Amazon did what?!?? »« Well, I do like oranges…

CFI response roundup

Despite all my purported attempts at mind control and cunning psychological manipulation, we don’t get all that much unanimity here on freethoughtblogs. Sure, we occasionally get some outrage on the far right wing or the Catholic Church or the wacky patriarchal Religious Right that get a bunch of us fired up, but rarely do we get so many similar posts expressing outrage at one of our own.

But then, a sense of betrayal will do that.

Here’s a collection of FtB posts made in the last day about that astonishingly brief and empty statement from CFI. I have no idea what they were thinking; it was absolutely the worst PR effort since the BP oil spill. Ron Lindsay playing Tony Hayward would have been a better response.

Here’s what the locals had to say:

Be sure to read Dana’s post — she’s an under-appreciated warrior around here.

Center for Inquiry has really blown it, and I’m getting so much email and seeing so many comments from people who are abandoning the organization. It’s terribly sad. Please don’t forget that the staff at CFI are a fine and dilligent and dedicated and aspirational group of people who have always impressed me, and that this is a failure at the top — they could still rebound from this when Lindsay retires (as long as bad leadership doesn’t perpetuate itself, that is).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other organizations that haven’t gone full metal asshat on us. Throw your support in these directions, as your temperament suits you:

Also, a matter of significant importance: build your own local groups. It’s fine to have national organizations that provide leadership, but what really counts is your community. Build one. You don’t have to bow in obedience to any pope of skepticism, you know, and we biologists know that building networks from the bottom up rather than top down always produces more complex and rewarding results.

Comments

  1. Maureen Brian says

    I’m getting paranoid. Am beginning to wonder whether Lindsay hid all those brilliantly specific complaints from the CFI Board and they never actually saw them.

    Only rational explanation, as far as I can see.

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    Maureen, Occam’s Razor suggests that a more plausible explanation is that the board is dysfunctional. And we already know that’s true because their ridiculous “I’m sorry you were offended” notpology would be inappropriate no matter what they knew or didn’t know.

  3. says

    Steve LaBonne, or the Board was completely divided and couldn’t agree to anything more than a vapid, almost transparently content-free nothing statement of barely a hundred words.

  4. Steve LaBonne says

    Qoudlibet- yes, that was an excellent comment. It was painfully reminiscent for me of the quasi-useless board of the library that employs my wife, and which unfortunately is currently tasked with hiring a new library director- if they get a good one it will be purely by accident.

  5. A Hermit says

    Be sure to read Dana’s post — she’s an under-appreciated warrior around here.

    Dana’s a terrific writer…she even makes rocks and dirt interesting.

  6. says

    I think Dana has said what needed to be said in exactly the way it needed to be said.

    Any further discussion should pretty much be just a link to what she said. Cuz it was awesome.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Does the absence of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the above list of other organizations have to do with their recent support of J. Vacula’s secular activism (in which gender issues apparently go unmentioned), forgetfulness, desire to keep said list reasonably short, or ???

    The omission of the Secular Coalition of America also reminds me of Edwina Rogers, sfaik the only “leading” freethought woman in the US who has not weighed in on sexism in the movement. Anybody heard anything from/about her lately?

  8. says

    There is one thing in all this that has me feeling pretty positive. The pushback against misogyny in the skeptic movement is tangible and vocal. More concentrated than it is in public life or in religious circles.

    And boy, do I admire Rebecca Watson. You have to be one tough cookie to endure all that and keep going.

  9. Trebuchet says

    Not by me, she ain’t.

    Nor by me! I may be a little biased, of course, since she lives around here and I’ve met her IRL but I love her writing. PZ is undoubtedly correct about her being generally underappreciated, of course. I hope one of these days she’ll be able to quit her day job and just do what she does so well.

  10. buddhabuck says

    Quodlibet @4: The “trouble” with your approach — and the very similar actions taken by John Scalzi in the recent SFWA Bulletin controversy — is that it relies on a person who has the clout inside and outside the organization to step in and begin immediate damage control. While generally a sensible approach, it fails to work when the person in the organization who can and should render damage control is the asshat doing the damage.

    Scalzi is/was the President of the SFWA, and claimed full responsibility for the Bulletin and admitted a failure of total oversight on his part for the Resnick/Malzberg piece. There is no one in the SFWA higher than him, and Resnick/Malzberg aren’t in exactly a leadership position. But things could have been much, much worse at the SFWA if Resnick was SFWA president.

    It’s clear from your description of your non-profit’s governance that the ED is subordinate to the board, and that as head of the board you hold a lot of power. How would you have dealt with it if the ED was the head of the board? Who could have spoken up then?

    Ron Lindsay is the President and CEO of CfI. He lives and works in Buffalo, possibly with the CfI as his main occupation. None of the Board members live in NY, all have other occupations listed. The Chair, Eddie Tabash, is an attorney in California. It’s clear, just from that structure, that the BoD has little say in the day-to-day operations of the CfI. Who’s going to stand up to Lindsay when he does something like this?

    If you’ve got good people at the top, like Scalzi or quodlibet, great. If you’ve got Ron Lindsay at the top, it’s a different matter.

  11. says

    buddhabuck @16, thank you for your response. I agree, that where the chief executive is also president of the board, all sorts of problems are likely.

    Thanks, too, for your info about CFI’s governance structure; that explains a lot. Clearly the board functions as a rubber-stamp.

    Yes, in my organization, the ED reports to the board, and serves “at the pleasure of the board,” and complies witha job description prepared by the board. As president, I cannot act autonomously — I can’t hire or fire staff, and I can’t act independently of the board even in matters of discipline. The president of the board serves for only one year at a time, and must do a good job to be re-elected. On the other side of the coin, the ED must act in accordance with the policy established by the board, and meets with the executive committee and board on a monthly basis to give and receive info and feedback. Our meetings are open to our membership, and 25% of our board consists of member representatives.

    We also handle board recruiting very carefully, seeking people with a deep interest in the work of our organization, who live locally and can participate actively, and who bring integrity and intelligence to the board.

    We all enjoy working together and get along very well, and our organization enjoys a sterling reputation. :-)

    It’s been fascinating to watch CFI demonstrate the wrong way to handle problems.

  12. dogfightwithdogma says

    I am an active member of CFI and am deeply disappointed by the statement that was issued. I am active in my local CFI chapter. They are a very good bunch of people, dedicated to the organization’s mission. I have been very pleased and encouraged by what seemed like greater efforts the past few years to support gender equality and feminism, as well as social justice issues, by CFI and the secular community at large. I have been especially pleased by the Women in Secularism conferences, and certainly hope this conference does not become a casualty of Lindsay’s remarks. I am bewildered by the statement issued by the BoD. Part of my bewilderment stems from my personal acquaintance with three of the board members. I just expected more of them. Instead, the statement the board issued shocked and disheartened me because I did sincerely think something stronger would result from the board’s deliberations on this matter.

    @16

    How would you have dealt with it if the ED was the head of the board? Who could have spoken up then?

    @17

    I agree, that where the chief executive is also president of the board, all sorts of problems are likely.

    I am unsure if these comments are meant to imply that Ron Lindsay is president of the CFI Board of Directors or not, though they seem to do so. Just to be factually clear, Lindsay is not the president of the CFI Board. He is not a member of the Board. The CEO of CFI is hired by the Board and can be fired by the Board.

  13. buddhabuck says

    @18:

    In my statement about “How would you have dealt with it if the ED was the head of the board”, I was referring to the hypothetical situation Quodlibet described in his posting he linked to in @4 (which he/she says she/he should have posted here, not there). In that posting, she/he was describing how he/she (aw, crap… zie) would have reacted, as the president of the board, if the executive director had created such a problem as this.

    I interpreted zir response (or at least the part you quoted) as referring to that scenario.

    As far as CfI is concerned, I know Ron Lindsay isn’t listed as a board member on the CfI website, and it may well be the case that according to the governing documents (which I can’t find on the CfI website) that he is responsible to the board and can be hired or fired at its discretion, but that’s not how things always work out. There have been many organizations where a strong, charismatic leader remains in power much longer than the BoD should have allowed. The CfI may be such an organization where the board could theoretically fire Ron, but practically won’t do anything Ron doesn’t want.

  14. Sastra says

    Just out of curiosity, where does the Atheist Alliance (International and/or America) fall in this dispute? I haven’t noticed any negative complaints against this organization on this matter … or on the topic of feminism in general, I think. But then there’s a lot I don’t notice.

  15. Epinephrine says

    For other Canadians that might be reading, our CFI Canada is an independent group from the group in the USA, though CFI Canada was originally a branch of CFI Transnational.

  16. says

    Part of my bewilderment stems from my personal acquaintance with three of the board members. I just expected more of them

    Might I gently suggest that you mention this fact directly to them, if you haven’t already. They clearly need a friendly slap upside the head.

  17. says

    buddhaback, I’m a woman. Thanks not assuming gender, though, one way or the other. :-)

    ——–

    Whatever CFI’s governance and staffing model might be, they’ve made a big mess of things.

  18. says

    One thing I’m fascinated by, there was at least one person, and possibly a majority, who looked at this statement and thought, “This is going to work.” What precisely is the tortured logic required to come to that conclusion? How can someone read that and think this will cool things down? Who rubs their hands together and says, “Yup, job well done. Send it out.” ?

    The part of me that embarrassedly peeks at train wrecks would really like to have been in the room to watch the bewilderment cross the faces of these persons when they realized all of the hard wordsmith crafting failed to elicit the desired response.

    I realize this presumes the statement was not intentionally crafted to create its apparent effect on many feminists. I’m open to the possibility of intentionality, but I also believe there has to be at least one tone-deaf person who just didn’t get it.

  19. cuervodecuero says

    Is it CFI that’s got an official lobbyist in DC?

    On the heels of observations comparing the CFI ‘response’ to Republican statements in its breathtaking avoidance of anything concrete, I have to wonder if a ‘political’ view has come to the fore that requires backing Lindsay in the conservative circles of power vs. any concerns from silly liberal progressives who don’t understand “how it’s done” to influence law making among the greater and influentially backed.

    Lindsay’s certainly been acting like published reports of certain Republican pols and this response is like a campaign PR bafflegab for the cameras cherry on top.

    But then, about that point, given this vacuous response from CFI, I’ve likely veered off into perverse desperation of what IF-land to explain the response; where a group like CFI is beginning to be politically effective so it is quietly being taken over by the usual hamstringing-business-as-usual-ignore-Occupy-CFI 01percenters. Because if it’s good to manipulate the religious voting blocs, wouldn’t it also be good to manipulate the growing non-religious voting blocs? One wouldn’t want them to become strong voices for progressive causes would one?

  20. says

    Umm, BP said they’re sorry, CFI says they’re unhappy. I’d like to think that leading secular organizations would be outwardly more sympathetic than the giant oil conglomerates, but maybe I’m expecting too much of the good ol’ boys at CFI.

  21. mofa says

    We are going to need a dozen or so whambulances here! We have a crisis. Multiple cases of virtual ‘slapped in face’ that need attending to. The rosy cheek of Freethought Blogs will return to its original colour in a few days time. Next time, I suggest you all stand beyond an arm distance length from organisations such as CFI, when you make your inflexible, obdurate, outlandish demands.

  22. John Morales says

    mofa, whambulances, eh?

    (They go wham!)

    Next time, I suggest you all stand beyond an arm distance length from organisations such as CFI, when you make your inflexible, obdurate, outlandish demands.

    So much fail in so short a sentence!

  23. anteprepro says

    We are going to need a dozen or so whambulances here!

    Wasn’t Ron Lindsay’s screed at the beginning of the conference, the thing that we apparently require these whambulances over, mostly regarding Ron Lindsay’s incredible offense over the idea that straight white males were told to “shut up and listen”? So he can BAAAAAAW over that in public, BAAAAAAW over how everybody is being irrational and mean to him by criticizing his screed, and not a peep from you folks about thin skins or whatever you think you are accusing us of. But us taking offense over the venue in which he decides to cry about the poor oppressed menz? Yeah, that’s the real whining.

    But utter hypocrisy is par for the course from you and your kin. You just try to come up with anything you can use as a weapon, but it is fucking obvious that it isn’t some standard you hold dear, some metric that you actually think is of merit. You don’t have any real values, or principles. You just like to turn whatever is convenient into a haphazard cudgel, ditching it immediately afterwards. It is pathetic, and I honestly feel sorry for you assholes. You really don’t stand for much of anything.

  24. says

    But utter hypocrisy is par for the course from you and your kin. You just try to come up with anything you can use as a weapon, but it is fucking obvious that it isn’t some standard you hold dear, some metric that you actually think is of merit. You don’t have any real values, or principles. You just like to turn whatever is convenient into a haphazard cudgel, ditching it immediately afterwards.

    So true. Today “Uberfeminist” claimed that I and anyone who said something positive about David Silverman’s response to the racial discrimination lawsuit against American Atheists were “whitesplaining white atheists.” That Dave Silverman is just as racist as Dawkins! I was like, probably, yeah. I.e., probably Silverman and Dawkins have similar levels of racism, and probably we’re whitesplaining how OK Silverman’s response was. That would be a totally legit and interesting conversation to have, IF you cared. But you don’t. It’s just another “gotcha” moment. Another tool transformed to a weapon, senselessly.

  25. anteprepro says

    I was like, probably, yeah. I.e., probably Silverman and Dawkins have similar levels of racism, and probably we’re whitesplaining how OK Silverman’s response was. That would be a totally legit and interesting conversation to have, IF you cared. But you don’t. It’s just another “gotcha” moment. Another tool transformed to a weapon, senselessly.

    Wow. Both hilarious and sad. Which I find I’m saying far too often in these discussions.

  26. lancefinney says

    Two other groups worth still supporting:

    National Center for Science Education
    American Ethical Union