I want to thank Ron Lindsay for his apology. I am accepting his apology. And I am now willing to move forward, and to work with CFI in the future.
A bit of background, for those who haven’t been following this: At the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference hosted by the Center For Inquiry, CFI’s CEO Ron Lindsay opened the conference with a talk that many people — myself included — found deeply insulting and contemptuous to women and to feminists, both in its content and its context. This talk, as well as Lindsay’s follow-up blog posts, sparked a major controversy in the atheist/ skeptical community, and caused some people to withdraw support from CFI. Several weeks later, the CFI Board of Directors issued a response to the controversy, which many people — myself included — found bland, equivocating, obfuscating, and entirely non-responsive to the actual issue. Many people and organizations who had been angered by Lindsay’s talk, but who had been waiting to see what the CFI Board was going to say and do in response, decided at this point to withdraw their support from the organization, and to cut off ties with it. Again, myself included. And also including the free student-run conference, Skepticon, which decided to stop accepting sponsorship and financial support from CFI.
Ron Lindsay has now apologized. Here is his statement:
It has been a few weeks since I have said anything in public about the controversy over my remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. As CFI announced via Twitter, this pause was to enable the board to have time to consider the matter. The board has issued its statement. It is now an appropriate time for me to make some remarks.
I am sorry that I caused offense with my talk. I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome as a result of my talk. From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.
I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.
Please accept my apologies.
So, to repeat: I want to thank Ron Lindsay for his apology. I am accepting his apology. And I am now willing to move forward, and to work with CFI in the future.
Some people have been saying that Lindsay’s apology was a not-pology. I don’t think that’s accurate or fair. It may have been more terse than some people would have liked; it may not have gone into as much detail about what Lindsay did wrong than some people would have liked; it may not have had as much in the way of concrete promises for future change as some people would have liked. I share some of these sentiments. But it was not a not-pology. It was a real apology. Lindsay did not say, “I’m sorry you were offended.” He said, exact quote, “I am sorry that I caused offense.” He said, exact quote, “I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome.” And he said, exact quote, “I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.”
He did not say, “I am sorry people were hurt.” He said, “I am sorry I hurt people.”
This is a community that places a high value on people acknowledging when they’re wrong. The atheist community is built largely of people who have acknowledged that they were wrong, about something very large and important (namely, the existence of God). The skeptical community is built around the core value of prioritizing reality over opinion or dogma… and of being willing to let go of opinion or dogma, and acknowledge one’s mistakes, when evidence contradicts it. I want to live up to those values.
What’s more, this is also a community that understands the cognitive biases that make apologizing difficult — even when blatant mistakes and wrongdoings and contradictory evidence are staring you in the face. This is a community that understands the cognitive biases that lead us to start rationalizing our actions the moment we do anything at all. This is a community that understands the cognitive biases that lead us to seek and prioritize evidence/ people telling us we’re right, and to ignore or minimize evidence/ people telling us we’re wrong. This is a community that understands the cognitive biases that make it harder to walk it back once you’ve gone out on a limb; that make it harder to acknowledge mistakes once you’ve doubled down on them. This is a community that understands the cognitive biases that make apologizing difficult… and therefore, this is a community that tries to support and praise and reinforce apologizing and the acknowledgement of mistakes, both in the larger society around us, and within our own community. I want to live up to those values.
Besides, from a purely practical standpoint: In the future, if I’m trying to persuade someone who’s screwed up to apologize, I want to be able to tell them that…well, that this is a community that places a high value on people acknowledging when they’re wrong. and doesn’t hold grudges for it.
So thank you, Ron. Apologizing is hard. Apologizing for something big that got lots and lots of people furious at you is especially hard. I’ve had to do it in the past, and it sucks. Thank you for doing it. Apology accepted.
I am accepting this apology somewhat cautiously. Trust has been broken, and that takes time to repair. And I am still very dissatisfied with the CFI board’s bland, equivocating, obfuscating non-statement on this controversy. Trust takes time to repair… and that repair work has to be done, not just with words, but with actions. I do expect concrete action in the near future, as well as the middle and long-term future, to make it clear that both Lindsay and the CFI board take these issues seriously. Some forms that might take:
* A pledge to put on a Women in Secularism 3 conference.
* Tangible support — in money/ resources/ both — of projects/ organizations focused on women’s issues, where those projects/ organizations/ issues overlap with CFI’s mission.
* Tangible movement towards greater diversity — not just in gender, but in race, class, gender identity, and other issues — in hiring, volunteer recruitment, board appointments, speakers at conferences and other events, and similar areas.
* Recognition of the real harassment that feminist women in this movement experience (Lindsay has already done this, it would be good to get this from the board as well) — and tangible support in efforts to counter it.
Words aren’t enough. But they’re a start. They’re an important start. They are often a necessary start. We often need to acknowledge out loud — to others, and to ourselves — that we messed up and want to make things right, before we can start to make things right. I am accepting this apology somewhat cautiously… but I am accepting it. I am thanking Ron sincerely for it. And I am ready and willing to move forward, and to work with CFI in the future.
I’m not going to tell any of my readers what you should do here. I didn’t do that when I withdrew my support from CFI, and I’m not going to do it now that I’m returning it. You have to keep your own conscience. But I do want to say this, and I hope you’ll bear it in mind when you’re considering your decision:
When I withdrew my support from CFI and cut off ties with them, many people told me, “You can’t cut off your support! They do such good work, even though they screwed up! You should stay, and work for change from within!” And I’ve been responding, “If you will never leave an organization no matter what they do, they’ll have no reason to change. You are abdicating your power. You will not be able to make change from within. They’ll have no reason to do anything you ask.”
The reverse of that is also true.
If you’ll never return to an organization no matter what they do, they’ll also have no reason to change.
Obviously you have the right to spend/ donate your time and money whenever you like, to support whatever companies/ organizations you like. Nobody has the right to your time and money. But withdrawing connection and support from an organization when they screw up is only effective if your support will be returned once the screw-up gets acknowledged and corrected. Staying with an organization forever no matter what they do means abdicating your power… but staying away from an organization forever no matter what they do also means abdicating your power.
You have to decide for yourself what constitutes sufficient change and a sufficient correction of the screw-up. But if nothing at all will ever be good enough, you are abandoning the power you have to effect change… just as much as if nothing at all will ever be bad enough.
Words aren’t enough. But they’re a start. They’re an important start. They are often a necessary start. I am willing to accept these words as a good-faith indicator of a good beginning. And I am ready and willing to move forward.
Some other posts from other people, saying similar things:
Ron Lindsay Apologizes, Amy Davis Roth (Surly Amy)
Accepting Apologies And Moving On, Amanda Marcotte
Apologies Are Hard, Stephanie Zvan
Moving Our Community Forward, Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman
Onward, Ophelia Benson
We’re making progress, Martha (guest post on Butterflies and Wheels)
Thank You, Ron, Dana Hunter
Anatomy of another apology, Jason Thibeault
Ron Lindsay Apologizes: A Small Step in the Right Direction, Adam Lee
Good on Dr. Lindsay, Kaoru
My Part in the “Campaign” to “Get Ron Lindsay Fired”… and My Thoughts on His Apology, Nathan Hevenstone
An Apology from Ron Lindsay, Darwin Harmless