How… Nice… of Richard Dawkins to Provide This Opportunity So Quickly

Ever since the Benson-Dawkins joint letter explaining that of course we can disagree, we just shouldn’t abuse the people we disagree with, I’ve been getting occasional attempted comments snidely wanting to know if this means the folks at Freethought Blogs will shut up. You see, they don’t understand the difference between harassment and criticism.*

Some folks seem to have imagined a cease-fire situation in which one side (theirs) gets to go on saying and doing awful things, while the other side (ours) is supposed to completely shut up.

They’re so precious.

Anyway, because Dawkins has a habit of tweeting his most problematic thoughts and then getting huffy and uncomprehending when advised the tweets are problematic, rather than listening to criticism and doing a bit of investigation to find out why he’s badly misstepping, we nearly instantly have an example of what Ophelia and Richard meant with that joint letter when they said this:

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

So Dawkins decided to play the “I’m just using logic!” game with rape victims (and having been the lucky recipient of a rapist who was both an acquaintance and armed with a knife, I straddle both categories. They are both astoundingly awful, FYI, and I honestly can’t tell you which aspect was worse). Guess what? We agree that just because you say X is bad, Y is worse, you’re not approving of Y! Guess what? We also think the rhetorical power of saying Y is worse than X for things like stranger vs. “date” rape is important to take into consideration! And we disagree sharply with Dawkins on that last point, because he can’t seem to move past the “But logic!” phase of the conversation.

Image shows a cat looking into the camera with its ears flattened. Caption says, Uh oh.

What have we done? We’ve disagreed in public! Look, here’s how it’s done:

It’s true that “X is less bad” ≠ “X is good” or “I approve of X.” I think Richard had in mind the passage about the molestation he experienced at school compared with other, less tolerable forms. I don’t think he had in mind “Dear Muslima” – which of course is a mere comment on a blog, not a passage in a best-selling much-translated much-discussed book. But “Dear Muslima” does a good job of illustrating what I mean about rhetoric and implication. The whole point of “Dear Muslima” was very plainly to say that women face horrendous forms of abuse and denial of rights in places where Islamic laws and/or customs have authority, and therefore women who face much milder forms of abuse in secular democracies should…talk less about it, or talk about it more temperately, or something along those lines. It’s hard to spell out the implication exactly, because it is an implication, but it’s something along those lines. That much is not ambiguous. You’d have to be a very primitive bit of AI to miss that.

Note what is missing from this post: calling Richard Dawkins awful slurs, threatening to rape him, photoshopping his head onto crass pictures, and otherwise personally attacking him rather than criticizing his problematic words.

Here’s another:

If you want to make a difference in social attitudes, you can say “Date rape is bad”…full stop. You don’t go on and say that some other form of rape is worse, because that’s all the date-rapers see: “Richard Dawkins says I’m not as bad as a rapist”. The first part is ignored.

And this from someone who explains that Richard Dawkins’s clumsy stomping all over already trodden people hurts worse because he likes the man both personally and professionally! Absent is any declaration that since Dawkins said disagreeable things, he is all manner of slurs, completely worthless, and additionally, deserves violence done to him. Could this be how disagreement and criticism work? Wow.

Here is someone who isn’t even on this network, and so can’t possibly be construed as being part of any “agreement,” and who is less enamored of Dawkins both personally and professionally, who still somehow manages to deconstruct the ideas without resorting to gendered epithets, threats of violence, attacks on his appearance, or nasty photoshop jobs. She didn’t even choose an unflattering picture of Dawkins to illustrate her post:

It’s a bit of passive-aggressive weirdness, for sure. I don’t think anyone objects to the initial statement, of course. He’s right that it is logical! Pearl Jam is bad. Dave Matthews Band is worse. That is not an endorsement of Pearl Jam. Stubbing your toe is bad. Getting it cut off is worse. That is not an endorsement of stubbing your toe. Wine coolers are bad. Mad Dog is worse. That is not an endorsement of wine coolers.

See, I could do this all day, using only examples that are much clearer than invoking touchy issues that are touchy precisely because a lot of people actually deny—and spend a whole of time and effort denying—that the bad things are actually all that bad. Indeed, it’s particularly weird to pull on date rape in an environment where a prominent Washington Post columnist is on the record pulling exactly this trick of implying that date rape shouldn’t “count” as rape because it’s supposedly not as bad as “real” rape. We live in a world where the terms “rape-rape” and “legitimate rape” have actually been used to suggest that only the worst of the worst rapes should even be considered criminal offenses at all.

My gosh, she even seems to understand what he was getting at. Amazing.

Let’s see, what else… Stephanie reposted the post she wrote after Dawkins’s initial comments on “mild” pedophilia, which explains, without attacking the person rather than the arguments, what he’s getting wrong and why he’s upsetting so many people. Still.

I don’t usually do reposts so soon after the original publication. This was originally posted last fall, when Dawkins was talking about “mild pedophilia. He’s ranking rape again. It’s worth pointing out that Dawkins isn’t doing this because no one provided him with any better information. He’s been told this is inappropriate and why, in great detail.

Ashley Miller was even kind enough to give him a freebie on the “mild” pedophilia thing, which is more grace than I feel inclined to offer. She then tries to explain for him why Twitter folks may be a scosh upset:

The main reason that this blew up in his face is that the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes, so the majority of rape victims seeing this post see it as delegitimizing.  This is happening in a society that already says that date rapes don’t count the same way that stranger rapes do.  As it turns out, acquaintance rape is just a pre-meditated and intentional as acts of stranger rape.  Even if his assertion was true, it would be perpetuating the stigma that surrounds date rape survivors and paints them, inaccurately, as overreactors or people who changed their mind about sex.

And Martin Wagner continues the education:

It isn’t that anyone thinks that, by saying Y is worse in severity than X, you’re endorsing X. It’s that you’re still, whether you mean to or not, minimizing and diminishing X.

This is what people who attacked him for his “mild pedophilia” remarks, and for “Dear Muslima,” were pointing out. Not that he was endorsing “milder” crimes (and “milder” by whose standards?), but that such reductionism was dismissive of subjective experience. It’s just an intellectualized way of saying “Stop being such a whiner.”

Strange that even though he thinks Dawkins should shut the fuck up and stop energetically enlarging the hole he’s been digging, Martin doesn’t take the opportunity to call him names.

Even one of the few people I’ve seen call him names hasn’t made it vicious:

Apparently Richard Dawkins was worried that people might have forgotten what an asshat [applicable to all people] he is. So, helpful fellow that he is, he decided to give us all a demonstration of why he’s one of the atheist movement’s biggest liabilities, a “humanist” who has trouble remembering to act human [not saying he isn’t human, mind – just has trouble acting like we’d like to see caring humans act].

This is the most acerbic of all the posts I have so far read on this side of the divide. And it somehow manages to avoid gendered slurs, threats, harassment, and other such specialties of the Slyme Pit and friends. You know, the kind of tactics Richard Dawkins himself says are beyond the pale. Yes, there’s a photoshop at the top of that post, showing a young Dawkins gazing in wonder at himself. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of photoshopping people into pornography, or splashing their images with “rape cum,” now, does it? There’s a difference between using a photoshop job to comment on a directly relevant aspect of an argument in a way that isn’t vicious or spiteful, and a photoshop job meant to harm and degrade.

So. What have we learned today, kids? That we will have disagreements, sometimes heated, sometimes quite sharp, in this community. That was never in doubt. Refer back to the opening phrases of the joint letter, and you will see it was never meant to stifle disagreement or dissent. What it was meant to do was tell those who think that attacking people on intensely personal levels, that threatening them, stalking them, harassing them, is the way to disagree, that they are wrong. That is not disagreement. That’s being horrible for the sake of being horrible. And we don’t need that in atheism.

Now, for those who may still be unclear on the concepts, allow me to direct you to Alex’s excellent post:

This isn’t a peace accord – it’s a treaty establishing terms of engagement.

And those in this community who deliberately refuse to understand that, and who take sharp disagreement amongst those of us who either signed or agreed with that joint statement as carte blanche to go back to being outrageous assholes, are not now and have never been arguing in good faith.

We’re going to argue. We’re even going to argue heatedly, and intensely, and sometimes impolitely. We may sometimes overstep, and have to apologize, and learn from our mistakes. We may not even like each other.

But we won’t resort to the sort of abuse heaped on people by members of the Slyme Pit and 4Chan and the MRAs in order to argue. That’s the difference. And it’s an important one.

Now, all that having been said…. For fuck’s sake, Richard, please use some of your not inconsequential wealth to bloody educate yourself on these topics. I know you’re smart enough to learn why you keep getting yourself into trouble on Twitter. Try to do better.

Image shows Richard Dawkins at a lectern. The screen above his head says, "Oh, Richard Dawkins, no."

*They also don’t know how to read comment policies. Mine says, among other things, that if you’ve engaged in bad behavior elsewhere, you don’t get to comment here. That rules out the people who think sharp criticism of a person’s behavior or ideas is equal to stalking, threatening physical harm, photoshopping nasty images of people, and cheering such behavior on. Byeee!

One Rope Across the Chasm

Excellent. Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins together have managed to pull a rope tight.

Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

[Read the rest. Especially those drive-by slimers who seem to think they’re on Team Dawkins. My, don’t you have a nasty shock coming?]

Can that particular divide be bridged? Remains to be seen. There’s more to this than admonishing the worst behaved amongst us – Dawkins has a lot of anti-feminism, casual sexism, and general promotion of people who do the exact things he excoriates to work through. But one sturdy rope can, in time, become a bridge. I do like to see leaders come around and realize that they have a part in ensuring atheism is welcoming to people who wish to improve the world rather than shit all over the people who try to make marginalized lives better. I like to see people whose work I’ve admired in the past start to understand that maybe, possibly, they’ve gotten a few things wrong, and come round, and do their bit to make things better for people other than their cohort. And it’s important for leaders to model better behavior, and expect better of their followers. Good on you for starting that process, Richard. Long may your bridge-building continue.

Image shows a black lab puppy biting a taut rope.

A puppy with a rope to help with outreach efforts. Image courtesy I Can Has Cheezburger.

(This doesn’t erase Dear Muslima and problematic statements about pedophilia and such like, mind. I’m pleased with this statement – but it’s really simple to support not being overtly awful, isn’t it? Still. More than I expected, and I do thank you. And major kudos to Ophelia for pursuing this.)

Of course, there are many people who won’t be crossing that bridge if and when it’s built. They can’t seem to live without making other people’s lives miserable. I think they’re about to find themselves on a very small island with a vast ocean between themselves and the rest of the “movement.” The Westboro Baptists of atheism, indeed. And we shall hold them in the same esteem as we do those… interesting… people.

Nerp. Still Not Deep Enough

Let us reassess whether atheism should be divided or not. Lemme see… Would I want to be on the same side as The Amazing Atheist, f’r instance? Ha ha ha ha no.

My, that was easy. Someone that despicable clearly has no place on my side of the Deep Rift™. I don’t fancy wading hip-deep in festering hatred just to get a larf at creationism. Why, all I need for that is to read their very own textbooks.

But what about his addled supporters? Should I, perhaps, build a small rope bridge between us?

No, I don’t think I shall tolerate hanging with the same side that thinks violent misogynists are no big so long as they deride creationists in a manner they find pleasing.

I shall be assidiously avoiding all association with those who think it’s better to defend an asshole than find and promote the non-assholes who do the same work. I am not so desperate for allies that I need to accept such grotty specimens.

No, the side that embraces people who find it sporting good fun to deliberately trigger rape victims, threaten to rape people with a fist, and hate on teenage girls because society frowns on them salivating on same, can stay far, far away from my side. They, to me, are what the Westboro Baptist Church is to my liberal Christian friends.

Image shows a statue of David Livingstone shading his eyes. Caption says, "No, I'm afraid I can still see them. Do keep widening."I think we can do nicely without that sort, thanks. In point of fact, I think we must.

Keeping Up With the Creationists, Vol. I, Issue 3: Special Nye Smoked Ham Edition

I’ll admit, I thought Bill Nye was making a huge mistake when he agreed to debate Ken Ham. I thought this would be a fiasco when I found out he’d agreed to debate Ken at Ken’s own Creation Museum, with only Answers in Genesis putting out DVDs, and when it seemed like only creationists were getting in the doors. And I’m still not happy this stunt will pull in some dollars for that epic fail of an organization. But to go on the creationists’ own turf, and still hand Ken Ham his ass in a sling, that’s some serious good-for-science there.

No, Bill probably didn’t convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. But we don’t aim this stuff at the people who have their minds set in stone (although even those minds may form a tiny stress fracture that will, with further weathering from gentle rains of science freezing and thawing in that tiny crack, break the whole thing open). When we take on creationists, whether it’s through a debate like this, or by fisking Christianist textbooks, or ripping their supposed science to shreds in blog posts, we’re aiming at the people on the fence – and some of them will get knocked right off that comfy perch. We’re handing information over to people who know creationism is wrong, but not why that’s important, or how to present the truth to others who don’t know it. And we’re doing it in an entertaining fashion that will get people who maybe aren’t passionate about science completely hooked. Watching scientists take on creationists was one of my gateway drugs, you know – I probably wouldn’t be a science blogger today if it hadn’t been for Barbara Forrest and PZ Myers and others showing me why it’s important to know this stuff, then showing me how amazing science actually is.

And this debate, my darlings, appears to have hit the target nearly dead-center.

It showed, clearly, that there’s no valid science in creationism. It’s religion all the way down. And that’s going to be invaluable in future battles with creationists over science education. We have that lovely unbroken line tracing the evolution of creationism from its origin through its various mutations as it attempted to survive First Amendment challenges, all the way up to and including Intelligent Design, which is creationism watered-down and disguised. At core, it’s all about what Ken Ham’s about: the Christian god.

That ain’t science.

Even without that, there was this moment, where the debate showed in stark clarity the difference between a scientist and a dogmatic jackass.

Image has Ken Ham's photo on the left and Bill Nye's photo on the right in a black frame. The caption reads: The main difference between young-earth creationism and mainstream science in a nutshell. When asked what would change their mind, they respond... (Under Ken Ham's photo) "Nothing." (Under Bill Nye's photo) "Evidence"   I swear to you, I’m printing this out on my snazzy new all-in-one printer and framing it on my wall. I can paste in any two images I want, and the result will always be the same. The Discovery Institute people, the Answers in Genesis people, the Institute for Creation Research, any number of the assclowns writing the Christianist textbooks Jonny, Dok and I excoriate, those people on school boards and in classrooms who think the First Amendment doesn’t apply to their god…. I could put any of their photos on the left. No amount of evidence will convince them (they say – I will always leave room for a tiny crack of doubt that will widen into a chasm). I can put any scientist on the left. It would take clear and convincing evidence, but given that, yes, their minds would change.

That moment, to my mind, is the one that made this whole debate worth it. It demonstrated to over a million people just how stark the difference is between science and creationism. It will make it that much easier for them to realize that creationism and its descendants like ID don’t belong in science classrooms.

That’s huge.

And Bill Nye has undoubtedly cracked some previously impervious foundations. We’ll see an influx of people months, even years, from now, who will trace their journey from dogmatic religion to freethought and learning actual science, back to this moment. The only question is how many.

So yeah, pretty stoked. So are many others.

For those who want to relive the live experience, here’s a few select liveblogs of the event:



Friendly Atheist

And others, I’m sure – feel free to add your favorites below.

For those still getting round to watching the debate, you can find some good drinking suggestions at Wonkette and in the comments here.

There’s a reason why I’m so pleased with the way things turned out: David MacMillan shows us how, when a bit of genuine information slips through, creationist minds can change.

For an idea of just how badly Ham got trounced, see the end of this Christian Science Monitor article, where a blogger for Powerline Kingdom Ministries acknowledges Ham lost, but claims he deliberately threw the debate, because reasons. Tee-hee.

Sara Lin Wilde thinks the debate sowed some science seeds that may grow inside some creationist noggins, which wouldn’t have happened if Bill Nye hadn’t stepped onto AiG’s turf.

A lot of us were worried Bill Nye would go in unprepared. If we’d known the NCSE spent an entire day coaching him, I think we would’ve relaxed. Josh Rosenau’s inside scoop and analysis is great.

Mark this in your calender o’ significant things, because this may be the only time I link to Chris Moody and say nice things about him. His piece on the debate was great. And he brings up another reason why this debate worked in our favor: it stripped creationism of its cover, and left it fully exposed to national attention. This is a good thing.

ZOMG. I agree with Chris Moody on something. *ACK* *thump*

This piece may interest you: a Christian explains why a literal reading of Genesis makes no sense, not just from a scientific standpoint, but because of its literary genre. This is something people terrified of science may be able to grasp. Another crack in the foundation.

You might have seen and giggled over these messages from creationists, including such greatest hit gotchas as explaining sunsets without God, 2nd law of thermodynamics, it’s only a theory, and why are there monkeys.

Phil Plait very patiently and gently answered all 22, in his patented style of sincerity and excitement.

So did Ethan Siegal, setting up a dedicated page for it: 22 Messages of Hope (and Science) for Creationists.

Those are the two to send to creationist friends and relations who need someone to gently open their minds and pour the wonder in. If you need someone with a sledgehammer, turn to Amanda Marcotte, who had rather less patience, and is a snarkmeister supreme.

And Libby Anne advises, with insider knowledge, how and how not to answer such questions sincerely. She urges us not to be just as ridiculous: if you’re going to challenge a creationist, you need to know their arguments, and you need to know the commonly-posed questions from science supporters that they already have answers to.

Finally, who do you think was the biggest loser? Jason Rosenhouse thinks it was Intelligent Design and its proponents. I agree. Ken Ham ripped the fig leaf off the anti-evolution crowd and torched it.

All in all, this turned out far, far better than I think any of us expected. I still think it’s not usually a good idea for scientists to debate creationists, and especially not on creationist turf – that does indeed give creationists more attention than they deserve, and people who do science rather than entertainment for a living might not do as well presenting in a way that holds even hostile attention. But professional science popularizers like Bill Nye should probably have little hesitation rolling up their sleeves, preparing thoroughly, and then bringing on the real science.

Some Essential Reading on the Sexism in Skepticism Debacle

I’ll tell you something, when I haven’t been wrapped up in my geology research, I’ve been on a roaring boil. I’m fed up with this shit. I’m through with people who think women are objects to do with as they will, and people who think inability to consent is consent (pro tip: it is not, and if you have sex with someone who is unable to consent, you’re a rapist). I’m done with people who think preventing rape and sexual assault is a woman’s job rather than placing the burden and blame where they belong: on the people who assault. I’m tired of the little shitstains who think this is all a bunch of silly drama and do their level best to shut the victims up. I want these disgusting fucks out of my community. They don’t belong in civilized spaces.

No one should have to put up with this outrageous fuckery. And I’m appalled that self-declared rational thinkers are so very terrible at thinking through something as simple as this, and coming to the conclusion that hey, you know, this shit has to stop.

I’m so damned grateful to the women who have come forward and the bloggers who refuse to relinquish the atheism and skepticism communities to the predators.

There’ve been some blog posts over the last few days I want to draw your attention to, in case you missed them. They’re necessary.

In no particular order, then:

Greta Christina’s Blog: Harassment, Rape, and the Difference Between Skepticism and Denialism – UPDATED and  Why We Need to Keep Fighting.

The Digital Cuttlefish: Feelings And Actions.

Pharyngula: I think the SFWA might just be awesome and What? Responsible, intelligent youtubers? INCONCEIVABLE!

Almost Diamonds: What Is Not in Dispute and How Many Do We Lose?

Butterflies and Wheels: Your various cleverations and No, the system does not work.

Lousy Canuck: Sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities: a timeline of major events.

Black Skeptics: Predators Beyond Belief.

Skepchick: If you don’t like rape, don’t get raped DUH, The Good Old Days, and Atheism, Sexism and Harassment. The Price of Speaking Up.

Daylight Atheism: Disillusionment and That Was the Wrong Answer, CFI.


I’m sure there are many more, but these are most of the posts that have helped clarify my thinking. Hopefully they will be of some use to you as well.

I’ve not yet finished exploding. Stay tuned if you like watching Dana unleash the Smack-o-Matic SuperDeluxe 9000. I’m polishing it as we speak.

Dear Survivors

This is the truth I’d like you to place in front of you right now, where you can see it: you survived. You did what you had to in order to survive the assault or abuse or other horrible thing that happened to you, changing your status from “one of the lucky ones” to “survivor.” You got through a situation that could have completely destroyed you. That alone is a triumph. May not feel like one, but you’re here and breathing because you found a way to survive.


That’s something other people don’t get to take away from you. Not ever.

Now. You may have noticed a contingent of shitwads who think your survival technique is something they get to judge, like this is some kind of Olympic sport where you get a score based on how flawless your performance was. They’ve generally never been there, done that, but they would’ve handled your situation totes different and you should have done x-y-z and not done a-b-c, just like they would. And they’ve never been in a situation like yours or really listened to people who came through similar, but they’re self-appointed experts in what you should have done then and should be doing now; how you, the survivor, should act and behave and feel.

Fuck ‘em.

And there are some survivors who’ve decided Their Way is the True and Only Way™. They went through this one similar thing once, and that has made them The World Experts in Surviving All The Shit®. They’ve got a list, and they tick off what you did wrong, clucking their tongues and murmuring in severe tones that You Are Not a True Survivor™.

Fuck them, too.

Survival isn’t one of Plato’s perfect Ideas, which all should emulate. There’s no one and only way of surviving. This isn’t a fucking contest. There is no standard set by a panel of Expert Survivors that you have to measure up to.

This little tree needs no one's approval, just a place to put down roots and fight to survive.

This little tree needs no one’s approval, just a place to put down roots and fight to survive.

You survived. That’s it. That’s the one fact that matters. The way you did it doesn’t invalidate that fact. No matter how you pulled it off – whether it was fighting like fury or not fighting at all; memorizing every detail or sending your mind to a safe place; screaming, staying silent, or cracking jokes – you made it. You did what you had to do. You did what was right for you, did the best you could, and now you’re here. The shitlords who think their opinions matter can go piss against a stiff wind in winter.

All right, and now you’re taking back your life. How you’re doing it isn’t any of their fucking business. They have zero say in your decisions. They don’t get to set the Gold Standard, no matter how much they think so. Their opinion has as much weight as a warm fart on Pluto. It matters about as much as whether someone had Grey Poupon or French’s mustard on the sandwich they ate before getting squashed by a semi. They don’t get to expect jack shit from you.

Fuck ‘em. Do it your way.

If you need to become a virtual hermit in order to cope, then that’s what you do. Maybe you visit a therapist twice a week. Maybe later, maybe never. Maybe you let yourself scream. Or cry. Or laugh. Or all of the above, simultaneously. Take self defense classes, or learn how to build things in bottles. Only venture out to coffee-shop poetry readings, or go clubbing. Hang out quietly in a back corner, or crowd surf. Never let another human being touch you, or go for all the touching you can get. Spend years working through the sexual issues you were left with by consulting a counselor, or going out and having as much sex as you can. Wear fourteen layers of clothing in summer, or go with virtually none. Take years to recover, or pretty much take it in stride. Treat the subject with utmost seriousness, or unleash every bit of black humor you can conjure. And etc., in any combination, any point(s) in the spectrum, at your own pace.

You get to decide what you need. You decide how you’ll react. You will go about this in a fashion unique to you, because you’re you, and no one has any right to tell you how you should and shouldn’t survive.

There is no Authentic Survivor™ to live up to. Other people may act like there is, but they speak from their sphincter. Those of us who aren’t dumbfuck judgmental assholes will tell them to flush it. Their opinion belongs in a cesspit, not society.

You just get on with the surviving, your way, all the way. Do what you need to do to take back what was stolen, as much as that’s possible. Do what it takes to reclaim your power. Proceed in any fashion necessary to make yourself reasonably whole. No one else gets to dictate the method and means of your survival.


Your fellow survivor,


A little tree that is attempting to thrive in very hostile conditions: the Big Obsidian Flow, Newberry Crater, Oregon. It's found its own way to survive.

A little tree that is attempting to thrive in very hostile conditions: the Big Obsidian Flow, Newberry Crater, Oregon. It’s found its own way to survive.


P.S. None of the above should be interpreted as deterring you from getting help should you need it. Genuine help is great! And you’ll know it when you see it, even if it takes you a little while to recognize it. Unhelpful arseclowns, on the other hand, should be fairly simple to spot, and you can do safely without their brand of “help.”

Parable of the Party

For those earnest riders to the rescue.

My, what a busy life you’ve got. You haven’t been able to keep up on the goings-on amongst people you hang out with, not for years. Always something, innit? You’ve exchanged hellos, and occasionally caught a little bit of the ne ws. You’ve heard there’s been some bad shit going down, but you’re not quite sure what it is – just seems to be upsetting a lot of people. Well, y’know, it’ll probably sort itself out. You all go to the same university, so it’s not like disagreements could get that serious, amirite?

So there you are, some free time at last, and just in time for a party! Well, you’re gonna be late, but you’ll totally be there. Fun times ahead!

But when you get there long after it started, you don’t find people partying so much.

There’s a few of your friends doing their best to dance, and a group of strangers at the opposite end of the room, drinking heavily and jeering the dancers. Wow, they’re loud.

More of your friends are gathered in a huddle by the sofa, looking upset, and a couple of friends who said they’d be there are missing. Weird.

You go over to the huddled group to say hi, and walk into the middle of a tense discussion about what to do with the loud drinky group. They’re trying to figure out how to make them leave. Apparently, they’ve been pretty disruptive, and that same group has been showing up at every party lately, drinking everyone’s booze, bothering people even after they’ve been told to stop, and basically being as mean and disruptive as they can. You catch a few of the things they’re saying, calling your friends ugly and fat and whores and worse. Your friends are obviously distressed, and you want to help.

“Just ignore them,” you say. “All they want is attention. If you just have fun and pretend like they’re not here, they’ll give up and go away.”


Won’t work, you’re told. Been tried. When that bunch first started crashing parties, almost everyone tried to ignore them, but all it did was make them louder and more obnoxious, and they even started to come to office parties where one or two of their targets were, causing trouble for them in their professional lives.

“Well, you need to talk to them,” you say. “Tell them what they’re doing is upsetting you.”

That’s been tried too, you’re told. It made the harassers laugh all the harder. And they still show up at every party, and still torment everyone they can.

“Well, if they’re always at parties, you should just stop going to parties,” you say. “That way, you won’t be a target.”

So what, your friends say, we’re supposed to spend the rest of our lives at home? No parties for us, because of them? Anyway, so-and-so and a few others tried that. Stopped going to parties altogether. Rarely joined us when we gathered informally on the quad from time to time. And all it did was make the harassers go after them on the quad, in class, and basically anywhere they could get to them.

“Well, if they’re behaving that way, you should just call the police,” you say.

We did that, you’re told. All the police did was tell us they’re too busy to deal with harassment at parties, even if it is illegal, and we should stop going to parties like that if we don’t want to be harassed.

“Okay, then, go to the dean of students,” you say. “Let him know what’s going on. He can tell them their behavior isn’t acceptable.”

We did, your friends say. We’ve gone to the dean and everyone else in authority. They issued blanket statements saying that harassment at parties is unacceptable, but it didn’t stop, and now a lot of them are saying we should be careful how we talk about harassers crashing our parties, because it makes people uncomfortable. And they’ve specially welcomed the harassers to university events. The dean even hugged one of the worst of our harassers at a university event that was supposed to be about us and our concerns. So we’re not getting any support from most of them, and it’s just made the harassment worse, because the harassers realize they can get away with it.

“Something’s got to be done,” you say. “Have you ever asked the harassers why they’re crashing your parties to harass you? Have you sat down with them on neutral ground and talked over your differences?”

It’s useless to do that, you’re told. All they want to do is crash parties and make us feel so uncomfortable we’ll stop coming. But so-and-so tried anyway. It went nowhere.

“Surely,” you say, “all this needs is a little diplomacy. No one’s asking you to agree with your harassers. Nations negotiate peace all the time without agreeing on everything. It would be best for you if you negotiated peace with your harassers.”

Now your friends are becoming upset. It won’t work, they nearly shout. Haven’t you heard anything we’re saying? The harassers don’t want peace – they enjoy crashing parties and making people feel awful, and they won’t stop no matter what we do.

“Something’s got to be done,” you say again.

All that’s left is for the whole campus to come together and isolate these crashers, your friends say. Everyone needs to stand firm against this kind of behavior, and show it won’t be tolerated. When enough people do that, even though some harassers will still be around, some of them will stop, and the rest of them will know they don’t have the university’s support for what they’re doing.


“That’s not very civil,” you say as the party crashers knock the china cabinet over and break everything inside, howling with laughter as they do. “We all have common interests. We’re all attending the same university. Surely, something can be worked out!”

Well, it can’t, your friends say. And this isn’t up for debate anymore. We’re tired of arguing over the same failed tactics. We need to move on to discussions on how we’re going to get the university to not only condemn this behavior, but do something to ensure those few crashers who like to destroy every party are subject to social sanctions whenever they do crap like this. Even if it means being a little ‘uncivil.’

By now, the crashers have set the couch on fire and are laughing at your friends’ distressed reactions. “It’s just a couch!” they shout. “We’re just joking. Can’t you take a joke?”

Maybe you join your friends’ chorus of voices, then, speaking out forcefully against party-crashing and china-cabinet-breaking and couch-burning, rather than standing on the sidelines wringing your hands and asking both sides to be nice to each other for the common good of the university. But just when you’ve decided your friends are right, another old friend who hasn’t been to parties lately walks in. “Party crashers, huh?” he says. “They kinda suck. Hey, have you considered ignoring them? If you ignore them, they’ll probably go away….”

36ca4e08-e6b4-49ea-863b-ff50fffc99e8Moral: Been there, done that, heard all the solutions a thousand trillion times. Maybe instead of thinking you’re the only genius on earth who coulda possibly thunkit, stop before you pontificate and ask what you can do to help instead. Your assistance will be valued and of far better quality if you do that one thing.

How Many Fires Should the Arsonists be Allowed to Set?

So there’s this thing a lot of decent people (and isn’t it remarkable how they’re almost always men?) have been doing. It happens in public with people like Lee Moore and Michael Nugent playing at being peace brokers; it happens in private, with friends and respected colleagues comparing the harassers and the harassees to the USSR and America. Sit down at a table, they say. Air grievances, they say. Come to an agreement, they say. Give and take is what’s needed here, they say.

They never do get that there are some situations that can’t be resolved by dialogue, some people with whom negotiation is impossible. I’m reminded of Methos trying to talk sense into MacLeod, speaking of a person whose only goal was death and destruction: “Kronos didn’t torch those villages for a few coins, he torched them to watch them burn.” What can you offer to someone whose only desire is to cause damage (and be lauded by the upper eschelons while doing it)? Nothing except capitulation. So what, we hand Kronos a torch and say, “Go to it”?

Firing Match by Vomir-en-costard, via Flickr.

Firing Match by Vomir-en-costard, via Flickr.

I’ve been struggling to find the proper analogy to describe how bloody stupid this is, but it clicked in place today, and perhaps it might help a few of the peace brokers understand what their pushing for peace looks like to those of us who have had their houses set on fire:

[Peace Broker]: you’re asking us to negotiate with arsonists. If there are arsonists in your community who won’t stop setting fires, you don’t ask the anti-arson parts of the community to negotiate how many fires the arsonists can set, and how much damage the anti-arsonists are expected to tolerate. You stop the arsonists, period. Please don’t play silly buggers by equating “both sides” to superpowers with equal accountability and concern for survival. That’s an incorrect and harmful analogy. It does nothing to solve the problem.

The Digital Cuttlefish, with whom I shared this analogy (and who understood this long ago), wrote it up in an easy-to-understand poem. Perhaps the peace brokers could sing a few bars if the written words aren’t penetrating. All together, now: “Why Can’t You Just Meet Me Halfway?”

If you wish to ask me that – why can’t I let the harassers meet me halfway, hash out our differences over a beer or in some grand diplomatic scheme, let me just ask you this: why won’t you let arsonists burn down your house? Not the whole thing? Well, why not just part of it? The bedroom? The living room? Kitchen? Well, how about a bathroom? Oh, and don’t forget, there will be other arsonists coming who will want to burn your house down as well, so make sure you have some kindling and other rooms ready to welcome them. And they will never ever stop, not until you’ve moved to a different state to get away from them, and never once show up to hang out with your friends or family in your old neighborhood again. Even then, they might track you down and light a match just for old times’ sake. You know, just to show you how vulnerable to arson you are, and why you might want to rebuild with asbestos. But surely, Mr. Peace Broker, you can accept that. After all, aside from the whole arson disagreement, your interests are perfectly aligned!

Fire in West Campus by That Other Paper, via Flickr.

Fire in West Campus by That Other Paper, via Flickr.

Also, after you’ve negotiated your “peace” with the arsonists, the murderers would like a few words. Well, a few limbs, but it’s all the same when it’s all in good fun, right? How can there be peace among us if you aren’t willing to part with at least a foot or two?

Those with a fetish for dialogue need to consider what dialogue actually does, and consider the fact that dialogue in this case was tried and failed. You can’t negotiate with arsonists. Nor should you have to.

So, future peace broker, consider the analogy above. Ponder the fact that not all disagreements are like tensions between countries. Realize that not everything can be resolved by just talking it over. And take the following to heart:

[Peace Broker] can’t compel us to “come to the table” with bullies. He can’t, without their help, tell us there is anything to be gained by talking to people whose idea of disagreement is to:

There is nothing he can do to convince us that this time, as opposed to the other times these folks didn’t want to hear what we had to say on our own blogs, things will be better because it happens in his space.

Instead of handing the arsonists more matches, could you perhaps consider stopping them from setting fires instead? Just a thought.

Pearl River Fire by Loco Steve, via Flickr

Pearl River Fire by Loco Steve, via Flickr

Three Posts that Should Be Required Reading for Ron Lindsay

Greta Christina has gone and said about all I could have said about this situation, and so much more. Ron Lindsay is a fool if he doesn’t read, then seriously contemplate, both of her posts.

A Blatant Misrepresentation — And An Insulting One: The Content of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk

He Treated Us With Contempt: The Context of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk

Afterward, he would be a raging dumbass not to head over to Jon Scalzi’s blog to see how a proper apology is done (h/t PZ).

Presidential Statement on the SFWA Bulletin, June 2, 2013

I don’t hold out much hope he’ll be capable of processing any of these, but one never knows. There they are, Ron. They might help you mend a few of the bridges you burned.


And now, a rant:

It’s pathetic, watching these men scream and howl when the ladiez mention they want some equality and respect. You have dipshits like Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg shrieking like what’s-his-guts – wow, he’s become such a non-entity to me I forgot his name – Michael Shermer. Persecution! Censorship! Witchhunt! Nazis! Stalin! Mao! North Korea! ZOMG Freeze Peach!!! They like to think of teh wimminz as emotional and irrational, but Jesus fuck, you can’t get much more emotional and irrational than these privileged little wankers do when called on their bullshit.

Ron Lindsay rode in like a shiny knight and said he was all against hatred directed at women – and then proceeded to stand up in front of women who have put up with an unbelievable amount of abuse and horrible treatment, lectured them on being good little girls, and then embraced their harasser, and that’s only the beginning. Methinks Ron likes to think of himself as a good person, and a champion of women, but he has no idea how to be a true ally and is refusing to learn. He’s just like so many of the he-man-woman-bashers who are happy to treat women with a smidgeon of respect just as long as we keep our mouths shut and our eyes down and bat our eyelashes at them like good little subordinate females.

You assholes make me sick. It’s time for you to extract your heads from your laps, stop performing your self-congratulatory self-fellatio, spend a few minutes thinking clearly about what sort of man gets that rabid over women calling them on sexist bullshit, and decide if this is really the kind of man you want to be.

And if the answer is yes, I have only one short sentence for you to listen to: Stay the fuck away from us.

As for the organizations that allow some of these extraordinary assholes to get away with this behavior: shape up and ship them out, or lose your chance at growth. You’ll dwindle in the dust as the movement marches on. And you’ll deserve it.

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.