The people in the glossy photos

Stephanie notices some things about the Secular Coalition for America and its brainchild The Global Secular Council (you know, the one that’s not the least bit global, in fact about as unglobal as you can get).

Will the people in the glossy photos do great work under the Global Secular Council banner? Hard to say. There are some people on that list who have done truly impressive work, but I find it a bit odd that they didn’t hold the launch of the website for the release of work from at least a few of them. I’d like to believe they had the time for that between dinner and going live. There had to at least have been work those people had done that they were willing to repurpose under the GSC banner, right?

Not as of launch, no. But maybe they’ll start producing their own content soon, something more than a blog, since that’s what they’ll need to influence government. They’ll have to produce in order to survive. Big names only bring in so many donations before people want them to do more than have dinners and get their pictures taken.

That seems plausible, although there do seem to be a surprisingly lot of people out there who are utterly entranced by people merely having dinners and getting their pictures taken.

This is particularly true when the parent organization has been the subject of financial mismanagement rumors for several months.

[Nope. I don’t have anything but rumors on this one. They’ve come from multiple directions, which suggest they’ve gotten a lot of traction, but not necessarily that they’re true. I have no idea what happened with SCA’s finances, if anything, but that doesn’t keep the rumors from making fundraising harder.]

So they’ll get productive, or they’ll sink. They don’t want my help with the first and wouldn’t need it with the second. Initiatives start and die every day.

Like restaurants and little shops selling silk scarves and crystal.

If SCA has some real challenges, they also have some outstanding assets, at least in potentia.

Speaking of those challenges–the lack of diversity, the huffiness and counterattacks in the face of criticism, the poor understanding of basic concepts revealed in that discussion–pulling those posts of Ophelia’s into one place finally made something click for me.

I was reminded of something I’d tweeted from Barbara Ehrenreich’s talk at Women in Secularism.

Barbara Ehrenreich recently invited to an atheism & science think tank a bit short on “ladies” to contribute on “women’s health”. 

I’d forgotten that. I took a lot of notes, because I forget everything, but I haven’t looked at the notes yet.

Then all this happened. Do I know that it was the GSC that invited Ehrenreich? No, but the description and timing sure fit.

Ohhh – I had not thought of that. If so…oy.

Here’s a piece of free advice for whomever is doing the invitations for the GSC: Don’t ever tell someone from an underrepresented group that you’re inviting them to help improve your representation.

No, I’m not telling you to lie by omission. I’m not telling you to cover up something that’s best not raised in polite company. I’m telling you inviting someone to help improve your representation is a crappy thing to do. Hell, it’s probably not even what you’re really doing anyway.

When you notice that your gender or other ratios are badly skewed, not at all representational of the community you claim to speak for (whether global or merely national), it’s a signal that your process was flawed. Maybe you’ve subconsciously been thinking that thinking in tanks is “more of a guy thing” or “more of a white thing”. Maybe the white men who fit your mission just get so much more press that they’re more easily called to mind when you’re brainstorming. Maybe the definition of “big-name atheist thinker” has been historically constructed in such a way that it largely excludes the thinking women and people of color do.

Or maybe you’ve had to take most of the outspoken feminists and anti-racists off your list for one political reason or another, and that made you shy about including marginalized people.

Whatever the reason, the fact that you’ve come up with a list of atheist thinkers and policy people that doesn’t include Barbara Ehrenreich should tell you that your process didn’t work right the first time. Your problem isn’t that you “don’t have enough ladies”. Your problem is that you left amazing talent on the table because your process failed you.

Yes, and yes, and yes. One after another. Especially Maybe the white men who fit your mission just get so much more press that they’re more easily called to mind – which is exactly what I thought when I saw the GSC’s list of “Experts,” and is exactly what I still think. It’s a list of mostly The Guys Who Come To Mind First – which, ironically (or is it ironic?), makes the list boring as well as contemptuous and insulting. Can you really not get away from DawkinsandKraussandHarris for even a second? Why Harris over and over and over and fucking over again, and Churchland never? Patricia Churchland is orders of magnitude more interesting than Harris, but we get Harris for breakfast lunch tea and dinner, year in and year out. And then to take up Steph’s point, why Harris rather than Ehrenreich? And to take up my points from last week, why Harris rather than Namazie or Nasreen or Sahgal? Why is Sam Harris thought to be infinitely interesting, so that people want to hear him talk again and again and again and again, while Ehrenreich and Namzie and Nasreen are thought to be not interesting at all, so that people don’t want to hear them talk even once?

I don’t know if it’s just laziness or just a brainless hero-worship, but either way, it’s deeply unimpressive.


  1. tonyinbatavia says

    Laziness or just brainless hero-worship. I suspect it’s both.

    Their past accomplishments earned them the hero-worship. (For me personally — as an out atheist since the early ’90s — I was deeply happy when folks like them started making hay in public and making it a little easier for others to come out. In that way I considered them heroes. Once more people began to amplify the atheists voices, though, these guys became less and less relevant. Once social responsibility came into play within the movement and their gaping blindspots were revealed, they became embarrassments.)

    Now that they have name recognition — sadly, they believe their own press — they have shifted easily into lazy mode. And why not? There are enough remaining hero-worshippers out there who will continue pay their freight.

  2. says

    Yes, all that. I found Dawkins an electrifying jolt of fresh crisp air when he was here on a book tour for Climbing Mount Improbable in 1996, and I was very keen on the essays in A Devil’s Chaplain, and he was the first person I emailed when the Dover ruling was announced, to ask him to comment, and he did. I was happy about the popularity of TGD. All that. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s Our Boss, or The Only Interesting Atheist Ever, and I’m sick to death of having him treated as our natural leader, even by US organizations.

    I’ve never liked Harris.

  3. Trebuchet says

    Speaking of glossy photos, there was one in which Bill Nye had been cropped out. Does anyone know if he was originally be going to be part of it and pulled out?

    BTW, I keep seeing “SCA” as “Society for Creative Anachronism”!

  4. says

    The Twitter account last week said Nye was cropped out because he’s not yet one of their “Experts.” That was before it said that you can’t take pictures of people who aren’t at dinner with you.

  5. Bjarte Foshaug says

    …maybe you’ve had to take most of the outspoken feminists and anti-racists off your list for one political reason or another…

    That’s pretty much all there is to it.

  6. Al Dente says

    I’ve never heard Harris or Ehrenreich speak but I’ve read books by each of them.

    I wasn’t too impressed by The End of Faith. For instance Harris made the statement: “Mysticism is a rational enterprise; religion is not.” Huh? Mysticism is not rational and anyone who claims it is more rational than religion has different definitions of both religion and mysticism than I do. Plus I was not happy with Harris’s liberal bashing. I haven’t read anything else by Harris nor do I care to.

    Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed was an eye-opener for me. She showed that the working poor are not making it in the “land of opportunity” and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty. Ehrenreich is an intelligent, concise and clear writer. After reading Nickel and Dimed I read Bait and Switch, which looks at the unemployed middle class, whose lives aren’t much better than the working poor. I’ve also read her collection of essays, This Land Is Their Land which shows how the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer. Right now I’ve got Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything in my “read by the end of summer” stack.

    Based on their writing, I would much rather listen to Ehrenreich than Harris. In fact I don’t want to listen to Harris at all but I would be willing to pay money to listen to Ehrenreich.

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