Eight choices we can make to help move beyond the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities

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Eight choices we can make to help move beyond the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities

After a fairly massive dust-up on a series of previous blog posts (e.g. this one, Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland (known for their opposition to the recent and retarded blasphemy law in Ireland) has posted this list of suggestions which I am very happy to promote (link to full article):

Michael Nugent wrote:

Eight choices we can make to help move beyond the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities

by Michael Nugent on March 15, 2013

I decided a week ago to take time out from the recent discussions about the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities, in order to get some perspective on what I had learned from the discussions up to then. I would also like to thank the people who have contacted me privately to make helpful suggestions.

Many of these issues have been most visible in disagreements between members of some specific websites and forums. However, the way that the issues have been addressed has had a knock-on effect on the wider atheist and skeptic communities in real life.

Many people have been unfairly misrepresented and hurt, and many have been alienated in recent years from what was evolving into a stronger international support group and advocacy voice than we have today.

Here are eight choices that I think it would be useful for each of us to voluntarily adopt, not because we are obliged to do so, but because we believe it would be useful to do so, all things considered, as a starting point for productive dialogue.

The first five choices are general

1. We can choose to robustly debate our disagreements about ideas, while not personally insulting or mocking people who disagree with us.

2. We can choose to want to de-escalate, rather than escalate, the hostility and hurt that has been one outcome of how we have addressed some disagreements.

3. We can choose to accept that, just as we know that others are mistaken about our motivations, we may also be mistaken about their motivations.

4. We can choose to charitably interpret ambiguous statements, or ask the person to clarify them, rather than unilaterally attacking the worst interpretation.

5. We can choose to give people the space to reconsider previously stated beliefs, and to either clarify or easily disown off-the-cuff statements.

The next three choices relate to specific issues

6. We can choose to actively tackle the problems of sexism and harassment in our communities, regardless of the scale of those problems.

7. We can choose to robustly debate disagreements about aspects of feminism, without labeling people based on our interpretation of their motivation.

8. We can choose to unilaterally retract any statements that we personally have made that, in retrospect, we now believe were wrong or unhelpful.

Summary

These suggested choices are intended for people of good will who want to discuss these issues reasonably, and who also want to make it easy for people of good will who disagree with them to discuss their disagreements reasonably.

I would welcome any feedback.

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My comment in reply:Thaumas

My comment in reply:

Thaumas Themelios aka Wonderist wrote:

Thaumas Themelios March 15, 2013 at 6:03 am

I can fully endorse these suggestions because they are all true and useful in most/many contexts. I reserve the right to engage in mockery and satire, even of people, even condescendingly, but I certainly *can* choose to hold back on that when, for various reasons, depending on the context, it would not serve the purposes of the discussion, debate, or conversation. Indeed, that’s the approach I’ve been taking in this affair, and I’ve found it very effective — to be up front and stand my ground while simultaneously and voluntarily refraining from ‘pushing buttons’ with jabs and snipes at people.

Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to reflect on this controversy and offering these level-headed suggestions in the manner you have. I especially liked your emphasis on this being an individual’s choice regarding the pragmatic usefulness of dialogue and discussion, rather than a top-down decree that we must all behave the same way regardless of context. I fully support that distinction (having been trying to say the same thing myself on several occasions), and I believe you’ve said it better than anyone else so far.

I’m very happy to have made your acquaintance, and with any luck hope to engage with you again. Cheers!

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I don't agree. I think this

I don't agree. I think this list implies that playing nice all the time will always work. I think context matters and how one person or one group interacts with others is situational, not absolute. This isn't just about how atheists get along, this is life in general for all humans. You cant slap simple solutions on a complex diverse species.

Plus if we want  theists to see us as individuals, then having those fights in public allows them to see us as individuals rather than robotic minions belonging to one gang.

Point being humans are individuals and so are we and what might work in one case might not work in another case.

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as a person with a quick

as a person with a quick temper who generously uses profanity, i have to say being a fucking asshole is never more helpful than not being a fucking asshole.  the only thing it helps is said asshole's sense of accomplishment: it's easy and cheap to shout another person down, after all, but nobody's mind gets changed in the process.

i think these are all great ideas.

"I have never felt comfortable around people who talk about their feelings for Jesus, or any other deity for that matter, because they are usually none too bright. . . . Or maybe 'stupid' is a better way of saying it; but I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I. . . . And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots."
--Hunter S. Thompson


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iwbiek wrote:as a person

iwbiek wrote:

as a person with a quick temper who generously uses profanity, i have to say being a fucking asshole is never more helpful than not being a fucking asshole.  the only thing it helps is said asshole's sense of accomplishment: it's easy and cheap to shout another person down, after all, but nobody's mind gets changed in the process.

i think these are all great ideas.

Ok, lets take Jean for example. He is unreasonable, he is totally off his rocker, and I have no compunction knocking him verbally on his ass. Besides, I think it helps the bystanders see the zoo animal he behaves like.

There is no script to life, much less one way to "do" or "be" this or that. To me it always depends on context of situation, as to how I react.

There has been recent pushes by atheists I have seen on various boards to come up with a "list" or "code" or "ethic". If we are individuals I think it is a horrible tactic to assume something as dogmatic as a script, that is what theism does.

It can be a good way to gain followers, but it can also be a great way to lead people off a cliff.

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Brian37 wrote: Ok, lets

Brian37 wrote:

 

Ok, lets take Jean for example. He is unreasonable, he is totally off his rocker, and I have no compunction knocking him verbally on his ass. Besides, I think it helps the bystanders see the zoo animal he behaves like.

i don't think anyone on earth is in danger of taking jean seriously, and those who are crazy enough to won't be stopped by your responses.

anyone who is so unreasonable as to alienate everyone on both sides is best ignored, to conserve time if nothing else.  i've barely ever responded to jean.

"I have never felt comfortable around people who talk about their feelings for Jesus, or any other deity for that matter, because they are usually none too bright. . . . Or maybe 'stupid' is a better way of saying it; but I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I. . . . And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots."
--Hunter S. Thompson


Brian37
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iwbiek wrote:Brian37

iwbiek wrote:

Brian37 wrote:

 

Ok, lets take Jean for example. He is unreasonable, he is totally off his rocker, and I have no compunction knocking him verbally on his ass. Besides, I think it helps the bystanders see the zoo animal he behaves like.

i don't think anyone on earth is in danger of taking jean seriously, and those who are crazy enough to won't be stopped by your responses.

anyone who is so unreasonable as to alienate everyone on both sides is best ignored, to conserve time if nothing else.  i've barely ever responded to jean.

I disagree. He may be harmless, but there are people nuttier than him that do have influence on others. 9/11 comes to mind. It takes a nut like Jean to get other nuts to do what the hijackers did. You keep them at bay by putting them on display.

It is never a waste to me to put a nut on display.

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 9. We can choose to

 9. We can choose to recognize that rules 1-8 will be broken by ourselves and others often and choose to have a thick skin and move on rather than dwell on the petty shit.   

If, if a white man puts his arm around me voluntarily, that's brotherhood. But if you - if you hold a gun on him and make him embrace me and pretend to be friendly or brotherly toward me, then that's not brotherhood, that's hypocrisy.- Malcolm X


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Brian37 wrote:I don't agree.

Brian37 wrote:

I don't agree. I think this list implies that playing nice all the time will always work.

It definitely doesn't mean that. Not sure how you read that into it. All the time? He says it's a personal choice. I myself commented that I reserve the right to use ridicule, depending on context. I think he's more in agreement with you than your first impression gave you.

Quote:
Plus if we want  theists to see us as individuals, then having those fights in public allows them to see us as individuals rather than robotic minions belonging to one gang.

Ah. Note, he's talking about atheists dealing with atheists, not specifically theists.

Quote:
Point being humans are individuals and so are we and what might work in one case might not work in another case.

I agree, and I am almost positive that Michael Nugent would also agree.

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P.S., the context of this,

P.S., the context of this, for those not familiar, is his dialogue with Justin Vacula, which is exemplified here: http://www.michaelnugent.com/2013/03/03/examples-of-nasty-pushback-against-some-feminists-on-the-internet/

After much discussion in the comments sections (including in a few other blog posts as well), he eventually modified his position to this: http://www.michaelnugent.com/2013/03/08/some-reflections-on-the-recent-dialogue/

The link in the OP is his latest/probably final offering, in which he arrives at the position I mentioned to Brian37. Basically, he was being hoodwinked by some dogmatists into thinking all of their dissenters were raging misogynists of the worst kind. This is part of an ongoing (approaching two years now, since ElevatorGate) conflict between various atheists. It is largely a waste of everyone's time, but it involves such accusations and charges of villainy that it can't merely be swept under the rug and ignored. Like theism, we tried that, and it doesn't work.

Michael Nugent is one of the recent people to get involved in this can of worms, and I wanted to promote his ideas about how to deal with these drama shitstorms without contributing to the drama aspect of it. Hence the OP.

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Brian37 wrote:I disagree. He

Brian37 wrote:

I disagree. He may be harmless, but there are people nuttier than him that do have influence on others. 9/11 comes to mind. It takes a nut like Jean to get other nuts to do what the hijackers did. You keep them at bay by putting them on display.

It is never a waste to me to put a nut on display.

you don't "put him on display," brian.  jean puts himself on display, knowingly.  all you do is monotonously cuss him out on an internet forum, where most people no longer read his posts or your responses.  if anybody out there agrees with his vitriol, your vitriol is not going to change their minds.

terrorists don't waste their time on forums like this, they go out and plan shit.  the only forums they might frequent are those full of like-minded people, or those where they can learn how to make IEDs.  also, people who get other people to blow shit up are charismatic.  jean is not.  in case you haven't noticed, jean alienates EVERYBODY who speaks to him, including other christians.  if jean wants anything blown up, he'll have to do it himself, which, once again, your profanity-laced ridicule will do nothing to prevent.

anybody whose mind will not be changed by polite discourse will certainly not be changed by assholish discourse.  most people's minds will not be changed regardless.

"I have never felt comfortable around people who talk about their feelings for Jesus, or any other deity for that matter, because they are usually none too bright. . . . Or maybe 'stupid' is a better way of saying it; but I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I. . . . And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots."
--Hunter S. Thompson


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Brian has a point though.

Brian has a point though. You don't get rid of racism and prejudice by locking them up. That just relegates people to back rooms and secret clubs and sometimes even full blown cults. It's just like trying to ban certain products. The very act of banning and censoring creates a market for those products and ideas.
It also has a nasty psychological effect on those people who are ostracized along the way, often birthing and increasing extremist view points. Pushing sides so far apart that communication is spotty at best.

As much as I try to respond to every post jean makes, it's better that he and those like him are here than many possible alternatives.

And there are many people who've never seen or experienced the true bite of an evangelist. Who think religions (or some religions at least) are generally benign. Jean shows that the christian religion is quite capable of spawning hate filled assholes, showing people a side of christianity they might otherwise not experience.

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Vastet wrote:Brian has a

Vastet wrote:
Brian has a point though. You don't get rid of racism and prejudice by locking them up. That just relegates people to back rooms and secret clubs and sometimes even full blown cults. It's just like trying to ban certain products. The very act of banning and censoring creates a market for those products and ideas. It also has a nasty psychological effect on those people who are ostracized along the way, often birthing and increasing extremist view points. Pushing sides so far apart that communication is spotty at best. As much as I try to respond to every post jean makes, it's better that he and those like him are here than many possible alternatives. And there are many people who've never seen or experienced the true bite of an evangelist. Who think religions (or some religions at least) are generally benign. Jean shows that the christian religion is quite capable of spawning hate filled assholes, showing people a side of christianity they might otherwise not experience.

that's fine, although i still contend jean doesn't have the people skills to get even fanatics on his side.  he might indeed be a dangerous nut (so might i, so might brian, so might any of us), but he will always be a lone dangerous nut.

i just believe discourse can be harshly critical and still maintain the basic rules of civility.  personal insults and superficial ridicule might sting a few of us (though in the modern internet world calling someone something like "stupid motherfucker" has basically zero effect), but they accomplish nothing beyond that.

also, wasn't that list of resolutions drawn up for inter-atheist dialogue?  why did jean and muslim terrorists even come up?  (like i'm surprised...)

"I have never felt comfortable around people who talk about their feelings for Jesus, or any other deity for that matter, because they are usually none too bright. . . . Or maybe 'stupid' is a better way of saying it; but I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I. . . . And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots."
--Hunter S. Thompson