A failure to communicate

There are lots of people who think the reaction to CFI and the statement and Ron’s activities is excessive. Some of those people even see flaws in Ron’s activities but still think the reaction is excessive. Maybe it is, but I think there are reasons for that, reasons we can figure out and look at and maybe learn something from.

Or to put it another way – I think I know what it was about the whole thing that got my irritation cranked up past a simmer, and I don’t think I’m particularly special, so maybe the same applies to other people.

It was the stonewalling.

If we’d been able to talk to him – we attendees and speakers at the conference – Friday afternoon and evening and Saturday during breaks in the talks, then maybe he could have explained what he was worried about and we could have explained that his worries were unfounded. Perhaps we would still have disagreed, but with a better sense of each other’s thinking.

His worries, we now all know (right?), were about a small and (I think) minor or academic branch of feminism called “standpoint theory” and how it might taint CFI because it’s postmodernist woo.

That’s good news, because you know what? Nobody cares. That conference had nothing to do with “standpoint theory.” Maybe that bit of arcana is the parent of the idea of “privilege,” but the child left home long ago and is living its own life. It’s possible the child was adopted in the first place. I don’t think the notion of privilege and how it works is so remote or bizarre or counter-intuitive that it has to have postmodernist antecedents. It seems to me it’s just ordinary seat of the pants reasoning about self and other, and other minds, and empathy; folk epistemology if you like. Folk things can be wrong; maybe folk epistemology is wrong; nevertheless I have a very hard time seeing how it can be controversial to say that if you have no experience of X you may have an impoverished understanding of it.

If we’d had that conversation from Friday afternoon on, even a heated one, I think things would have gone better. Ron stonewalled us. I don’t know why.

It wasn’t like that at the first one. His opening remarks for that one were very welcoming (and the welcome didn’t take up too much time, either, not as much time as it took him to say why he wasn’t welcoming us this time) and optimistic and cheerful. He seemed happy to be presiding over the conference. Then at the end, in his closing remarks, he said…

I thought this was going to be a good conference. I was wrong.

Pause for effect.

It was a great conference.

Laughter and applause.

I talked to him for a few minutes after that. Lauren came up and I asked her if enough people had told her what a great job she did of keeping us on schedule without being a pain in the ass. It was fun, it was friendly, it was even exuberant.

This year it was completely different. The only time I saw Ron on Saturday he was across the aisle from me during one of the talks, and he had his head in his phone the entire time. It was as if he had an invisible wall around him.

If he had made himself available, instead – I think things would have gone differently, and better.

And the point is, I think that kind of thing feeds frustration, and that’s why the reactions are strong. It’s the same with CFI’s statement yesterday. It said nothing, and that was just more stonewalling.

Stonewalling: not the answer.


  1. Sili says

    I can only assume that memberships and donations to the CFI were wayyyyy down after last year’s WiS. And perhaps someone offered a biiiiig gift to CfI, if Dr Dr Lindsay distanced the org from the dreadful females. It’s the only rational explanation. Ron is just following market demands. /snark

  2. noxiousnan says

    It’s not as if there weren’t a pattern in the community of organizational leaders’ and influential speakers’ continued failure to address the evidenced criticisms levelled at them (Shermer, Moore & Lindsay pop to mind). Denial and rationalizations only work on the person or organization doing the rationalizing, and those who, for whatever reasons, have decided to accept to “save face,” either their own or the rationalizer’s. Nobody is really persuaded except the very stupid or ill informed.

    The excessiveness of the reaction to CFI is in direct correlation to the excessiveness of CFI’s determination to ignore the situation. Hard to sympathize with that.

  3. says

    That sums up my point very neatly. The more they ignore, the more we excess.

    This isn’t a universal rule. If people are just flinging shit, then there is no obligation to talk to them.

    But if they’re not, and if there are all sorts of obvious reasons you would ordinarily talk to them, then there is such an obligation (in manners, or morality, not in law). If the obligation is not met…people get annoyed.

    So many interpersonal fights turn on this. “Listen to me! Stop ignoring me! Where are you going – you can’t just walk out now!”

    Sometimes temperaments clash. Sometimes people have to learn to accommodate a personality that really needs to stonewall for awhile until tempers cool. But in public “professional” settings that’s not really an option.

  4. says

    Stonewalling: not the answer.

    This is the part I find particularly galling, because the one nugget of coherence that I could ferret out from that dollop of linguistic tapioca was the bit about “dialogue”. If you ARE interested in “dialogue”, you have to respond to what the other side is saying. That’s what the “dia” in “dialogue” means. Two positions, speaking to each other. It requires listening, and a response that actually reflects the position of the other side.

    Refusing to actually RESPOND to things means that you are NOT, in fact, interested in dialogue. You want no part of it. You want to be able to say what you want to say and have nobody say anything that might cause you to have to change or expand on what you said originally. It’s the OPPOSITE of being interested in dialogue. Even the pack of hyenas who hurl manufactured rage at straw feminist positions do you the courtesy of PRETENDING they’re paying attention. Stonewalling just… yeah I don’t know.

  5. deepak shetty says

    Some of those people even see flaws in Ron’s activities but still think the reaction is excessive.
    I’m one of them :).
    So far we have Ron’s speech and 3 posts. Then we have the official statement which is a non-response.
    If that’s all the bad CFI has done and by all accounts they have done lot of good then its too early to be calling for boycotts. I believe you too agree, hence unlike Greta you aren’t boycotting right?

  6. JustAtheist says

    How you don’t get that Gender Feminism with its only real tenets being directly postmodern is no different is beyond me. As long as you hold up privilege and patriarchy and claim that its all cultural/societal issues and not recognize that individuals behavior is the real root of peoples struggles you wont shrug off the post modernist label.

    Its like some group saying i’m not Christian… but we still believe Christ is the son of god and died for your sins.

    Or a group of non creationists who push intelligent design and irreducible complexity.

    This is why equity feminists are irritated. Its the reason people wont claim the moniker of feminist because you cant say oh no we are just feminists and then shove postmodernist crap down peoples throats.

  7. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    I support the boycott.
    All of you who have taken a stand have my respect and gratitude.

  8. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    How you don’t get that Gender Feminism with its only real tenets being directly postmodern is no different is beyond me.

    Alot of things appear to be beyond you, JustAtheist.

  9. says

    “… and claim that its all cultural/societal issues and not recognize that individuals behavior is the real root of peoples struggles…”

    Ugh by definition the actions of people are what drive culture/society. You can even see that feminists understand this when they blame people for their actions. Saying something is a cultural problem no more lets individuals off the hook then saying you have a problem with CFI lets Ron Lindsey and the board of directors off the hook. I have no idea what point you were even trying to make here its so nonsensical.

  10. Laurence says


    Your comment seems like a giant strawman to me. I haven’t heard any feminist say that it’s “its all cultural/societal issues and not recognize that individuals behavior is the real root of peoples struggles.” What they say is that culture and society play a big role in behavior and those things should be recognized and taken seriously. That doesn’t seem controversial to me at all or postmodern in the slightest.

    I know that the person I know that knows the most about privilege is not postmodern in the slightest. He pays close attention to facts and data. It just so happens that the concept of privilege provides great explanatory power to the facts and data that we have.

  11. Eristae says

    As long as you hold up privilege and patriarchy and claim that its all cultural/societal issues and not recognize that individuals behavior is the real root of peoples struggles you wont shrug off the post modernist label.

    False dichotomy. One can believe that it isn’t solely individual behavior or cultural/societal issues. In fact, I’ve never encountered one who felt it was all cultural/social issues*. Cultural/societal issues are intimately involved with individual behavior; culture and society impact and inform behavior.

    Also, I’m weirded out by the use of “gender feminism,” which seems to not be a label that anyone applies to themselves an is instead a slur that was invented by a self-described equity feminist.

    I’m not kidding.

    In contrast to equity feminism, Sommers coined the term “Gender feminism” to describe what she contends is a gynocentric and misandric branch of feminism. Gender feminists typically criticize contemporary gender roles and aim to eliminate them altogether.[1]

    Sommers argues that gender feminism characterizes most of the body of modern feminist theory, and is the prevailing ideology in academia. She argues that while the feminists she designates as gender feminists advocate preferential treatment and portraying “all women as victims”, equity feminism provides a viable alternative form of feminism to those who object to elements of gender feminist ideology.

    And if the best that you have is, “You people who I define as having issue X can’t get past issue X because I say you have issue X,” we have a problem.

    I also don’t understand why people will accept individual behaviors but not group behaviors. People do things as a group. People influence the behavior of others. Culture. Society. We’re a social species.

    *I have encountered people who felt it was solely individual behavior, but that was always in the context of fighting against attempts to combat problems. “How dare you expect me to help people, I’m not the one who made them need help.”

  12. says

    @ 6 – “Gender Feminism” v “Equity Feminism” is just a dichotomy made up by Christina Hoff Sommers, it’s not gospel.

    In fact “privilege” and “patriarchy” aren’t part of how I talk about feminism, because both feel a little too stale and jargon to me. But that doesn’t mean I think they’re bullshit, and I don’t think they’re bullshit. And if you think that postmodernism means “social/cultural” as opposed to individual…you’re lost in the forest.

  13. noxiousnan says

    Just Atheist, How silly of you to bring here your meanderings on gender feminism vs. equity feminism, but it is not germaine. You seem to have embraced the term equity feminist, and I will respect that is how you wish to be identified. However, though there may be some equity feminists lurking here even now, I seriously doubt there’s one gender feminist to be found.

  14. says

    @ JustAtheist

    The problem is that there is a perpetual feedback loop between individual behaviors/beliefs and the culture. The culture is a product of those behaviors/beliefs but then feeds back to perpetuate and reinforce them. There is no “real root” here. (cf. Chicken v Egg)

    Trying to find a single control point to effect change is about as productive as searching for a magic spell to do it. You have to address individual actions when they happen (which is what the critics of Ron Lindsay and CFI are doing) as well as addressing the cultural forces that enable those behaviors. There may be different groups who place their emphasis on different aspects, but it’s an unfair generalization to say that they do so to the complete exclusion of other aspects.

    Although social media (and faster media in general) have shortened the cycle, the feedback loop still operates at generational speed. We’ve seen change with respect to same-sex marriage happen at an unbelievable rate — unbelievable, at least from the perspective of 5 or 10 years ago. I really hope that we can see a similar change in attitudes towards women.

  15. Eristae says

    @Ophelia Benson/14


    Also, I have this terrible urge to go off about how some people are way too interested in describing the differences between the sexes as inherent. It’s like when you get people who insist that it is inherent that girls like pink and boys like blue (see that weirdo who insisted that it’s because liking pink helped you find berries and liking blue helped one hunt for blue oxen*, or something) despite the fact that such color preferences are not universal and in fact are very recent to even our own culture.

    So I don’t know why “equity feminists” would be upset by the idea that culture is informing and influencing our ideas of things like which colors correspond to girls and which colors correspond to boys.We know that this is the case.** We know that what is considered to be masculine or feminine in one culture is not considered to be masculine or feminine in another. Just go look at pictures of our founding fathers and you’ll find a bunch of men in tight stockings and wigs,, something men certainly can’t get away with now and still retain a “masculine” label.

    *Note: The part about the oxen was satire. The part about the berries was not.

    **Well, we know it if we are even marginally familiar with history and/or other cultures.

  16. jackal says

    @ 5

    So far we have Ron’s speech and 3 posts. Then we have the official statement which is a non-response. If that’s all the bad CFI has done and by all accounts they have done lot of good then its too early to be calling for boycotts.

    Regardless of whether the initial reactions to RL’s speech were overblown, the speech created a PR disaster, and RL’s handling of it was completely unprofessional. Regardless of whether subsequent open letters and blog posts addressing to the CFI board on this issue were excessive, CFI’s statement was a complete dismissal of the speakers and attendees of a conference for which they were the main sponsor. Sponsoring a conference for a demographic, and then turning around and telling that demographic to shove it is self destructive behavior. Why would anyone send their money to an org run with such incompetence? Why, when there are several other secular/humanist orgs with similar goals that don’t go around repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot? It’s like arguing that we should still support the Salvation Army, even though they’re pro-Christian and anti-gay, just because they also do some good. There’s no reason to fund an org with bad policies when there are better orgs addressing the same needs.

  17. says

    Deepak @5:

    So far we have Ron’s speech

    Which was patronising, snide, ignorant and bafflingly unprofessional for a CEO.

    and 3 posts.

    One of which he wrote while at the conference, neglecting the attendees and all of which did nothing but prove that he did not register why his speech was received so badly.

    Then we have the official statement which is a non-response.

    After almost a month of negative press and numerous articles which clearly expressed the writers’ objections to Lindsay’s speech and subsequent behaviour, it’s not unreasonable to have expected better from a skeptical organisation than corporate face-saving PR waffle.

    If that’s all the bad CFI has done and by all accounts they have done lot of good then its too early to be calling for boycotts.

    If you can’t trust the directors of an organisation to respond promptly and appropriately to a veritable tsunami of bad press and grievances levelled at none other than their CEO, as a result of not one but three public incidents of his grossly unprofessional behaviour, it’s reasonable to assume they don’t take your concerns seriously and probably won’t in the future. CFI had a chance to show leadership and guts; they did not do so.

    Why would you continue to associate with an organisation that publicly refuses to even recognise, much less take seriously, your concerns?

    Why would you continue to associate with an organisation whose CEO plainly does not – nor does he wish to – understand where he went wrong and how he alienated so many people?

    How much bullshit do you have to put up with from an organisation and its boss before you take your time and money elsewhere?

  18. chrisho-stuart says

    Ophelia, I follow you on twitter, and was intrigued to see you engaging there directly with Ron around about May 25, and speaking of the possibility of some kind of dialog. Ron suggested “wait a few weeks” (presumably to let the board to its thing I had guessed at the time).

    My guess — and it is only a guess — is that board was divided, but that they couldn’t actually say that. Something there about the effective intelligence of a committee is equal to that of the least intelligent member, divided by the number of members.

    Be that as it may; last month at least Ron seemed open the possibility of a real dialog — not just a touchy feely lets all get along but a robust mutual highlight of differences and disputes by the disputants. I’d certainly bring popcorn to see that happen. Is it still a possibility?

  19. says

    That would certainly be interesting. Some sign of conscious activity from CFI would be very welcome right now.

  20. says

    Another thing: What exactly happened in the time between the two cons? If the first ended on such a high note and the second started so poorly, what happened in between?


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