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Jun 14 2013

Leaders stand up for what is right

Wow, Australia, are you trying to shame the US by example or what? While rape is endemic in our military, and old greyheads waffle about in committees avoiding stating anything clearly about the problem, look at Lieutenant General David Morrison of the Australian army laying down the law.

Yes. The time is long past due to recognize that equality by race and sex and sexual orientation is a moral obligation. I commend Morrison for being at least one man who stands up for that obligation.

But what about us? Rebecca Watson is exactly right.

Recently, I’ve been discussing and sometimes arguing with friends about the current state of the skeptic and atheist communities. It is my firm belief that we are, as a “movement,” cowardly, and that is why we ultimately will fail. There are too many of us, and especially too many people in positions of power, who are unwilling or unable to take any real action that might help stop the incessant harassment of women in our ranks, or to take any other real moral stand. I’ve seen people who think of themselves as allies actively covering up sexual harassment at an event and then going on to invite the harasser back to speak. I’ve seen “skeptics” write blog posts defending Brian Dunning as a hero instead of an embarrassment. I’ve seen organization employees privately rage about the nonsense their boss is spewing but then refuse to even try to hold him accountable. If we’re going to get anywhere, we have to demand better. We need leaders who are more like Lt. Gen. Morrison.

I feel that American leadership in a lot of domains has been crippled by that Clintonian disease of triangulation — straining to find a position that accommodates a maximum number without regard to truth or moral status. That’s a dangerous approach when the majority is not moral, and often, not even right.

50 comments

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  1. 1
    Inaji

    It is my firm belief that we are, as a “movement,” cowardly, and that is why we ultimately will fail. There are too many of us, and especially too many people in positions of power, who are unwilling or unable to take any real action that might help stop the incessant harassment of women in our ranks, or to take any other real moral stand.

    Absolutely true. We’ve seen this too much, and it has lead to anger, frustration, and a whole lot of distancing. It’s especially galling when so many of these people in privileged positions practically dislocate a shoulder patting themselves on the back for being oh-so-progressive and forward thinking.

  2. 2
    Suido

    His speech was excellent. Unfortunately, it was also necessary.

    It comes at the end of a week in which sexism has been front page news every single day, with high profile offenders in federal politics, the military and the media. All of which were accompanied by various types of minimising techniques/defensive posturing/denials from the peanut gallery.

    We’re not an example for the world yet, despite a few good voices.

  3. 3
    billygutter01

    Well, Hell!

    I really needed that good news. *whew!* I’m so used to squirmy, uncomfortable news from that general direction.

    How delightful to hear an unflinching declaration!

    Bravo!

  4. 4
    Yuriel

    “I feel that American leadership in a lot of domains has been crippled by that Clintonian disease of triangulation — straining to find a position that accommodates a maximum number without regard to truth or moral status. That’s a dangerous approach when the majority is not moral, and often, not even right.”

    Also know as Barack “spineless centrist” Obama Syndrome.

    Seriously, you could convince him of being kicked in the groin by John Boehner, just tell him Republicans want to kick him twice and liberals are appalled at the very idea of the Speaker assaulting the President. He’ll take the kick grinning and then boast of how wisely moderate his deal was and that he sure showed those hippies who’s boss.

  5. 5
    Hank_Says

    If General Morrison wasn’t already the boss of the AJs (affectionate term: “army jerks”), I’d shout “promote that man!”

    Sexism and misogyny are hot topics in Oz right now, with the PM being on the receiving end since her installation, shock jock douches like Alan Jones being their usual self-parodying (yet still toxic) selves and now the inquiry into secret sex tapes shot and distributed by soldiers (not to mention the usual background noise of entitled footballers behaving like eternal spring-breakers). Whatever you think of the army, the orders our government gives it or even the existence of such an institution, General Morrison needs to be applauded for being unequivocal and telling those under his command in no uncertain terms that if they harm or exploit others they’re not welcome in, as he described it, this “band of brothers and sisters.” Money quote for me:

    The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

    Would that skeptic “leaders” had equivalent spine when addressing the community they ostensibly exist to serve.

    We’re in no doubt as to the standards that people like Lindsay and Grothe happily accept.

  6. 6
    rq

    That statement was impressive. I hope the follow-up is just as strong and ruthless.

  7. 7
    timanthony

    Rebecca Watson clearly has neither her head nor her heart in the wrong place. And she’s on FTB.

    But she doesn’t acknowledge the standard position, which is that atheism isn’t a movement and can’t be one, because in practice there’s no way to sustain an organization around a ‘negative’ idea like ‘not believing’ in a thing. So easy to conceive of, but not possible to really do.

    Back in the days of organised Free Thought societies and whatnot, there was something to gather around: the newly burgeoning sciences, which seemed to call aspects of religion (as it was still being preached daily and weekly) into question. Also being a much smaller minority in those days than atheists are now probably drove them closer together.

    I looked for it but couldn’t immediately find a copy of Sam Harris’ Keynote address to the Brights movement some years ago, in which he states unambiguously (paraphrased), “You can’t organize around this. You should all go home!” (Obviously he disappointed a lot of people that day, but he had to be truthful and I have to respect that). He also said that if rationalists do have a job, it is to wait until someone says/does something wacky, then swing into (re)action to decry their words/actions. We have to be on call.

    I have always agreed with Sam Harris. Religion is so resistant to argument that it rarely budges entrenched beliefs. As much as I want to do horrible things to proselytizing creationists/IDers, and faith-healers and ‘psychic surgeons’, and even some anti-abortionsists (the ones that murder), at the same time I cannot bring myself to denounce private religious feeling in the people I meet – as long as they’re not bothering me or anyone else.

    You can’t organize against religion itself, instead you are stuck with launching ad hoc responses to individual transgressions. Be happy: in a big way, it makes our job easier, and keeps it goal-oriented.

    There are exceptions to every rule. PZ is one; he seems to have successfully organized most of this blog around a principle of vociferously and attacking religious claims. But he’s an exception, and notice that he still has to couple it with the idea of promoting biology as entertainment, and that it takes up a lot of his time – I don’t know how he does it. Maybe he never sleeps.

  8. 8
    Charly

    I have to say I find it really refreshing in the morning to see someone in position of power to take a strong moral stance. It is not a sight that occurs too often.

  9. 9
    Inaji

    timanthony:

    And she’s on FTB.

    No, she isn’t.

  10. 10
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    Saw him last night on the news giving a press conference. It’s a mark of my cynicism that I wondered briefly if his obvious anger came from being forced into having to deal with this rather than any real contempt for the actions of his subordinates. Watching this clip though I’m reasonably convinced that he means it. Time will tell.

  11. 11
    rq

    FossilFishy
    You can tell he means it because he barely blinks through the entire video. (He does – three times around the 1 minute mark.)

  12. 12
    rorschach

    I may as well put this here then, since my comment on Rebecca’s post is in moderation at Skepchick:

    Morrison’s speech was quite exceptional for Australia’s standards. Usually you get a bit of lip service from someone in the military for a day or two when a woman gets raped or filmed or both, and then it’s back to business as usual. So this was a refreshing deviation from the standard evasive manouevers.

    If we want a better movement, some of us are going to have to give up certain things: our idolization of prominent men, our quiet anonymity, and our job security, for a start.

    I would like to hear a bit more about how you figure that this follows. Am I prepared to “give up my job security” (by which I guess you mean being prepared to be sacked when some disgruntled troll disagrees with me on the internet and starts sending letters to my employer)? No, absolutely not, neither would I want to forgo my anonymity while we still have a situation where a bunch of nasty anonymous haters want us silenced or ostracized at any cost.

    But why do you think that we can’t be effective communicators and spokespeople for change and against sexist culture while at the same time retaining some degree of anonymity?

  13. 13
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    You should have seen him walking out of the conference, his stride and manner clearly said “Get the hell out of my way, I’m pissed and willing to take it out on you.” Or so it appeared to me.

  14. 14
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    But she doesn’t acknowledge the standard position, which is that atheism isn’t a movement and can’t be one, because in practice there’s no way to sustain an organization around a ‘negative’ idea like ‘not believing’ in a thing. So easy to conceive of, but not possible to really do.

    Wow. I wonder why PZ has posted a bunch of times deriding dictionary atheism? I wonder why he’s challenged his readers to consider the implication of atheism as a philosophy? Fuck the [citation needed] “standard position”, those who get that far no no further are just the sort of lazy thinkers who seem to inevitably trip over their privilege in public.

    There are exceptions to every rule.

    Ah special pleading, how nice to see you again, it’s been a while.

  15. 15
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    But she doesn’t acknowledge the standard position, which is that atheism isn’t a movement and can’t be one, because in practice there’s no way to sustain an organization around a ‘negative’ idea like ‘not believing’ in a thing. So easy to conceive of, but not possible to really do.

    There are some explanations from the “there can’t exist a movement around atheism” crowd that make some sense, but this certainly isn’t even close to making any kind of sense.

  16. 16
    Suido

    @timanthony:

    she’s on FTB.

    Citation needed.

    the standard position, which is that atheism isn’t a movement and can’t be one, because in practice there’s no way to sustain an organization around a ‘negative’ idea like ‘not believing’ in a thing. So easy to conceive of, but not possible to really do.

    Citation needed.

    Back in the days of organised Free Thought societies and whatnot, there was something to gather around: the newly burgeoning sciences, which seemed to call aspects of religion (as it was still being preached daily and weekly) into question. Also being a much smaller minority in those days than atheists are now probably drove them closer together.

    Citation needed.

    He also said that if rationalists do have a job, it is to wait until someone says/does something wacky, then swing into (re)action to decry their words/actions. We have to be on call.

    Disagree strongly. Proactive always trumps reactive. As an engineer working in a maintenance role, I’ve never yet encountered a situation where being exclusively reactive is optimal.

    I have always agreed with Sam Harris. Religion is so resistant to argument that it rarely budges entrenched beliefs. As much as I want to do horrible things to proselytizing creationists/IDers, and faith-healers and ‘psychic surgeons’, and even some anti-abortionsists (the ones that murder), at the same time I cannot bring myself to denounce private religious feeling in the people I meet – as long as they’re not bothering me or anyone else.

    etc waffle etc

    Good for you. Well, not the bit about wanting to do horrible things to people, but the latter part of that sentence I agree with.

    Umm. What does this have to do with OP? You know, I’ll accept even the most tenuous link, because I’m feeling generous on a Friday afternoon.

  17. 17
    Suido

    PS That final question in #16 was in reference to Timanthony’s final 3 paragraphs, not the whole comment. It did start off somewhat on topic, I’ll give it that.

  18. 18
    Inaji

    Suido:

    You know, I’ll accept even the most tenuous link, because I’m feeling generous on a Friday afternoon.

    If you’re expecting relevance and sense from timanthony, don’t be holding your breath. Timanthony has an, er, unfortunate history here.

  19. 19
  20. 20
    koncorde

    He needs to blink. He has an engaging tone and eye contact is good…but after the third minute of not blinking I was struggling with his visual cues.

    Good on him, the Australian Army and the NSW police.

  21. 21
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Day-uhm! Yes Morrison! I don’t think that was just grandstanding either, he looked genuinely angry. It’s nice to see someone embodying the values I wish our armies had.

    “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

    How true. And equally applicable to Rebecca Watson’s piece quoted above. Ignoring injustice is spineless.

  22. 22
    mildlymagnificent

    “He needs to blink.”

    I’m inclined to think that the lack of blinking is a pretty good indicator of just how angry, disgusted and determined he is. Remember he’s talking to the troops – and officers – here. This is what I’d expect from someone delivering the mother of all dressings down.

    “Get out now.” Followed by 2 or 3 further references to getting a job elsewhere is about as definite as you can get when you’re talking to a group as a whole. Who’d want to be a fly on the wall if he were talking(?) to one of the identified individuals? Something you’d never forget.

  23. 23
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @MM

    I’m inclined to think that the lack of blinking is a pretty good indicator of just how angry, disgusted and determined he is. Remember he’s talking to the troops – and officers – here. This is what I’d expect from someone delivering the mother of all dressings down.

    My thoughts exactly. I don’t think he was all that bothered about being personable and sticking to proper public speaking procedure. Quite frankly I think it would have had far less impact if he had. He was pissed, and he got up on stage and told the people responsible what he thought of them. And it was fucking brilliant.

  24. 24
    echidna

    He needs to blink.

    No, he doesn’t. He is *not* trying to make his audience feel comfortable.

  25. 25
    Nick Gotts

    Obviously he [Sam Harris] disappointed a lot of people that day, but he had to be truthful – timanthony

    Why? He’s never felt obliged to be truthful when bloviating in favour of racial profiling, torture and genocide, then pretending he wasn’t.

  26. 26
    Ingdigo Jump

    And to the minute we have a shithead saying nothing is wrong and toadying up to important leader ™

  27. 27
    gardengnome

    When I saw him on the TV interview last night I expected the usual blather and was about to change channels rather than listen it again but this fellows manner caught me out. I really think, if he has the backing he should have, that he’ll follow words with action – but we’ll see.

  28. 28
    vaiyt

    the standard position, which is that atheism isn’t a movement and can’t be one, because in practice there’s no way to sustain an organization around a ‘negative’ idea like ‘not believing’ in a thing. So easy to conceive of, but not possible to really do.

    That’s rich coming from Sam Harries of the Four Horsemen – someone who built his reputation on the “non-movement” by doing his best to make everyone agree that religion is badong.

  29. 29
    kevinalexander

    ……rape is endemic in our military, and old greyheads waffle about in committees avoiding stating anything clearly about the problem…….

    Don’t forget that these men didn’t want women in the military in the first place, it was forced on them. Rape culture is a feature for them, not a bug since it discourages women from enlisting and, for those experiencing it, from re-enlisting.

  30. 30
    koncorde

    To all you “doesn’t need to blink” – may I point out that Bachmann was largely attacked for the same faux pas? Need I point out that Morrison is also not looking at the camera directly? Reading a script like an automaton?

    It didn’t make feel uncomfortable in a “Oh my he’s being so forceful, I must respect his opinion”. It made me think “does he realise he has a creepy eyed unblinking off centre stare that reminds me of Bachmann”.

    In stark contrast his speech to the press was at least human.

  31. 31
    frankb

    Need I point out that Morrison is also not looking at the camera directly? Reading a script like an automaton?

    If Morrison is reading something then he is reading the period at the end. I have seldom seen a steadier eye. The unblinking is a fair cop but he is looking at the camera.

  32. 32
    shouldbeworking

    To blink or not to blink? Either way, I wouldn’t want to be hauled up in front of him on a major charge without having access to clean underwear afterwards.

    Well done sir. I hope he gets the support he needs from both the lower ranks and the politicians.

  33. 33
    SallyStrange

    There are some explanations from the “there can’t exist a movement around atheism” crowd that make some sense…

    I don’t see how, since the movement around atheism already exists. I suppose we can quibble about how big it is, or what its chances of making a significant mark on the cultural landscape are, but to claim that it doesn’t exist, or can’t exist, just makes the claimer look extremely silly.

  34. 34
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    But she doesn’t acknowledge the standard position, which is that atheism isn’t a movement and can’t be one, because in practice there’s no way to sustain an organization around a ‘negative’ idea like ‘not believing’ in a thing. So easy to conceive of, but not possible to really do.

    Yet when PZed, and Rebecca Watson, and many other wonderful people use atheism as a stepping stone to human rights, human empowerment, human acceptance, positive change, positive ideas, they are accused of destroying the atheism movement. Odd, that.

    the newly burgeoning sciences

    And right now, scientists are discovering new things, new ideas, new evidence, at a rate unprecidented in human history but, somehow, these new ideas, new evidence, new things, are not enough to keep people interested. Odd, that.

    ——–

    re:

    The blinking part? Every time that I saw an officer or and NCO who was pissed off and determined to make a change, there was little or no blinking. And the good ones kept moving their eyes from soldier to soldier in the audience so that every one of us knew that he was singling us out as an example of what we had all done wrong. Not sure if they are trained to do that, but if Captain Sparks was talking to us, a really good clue regarding the seriousness of his tirade was now often he blinked. More blinks, we are good; fewer blinks, we are in shit; no, or almost no, blinks, we are in really really deep shit with no paddle.

    Just my personal experience, no actual data intended.

  35. 35
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    I just watched it again :) It genuinely cheers me up.

    I don’t think his stare’s of centre. It looks to be dead on to the camera, to me.

  36. 36
    koncorde

    He’s staring behind the camera to the left (from our perception) you can make out his eye movement.

    Just been reading up on blinking, some quite interesting studies done on what slows down instances etc particularly reading, painting and drawing. Got me thinking about my habits when painting – like holding my breath and timing my blinks for when the paint brush has left the canvas / model etc. I wonder how long I actually don’t blink / hold my breath now.

  37. 37
    Usernames are smart

    The way I see it is misogyny is part of our culture—just like racism.*

    We can get the Misogynists to the same point as Racists today: it is no long acceptable to be overtly racist in all but the most backwater of locales. Covert racism is “OK” now, and we’re working on that one.

    So, how can we drive overt misogyny underground? I think to shine a harsh light on it and distance ourselves from those who are in that camp. Conventions need to cancel speaker invitations and expel folks who don’t/can’t/won’t treat folks as equals, regardless of gender—or orientation.

    What do y’all** think?

    (* As a male, I recognize my privilege colors my perception; hopefully my comparison to my racial non-privilege—which I understand all too well—is in the ballpark)
    (** Ugh, I hate that word, but ‘you guys’ seems wrong now)

  38. 38
    YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith is a Spocktopus cuddler

    Ogvorbis @34 re: blinking

    I had the same experiences in the Marines ~20 years ago.

  39. 39
    Lou Doench

    Ok, the next person who pulls out the “Atheism isn’t a movement” spiel will be fully responsible when i pop a blood vessel and my head explodes like in Scanners.

  40. 40
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    The way I see it is misogyny is part of our culture—just like racism.*

    I disagree. Sexism is part of our culture, as is racism. Sexism is normal. I was raised in a liberal progressive household and I absorbed huge amounts of sexism — from my parents, my peers, television, teachers, scouts, you name it. And I am aware that I am sexist. And racist. And I try to think about what I say, or write, before I do so. And when I am called out for a sexist comment, I immediately examine what I have done and, if I don’t see anything there, ask for clarification. In other words, I am aware of my -isms and try to reduce the impact on my communications and actions.

    Misogyny, however, is part of our culture, too. As is rape culture. The difference, to me, is that when someone is called out for a sexist remark, if they are aware, they will do what I do — change or ask for more information. A misogynist, however, is (usually) easier to spot. They are the ones who double down — “How dare you tell me I can’t call someone a cunt or a bitch?”, or “I’m not blaming the victim, I’m only asking why she was out drinking without a chaperon?”, or “I’m not the head of my department so men are being discriminated against.” All of which I have read (some variance in word choice, order and grammar) on just this blog.

    So, how can we drive overt misogyny underground? I think to shine a harsh light on it and distance ourselves from those who are in that camp.

    Which is what Dr. Myers, Skepchick, Rebecca Watson, and many others are doing. And entire websites have sprung up, within the atheist community, to try to stop them. None of these anti-human rights atheist activists are blackballed, banned, blacklisted (though some have claimed such a list exists). But conference organizers are working for more diversity (of all kinds) and understand that inviting an anti-diversity speaker may have a negative impact on attendance.

    However, deliberately stating that any misogynist will never speak again, or even attend, a free though, atheist, or skeptic convention presents all kinds of problems. I have been called a misogynist on other threads. Would that ban me (not that anyone actually wants to hear me speak, but you know what I mean)? PZed has been called a misogynist. So has Rebecca Watson. Who gets to decide who doesn’t, can’t, won’t treat folks as equals, regardless of gender — or orientation? According to some, the refusal to countenance gendered insults here at Pharyngula makes me, and the rest of the horde, guilty of squelching free speech and of encouraging discrimination. So I don’t think that bans would work.

  41. 41
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    I just wrote a really good response to Usernames are smart up at 37. Wrote it in the box. Didn’t copy it. Now it is gone and I can’t remember what I wrote. Dman!

  42. 42
    sharoncrawford

    Jeez, he makes me want to enlist.

  43. 43
    Marcus Ranum

    Money shot: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

  44. 44
    Marcus Ranum

    The comments on that video are – ugh.

  45. 45
    Marcus Ranum

    Now it is gone and I can’t remember what I wrote

    Ask the NSA for a copy! ;)

  46. 46
    SallyStrange

    So, how can we drive overt misogyny underground? I think to shine a harsh light on it and distance ourselves from those who are in that camp. Conventions need to cancel speaker invitations and expel folks who don’t/can’t/won’t treat folks as equals, regardless of gender—or orientation.

    What do y’all** think?

    Agreed. More distancing by leadership (in our totes non-existent movement) is needed.

  47. 47
    SallyStrange

    Apologies for borkquote!

  48. 48
    grumpypathdoc

    Marcus Ranum@44

    Love that comment. The more I read about the current situation with our Military (Industrial) Corporation Complex, the more nervous I get. While it’s way of the topic here, this bit is scary:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/06/14/nsa-prism-pentagon-bracing-for-anti-government-activism-over-climate-change-disasters/

    Also, you might want to click on the linked words: even more scary stuff. “shiver, shudder”

  49. 49
    grumpypathdoc

    Sorry, should be “off the topic” not “of the topic”.

  50. 50
    cuervocuero

    I find it interesting that the people who declare atheism “is not a movement” are fond of using that statement as a steamroller to attempt to shut down anyone who organizes with other atheo-skeptics to critique not just religion but other societal constructs. What? Did someone get chocolate in their peanut butter?

    If they don’t want to be in a movement, then don’t be. Just don’t be dog in the manger to others willing to organize and protest and strive for a society more able to examine itself and “be fair”. Reciprocity is in our bones, as more and more species studies show. People striving for equality and benefit to greater groups are acting out ingrained millenia of survival learnings.

    I can’t help but wonder how many of the experiments studying reciprocity and fairness include whingeing from subjects hoarding rewards/pleasures to justify how those they’re not sharing with are the ones not being fair to *them*.

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