Ron Lindsay’s Extraordinary Bullshit Part I: Wherein We Have a Discussion About Open Letters

I’ve been meaning to parse and publish this for some time. Remember all the way back when Ron Lindsay published and signed that open letter that wasn’t so much a call for civility as a call to STFU? Remember when people got upset? Yeah. Well. According to the letter, we were supposed to call folks before reaming them, so I asked for his phone number on Twitter. I was pretty shocked when he actually gave it to me, but then, he’d just signed the letter saying people should phone each other, so that bit was fresh in everyone’s mind. We couldn’t come up with a good time to talk on the phone, our schedules being what they are, so we eventually conversed via email. By the time all that was done, the furor over the open letter had subsided, and there was always something more pressing to publish, and most days I forgot Ron Lindsay existed.

Obviously, after his extraordinary fuck-ups at WiS2, my memory’s been jogged.

I’ll have Words to Say about the “welcome” speech debacle. And no, I won’t be calling (or emailing) Ron after he failed to live up to his own fucking pledge. But before I get to those Words, here is the conversation surrounding that ridiculous open letter asking us why we can’t just all play nice with each other (which is a question Ron Lindsay should be answering right about now).

Dissapointed cat

Onward, then:

Dear Dana,

This is in response to your April 10 email. I will try to answer your questions as best as I can given my time constraints and also my unwillingness to divulge the contents of private or confidential communications.

Because I am taking the time to answer your questions as best as I can, if you do refer to or reproduce my answers in a blog post, I ask that you reproduce them in full.

Please note that I am speaking only for myself. I do not have the authority to speak for, nor am I speaking for, the leaders of any other organizations.

In response to your questions: First, you need to be aware of the process, at least in broad terms, by which the Open Letter was produced because the wording of your email suggests a misconception of the process.

The Heads group had a meeting in Atlanta on January 26. Heads is a very informal group consisting of the leaders of major secular organizations. It has no constitution, bylaws, written rules of procedure, governing body, etc. It was started several years ago as a way for leaders of these groups to talk about issues of common concern in confidence, in part to foster an atmosphere of cooperation and trust and to help bring about coordinated action where possible.

Prior to this year’s meeting, there was significant discussion on the Heads listserve about diversity issues within the movement and problems relating to online communication. There was also discussion concerning sexism and feminism. I submitted for consideration a proposed statement that leaders of the organizations could sign on to if they wanted. Two other individuals submitted statements for consideration. There was much discussion, including discussion at the actual meeting in January. Secular Woman, through its representatives, was one of the organizations that participated in the discussion.

At the meeting, there was a consensus that the three persons who had submitted proposed statements should confer and draft a statement for consideration. There was also a consensus that the statement should focus on problems with online conduct, with specific mention being made of the despicable comments being directed against some women. The statement would take the form of a pledge by the signatories to do their best to improve the content and tone of online communication, along with some suggestions for everyone, that is, for leaders of organizations as well as everyone else.

There was no consensus at this time to support a statement that was more focused on sexism or feminism, although there was unanimous support for inclusion within the statement of a section that would unambiguously indicate that advocacy of women’s rights was an integral part of the mission of secular organizations.

With this background, let me answer your questions.

Section I, Questions 1-6:

[He didn’t include the questions, so I shall do so here:

I. When drafting this open letter, which of the following women/organizations did you reach out to?
1. Secular Woman
2. Ophelia Benson
3. Stephanie Zvan
4. Greta Christina
5. Rebecca Watson
6. Mary Ellen Sikes/American Secular Census]

Prior to the Heads meeting, I publicly solicited input from anyone interested in issues of diversity within the movement and/or the controversy over sexism and feminism. Thus, to the extent that they were interested, all the individuals and organizations you mention had the opportunity to contribute. (As I recall, Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Kim Rippere, and Mary Ellen Sikes did submit comments.)

With respect to the Heads discussion, both Mary Ellen Sikes (American Secular Census) and Kim Rippere (Secular Woman) participated. The Heads discussion was limited to members of the Heads group. That’s simply how the group operates.

[Okies. Next section:

II. Have you read any of the following posts:

With respect to Section II, Questions 1-6, I read all the posts you have cited.

[I guess I should have added a short reading comprehension quiz for each.]

Section III [III. Questions arising from various comments and posts]

Question 1: [How are we to “pick up the phone” or “send a private email” to those who either won’t provide them or won’t answer our calls/emails? Are we supposed to follow this procedure with our harassers?] Your question relates to one paragraph of the Open Letter. This paragraph, as is true with the rest of the Open Letter, presumes people will interpret it using common sense. If talking or writing to someone is pointless, because they have already made their hostility abundantly clear, there is no need to engage in a futile act. I don’t think this needed to be spelled out. (If we had spelled it out, we may have been accused of infantilizing our audience.) The advice to communicate privately at first applies to situations where it’s possible to avoid a needless public battle.

Question 2: [Do you understand why not addressing problematic behavior in public is a problem in and of itself?] I’m not an absolutist in many things, and I’m not an absolutist on this issue either, nor do I suggest that you or anyone else should be. Sometimes private communication is better; sometimes a public statement is better. It depends on the situation and also what you mean by “problematic.” See my answer to Watson #5 below.

Question 3: [Many women, this woman included, feel that the Open Letter give shelter to our abusers, a bludgeon to silence us with, and treats insults and rhetoric as equal in badness to “slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats.” Can you see why this is a major issue for women and PoCs, and will prevent many of us from endorsing it?] I do not interpret the Open Letter as you do. The Open Letter explicitly condemns blogs and comments that exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. The Open Letter nowhere equates a rape threat with mere rhetoric, however tendentious.

Question 4: [Holding private conversations about equal rights and problematic behavior such as racism, sexism, or ignoring minority voices has historically done little to solve these issues, while taking the conversations public has proven to be very effective. How do you respond to the concern that privacy will allow problems to fester, fail to be effective, and ends up silencing minority voices?] Again, I think you’re misreading the Open Letter. It is not recommending privacy for all communications, all the time. Sometimes public condemnation is appropriate. Judgment is required.

Question 5: [The focus on internet behavior ignores the fact that many of these problems begin and continue offline. It also focuses on tone and gives the appearance of ignoring substance. What is your response to these concerns? Were you aware of them while drafting this letter? If so, why were they not addressed?] As indicated, the Open Letter was a product of discussion among some twenty (or more) people. It was a compromise among people with different perspectives. The consensus was that we should strive for unity, and the Open Letter was a statement almost all groups could endorse. Another statement would not have achieved the same level of unity. Nothing in the Open letter precludes individual organizations from implementing policies or taking action on issues not addressed in the Open Letter. I am aware that harassment, sexist behavior, and other forms of unacceptable conduct occur offline.

Question 6: [Will there be a follow-up open letter explaining what concrete steps your organizations will be taking to end harassment in the secular community? Do you see why merely expressing support for the idea of equality, rather than committing to concrete actions, fails to impress people who have suffered abuse from or been ignored by those proclaiming their belief in equality? Do you see why the letter’s emphasis on civility rather than addressing specific concerns alienates the people whose equality you claim to care about?] I cannot predict what other organizations might do. I doubt if Heads as a group will do much more in the near future simply because there is a significant problem with coordinating action between annual meetings. CFI addresses the problem of harassment in our current policies. We may adopt further relevant policies. Our policies are continually being reviewed to ensure they address issues of concern to members of our community. Regarding the Open Letter’s emphasis on civility, it should not alienate people if they understand the limits and focus of the Open Letter.

Question 7: [How do you respond to those of us who sincerely regard this letter as an attempt to maintain the status quo and ignore the serious issues of sexism in the secular community? Do you think that asking the abused to speak nicely to their abusers is actually helpful?] Regarding the first part of this question, please refer to my prior responses on the specific focus of the Open Letter. Regarding the second part, the Open Letter does not ask “the abused to speak nicely to their abusers.” There is no sentence resembling this statement anywhere in the Open Letter. This is your characterization, and, respectfully, this is a mischaracterization.

Question 8: [If the letter was advising how secular organizations should respond to harmful religious practices/beliefs/actions, or how to respond to racism in the secular community, would you still support it without reservation?] To repeat myself, the Open Letter’s focus was on online conduct, not the broader issue of sexism, so your examples are not analogous. That said, I favor civility where possible. Civility does not imply inaction in the face of objectionable conduct. It never has. Gandhi and King were civil, but they were far from passive. Similarly, with respect to religion, Harris, Hitchens, Jacoby, Dawkins, and Dennett, as well as many others, have been civil, but they have also been vigorous opponents of the harm caused by religion.

RW Section [The following questions arise from the comment you left on Rebecca Watson’s post. These are questions that subsequent commenters wish see you answer.]:

Question 1: [Instead of addressing specific criticisms of the open letter made by Rebecca Watson, American Secular Census, and Secular Woman, you asked for a “fair reading” of the letter. What, in your view, constitutes a “fair reading”? How have these women been “unfair” in their reading so far?] A fair reading of the Open Letter would examine its contents in the context of the problems it specifically set out to address. Such a fair reading would proceed paragraph by paragraph and state whether the points contained therein are wrong or provide advice that should be rejected. I do not think this type of analysis was done by all critics.

My comment was not specifically directed at any one individual, although obviously I did have Rebecca’s post in mind when I made my comment. One statement by Rebecca I thought was particularly unfair. She suggested that the leaders who endorsed the Open Letter “stop etching tablets” and instead “start actively participating in the massive feminist fight against the Religious Right.” CFI has been advocating on behalf of women’s rights for years. It is an integral part of our mission. We’d love to do more. Give us more funds and we’ll do more. I’d be thrilled to have another staffer who could focus exclusively on advocacy for women’s rights, especially in the area of reproductive rights, which are currently under a coordinated assault.

Question 2: [Not one person criticizing the letter has demanded that it “solve all the world’s problems.” They have pointed out how its call for online civility fails to address the serious problem of sexism in the secular movement, which is the source of much of the incivility. How do you address those specific criticisms?] I think everyone who belongs to Heads recognizes that sexism isn’t confined to the Internet. There were differences of opinion on how best to address sexism. Consequently, at this time there was no consensus on the wording of a statement that would address sexism apart from this one paragraph:

The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.

Question 3: [You take issue with Rebecca’s characterization of the letter as delivered from “on a mountaintop,” but several people offering criticism have explained why the letter gives the impression of a top-down approach. They note that it contains “you statements” – prescribing the conduct you expect from others – and does not contain concrete actions you will take to address these issues, other than a problematic boilerplate pronouncement against insults etc. and moderating comments. How do you respond to these specific criticisms? Do these criticisms help you understand why the letter presented itself as a series of “thou shalts” rather than “we wills”?] I still take issue with the characterization of the Open Letter as being issued from a “mountaintop.” I admire the craft that went into this rhetorical flourish, but am disheartened by its unwarranted suggestion that those who put the letter together view themselves as religious leaders issuing dogmatic pronouncements. There is no justification for this. I presume the members of the secular movement want their leaders to talk about issues and where possible commit to taking unified action. If one is disappointed that they did not address all the issues that one thinks should have been addressed, then, fine, state that. But there is no basis for attributing to them a Moses-like mindset.

You are mistaken, as are others, in implying that the Open Letter has lots of “you” statements. The “you” statements are confined principally to the one paragraph that has drawn so much attention (that is, the paragraph suggesting private communications as a possible alternative to public communications.) The “we” statements in the Open Letter far outnumber the “you” statements. Perhaps the signatories can be accused of inconsistency in pronoun use, but bad grammar does not equate to a top-down approach.

Question 4: [Many of us have no desire to “heal the rifts” between us and our abusers. Would you insist that battered women “heal the rifts” with their batterers? Should we reach out to appease those who write for hate groups like A Voice for Men?] Please reference prior answers. This set of questions, as with others, attributes to the Open Letter advice that is not contained therein.

Question 5: [Did you pick up the phone and speak to Rebecca before writing your comment? If not, why did you neglect to follow the procedure laid out in the open letter that you signed?] No I did not speak to Rebecca before writing my comment and I do not accept your suggestion that my failure to speak to her somehow indicates I was neglecting advice set forth in the Open Letter.

These questions seem inspired, again, by that one paragraph in the Open Letter which recommends that private communications be considered as an alternative to a public communication. However, to infer that one must always talk or write to someone before posting a comment on a blog is to misinterpret the intent of the Open Letter. The intent of that one paragraph of the Open Letter was to suggest private communications as an alternative — where feasible — to starting a public battle. Sometimes this may not be feasible, in part because battle lines are already drawn. Other times, private communication may not be necessary because one’s comment is of the type not likely to be considered incendiary. I think my comment was reasonable, not inflammatory.

But the fact of the matter is I did write privately to Rebecca, Stephanie Zvan and Kim Rippere after my comment. I had some concerns which I did not raise in my public comment. These were discussed. There was still disagreement at the end, but I made a deliberate decision not to go public with my remaining concerns because I thought it might create an unnecessary battle, yielding divisiveness instead of respectful disagreement. Private communications are not always better, but they are sometimes better.

I hope this answers your questions.

So I got this email, and read it a few times, and while I was grateful he’d taken the time to answer lil ol me, I was still left with a few odd flavors on my tongue:

1. It might have just been me, but I felt like I’d just been lectured to by a condescending jackass.

2. He never did understand that the questions I was asking were synthesized from the questions and concerns of dozens of people in the comment sections of several posts, regardless of the fact I reminded him of that several times. This did not boost my faith in his reading comprehension skillz.

3. He’s relying on “fair reading” and “misconception” to protect his ass. It sure as shit didn’t work for me.

But, y’know, whatevs. I was willing to give him the bennies of the doubts, and chalk it up to him being in a rush and all that, and figured that he probably wasn’t such a bad sort at heart. But then came WiS2, and there are no more bennies of the doubts. Not when the man’s so busy with a backhoe digging his way to the opposite side of the Earth that he can’t hear the united chorus of people who are extremely put out by his extraordinary bullshit. You are all welcome to read the above exchange in light of subsequent events and form your own conclusions. And should you wish to see the entire email chain, I will publish it.

And Ron? If you’re reading this and bristling at my tone, I invite you to pause and consider how your own tone might be improved, and how in the future you might manage to avoid pissing off nearly every woman (and a good chunk of the decent men) in our movement. I wish you every success with your contemplative endeavors.


  1. Ichthyic says

    One might almost conclude that his extraordinary “lecture” at WiS2, and the selective followup specifically aimed at RW, were in fact premised by the responses to this “open letter” fiasco.


    Ron is simply way too wrapped up in himself any more to be a good CEO for something like CFI. he should back up a bit.

    • Dana Hunter says

      I’d like to see him explore the wonders of retirement. A nice house in the country, with no internet connection…

  2. mythbri says

    But you see, Dana, that he is obviously neutral and therefore has no “tone.”


  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … which of the following women/organizations did you reach out to?
    1. Secular Woman
    2. Ophelia Benson
    3. Stephanie Zvan
    4. Greta Christina
    5. Rebecca Watson
    6. Mary Ellen Sikes/American Secular Census]

    Which brings, to my addled mind, a question about another woman who garnered a lot of pixels in the atheosphere just about exactly a year ago: has Edwina Rogers (then newly-chosen head of the Secular Coalition of America) dodged – or become utterly irrelevant to – questions of women facing harassment in the freethought movement?

    • Dana Hunter says

      Dunno. From where I sit, she’s been a non-entity, but I haven’t kept up on her activities.

  4. CaitieCat says

    I’m struck by the number of times he mentions that the reader is enjoined to divine the intent of the Open Letter, and not let foolish things like the actual words written get in the way of such divination of the magical intent.

    I’m gonna go ahead and guess we’re supposed to use “feminine intuition” to do this?

    • Dana Hunter says

      You, also, win an internet. Your choice of finish. Or should I use my “feminine intuition” to divine which you’d like? ;-)

      • CaitieCat says

        That’s the idea, yep! We’re just so intuitive, I didn’t even need to tell you that! W00t for the sacred mystic and man-confusing powers of womanness!

  5. lochaber says

    wow. seems like the same flavor of vague dodgy crap one typically gets from corporate types.

    Granted, I haven’t really been following this bit with him and his letter and speech all too diligently (it pretty much struck me as the same old crap, so why bother…)

    I don’t quite understand what is with some of these people. I can sorta get (being a white male, and all that) that it’s rather easy to not be aware of some issues or certain aspects of problems. But, then, this stuff isn’t that hard to get – maybe some of us can be a bit slow/ignorant until it gets pointed out to us. But once we’ve been made aware of it, it’s not too difficult to sit and think for a minute or too, and begin to get an understanding of the issues.

    Anyways; anyone with any significant exposure should have some grasp of how privilege and such affects this sorta thing. I can’t help but think that most of these attitudes are willful ignorance (at best – I don’t want to think too much about other possibilities:(…).

    Thanks for putting the effort into writing, and also for putting the response up here and sharing it and everything.


    • Dana Hunter says

      You’re welcome.

      As to the difference between you and Ron… he is, indeed, a corporate type, judging from what I know of him. You appear to be a head-out-of-arse-and-ears-unblocked type. I love your type!

  6. LeftSidePositive says

    Oh Holy SHIT. He just doesn’t fucking get it, does he?! This whole email boils down to “The advice in the letter applies only when I want it to apply and there are some times when it clearly doesn’t apply but we didn’t bother to address the applicability in the letter, and it never fucking occurred to us that people would try to read it consistently…”

    Oh, fuck. And that whole thing about the stone tablets? He basically acknowledged that the way they formulated the letter was EXACTLY what Rebecca was objecting to. He’s been trying to hint that she was being inaccurate or misguided in his criticism, but what he actually means is “These are the most beautifully-carved stone tablets ever! How dare you not like them!!”

    Also, is it just me or was he deliberately vague about where exactly the criticisms of the letter were unfounded or mischaracterizing?

    • Dana Hunter says

      It’s not just you.

      It’s actually a little eerie how you narrated my thoughts during this email exchange with Ron…

  7. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    @ LeftSidePositive #6 –

    The thing that has been MOST infuriating for me about the last two years of “debate” about the role of women in secularism/atheism/skepticism has been the deliberate vagueness of those who criticize Benson, Svan, Watson, Christina, and any other woman who speaks out on these issues. They spew lots and lots and lots of words criticizing people, without every giving actual citations for what they are being criticized ABOUT.

    It’s enough to make one think they’re just gaslighting.

    • Dana Hunter says

      It seems to boil down to some people wishing to continue being clueless assclowns, and they’d have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those pesky feminists!

      • CaitieCat says

        Oh, no! I just realized, if you pull the monster mask off Ron Lindsay – it’s really the old man who’s been the caretaker of the place, trying to scare off the wholesome and innocent land developers!


  8. says

    Hi. This is Mary Ellen Sikes. Thank you for publishing this most enlightening e-mail exchange along with your commentary, Dana.

    Ron’s responses to your questions, while technically correct, are somewhat misleading in their description of the process by which the Open Letter was developed. Ron did solicit input on the Heads listserve at the beginning of the timeline, and he is correct that quite a few people commented, but the Open Letter itself was drafted offlist by just three individuals. (Others had asked to be included; I never learned why they were not.) When the draft was published on the listserve, we were instructed to restrict our comments to substantive issues (those that would prevent us from signing) to which we had straightforward solutions. These instructions did limit feedback, intentionally or not. In my case, I had expressed doubt about the wisdom and efficacy of publishing such a statement right from the start; in fact, any comments I made throughout the Open Letter’s life cycle, from conception to publication, were pretty consistently skeptical. Therefore I didn’t feel obligated to

    proceed paragraph by paragraph and state whether the points contained therein are wrong or provide advice that should be rejected.

    Ron also writes:

    As indicated, the Open Letter was a product of discussion among some twenty (or more) people. It was a compromise among people with different perspectives. The consensus was that we should strive for unity, and the Open Letter was a statement almost all groups could endorse.

    It’s possible that “strive for unity” was decided at the meeting (which I did not attend), but on the listserve a long-term participant who is this year’s list admin advised us that Heads operates by participation, not consensus. Thus, I felt free to withhold my signature. (I did receive some backlash about that later.)

    Mary Ellen Sikes, President
    American Secular Census

  9. Dana Hunter says

    Hola, first-time commenters! Sorry about the moderation – it’s how I keep the arseholes and slyme out of my cantina, but it entraps welcome patrons as well. I’ll fish you out as quickly as possible, barring being stuck at work and sleeping. Comment away!

  10. Eristae says

    You know, I’m sure there’s more to say about this letter, and maybe I’ll think of it later, but for now all I can think is, “Wow, that’s one unwieldy, awkward pile of words.” It’s like he sat down and said, “Okay, what is the best way to make a response so that people will not actually read the thing?” My eyes just kept sliiiiiding down the page.

    • bryanfeir says

      I suspect a lot of that is based on the ‘corporate type’ mentioned above. A lot of corporate communications boils down to ‘How do I sound important without saying anything that can be used against me later? And if it is used against me later, how can I make sure to leave enough wiggle room to be able to claim that wasn’t what I meant?’

      It’s all about the prime directive: Cover Your Ass. And, of course, when more straightforward people get upset about you being too vague to pin down, that’s their fault for losing their tempers and being emotional about it.

      Granted, I don’t know Ron myself, but I’ve seen this pattern lots of times…

  11. athyco says

    I had to break from reading and come back for the rest after reading his answer to your first question in the 3rd section:

    Your question relates to one paragraph of the Open Letter. This paragraph, as is true with the rest of the Open Letter, presumes people will interpret it using common sense. If talking or writing to someone is pointless, because they have already made their hostility abundantly clear, there is no need to engage in a futile act. I don’t think this needed to be spelled out. (If we had spelled it out, we may have been accused of infantilizing our audience.) The advice to communicate privately at first applies to situations where it’s possible to avoid a needless public battle.

    Ron Lindsay uses his common sense to forego private communication with unnamed women for unspecified writing/speaking in the year since the first WiS con. I imagine that he would shrug off the need to communicate with any who fell outside the pool of secular women expected to make up the speakers/attendees of WiS2. They likely would be hostile, and such communication would likely be a futile act.

    If, however, he saw these “shut up and listen” communications creeping into that pool of secular women at which WiS2 was aimed, then common sense would make prior private conversations applicable. A talk, however, that doesn’t mention any attempt to defuse this tactic, is likely made by someone who didn’t make any such attempts.

    Instead, the first anyone hears from Ron Lindsay that he deplores “shut up and listen” and the “ossifying” of the concept of privilege is in the public “nonwelcome” opening talk of WiS2. He was not speaking to one group of secular women about another group uninterested in the goals of the Center for Inquiry in general and the Women in Secularism conference in particular.

    All groups develop catchphrases for larger concepts. An ally wants to understand the larger concept behind the catchphrase. They don’t expect “cookies.” They realize that “intent is not magic.” They know how to avoid ‘splainin’ whether it be prefixed by man- or conde-. They recognize “privilege” is not a personal condemnation, and they sure as hell understand that “shut up and listen” means there’s some active listening to do in order to make their next steps productive for the agreed-upon goals with a marginalized group. (There are African-American Republicans, but their being members of a marginalized group doesn’t mean I agree with all their goals.)

    Does anyone have any idea exactly when this Board meeting is supposed to happen in June? Or what they may be considering in their deliberations? On Ron Lindsay’s blog at CFI, his “apology” for his North Korea remark about Rebecca Watson’s post went up without a comment option. Although it was most active, the comment thread on the post that contained that remark was closed. The comments on “My Talk at WiS2” and “A Few Examples of ‘Shut Up and Listen'” are still open. Looking at the opinions of a number of those who are supporting Dr. Lindsay (e.g. GrzeTor, the latest one on “My Talk,” has said

    Feminism is unfair and unjust by itself, by it’s very concept of supporting ONLY women’s rights. It’s not difficult to notice that systematicaly increasing ONLY female rights would mean one day they would tower about all other’s rights. That’s the direction the feminism leads us – towards a female privilege.

    I would hope that the Board would at least read the debate on their organizations own site to determine what groups are getting what message from Ron Lindsay.

    • Dana Hunter says

      June 14th, I believe. Greta has all their contact info – give ’em an earful before then:

      That comment from GrzeTor… wot a dumbarse. It’s the quality of the opposition that led me to embrace feminism with both arms. I like hanging out with intelligent people who aren’t breathing their own digestive fumes. Not one of the antis has since convinced me they have a valid argument, but they have done a magnificent job confirming I don’t ever want to spend any time with them.

  12. says

    P.S. I am surprised to see Ron suddenly eager for funding to hire a women’s rights advocate. In his September blog Divisiveness Within the Secular Movement he argues against making “non-core” issues a priority:

    And it’s not just that we can’t effectively “me too” the work of other organizations working on social justice issues; we at CFI don’t want to. We are not primarily LGBT advocates, women’s rights advocates, or healthcare advocates. We are for a secular society, one of the fruits of which, we firmly believe, will be a society with rational, evidence-based policies and much less religion-fueled prejudice. We also believe our work on this objective takes priority over other social justice objectives, however worthy they may be.

  13. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    It’s amazing – the more I read stuff from Official Atheist Leaders(tm) like Lindsay, the more grateful I am that I spend most of my meatspace life hanging out with religious folk, Boy Scouts, and the like. I know where I stand with them, where the disagreements are, and how we can work together on the areas on which we agree. My atheist friends have mostly been acquired via the Intertubes and I trust them only after several years of reading their responses to ElevatorGate, WiS1&2, and the ridiculous abuse directed towards women who blog at Skepchick or FtB. Just because someone shows up at a secular/skeptic/atheist gathering does not mean that we have any shared values or goals.

    • says

      Just because someone shows up at a secular/skeptic/atheist gathering does not mean that we have any shared values or goals.

      A dude messaged me on OkCupid once and was like “oh we’re both atheists. I can tell we’re going to get along.” And I was like lollllllnope.

    • CaitieCat says

      Oh, is that what’s gotten on my jeans? I thought it was garbate water, but maybe it’s the stink of this letter dripping on me.

  14. says

    Such a fair reading would proceed paragraph by paragraph and state whether the points contained therein are wrong or provide advice that should be rejected. I do not think this type of analysis was done by all critics.

    I love how, no matter how many times we’ve had the discussion, no matter how many times the evidence has been trotted out and shown that one side clearly has the argument, when dealing with regressive ideas — and only regressive ideas — we have to refute them starting from first principles in every single discussion we have. We are never, ever allowed to declare the regressive idea dead and move on to discussing things based on our new knowledge.

    Skeptics just get that creationists are wrong. Atheists get that religious followers are wrong. After that…nothing really changes =/

  15. B-Lar says

    I recently re-watched West Wing, and in the later series when the big election is happening one of the candidates is told “If someone asks you a question you dont like or dont want to answer, just say ‘I dont accept the premise of the question.'”

    For some reason, I kept thinking of that as I read through Ron’s responses.

  16. rq says

    What pisses me off about his response is, as someone(s) already mentioned, the appeals to ‘common sense’, to ‘fair reading’, blah blah blah.
    You know what that is? It’s bad writing. If you write something, and people totally miss the point you (say you) are trying to make, it’s time to look not at other people’s reading skills, but your own writing skills. So maybe Ron Lindsay didn’t intend for the Open Letter to come across the way it did, but intent sure as shit ain’t magic. But he should listen to all those having a problem with his choice of words and phrasing, perhaps revisit the dictionary several more times, and think about how to actually get his point across in writing. (Or just admit that everyone’s reading is more or less correct and that he’s fucked this one up.)
    Because if I need this much explanation to discover the real point of an essay, the author is doing it wrong.
    Dana – you, on the other hand, are clear and on-point and I am grateful for you publishing this exchange/email lecture.

  17. says

    1. It might have just been me, but I felt like I’d just been lectured to by a condescending jackass.

    It wasn’t just you.

    I admire the craft that went into this rhetorical flourish, . . . (Lindsay)

    Way to devalue the whole intent! A glorified focus on tone, again, with a twist. Even polite tone becomes wrong, if some phrase, somewhere, can be construed as rhetoric, words chosen for effect rather than meaning. And now the whole point can be waved aside. Ugh!

    And then there’s the wrap-up: one law for thee, and none for me. (Because I’m “reasonable”.)

  18. says

    Intent may not be magic, but Lindsay sure as shit uses it as a magic “escape consequences free” card against readers who can’t read his mind and divine when he means us to apply what he said and when he doesn’t. If vague blanket statements are not to be taken at face value, don’t use them so much! And divining hostility from any criticism magically frees him from having to contact a critic before firing off both barrels in scattershot retaliation. Ron: if one person gets it wrong, they have trouble reading. If dozens and hundreds of people get it wrong, you have trouble writing. I suggest that you step down to take a remedial writing course.

  19. says

    Isn’t there a need for a different kind of leadership in the freethought/secular community? This top down authoritarian way of approaching a problem seems antithetical to the whole ethos of free thought. I’d have hoped that if a discussion on how to deal with online harassment was needed (It isn’t) then the question would be opened up to the community as a whole. If there are issues of civility then that also should be opened up to the community to discuss. Not the “leaders” or this “heads group” issuing statements from on high. That could never work in anything other than an authoritarian hierarchical community, a corporation or a religion. People won’t buy into it in this neck of the woods.

    Lead by example is fine but telling others what to do ain’t gonna cut it. Personally I’d say both these discussions have been had and mostly won. Harassment is not ever acceptable and people involved in it or giving those involved in it cover are to be called out on it. Civility is maybe a harder one as there is a strong case to be made for it being used to silence marginalised voices, something I’ve personally seen online unlike Rons silencing of white men. Although in favour of civility is Dan Finkes call out of Ron on his lack of civility, it was pretty good and maybe more effective at getting through to Ron given his delicate ego.

  20. maudell says

    As a sidenote, his answer to your question about AVfM being a hate site implies that he thinks it’s a given that we should condemn people associated with them (of course, cryptic language makes it impossible to know precisely what he actually meant).

    Odd that he’d decide to openly welcome a guy who was on an assignment for AVfM at WIS2. Ignorance or bullshit? Hard to tell.

    In the end, his comments renders the open letter completely useless. Which turns it into another placebo for status quo.

  21. says

    This reminds me of that old Star Trek episode where Kirk, Bones, and Uhura get transported to the savage Enterprise and have to act savage. Their doubles couldn’t keep up the facade of civility on the civilized Enterprise so they ended up in stir. I read Mr. Lindsay’s explanations as being from someone who is desperately trying to appear to be understanding of your position, but can’t get his brain to accept the premise that you have a valid point, so he offloads the responsibility of making himself understood to you. He’s trying to act civilized but his uncivilized brain isn’t trained for it.

  22. says

    Lindsay writes:

    CFI has been advocating on behalf of women’s rights for years. It is an integral part of our mission. We’d love to do more. Give us more funds and we’ll do more. I’d be thrilled to have another staffer who could focus exclusively on advocacy for women’s rights…

    It’s not about your organization’s mission, Ron. It’s about its nature and principles. It’s about cleaning up your own house, not CFI taking on an expanded mission of public advocacy and outreach for “women’s rights.” How much money and staff do you need to figure out how to be decent, inclusive, and non-discriminatory?

  23. smhll says

    The feminist movement has lots to learn from critics who criticize feminism, but the secular movement (shrug) has very little to learn from feminists who want to say something critical about it, so simmer down and send me your softly-whispered and politely phrases criticism on alternate Tuesdays?

    I gest about Tuesdays, but the contrast is dismaying. And entrenched bias, apparently due to personal identity, warps the dialog in sad ways.

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

    Other times, private communication may not be necessary because one’s comment is of the type not likely to be considered incendiary. I think my comment was reasonable, not inflammatory.

    And this is what kills the whole idea of a civility pledge: it doesn’t apply when one is being reasonable and non-inflammatory. Who ever thinks, in the process of writing something public, “Wow, I am being really unreasonable here. In fact, I don’t think my comment could be construed as reasonable by any objective observer. Many would even characterize it as inflammatory. Well, I guess this means that the civility pledge applies – let me go look up its procedures.”

    We all see our writing as reasonable – or we wouldn’t write/post it. Lindsay himself provides the ultimate example. If there is no accountability when one “think[s]” that one’s “comment was reasonable, not inflammatory” then there is no accountability. In practice, Lindsay and others like him who push the civility idea will hold you accountable if **they** don’t like your tone, while entirely and unironically exempting themselves from accountability (and even rage at you for trying to hold them accountable) because they – post facto – asked themselves “Am I reasonable?” and answered, “Verily!”

  25. says

    Yeah, I saw this going bad over on the Skepchick post on the “open letter” where after a long critique and a bunch of comments, Lindsay showed up to pretend that people hadn’t really read the letter properly and ignored all the criticism. Here’s what I said there, appropriate to pretty much everything he’s said since(the first bit in quotes is Lindsay:

    “The statement was not delivered from a mountaintop. This suggests it’s dogma. CFI doesn’t do dogma, nor do I think most secular organizations do dogma. ”

    It also suggests a “top-down, leaders proclaiming to followers” approach, which many organizations DO engage in. This is borne out by your insistence that the problem is with people’s interpretation/reading of your statement, rather than the statement itself. It also seems that you didn’t even look at let alone address the substance of the criticism, you just sort of hand-waved it away with a bunch of “we can’t do anything to satisfy you people” nonsense. It seems like your goal is to appease critics or silence them, not to actually take action to solve the problems that are at the root of the criticism.

    What a maroon.

  26. carlie says

    I’d be thrilled to have another staffer who could focus exclusively on advocacy for women’s rights…

    Huh. I’d be thrilled if all of the staffers simply supported women’s rights to start with. And hey, that would be free!