That’s not how you do it


Ophelia has been ripping on this bizarre self-appointed Global Secular Council. I’m just kind of flabbergasted. When they make these kinds of comparisons — “Republicans have The Heritage Foundation, New Democrats have the Progressive Policy Institute, Libertarians have The Cato Institute, and Secularists have the Global Secular Council” — I wonder if they really think that reflects well on them. Would you want to be part of an organization that says “we’re sort of similar to the Heritage Foundation?” And I look at their team, and I see a lot of smart people, but are any of them policy experts?

Will they be effective? I looked at their Issues page, and it’s rather high-mindedly vague. For instance, one issue is International Human Rights. I’m glad they’re for ‘em, but after a scant 3 paragraphs that consist of platitudes, they present their summary:

POLICY RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. government should apply political pressure whenever possible to countries violating their international human rights obligations.

So, the Global Secular Council’s advice is that the US should do something about it? How? Do they have lobbyists on their staff? It looks like they have a lot of high-profile figureheads, but where’s the equivalent of Michael DeDora of CFI’s Office of Policy, or American Atheists’ Amanda Knief, or the whole dang team at Americans United for Separation of Church and State? They’re not going to accomplish much if they’re just going to announce a set of goals on a website and then pose wisely to convince other people to go do the actual work, somehow.

I’m always going to be suspicious of an ad hoc group that assembles itself, declares itself the leader, and then tells everyone to follow on the strength of the prestige of their team. That’s not how real, functional organizations work. “BE IN CHARGE” is not a mission statement.

As a counter-example, look at Freethought Blogs. It’s an organization. When Ed Brayton and I were discussing setting it up, we did not begin by saying we’re really, really smart, and we should take charge and lead the whole atheist movement — we had a more reasonable and limited and specific goal. We wanted to set up a platform where we could write freely, and where we could create a shared space for people who wanted to promote equality and diversity within the movement…and thereby amplify the voices of all those people with broader social concerns than simply not believing in gods. The mission came first, then we built the framework to do it, and then we brought in people who fit our ideals (and also threw out one who didn’t).

This new organization seems to have gotten it all backwards, assembling high profile “thought leaders” (yeesh, but I hate that term) first, and then deciding to fix everything in the world. Because they think they can, I guess.

Comments

  1. says

    POLICY RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. government should apply political pressure whenever possible to countries violating their international human rights obligations.

    I’m seriously starting to think this is a spoof.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I think of the Harvard chaplain and the group that thinks atheism needs the equivalent of a church a rituals. Yep, I can see some egotistical eggheads thinking a vague-feel-good-proclamation is all they need to take over the movement.

  3. Menyambal says

    Hasn’t the U S government been violating its own human rights obligations?

  4. anteprepro says

    Menyambal:

    Hasn’t the U S government been violating its own human rights obligations?

    Yep. And yet even supposed liberals who supposedly should know better still fall into the trap of ignoring that sordid little detail in order to continue espousing the perpetual continuation of Operation: Team America World Police.

  5. anthrosciguy says

    Their policy recommendation sounds an awful lot like this guy’s:
    “One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, ‘Stop the bullshit'”.

    And that guy is an idiot. Handy free advice for the “Global” Secular Council: don’t imitate John McCain.

  6. chigau (違う) says

    I want to know how PZ posted this while he’s watching that movie.

  7. Trebuchet says

    There’s an FTBlogger, AronRa, listed as a “communicator” on their team page. So much for the hive mind! It would be interesting to see his take on this.

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I want to know how PZ posted this while he’s watching that movie.

    PZ can set up posts that are time delayed…A power beyond us mortal peons.

  9. chigau (違う) says

    Nerd #9
    That is so … mundane.
    I was hoping for something more … eldritch.

  10. yazikus says

    So, was this ‘council’ elected? Are we all invited to join? How exactly does that work?

  11. says

    Ophelia @ 11:

    “Thought leaders” – I know, right? I HATE that phrase.

    I’m sure it sounds better in the original German.

  12. ekwhite says

    The thing that stands out so far is that the Secular Council doesn’t have a black face among them. You can’t claim to be global if all of your members are USAian, European, or Canadian.

  13. anteprepro says

    They should have name themselves better. Like Scions of Ultimate Policy, or The Arbiters of Atheistic Authority, or The Legion of Superior Humans and Humanists. They can change their international policy into two simple bullet points: “America is the greatest country on the face of the Earf” and “America should stop those other countries from doing the bad stuff that America disapproves non-American countries from doing”. Messages that are totally unique and that simply MUST be heard in our current political landscape of the Western world, so devoid of these novel political ideas.

  14. MFHeadcase says

    @ekwhite 17

    The thing that stands out so far is that the Secular Council doesn’t have a black face among them. You can’t claim to be global if all of your members are USAian, European, or Canadian.

    Hell claims of being “international” would be barely, and mostly technically true.

  15. says

    I’ve been snarky all over the Internet on this one, but my complaints come down to two things:

    1) These self-appointed “thought leaders” seem entirely unequipped to address the issues their organization seems designed to deal with, and

    2) These self-appointed “thought leaders” seem mostly uninterested in addressing the issues their organization seems designed to deal with, in any meaningful way.

    I’m split between cash grab and tax shelter, but I’m willing to accept some combination of both.

  16. carlie says

    SC noticed this little gem on one of their pages: “Similarly, on another issue, if you think a fetus is no more valuable than a tumor, I think you’re confused if you think you’re a humanist.” There’s no author listed on that essay, so no idea which of them is responsible for it.

  17. carlie says

    From the icon accompanying the article’s link on the front page of their site, looks like it might have been written by this guy.

  18. says

    Proposing the USA be tough on human rights violations must have taken some very serious and deep thinking. Wonder if they had to spend weeks discussing the pros and cons of such advice before releasing it to the masses. Thank the non-existent gods these illustrious thought-leaders came along to guide the thinking of us knuckle-dragging secularists before we had to turn to religion to have someone guide our thoughts for us.

  19. Useless says

    …And I want world peace. With that out in the open now, we can expect peace to be breaking out world-wide in the next few years. You can count on it.

  20. mikeyb says

    I don’t really have a problem with groups like this. I think we are going to eventually need some sort of convergence on some issues if we are ever going to have a larger political voice in the culture eventually, so I don’t have a problem with at least starting somewhere. Things naturally evolve so I’m sure that through fits and starts more effective organizations will come into being through experimentation. One of the biggest problems with this group, is given that this is a collection of pretty big names all with their own things going on, its hard to see that they would devote the amount of time and effort necessary to make something like this work. At the same time I have mixed feelings about think tanks in general. More often than not, especially on the right, they are pure propaganda agents, doing “research” to support the preconceived ideas of their sponsors. Can you imagine the Cato institute or Heritage foundation, ever discovering that free markets aren’t always the best answer for everything, of course not. The role of these groups is to rubber stamp the ideology of the money behind them. A better secular coalition would be much more specific in its focus, such as separation of church and state, science education, inclusion of opportunities for all people, as starters for example. Without a focus, it is hard to say what we mean by secular or the secular agenda. It can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, and too easily gets diffused without a specific focus on a few targeted things.

  21. ChasCPeterson says

    Hey, you want a Movement?
    Whoomp, there it is.
    You got the three living Horsemen plus Shermer (or Harris, whichever isn’t a Horseman; I can’t keep those guys straight), Coyne, Krauss, Stenger, Pinker, plus more guys, one of whom is Swedish, and 3 or 4 gals. Oh and then down below, some Experts, a 60% female Staff (Directors and Assistants), plus two cats (Coyne!!) and, uh, the guy who invented the Palm Pilot is the Science Advisor? (um, what about all those actual scientists on the Team?)

    What do you want? Here’s ytour damn Movement. If you don;t like it, start* a different Movement.

    Me, I’m not a joiner and I don’t really give a fuck but Paul Krassner is one of my true heroes.

    *(I almost went with “squeeze out”. You’re welcome.)

  22. rorschach says

    That name is familiar. Is the Secular Coalition for America simply attempting to rebrand themselves as global?

    Well, from their “About” page:

    A project of the Secular Coalition for America, the Global Secular Council amplifies the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States and globally.

    I’d be more interested in whether the old white guys listed as members of this “team” like Dawkins, Dennett or Coyne actually gave their permission to be depicted there, since this Council seems to be a bit of a clownshoe outfit.

  23. ChasCPeterson says

    whether the old white guys listed as members of this “team” like Dawkins, Dennett or Coyne actually gave their permission to be depicted there

    Of course they did. The egos on those guys?

  24. Al Dente says

    yazikus @13

    So, was this ‘council’ elected?

    The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine secular providence that these people were to carry Excalibur be the Global Secular Council.

  25. yazikus says

    Al Dente @ 32
    I’m especially tickled by your comment because I have been recently bereft of books and am re-reading The Mists of Avalon.

    On that note, any book recommendations? I still have Karen Stollznow’s book on my shelf to get to next, but what is everyone reading?

  26. lither says

    yazikus @ 32 Strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords is a perfectly sound basis for issuing self-important pronouncements that will be universally ignored. That said, It’s very sad that Paul Krassner, the man who wrote “The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book” and published “The Disneyland Memorial Orgy”, is involved in this farce.

  27. says

    POLICY RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. government should apply political pressure whenever possible to countries violating their international human rights obligations.

    Yep, just bomb some more countries, kill their inhabitynts by the thousands, brand every form of resistance as terrorism and then let Pinker magically explain how the west has become so civilized and peaceful while all those people with brown skins are not.
    You really don’t need god for imperialism.

  28. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Two jews, three beliefs

    …and with atheists nonbeliefs count too. How do they expect anyone to follow them?

  29. says

    Yeah right, we all know how what happened to certain bloggers as a consequence of their writing “freely”

    Let me think, there are two people who have been removed from the network:
    Person A for making threatening comments to another blogger
    Person B for using his blog exclusively to bash other bloggers on the network.
    How dare people set up their own rules for their owwn spaces.

    that this group of well known and popular atheists/secularists didn’t invite him or even tell him about their group

    Your authoritarian uncritical hero-worship has been noted. Really, with supporters like you, what could go wrong?

    +++
    There’s also their wonderful racist, oil schill, fetus-worshipping post
    There you find gems like these:

    oil-rich Bedouin barbarians (think bloodthirsty Beverly Hillbillies)

    who make their women hide

    inside black garbage bags

    , contrasted with

    our enlightened Western civilization

    (which is also decadent).
    Talking about centuries, which one is the author living in?
    And since we’re at it, could he please cite examples for this:

    Some Western countries have made it a crime to criticize Islam.

    More falsehoods and strawmen:

    there is one that I think disqualifies a non-theist as a humanist: radical environmentalism. If you believe that human beings are a pestilence, the worst thing ever to happen to the earth, you are no kind of humanist. If you think the interests of snail darters take precedence over the well-being of humans, you do not espouse humanism. If jobs for people and energy independence mean nothing to you, but “Gaia” does, you probably don’t want to call yourself a humanist, and I wish you wouldn’t.

    Yeah, jobs and “energy independence”, i.e. fracking and fossil fuels vs. “Gaia worship”. Which humanists exactly say such things? Oh, wait, it’s so much easier to discard everybody who thinks that fracking is a bad thing and that renewable energies actually also creat jobs as an irrational Gaia worshipper.

    Similarly, on another issue, if you think a fetus is no more valuable than a tumor, I think you’re confused if you think you’re a humanist.

    Won’t somebody think of the fetus!
    Really, women, how do you think you could just decide about your own bodies? Come to think of it, what women? There are no women in this scenario. There are only fetuses and tumors who apparently grow in a vat.

  30. newenlightenment says

    ‘More falsehoods and strawmen:

    there is one that I think disqualifies a non-theist as a humanist: radical environmentalism. If you believe that human beings are a pestilence, the worst thing ever to happen to the earth, you are no kind of humanist. If you think the interests of snail darters take precedence over the well-being of humans, you do not espouse humanism. If jobs for people and energy independence mean nothing to you, but “Gaia” does, you probably don’t want to call yourself a humanist, and I wish you wouldn’t.

    Yeah, jobs and “energy independence”, i.e. fracking and fossil fuels vs. “Gaia worship”. Which humanists exactly say such things? Oh, wait, it’s so much easier to discard everybody who thinks that fracking is a bad thing and that renewable energies actually also creat jobs as an irrational Gaia worshipper.’

    I’m half expecting Frank Furedi to turn up on their list of ‘experts’ if this sort of garbage is what they spew. Except even he doesn’t come out with the sort of racist bile that also appeared in that particularly miserable excuse of an article

  31. Ichthyic says

    there is one that I think disqualifies a non-theist as a humanist: radical environmentalism.

    I’ve met xians who are radical environmentalists and vegetarians.

    ah, but in a way that supports your point I suppose.

    just don’t go overboard and say conservationists are radical environmentalists in your attempt to discount who can do what.

  32. Ichthyic says

    there is one that I think disqualifies a non-theist as a humanist: radical environmentalism.

    I’ve met xians who are radical environmentalists and vegetarians.

    ah, but in a way that supports your point I suppose, so loing as you aren’t claiming radical environmentalism (though you should probably give examples, so it’s not a hypothetical), aren’t just nontheists.

    just don’t go overboard and say conservationists are radical environmentalists in your attempt to discount who can do what….

  33. Ichthyic says

    ok…. I really did not double post that, so if you see two, like I do… don’t blame me.

  34. Maureen Brian says

    No, mikeyb @ 27,

    For a start, when an organisation’s first and expensive PR effort mis-fires this badly, when it causes those who are supposed to applaud or to bow down to start shouting, “But where’s this person? And that person? And this aspect of work? And this pressing problem?” then you know that they have got something wrong. Very wrong! Very wrong in a way which matters.

    Now to the more weighty stuff. It has not yet been established that we need a single global body for secularism. If we ever do need such a thing we will need it both to be global, which this is not, and to draw upon the knowledge and experience of a much wider group than the crew shown, who look as though they were all very slightly pissed and had the idea at a cocktail party.

    There are people doing great work, at a slightly less elevated level, to provide support and share experience, to promote secularism and to protect those at risk because they are secularists. Lest this become a list for someone else to take exception to, let’s stick with two – Andrew Copson and Taslima Nasreen. They are among the people who actually practice global secularism and encourage others to do the same. No sign of ‘em, is there?

    No amount of think-tankery can be more than a form self-indulgence unless it has experience. These people make speeches and write books. I would want to see an equal number with the dirt of a street-level fight still under their fingernails. Instead I see only people who in at least three cases have completely failed to grasp an aspect or two of what it would take to practice secularism globally.

    This is what is known in colloquial English as queering the pitch. You set up an organisation which claims to be The Leader – unelected, untested, there only by an excess of self-congratulation – and when 10, 20 years down the line someone really wants to set up a global outfit to assist the process, they’ll run into the jobsworth’s cry of “you can’t do that there here.”

    And why not, sir? Because we are THE Global Body. And who are you, sir? Why, a set of ageing B-list celebrities funded by an anonymous billionaire. So no accountability there, then.

    This is Orwell. This is specifically 1984, which students exposed to it outside the US were shown was cleverly written so that the good guy vs bad guy poles were known to shift and the bad guy during Winston Smith’s travails could equally well be the US – much as Orwell himself hated Stalinism.

  35. carlie says

    I don’t really have a problem with groups like this. I think we are going to eventually need some sort of convergence on some issues if we are ever going to have a larger political voice in the culture eventually, so I don’t have a problem with at least starting somewhere.

    Sure, but this particular group is being so laughably pompous about it and about themselves, and without any real substance there to start with. Not to mention calling themselves “global” when they’re anything but.

  36. Sili says

    From the icon accompanying the article’s link on the front page of their site, looks like it might have been written by this guy.

    Ah yes, Robert Price, the AGW denialist.

    His poor reasoning and giant ego in that area, is one of the biggest reasons I assume something must be wrong about Jesus mythicism.

  37. ethicsgradient says

    They are ‘Global’ in the same sense that the finals of the American baseball season are the ‘World’ Series. After all, the Toronto Blue Jays exist …

    The International Human Rights Policy Recommendation fills me with despair. “We’re for them”? It reminds me of “Party“, a very good BBC radio sitcom on “five young adults who want to change the world but have no idea how, and little idea why”.

  38. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    So… they’re global in the sense that they have Dawkins and Dennett on board? Ok.

  39. says

    Now I’m getting lots of email saying I’m just jealous because they didn’t ask me to join.

    My criticisms have been that they don’t have enough women or non-white people, that they seemed to have picked their “team” by popularity within atheism, that for a “global” organization they seem to be mainly Americans and UKians, and that they seem to lack knowledgeable policy experts when they claim to be all about defining policy.

    How would bringing me on board correct their deficiencies? I fit right in with every one of those qualifications. If I’d been complaining that they lack members who are professors at small liberal arts colleges and maintain a blog, hint hint hint, nudge nudge, then maybe they’d have a case.

  40. David Marjanović says

    I’m sure it sounds better in the original German.

    Gedankenführer.

    Yeah, I just made that up; but that would be the literal translation.

    The picture on their contact page looks like the Last Supper with Dawkins as Jesus.

    *barf* It does. He’s shining (seriously, the background is brightest behind him), and the others look at him like they worship every word that comes from his lips.

    I’m somewhere on the autism spectrum, by all evidence. I was that oblivious to how I come across when I was 6; then I learned more. I’m ashamed for Dawkins.

    Ah yes, Robert Price, the AGW denialist.

    Oh, he’s an AGW denialist? Why am I not surprised!

    They are ‘Global’ in the same sense that the finals of the American baseball season are the ‘World’ Series.

    I once read the World Series is named after the newspaper that sponsored the first few occasions, the New York World…

  41. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Ever get the feeling Dawkins just woke up one morning, said, “Welp, I’ve done all the smartin’ I’m ever gonna do” and decided to go on a Mariano Rivera/Derek Jeter style “farewell tour” where everybody tells him how wonderfully amazing he is and worships him in the way that is most pleasing to him?

    Either that or he’s always been a fucking asshole and everybody just missed it.

  42. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    I’m all in favour of a more secular world.

    I’m all in favour of organising to achieve such a world.

    But the way this group is presenting itself strikes a fear in me. It’s an irrational fear to be sure, but I cannot shake the vision of a future where I march towards a line of faceless, armoured men, and my only shield is a sign reading “No gods, no masters.”

  43. anthrosciguy says

    Either that or he’s always been a fucking asshole and everybody just missed it.

    Not everybody missed it.

  44. unclefrogy says

    I would have thought that to start a world secular organization the first requirement might be some kind of a consensus in the secular community first.
    Unless this is an attempt by those members of the organization to join together to set and shape the agenda for everyone else. If that is the case it seems little different from some other self-appointed leading think-tanks in the overall political world.

    I do not know if it was a snarky the comment or not about humans being a pestilence on earth. If that was to imply that they can not be such a thing than I would have to disagree.
    Humans are but one part of the earth and do not have the right or the superiority of all else. We do have the power to do great harm or to be a benevolent presence and the ability to make choices until we rid ourselves this idea of humans über alles we are likely to destroy ourselves through misadventure.

    uncle frogy

  45. unclefrogy says

    maybe, snarky or not the comment, is a better construction then the one I used
    the brain thinks and the fingers write but not always in sync
    uncle frog

  46. Alan says

    Sprocket @ 34:

    I prefer “The Secular Global Council”

    You inspired me. People should have a choice of non-representative, self-declared leaders they can ignore.

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

    @Alan, #61:

    In the interest of transparency, it’s the human doing the typing.

    I admire your dedication to free access to information as a matter of justice! :clenched tentacle salute:

  48. HappyNat says

    Alan @61

    After being in bold I can now say I’m on board. You seem to be lacking white males with beards from the US. I bring to the table a dog and cat both male (diversity!) and a variety of tomato plants.

  49. says

    POLICY RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. government should apply political pressure whenever possible to countries violating their international human rights obligations.

    American exceptionalism in the secular community. Oblivious to the fact that America is one of the greater human rights violators on the planet.