Teach the controversy

So it’s Monday, time to do the things that hung fire over the weekend…like release any little statements that might have piled up on Friday afternoon. This one from CFI for example, stemming from the meeting of its board last week:

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

That’s a very bizarre statement. It’s so bizarre it borders on the silly. It doesn’t say anything. Surely the first duty of any statement is to say what the statement is about. This statement entirely fails to do that. No one who didn’t already know what it was about could possibly figure it out by reading the statement.

And then, it says the board is unhappy. Well that’s interesting, but why issue a statement about it? It’s unhappy with “the controversy” – but what is that controversy? Well it wouldn’t like to say. Why not?

The last paragraph is just corporate bafflegab. It’s annoying bafflegab, too, because the core of the issue is that Ron’s talk at the beginning of WiS2 was not an example of respectful debate and dialogue.

The problem here, if I understand it correctly, is that feminism is a big tent, and there are some woo branches of feminism. I don’t think the woo part is a very big fraction of feminism, but that could be because I don’t know enough about feminism as a whole, I know only the kind I like. Well we could have talked about that. We could have had a panel on it. It could have been interesting.

But we didn’t get that. Instead we got Ron springing his talk on everyone, clumsily lecturing us about something he doesn’t know much about, and sounding as if he thought we were going to crap on the furniture.

As many people have patiently (and not so patiently) pointed out, that’s just a very odd way to start a conference. Of course conferences deal with controversy and disagreement; many conferences are about nothing else. But that’s part of the planning; it’s not a bomb dropped as a surprise at the start of the conference. It’s on the schedule, it’s not a gotcha.

It was a bad decision, ok? It just was. That’s not feminazi crazy, it just is the case. Doubling down on it didn’t work at the time and it seems unlikely to work now. Rebecca is out, and urging a boycott, and given what Ron wrote about her, I’m not a bit surprised.

So that’s this morning’s news.



  1. Claire Ramsey says

    “The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness . . .”

    This is worthy of a Monty Python skit. “I wish to express my unhappiness with the . . . poor quality spam in my spam and beans sandwich. . . with the deceased parrot you sold me. . . with the Upper Class Twits. . .”

  2. Randomfactor says

    “The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness . . .”

    This is worthy of a Monty Python skit.”

    I’m thinking of the scene early in The Incredibles, where the tiny boss demands that Bob ASK him why he’s unhappy…

  3. says

    I think that for Melody Hensley, this statement has to be like finding a hair in the shit sandwich she got served last month.

  4. Stacy says

    The CFI Board couldn’t be expected to actually look at the evidence and take a stand, now, could they? That would require bringing reasoning to bear on evidence and stuff.

    It would also require courage.

  5. says

    Something that I’m scratching my head about in all of this, is not just the contempt that has been shown for women, but for the volunteers as well. When you dig around these things a little, there always seems to be cases of higher-ups taking the labour of volunteers for granted.

    I’m not sure about boycotts, but if I was a CFI volunteer being served a “shit-sandwich”, I’d be thinking about organising bans or a strike.

  6. says

    One of the commenters at Pharyngula called it a homeopathic statement. You know, zero content diluted with a lot of words.

    I rather suspect that this was an attempt to stop digging. I doubt that Melody Hensley and Paul Fidalgo see it that way.

  7. says

    Obviously i may be completelly wrong, but I don’t think this should be that surprising. I think it’s very unlikely that Lindsay would have done what he did, knowing what the reaction would be, if he was not sure about what would come out of the CFI Board meeting. He would be a very incompetent politician (in the broad sense) if he wouldn’t know in advance the level of internal support he should expect.
    And the emptiness of the statement is preciselly calculated as well. It gives the right amount of plausible deniability to anyone un-willing to part ways with CFI for any reason. They’ll say (to Rebbeca for instance) ‘you are the one braking with us’, ‘you are the divisive one’, etc.

  8. spanner says

    The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.
    This is what stuck out for me. It suggests to me that CFI didn’t write this statement for those who object to Lindsay’s speech. They wrote it for those who support what Lindsay said. The CFI Board is acknowledging that the problem is not what Lindsay said but with the conference itself – with the whole notion of providing women a place to speak freely. See what happens when you do that? Big mistake on their part to sponsor such a conference. They are very sorry those uppity women got in the way of them showing how awesome they are for paying lip service to women’s issues.

  9. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Unfortunately I cannot stop supporting the CFI financially since I didn’t support it to begin with, but I was inspired to make a donation to Secular Woman.

  10. says

    Its 6am in Australia and I just woke up, glanced at Twitter, followed a link from a Rebecca tweet to Greta’s page, read the … whatever it is and thought That’s not all, right? That can’t be all. That’s the prelude to the real statement? So I got up to check properly on the computer and … that is all! ZOMG, as the young folks say.

  11. says

    I’m liking ‘homeopathic statement’. That’s… that’s a very good description.

    And I think it’s going to have to do. As this is one of those things sufficiently silly though it’s evading my best efforts so far at properly dismissive parody.

    It’s a little too much like a parody itself already, even. Like some McSweeney’s thing… What happens when you put the PR people typically hired to express one’s corporate regrets over a defective product in charge of apologizing for the speech a drunk uncle gave at someone’s wedding…

    Yeah, seriously, I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got, here…

    I did try. I was working from the drunk uncle thing, but it doesn’t really fit, either… Or just go full meaningless. You know: ‘I’d like to express my unhappiness with the fact that hot dogs come in packs of twelve, the buns in eight…’

    The defective product, that’s probably the direction, really. ‘Cept that implies possibly more inattention, less deliberate cussed stupidity…

    Wait. How ’bout: ‘Yes, we know our job is supposed to be to build stuff that doesn’t fall down, so we’d like to express our unhappiness with the odd fact that our CEO came over to your house last Thursday, planted charges, and attempted a controlled demolition. We’re, ummm… not quite sure what was up with that, but anyway, we assure you, we’re really feeling pretty down about the whole thing, anyway… Or at least pretty down about the fact that people did get upset. Or at least that the survivors and next of kin kicked up such a fuss. Anyway, trust us, we’re all really in a proper funk here.”

    (Meh. Still not quite. Leave it with me.)

  12. STH says

    I wonder if it’s so bland because it’s some sort of compromise between people who wanted to condemn Lindsay and people who wanted to praise him. It sort of sounds like what you’d come up with if you could only get the group to agree on the bare minimum: stuff happened and we’re not crazy about it.

    Anyway, it’s made it clear to me that CFI is never going to give anything but lip service to women’s issues. All I can hope for is that some other group will take over WIS next year. And when I have some money, it’s going to go to American Atheists. Dave Silverman is willing to go to bat for us in a way that CFI never will.

  13. jufulu says

    re: AJ Milne et al, I’ve been reading a lot of the various spoofs of the vacuous a-pology, and yours had me reading it with Douglas Adams’ voice in my head. He could have had a field day with rewriting the notpology.

  14. Berchmans says

    Feel the burn, Ophelia. FEEL IT.

    The CFI has quite rightly told the rancid Baboons to fuck off and take a hike. About time too. One by one, we will make sure the Baboons are persona non grata at ALL atheist and secular conferences.

    Just this week we have had confirmation that women in the community are frightened of speaking their mind because of the response from Watson, PZ, Zvan, Marcotte, etc. Baboonland is not a “safe space” for women – just ask EllenBeth Wachs. Your little dirty secret involving the support group has been leaked, and Zvan disgraced herself by telling another woman to shut up and listen because I (Zvan) tell you to. Thing is, more women are now giving you the finger and telling you to get fucked.

    It gives me a LOT OF PLEASURE watching you cry, PZ have a meltdown (it was revealed he called a woman a “slut” as well, fine “feminist” that he is!), Watson moan on her worthless blog, and no doubt a series of RAGE posts from the usual Baboons producing more froth and spittle than a Syrian gas attack.

    You thought you could bully, silence, intimidate and control the movement. We now CONTROL YOU.

    Go home, pineapple.

    PS – You can thank me for the donations!!! It’s the only way you’re going to earn anything.

  15. besomyka says

    Here’s the bottom line for me: the topics of the MRA movement are almost entirely based in magical thinking and pseudo science, which are the sorts of things a skeptical organization should be combating. We should no more be listening to anti-feminist MRAs than we should psychics and creationists. We should attempt to disabuse them of their divisim, abusive, illogical thinking, particularly when they crop up within our own members!

    I keep imagining the CEO talking, instead, about how the NCCAM should be taken more seriously, and how we’re really overstepping our bounds to not engage with them. It’d be RIDICULOUS. For some reason, though, justifying archaic systems of gender and dismissing an entire branch of science as it applied to women is just dandy.

    If the CFI’s position is to “endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement”, and that people like Justin Vacula are part of those elements then proof by contradiction: CFI is not a skeptic organization. They are just posing as one as long as the topics fit.

    Last year I finally started being able to donate. It was spread between my local NPR station (founding member of KUTX!), GLAAD, various LGBT-related kickstarters, and the local branch of CASA. I haven’t yet decided which – if any – skeptical organizations to support this year, but the CFI can count me out.

  16. noxiousnan says

    I just sent Berchman’s comment to CFI. Might as well give them a nice example of what they have inspired.

  17. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Instead we got Ron springing his talk on everyone, clumsily lecturing us about something he doesn’t know much about, and sounding as if he thought we were going to crap on the furniture.

    … All the while he himself is vomiting liquid feces everywhere and then finishes off his speech by unzipping his pants, flopping his worm out and pissing all over the now soiled table, floor and walls. And when confronted by what he’d just done, he chooses to pull his pants down and moon the crowd.

    @17. Berchman’s : Wow. To think I thought the image above that *I* just painted in people’s minds was pretty gross. You come over through your comment there as a very sad and disgusting person, you do realise that don’t you?

    BTW. I’d ask you for citations to prove your claims (eg.PZ calling a woman a “slut “and having a breakdown – been to his blog and sure doesn’t seem like it) but y’know, on second thoughts I don’t want to read your shit anymore so don’t bother.

    PS. You sound a lot more emotional and like someone in tears than Ophelia Benson does on this thread. I don’t believe you’ve seen her crying – or ever will – although I’m sure you wished you could cause that which reflects a lot worse on you than it does her. In the words of Obi-wan : You need to go home (or turn off the computer for a while) and rethink your life.

  18. says

    Must be infuriating to know that you’re irrelevant. So infuriating, in fact, that you’re forced to make up the most outrageous lies to smear the people who are, in every possible respect, better than you.

    Well, you’ve gotten it out of your system. Run along now.

  19. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Unfortunately I cannot stop supporting the CFI financially since I didn’t support it to begin with, but I was inspired to make a donation to Secular Woman.

    Same here.

    You know, I’d like to take the supposedly rational haters like Vacula and Reinhardt and force them to justify hanging out with shitheads like Berchmans up there or that fucking Elevatorgate creep. I mean, really justify it instead of just throwing around a bunch of words they don’t know the meaning of, then changing the subject.

  20. Sili says

    “The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness . . .”

    “Dr Lindsay regrets he’s unable to lunch today, bitches.”?


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