The Camels With Hammers Civility Pledge

A lot of people say civil debate is impossible online. I think it’s vitally necessary. Below are my reasons for writing a civility pledge for people engaged in public discussions about ideas to commit themselves to. I received help from others who may or may not choose to reveal themselves. They have not seen the final draft in advance of my posting it so they may not fully endorse it even though they made invaluable suggestions that have been incorporated into it. Anything wrong with this pledge is my responsibility.

If you want to take this pledge too, post your signature and your comments and any personal addendums you make to it in the comments section below. Also consider reposting the full pledge and reasons for the pledge on your own blog and/or other social media outlets to make your commitment to civility explicit. Also consider inviting others to do the same. I encourage people to freely republish this document with attribution and with no omissions or amendments to the text. People are of course free to post it and then specify their personal amendments to it or to specify they want to omit pledging agreement to certain parts of it. But I do not want highly similar but amended versions of the document to circulate confused for the original and misattributed to me. Please respect this concern or I may have to protect the document’s integrity with copyright claims.

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“THE CAMELS WITH HAMMERS CIVILITY PLEDGE”

by Daniel Fincke

 

Reasons for the Pledge:

I want to be able to engage in vigorous, rigorous, constructive, and truth-conducive public discussions about both the most philosophically fundamental and the most vitally urgent questions related to beliefs and values.

For truth’s sake and for freedom’s sake, I want no controversial topics to be made taboo in all discussion forums and I want no disputable propositions whatsoever to be shielded from all sincere and thorough rational interrogation. I accept that either my beliefs and values, including those I that myself cherish the most, can prove themselves against vigorous, sincere, rational skepticism and challenge, or that they need to be modified or abandoned.

I want to argue for what I think is true and good without hesitating over concerns that my views are too unpopular or unpleasant, and I want others to feel free to do the same.

I want periodically to publicly reexamine my own beliefs and values for any possible errors they may contain, and to critically examine others’ ideas until I am adequately satisfied with them before feeling like I have to endorse or adopt them.

I even may want the latitude of intellectual honesty to test ugly ideas that neither I nor most others even want to believe. I may want to do this so that we can thoroughly understand exactly why, or whether, such ideas are indeed as false as we would hope, or are as pernicious as we presume. It is important that rational people of good will have well-developed reasons, rather than just dogmatic moral condemnation, with which to answer the false and pernicious ideas of irrational, ill-willed, and bigoted people. This means rational people of good will should at least sometimes open-mindedly explore hypotheses that they or others may find morally or intellectually upsetting, and that they have the room to do this without being demonized.

I realize that a huge obstacle to honest, thoroughgoing, and challenging public inquiries into the rightness of beliefs and values of the most fundamental importance and urgency is our shared natural tendencies to take abstract criticisms personally. I realize another huge obstacle is that most people naturally are tempted to become more dogmatically committed to their existing positions precisely when presented with potentially unsettling counter-arguments. I realize that in most cases these and related problematic tendencies are only exacerbated, rather than alleviated, when we explicitly or implicitly turn abstract intellectual inquiries into interpersonally hostile confrontations.

I also realize that attempts to bully people into agreement with me by taking recourse to interpersonally aggressive treatment are antithetical to a principled commitment to respecting other people’s rationality and freedoms of intellectual conscience. Even where such appeals are successful, they come at a moral cost that should be seen as unacceptable to people committed to reason. I should want to persuade others into genuinely justified agreement with the best arguments and the most fair and relevant emotional appeals, rather than socially, emotionally, politically, or physically coerce them into acquiescence. Outside of the most extreme life and death circumstances, I should not consider the cause of winning people to my side philosophically or politically to be so important that I am willing to treat others abusively.

It is, in the vast majority of cases, unethical to verbally abuse or otherwise attempt to emotionally bully others, no matter how right I might feel myself to be or how cathartic I might find the experience. Self-righteousness is a dangerous, blinding temptation. It leads to hypocritical double-standards, remorseless cruelty, smugness, authoritarianism, and false beliefs held with self-satisfaction. Worst of all, self-righteousness tempts us to become like the hateful people we start out opposing. So I should foreswear and guard against self-righteousness as conscientiously and with as much regular self-examination as possible. I should never consider myself to be so much better or righter than others that I see them as worthy of maltreatment and myself as morally pure enough to mete out their punishments of my own initiative.

I understand also that I am not perfect. I may not have always lived up to the highest standards of civility, compassion, or rationality in the past. I may struggle as much as anyone else to do so in the future. Nonetheless, I resolve to the best of my ability to make the commitments in the pledge below in order to ensure that I am as constructive and ethical a participant in public discussions as possible, and to live as consistently according to my professed belief in the intellectual and moral worth of reason, freedom, and compassion as possible.

 

The Pledge:

1. I commit that I will engage in all public arguments with a sincere aim of mutual understanding, rather than only persuasion.

I will make being honest, rationally scrupulous, and compassionate my highest priorities. I will conscientiously remain open to new ideas. I will consider the well being and growth of my interlocutors more important than whether they simply agree with me at the end of our exchanges. I am under no obligation to respect false or harmful beliefs or to hold back from expressing my own views or reservations forthrightly. I may even express them with passion and conviction where such are justifiable. Compatible with this, I will always respect my interlocutors as people and their rights to express their own views without personal abuse, even when I find myself riled up by them. I will cut off communications that are counter-productive to others’ well being or my own. I will respect others’ attempts to bow out of debates on particular topics or with me in particular. If I feel that I am in a position where my anger and frustration at the behavior of others, even entirely legitimate anger and frustration, is making the conversation less capable of constructive progress, I will remove myself and come back only at such time as I can be constructive again.

 

2. I commit that I will tolerate the existence of people with dissenting ethical, religious, or political views.

I will focus on understanding and appreciating what actual goods my philosophical or political enemies may be mistakenly trying to achieve and what genuinely occurring features of their experience they are inadequately trying to do justice to in their false beliefs. I will try to discern and appreciate what genuinely valuable moral and intellectual principles they intend to stand up for, no matter how wrong I think their ultimate ethical or factual conclusions might be. Wherever possible, I will try to find and affirm their good will, reasonableness, and any other potential sources of common ground, and work from there in order to persuade them of what I take to be their errors. If this proves impossible, I will simply stop engaging them directly and attack their ideas in the abstract, rather than make things acrimoniously personal.

 

3. I commit that I will always focus first on the merits of other people’s arguments and not disparage them personally for asking unpleasant questions, taking unpleasant positions, or simply disagreeing with me.

I will not assume the worst of all possible motives when people advance theses that I find false, morally repugnant, and/or potentially harmful. I will refute their arguments on their merits. I will discuss with them any harmful real world implications that I think would come from the promulgation or implementation of their ideas. I will not accuse them of wanting to perpetuate evils unless there is specific evidence that their ends are actually so malicious. I will try not to personalize intellectual disputes any more than is absolutely necessary. I will keep any personal fights that erupt limited to as few people as possible rather than incorporate more and more people into them.

When I am having a personality conflict that is making progress in understanding seem impossible, I will drop communications with that person–with or without explanation as seems most potentially constructive. I will not escalate unproductive arguments that are becoming interpersonally acrimonious. I will not participate in ongoing interpersonal feuds between other people but only participate in discussions that stay focused on what is true, what the best principles are, and how such principles may be most fairly and efficiently implemented in the world. I will correct injustices, bad principles, and bad ideas in ways that are maximally productive for changing minds and real world policies while also minimally likely to create or escalate distracting counter-productive interpersonal feuds.

 

4. When I feel it necessary to call out what I perceive to be the immoral behaviors or harmful attitudes of my interlocutors, I commit that I will do so only using specific charges, capable of substantiation, which they can contest with evidence and argumentation, at least in principle. I will not resort to merely abusive epithets and insult words (like “asshole” or “douchebag”) that hatefully convey fundamental disrespect, rather than criticize with moral precision.

I will refrain from hurling hateful generalized abusive epithets and insults at people. I will refrain from leveling vague, unsubstantiated charges of terribleness at people. I will give them fair opportunities to explain themselves. I will challenge the wrongness of their specific actions or apparent attitudes rather than hastily cast aspersions on their entire character. Before ever making moral accusations, I will civilly warn them that something they do or say strikes me as morally wrong and offensive, and explain to them why.  I will give them a chance to retract, restate, and/or apologize before taking moral offense. I will analyze with self-directed skepticism whether my offense is rooted in a morally justifiable anger at provably unjust treatment, or whether it is just my discomfort with being disagreed with.

I will always seek to maintain positive rapport with those who disagree with me as much as they enable. I will focus my criticisms on people’s ideas first and only if necessary criticize their attitudes, behaviors, or apparent character. I will not demean them fundamentally as a person. I will not uncharitably and hastily leap from specific bad thoughts, attitudes, or actions to wholesale disparagements of their entire character until there is overwhelming evidence that I am dealing with a fundamentally immoral person. And if I am dealing with such a person, I will use any of a wide array of highly specific available words to make moral charges soberly, constructively, descriptively accurately, and succinctly as possible before cutting off communications with them. And I will not take unnecessary recourse to abusive terms when plenty of civil and accurate words carrying heavy moral force are available to me.

 

5. I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.

People who have been personally abused or systemically discriminated against in ways that I have not may also be acutely aware of a social power differential with respect to me of which I may be unaware. This may make them feel frustrated and intimidated from speaking frankly, as well as more sensitized to potentially silencing and Othering implications of my language and ideas. I will be as sensitive to this reality as possible and as careful as possible with my language to reduce rather than exacerbate their feelings of social disempowerment. I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.

Of course none of this means I should feel compelled to surrender my own rational right and need to independently and rigorously assess what anyone says for its truth or goodness. I should not feel compelled to always and unconditionally agree with someone who has an experience or life situation different from my own. And I should not pretend to already fully accept beliefs or values of which I have not yet been satisfyingly convinced. I should also not tolerate normalization of emotional appeals of the kind that cross the line into bullying. But nonetheless, I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.

On the other side, I will also be sensitive to preempt counter-productively defensive feelings and reactions of people in traditionally advantaged groups by carefully avoiding even the appearance of prejudicially disparaging them all as malicious oppressors. I will distinguish carefully between those motivated by animus and those who are in the main only passive beneficiaries and unwitting perpetuators of injustices, or biased in unintentional and unexamined ways. When rightly calling out such injustices and prejudices I will frame my criticisms and calibrate my level of antagonism with respect to how generally good or ill willed my interlocutor actually is. I will scrupulously distinguish criticisms of harmful systems from criticisms of individuals. I will criticize harmful behaviors without hastily assuming people have malicious intentions or morally repugnant character. I will always respect others’ rights to disagree with me, regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, sex, and unearned privileges (or lack thereof). I will avoid all disparagement of people based on such core identity-forming traits, whether it be disparagement aimed at members of groups with lesser or greater social power. I will neither flippantly nor seriously disparage people based on such kinds of traits or try to invalidate their experiences, even should I think that they are misinterpreting the significance of their experiences, or even should I believe they are more advantaged than most people and should be able to take harsher treatment on that account.

 

6. I commit that I will not use any language that I know is offensive to either a subset of a marginalized group or to members of that group at large, for whatever reason.

I will not use racial or ethnic slurs (like “nigger” or “kike”), gendered insults (like “bitch”, “dick”, “cunt”, “slut”), homophobic slurs (like “fag”), or transphobic slurs (like “tranny”). Regardless of my private standards or understandings I have with my friends or customs within my local culture, in public forums I will respect that such terms make at least a noticeable number of members of marginalized groups feel hated and unwelcome. This risks silencing them in unjust ways. I will err on the side of caution and maximum inclusion by removing such words from my public discourse as superfluous, potentially harmful, exclusionary, and counter-productive to my goals of rational persuasion. The English language is huge; I can find countless better words to use.

 

7. I commit that I will not use any ableist language that disparages people over physical or mental limitations or illnesses.

I will not falsely imply that people are in the main uneducable or incapable of rationality simply because they either disagree with me, have major intellectual blindspots, make huge intellectual errors, or prove generally unlearned in some specific area. This means that I will not call my interlocutors “retarded”, “stupid”, “idiotic”, “deranged”, or similar terms that convey with contemptuous hostility that I believe them beneath reasoning with and beneath treating as an equal, simply on account of what I take to be some major errors or areas of ignorance. All people can learn. All people can teach. Specific intellectual limitations, errors, and/or ignorance of a particular area of knowledge do not amount to “stupidity”.

Calling people stupid is not only usually false and woefully imprecise, but it threatens to hatefully discourage people from learning and to destroy the hope for dialogue with them. It also disrespects the undereducated (many of whom are financially disadvantaged or otherwise socially disadvantaged and disempowered) and makes them justifiably resentful. For some it continues a pattern of abuse suffered from parents, peers, partners, and others in their lives who damaged them during childhood and have harmfully misled them to underestimate their actual intellectual potential. It also irrationally ignores the reality that all of us are regularly victims of cognitive biases and institutionally inculcated deceptionsthat to a large extent account for their errors. They deserve education, not derision.

My interlocutors and I will both learn more if I try to understand the rationally explicable reasons for their errors and figure out how to most effectively correct them. I will also learn more if I conscientiously try to think up and refute the best arguments for my opponents’ views rather than seize on their arguments’ weaknesses and dismiss them categorically as “stupid”. I can point out the nature of mistakes more precisely, and with better hope of correcting them, if I engage in thinking together with people rather than disparaging and bullying them.

 

8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.

I will respect that some venues are designed to be safe places for members of marginalized groups or abused people to seek refuge from abuse and certain forms of disagreement that they are, for good reason, not emotionally able to deal with. I will respect that these, and other venues designed for people with a shared ideological or philosophical disposition, are valuable. It is constructive to have some spaces where likeminded people can work out their views amongst themselves without always having to be distracted by calls for them to defend themselves on fundamental points.

I will not deliberately troll or otherwise attempt to disrupt forums that exclude me on such grounds. If they refuse debates with people of my philosophical views, then I will not try to participate in their venue. On the flipside, if I desire to make a certain conversation or forum, even a public one, into a safe space where some types of arguments are not permitted, I will make that clear as early as possible. And if I am engaged in a debate in a public forum not designated as a safe space, I will accept that not everyone present is going to share my basic beliefs, knowledge base, values, or concerns, and I will not treat them with hostility on account of their disagreement with me about fundamental matters.

Regardless of forum, if I decide to play devil’s advocate in hopes that it will help make a position’s merits clearer to me, I will be upfront about what I am doing so that I do not come off as obstinate or excessively antagonistic or in any other way a disingenuous “troll”. I will desist if others do not want me to play devil’s advocate to them whether because they find it badgering or trivializing of something important to them or for any other reason.

 

9. I commit that I will apologize when I hurt others’ feelings, even when I do so unintentionally and even when I do not think their hurt feelings are justified.

If I want to defend my actions or contest the moral justifiability of an outraged person’s feelings of offense, I will do so respectfully and always with an aim of mutual understanding. I commit to not treating those who accidentally upset or offend me as though they intentionally did so. I will accept sincere apologies that take adequate responsibility without requiring groveling and total surrender on all points of contention (especially if some matters at stake are distinctly separable from the offense and are rationally disputable). I will foster environments in which people feel comfortable expressing when their feelings are hurt because everyone regularly offers, and receptively takes, constructive criticisms. This happens where criticism is regularly free of hatred, demonization, and implicit or explicit purity tests and threats of ostracism. So I will oppose all such things.

 

10. I commit that I will hold my allies and myself to the highest standards of civil, good-willed, compassionate, and reason-based argumentation and ethical conduct, regardless of whether our enemies do the same, and regardless of the rectitude of our cause.

I will not defensively interpret sincere criticism from my allies as personal betrayal. I will be as above reproach as possible with respect to all charges of bullying, feuding, escalation, bad faith argumentation, ad hominem tactics, well-poisoning, trolling, marginalization, strawmanning, sock puppetry, tribalism, purity testing, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, goading, micro-aggressiveness, passive aggressiveness, and personalization of disputes. While not compromising my intellectual conscience for the sake of politeness, I will manage to model a conciliatory and reasonable spirit. While I may advocate forthrightly for ethical debate and treatment of others generally, I will spend as much or more of my energies scrutinizing my own public contributions for ways I can make them more rational, civil, compassionate, and persuasive than I will policing the behaviors of others I encounter.

 

11. I commit that I will not make accusations of guilt by association.

I will neither assume that one’s association with another person implies agreement with any specific belief, action, or behavior of that person, and nor will I assume that someone’s agreement with another person on a specific point implies agreements on any other specific points. I will hold people accountable only for their own expressed views and not for the views of everyone with whom they associate. I also will not assume total agreement and endorsement of all the ideas in books, thinkers, or links that someone recommends as interesting.

 

12. I commit that I will not use mockery and sarcasm in ways that try to belittle other people.

I recognize funny and perceptive satire’s indispensible and unique abilities to illumine truths and rationally persuade people. And I feel free to humorously point out apparent absurdities in others’ arguments or beliefs during discussions. But I will draw the line at using humor to personally attack, harass, or silence individuals with whom I am engaged. I will be cautious that my ridicule during discussions is aimed squarely at beliefs and does not have the likely effect of making my interlocutors feel like I am flippantly contemptuous of their reasoning abilities en toto or of their worth as people. In short, I will use humor to challenge and persuade others, rather than to abuse and alienate them.

 

13. I commit that I will empathetically, impartially, and with reasonable mercy enforce the standards of civility and compassion laid out in this pledge in any venues (including but not limited to: blogs, Facebook pages, subreddits, and discussion forums) where I have moderation powers with sufficient latitude to set and enforce standards.

Even in safe spaces where debates on certain kinds of topics are understandably restricted for people’s well being, I will still adhere to all the rest of the principles of compassion, charity, and civility in arguments here laid out.

 

Signed,

Daniel Fincke

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Your Thoughts, Signatures, Personal Amendments, and Dissents?

Here are my moderating procedures for examples of what judgements according to the pledge might look like in various conflict situations. For all those either skeptical or inspired or somewhere between, below are links from me and (at the bottom) from Chana Messinger’s blog The Merely Real laying out the case for civility in greater detail from philosophical, ethical, psychological, and strategic standpoints.

I Am Not Against Emotions. I Am Against Insulting Epithets.

A Study Provides Evidence That Incivility Closes Minds

Research Suggests Verbal Abuse Hinders Brain Development

“But People Aren’t Logical Robots, We Need To Shock Them, and They’ll Call Us Uncivil Even If We Are Civil”

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Stop Calling People Stupid.

“But Aren’t Some People Actually Stupid?”

I am not against “dirty words”. I am against degrading words that have malicious intent and functions built into them.

Elitism, Incivility, and the Word Stupid

You Don’t Kill Hateful Words’ Powers By Ignoring Them

Do Marginalized People Need To Be Insulting To Be Empowered

Avoiding The Abuser’s Dialectic (Or “My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Indignation”)

My Philosophy on What the Best Freethinking and Free Speech Entail

Intent Is Not Magic. But It Still Matters.

Why I Usually Don’t Blog About Interpersonal Conflicts

We Need Both Safe Spaces AND Philosophically Open Ones

Debate is Not Pointless

The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth–But With No Name-Calling

Who Are You Calling Stupid? 

I Don’t Really Give A Fuck About Tone, Per Se

I Am A Rationalist, Not A Tribalist

How Atheist Reddit Doesn’t Get It

Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid.

Don’t Demonize Religious People’s Motives, Focus On Their Objective Harms.

Love Religious People.

Can You Really Love Religious People If You Hate Their Religiosity?

My Thoughts on Blasphemy Day

On the Ethics of Teasing and Mocking People, in Groups, in Friendships, and in Debates and Satire

Moral Offense is Not Morally Neutral

In Defense of Taking Offense

The Ethics of Challenging Each Other’s Identities

“How Is It Fair To Question Other People’s Identity-Forming Beliefs While Demanding Respect For One’s Own Belief-Formed Identities?”

Bullying or Debating? Religious Privilege or Freedom of Speech?

Lord Cthulhu Comes to Camels With Hammers: An Interview with PZ Myers

Research Suggests Verbal Abuse Hinders Brain Development

Making My Comments Rules Explicit: “Don’t Bully People With Insulting Names” and “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”

How I Friend, Unfriend, Block, and Enforce Civility on Facebook 

Steelmanning by Chana Messinger

An Example of Steelmanning: The Issue of Gay Marriage and Polygamy by Chana Messinger

Being Charitable by Chana Messinger

When I Say Charity, I Really Mean Due Diligence by Chana Messinger

Charity is Totally Badass Activism by Chana Messinger

Acknowledging Counterarguments by Chana Messinger

When to Consider Reconsidering Your Position by Chana Messinger

Call Harm, not Foul: Being Careful About Language, Especially Calling People Racist/Sexist/Etc by Chana Messinger

Don’t Make it About Identity by Chana Messinger

All-or-nothing is All Wrong by Chana Messinger

The Privilege of Charity Part 1 by Chana Messinger

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    All one can do is try I suppose. I promise to fail to live up to this pledge from time to time. But I’ll try.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Thanks Lou!

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

      I do think there should be more latitude for “Punching Up”. People in political power, people whose poor decisions have a far reaching effect, people with much larger platforms than me and my lil blog. I have no problem holding them in contempt. I’m going to fall on PZ’s side of the ledger a lot when dealing with fools who have power as opposed to people who are most likely not that different from me.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I do think there should be more latitude for “Punching Up”.

      I’m tired of all the hypocritical punching. Up, down, sideways, in every direction. Who counts as “up”? Who counts as “down”? This idea that some people get to be as pugilistic as they like and then act bewildered when others punch back is just a recipe for constant escalation.

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

      I merely believe that it is possible to forfeit ones right to be treated civilly. I think that bar should be very high, and thanks to discussions like this one I have raised my own personal bar much higher than I had it two years ago.

  • Ann Fuller

    Sounds like habits I have striven to employ since participating on a “Current Debates” forum back in the late 90s. I’m sure I’ve had my lapses, but you’ve described my discourse goals quite well. Thanks!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Thanks Ann!

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Okay, I’ll be happy to sign – but I’d add to #4, “Identify things that cannot be substantiated.” There are just some cases where we don’t know what we don’t know. I guess in that case, the identification itself is substantiating.

    • http://pcyandel.wordpress.com/ Phil Y

      How would you know to identify something that you don’t know you don’t know?

  • http://fliponymous.wordpress.com Patrick RichardsFink

    Call me on it when I screw it up, please.

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com Shira

    I agree with these principles … but my goodness, there are a lot of words there. I tend to keep it simpler.

    I undertake to listen to other people. I undertake to respond to the best in them rather than the worst. I undertake to pay attention to my reactions, to attend privately to those reactions that are not helpful for discussion, and to give expression to those reactions that are helpful. I undertake to be easy to admonish, and to diligently learn from my mistakes. I undertake to submit myself to reality and to maintain the perspective to see my own wishes in the context of the benefit of all beings.

    That about covers it…

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      my goodness, there are a lot of words there.

      There are a lot of would-be lawyers online. I wanted to be precise as I could manage.

    • Advocate

      “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” – Cardinal Richelieu

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com George Waye

    I am happy and proud to say I was part of the process to draft this pledge. I have at various times been guilty of all of the bad behaviors listed here- but I believe from those experiences that constructive discourse depends on keeping conversations civil and idea-focused.
    This pledge will be on my blog as well and I will endeavor (not always successfully) to live up to the standards of civility itemized by this document.

  • baal

    Wow! Thank you Dan. I don’t always succeed but the list above is very close to what I’ve been trying to do and argue for. I read both you and James for the words and arguments you use in support of these and similar points.
    /s Baal

  • http://Disqus Obliged_Cornball

    I am signing this pledge as an aspiration. I have done some of the things I now pledge against, but I must to do better – both for the sake of advancing rational thought and for my own self-respect. I will not consciously deviate from these protocol, and will do my best to rectify any harm I cause through unintentional violations.

    -Obliged_Cornball (G. C. Bill)

  • George D

    Signed. This is more or less what I aspire to in conversation and life anyway.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    Suggestion Dan. Put a link to the pledge (and just the pledge, the part that you want folks to copy) on the masthead?

  • Theodore Seeber

    I’ve tried this pledge in the past, or rather something quite similar. It has not worked out very well.

    But a question- does this mean that this particular camel is giving up the hammer?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      The hammers are for smashing idols, not people. They are also for testing idols to see what resonance they have or if they are hollow and for constructing new things.

    • Theodore Seeber

      When you smash idols, you smash people. There is no way around that.

      You cannot deconstruct somebody’s reality without harming the individual who holds that reality. I recently noted in another discussion that for the social conservative, all progressiveness is destructive and never constructive. Same here.

    • smrnda

      If I argue against racism, racists will argue that I have hurt them, particularly if my work against racism has led their kids to marry non-white partners and have children who are not fully white. To them, any work against racism is destructive, and they will say it hurt them deeply and personally. In this case, I would be smashing an idol, someone would be hurt, but I think the ‘hurt racist’ in this example is already causing more damage to others than others are causing to them.

  • Nathaniel J. Schmidt

    Signed.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Great to see you here, Nate.

  • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

    Excellent article. Civility is something I have always striven for; aside from any issues of morality and basic decency it the best way to convey a message, which is the whole point of blogging and atheist activism.

    I fail on many of the above points when I get frustrated but after reading this I think I will increase my efforts to maintain civility in discussions.

    However, I am not optimistic that many people will sign this pledge. There are too many people who enjoy feeling intellectually superior, and diminishing your opponent with personal invectives is the quickest route to acquiring this sense of superiority.

  • http://nfactor.ca mikmik

    I’m going to whole heartedly going to share this article, and except for number 12 up there, I pretty much follow all the pledge sections already, the odd bad moment excepted. ;)

  • Sally Strange

    So what happens if someone signs the pledge, then doesn’t uphold it, and insists that they are upholding it, even when it’s obvious to everyone else that they aren’t?

    Are they being uncivil? Would it be uncivil to label them thus?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      No, see point 4 for what to do when someone is engaging in immoral behavior that deserves to be called out. If you have their signature on the pledge and their words and deeds that you can refer to that shows them they are in contradiction to it, then you can ask them to please apologize for violating the civility pledge. If this is a serious problem, you can call them a hypocrite.

    • Sally Strange

      But it hurts my feelings when you call me immoral or uncivil. I’m not immoral or uncivil. And since I’m not, that makes you a liar for calling me that. And that makes you uncivil.

    • julian

      Sally, what are you getting at here? I’m sorry but I’m honestly not following.

      If someone perceives you as violating this or that civility pledge what does it matter? They would not be justified in hurling abuse at you. They would not be justified in demonizing you.

      I know it’s common for people to get bent out of shape when people describe their behavior as misogynistic or sexist (despite everything he’s said and done, according to SIN it’s beyond the pale for anyone to call Thunderfoot misogynistic. It could impact his work or something.) But that’s doesn’t mean calls for civility or to be mindful of those you’re interacting with are garbage.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

    I really like so much of this Dan.
    Where I think it suffers a little is that, in any document like this, the more you include the more you exclude.
    In terms of the general spirit to address arguments and not individuals; to think of the motives of others and whether they match ours when their methods may not; to avoid always assuming the worst on the positions of others; to try and keep exchanges as civil and good natured as possible – in all these things I can’t help but nod in agreement.
    I also liked the way you were even-handed and picked out the pertinent points from each perspective: the privileged to be minded (not to mention open-minded) of the difficulties others face and for less privileged to not use that as a way of leveraging those they consider more privileged into a position of silence, was one such example that springs immediately to mind.

    Where I felt you were OTT was in how prescriptive you were regarding language. We all view words in different ways and I felt you conflated a few ideas.
    When you said “gendered insults (like “bitch”, “dick”, “cunt”, “slut”)”, the ‘gendered’ link points to a blog post where the cited example is someone saying that all women who take birth control are sluts. I think to confuse contextual usage with me saying that you are being a dick/twat or talking bollocks misses the real issues with the linked example (which is exactly NOT that the word ‘slut’ is gendered but that an unwarranted slur is being made against a whole group of people – after all saying ‘all women who take birth control are evil’ is not better in any way shape or form).
    So this is perhaps the sticking point for me and why I say that, in many ways, the more you include the more you exclude.

    I DO generally like it though and absolutely approve of the spirit of it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Thanks noelplum. I think that the words I listed are not only occasionally used to tar a group but are regularly enough used in such a hostile way as to be worth abandoning. The fact that noticeable numbers, as I put it, have such a hard time with them is a signal to me that using them is counter-productive. What does retaining them accomplish but to signal to those who feel their nasty uses that you care more about preserving these words than doing everything possible to minimize potentials for harm.

      I also want to stress that “slut” in particular offends me specifically for the way that it turns consensual promiscuity in either sex into a grounds for denigrating them. The wrong is only compounded in how it is in the vast majority of cases used to denigrate women especially for their promiscuity and not men, in a sexist way. The word is ugly. I have always personally hated it and would never have occasion to use it because I would never have occasion to treat someone like dirt on simple account of their healthy liking for sex. I am too angered at demonization of sex to ever think that way. Even when I was growing up a devout reactionary Christian with a much narrower sexual ethics, the only time I ever remember using the word “slut” was in a poem where I put the word in the mouth of nasty pharisaical Christians.

      Finally, for much more of what I think of what makes harsh words good or bad, I recommend this post if you haven’t seen it yet: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2012/09/how-words-themselves-can-be-ethically-wrong/

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

      I can understand your perspective on the word ‘slut’ in that it is almost always used in a mean-spirited sense in these contexts.
      I personally am not quite so keen to totally consign it to the dustbin because it is one of those words whereby much of what it has traditionally described, on the grounds that those characteristics are universal negatives, many of us nowadays see those same characteristics as (in appropriate circumstances) positives. However, in terms of the conversations that have been problematic in recent months, I can’t see such reclamatory usage being of much relevance.

      “I think that the words I listed are not only occasionally used to tar a group but are regularly enough used in such a hostile way as to be worth abandoning.”
      Are there not many words in this category though Dan? Otherwise useful words like bigot, misogynist and sexist have become less useful descriptors and more tools to smear and bash people over the head with (and there are examples going the other way) and it isn’t immediately apparent where to draw the line: certainly I would argue that more groups have been tarred with the (non-gendered) asshole brush than the (gendered) twat brush.

      I had a look at the link. In many ways I agree with your more even-handed approach to slurs than many commantators I have seen. i think personally i need to be more minded of using all such slurs less when I write, what comes across one way when you talk and look someone in the eye (whether in real life or on video) doesn’t map across the same way in the printed word.
      Just one final word on the linked piece. You give a pretty good list of more specific words that are better alternatives, being as they are more specific and more critical as opposed to insulting. The only counter issue i really have to that is that sometimes, although those words may seem like a gentler alternative, their very specificity and, with that, greater implication, actually makes them sting more, especially when used carelessly.
      Doubtless if I called you a racist or greedy (just to pick a random couple from your list) it would cut you a little deeper than if I called you an asshole – or am i projecting here and it is only me that feels that way?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Yes, noelplum, they DO cut more deeply! Which is why I am most especially puzzled that people feel so defenseless without “asshole” to lean on when they actually have stronger words that are descriptive and which I acknowledge are sometimes fair game.

      I do agree with you that our some of our weightiest terms of moral disapprobation (like racist, misogynist, bigot, et al.) should be used with care. A lot of the civility pledge is focused on that. Start by focusing on ideas. If someone says something that strikes you offensively, warn them about those implications first. Give them ample room to restate, retract, or apologize, etc. Then if you are going to criticize, focus on behaviors and actions first. Then attitudes. Only when you have the most ample evidence, go ahead and make the stinging moral charge. (And, look, even if then, you don’t want to sting too hard, I’m sure you can come up with softer descriptive words.)

      I also, in the section on marginalized people, make the point that we should treat not treat those whose bigotry is a matter of unexamined prejudice/passive beneficiary of unearned privileges, etc. with the same level of antagonism as, say, a proud racist. I think that even our passive bigotry is a problem, an injustice we should be called on. But that we shouldn’t be lumped in with unapologetic bigots on account of it, nor treated as harshly and as though we are incorrigible, etc. I talk about paying attention to intentions, etc.

      These are all delicate balances that I think fairness requires. Those who suffer systematic oppression need to be defended. There are harsh words like “bigot”, “misogynist”, “racist” for good reason. I put so many words into this because I wanted to capture a lot of the nuances about how to use these important words with as careful calibration as possible.

  • rumitoid

    This has been tried before, a few years back, by a Christian group that did a fine job of keeping it secular in nature. From what I can recall, just one person in Congress signed it (although many gleefully pledged and signed their names to Norquist’s “No Taxes”). What was ever so curious about what happened at the group’s website were far more hateful emails and death threats than kudos and pledges. It would be worth a little investigation on your part to see their efforts.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Adam Lee

    I agree with most of this, and I think the point about the difference between safe spaces and debate spaces is well-put, and something I think more people could stand to recognize. However, there are three points in particular I have serious concerns about:

    3. This point says that if I take this pledge, I commit to not disparage anyone personally, even if they say something that’s patently racist, sexist, or otherwise deeply bigoted and offensive.

    I don’t know what definition of “disparage” you’re using here, but I won’t pretend that every debate I engage in is merely a dispassionate exchange of ideas. Some are, but not all. I’ll gladly debate any idea, however jarring its implications, with people who demonstrate good faith. But I don’t tolerate serious arguments in favor of hurtful bigotry and prejudice, and I have no problem saying that people who engage in that behavior are ethically deficient.

    For instance, when a convicted neo-Nazi pedophile wrote to me trying to befriend me (yes, this is a true story), I had absolutely no problem calling him the worthless and wretched human being he was and is. I believe that ideas so repugnant merit such a response, in order to send a strong message that people who hold those ideas have no place in an ethical and civilized community.

    9. I have a major problem with this point. If I read it right, it’s saying that if someone claims their feelings were hurt by something I said, I’m obligated to apologize to them, regardless of my belief as to the validity or reasonableness of my statements.

    As I’m sure you know, Dan, claiming personal offense when confronted by arguments that merely attack their beliefs, not their character, is a pervasive tactic of religious believers. This part of the pledge, I believe, amounts to rewarding and condoning this behavior. It would be impossible to argue against a thin-skinned believer if they could demand a personal apology from me every time I made a statement critical of their ideas.

    11. Again, I have serious objections to this. This point implies that it’s forbidden to criticize someone for their choice of commmunity, no matter how odious the behavior of that community may be. What you call “guilt by association”, I call a recognition of the fact that bigotry of all kinds is heavily dependent on the perception of social sanction.

    As you surely know, there are some members of the skeptical community who don’t post violent threats or obscene taunts themselves, but who associate with, befriend and condone those who do, and who refuse to condemn or disavow that behavior when requested. Should I draw no lessons from this? Should I treat it as revealing nothing about their character? Should I treat a person’s choice of friends and associates as sacrosanct and above criticism? That I will not do. The only effective way to stop bigotry like this is to withdraw social sanction: to send a message that it’s not welcome, not approved of, and that those who persist in this behavior, or those who condone it, should *expect* to be ostracized by people of conscience.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Adam Lee

    I agree with most of this. In particular, I think the point about the difference between safe spaces and debate spaces is very well-put and something more people could stand to recognize. However, there are three points I have serious concerns about:

    3. This point says that if I take this pledge, I commit to not disparage anyone personally, even if they say something that’s patently racist, sexist, or otherwise deeply bigoted and offensive.

    I don’t know what definition of “disparage” you’re using here, but I won’t pretend that every debate I engage in is merely a dispassionate exchange of ideas. Some are, but not all. I’ll gladly debate any idea, however jarring its implications, with people who demonstrate good faith. But I don’t tolerate serious arguments in favor of hurtful bigotry and prejudice, and I have no problem saying that people who engage in that behavior are ethically deficient.

    For instance, when a convicted neo-Nazi pedophile wrote to me trying to befriend me (yes, this is a true story), I had absolutely no problem calling him the worthless and wretched human being he was and is. I believe that ideas so repugnant merit such a response, in order to send a strong message that people who hold those ideas have no place in an ethical and civilized community.

    9. I have a major problem with this point. If I read it right, it’s saying that if someone claims their feelings were hurt by something I said, I’m obligated to apologize to them, regardless of my belief as to the validity or reasonableness of my statements.

    As I’m sure you know, Dan, claiming personal offense when confronted by arguments that merely attack their beliefs, not their character, is a pervasive tactic of religious believers. This part of the pledge, I believe, amounts to rewarding and condoning this behavior. It would be impossible to argue against a thin-skinned believer if they could demand a personal apology from me every time I made a statement critical of their ideas.

    11. Again, I have serious objections to this. This point implies that it’s forbidden to criticize someone for their choice of commmunity, no matter how odious the behavior of that community may be. What you call “guilt by association”, I call a recognition of the fact that bigotry of all kinds is heavily dependent on the perception of social sanction.

    As you surely know, there are some members of the skeptical community who don’t post violent threats or obscene taunts themselves, but who associate with, befriend and condone those who do, and who refuse to condemn or disavow that behavior when requested. Should I draw no lessons from this? Should I treat it as revealing nothing about their character? Should I treat a person’s choice of friends and associates as sacrosanct and above criticism? That I will not do. The only effective way to stop bigotry like this is to withdraw social sanction: to send a message that it’s not welcome, not approved of, and that those who persist in this behavior, or those who condone it, should *expect* to be ostracized by people of conscience.

  • Lawrence

    I recommend this also, possibly in the “Troll” section: know when not to engage. I can have a loud, hot tempered debate with a theist about the problem of evil, the morality of vicarious redemption, wether the apostolic succession is obviously not verifiable, and still part friends. Provided, of course, that said theist does not support or engage in any attempt to leverage the power of government to enforce his harmfull dogma on society. We have a Taliban problem in America, and there is no point debating with them.

  • rumitoid

    I work at a place that is totally Conservative in religion and politics. I am not. I will spare you the comments made when they heard an atheist had written a “civility pledge”; the irony was apparently lost on them. As you of them put it, “It is not the lack of civility in American politics that is the problem but the presence of godless liberals. Kowtowing (being civil) to that bunch will only lead this nation further astray.” Do you think it would be helpful to add to the pledge “under penalty of death” if violated?

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability D4M10N

    Regarding point 12 and “punching up” I’d to ask for some clarification on the bounds of tolerable satire. You’ve said that to “satirize a powerful individual” is to “engage in a potentially vital form of dissenting from a potentially coercive influence in society” but how powerful do they need to be before they are potential targets as individuals rather than merely as members of well-identified parties or factions?

    Take, for example, Sally Kern. She is not an especially influential state legislator, but she does a fine job of speaking up for and symbolically embodying certain politically and morally retrograde elements within the state. Can I draw her wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross, with a nod to Sinclair Lewis, without transgressing the pledge? Does the answer hinge somewhat on whether she is likely to see the publication thereof?

    • julian

      Satire should always be based off the potential goo it can do. If you’re just being mean or the person being satirized is in a bad place, don’t. For example, people satirizing someone like Amy Winehouse, mocking her failed rehabilitation, on the eve of her death (and afterwards.)

      I get you all don’t care what the person you’re laughing at is dealing with, but that’s just the general rule I try to go by.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability D4M10N

    Correction: Damn it, that wasn’t really Sinclair Lewis. my bad.

  • Ulysses

    No, I’m not going to sign. I have no trouble living up to the pledge under most conditions. If you’re civil to me then I’m more than willing to be civil to you. But civility is more than not using foul language and not impugning evil motivations to debate opponents. If you’re guilty of deliberate, invincible ignorance then you’re not being civil. If you’re using the argumentum ad lapidem (“appeal to the stone,” dismissing an argument as wrong without giving evidence of why it’s wrong) then you’re not being civil. If you’re harassing me after I try to walk away from you then you’re most certainly not being civil. At those points, any obligation on my part to being civil to you has lapsed.

    The pledge is a noble gesture on your part, Daniel. But that’s all it is, a gesture. Consider the denizens of the Slymepit. A woman or a “mangina” (their term) attempting to argue with them in a civil manner is an exercise in futility. I’ve seen Justin Vacula and Franc Hoggle in action. They see people being civil to them as weaklings, ready for the kill. I’ve seen Ophelia Benson ask to be left alone by the Slymepitters. That doesn’t happen.

    It takes two people to be civil to each other. It only takes one person for the discussion to be uncivil.

    • Tigzy

      @Ulysses

      I don’t quite see why you think the Slymepit ought to be singled out in this respect, when we can just as easily consider the commentators who frequent Freethought Blogs also – such as Wowbagger, who stated that the seriously wished another commentator would die in a fire; Julian, who is on record as stating that other commentators should commit suicide, have their necks broken and their spines ripped out; and Josh Official Spokesgay, who frequently tells commentators he disagrees with to go away and die.

    • CommanderTuvok

      Yes, and what about the denizens of Pharyngula and other FfTB blogs. You know, frequent talk of chill girls, porcupines being inserted into parts of the body, etc. You have never tried to argue in a civil manner – any attempt to ever converse with anyone outside of FTB always begins with a strawman. You only have to look at PZ’s pitiful replies to NoelPlum, with regard to dissent at Pharyngula. Don’t try that rubbish establishing FTB as the moral high ground, or the default position of the community. They ain’t.

      As for Hoggle, he does not represent the Slyme Pit anymore than Ool0n represents Pharyngula. I’m not exactly sure what you are accusing Justin Vacula of. He’s a sensible, straight-talking activist who does a lot of good for the community. His language and actions are tame in comparison to PZ Myers or Greg Laden, to name just two. The complete misrepresentation of Vacula is one of the most blatant examples of how FTB bully people.

      As for Ophelia Benson, as long as she continues to write crap about people in the community, publish lies about people, misrepresent and misquote people, then the Slyme Pit will continue to call her out. I don’t know where Ophelia and her followers get this religious-style belief that she is above criticism. Ophelia dishes it out, so it is hypocritical for her and her posters to complain when she gets called out.

    • Pitchguest

      And to which den would you fall, Ulysses? The kind that lies about their detractors?

      Yours is to win the million dollars, apparently, as you evidently can read minds. Justin Vacula sees people being civil as ‘weaklings’? Where did you get that idea from? Has he said anything of the sort? Or did you make it up? Be honest. The fact that you happen to put two different individuals into seemingly the same batch is tantamount that you have no idea what you’re talking about, not to mention that these two different individuals deal with issues in a different way. It’s like if you were to put Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins together and say they do the same thing equally. No, they don’t, Ulysses, and no, they don’t.

      So either you’re incredibly impressionable and fallen for the rhetoric continually spewed from the regular commenters at FTB, or you’re channeling regular commenters from FTB. Truth be told, I don’t know which is sadder. Anyway. I’ve been a member of the Slymepit since October last year and only a few times have I seen the word “mangina” posted. It is definitely not “our” term, as you presumptuously assert. Searching for the “mangina” and “slymepit.com” gets one result from the Slymepit where they discuss the term and where it comes from, where some even (perish the thought) *criticize* the term. Total cesspit.

      Also, it seems you don’t even know what “mangina” stands for. According to onlineslang dictionary, “mangina” means:

      “When a humorous male decides to tuck his genitalia between his legs to appear to have a vagina.”

      “… to tuck one’s genitalia between his legs and stand up displaying nothing but hair.”

      http://onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/mangina

      And according to urbandictionary, a “mangina” is:

      “A male lackey of the feminist hate movement (Usually called a ‘male feminist’), who views women as superior to men and always bows down to and agrees with women in an attempt to curry favour, especially his.”

      As for Ophelia Benson wanting to be left alone, that has been acknowledged for a while, but she has a funny way of showing that she wants to be left alone – by constantly referring back to the people she wants to leave her alone, by referring back to the Slymepit, and by constantly envoking an almost martyrous personality by trying very hard to piss off the very people she wants to leave her alone, including Justin Vacula. But I suppose it only works one way. One rule for her, another for everyone else.

      It might also interest you that while she wants AVfM contributors to leave her alone, she called AVfM contributor Girl Writes What a “stupid bitch” on Twitter, and she still refuses to show the emails from DJ Grothe where he allegedly blew her off in a childish manner following her pulling out of TAM from supposedly receiving threats – in an Facebook exchange with Harriet Hall, no less, where Ophelia infamously said, “I can’t produce the emails. This is the internet.” Her “threats”, of course, for attending TAM was also shown to be complete codswallop, where it was revealed she apparently perceived an email from a SUPPORTER (a very paranoid supporter) saying she MIGHT get TARGETED that she pulled out of TAM and not from any actual threats. (None of this was from either franc hoggle, Justin Vacula or the Slymepit respectively, by the way. Just saying.)

      Furthermore, I should probably add that I didn’t pull any of this from my arse. Unlike some people.

    • James C.

      I think, if you find that your interlocutor is hostile, uncharitable, and/or predatory, you get the hell out of that discussion and give them none of your time. (After all, it wasn’t really a discussion in the first place, was it?) If you’ve got a banhammer, that’s when you swing it. (That’s what moderation is made for, after all!)

      That would be a civil response to incivility, and a kind response to unkindness.

    • Charles Randall Paul

      I applaud any effort to build trust and friendship between rivals and critics without requiring agreement or consensus. I also think the kind response to unkindness is often voluntary withdrawal from engagement.

      Randall Paul, President
      The Foundation for Religious Diplomacy
      http://www.theworldtable.org

    • Ulysses

      I knew a slymepitter would try to justify his misogyny and those of his buddies. Yes, I’ve seen Vacula and Hoggle running rampant on their victims. Ask Surly Amy about Vacula’s attacks on her. Or are you pretending they didn’t happen? I know Vacula pretends his intentions were nothing but honest, but others have differing opinions.
      Ophelia Benson does want to be left alone. She doesn’t act against the slymepit, she reacts when she’s attacked. There’s a difference. I realize you’re going to pretend you slymepitters treat her nicely but reality says differently.
      But it’s really useless to argue with a slymepitter. You guys parade your misogyny (and no, don’t pretend you’re not misogynists) while whining about being called misogynists. You pull that out of your arses all tbhe time.

  • Sally Strange

    I personally am not quite so keen to totally consign it [the word "slut"] to the dustbin

    Evil sentiments, expressed civilly.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      In context, you will see that he accepted my point against the word and then talked about reclaiming the word rather than sending it to the dustbin. He was saying where others see promiscuity as a negative and so the word “slut” as inherently bad, since he and others see it as a positive they can reclaim it, a sort of saying, “yeah, I’m a slut, what of it? That’s a good thing!” This may be one of the connotations of using the name “Slut Walk”.

      Nonetheless, I am still not happy with the word and don’t think it can be reclaimed and he conceded that given the contexts I pointed out that it was not worth fighting for reclamation.

      If you want to censor every half sentence that can be read in an evil way instead of having a dialogue and trying to change minds. I don’t see how you can hope to have actually constructive debate with anyone you disagree with.

      How “civil” of Daniel Fincke to fail to engage with Noelplum about his affection for the word “slut.” Stand up for human rights? Naaah, there’s philosophizin’ to do!

      I did actually write there my reasons for rejecting the word “slut” and Noelplum basically accepted them and only made a “reclamation” argument.

      I hate the word “slut”, but I’m not going to insist on only talking to the people who agree with me and I do not feel under obligation to respond to every single thing I disagree with and repeat myself a thousand times. My position was clear from my previous remark and I went on to another point.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

      Sally,
      Quite a remarkable response to me there and emphasises the point Dan made about not jumping to the worst possible interpretation. In fact you went one better, jumping to the worst possible MISinterpretation.
      I am making a full response to Dan’s pledge. I will include in it my response to your uncivil remarks here. Given me a couple of hours and it will be up at noelplum99.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Sally Strange

    How “civil” of Daniel Fincke to fail to engage with Noelplum about his affection for the word “slut.” Stand up for human rights? Naaah, there’s philosophizin’ to do!

    • Pitchguest

      Here’s a fun fact for you, Sally: the word “slut”? Is also a Swedish word, and doesn’t have the same connotation it does in English. Basically, check your anglo-centric privilege.

      I trust you won’t make the same mistake in the future.

    • Rossignol

      Here’s a fun fact for Pitchguest: this conversation is being held in English. I trust they will not confuse the issue with further irrelevancies.

    • julian

      Read what Plum said in context. I’m all for the word bitch when it’s you or someone like Aquaria saying “I’m a mean ass bitch so get used to it.”

  • Mattir

    It’s total coincidence, of course, that there are people in my life who insist that I am uncivil whenever I discuss reproductive rights, violence against women, racism in police behavior, or discrimination against non-theists. No matter how reasoned, no matter how polite I am, the very opinions I express are deemed uncivil.

    No thanks on the pledge – what it really means is that “you’re mean and uncivil” become magic words to tell people like me not to talk about things that might make you uncomfortable. I’m not interested in giving you and your allies the magic words to keep me from speaking.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      No thanks on the pledge – what it really means is that “you’re mean and uncivil” become magic words to tell people like me not to talk about things that might make you uncomfortable.

      However other people might abuse the word civility, that’s not how it is defined in the pledge. It is explicitly the opposite. It is explicitly about making uncomfortable discussions more possible, rather than less, and has numerous acknowledgments of the needs for marginalized people to be given wider latitude of various sorts to be heard.

      I’m not interested in giving you and your allies the magic words to keep me from speaking.

      Who exactly are my allies? Why do you assume that because I am committed to civil discourse I am opposed to any of your other values?

  • Sally Strange

    To expand (cross-posted with Chris Clarke’s pledge, which is awesome):

    Speaking of ugly things being said in polite language, here’s Noelplum on Fincke’s blog:

    On the word “slut”:

    I can understand your perspective on the word ‘slut’ in that it is almost always used in a mean-spirited sense in these contexts.

    I personally am not quite so keen to totally consign it to the dustbin because it is one of those words whereby much of what it has traditionally described, on the grounds that those characteristics are universal negatives, many of us nowadays see those same characteristics as (in appropriate circumstances) positives. However, in terms of the conversations that have been problematic in recent months, I can’t see such reclamatory usage being of much relevance.

    So, to translate, Noelplum is not eager to stop using the word slut, because what it “traditionally describes,” which I take to mean sexual promiscuity, is in fact shameful and people ought to be shamed for it.

    It’s a totally irrational belief.

    But Ficnke passes straight by it–it’s one paragraph of several–in favor of philosophyin’ and testifyin’ with his pal.

    We get the message, Dan. We’re not welcome. Anyone likely to have a visceral, emotional reaction to being shamed once more for something they intellectually know they ought not feel ashamed of, yet still find themselves falling into those feelings of shame every now and again, despite the hard work they’ve done in dispelling that irrational and destructive sense of shame about behavior that is not only harmless but joyful–anyone like that is not welcome on your blog. You’d rather make space for Noelplum. Whether you’re willing to accept it or not, you’re going to have to choose. You can’t be friendly with misogynists and not alienate some women. You can’t be friendly to women and not alienate misogynists. That’s not how the world works. And look at you right now–you’re siding with the misogynists.

    Cheers, mate. Awesome plan if you want to give yet another platform to all the people who have the most platforms to choose from in the first place.

    I prefer diversity.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

      Sally,
      That was a dreadful misrepresentation of what I had said and only highlights this point of assuming the worst possible interpretation of what someone has said (though your interpretation was the exact opposite of what I said so it goes some way beyond even that).

      I am writing my own blog response to this civility pledge where I will address what you have said here. It will be up in a couple of hours at http://noelplum99.blogspot.co.uk/

    • julian

      I know your reading comprehension skills are better than that.

      Plum’s talking about slut as a positive, about destigmatization. He even cites how it’s been used to insult as an impediment to that and reason to be careful.

      Come on, I’ve seen you parse through some of the most complicated teal deers out there. I know you can read better than this.

  • Steersman

    Somewhat incongruous there, Sally, for you to be caviling about “slut” here and on Pharyngula and then to have been instrumental, if I’m not mistaken, in promoting “Slut-walks” which is all about changing what was conceived as a negative into a positive. Which is, if I’m not mistaken, what Noelplum was getting at. So – are you agreeing with him or disagreeing with yourself?

    But curious, is it not, that Pharyngula is so hot and bothered about banning people using “some” words of incivility, yet wishes to retain the use of others? Isn’t there a word for that? Starts with an “h”, four syllables, synonymous with “Pharyngula” ….

  • AKAHorace

    Dan,

    I am with you here, and will do my best to follow this. You could have been more concise though.

    all the best,

    AKAHorace

  • Markita Lynda

    Dan, you are falling into a trap set by the enemies of equality. I will not be civil to racists, bigots, fraudsters, scam artists, murderers, criminals, haters, rapists, etc. I will not be polite to oppressors just for the sake of being polite.

    Are you saying that it’s OK to tell someone to “go forth and multiply” when they need to fuck off? If someone is punching down at me or others, I will not be hobbled in the fight for equality, justice, mercy, and compassion for the underdog. I will “punch up.” Politeness is overrated in this struggle. It is a tool, it is grease on the gears, but it is not the work.

    Enlighten me.

  • Steersman

    Dan,

    I quite agree that “civil debate online is vitally necessary” – really seems like a good start on the ideal of democracy – and that you’re to be commended for taking another run at that idea. And I generally think that your recommendations, your “commandments”, generally provide an important set of guidelines with which I largely agree, even if only to provide points of reference when people get testy in the heat of battle. Although I expect they can’t cover all the bases.

    However, I also tend to think that you’re expecting too much from a “top-down” approach when a “bottom-up” one seems more appropriate in many cases. And while, as an example of that, the use of various epithets tends to cause the conversation to degenerate fairly rapidly, there is also frequently some justification in fighting fire with fire, although “no first use of the nuclear option” tends also to be a useful limitation on that policy.

    In addition and along the same line, I also think that far too many people have forgotten, or never learned, that eminently sensible and useful schoolyard aphorism, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Seems to me to be far too much histronics and crocodile tears over “bad werdz” when a more appropriate response is simply to turn the tables with another epithet – rather remarkable that so many bullies are averse to having the same sauce ladled onto them – ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Pitchguest

    Sally Strange, piss off with with your unnecessary invective. If you don’t know how to say anything in a polite manner, then don’t say anything at all.

    And Ulysses? You want to bring up that one point of contention against Justin Vacula (posting Surly’s address) as proof that he’s a raving “misogynist”? First of all, that only happened once. Second of all, he has since apologised for that incident and he was the one who requested for it to be removed. Despite that, and despite that he has been nothing but cordial in his speech and his writing, that one incident is enough to demonise him and you’re going to keep bringing it up?* Finally, you may want to bring that moral beacon around to other people who deserve it, like Greg Laden and Stephanie Zvan.

    Greg Laden threatened a fellow blogger (Justin Griffiths) with physical violence and reawakening his PTSD and that act wasn’t just condoned by Zvan, it was encouraged. In her eyes, Griffiths was the perpetrator and Laden was the victim. They have never once apologised for this or said they regretted it, nothing, and just recently they did it again. Scumbags the both of them.

    Or if we should continue, why not Ophelia Benson, who called an AVfM contributor a ‘stupid bitch’ (despite how she doesn’t use such epithets) and how she still keeps accusing DJ Grothe of gross misconduct during the time she pulled out of TAM, but still refuse to provide the emails where he allegedly dismiss her concerns in a childish way.

    As for Ophelia Benson’s wish to be “left alone”, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Case in point, she keeps writing about them. She kept saying she wanted Shermer to leave her alone, but she kept writing blog post upon blog post upon blog post addressing Shermer, challenging Shermer, and the one who begun that spat in the first place? Benson. (And why did that spat take off? Because Ophelia had twisted Shermer’s words to “women don’t do thinky” which Shermer took offense to. Why shouldn’t he? He definitely did not say that.) When Stephanie Zvan made a petition to remove Vacula from a position within the Secular Coalition of America, did Benson make a post about it? You bet. Being left alone? As I said, she has a funny way of showing it.

    Oh, and you want to talk ‘sexism’? In a recent blog post, Benson said this of a blonde woman suggested for the cover of a popular children’s book,

    “She has red hair and she’s not a pouty poochy seductive type who lounges around with her hand in her hair posing for an ad for the local bordello.”

    Such respect for other women. Granted she was right that the women for the cover was wrong in that the main character in the book has red hair and not blonde, but really? Poochy seductive type posing for the local bordello? I do declare.

    But you still say that “Slymepitters” are “misogynist.” That we’re “misogynist while whining about being called misogynists.” Oh, “whining” is it? Cute. However, maybe we “whine” about it because the definition of “misogyny” is ‘hatred of women’ and there is no such thing at the Slymepit. Additionally if you want to use the feminist definition of misogyny, there is no such thing at the Slymepit either. Either way, you lose.

    *You can’t even get your story straight. Justin Vacula was accused of counter-DMCAing Surly just to get her address and he posted a link to her address to prove that it was public and had been public for years before Justin even thought to look it up. It was linked (and still is linked) to her company (Surlyramics Co.) and it was posted on Trademarkia. However, he immediately regretted posting it and requested for it to be removed and apologised. (You can’t edit your own posts at the Slymepit – something to keep you honest.) So no, he doesn’t (or didn’t) “pretend his intentions were nothing but honest” but at least his honesty amounts to more than making shit up and calling it fact. Like how Surly and the Skepchick crowd called it a “malicious act” and that Amy was “forced to move.” What bullshit. His apology has also never been acknowledged, ever, and they still expect him to grovel. Nasty pieces of work.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

      No I did not call “an AVfM contributor a ‘stupid bitch’” – you people at the slyme pit run around with magnifying glasses examining my every tweet and comment and cough and sneeze trying to find a new gotcha. In that tweet I asked Aratina who “GWW” was – Aratina had quoted something “GWW” said – and because obviously it’s clueless and out of it not to know what initials mean, I added the jokey hashtag #stupidbitch MEANING ME. When I composed the tweet I didn’t even know GWW was female, because I didn’t remember what GWW stood for – that’s why I asked Aratina! I was calling MYSELF a stupid bitch, in jest, for not knowing what GWW stood for. (The point of the jest, of course, was that you slimers call me every name in the book for the most trivial of reasons, or no reasons.)

      I’ve already explained this. I know you creeps (how uncivil of me to call you creeps) read every word I write, so I know you’ve seen that I’ve explained this. Yet you keep on lying about it. There’s “civility” for you.

    • EllenBeth Wachs

      It would be really admirable for you to just own this, Ophelia.

    • J. J. Ramsey

      I hope I don’t regret writing this. (Ulp!)

      Anyway, I’m afraid that you just demonstrated why one should be very careful with an accusation like “liar.” I tracked down the tweet to which you and pitchguest referred, and saw that you wrote “And I don’t know who GWW is! #stupidbitch #nowondersheisonAVFM.” Now I can see you being sincere in saying that “stupid bitch” was a tongue-in-cheek reference to yourself and not GWW, even given the “#nowondersheisonAVFM”. While GWW writes for AVFM and thus can be easily said to be on it, your face was shown on the AVFM site too, so you were on it as well, in a different way. However, given how easy it is to read your tweet as saying that GWW was the “bitch” in question, it’s unfair to call someone a liar for reading it that way.

    • oopsiforgotmyoldname

      Markita said: “Dan, you are falling into a trap set by the enemies of equality. I will not be civil to racists, bigots, fraudsters, scam artists, murderers, criminals, haters, rapists, etc. I will not be polite to oppressors just for the sake of being polite.”

      Sally said: “How “civil” of Daniel Fincke to fail to engage with Noelplum about his affection for the word “slut.” Stand up for human rights? Naaah, there’s philosophizin’ to do!”

      Ophelia said: “I added the jokey hashtag #stupidbitch MEANING ME.”

      It’s because of the likelihood of such misunderstandings (particularly over the internet) that one should be so cautious in labeling someone a racist, bigot, etc. in the first place. It’s also why reactions against others using tabooed words are so often inappropriate. Alternative explanations, such as that someone was referring to themselves, are possibly true.

      Ophelia said: “When I composed the tweet I didn’t even know GWW was female … I know you’ve seen that I’ve explained this. Yet you keep on lying about it.”
      Ophelia tweeted: #nowondersheisonAVFM

      I don’t expect Ophelia to remember whether or not she knew this GWW person was female at the time Ophelia tweeted. She shouldn’t say those who are recounting their impressions of what happened “keep lying.” For points like this multiple interpretations are possible and no one has a perfect memory.

  • mildlymagnificent

    “Those who suffer systematic oppression need to be defended.”

    That’s nice. What about “those” people speaking up for themselves. Passionate, personal commitment to something that is not just a discussion by sociologists or philosophers *about* bad events or circumstances of “other” people might arouse language that’s just a bit infelicitous from time to time.

    You’re asking all kinds of people suffering real, systematic oppression in the form of violence or inability to get a job or any number of other real life problems to suck it up for the sake of not disturbing the serenity of Aunt Edna’s afternoon tea guests. Not gonna happen.

    You might finish up with your blog discussions taking the form you want them to take. But it will be at the price of silencing many voices with real contributions to make to your own and others’ understanding. Your choice.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      You’re asking all kinds of people suffering real, systematic oppression in the form of violence or inability to get a job or any number of other real life problems to suck it up for the sake of not disturbing the serenity of Aunt Edna’s afternoon tea guests.

      No, I’m not.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Here’s what I said about when those people speak out for themselves–that I and others should go out of our way to listen to them and give them greater latitude to express themselves:

      I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.
      People who have been personally abused or systemically discriminated against in ways that I have not may also be acutely aware of a social power differential with respect to me of which I may be unaware. This may make them feel frustrated and intimidated from speaking frankly, as well as more sensitized to potentially silencing and Othering implications of my language and ideas. I will be as sensitive to this reality as possible and as careful as possible with my language to reduce rather than exacerbate their feelings of social disempowerment. I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.

      And then again, further down:

      I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.

      I do not see the problem here.

  • Amphigorey

    Dan, it’s amazing how much more concerned you are with civil language than with civil behavior. You’re willing to accept all sorts of uncivil things as long as they’re dressed up in pretty, polite words. You are using your extensive education and rhetorical prowess to defend empty manners.

    I don’t think much of your pledge.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Dan, it’s amazing how much more concerned you are with civil language than with civil behavior.

      Absolutely not. Read the pledge again. It is all about treating other people with respect. Language choices, while important, are only a major issue in 3 of 13 points (though rightfully so in those 3 cases).

  • http://lykex.livejournal.com LykeX

    From CommanderTuvok:
    “As for Ophelia Benson, as long as she continues to write crap about people in the community, publish lies about people, misrepresent and misquote people, then the Slyme Pit will continue to call her out”

    Doesn’t this quite explicitly violate rule 4 of the pledge? These accusations are vague and unsubstantiated and it’s therefore impossible to counter them. Doesn’t that count as “uncivil”?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Yes. A lot of what is going on here has nothing to do with people adopting or adhering to the civility pledge. I am tolerating it all out of the spirit of not suppressing dissent to the civility pledge where the civility pledge is the topic. I don’t want to have to delete every remark about either FTB or the Slymepit being made here. But at this point, that would be the only fair way to deal with the violation of the rule against interpersonal feuding. Since the criticisms of Slymepit people and of FtB people are all bound up with the criticisms of the pledge, it’s a mess right now.

      So, take this entire fight as just indicative of the sorts of things that people adhering to the Civility Pledge would make stop.

  • Wowbagger

    I have no doubt whatsover that Tigzy upthread is aware, as all the Slymepit denizens are (given how often they’ve brought this up in a desperate attempt to shame me, only to be told of my admission of guilt – something none of them seems to understand, which may explain why it hasn’t sunk in), that I have acknowledged the unmitigated wrongness of my wish to see someone die in a fire and that under no circumstances would I ever say anything similar again – and, unless they wish to try and prove otherwise, which have not done so since in the something like six months since it happened.

    Dana Hunter even referred to it in her post on the issue, Definitely Not Equal

    But, despite this, continues to bring up the one incident as if it – one comment made by one person to another, anonymous person – justifies the continued and ongoing vicious harassment by the Slymepitters of non-anonymous people like Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson, Surly Amy and all the others on their hit list.

    It’s like comparing a pebble to a landslide. Or, more accurately, a drop of water to an explosion in a sewerage line; one that’s still going.

    This, Dan, is what I’ve been referring to in our conversations on Twitter. On the surface that appears a reasonable claim to make; however, once some context is added and facts revealed, it is obvious that the person who made the comment is being profoundly dishonest.

    Ordinarily I’d just refer to Tigzy as a lying euphemism-for-a-receptacle-of-porcine-excrement for desperately grasping at the straws of false equivalence in order to defend the morally questionable actions of people profoundly lacking in basic human decency. But I’ll refrain from that, as per your wishes.

    I do hope this illustrates my point, though.

  • Amphigorey

    You really think adhering to your Civility Pledge would make people stop harassing Ophelia Benson?

    That’s cute. Did you notice that you have people doing that in this very thread? People are saying that Ophelia is a terrible person for mentioning that she is being harassed. That’s not civil.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      There are accusations being thrown in every direction. And YES, it’s not civil. The civility pledge calls for no interpersonal feuding. So obviously none of this is in accord with the pledge. It’s not some hypocrisy on my part. This is not the behavior of people honoring my pledge, it’s people flouting it. It’s also not the norm for this blog. It’s an exception because I’m tolerant of the dissenters to civility when civility is the topic. Normally, I’m not so tolerant of having my blog overrun. Again, this is what happens when there is total disregard for rational understanding and civility, this is the problem in many other places in the atheist blogosphere, not my invention and not a consequence of the pledge. If you’d like to explain why a policy of perpetual feuding and escalation, perpetual strawmanning and demonizing and name calling are the solution to the problem rather than its fuel, you’re welcome to do so, but people flouting my pledge are not evidence my approach isn’t both more ethical and more constructive.

  • Sally Strange

    So, take this entire fight as just indicative of the sorts of things that people adhering to the Civility Pledge would make stop.

    Available evidence indicates otherwise.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Available evidence indicates otherwise.

      What evidence? Where is this evidence that a pledge to stop feuding, if adhered to, wouldn’t stop feuding? How does that even make sense?

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability D4M10N

    “I don’t want to have to delete every remark about either FTB or the Slymepit being made here.”

    Probably worth it, though. So long as the discussion is focused on prior grievances, we will never be able to move forward. It is profoundly telling that almost every call for civility, in almost every venue, is met with cries of “What about *my* butthurt?!” or something substantively similar. I’ve seen people getting dumped on for praising civility as a virtue in the SlymePit, on the A+ forums, and on three different blog networks.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      “I don’t want to have to delete every remark about either FTB or the Slymepit being made here.”

      Probably worth it, though. So long as the discussion is focused on prior grievances, we will never be able to move forward. It is profoundly telling that almost every call for civility, in almost every venue, is met with cries of “What about *my* butthurt?!” or something substantively similar. I’ve seen people getting dumped on for praising civility as a virtue in the SlymePit, on the A+ forums, and on three different blog networks.

      I’m permitting the ones already made and closing the thread and banning any feuding in future threads.

  • jose

    I have a problem with not taking personally and discussing ideas. Many times it’s only abstract criticism for one end, but it’s personal for the opposite end. For example, when citizens comment that if only immigrants used their talent to try to fix their own nation maybe they wouldn’t have to leave – that’s a theory for citizens, but it’s personal for me. There is nothing abstract about what they’re saying from my point of view. Why should I then address their theory on their terms, neglecting the fact that it applies specifically to me?

    I think this is why feminists say personal is political. I don’t think arguments for discrimination should not be taken personally if you’re personally affected by it. When people have theoretical debates about the morality of gay marriage, it’s the lives of gays they’re talking about and they aren’t abstract. For those outside the group, “gay” is just a category we can analyze, but for every gay person, “gay” is part of their life.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Of course people can take the issues as personally important matters. There’s a difference between that and taking ideas as personal attacks or making personal attacks oneself.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Here, right in the civility pledge (and read the links too, and this one too:

      I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.

      People who have been personally abused or systemically discriminated against in ways that I have not may also be acutely aware of a social power differential with respect to me of which I may be unaware. This may make them feel frustrated and intimidated from speaking frankly, as well as more sensitized to potentially silencing and Othering implications of my language and ideas. I will be as sensitive to this reality as possible and as careful as possible with my language to reduce rather than exacerbate their feelings of social disempowerment. I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.

      And

      I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.

      And finally this piece on how to use emotions in reasoning well.

    • jose

      Hi Dan. That part of your pledge applies to the person making the argument, not to the one responding.

      A fundamentalist can be very compassionate and civil while arguing it’s God’s place to decide who lives and dies, because it was God who gave life in the first place. She can make that argument while having taken care of a terminal, paralyzed patient for 3 years. You can’t get more compassionate than that and you bet the argument is made with absolute good faith. So the caretaker adheres to the pledge.

      I think a personal response to that argument is justified: “That’s fine, but it’s my life and you have no business talking to me about those matters. You would have helped me go a long time ago if you were a true friend”. Does that count as civil?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Hi Dan. That part of your pledge applies to the person making the argument, not to the one responding.

      A fundamentalist can be very compassionate and civil while arguing it’s God’s place to decide who lives and dies, because it was God who gave life in the first place. She can make that argument while having taken care of a terminal, paralyzed patient for 3 years. You can’t get more compassionate than that and you bet the argument is made with absolute good faith. So the caretaker adheres to the pledge.

      I think a personal response to that argument is justified: “That’s fine, but it’s my life and you have no business talking to me about those matters. You would have helped me go a long time ago if you were a true friend”. Does that count as civil?

      Yes, it is possible for someone with bad views to be civil. But hopefully that civility on their part means receptivity. If in your case it’s too onerous to deal with them for your own well-being, then by all means say what you just did, it is sufficiently civil (it does not personally abuse her in any way). But what is wrong with noting that people with bad views who argue in sincerity and with compassion and civility should generally be treated respectfully when we argue with them? You don’t have to argue with anyone. If you do, and they are a sincere person, why not use that as a grounds for persuasion? Why personally abuse them instead? Will that make them a better person or the world a better place? Will it make their bad views go away? Persuasion is a great thing for those up to doing it. If you’re not, by all means, take care of yourself instead. No one is under an obligation to save the world at the expense of their own well being.

    • jose

      I see your point, thanks for dedicating me time.

  • BethC

    I appreciate what you are doing with this pledge. I generally try to do all of what you’re asking.

    I even may want the latitude of intellectual honesty to test ugly ideas that neither I nor most others even want to believe. I may want to do this so that we can thoroughly understand exactly why, or whether, such ideas are indeed as false as we would hope, or are as pernicious as we presume. It is important that rational people of good will have well-developed reasons, rather than just dogmatic moral condemnation, with which to answer the false and pernicious ideas of irrational, ill-willed, and bigoted people. This means rational people of good will should at least sometimes open-mindedly explore hypotheses that they or others may find morally or intellectually upsetting, and that they have the room to do this without being demonized.

    I especially appreciate the explicit allowance you make above. I used to enjoy to play devil’s advocate, which was considered a perfectly acceptable, if admittedly irritating, form of argument. I’ve pretty much given up doing so on the internet as it seems impossible to do so in a safe space where only the ideas are attacked, not my motives and character.

  • Steersman

    Dan,

    I quite agree that “civil debate online is vitally necessary” – really seems like a good start on the ideal of democracy – and that you’re to be commended for taking another run at that idea. And I generally think that your recommendations generally provide an important set of guidelines with which I largely agree, even if only to provide points of reference when people get testy in the heat of battle. Although I expect they can’t cover all the bases.

    However, I also tend to think that you’re expecting too much from a “top-down” approach when a “bottom-up” one seems more appropriate in many cases. And while, as an example of that, the use of various epithets tends to cause the conversation to degenerate fairly rapidly, there is also frequently some justification in fighting fire with fire, although “no first use of the nuclear option” tends also to be a useful limitation on that policy.

    In addition and along the same line, I also think that far too many people have forgotten, or never learned, that eminently sensible and useful schoolyard aphorism, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Seems to me to be far too much histronics and crocodile tears over “bad werdz” when a more appropriate response is simply to turn the tables with another epithet – rather remarkable that so many bullies are averse to having the same sauce ladled onto them – ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Amy Vichinsky

    I’m in! The hate-filled invective online has disgusted me for a long time.

  • insipidmoniker

    Absolutely not. I’ll not remove tools from my kit without much more justification than this pledge offers.

  • abear

    Dan; Congratulations on becoming a slymepitter!
    Sally Strange said:” You can’t be friendly with misogynists and not alienate some women. You can’t be friendly to women and not alienate misogynists. That’s not how the world works. And look at you right now–you’re siding with the misogynists.”

    Now don’t you dare say “No I’m not”. That is just silencing Sally and friends and disregarding their marginalized status and don’t go on about what you meant to say or what the context was. Intention is not magic!
    Dan; why do you hate women?

  • Bruce Gorton

    Not one of the commitments is towards basic honesty. That one is more important than any of the commitments listed, because while we may get things wrong or strongly disagree on certain issues, without basic honesty there can be no discussion.

    We can still discuss while calling each other assholes, we can still achieve something productive out of discussions where each participant is striving to persuade the others (and this in fact can be a necessary form of discussion at times), sometimes people’s feelings need to be hurt in order to prevent worse harms, some people need to be mocked and belittled in order to reduce the harm they can do to others.

    But without basic honesty any discussion is rendered absolutely worthless, because any ground gained on the basis of a false piece of data is false ground, and inevitably leads to worse outcomes for all involved.

    There can be no common ground when so much of what is said by one side of the discussion is essentially deliberately false.

    • Bruce Gorton

      And note, while the first one does come close to this commitment, it doesn’t hold to the commitment being enforced over the whole discussion. It is not enough to hold oneself to basic honesty, but one also has to be willing to call out a lie for what it is.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      If someone is lying, here’s a whole list of procedures for dealing with immoral behavior like that:

      I will challenge the wrongness of their specific actions or apparent attitudes rather than hastily cast aspersions on their entire character. Before ever making moral accusations, I will civilly warn them that something they do or say strikes me as morally wrong and offensive, and explain to them why. I will give them a chance to retract, restate, and/or apologize before taking moral offense. I will analyze with self-directed skepticism whether my offense is rooted in a morally justifiable anger at provably unjust treatment, or whether it is just my discomfort with being disagreed with.
      I will always seek to maintain positive rapport with those who disagree with me as much as they enable. I will focus my criticisms on people’s ideas first and only if necessary criticize their attitudes, behaviors, or apparent character. I will not demean them fundamentally as a person. I will not uncharitably and hastily leap from specific bad thoughts, attitudes, or actions to wholesale disparagements of their entire character until there is overwhelming evidence that I am dealing with a fundamentally immoral person. And if I am dealing with such a person, I will use any of a wide array of highly specific available words
      to make moral charges soberly, constructively, descriptively accurately, and succinctly as possible before cutting off communications with them. And I will not take unnecessary recourse to abusive terms when plenty of civil and accurate words carrying heavy moral force are available to me.

      The pledge never says, “let all immorality of others slide”.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      The whole thing is about basic honesty!

      I will make being honest, rationally scrupulous, and compassionate my highest priorities. I will conscientiously remain open to new ideas…I am under no obligation to respect false or harmful beliefs or to hold back from expressing my own views or reservations forthrightly.

      I will focus on understanding and appreciating what actual goods my philosophical or political enemies may be mistakenly trying to achieve and what genuinely occurring features of their experience they are inadequately trying to do justice to in their false beliefs. I will try to discern and appreciate what genuinely valuable moral and intellectual principles they intend to stand up for, no matter how wrong I think their ultimate ethical or factual conclusions might be.

      I will refute their arguments on their merits. I will discuss with them any harmful real world implications that I think would come from the promulgation or implementation of their ideas. I will not accuse them of wanting to perpetuate evils unless there is specific evidence that their ends are actually so malicious.

      When I feel it necessary to call out what I perceive to be the immoral behaviors or harmful attitudes of my interlocutors, I commit that I will do so only using specific charges, capable of substantiation, which they can contest with evidence and argumentation, at least in principle. I will not resort to merely abusive epithets and insult words (like “asshole” or “douchebag”) that hatefully convey fundamental disrespect, rather than criticize with moral precision.
      I will refrain from hurling hateful generalized abusive epithets and insults at people. I will refrain from leveling vague, unsubstantiated charges of terribleness at people. I will give them fair opportunities to explain themselves.

      if I decide to play devil’s advocate in hopes that it will help make a position’s merits clearer to me, I will be upfront about what I am doing so that I do not come off as obstinate or excessively antagonistic or in any other way a disingenuous “troll”.

      I commit to not treating those who accidentally upset or offend me as though they intentionally did so

      I will not defensively interpret sincere criticism from my allies as personal betrayal. I will be as above reproach as possible with respect to all charges of bullying, feuding, escalation, bad faith argumentation, ad hominem tactics, well-poisoning, trolling, marginalization, strawmanning, sock puppetry, tribalism, purity testing, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, goading, micro-aggressiveness, passive aggressiveness, and personalization of disputes. While not compromising my intellectual conscience for the sake of politeness, I will manage to model a conciliatory and reasonable spirit. While I may advocate forthrightly for ethical debate and treatment of others generally, I will spend as much or more of my energies scrutinizing my own public contributions for ways I can make them more rational, civil, compassionate, and persuasive than I will policing the behaviors of others I encounter.

      I also will take into account and accommodate the reality that people with high personal stakes in the outcomes of certain debates about values are, quite understandably, more prone to emotional intensity in their arguments and especially likely to bring unique insights that are indispensible to understanding the issue adequately.
      Of course none of this means I should feel compelled to surrender my own rational right and need to independently and rigorously assess what anyone says for its truth or goodness. I should not feel compelled to always and unconditionally agree with someone who has an experience or life situation different from my own. And I should not pretend to already fully accept beliefs or values of which I have not yet been satisfyingly convinced.

    • http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/ DaisyDeadhead

      I”m in.

      The one time I attempted to interact on a Patheos thread (not at this particular blog; at another one), I was attacked immediately and called names, even though my intention was positive and conciliatory (as I believed my comment was too, but apparently it was not). As a result, I never came back.

      And you know, I really did want to. But that nasty attack had the effect of an electric shock: I didn’t want to touch the place again.

      We can still discuss while calling each other assholes

      Maybe you were raised in an environment in which this was possible. Some of us come from families who beat people up for far less. Really. (The phrase “thems fightin words” comes to mind.)
      Part of what Dan is saying is: stop assuming everyone is just like you. No, we’re not. If you call me an asshole, I have heard nothing else you have said. I get very angry, and further, assume that angering me was your whole intention in saying this to me. Thus, I immediately take myself out of any such discussion, unless I can call you names right back (and I sure will).

      And at that point, we are right back to 3rd grade. What does this solve?

      I have been disgusted with the online atmosphere for a long time, and at least this is a step in the right direction.

      The comments here that seem upset they can’t freely insult people, are utterly bizarre to me.

  • Raging Bee

    There are two reasons why this whole idea of a “pledge of civility” is utter crap:

    1) Rules don’t mean squat if there’s no reliable or consistent enforcement, and there’s a significant number of people who clearly don’t give a shit about any stinking rules; and

    2) We’re dealing with liars, bigots, haters, harassers, one-track axe-grinders, people who often deny our basic humanity, people who have chosen to act like they’re still in junior-high school, and people who have no problem with indiscriminate insults and threats of actual violence — but WE’RE the ones who are supposed to sign a pledge to be nice?! Seriously?! The most “civil” response I can think of is “You’re kidding, right?”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      There are two reasons why this whole idea of a “pledge of civility” is utter crap:

      1) Rules don’t mean squat if there’s no reliable or consistent enforcement, and there’s a significant number of people who clearly don’t give a shit about any stinking rules; and

      2) We’re dealing with liars, bigots, haters, harassers, one-track axe-grinders, people who often deny our basic humanity, people who have chosen to act like they’re still in junior-high school, and people who have no problem with indiscriminate insults and threats of actual violence — but WE’RE the ones who are supposed to sign a pledge to be nice?! Seriously?! The most “civil” response I can think of is “You’re kidding, right?”

      Ethical behavior starts with the self, not with waiting for others to be good first. The “we” that I would hope would sign the pledge or do something similar is everyone. None of us are immune ethically from being required to act appropriately and reason like rationalists, fairmindedly, with evidence; rather than with personal attacks that are fallacious and bullying.

    • Raging Bee

      Ethical behavior starts with the self, not with waiting for others to be good first.

      Did it ever occur to you that some of us already tried that, before you even showed up to guide us to the light? You seem to be implying that none of us ever tried that before, and I find that patronizing and insulting.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke
      Ethical behavior starts with the self, not with waiting for others to be good first.

      Did it ever occur to you that some of us already tried that, before you even showed up to guide us to the light? You seem to be implying that none of us ever tried that before, and I find that patronizing and insulting.

      It is difficult to make moral arguments without at least occasionally sounding patronizing. I am doing my best but I am sorry for coming off that way to you. That said, ethical behavior continues to be a matter of the self, even when others do not come along, so I don’t see how having tried that is a valid reason to stop trying it.

    • Raging Bee

      …ethical behavior continues to be a matter of the self…

      And that platitude continues to be meaningless and empty. Which “self” are you talking about? There’s more than one of us, you know. The “self” that spouts BS and expects to get away with it? The “self” that has to deal with such BS and try to minimize the harm? Or the “self” that actually owns a blog and has power (and thus responsibility) to enforce reasponable rules of conduct and weed out the least desirable elements? Seriously, what does that prim little slogan even mean? Who, exactly, are you trying to hold responsible for “ethical behavior” (which, BTW, is not the same thing as “civility”)?

      …so I don’t see how having tried that is a valid reason to stop trying it.

      Well, if we tried it and it didn’t result in more productive debate or a safer atmosphere for those who needed it, that seems to me a pretty good reason not to keep trying it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I’m finding that escalating incivility has far worse consequences.

    • oopsiforgotmyoldname

      1) That’s not true in international law, where multilateral treaties have signatory nations and various forms of soft pressure improve their conduct above what it otherwise would have been. We had an entire World War without chemical weapons being used!

      2) You don’t know that. You don’t sufficiently know others’ motivations, feelings, etc. In particular, it’s especially unlikely that your interlocutors have literally no problem with threats of violence. I’ve gotten the impression that many people in this conflict are justifying various uncivil tactics as unseemly but excusable if in retaliation against similar tactics.

  • StevoR

    @ Daniel Fincke : I am NOT going to tell you how to argue or compel you to debate me only in the exact precise way that I demand.

    I much prefer reasonable, logical, rational and fair argument.

    Where I don’t get this from the people I’m discussing / debating stuff with online , I’m certainly happy to point it out and criticise it.

    I think name-calling, abuse and suchlike is wrong and implies a lot about the weakness of the position those resorting to are are holding.

    But.

    I am NOT going to tell people how to argue or say that I will limit what tactics they choose to resort to. The Law and the rules esp. comment policies of the host blogger do that just fine.

    There are – rarely in my view but still there – times when some of the tactics that I personally (and I gather you too) are perhaps appropriate.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      There are – rarely in my view but still there – times when some of the tactics that I personally (and I gather you too) are perhaps appropriate.

      Very rarely. And it shouldn’t be controversial at all to tell people to argue in the rational, fairminded, and constructive way I am calling for. Everything else is not reasoning, it’s propaganda, bullying, and war.

    • StevoR

      @Daniel Fincke – February the 19th 2013 at 3:21 am :

      “There are – rarely in my view but still there – times when some of the tactics that I personally (and I gather you too) are perhaps appropriate.” – StevoR

      Very rarely. And it shouldn’t be controversial at all to tell people to argue in the rational, fairminded, and constructive way I am calling for. Everything else is not reasoning, it’s propaganda, bullying, and war.

      Well, yes it isn’t reasoning – but it doesn’t always have to be does it?

      Nor does it automatically become propaganda, bullying, war.

      Sometimes its people expressing emotions, venting rage, expressing their fury and other feelings at how they’re being treated and how others aren’t listening to them.

      Sometimes reasoning rationally has been tried and already failed.

      Those are the sort of occasions I have in mind here. Not everything on the blogs is Vulcan-like logic. Much of it is illogical and human.

      I think one of the positives of the internet and blogs is that there are so many with different policies and purposes. People can and do go to a particular blog, check it out for a while, read the articles (posts? /threads?), the comments and the disclaimers and the comment policies and learn what sort of environment you are in for. You then have the choice to participate and comment there or not.

      Some blogs (eg. the Bad Astronomy blog) reject any swearing and insist on politeness and a level of civility that is child – and Ned diddly Flanders – friendly.

      Some blogs (eg. Pharyngula) allow some swearing and abuse but reject gendered slurs and are very left-wing and pro-feminist.

      Other blogs are very right wing or anti-feminist and have their own particular idioms and quirks which range from those we find amusing to those we find appalling.

      Some blogs have an absolutely anything goes policy.

      Thing is, you get to know what a given policy is and either choose to follow the rules there or not, choose to participate there or not.

      As the saying goes – horses for courses

      I’m not going to tell you how to run your blog and comments section, Daniel Fincke, your blog, your rules, your preferences. But I don’t agree with telling others how to run their blogs or their comments either. Individual people, individual approaches and no one-fits-all size.

      Personally, I find your civility pledge too long. I prefer the Bad Astronomers succinct policy albeit it uses a gender slur. How about just – Do unto others as ye would be done by, try to be considerate of others and kind to them. That I do pledge and try to live up to.

      I’ll admit I don’t always succeed in keeping to this. But then I am a fallible human being and not always proud of myself or able to follow my ideals.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

    If you’re coming back here looking for a comment you posted in the last two days, I apologize but I put the whole blog into moderation and then became too swamped to check the comments. The reason I put it into moderation is that posters were bringing interpersonal feuds into the comments. I do not want to censor except as a last resort. I normally permit no interpersonal feuding and it normally doesn’t break out anyway. Because this post has drawn attention from feuding factions, it is an exception case. I am thinking of how to handle it without people accusing me of not being serious about the anti-feuding policy. Sometime within the next 24 hours or so, I’ll go through the comments and start allowing freer commenting again if things aren’t out of hand with feuding.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

      Dan – so you’re saying you’re still not going to release from moderation the comment in which I corrected the flat lie that Pitchguest told about me? The one where I said I did NOT call a Voice for Men contributor a stupid bitch, that I called *myself* that [in an ironic sense] in a tweet in a conversation? You’re leaving the lie uncorrected? Seriously?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      No, I will release them, I just released yours in advance as a favor. I just was going to release them in an orderly way when I had a chance to look at them. Unfortunately many people are mischaracterizing my allowing feuding comments to stand as endorsement of feuding as consistent with my civility standard, so I had to freeze all such comments until I could adequately correct this misunderstanding, while also not squelching the free speech and everyone’s insistence on having the record corrected about them individually.

    • Raging Bee

      I do not want to censor except as a last resort.

      Maybe that’s part of the problem: if you’d try weeding out the least worthwhile commenters as a FIRST resort, you’d have a more useful forum for discussion, without having to flog some useless pledge campaign and beg people to please play nice.

      You need to stop letting yourself be pushed around by some bogus ideal of “free speech” that lets the pond-scum into every party you throw. The blogger’s job is not to “protect free speech,” it’s to miantain a place where decent people want to go to benefit from honest and informative conversation.

  • StevoR

    Clarification – that’s :

    “There are – rarely in my view but still there – times when some of the tactics that I personally (and I gather you too) oppose and dislike are perhaps appropriate.”

  • StevoR

    @Daniel Fincke – February 16th 2013 at 11:56 pm : No worries, your blog, your rules.

  • http://www.freethoughtify.com Bridget Gaudette

    I’m all for this and fully support it.
    http://freethoughtify.com/freethoughtifys-civility-pledge/

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com Shira

    Here is a noteworthy example of perfect civility in service of bringing shifty people to justice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dxhyUAWPmGw

    There is, in my view, nothing wimpish about civility!

  • Pitchguest

    Ophelia – It wasn’t a lie. It was just an example of ‘intent isn’t magic.’ You still used the word ‘bitch’, though, a huge faux pas by your own standards.

    But I’m not going to sit here on ceremony. If you want to be understood, you need to make yourself understood. How was I — or anyone else, for that matter — to know you meant to refer to yourself in a sarcastic manner, when a) you’re not on AVfM and b) you don’t use the word ‘bitch’? But I digress. Better to let sleeping dogs lie. I want to apologise to Dan Fincke for turning his blog into a place for drama unrelated to his pledge. That was uncalled for. If Ophelia wants to take it to another venue, say, the Slymepit, we could continue it there. (I’m afraid I’m banned on your blog, Ophelia.)

  • Lauren

    Your 24 hours have come and gone. Too much valid criticism of yourself to handle?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Your 24 hours have come and gone. Too much valid criticism of yourself to handle?

      hahahaha, I would love some valid criticism.

      No the 24 hours were spent engrossed in teaching and then conversation, sleeping, and then recuperating on a rare day off after a few weeks without any rest.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

    COMMENTS ARE REOPENED. EVERYONE’S COMMENT WAS PUBLISHED, EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THEM FLOUTED MY EXPLICIT MODERATION POLICIES.

    ANY FURTHER RESUMPTION OF FEUDING, PERSONAL ATTACKS, OR OTHER FORMS OF GOADING WILL RESULT IN DELETED COMMENTS AND PUT THE COMMENTER IN MODERATION.

    THIS COMMENTS SECTION IS FOR PEOPLE’S SIGNATURES, DISSENTS, AND PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE CIVILITY PLEDGE.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

      My comment to Sally Strange must have gotten lost in the system.
      I simply wanted to link Sally to my reply where I respond to her gross misrepresentation of my comments. http://noelplum99.blogspot.com/2013/02/i-fincke-i-like-it.html
      It is somewhat illuminating that I have, in the mean time, tweeted Sally with the link but heard nothing back. I would have hoped that she would either respond to justify her remarks or apologise and retracrime her comments. I will keep waiting.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I just fished it out of spam. It had gone there instead of to moderation.

  • Steersman

    Actually, you didn’t publish two of mine.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I just fished them out of spam. They had gone there instead of to moderation.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/noelplum99 noelplum99

    Typo, meant to say retract, bloody autocomplete!

  • Pitchguest

    I must say, I’ve never heard of the word “retracrime.”

  • doubtthat

    Reading the pledge and then the comments, I learned that I just don’t give a rat’s ass about civility. That’s fine if you want to take the pledge, knock yourself out, but it’s just treating a symptom. It won’t work, of course. It’d be interesting if someone with a shitton of time on their hands could develop some means of evaluating “civility” prior to pledge and after. I know what result I would put my money on.

    But the real issue is that convincing members of the KKK to stop using the N-word online would have absolutely zero effect on anything remotely important. It’s the views and opinions that are the problem, not the manner of their expression. I’m not certain I even consider the effort behind this petition a noble one. If one of these slime-pitters comes up with a synonym for slut-bitch-whore-cunt, we all know what they mean. Hell, by using the language they use their actual stances become more obvious.

    We have a model for this system already, right wingers and [ableist slur for Republicans removed by moderator]. All you’re going to get with this effort is Lee Atwater-style dog-whistling. They long ago realized that muttering the N-word in every other sentence turned away voters, so they came up with terms like “welfare queen,” and “food stamp president,” and all manner of seemingly innocuous terms that contain meaning only assholes will hear. And no group of people is more dedicated to whining about “incivility” than the very people that harbor the most vile, malicious ideas.

    The goal is to have people cease using bitch-cunt-whore-slut because they realize the inherent awfulness of using someone’s gender to attack them, not because they’ve been conditioned to cloak that invidious idea behind less blatantly insulting words. As long as they have the bad ideas, I almost prefer that they’re clear about it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Doubtthat, if you read this part of the pledge and the three articles linked within it, you will see that I am not calling for letting dog whistles slide. I am calling for a genuinely civil environment where people are asked to stop using dog whistles and any other methods of goading and Othering of the marginalized when they try. The only alternative to dog whistles is not total incivility. That’s a drastic, unjustified over-correction that only threatens to escalate rather than educate. You can be firm against dog whistles and still be civil.

      I will be extra cautious to learn from traditionally marginalized people about what disparately affects them in negative ways and about how to make discourses and other environments more inclusive to them. I will pay close attention to how hostile environments are implicitly created that exclude, silence, or otherwise adversely affect traditionally marginalized people, especially under the aegis of a perniciously false neutrality.

    • oopsiforgotmyoldname

      “It’s the views and opinions that are the problem”

      I think if one person focused on improving their views and opinions, and another focused on improving their *process* of correcting their inconsistent views and erroneous opinions, the second would have better views and opinions in the long run.

      Imputing good faith, etc. as in the pledge is focused on the latter. It helps one interact with ideas one disagrees with without ever shooting their messenger, removes time-wasting clutter from conversations, and so on.

  • Makeesha

    Applause!

  • http://www.sunstonescafe.com/ Paul Sunstone

    Signed, but with one reservation: That I understand all or any provisions of the pledge I make are open to revision should further reflection and/or experience warrant such revision. I do not intend to revise this pledge lightly, but I cannot anticipate what new information I might come across. In other words, I will give this pledge an honest test, and keep those portions of it that prove decent and reasonable.

  • Elemenope

    Have you not heard of that madman who connected to the Internet in the bright morning hours, ran to the blogosphere, and cried incessantly: “I seek conversation! I seek conversation!” — As many of those who did not believe in discourse were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.

    The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is the conversation?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed it — you and I. All of us are its murderers. But how did we do this? How could we unname the objects of our sight? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the dribblings of empathy? What were we doing when we unchained these words from their meaning? Whither are they moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all meaning? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite loneliness? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to have civility in the charnel house? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying our arguments? Do we smell nothing as yet of the nominal decomposition? Conversations, too, decompose. Discourse is dead. Discourse remains dead. And we have killed it.

    “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was supplest and finest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this ink off our digits? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves now become authors and speakers and opinionators simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

    Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his interlocutors; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his smart phone on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.

    It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several chatrooms and there struck up his requiem aeternam colloquio. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these message boards now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of discourse?”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I love it!

  • Markita Lynda

    From a friend: “On a heartwarming story (the details of which are unimportant), one of my friends posted the following: “It was going so well until it gave all the credit to god instead of the father for his understanding and patience. You don’t have to be religious to have loving people in life. The humans deserve the credit here and it hurts my heart to see it taken away. Good dad for being an awesome example and communicating compassion to your child.”

    “to which the following response was made:

    “”C, you should shut your face and stop being so intolerant of other people’s beliefs. Apparently you took Nothing from this story. Just spread a little butter and jelly and keep your big, hateful trap shut. It’s better be silent and Thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

    “If anyone wants to share this with Dan Fincke as another example of how, if you’re not of a privileged class, the only true “civility” is silence, then feel free.”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      So, what then? We’re supposed to respond as belligerently as the Christian in that instance? Why not just assert your right to speak civilly in that case? Why not reiterate your criticisms without giving them something actually objectionable to validate their accusation that you’re just intolerant?

  • http://www.artsydot.com Guy R Vestal

    Why is there a need for a “pledge”?

    I have a better answer… Maybe, just maybe…. Folks could mind their own business, not worry about picking a fight with someone because they do not agree with them, and just walk on by without a comment….

    I mean c’mon, folks are arguing with a pledge about not arguing.

    Humanity needs a “do-over”, we need a pandemic, and an eradication of a minimum of %90 of its population, then let the Georgia Guidestones take it from there.

  • http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/ DaisyDeadhead

    I’m in.

    I quit engaging on various atheism blogs, because the name-calling became genuinely depressing. I think it would be very nice to be able to disagree without being called a white trash southerner (even if, you know, I am one). I used to grant the point and keep right on arguing (works on talk radio!) but then I realized that this insult was somehow an ‘instant disqualification’–signaling that it was time to pile-on with the insults and baiting. Actual arguing was *over*. I am not a concern troll and I was not trolling. I was arguing, just as any of you like to argue. But its very hard to argue with people who make it clear they have contempt for you and make fun of what you say, *just because it came from you*. (e.g. if one is a white trash southerner, then any argument I make is, of course, a *white trash southern argument* and there is no need to take it seriously… its automatically wrong all because of who made it.)

    I finally gave up. I know I am NOT the only one.

    So this is a welcome post for me. Thank you, Dan.

  • abb3w

    Not enough time at the moment to read in detail; my instant reaction is disinclination, but approving of the suggestion as at least a catalyst for the wider discussion.

    I stumbled across this thesis, which gives some interesting discussion on the sociology of manners and rudeness, focused on a specific Internet example. I’m still wading through it (it’s almost 300 pages), but it might also help give a descriptive framework for evaluating prescriptive proposals.

  • Freemage

    Dan: I won’t be signing this pledge. However, if someone wants to engage me in mutual dispute, I’m perfectly willing to use this as the terms of truce under which that conversation is held. Note that this means that if I feel they have violated the pledge’s terms in the past, I can call upon them to apologize and retract, and if they fail to do so, I can dismiss them in good faith.

    One part of the problem with the pledge is that there’s an underlying premise which comes out in many of your comments: namely, that every conversation online is about convincing the person you are speaking to that you are correct. It can be, but it rarely is. Rather, the whole point of such a discussion is usually to attempt to sway an audience. Consider the possible cases, in a very lightly game theory-esque approach:

    1: I and my opponent are both civil.
    2: I and my opponent are both uncivil.
    3: I am civil and my opponent is uncivil.
    4: I am uncivil and my opponent is civil.

    Meanwhile, our putative audience member is either:
    A: Not offended by uncivil conduct.
    B: Offended by uncivil conduct.

    In 1A & 1B, the discussion defaults to the best argument (using reason and legitimate emotional appeal) winning. Likewise, in 2A, the best argument before the uncivil conduct is considered is still likely to win.
    In 2B, the audience member is likely to leave in disgust, declaring a pox on both our houses–a draw, at least, as neither of us persuaded them.
    In 3B and 4B, the audience is likely to take offense at the lone uncivil debator, and thus that person is likely to lose by default, even if their argument is the most sound otherwise.
    In 3A and 4A, however, the audience member may very well be swayed by the unfair advantage the uncivil debator seeks to claim with their tactics.
    If I sign the Pledge, I run the risk of option 3A, wherein I lose, not because of the weakness of my argument, but because my opponent is cheating and I am refraining from responding in kind.
    If I carelessly resort to uncivil conduct, I risk option 4B–shooting myself in the foot, as it were, losing an argument I might have otherwise won.

    Thus, the best course of action for me is to present the best argument I can, under the rules of conduct my opponent establishes for themself. If they maintain a civil discourse policy, then I can as well. If, however, they do not, then I see no reason to yield an advantage to them–at worst, we both lose an audience member.

  • http://bethclarkson.com BethC

    I have recently started blogging. Dan, you have been inspiring to me in this regard. In particular, your post on writer’s block inspired me to try once again.

    I have written a post on my own comment policy and link back here to your pledge. Rather than signing up to it, I prefer to create my own, simpler but more nebulous rule. I do endorse the approach you are advocating.
    http://bethclarkson.com/?p=261

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Thanks so much, Beth! I’ve enjoyed your critical dialectic with my ideas for the last year and a half, so feel free to keep me apprised of what’s going on on your blog. (Even if I rarely react or link to it, I like to stay on top of things and may find opportunities to engage, so never feel like you’re being redundant or annoying in letting me know about stuff!)

  • Dhoelscher

    The whole idea of pledges makes me somewhat nervous, as they’ve so often been employed by ruling classes as one more tool useful in maintaining their control over the masses. Your pledge forces me to consider the possibility that there may be such a thing as a “good” pledge.

    I literally lack the time right now to carefully read yours, Dan. I did skim it though and my first impression is that it’s an impressively thoughtful document and that a good number of your readers don’t get what you’re trying to do and why. I think you would have done well to post a final rough draft for public comment, thereby allowing you to make improvements (if any can be made) by incorporating the best ideas proposed by your readers. Before commenting further though I’ll print out the document and read it carefully.

    In case you haven’t seen it, and in the event you might find it useful should you endeavor to revise the pledge later, check out Professor T. Edward Damer’s Code of Intellectual Conduct (summarized on pages 6-8) http://www.amazon.com/Attacking-Faulty-Reasoning-Practical-Fallacy-Free/dp/0495095060/ref=pd_sim_b_84#reader_0495095060

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Thanks David. Yes, I am open to revising it in light of input and am thinking of publicly calling for people to submit their suggested specific revisions to the present language. Not yet sure exactly how to approach it yet.

  • Ron Snijders

    I almost never delurk; I just quietly form my opinions and hide my disappointment at the standard of debate in what used to pass for the skeptical world.
    I’ll make this an exception. I so pledge, although saying that, I most likely won’t delurk again for a long time.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      I almost never delurk; I just quietly form my opinions and hide my disappointment at the standard of debate in what used to pass for the skeptical world.
      I’ll make this an exception. I so pledge, although saying that, I most likely won’t delurk again for a long time.

      Nice to know you’re out there lurking, Ron. :)

  • http://stefford.wordpress.com/ Stefford

    I will give it my best shot.

  • Cat

    Signed

  • Pito Rosario

    This is an excellent pledge, but I’d qualify it in some areas, as your Patheos colleague Adam Lee has noted here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2013/02/my-thoughts-on-the-civility-pledge/. I’ll share it on FB, though.


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