We Need Both Safe Spaces AND Philosophically Open Ones

I am answering objections to my comments moderation policy that asks for no insulting language and for slowness to make personal attacks. Familiarity with previous posts should not be necessary for new readers to understand the discussion below, which covers the topic of safe spaces and explains why even though I think they are a great idea, my blog will sometimes not fulfill all of their functions.

Objection 3: We live in a truly fucked up, unjust world in which members of numerous marginalized groups have to cater to the whims and feelings of an unfair majority that in turn abuses them. Even in what purport to be “fair” environments, inevitably the power structures in which “free” debate occurs favors the experiences of members of privileged classes and those with the prejudices taken to be “common sense”. Members of marginalized groups already struggle to find their voice and articulate their experience. It is too onerous to demand that they tip toe around the feelings of the members of groups that oppress them even on putatively progressive blogs that explicitly aim to be friendly to them. They need safe spaces.

They also need room to be around people of shared values and understanding so that they can (a) vent, (b) do the constructive work of socially and emotionally supporting each other, (c) reason together about new issues without having to justify all their basic beliefs, values, or basic humanity all the time, (d) worry about the feelings of those who cause them so much psychic misery in the real world, (e) coordinate political action and social institutions, and (f) avoid their tormenters’ presences.

Reply 3: I agree that safe spaces are a great idea. Not every blog needs to concern itself with all philosophical issues. Not every blog needs to put fundamental values into question. We are entitled to live, think, and write within the assumption of own values at some point in our lives and in some spaces in our lives, without having to go back to square one justifying them all over again, all of the time.

This is especially true for people whose entire lives are forced to be exercises in justification because of ignorant people. They deserve places of refuge where they can think in true categories without interruption for once. It is also true for victims of abuse (whether they are rape survivors or suffer from any manner of systemic injustice at the hands of the culture). They need places that are affirmative of their experience in an unqualified way.

And it would be absurd to ask adherents to every philosophical school or set of values to halt all further inquiries into their beliefs and values and go back to basic justifications every time someone disagrees about basic premises objects. There would be no progress within any paradigms if that were the case. There are places for public sparring and places for likeminded people to think together.

For the last three years, I have given a lot of latitude to the blog’s predominantly atheist audience to vent their frustrations with religious people. Sometimes they have used language that I would think is unproductively hostile for a debating context. I understand the anger and pain that is the source of their epithets and over the top rhetoric and think that, minimally, it is an important stage of feeling and working through their anger that is coming out. This is why even though I think it is better that in public forums viewed by the world that the anger be channeled into constructive arguments and institution building, I have rarely ever chided my blog commenters when they have popped off with a lot of vituperation after a story of abuse or irrationality coming religious people against atheists, gays, women, transgendered people, etc. I will try to rein people in for the sake of consistency and for the sake of making Camels With Hammers a forum where people are nudged to make their anger constructive rather than self-reinforcing.

I still do not think that safe spaces benefit in any specific necessary way from using demeaning language. Those participating in safe spaces can use harsh emotionally charged words against their enemies (words like “bigots” and “misogynists” and “homophobes” and “authoritarians” and “irrational”) or detail the moral or intellectual failings of their opponents in any of a number of highly specific and devastating ways capable of substantiation and rational evaluation by their opponents.

I am at a loss as to what is necessary about calling someone a “douchebag” or “stupid” or an “asshole” that adds anything more to those harsh words except hate and denigration and incivility. I can understand the need to not put up with the bullshit standards of an unjust majority. But why should that include jettisoning the standards of basic civility and not just what is homophobic, racist, religious, misogynistic, transphobic, classist, etc. within it? I will return to answer some reasons given for this in my reply to Objection 7.

There is a danger that any group bound by a shared moral, political, and personal identity becoming self-righteous and hateful. We see this with religions, which are strongly oriented around moral beliefs. I fear it is unhealthy to so demonize one’s opponents that one cannot adhere to any civil restraints in language and characterization of them or interpersonal verbal treatment of them.

I can understand not wanting them around to argue with in safe spaces. I can understand not wanting to defer to their demands for explanations that would derail constructive discussions in new directions. I can understand not wanting them to poison a supportive atmosphere. In short, I can understand wanting to have a blog that is not about debate and in which there is a lot of anger expressed about the out-group. But I do not see the need to also use abusive epithets. So, here, as safe a space in some ways that I want this to be, I am going to draw that line.

This blog is also different from a “safe space” in that I frequently raise questions about fundamental values for philosophical investigation and debate, rather than merely assume them. I often argue passionately in favor of progressive values and my own unique brand of moral realism. But in the comments section people are regularly going to raise fundamental questions that in normal spaces would be offensive or psychotic, but which in a philosophical context have a vital place.

If in everyday life someone told you they didn’t see why slavery or murder were truly wrong, you would rightly be aghast and worry you were dealing with an evil person. In a philosophical debate, where we are trying to rigorously grasp what makes these things wrong and in what ways, or what the ultimate meaning and reality of morality statements are, etc., we can ask and debate those questions in a truly illuminating way.

I can understand if people would get furious if they thought one of our discussions about whether or why murder can be said to be “truly” wrong had the possibility of sending someone to murder people were they not satisfied with the arguments about why it was wrong. But likely no one will murder others based on such philosophical discussions and positively there is a great deal of room for clarifying the wrongness of even obviously heinous things for the insight that that gives us into the nature of morality and its sources of justification, so that we can treat the more unsettled questions with a better understanding.

More realistically, I also take seriously the fact that members of vulnerable groups do not like having their rights discussed as open questions or as academic matters out of the same fear that should those arguing against them leave unconvinced, they may be reinforced in their consequentially dangerous views and practices. But I don’t think that that makes these debates avoidable. If people come in here genuinely unconvinced of my viewpoints and values that make me a progressive and raise what are to a sizable number of people plausible philosophical positions, and all my commenters or I do is personally abuse them or make charges of bigotry and that’s it, I do not see how they leave here any more convinced that we are right. They may leave fearing a social cost for their views. But they also are going to still doubt the moral and rational legitimacy of that social cost and see it as their rival political group’s attempt to bully them emotionally and legally rather than persuade them rationally.

That upsets me. I do not have progressive values because I just feel like having them or just because of my tremendous sympathies for my friends who are members of marginalized groups. I am not a dogmatist who wants to bully people emotionally into agreement or an authoritarian who wants people to be forced by law into submitting to values that their consciences are never rationally persuaded of.

I am wholeheartedly confident in my values and my beliefs about the world because I have developed and scrutinized them rationally. And I am wholeheartedly confident about the value of debate about these values and beliefs because I trust that fair debates, grounded in reason and evidence (including the evidence of harms and emotional effects) and conducted with genuine civility really do lead to a greater understanding of the truth and of justice. I am convinced that if I debate, any incorrect beliefs or values I have can be set straight. (I will address reader concerns about false, silencing appeals to civility which are just in the interest of reinforcing the privilege of the powerful in a future post when I address objection 7.)

I have studied Nietzsche, often intensely, for 13 years in part because he constantly forces me to answer as serious challenges to my values as anyone does. He forces me to refine them and to incorporate all sorts of nuances that make them better, and less susceptible to withering criticism. I also came to think of morality as something legitimately real and binding only by spending years as a rigorous skeptic of the concept until I met, or discovered within myself, arguments that just completely persuaded me of the existence of moral truths.

I have very strong opinions not at all because I am just an emotional, closed-minded, dogmatist but rather because at some point in my life I have vigorously interrogated every major opinion I have for its truth. In many cases, I started out with my emotions completely aligned against it and was won over by the sheer logic of the counter position. So, I am not rationally threatened at all by the presence of people who ask upsetting questions about my fundamental values or fundamental philosophical positions. I know that either my views will withstand the test or be improved by it. And so I welcome philosophically vigorous challengers in my comments section.

This means that even though I argue robustly for the propositions that there are no gods, that there are truths about values, and that progressive values are in many ways superior to competitors, some of my commenters will explore abstractions that could upset people and I will not automatically stop them from doing so. I think this is okay for a philosophy blog and understand if some people don’t read or participate in the comments on that account. I should say this has rarely if ever been a problem that I have been made aware of. But theoretically it could be.

Even though this is an atheist blog, I want religious people to be able to challenge us. When not engaged with religious people, we can talk amongst ourselves of course, but when they show up, they’re welcome to ask philosophically probing questions that might strike us as dishonest and dangerous and offensive, as long as they respect the people here and do not use abusive language or goad members of marginalized groups by being personally dismissive or callous or objectifying or otherwise making a hostile environment for them. Insofar as they stick to ideas and values and arguments, they are welcome to advance controversial lines of thought for debate here. The same goes for non-progressives of various stripes.

It is fine that other blogs assume values questions as more settled and move from there, and are more worried about creating a completely safe space for the marginalized than about fostering freewheeling, rationally rigorous debate about major differences or the constant reexamination of basic assumptions.

But on my blog I want to demonstrate either that my most cherished values stand up to rational scrutiny and that I am able to nuance my positions or outright change my mind when they do not. I did not arrive at them dogmatically and I do not need to stifle questioning in order to be secure in them. I think that if they are truly the best values, they will come out of any furnace they are put through all the harder to break. Otherwise they will undergo important new shaping and refining.

I also believe that it is vital that there be contexts, like the one I am trying to create, in which we demonstrate the rational grounds of our values and of morality itself against unsympathetic but civil skepticism. I think if we have no forums which do this then our enemies will just assume we do not have the arguments and that we are just dogmatists whose values are just unjustifiable feelings that we refuse to subject to scrutiny. If we never entertain the most callously skeptical questions in this way but always come out emotionally bruising those who disagree with us, we will come off like people of faith, i.e., people who turn our feelings that we cannot defend into beliefs and values and laws that we foist on others through emotional bullying, dogmatism, and interpersonal hostility against all doubters.

So, yes, some people emotionally need and deserve completely safe spaces because of the abuses they have suffered at the hands of corrupt values, people, and institutions. And yes, it is vitally necessary that we have some forums where we develop a shared worldview without always having to go back to square one. And because I am convinced of my progressive, inclusive values and so am not recklessly neutral, I will enforce an atmosphere here where marginalized groups are not intimidated out of participating. But, nonetheless, Camels With Hammers is, has been, and will remain a blog where atheism, progressive values, and moral realism are rationally defended rather than simply assumed and in which they show how well they can stand up to the most unsparing rational scrutiny that any disagreeing commenters can dish out in civil, respectful, and non-marginalizing ways.

There may be many readers or potential commenters who have plenty of good reasons for their core fundamental viewpoints and values, and yet nonetheless do not want to spend their online lives (or any part of their lives) having to justify them. If you are one of them, that’s fine. Plenty of Camels With Hammers threads (probably even the majority) will be ones in which we do work from shared basic values and viewpoints in order to hash out our differences among ourselves or constructively explore new implications of our shared outlook.

I only ask that on those occasions, however frequent or infrequent, that civil people with views at odds with our own come in here and want to debate questions of fundamental beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and values, that you not personally attack them but engage them rationally. You can argue with passion, you can make appeals to your emotions and experiences as evidence where these are relevant. You can discuss the ways that implications of what others are saying threaten you or those you love with tangible, real world harm, etc. 

If they personally abuse you with insults or personal goading, you can assert your rights to be treated with dignity and I will get involved. If they raise lines of inquiry that sound like they are bigoted or in bad faith, you can point that out civilly and start interrogating their positions. You do not need to leap to personal accusations, but you can make them, in substantiatable ways (not with insults) if over the long course of argument they prove themselves to reason in bad faith.

But when starting out answering a superficial line of challenge, just go right to the point: “That’s something a lot of racists say for transparently self-serving reasons, do you agree with racists that x, y, and z? Do you see how adopting that assumption favors members of group x to the detriment of group y? Do you think that as a member of group y that this partially explains why that assumption seems so obvious to you? Can you defend that assumption? You say you are just interested in the truth, even if it is ugly, but have you read article x or considered factors and that are standardly assumed in other contexts?”

Defending our views does not have to mean accepting the paradigms and questions of our opponents as entirely legitimate. If certain discourses are stacked against certain conclusions, then we are free to interrogate the entire structures and assumptions of those discourses when our interlocutors try to impose them. There are innumerable strategies for winning these arguments that make it wholly unnecessary to shut them down by resorting to driving dissenters out of town like heathens or heretics. That only reinforces people in their feelings that they are persecuted truth tellers. That’s the last thing I want people who are wrong and harmful to feel.

So please do not rush to take abstract arguments personally and thereby sabotage the chance to hash out our disagreements with our skeptics and to show them that our values are capable of rational defense and not just dogmatic bullying assumptions. If we have truth and justice on our side, then we can, we need to, and we will prevail within the bounds of rational, civil discourse.

I relish the challenge.

And since I am only one thinker, with limited knowledge and resources, I need your help as much as you can offer it.

Your Thoughts?

  • Neal

    I think it’s interesting to contrast “safe spaces” and “philosophically open spaces.” Without knowing what a “space” is, here is an argument that safe spaces are necessarily not philosophically open spaces.

    A space is “safe for group X” provided the values and characteristics that define group X may not be questioned (for example, a space that is “safe for gay people” will not question the morality of homosexuality; a space that is “safe for MRAs” will not question male privilege).

    A space is “philosophically open” provided any discussion in that space may begin with an arbitrary set of premises.

    The contradiction between “philosophically open” and “safe for group X”, for any arbitrary group X, is then clear: philosophically open spaces permit questioning the fundamental values and characteristics of group X, hence are not safe for group X.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The contradiction between “philosophically open” and “safe for group X”, for any arbitrary group X, is then clear: philosophically open spaces permit questioning the fundamental values and characteristics of group X, hence are not safe for group X.

      This is only partially true. A philosophical space could still be engineered to not be hostile to group X and make special accommodations (in terms of the standards of civility imposed) for their unique vulnerabilities and unjust social disadvantages. I am trying to have a place where no one is free from having their fundamental views and values and identities challenged abstractly but where personalizing approaches to do that which make people feel unsafe as persons are clamped down on.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      Not sure your proof is quite finished, there.

      In a truly philosophically open space, it is possible to question the value of a philosophically open space.

      Provided the purpose of the space is to progress rationally — that is, to attempt to determine philosophically the answers to certain questions, it is conceivable that the participants in a philosophically open space will determine that the person questioning the value of a philosophically open space is correct.

      Thus, a philosophically open space may become a safe space.

      The only way, that I see, to fully prevent this, would be to either (a) not have the discussion about the value of philosophically open spaces, or (b) in such a case as the argument against were shown more valid than the argument for, disregard this and continue pursuing a philosophically open space.

      In either of which case, in fact, a philosophically open space would be a safe space, for a group characterized by its value of philosophically open spaces.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      In a truly philosophically open space, it is possible to question the value of a philosophically open space.

      As we have been doing.

    • Neal

      I am trying to have a place where no one is free from having their fundamental views and values and identities challenged abstractly but where personalizing approaches to do that which make people feel unsafe as persons are clamped down on.

      So you’d modify the definition of “safe space” to something more like: a space is “safe for group X” provided personalizing challenges to the identity of group X are verboten? That is also a reasonable definition, I think, and with that definition one could have philosophically open safe spaces.

      I would be inclined to think, however, that abstract discussion regarding the identity, moral status, and even agency of group X, not just personalizing challenges to the identity of group X, would potentially make members of group X feel unsafe (as tarian argues).

      *****

      Provided the purpose of the space is to progress rationally — that is, to attempt to determine philosophically the answers to certain questions, it is conceivable that the participants in a philosophically open space will determine that the person questioning the value of a philosophically open space is correct.

      First, it is not clear that the purpose of a philosophically open space is to attempt to determine philosophically the answers to certain questions. For instance, a space may also purpose to merely provide a forum for nonpersonalizing exploration of any topic, without any mention of philosophical progress.

      Second, if the participants determine that the space will no longer be philosophically open, then of course the space could become a safe space for some group. But then it is no longer philosophically open, so my argument still stands.

      Your last point is a false dilemma; a space could remain philosophically open even if persuasive arguments are advanced that philosophical openness is not a valuable quality for spaces to have. In any case, as Dan points out, these very discussions illustrate that a philosophically open space is not safe for people who value philosophical openness!

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      Your last point is a false dilemma; a space could remain philosophically open even if persuasive arguments are advanced that philosophical openness is not a valuable quality for spaces to have.

      It is only a false dilemma if you reject my premise that a philosophically open space seeks to rationally determine answers to philosophical questions/problems. You did reject that, but I want to be clear that under the premise I was arguing, it was not a false dilemma.

      *If* my premise is granted, *and* the participants in the space are persuaded that philosophical openness is not a valuable quality for spaces to have, *then* it either becomes safe space by changing from a philosophically open space, or it becomes a safe space by declaring that the rationally determined answer to the question posited should be ignored in order to maintain a pre-determined value.

      Now you reject my premise, and I suppose your point is correct. I don’t personally see much value in a philosophically open space which merely “explores” without the intent to actually find the best, most rational solutions to philosophical problems and potentially change the minds of the participants.

    • Neal

      It is only a false dilemma if you reject my premise that a philosophically open space seeks to rationally determine answers to philosophical questions/problems. You did reject that, but I want to be clear that under the premise I was arguing, it was not a false dilemma.

      Correct, as well as the paragraph that follows which I did not quote.

      Now you reject my premise, and I suppose your point is correct. I don’t personally see much value in a philosophically open space which merely “explores” without the intent to actually find the best, most rational solutions to philosophical problems and potentially change the minds of the participants.

      I agree with Dan that such spaces are important, if only as a “rung on the ladder” for people’s exploration. Not all spaces need to have the goal of discovering and building on consensus! But – of course – YMMV.

  • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

    And because I am convinced of my progressive, inclusive values and so am not recklessly neutral, I will enforce an atmosphere here where marginalized groups are not intimidated out of participating.

    I guess this is the meat of the question for me. I understand and respect what you are trying to do — and, frankly, I tend to be a pretty civil person (abrupt, terse, but civil.)

    Nonetheless, I have very little patience or desire to put up with comment threads in which other people stating that, for example, my sexual orientation is harmful to society, or that my gender identity is a lie (and by extension, I and harmful and I am a lie) is endorsed, even under the banner of pure philosophical interrogation. Even when it is stated politely. Even if it is in “good faith” — which, to be honest, is a frighteningly rare occurrence.

    I certainly may not participate in threads where such opinions are likely to appear, or where discussion of my existence and value as a human being are questioned. And I don’t think I’d be the only one.

    I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with you pursuing the creation of a space where everything is rigorously, philosophically questioned. But I think you may find that there is a cost in the loss of marginalized voices.

    Nietzsche, I think, would recognize this additionally as the loss of a number of different perspectives. And I realize that you may feel that to do this opposite would lose a number of perspectives as well. I get that.

    I suppose I just feel that someone questioning the value of my existence, the truth of my existence, is far more demeaning and insulting than the word “asshole.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I guess this is the meat of the question for me. I understand and respect what you are trying to do — and, frankly, I tend to be a pretty civil person (abrupt, terse, but civil.)

      Nonetheless, I have very little patience or desire to put up with comment threads in which other people stating that, for example, my sexual orientation is harmful to society, or that my gender identity is a lie (and by extension, I and harmful and I am a lie) is endorsed, even under the banner of pure philosophical interrogation. Even when it is stated politely. Even if it is in “good faith” — which, to be honest, is a frighteningly rare occurrence.

      I certainly may not participate in threads where such opinions are likely to appear, or where discussion of my existence and value as a human being are questioned. And I don’t think I’d be the only one.

      I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with you pursuing the creation of a space where everything is rigorously, philosophically questioned. But I think you may find that there is a cost in the loss of marginalized voices.

      Nietzsche, I think, would recognize this additionally as the loss of a number of different perspectives. And I realize that you may feel that to do this opposite would lose a number of perspectives as well. I get that.

      I suppose I just feel that someone questioning the value of my existence, the truth of my existence, is far more demeaning and insulting than the word “asshole.”

      And religious people feel that denying the value of their religion, the truth of their religion, is far more demeaning and insulting than insults too.

      But people disagree. There have to be forums for actual rational disagreements, even when we personally feel that they are demeaning and insulting, and even when they have implications that are actually demeaning and insulting.

      The only other solution is just total war in which those who are against homosexuality and those who support it just never engage each other except to demean and insult each other.

      I don’t see how that is going to rationally persuade anyone of the rightness of either side.

      I totally see why many people might find that intolerably painful and not want to participate in philosophical spaces but only in completely safe ones. But we need philosophical spaces. This is one. I truly hope you find it more comfortable to regularly participate in than you fear.

    • smhll

      But people disagree. There have to be forums for actual rational disagreements, even when we personally feel that they are demeaning and insulting, and even when they have implications that are actually demeaning and insulting.

      The only other solution is just total war in which those who are against homosexuality and those who support it just never engage each other except to demean and insult each other.

      I agree with the assertion that “people disagree”.

      The second assertion “there have to forums for actual rational disagreements, even when…” seems less firmly proven to me. I’ll grant that you are in the middle of trying to prove it. Let me add that a rational discussion for bringing people together to common truth doesn’t necessarily have to be held on the internet with anonymity or with strangers, or with an open door policy for adding more strangers any old time.

      I think “The only other solution is just total war…” is a statement that over reaches. I don’t believe the complete solution space has been covered. I’m not asking you to cover the many alternatives, just wanted to flag that you asserted a conclusion that might not stand up to serious scrutiny.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Let me add that a rational discussion for bringing people together to common truth doesn’t necessarily have to be held on the internet with anonymity or with strangers, or with an open door policy for adding more strangers any old time.

      There are pros and cons to doing it on the internet. One of the pros is that it allows us to work out potentially tense issue with strangers instead of wrecking our personal relationships. Plus here we have some distance that we are not afforded when face to face. That of course also means the internet enables us to be more aggressive since we don’t have to confront the person we’re irritated with’s face either.

      In my view, we need more, not less, forums for vigorous and sophisticated debate about values and the internet is just one place where debates will inevitably be happening, so I would hope they could be as constructive as possible.

    • Steersman

      aleph squared said (#2.0),

      Nonetheless, I have very little patience or desire to put up with comment threads in which other people stating that, for example, my sexual orientation is harmful to society, or that my gender identity is a lie (and by extension, I and harmful and I am a lie) is endorsed, even under the banner of pure philosophical interrogation.

      That “extension” seems rather problematic to me, as if to say that you endorse or support the idea that our identities should be, must be, fully defined and totally wrapped up in, as per your example, our “sexual orientation”. Not least for promoting some sort of reverse sexism.

      In addition, it then seems to justify the argument that, following the line of your example, I should be entitled to champion reducing the age of consent to, say, 12, and to promote paedophilia without having to endure questions as to whether my “sexual orientation is harmful to society” or that both my “gender identity” – an integral part of which is my paedophilia – and, by extension, myself are “harmful and a lie” ….

      We really can’t, reasonably in any case I think, place one idiosyncratic feature of ourselves in a sacrosanct position without extending the same right to everyone else …. at least not a priori ….

      I suppose I just feel that someone questioning the value of my existence, the truth of my existence, is far more demeaning and insulting than the word “a***l.”

      To you. Looks rather much like an egregious manifestation of privilege to me that you should think that you are the final arbiter of what is “demeaning and insulting” ….

  • Kim

    I couldn’t agree more on this point. It may be a cliche but you’re not the bigger person and you haven’t scored a point for your team when you’re horrible back to people who are horrible to you. I understand the impulse to respond in kind but it strikes me as hypocritical to actually argue for being allowed to be awful to others while complaining about others being awful to you.

    People need to decide what’s more important: the momentary satisfaction of calling an asshole an asshole or getting said asshole to see the error of his/her ways. As you said, personal insults only serve to validate bigots/misogynists/etc. in their delusion that they’re “persecuted truth tellers”.

    • B-Lar

      I understand the impulse to respond in kind but it strikes me as hypocritical to actually argue for being allowed to be awful to others while complaining about others being awful to you.

      This.

      I have been having this thought repeatedly since these posts began, but have been unable to crystallise it succinctly. Thanks Kim!

  • tarian

    They may leave fearing a social cost for their views.

    That right there constitutes a positive change. Right now there really isn’t a social cost to many forms of bigotry, in many places.

    Your description of a philosophically open space seems to permit things like a “rational”, “dispassionate” discussion of whether or not I’m fully human. To the people who would like to argue that I’m not, my reasoned responses are going to be ignored; after all, you don’t debate philosophy with your pet hamster either. So… I can bring out the invective, or leave. This is how you get discussions that lack minority voices.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That right there constitutes a positive change. Right now there really isn’t a social cost to many forms of bigotry, in many places.

      But if you don’t actually convince them they are bigots then they become all the more self-righteous and convinced that you have no arguments but only invective to offer.

      Your description of a philosophically open space seems to permit things like a “rational”, “dispassionate” discussion of whether or not I’m fully human. To the people who would like to argue that I’m not, my reasoned responses are going to be ignored; after all, you don’t debate philosophy with your pet hamster either. So… I can bring out the invective, or leave. This is how you get discussions that lack minority voices.

      The invective will not teach anyone anything but that they have an enemy. Without persuasion they will just come away with all the negative stereotypes reinforced.

      If anyone treats you as though you are not fully human or even literally advances the line of reasoning “people of kind x are not fully human” then there are plenty of ways that they will be censored and/or banned for creating an unnecessarily hostile environment to members of that group.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      But if you don’t actually convince them they are bigots then they become all the more self-righteous and convinced that you have no arguments but only invective to offer.

      The thing is, there are examples of relatively safe spaces, like Pharyngula, where invective is frequently used *in conjunction with rational arguments*. And at Pharyngula, we frequently have people delurk and tell us that we did convince them, that we did change their minds.

      I don’t think anyone is saying that *only invective should be used*. But it is incorrect to think that, just because invective occurs, an argument is thus ineffective. We have counterexamples, numerous ones.

      If anyone treats you as though you are not fully human or even literally advances the line of reasoning “people of kind x are not fully human” then there are plenty of ways that they will be censored and/or banned for creating an unnecessarily hostile environment to members of that group.

      That’s good to know. That said, “dispassionately” presenting a philosophical argument that I, or tarian, or anyone else is less than fully human is, to me, what you are now saying would be censored. But how does that go along with a philosophical space where everything is open to “dispassionate” philosophical argument?

    • Neal

      … even literally advances the line of reasoning “people of kind x are not fully human” then there are plenty of ways that they will be censored and/or banned for creating an unnecessarily hostile environment to members of that group

      This concerns me – I would submit that comment threads here should be open to discussing and dissecting such lines of reasoning. For instance, if abortion became a topic here, would one be censored for arguing that “people who are younger than 18 months are not fully human”?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      This concerns me – I would submit that comment threads here should be open to discussing and dissecting such lines of reasoning. For instance, if abortion became a topic here, would one be censored for arguing that “people who are younger than 18 months are not fully human”?

      Exactly. This is why it is too hard to rule out lines of argument a priori and can only moderate that people be as respectful and tactful to each other as possible and allow repulsive values and views to be beaten with passionate, rational appeals, rather than with interpersonal abuse.

    • beth

      On the internet, no one can tell that you are pet hamster. :)

    • Steersman

      aleph squared said (#4.2),

      The thing is, there are examples of relatively safe spaces, like Pharyngula, where invective is frequently used *in conjunction with rational arguments*. And at Pharyngula, we frequently have people delurk and tell us that we did convince them, that we did change their minds.

      Apart from the fact that calling Pharyngula a “relatively safe place” is not totally unlike calling Hitler’s Germany the same thing, I wonder … Did they indicate whether it was the “rational arguments” that did the trick? Or the invective? Correlation and causation and all that ….

      Maybe you / they might have rescued more from “The Dark Side” with less of the latter, something that even PZ seems, belatedly, to be recognizing with his “deprecation” of the porcupine “joke” ….

    • John Morales

      Steersman:

      Apart from the fact that calling Pharyngula a “relatively safe place” is not totally unlike calling Hitler’s Germany the same thing, I wonder … Did they indicate whether it was the “rational arguments” that did the trick? Or the invective? Correlation and causation and all that ….

      It’s not generally the regulars who make that claim, and the basis is often that when bad things are written, the commentariat tends to stomp on them — so it’s both.

      Here is a recent example.

      (Presumably you’ve noticed how both PZ and Dan have stated that different people find fit in different spaces)

      [OT]

      Maybe you / they might have rescued more from “The Dark Side” with less of the latter, something that even PZ seems, belatedly, to be recognizing with his “deprecation” of the porcupine “joke” ….

      There’s always a maybe; as for the porcupine, that had nothing to do with PZ — it’s a colourful variant of “go fuck yourself” some commenters came up with (the porcupine had to be dead so no animals were harmed) and it’s an invitation, not a threat.

      (Not something I personally liked, so I’ve never employed it)

  • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

    And religious people feel that denying the value of their religion, the truth of their religion, is far more demeaning and insulting than insults too.

    I think there is a distinction in that analogy — but I see your point. We do need places in which to draw out those distinctions in a rational, philosophically rigorous way. Fair enough.

    I totally see why many people might find that intolerably painful and not want to participate in philosophical spaces but only in completely safe ones. But we need philosophical spaces. This is one. I truly hope you find it more comfortable to regularly participate in than you fear.

    I mean, I’m certainly not going to abandon either the blog or the comments section. I value what I’ve learned here too much. (This was the first atheist blog I ever visited regularly after coming out as an atheist – yes, even before *Pharyngula* – so in many ways my atheism as a philosophy has been formed by reading your writings.)

    And on second thought, I probably shouldn’t have said anything at all, and I apologize for that — but some of this is just a fear that is a little too present most of the time, both in real life and online.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      Sorry this was supposed to be a reply to Dan’s comment at 2:1

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      I will say, though, that saying that someone’s *religion* is harmful, or wrong, is distinct from saying that someone isn’t, as tarian said, fully human. I would never try to claim that Christians are not fully human, nor call into question their value as humans, and I wouldn’t expect that to be a topic respected by even a philosophically open forum.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you aleph, it is especially heartening to hear about your long time readership!)

      My point is not that religious people are entirely right about how they feel, my point is that if we cannot dispute each other’s fundamental value and identity feelings, then we cannot progress and if theirs are fair game even when they don’t want it then so are ours, whoever we are.

      And in an earlier post I discuss some ways that challenging someone’s religious beliefs and practices and values does border on denying them their very existence: http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/02/15/can-you-really-love-religious-people-if-you-hate-their-religion/

  • consciousness razor

    I am at a loss as to what is necessary about calling someone a “douchebag” or “stupid” or an “asshole” that adds anything more to those harsh words except hate and denigration and incivility.

    If something is unnecessary, that doesn’t mean shouldn’t do it. Suppose it is the case that those don’t add anything more. What difference does that make? Perhaps they’re not meant to function in an argument as anything other than harsh words. Why would you assume otherwise? And why shouldn’t people be allowed to use harsh words or be uncivil? What makes them bad?

    So, here, as safe a space in some ways that I want this to be, I am going to draw that line.

    This blog is also different from a “safe space” in that I frequently raise questions about fundamental values for philosophical investigation and debate, rather than merely assume them.

    Are you trying to avoid saying directly that it isn’t a safe space?

    If in everyday life someone told you they didn’t see why slavery or murder were truly wrong, you would rightly be aghast and worry you were dealing with an evil person. In a philosophical debate, where we are trying to rigorously grasp what makes these things wrong and in what ways, or what the ultimate meaning and reality of morality statements are, etc., we can ask and debate those questions in a truly illuminating way.

    So the question remains why we’re supposed to be more aghast at incivility than a detached philosophical argument which could legitimize slavery or murder. What makes it bad? It may seem that in everyday life, people are terribly wrong when they act uncivilly, but what is wrong about it? Are detached philosophical arguments the only way issues should be treated?

    If people come in here genuinely unconvinced of my viewpoints and values that make me a progressive and raise what are to a sizable number of people plausible philosophical positions, and all my commenters or I do is personally abuse them or make charges of bigotry and that’s it, I do not see how they leave here any more convinced that we are right. [my emphasis]

    A strawman.* I’ve heard absolutely no one, ever, saying that all we should do, and that’s it, is “abuse” people or charge them with bigotry. In fact, you just said words like “bigot” are not a problem anyway, so what’s your point again?

    *Practically the whole article is one for me, since it cordons off the safe-space idea from the other objections, and since safe spaces aren’t about “assuming” some beliefs or values without ever allowing them to be questioned. You somehow got the idea that they involve dogmatism, but do you see what’s wrong with that? Compare this with someone who complains about “feminazis” who are dogmatic and stifle dissent in their safe spaces, from men who merely want to question whether women should be subjugated by them. It would derail this thread, so I won’t bother going into detail with some example, but that’s not a realistic description of what’s happening in such a situation. Nor is it a charitable way of interpreting how people have been trying to defend the creation and purpose of safe spaces.

    But they also are going to still doubt the moral and rational legitimacy of that social cost and see it as their rival political group’s attempt to bully them emotionally and legally rather than persuade them rationally.

    Again, it’s not “bullying.” You keep loading that and “abuse” into the argument, as if everyone agreed those are an appropriate way to characterize insults or incivility. And persuasion involves appealing to emotions. You’re not persuading a person “rationally,” as if that could be done independent of, or rather than, through your emotions. And I have no idea what work “legally” is supposed to be doing there.

    I have very strong opinions not at all because I am just an emotional, closed-minded, dogmatist

    So if I disagreed with you about the use and appropriateness of incivility, would I be “just an emotional, closed-minded dogmatist” who can’t defend his positions?

    I did not arrive at them dogmatically and I do not need to stifle questioning in order to be secure in them.

    Do you assume that I arrived at them dogmatically or that I’m insecure about them? For me, at least, it’s not about being insecure. It’s about how people are allowed to respond to opposing positions which are harmful. Obviously we can and should rationally defend our positions; and no one (as far as I know) is claiming that we couldn’t or shouldn’t. That doesn’t prevent us from also being uncivil about it when that is warranted. And sometimes it is warranted. You seem to accept that on some level, but I guess you just don’t think it’s warranted here, for no apparent reason.

    • consciousness razor

      Am I being moderated preemptively now? I’ve insulted no one.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      No, you’re not, you must have just used trigger words.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Are you trying to avoid saying directly that it isn’t a safe space?

      It is a space safe from a lot of personal abuse. But it is not a “safe space” in the technical sense of the term in that it is not one in which fundamental beliefs, values, and identities, are exempt from civil, non-hostile-environment-encouraging, philosophical interrogation. Marginalized groups will not be allowed to be slurred, goaded, slandered, or objectified as though they are not present, etc. But abstract challenges about the merits of progressive values are permitted and should be met by progressives with rational arguments, informed by urgent passion and explanations of emotions as necessary.

      So the question remains why we’re supposed to be more aghast at incivility than a detached philosophical argument which could legitimize slavery or murder. What makes it bad? It may seem that in everyday life, people are terribly wrong when they act uncivilly, but what is wrong about it?

      Because the detached argument does not cross the line into actually violating anyone. Frequently in debates about metaethics, here on this very blog, my challengers have accused my views of not adequately prohibiting slavery. It’s an issue that they are free to raise and force me to refute. Similarly, I warn others about the ways that their views might insufficiently rule out slavery. In these discussions we are assuming that slavery is an evil but trying to figure out how to account for it so that we do not wind up with ethical philosophies that accidentally make slavery more likely. We have to have the freedom to think through these sorts of issues lest we not be as careful as possible in our philosophizing. Here is a post where I passionately and philosophically argued that my metaethics opponents underestimate the reality of the wrongness of slavery. That’s the kind of broad discussion that I am talking about being permissible. Not chewing over detachedly whether to enslave any specific vulnerable group in our presence–which would be creating an intolerably hostile environment for them.

      But we have to have the debate over, say, gay marriage even though that is rightly upsetting to many gays because it is a contested issue and it will not go away if we cannot debate it and it will not be settled by simply abusing those who are yet to be persuaded about the full scope of rights and recognitions gays deserve.

      Are detached philosophical arguments the only way issues should be treated?

      I didn’t say they were. I am arguing there is a place for philosophical disputes. It’s not the Thanksgiving table, it’s not on billboards. It’s on philosophy blogs and other such forums.

      A strawman.* I’ve heard absolutely no one, ever, saying that all we should do, and that’s it, is “abuse” people or charge them with bigotry. In fact, you just said words like “bigot” are not a problem anyway, so what’s your point again?

      *Practically the whole article is one for me, since it cordons off the safe-space idea from the other objections, and since safe spaces aren’t about “assuming” some beliefs or values without ever allowing them to be questioned. You somehow got the idea that they involve dogmatism, but do you see what’s wrong with that? Compare this with someone who complains about “feminazis” who are dogmatic and stifle dissent in their safe spaces, from men who merely want to question whether women should be subjugated by them. It would derail this thread, so I won’t bother going into detail with some example, but that’s not a realistic description of what’s happening in such a situation. Nor is it a charitable way of interpreting how people have been trying to defend the creation and purpose of safe spaces.

      Just today, in this and my previous post’s comments thread I have had people insist that even tolerating abstract questions about the legitimacy of certain values and identities is tantamount to creating a hostile, marginalizing environment. No one, in any space whatsoever, may ever question the legitimacy of transgendered identities, for example. Therefore, there shall be no dissent whatsoever, not even in civil, non-insulting, non-hostile, philosophical discussions. This is not a strawman. It is one thing to provide safe spaces as refuge against bigots. It’s another to attack the very existence of all spaces that allow these fundamental value questions to be aired in a non-prejudicial way at all.

      The progressive values and beliefs being argued for may be true and arrived at rationally (in my case they are, I think) but if disagreement is as categorically stifled or delimited as some people are insisting I do even on my philosophy blog here, those beliefs and values are still being imposed dogmatically. I find that unfortunate because I think they can be defended rationally and want to prove that.

      As to the point about bigotry–yes, you may call people bigots here if necessary, but the rule against early personal attacks means giving more people more latitude than some objectors to my policy want. Of course if someone comes in using the “n” word, they can be called a bigot firmly and I will ban them. But jumping to the charge of bigotry when someone is trying earnestly to parse out philosophical distinctions or to ask upsetting questions about which the truth concerns them is just going to shut down a chance for them to learn. So, I am asking for patience and for arguments before we write people off here.

      But they also are going to still doubt the moral and rational legitimacy of that social cost and see it as their rival political group’s attempt to bully them emotionally and legally rather than persuade them rationally.

      Again, it’s not “bullying.” You keep loading that and “abuse” into the argument, as if everyone agreed those are an appropriate way to characterize insults or incivility. And persuasion involves appealing to emotions. You’re not persuading a person “rationally,” as if that could be done independent of, or rather than, through your emotions. And I have no idea what work “legally” is supposed to be doing there.

      It is bullying to be sent the message that your sincere doubts and questions will not be answered except with personal abuse and potential costs to your personal life either through attacks on your employment or your reputation, etc. Eventually these values disputes will translate into laws. If every experience that those who disagree with our values have with trying to debate us is being called damaging names for challenging us, then we risk radicalizing them for fear that we are authoritarians with an interest only in imposing our values and attacking dissenters, rather than proving them through debates.

      We can win the rational debates and put lie to this charge. I want us to do that. We can have safe spaces. But we can also have forums like this one where we prove our values against unpleasant disagreement.

      So if I disagreed with you about the use and appropriateness of incivility, would I be “just an emotional, closed-minded dogmatist” who can’t defend his positions?

      No, why would I assume that about you? My point is that you send that message if you always refuse to argue, even in appropriate forums designated for philosophical debate but instead double down on assertion and imposition of your values and throw in personal abuse.

      My point is that I don’t want my progressive allies giving the impression that I (or they even) are just emotional, closed-minded dogmatists. I want us to be making winning arguments and not just venting at people. We often do that. And in safe spaces there are a lot of great arguments too. I don’t mean to imply otherwise, just that in certain kinds of safe spaces certain kinds of counter-arguments will get shouted down rather than meticulously refuted. Often in a safe space a top post will do that painstaking refutation job and that’s very valuable. I am willing to have a forum where not only do I do that in the top post but when the opponents show back up in the comments they are counter-refuted some more as they work out their follow up objections and meet my well-informed, progressive, atheistic readership.

      Do you assume that I arrived at them dogmatically or that I’m insecure about them? For me, at least, it’s not about being insecure. It’s about how people are allowed to respond to opposing positions which are harmful. Obviously we can and should rationally defend our positions; and no one (as far as I know) is claiming that we couldn’t or shouldn’t. That doesn’t prevent us from also being uncivil about it when that is warranted. And sometimes it is warranted. You seem to accept that on some level, but I guess you just don’t think it’s warranted here, for no apparent reason.

      Unfortunately, on both sides, people fear harms. Both sides fear injustice and falsehood from the other side. A fair environment protects them each from personal abuse so that they can express what they take to be true and just as honestly, passionately, and rigorously as they can.

      If we don’t do that, we are just dogmatically saying what we think are harms matters so much that we can abuse you rather than listen to your best attempts to make an argument on your side. Then we talk past each other. I want persuasion to happen here.

    • consciousness razor

      No, you’re not, you must have just used trigger words.

      Perhaps it was the word “fem-n-zi”? Since I wasn’t using it as an insult, shouldn’t you avoid blocking it (or others like it) automatically? I thought you were going to read the comments, then determine for yourself whether something crossed whatever line you’re trying to draw, then give people a warning, and then maybe send them to auto-moderation (or banning).

      Because the detached argument does not cross the line into actually violating anyone.

      Neither does an insult or incivility.

      That’s the kind of broad discussion that I am talking about being permissible. Not chewing over detachedly whether to enslave any specific vulnerable group in our presence–which would be creating an intolerably hostile environment for them.

      [...]

      Just today, in this and my previous post’s comments thread I have had people insist that even tolerating abstract questions about the legitimacy of certain values and identities is tantamount to creating a hostile, marginalizing environment.

      You’re either being inconsistent, or you have no real complaint with what I and others are actually advocating. Maybe we’ve expressed our objections poorly, but I don’t think you’re interpreting them very charitably either.

      But jumping to the charge of bigotry when someone is trying earnestly to parse out philosophical distinctions or to ask upsetting questions about which the truth concerns them is just going to shut down a chance for them to learn.

      How are you supposed to know when I think someone else is trying earnestly? Or does it only matter how you interpret them, since this is your blog where everything gets filtered either through you or your automatic moderation software which is apparently going to give a lot of false positives?

      We can have safe spaces.

      Sure, we can have them somewhere else, because you don’t want that here, because as you’ve argued, that’s the objectively the wrong thing to do, since it involves “violating” people and is “dogmatic.” So we shouldn’t (or can’t be allowed to) have them. Since that can’t be right, what exactly did I get wrong about your position, assuming that it’s consistent?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Sure, we can have them somewhere else, because you don’t want that here, because as you’ve argued, that’s the objectively the wrong thing to do, since it involves “violating” people and is “dogmatic.”

      I said if all we ever do is have safe spaces, we will be dogmatists. And safe spaces don’t have to violate anyone. Safe spaces are not the same things as hateful places. They can produce a number of quality goods, many of which I tried to explicitly mention in both the “objection” and in the “reply” in the post. They do not have to be all inclusive. It’s fine that they discriminate against those who would derail a constructive forward-looking discussion or poison a vitally necessary nurturing environment. Not everyone needs to be welcome in every club or on every blog.

      But any adherents to a set of beliefs and values should be willing to have contexts in which they submit their views and values to rational scrutiny even from people who are antithetically opposed to them and trust that the truth and justice will come out if the discourse is truly fair, rational, and evidence based.

      As to moderation: I want to catch insult words before they hit anyone and infuriate them. That means some moderation. So far, since instituting this policy, not a single person has had a single word they have said removed yet. But I have been vigilantly nipping personalization of intellectual disputes in the bud as best I can. Moderation helps. Don’t worry, you will be heard for as long as you are civil, regardless of whether you disagree with me.

    • consciousness razor

      Safe spaces are not the same things as hateful places.

      No, but what is that supposed to mean? If some person is “hateful” toward people who want to oppress them, is that a bad thing? Is it their fault? Is it something they should avoid, assuming they could?

      I certainly wouldn’t argue we shouldn’t use reason and evidence to try to convince people to reduce oppression (or convince of them of the truth, whatever the issue may be) however they can. So there may even be better or more productive ways of handling it; I won’t argue that point, since in any case, you’re in no position to tell people how they should be reacting.

      But do you seriously think handling it any other way than your style of dispassionate philosophical argument (e.g., reacting hatefully or insultingly) is unacceptable or intolerable? If not, then you shouldn’t claim that as a reason why it’s immoral to do so. You apparently just don’t want people to do it here, maybe so you can conduct philosophical discussions the way you like, or because you don’t really want to deal with people insulting each other and it’s easier to treat them all as if they were equivalent. Or maybe this is just an excuse to write a series of articles. I don’t know. It would probably still be hard to follow the rules occasionally, but I’d at least have a lot less trouble understanding your justifications for them.

  • MroyalT

    I agree with this view. With that said, here are the problems with this view – I think you are becoming aware of them but here it goes anyway.

    1) Whether you like it or not, because this blogs primary purpose is not to make this a safe place… then it won’t be a safe place to many people. This will, in the end, give the privileged a certain advantage. This will in the end cut quite a few minorities off from engagement.

    2) This is also kind of unrealistic… How many years did it take you to come to this view? It took me many years, and many mistakes, to come in agreement with you here. I am sure you understand that people are not going to be at that level when they join the conversation. As such, moderating this type of thing.. is going to take an enormous amount of time and energy out of you. Are you seriously ready to be referee to this degree? I don’t want you to be this ref.. I just want you to post more stuff, not get deeply involved and waste a lot of time moderating threads where a lot of ignorant people are simply not going to be in the proper frame of mind to come to a rational agreement with you nor I.

    Here are the counter-objections that are worth noting.

    1) As you said, not every space needs to be a safe space. You are uniquely lucky to be on the FTB network, because safe spaces are just a click away – as such this allows you some leeway to make this place different.

    2) Even diversity counselors know that if the privileged do not feel safe to speak about their honest opinions – because they know they will be attacked for being a bigot from the marginalized – many times they won’t say a thing. A lot of counselors spend their time creating a safe space for bigots and the like so that they can shed their honest opinions and then others can take the time and sympathy necessary to correct that wrong attitude – away from personal attacks. This blog could be one of those places I guess. (Personally, I think there are more than enough of those safe places for bigots, and they don’t need another one that treats their ignorance that seriously.)

    3) Ignorance can be shed. We need to give people the leeway to say silly ignorant things.. so that they can be corrected. Many times a person will not change their mind on the spot.. and they will argue to the depths of hell that they are right… but conversations always plant seeds – and you never know when that seed will grow. If we stop planting seeds because we pessimistically think no seed will grow.. we do ourselves a disservice.

    With that said, I agree with your stances and all… but I am still torn, and probably still disagree with this policy for reasons I mentioned in the other thread – that I hope you read. until then.. I await more of your posts – particularly objection 7.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    One way this manifests is people sometimes oversell arguments in a safe space. For instance, Alice tries to argue that “tranny” isn’t a slur isn’t offensive and Bob says that if the person who is the target of a term says it is offensive, it is and we are obligated to respect that. Later on, Charlie the troll comes along as says that he thinks “cis” is a slur and doesn’t want people to use it. Bob is now stuck. Bob didn’t really mean what he said as a universal. It was a situational argument, but positing it as a universal was easier than explaining why it fit some situations and not others. I’ve seen plenty of this around FTB.

    • B-Lar

      This is interesting.

      It might be possible to argue that is some cases “cis” is used as a dismissive slur among the trans community but I wouldnt hold much stock in that arguement it seems to be that Charlie is using false equivalence. I dont think I have ever seen cis used as a genuine insult, but “tranny” is more than just an abbreviation. In your minds ear you can hear it being spat out by a guy with a swastica tattooed on his forehead (which is my personal test for such things).

      The only thing we can draw from this scenario in my view is that there is more to an insult than the insulted’s assertion that it is an insult. Perhaps there also has to be an element of “punching down” like in failed comedy?

  • baal

    Disney has an awesome TV show called Phineas & Ferb. In the 3rd season episode, “Escape from Phineas Tower” [spoiler alert] they have a great 10 second segment where, after figuring out that they cannot escape the tower, the boys insist (to the tower, it’s sentient) that the tower isn’t big enough as their friends are still outside of it. The tower adapts to include the local friends. Then the friends list grows to include (finally) certain space aliens. The characters are now free to live anywhere in the universe (but are still trapped in the tower). Go watch it.

    I’m of the personal morality that says we (everyone)needs to work for the betterment of everyone. Clearly, we don’t have the same resources and some of us (the privileged) have an easier time making accommodations for out-group folks. I also assert that we have a personal duty to not vilify out-groups and be as inclusive as is reasonable for various in-groups.

    I agree with the c-f list above. The problem, however (and mostly with a & b) that I have with ‘safe spaces’ is that they tend to not acknowledge or limit in-group members who shade into violence advocacy or out-group othering. That’s not ok. The memes and cultural trends that must exist for maximal flourishing are at odds with those two bad behaviours.


    I’ve also seen a number of cases where there should be a safe space and someone doesn’t know what that means or breaks the ‘rules’ of safe spaces (probably me @ Natalie Reed’s blog) and the converse where folks want safe spaces where it simply does not exist (with some reluctance, I’d name Josh the ironically named (or not)). In these cases, acrimony and epithets are common and unproductive. Worse, breaching (betraying?) the norms erodes trust. Trust is needed to move towards a more humanist, broader and flourishing worldview (where I think everyone needs to go).

    TLDR:
    Camelswithhammer’s blogging policy protects a vitally needed blog space that will likely meet its stated goals as well as help construct ideas and memes for maximal human flourishing. The Phineas and Ferb episode ‘Escape from Phineas Tower’ rocks!

    • smhll

      I’ll accept that you don’t like acrimony. I don’t either. However, I disagree that that proves that acrimony is not productive. Sometimes a comment that “rankles” causes the offended person to keep thinking after he has left the computer. Sometimes the issue will come up in his mind for days. I think a person may be much more likely to change his mind after he has left the argument. His need to pushback may be reduced. I think it may be more emotionally feasible to “tap out” when wrestling with oneself than with an opponent.

      Has anyone studied this kind of conversion process scientifically?

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    I agree with this view. With that said, here are the problems with this view – I think you are becoming aware of them but here it goes anyway.

    1) Whether you like it or not, because this blogs primary purpose is not to make this a safe place… then it won’t be a safe place to many people. This will, in the end, give the privileged a certain advantage. This will in the end cut quite a few minorities off from engagement.

    I believe and earnestly hope that you are wrong about this. Usually disputes will not be on topics that make minorities uncomfortable and when they are, I will be as welcoming a host as I can and the majority of commenters present will typically be on their side, given my views and the way that that influences who is here reading in the first place.

    2) This is also kind of unrealistic… How many years did it take you to come to this view? It took me many years, and many mistakes, to come in agreement with you here. I am sure you understand that people are not going to be at that level when they join the conversation. As such, moderating this type of thing.. is going to take an enormous amount of time and energy out of you. Are you seriously ready to be referee to this degree? I don’t want you to be this ref.. I just want you to post more stuff, not get deeply involved and waste a lot of time moderating threads where a lot of ignorant people are simply not going to be in the proper frame of mind to come to a rational agreement with you nor I.

    It took me a long time to make these views explicit and realize all the ins and outs as an explicit philosophy of discussion. However I have been a philosophical in temperament all my life and a philosophy student and teacher for 16 years so all of this has long been a way of life for me. I have just had to learn from others about the importance of safe spaces and to make concessions for their vital role.

    Of course I’m far from perfect and used to have a bad temper (and occasionally will still lose it), but I think the kind of philosophical speech environment I am calling for is not unheard of in academic circles. People know how to do it–my totally novice students completely get it without having to be explicitly told, so people can get it–they just need to get it that they have to online. The only balancing act here is also protecting against some of the very subtler hostile environment problems and micro aggressions. That’s going to be tough, I admit. But standard stereotype mongering won’t be tolerated, pushing around members of marginalized groups rather than acknowledging them respectfully will not be tolerated. Slurs, insults, insinuations all won’t be tolerated.

    Here are the counter-objections that are worth noting.

    1) As you said, not every space needs to be a safe space. You are uniquely lucky to be on the FTB network, because safe spaces are just a click away – as such this allows you some leeway to make this place different.

    2) Even diversity counselors know that if the privileged do not feel safe to speak about their honest opinions – because they know they will be attacked for being a bigot from the marginalized – many times they won’t say a thing. A lot of counselors spend their time creating a safe space for bigots and the like so that they can shed their honest opinions and then others can take the time and sympathy necessary to correct that wrong attitude – away from personal attacks. This blog could be one of those places I guess. (Personally, I think there are more than enough of those safe places for bigots, and they don’t need another one that treats their ignorance that seriously.)

    3) Ignorance can be shed. We need to give people the leeway to say silly ignorant things.. so that they can be corrected. Many times a person will not change their mind on the spot.. and they will argue to the depths of hell that they are right… but conversations always plant seeds – and you never know when that seed will grow. If we stop planting seeds because we pessimistically think no seed will grow.. we do ourselves a disservice.

    With that said, I agree with your stances and all… but I am still torn, and probably still disagree with this policy for reasons I mentioned in the other thread – that I hope you read. until then.. I await more of your posts – particularly objection 7.

    Yes, I get all of that. The only thing I would say is that when you say bigots “don’t need another [space] that treats their ignorance that seriously”, I say, no, but they need space where they can express their ignorance and have to face well-informed counter-arguments and be held accountable to justify their views. Bigots are usually afforded the privilege of avoiding the accountability they have to face in a place like this when they are in the other places that are safe for them.

  • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

    I just want to make one more post and then I’ll shut up about this.

    One of the problems I see with your policy is the inability to do anything *more* than debate basic assumptions. I’ve been commenting on blogs that deal with, for example, QUILTBAG issues for a while now, and one thing has always been true in my experience: unless you explicitly forbid the questioning of the very existence of QUILTBAG people, any debate will eventually devolve to that. That’s not to say that those debates don’t have their place, although I certainly don’t enjoy engaging with them, but the fact is that if those debates are allowed, that’s pretty much as far as any discussion is going to go, because there are just so many people who categorically deny the existence and validity of various QUILTBAG identities.

    As an analogy, imagine if after every philosophical argument you posted someone responded with: “You are incorrect, because I reject the validity of modus ponens.” Under a “question everything” banner, one would presumably be free to question the very validity of logical argumentation. But obviously that would get old really fast: because every debate or discussion held on your site wouldn’t be able to get any further than debating the basic assumptions of logic. While that may be an interesting discussion to have (there are, certainly, interesting philosophical implications of the existence and universal validity of logical laws), you still need to assume the validity of logic. You would, no doubt, get incredibly frustrated if every time you posted anything on philosophy, any time you commented anywhere on philosophy, the response was: “we don’t believe that logic is true, so none of what you say has any validity.” You might even start a blog whose purpose is to be a safe space for people who don’t want the validity of logic to be questioned.

    Maybe this analogy is a bit of a stretch, but this is how it is, sometimes, for QUILTBAG people. We can never get beyond debating the basic existence of our identities and selves, except in spaces that specifically state that those are not up for debate. This isn’t to say every space has to do that, but the question for me is whether you are interested in being able to have philosophical discussions that go beyond questioning the basic existence and validity of QUILTBAG identities (or any other marginalized identity or population or whatever), because, in my experience, this simply isn’t possible unless the moderator of the space tells the unfortunate number of people who simply don’t believe we exist that our existence isn’t up for debate.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I don’t think this is much of a problem. The main topic of a post sets the parameters for what a discussion is assuming or not assuming for argument’s sake. Usually only when there are more fundamental issues blocking agreement on a given topic do we need to start opening up deeper philosophical issues.

      This has worked just fine in many cases. Sometimes we debate metaethics when I start a thread on the topic or when it becomes essential to another topic which has arisen. But often we just assume basic moral agreements and work out differences in that context. This is the way most thinking is done. It has never been the case where every thread is challenging every value everyone holds and so comments sections are not constantly devolving into the same discussion over and over.

      But should some post I write or some commenter’s concerns about something I write get us into fundamental identity and values issues, then some relevant philosophical discussion of such topics may naturally proceed as long as everyone is being civil and not creating hostile environments for each other. Or if a commenter wants to get into that stuff and it’s not terribly germane to the main discussion, people can just ignore him or her.

  • Pen

    I suppose a philosophically open space is one that includes an invitation for people to change their minds about things. That can be scary and it could be said that such a space is inherently unsafe and that it exists in principle for people who are willing to expose themselves. I think within the context of that kind of space it’s useful and generous to make it as easy as possible for people to change their minds – to do the work that is the goal of the space in the first place. One way is to create an environment where they don’t feel they have ‘lost’ when they do so.

    That said, it’s interesting that some people state they do change their minds under the impact of an outpouring of emotion and abuse. It reminds me of certain people I knew at school who needed to get into a physical fight with someone else as a precursor to making friends with them. Strange… and it still doesn’t seem like appropriate behaviour in a philosophical or other academic discussion space.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      One way is to create an environment where they don’t feel they have ‘lost’ when they do so.

      Yes, some of the pushback to my summary of objections wherein I was trying to charitably articulate my opponents’ views struck me as disappointingly zero-sum. Because I was going to reply to the objections I was somehow aggressing against them, aiming to defeat them. There was depressingly little consciousness of being fellow inquirers each aimed at the same goals of truth and justice. It was all contest. All win or lose.

      That said, it’s interesting that some people state they do change their minds under the impact of an outpouring of emotion and abuse. It reminds me of certain people I knew at school who needed to get into a physical fight with someone else as a precursor to making friends with them. Strange… and it still doesn’t seem like appropriate behaviour in a philosophical or other academic discussion space.

      Interesting. Reminds me of a couple of friends, both philosophers, with whom I went through dark nights of the soul and had brief falling outs over philosophical issues with real world consequences. In both cases they inevitably became my closest friends for different periods of my life. But it was no way to run a public discussion forum.

  • Matt

    I was sitting on the fence, but this post won me over. The biggest concern I had was that you might inadequately prioritize safety and basic dignity, but I now know better. I think even so it’s still likely that contentious discussions will prove unfairly alienating to some marginalized persons, but hope that it’ll be minimal, and made up for by the changing of minds.

    (As an aside, I find your metaethics really interesting, especially their teleological aspect. My general commitments are fairly close to yours, but mostly influenced by Richard Boyd and Peter Railton. I had no idea there even was a realist upshot of Nietzche, let alone that it was the most plausible thing to take away from him. Can’t wait to learn more from you!)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you, Matt. An article by Peter Railton really influenced me strongly. I always caution people that my takeaway from Nietzsche may not be definitive and is hardly standard but I do think my dissertation defends it well. I don’t think everything I say is what Nietzsche would say but my general metaethics is rooted in a reading of him as coherent and capable of positive value frameworks.

  • http://AgnostiChicagOkie.blogspot.com D4M10N

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting “safe spaces” a bit here, but it seems to me that so long as Christians are relegated to safe spaces for Christianity and, say, gays are relegated to safe spaces for gays, we won’t see the sort of progress that I sincerely hope to see, in this case, Christians rethinking their assumptions about gays.

    I could easily replace “Christians” with any faith and “gays” with just about any group which has been marginalized with the help of some particular holy writ, but hopefully you get the idea. We need philosophically open spaces in order for people raised within the constraints of religious faith to think their way out of those constraints. In my own case, that forum was provided by Ted Drange and the other philosophically minded folks on the old GODEXIST mailing list at the secular web, but the medium doesn’t matter so much as the mode of discourse.

    • B-Lar

      Its not neccesarily about being “relegated” to those spaces… Each person can choose whether they want to engage with a debate or remain in a place where their views will not be questioned and a space must be available for each eventuality.

      The situation that you hope for is in my view quite unlikely. A christian is (to generalise) not interested in having their faith based views challenged. Until an individual is willing to admit that there is a possibility that they might not be correct, honest discussion is impossible. When that possibility is accepted, this space and others like it will be available not just to them but to those they have denigrated also.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    I feel bad for you, Dan. I’ve engaged in this meta-discussion before, but not for such an extended period of time. I hope you don’t get run down by it all. It seems honestly exhausting.

    Wouldn’t it just be easier to tell a few specific people to shut the fuck up? What’s the end game here, to change hearts and minds?

    You do realize we’re all still thinking it… and by “it,” I mean “Bret is retarded.”

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Crap… what’s the policy on self-insults? Can I call myself a “bitch” for worrying about that, or will I offend the female canines out there?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Crap… what’s the policy on self-insults? Can I call myself a “bitch” for worrying about that, or will I offend the female canines out there?

      Knock it off, Bret.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I feel bad for you, Dan. I’ve engaged in this meta-discussion before, but not for such an extended period of time. I hope you don’t get run down by it all. It seems honestly exhausting.

      Wouldn’t it just be easier to tell a few specific people to shut the fuck up? What’s the end game here, to change hearts and minds?

      You do realize we’re all still thinking it… and by “it,” I mean “Bret is retarded.”

      Don’t use “retarded” as an insult please.

      I see the meta-discussion as a valuable opportunity to explain my ideas and my values within a context that makes them relevant to people. These are not really just 8 posts saying the same thing. They’re 8 chances to explain different things that matter to me. I found the criticism wearying when it was personal but as everyone has been managing to be civil with me of late (at least here in these comments sections), I have been enjoying the intellectual challenges and the clarity they are bringing as I reply to them by nuancing some of my positions and getting into greater, more valuable detail on others.

      I do look forward to moving on from the series since I don’t want readers to find it boring or overwhelming or assume it’s just a lot of going in circles. But I think it is a valuable exercise and a chance to make an important statement.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      I honestly don’t get the point of the discussion. No one is changing their views.

      Just ban who you want, delete the comments you want, or don’t do either. I don’t think it’s that complicated.

  • Kilane

    I am at a loss as to what is necessary about calling someone a “douchebag” or “stupid” or an “asshole” that adds anything more to those harsh words except hate and denigration and incivility.

    It’s nice to hear you categorically denounce insults like this. I may have been unfair in my previous criticism of you making exceptions if ‘they started it’.

    And I am wholeheartedly confident about the value of debate about these values and beliefs because I trust that fair debates, grounded in reason and evidence (including the evidence of harms and emotional effects) and conducted with genuine civility really do lead to a greater understanding of the truth and of justice.

    This is also refreshing to hear someone say. I’ve found this to be the case in many conversations. I’ve come to my views after years and years of careful consideration and updating them as needed.

    I recall a 2 hour discussion with someone who, she says, prays for me to accept God regarding why Gay Marriage should be legalized. By the end of our discussion it was clear she agreed with my position but her dogmatic views wouldn’t allow her to say it out loud. She’s told me that it caused her trouble sleeping to think about that conversation.

    This is a 26 year old convincing a 60+ year old person who hands out religious material in the workplace that she has no moral basis for rejecting gay marriage. All because I took the time and patience to slowly untangle her justifications for her discrimination. No person wants to believe they discriminate and removing her justifications is what it took for her to realize she was, in fact, discriminating against a portion of the population.

    Religious people start off with a distrust of atheists (and many atheists start off with assumptions about the religious). You have to back up your assertions with a superior moral philosophy which cannot (easily) be impeached or you’ve lost the debate before they’ve listened to a word you’ve said.

    PS Based on another comment it seems not everyone is automatically up for moderation. I’m curious if you know why my posts require moderation. I can think of one instance in the thunderfoot debacle in which I disagreed with the ‘hive mind’ on 1 blog. Were my actions so egregiousness I must be moderated on the entire site for eternity?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you for your comment and your support, Kilane, your experiences are much like mine.

      I’m sorry about the moderation, it’s just because of the insult words you quoted from me. They’re being moderated so that people don’t insult each other with them while I’m not around to intervene and stop them turning into insult wars. It has nothing to do with you personally.

    • Kilane

      It’s no problem, it seems it is just the blogs that I happen to post on have higher moderation standards (which I don’t mind as my posts have always been approved within a day). I just made a post on someone else’s blog and it went through without issue. It’s just that the last like 5 posts I’ve made have been moderated and I comment so rarely it seemed to be an intentional trend.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It’s probably just their general policies. I wouldn’t take moderation personally unless you’ve gotten warnings or previously been banned other places, etc.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    I think the proper enlightened view is not to say, “Using certain words is wrong, offensive, counter-productive, etc.” I think the proper response, “Use of certain words labels you a fool,” and if you have no countenance for fools… well, that’s your prerogative.

    Maybe if you prevent enough fools from posting on your blog, you’ll forget they exist, right?

    • B-Lar

      Maybe the goal is to entice any fools into a discussion where they might come away less foolish? Branding them as a fool is of a similar spirit to using insults. Its lazy and divisive. Two qualities which have no place in reasoned discussion.

  • Kyle S

    This whole series is in my mind one of the best discussions I’ve seen anywhere in a long time, and there have been lots of good ones. It’s shown me that this is not an easy topic and has challenged some of my assumptions.

    I would suggest to the readers here that we give Dan’s policies a chance. No policy will be perfect, but he has taken objections seriously.

    Dan and at least one other poster has pointed out that people with bigoted views need to be able to state their opinions openly so that they can then be forced to defend them. So many times they give their verbal dissertations in environments where everyone agrees with them or at least where those who don’t have been cowed into keeping their mouths shut. They get so used to this that they think they can go into many other venues and spew their viewpoints with impunity and without challenge. What is needed is that shock to their systems that there are decent people out there who don’t share their bigoted views.

    I do realize, though, that members of marginalized groups experience time and again the pain of their marginalization and this even happens in environments intended to be supportive. I’m a heterosexual white male so I can’t pretend to know what that is like, but I am atheist so I do experience the marginalization that comes from that.

    Dan, maybe you have thought about this and/or intend to address it in one of your replies to the 8 main objections, but here’s my two cents: I’m with you quite a bit on being civil and models for rational, dispassionate discourse. I eliminated someone from my Facebook friends a while back after her post that “ALL Christians are terrorists.” When I challenged her on this, she stood by her stance. I found it to be an instance of demonizing and “othering” (although done by someone from a marginalized group) and to cross the line. I believe that calling someone a name as a slur like “asshole” or “stupid” is as a matter of course counterproductive. You seem to (and correct me if I’m wrong) hold that it is morally wrong in all situations to do so. I don’t hold that as a moral absolute and I’ll try to explain why.

    What if I, instead of just calling someone an asshole, told them: “look, you have contributed a lot to discussions here, but right now you’re being an asshole, and here’s why . . .” Here I will have used one of the banned “slur” words, but with an attempt to explain to my counterpart why I come to this conclusion. Would you consider this out of line? If so I’ll respect that boundary but am pointing out if I were running a blog and moderating comments I would take a less absolutist position.

    Here’s another way of looking at it: the oft-quoted line from Forrest Gump – “stupid is as stupid does”. Plus I am one who believe that in a few situations it’s necessary for people to feel the heat in order to see the light. It’s an art, not a science, and I believe it should be reserved for a few extreme situations, but again it shows that I don’t believe it is ALWAYS wrong or always a case of bullying to use those terms. Sometimes it’s simple pushback.

    A while back my cousin told my brother (who is gay) “Nothing personal, but I believe homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military, be married, have children, or teach in school”. Nothing personal, huh? Maybe I don’t understand the term, but that to me is an example of “crazymaking”. Sometimes people with bigoted views will declare their views with a calm and dispassionate demeanor, and when the one on the receiving end reacts emotionally, the bigot is made out to look like the reasonable one. That’s an example of the bigot’s privileged status, and maybe it’s what you have in mind when you refer to your policy against “goading”, but I hope that makes sense to you.

    • John Morales

      What if I, instead of just calling someone an asshole, told them: “look, you have contributed a lot to discussions here, but right now you’re being an asshole, and here’s why . . .” Here I will have used one of the banned “slur” words, but with an attempt to explain to my counterpart why I come to this conclusion. Would you consider this out of line? If so I’ll respect that boundary but am pointing out if I were running a blog and moderating comments I would take a less absolutist position.

      Seems to me that Dan has pre-emptively answered that very question in the OP:

      I am at a loss as to what is necessary about calling someone a “douchebag” or “stupid” or an “asshole” that adds anything more to those harsh words except hate and denigration and incivility.

      and

      I still do not think that safe spaces benefit in any specific necessary way from using demeaning language. Those participating in safe spaces can use harsh emotionally charged words against their enemies (words like “bigots” and “misogynists” and “homophobes” and “authoritarians” and “irrational”) or detail the moral or intellectual failings of their opponents in any of a number of highly specific and devastating ways capable of substantiation and rational evaluation by their opponents.

  • eric

    Haven’t read the comments but I couldn’t agree more with your title and theme.

    At the risk of repeating an earlier post: there are bars with strict dress and behavior codes. There are more raucous bars with laxer codes. IMO our lives are enriched by having both (and the range in between) available. It would be a much poorer world if we insisted every bar be exactly the same.