitalism they differed from the third world by having some reasonable infrastructure – reliable electric power systems, rail networks etc., but not telecommunications networks, a lot of heavy industry, extraction, mechanical and basic chemicals industries well developed, and also a working public education system. Also many of these countries were industrialized before being forced in to communism). So after a failure of copy-exactly in Africa he adopted a method relaying on the local ideas from this subgroup of locals who have some enterprise spirit in them. He limits himself to the role of an expert that helps in execution, organization, financing, risk management etc., while the actual ideas, business models, business opportunities come from the creativity and perceptiveness of the locals. This is a model that he himself voluntarily adopted for himself – “I shut up and listen”, that he then tested in practice – only after checking the results he recommends it.

    Notice the strengths of this approach: Whom he listens to? Only to people with great ideas and a will to make things happen. Premium people. What is the pool of potential idea creators? The entire population. So basically if you have a stream of ideas from the entire idea-creating population coming at you then it’s better quietly utilize them, rather than talk about your ideas, coming from a single person.

    By the way: his example for what is useless are public meetings (in the West we call these conferences). “Let me tell you a secret. There is a problem with community meetings. Entrepreneurs never come. And they never tell you in a public meeting what they want to do with their own money. What opportunity they have identified.”.

    (sources: Ernesto Sirolli – Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! TED Talk )

    So there we have an original “shut up and listen” concept. Then comes PZ Myers and messes everyting up. Destroying the meaning of an original concept of “shut up and listen” by infesting it with political correctness, which causes it to mutate into a monster.

    PZ Myers version:

    “When a member of a marginalized group tells a member of a privileged group that their efforts, no matter how well-meaning, are wrong, there is one reasonable response: Shut up and listen. You might learn something. There is also a terrible response: arguing back. It always makes it worse. It’s not that they are infallible and we are totally stupid. It’s that THEY are the experts and the subject of the discussion.”

    We begin the understanding what’s wrong with PZ’s version by comparing the sizes of pools of idea generators. In a PC newspeach “disadvantaged group” usually relates to minority groups, while “privileged group” means those of majority demographics. If we assume identical per-person rate of idea generation between groups then the total amount of ideas generated by a group would be proportional to the size of a group. Meaning if a privileged group is N times larger than a disadvantaged group, then in a conversation between groups we would expect it to convey N times more ideas to a marginalized group than marginalized groups conveys to it.

    But such assumption of identical rate of idea generation is not compatible with the reality. There are some marginalized groups that are unable to generate ideas at the rate of the mainstream. My example was people with very low-IQ , which handicaps their ability to generate ideas in the subject of complicated, high-tech stuff which are now integral part of the world we live in. The other would be undereducated people in the West – right now a huge part of good ideas are about incremental improvements to the mechanisms, technologies, methods, institutions that are there, so having a good idea requires previous knowledge of the thing one wants to incrementally improve.

    Sirolli’s “shut up and listen” was about listening to the people with ideas – who perhaps yet lack knowledge, with Myer’s version you may end up valuing listening to a bunch of uneducated low-IQ people considering them being the experts.

    Let’s go to other differences. The idea of Sirollis “shut up and listen” includes avoiding being patronizing and paternalistic. Which is exactly what PZ does. He tells others what to do, rather than listening to them. He pretends that only his proposition is “the one reasonable response”, while what others do is “a terrible response”. And of course he doesn’t provide test results claims, just tells stuff in highfalutin, ad-authority attitude.

    The other difference between the original “shut up and listen” and the PZ-deformed version. The whole sense of the original version was about the feedback that is given to this people of ideas by “privileged” experts (in organizational/financing stuff). The algoritm is that a person with an idea comes to the person who is an expert in helping/supporting entrepreneurship and the flow of information is as follows: the person with an idea, but not enough knowledge is the one with an initiative, while the helper consultant expert waits for contact. Then the person with an idea talks about his idea, the helper consultant expert listens. But after this part the flow of conversation changes – after hearing the ideas and analyzing them its the helper expert who is conveying the avice. After that – an important issue – who is the doer, the implementator of ideas? Of course the now-entrepreneur who come with the idea. The helper consultant expert doesn’t do the final thing, but is waiting, ready to help if some more advice is needed.

    In a PZ-deformed version everything is wrong. Despite the problem of doing something like solving issues being naturally decomposed into actors like inventors, implementators, consultants, organizers, analysts, quality controllers, risk assessors etc. he artificially shows it only in the light of his paradigm of “privileged group” vs. “marginalized group” which is not even a match for the generalized case of doing things, and surely not for the”shut up and listen” method. The topics worth listening are thus misidentified: it’s worth to listen to ideas in the original method, while you are forced to listen to the whining and criticism in the PZ-deformed one. The people worth listening are misidentified – in the original method these are the most inventive and incentive people of the population first, then the consultant experts, in PZ-deformed version the only people worth listening to are the people with problems.

    It also doesn’t look like he even understands who should be the doer and who should be the advisor: he thinks the expert advisors should be the the people in need, while the actual doers, implementators should be the successful people. A hypothetical example: if you have a person of success (privileged) with experience in managing a large corporation, willing to help some unemployed illiterates, then in a PZ-deformed version such person should first ask such unemployed illiterates for expert advice on the right way to organize help for them, and after getting such expert opinion he should start the manual job of helping them, while they watch and criticize his performance.

    It may partially stem from the politically-correctness-imposed limitations on thinking standing in the way of understanding that there may be something right about a successful group, some features of such groups that made their members achieve a success on merits – enabling them being good advisors. And there may be some features of the marginalized group, that are a partial reason of the lack of success – making some of the members bad examples to follow.

    Also notice that the original “shut up and listen” is a proven method – tested with good results. It’s also based on the proven foundations like entrepreneurship and consultancy. PZ-deformed version carries no real-world evidence of success, and it’s foundations are in a failed ideology of PC.

    The unfortunate state of the world is that because of PZ large audience and popularity, it’s the PZ-deformed version of “shut up and listen” that become associated with the method in general; while the original one was somehow rarely mentioned in the course of the discussion. It means that PC forces are able to skew the communication into their version of things!

    What is the moral of the story? Avoid PC-infested methodologies, values, methods. Reject PC-infected people as sources of valuable social information. Instead search for PC-free ones. Even if there’s something interesting in what PC representative tells it’s quite likely that out there there’s a better version of it – thanks to being free from the influence of a dogmatic ideology. Search for such version, version relying on a real world and tested, rather than one relying on the one based on a broken paradigm, and a broken framework of thinking.

    • says

      GrzeTor, you’ve occasionally had some insightful things to say in blog comments, but usually on other issues. This issue you seem incapable of understanding. And this isn’t the first time that’s been the case.

      [Also, please note that I spend a lot of time fixing scores of spelling errors and formatting errors in your post. I would appreciate it if you took that trouble yourself in future. I might stop bothering.]

      You have not correctly characterized anything PZ Myers has said. At all. So your entire argument and theory are based on fiction, not fact.

      You have also illogically somehow attributed the concept of “shut up and listen” to PZ Myers when in fact it originated long before and without him and all he did was explain what was already a widely known concept in the field of gender and minority studies.

      This has nothing whatsoever to do with any derogatorily named “PC” culture, and I don’t honestly know where you get that idea. It suggests you are living in some strange reality-distorting bubble that adds non-existent subtext and claims everywhere you read anyone who says anything about feminism or minorities.

      If you want to know what PZ Myers was actually talking about, and what the “shut up and listen” concept actually means, in the context of mistreated groups (like women and minorities), Greta Christina just recently succinctly summarized it:

      I do not know anyone — and I mean anyone — who is a serious and respected leader or writer advocating for feminism within the atheist movement, who is telling men that they have nothing to contribute to the conversation about feminism, simply because they are men, and that all men must shut up about feminism permanently.

      Let me be very clear. There is an important difference between saying, on the one hand, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, you’re dominating the conversation, please let other people talk,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, it’s impossible for you to listen while you’re still talking,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, the points you’re making have already been addressed a thousand times over, if you stop talking we’ll point you to the places where it’s been addressed,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, the things you’re saying are coming from a place of privilege that you’re obviously not aware of, if you’ll listen for a minute we’ll try to explain how,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, you’re doubling down on an indefensible position and are increasingly walking out on a limb that will be very difficult to walk back,” or even, “Please stop saying the particular things you’re saying, they’re harmful and demeaning and flat-out wrong, if you shut up for the next ten minutes we’ll explain why”… and saying, on the other hand, “Shut up permanently, you have nothing to contribute, we don’t want to hear anything you have to say about feminism, ever.”

      And there is also an important difference between saying, “This particular man has a long-standing, well-established track record of ugly, hateful misogyny, and we are not interested in hearing what he has to say about feminism or anything else, and are not willing to let him spread his toxicity in our own space”… and saying, “We are not interested in hearing any man speak about feminism, ever.”

      In discussions about feminism, I have seen a fair amount of the former. I have not seen any of the latter, from any serious and respected leader or writer advocating for feminism within the atheist movement.

      GrzeTor, you need to get on board with reality here, and stop developing fanciful theories based on false beliefs about what we’re talking about.