Criticism, Civility, and Friendship (a post on my friendship with JT)

For at least three years now, I have become a stauncher and stauncher supporter of civil discourse in the atheist community. In October 2011, within just a month of joining Freethought Blogs I wrote a series of posts calling for atheists to stop demonizing religious people and stop calling them stupid. Then last summer I made broad remarks against being personally abusive to anyone when I laid out my comments moderation policy and was vigorously attacked by various proponents of social justice who insisted that marginalized people need recourse to interpersonal abusiveness in order to defend themselves. Eventually, I wound up writing a civility pledge that I and a few others signed onto to try to lead by example on these issues.

In all of this time, I have not personally disowned the people who defend the kinds of argumentative tactics that I think cross the line to being unethical. My interest is in trying to reason with those I disagree with and finding as much friendship and common ground as possible with anyone I can. That’s how I think we grow, by learning to get along with people who we disagree with, even on serious ethical issues some times. Obviously, some people I just have personality conflicts with and so I don’t want to see them when I log onto Facebook or something. But simply disagreeing with me is not enough to get me to cut you out of my life.

Now, one of these aggressive people I am friends with is JT Eberhard. Not only is JT a friend, but I consider him a close friend. This is despite the fact that JT has prided himself on taking a less merciful approach to his enemies in public discourse. Relatively frequently his digs at religious people will cross what I think are ethical lines. And though I rarely if ever mention this publicly, it bugs me almost every time. Now even though I don’t air this publicly usually, I have mentioned this to JT. A lot. Like, so insistently that when recently I had a rare chance to sit down with him face to face at American Atheists I took some of those rare in-person moments with my close friend to harangue him about the issue. Again.

I bring this up because after our last time debating these issues, I felt really appreciative to JT. Because I thought to myself, he takes criticism really really well. While I completely stand by the principles I argue for and think I’m right to make them such a big issue, I also realize that he could completely find me to be a nag. But he doesn’t. He’s never treated me like a self-righteous scold. I’ve never tried to be one either. And he knows that. He has never let our disagreements, even about core values and behaviors, stand in the way of his willingness to be my friend. And I’ve never let these things stand in the way of my willingness to be his friend. That’s not to say JT is as kind to everyone he argues with. And, again, I don’t support JT in every one of his personal feuds. And he knows that. He doesn’t condition our friendship on me making enemies of his every enemy.

I learned the hard way about what it’s like to be pressured to choose between people you love. My parents are divorced. I’m not going to be specific about this because it’s not my place to air my parents’ laundry in public. But I will say this. At fourteen years old, I resolved to love both my parents with all my heart and to actively work on my relationships with them both regardless of their recriminations against each other. To this day I am proud of the days when the only person in my family who was on speaking terms with every other member of the family was me. I am proud of the day that I ended a years long estrangement between my brother and my father by insisting on not choosing between them. I take pride when I see how close my father and my brother are today.

And that’s how I am trying to approach my whole life. I am about reconciliation. I am of course extremely frustrated when I see people I share a movement with doing things that I think are embarrassing or shameful. Of course it pains me to have deep values disagreements with people I want to fight in common cause with. But as much as I possibly can, I resist the urge to lose sight of the fact that these people, just like me, are saying what they are saying because they think it is the true, the just, and the good. On that most important rock, I can find common ground with a far greater number of people than I could if I only agreed to talk to or to respect those who agreed with me on everything–which would probably only be me, and even that not all the time! For cripe’s sake, I love talking to myself and all, but I don’t want to be the only person I talk to.

I bring all this up because JT is being accused of being a hypocrite for criticizing the ways that other people have acted in their justifiable anger. The allegation is that JT himself never took kindly to being criticized. But that’s false. I have criticized him all the time and he has never been anything short of gracious to me.

Your Thoughts?

Update: I have commented about more aspects of the JT’s behavior and criticism of it in a follow up post, The JT and Bria Conflict and Why I Usually Don’t Blog About Interpersonal Conflicts.

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.

  • Ian Cromwell

    “The allegation is that JT himself never took kindly to being criticized. But that’s false. I have criticized him all the time and he has never been anything short of gracious to me.”

    And therefore… ?

    You say that you two are close friends. That might be a big contributing factor to why he has always been so gracious… TO YOU. To others, not so much. And if “ignoring criticism” is the same as “taking criticism really well” then yeah, that’s an accurate assessment. I disagree.

    Also, it would be nice if you would actually look at what the REAL criticism of JT is and continues to be, as opposed to inventing the most convenient one, as you’ve done here.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Were JT and I friends before I started criticizing him maybe he would be gracious only because we were friends. But we weren’t. I have criticized JT every step of our friendship. And I explicitly pointed out that JT has had personal feuds with people and I have disagreed with him over them. And he knows it. But the point was that others were saying JT is too much of a firebrand to ever be told how to use his anger by anyone. And my point is that those people who tell him how to use it while not deny its validity, like me and I could have mentioned James Croft, are people he not only listens to but allows to be close friends.

      This is not an “invented” criticism of him that I’m answering. It’s in Greta’s post, Jason’s post, Jen’s post, and I think others but would have to re-read.

      Other issues related to his posts about Bria are an interpersonal fight over specifics and I avoid those because of the acrimonious, escalation-prone way the community deals with them. I see no good coming out of it. I have no interest in making this about Bria as a person or poring over her every word, etc. Abstractly, these issues are ones that I have litigated countless times. You know I’m not shy about my views on civil discourse. I’m not dodging anything. Go through the archive if you want my views. There’s a tab atop the page that says “moderation”. The only debate I want to have is about abstract principles. I’m not in this to escalate interpersonal feuds.

    • Ian Cromwell

      ” But the point was that others were saying JT is too much of a firebrand to ever be told how to use his anger by anyone”

      Yeah, except that ISN’T the criticism, sir. The criticism is that JT holds atheist activism to a different standard than he does any other form of social activism. Atheist anger at theism = fine, but black anger at racism = unacceptable. Feminist anger at misogyny = unacceptable. Or, if not “unacceptable”, in need of a level of restraint that JT, and JT alone, is capable of judging. THAT is the hypocrisy. And that is only ONE of the criticisms, even in those posts you refer to. JT does not (or at least HAS NOT) respond to criticism from people whose opinions he claims to respect on certain topics (unless you count today’s post, which is replete with the exact same behaviour that people are criticising him for).

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I’m pretty sure I’ve seen JT pretty angry on behalf of gays and probably women in that JT writes a lot of angry posts on Republican politicians and a lot have to do with gay rights and women’s reproductive rights, etc. JT has repeated ad nauseum that he thought Bria’s anger at the meme was justified but not Bria’s interpretation of the speaker’s intentions or the choice of time and place to berate. He stressed that his pulling aside to criticize her timing and tone was consistent with his own views about moderating anger.

      Now, I was not there. I don’t know Bria very well at all. We’re basically just facebook friends. I really can’t say anything about whether JT’s judgment was right. I can’t say anything about the content or tone of Bria. I don’t know if this was just a straw breaking a camel’s back moment in a life filled with putting up with racist shit. I don’t know if she said retracted any excesses in her speech later. I just don’t know very much at all and even if I did I have no interest in making an issue out of what she did.

      I’m not talking about any of that. I am just saying that the act of pulling someone aside privately to say, “I think your anger at the injustice here is valid but I think you misjudged that person’s intentions and chose an inappropriate time and tone given all the contextual factors” is not formally a terrible thing to do. I was pointing out that it was formally at least roughly similar to what I do to him when I validate his anger but criticize it. (Granted, we’re two white guys, not a white guy talking to a black woman, obviously fraught with dangers of patronizing involved there. So, I was just trying to limit to “JT DOES listen to people talking about how to deal with valid anger, so it’s not total hypocrisy he talked to another person about that same issue.” That was my only point.

      I wasn’t addressing other topics of debate not because they’re not important. I have not made any commentary on your specific remarks to him. I have talked with you about possibly having a video chat about our different views on whether feelings can be rationally judged. I’d still like to do that if you’re willing. I was just addressing the one issue that a couple months ago with the CFI thing had hit me. I realized, “hmm, I’ve had an experience relevant here, let me share it, seeing as my friend is being disowned left and right.” I am against disowning in most cases. Only if someone is, like, physically or sexually or verbally assaulting you or mentally trying to fuck you up interpersonally, do I say “get the fuck away from that person”. I think there is warranted a relatively wide latitude for other garden variety ethical failures that are just too common to disown everyone over.

      I don’t think his concerns about taking into account the context and the intentions of the woman repeating a fairly common meme (however insidious its ultimate sources) is grounds for saying he doesn’t care much about race issues. He’s certainly not an expert. He certainly is not going to be impacted anywhere near as much as a black person or feel the issues as viscerally. But I can see where he saw it as a matter of context for when and who to choose to berate that was on a more formal level consistent in his mind. That’s all. I don’t think this should be a litmus test for writing him off as a willfully blind and terrible person even if you think he’s wrong. Like the post makes clear, I think he and a lot of people are wrong a lot in ethically offensive ways. I’m not disowning him or them. I don’t think they should either.

    • ObserverDC

      “”I think your anger at the injustice here is valid but I think you misjudged that person’s intentions and chose an inappropriate time and tone given all the contextual factors” is not formally a terrible thing to do.”

      But later writing a very public blog post about might be. In fact, it might be seen as a public criticism at an inappropriate time.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Yeah, I’m unclear on JT’s motives for going so public. I would have left it private (if I even would have criticized her, which I don’t know I would) but I get the impression he saw it leaking into Twitter criticisms and hence he took to public defense and now it’s spiraling all meta. Very frustrating.

    • Ronja Addams-Moring

      “…he saw it leaking into Twitter criticisms…” a) JT was the originator of those first three tweets during Darrel Smith’s session (before JT talked to Bria). b) For *one* of those tweets *one* person expressed a differing opinion (that I can find, anyway). Twitter was not on fire – there was no emergency. Except that neither Bria nor the (white) woman on Twitter agreed with JT. Apparently that was enough to indicate “a bigger overall problem” about which JT “needed” to inform the whole Internet.

      Regarding JT’s motives, there’s a definitive The Author Doth Protests Too Much moment in his “Outburst” post:

      “The reason I write about this is not to “get back” at the person on twitter or at Bria. I’m honestly not bothered by them personally in the least. I certainly harbor no ill will toward the tweeter and I don’t harbor any ill will toward Bria beyond what I normally reserve to people who do things like what she did without remorse.”

      It speaks volumes that JT felt the need to thrice deny something that nobody had had a chance to even accuse him for.

    • Kurt H

      The only debate I want to have is about abstract principles. I’m not in this to escalate interpersonal feuds.

      That’s hard to reconcile with a 1000 word blog post specifically defending a personal friend against criticism. A better strategy might be to avoid making a blog post about such matters.

    • Edward Gemmer

      Oh come on. Saying nice things about your friend is not the same as encouraging feuds.

    • Highlander

      “And if “ignoring criticism” is the same as “taking criticism really well” then yeah, that’s an accurate assessment.”

      How would you describe exploding into crowd sourced personal attacks when faced with criticism? Compared with the reaction to this incident I’d say ignoring criticism is taking criticism well.

  • Jillian Deleuze

    It’s easy to be gracious towards a close friend with whom you agree more often than not to begin with.

    Anyway, correct me if I’m wrong but the issue isn’t so much that someone out there isn’t taking criticism gracefully as it is that they’re criticizing someone else for behaviours they themselves engage in.

  • Bridget Gaudette

    I think it’s easy for a person to be gracious when the person criticizing them is a friend v. a stranger.

  • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

    Sorry but I really cannot imagine your criticism to be that fierce Dan. Quite often when someone is accommodating in their critique you can agree and debate with them but not change your behaviour one iota. All you appear to be saying is he listened, didn’t sever ties with you due to you criticising him or otherwise act like a spoilt child.

    All admirable but a million miles away from how you react to strongly worded criticism that is unambiguous in its definition of your behaviour being *wrong* and damaging. When someone is told something they did is -ist, or they are not being a good ally to women, PoC or LGBT folk, that stings your privilege and the usual thing to do is to deny. Comes back to this “shut up and listen” meme where the usual response is to not listen and definitely not shut up. Seems JT is good at taking that option and I doubt you confronted him with anything like the challenge to his white privilege this latest criticism is dragging up.

    You say below [eta: above/below who the hell knows with disqus, somewhere] you don’t want to get into the “escalation” of the “interpersonal fight” … This is a shame as there is a principle that you can address outside of the personal issues. Namely the fetishisation of civility which, as you have said yourself, can be used to silence marginalised people. With this you appear to be very much on the civility side, cos JT is a good egg, very civil to me. Might not be your intention but I’d guess it will come across that way given you chose to focus on his civility to you and not the incivility in erasing PoC’s voices because they are “too angry” …

  • John Kruger

    Not sure what all Dan has read, but I was under the impression that the main gripe was with JT’s amazing generosity considering someone who spouted off a stock racist apologetic talking point and simultaneous lack of charity with the person who got offended enough by that remark to lose their temper and shout at the one who said it. He went out of his way to make the racist comment more comfortable than the resulting outrage over it. He talked down to her and tried to dictate what she was allowed to get angry about. He is being hypocritical in his response to tone trolling atheism while doing just about the same thing with racism. All this strikes me as far more than “an interpersonal fight over specifics”.

    Dan’s focusing on his own relationship with JT and his response to criticism seems like more than a little bit of a bait and switch to shift focus off of the big issues going on. If the main issue he got from the posts by Jen McCreight, Greta Chistina, and Jason Thibeault was that he has a poor response to criticism, I have to think he has not been paying attention. Given all the context, backing him up on that small issue in practically an anecdotal way is pretty much a non sequitur about JT’s character, shifting the conversation away from what he did to who he is.

    • Highlander

      I think Dan’s point has nothing whatsoever to do with the dust up between Bria and JT. Instead it has to do with the less than civil response toward JT on the dust up. JT has been nothing but polite and civil in any of his posts on the matter, he has laid out his arguments and rebutted the arguments of his detractors rationally. The same cannot be said of the stuff coming from the other side. I can’t say I care one way or the other about who is right or wrong in the matter, but I can say I’m far more persuaded by JT’s polite and civil handling of it and If I were asked to take sides right now with no futher input I would have to go with JT.

    • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

      There is history here, in another post criticising his ally credentials Crommunist wrote a brilliant reply, massively upvoted. JT ignored it completely and as in this case wrote a second wordy post that didn’t address a single point Crommunist made. He burnt his bridges there.

    • Highlander

      Can you post a link to Crommunists post?

    • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

      Was actually a comment on his post. I was sprised Crom didn’t make it a blog post, maybe due to the idea this “dials up the drama”

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/06/ron-lindsey-made-mistakes-but-the-cfi-should-still-be-supported/#comment-936629898

      Will try and find the next “explanatory” word salad post where everyone said, “WTF, why are you ignoring Crom”

      ETA: Haha, yes I remember now. Rather than address Croms points which everyone said he should. He chose to take a swipe at the FTB whipping boy, Greg Laden, for an awful comment he made tucked away somewhere…
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/06/greg-laden-wont-have-sex-with-me/

      You can see ppl perplexed as to his decision to shoot a Laden in a Barrel rather than address the substantive criticism from Crommunist.

    • Highlander

      So in both of these cases we have infighting because a group has felt offended by something and broken out the torches and pitchforks, and when JT came out and paraphrasically said “I agree with you on most things, but there are a few things I have a problem with and here the reasons.” Many in the offended group then procede to ad hominem attacks and promises that they will no longer be JT’s friend. Thankfully there are others, like Crommunist who actually attempt a reasoned discussion.
      I agree that Crommunist made excellent points that were worthy of discussion in his reply to JT’s post on the CFI debacle. On the other hand, JT has repeatedly said that when he makes a post, unless something drastically new comes up, he is willing to let it stand on it’s merits (this may explain some of the wordiness). Without this policy he would spend all of his time responding to replies and never putting out new posts. Crommunist’s reply didn’t get responded to because for everything he brought up JT had already adressed it in his post and was willing to let his commentariat decide on their own. It’s like a debate, you only get certain number of chances to make your case. As for replying to Laden, that comment deserved a slap down if one ever did but he should have skipped it since it was so stupid.

      I would like to see the explanatory post you alluded to earlier.

    • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

      Why bring out the hyperbole? ” torches and pitchforks” … There may be a very public falling out of friends over an issue. It happens, in real life as well as on the internet. No need to make it more than it is.

      People have a right to de-friend JT over this, they are disappointed in him. That is *totally* separate to the arguments made so it is *not* an adhom fallacy to express dismay with insult.

      “I would like to see the explanatory post you alluded to earlier.”

      – Sorry not clear I ETA (Edited to Add) that actually it was the Greg Laden post I was thinking of. So no the same.

    • Highlander

      Hyperbole is a perfectly legitimate rhetorical device for showing emphasis. In this case the emphasis is the over-reaction, in my opinion. of the offended party. The ad hominem attacks are the ones calling JT a bad person, rather than calling his ideas and actions bad and presenting arguments as to why. If you read through his posts he never insults the people he is talking about, he says he disagrees with their actions. He also explains why.

      People absolutely have the right to disassociate from JT, however to use that as an argument is childish emotional blackmail worthy of a kid who tries to get a friend to do what she wants by saying, “I won’t be your friend anymore unless you play kickball instead of marbles.”

      Perhaps JT is wrong and shaming the questioner was the best way to approach the problem. But we’ll never know because the nuclear option (there goes that’s damn hyperbole again) was used before talking was even attempted.

    • yazikus

      But we’ll never know because the nuclear option (there goes that’s damn hyperbole again) was used before talking was even attempted.

      By ‘nuclear option’, are you referring to a five minute education session (reportedly sprinkled with swear words)? I have appreciated your openness to information on the relevant threads, but I would think that calling a passionate defense of one’s humanity an attempt to say

      “I won’t be your friend anymore unless you play kickball instead of marbles.”

      rather less than charitable.

    • Highlander

      The nuclear option is the shaming of perpetrators. It is something that should come after determining intent to do harm not as the first exchange in a war of ideas. The weapon is more effective when it is used sparingly, and allies don’t feel the need to be silent for fear of making a mistake and being subjected to a knee jerk reaction to utilize the greatest punishment rather than something more effective at persuading rather than destroying.

      The childish blackmail is coming from people like PZ Meyers and other bloggers, not the person defending her humanity. As far as I know she hasn’t used that as a persuasive device.

    • yazikus

      As far as I know, PZ Meyers has not taken a stance on this topic.

      The childish blackmail is coming from people like PZ Meyers and other bloggers, not the person defending her humanity.

      I suppose other bloggers have, but to name PZ Meyers as inciting the nuclear option is rather odd in this case. It seems to be mostly friends (or former friends) of JT who are weighing in.

    • Highlander

      I’m accusing PZ of using the “I won’t be your friend anymore” argument. Which can be seen in this post.

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/08/response-to-jen-mccreight-on-social-justice-bria-crutchfield-and-the-third-group/#comment-1011090880

      It is rephrased as “You will have to be friends with the stinky kid instead of us cool kids” but the intent is the same.

    • yazikus

      But don’t worry, you’ll make plenty of new friends. I see Justin Vacula likes you now.

      I assume this is what you are referring to. And yet, many of the ‘cool kids’ are totes okay with JT’s response to Bria. You can accuse PZ of that argument, but it has little to do with this current issue, as he hasn’t ‘posted’ anything about it. JT is resolute, his detractors are mad, commenters weigh in, and no Nuclear Option has been had.
      I don’t know Justin Vacula, but he seemed reasonable in the thread that I participated in with him.
      And lastly, a comment on a blog post is not a Post. Just FYI. It is a comment.

    • Highlander

      Ok you aren’t understanding who I feel used the nuclear option. Bria shamed the woman who asked the initial question that started this whole thing. Yes, she was angry, and with good cause. She went straight for the public shaming (or my hyperbolic nuclear option), rather than using a more measured approach which may or may not have been effective. We will never know the effectiveness of those other responses because the strongest response was used first.

      What ‘cool kids’ are you talking about? The ones I’m talking about are the ones who believe, as PZ does, that JT needs to “learn something” and until he does they will shun him like an apostate Jehovah’s Witness.

      What does the button down there say, the one I need to click to submit what I want to say to the world? Oh yes! It says “POST as Highlander.” I guess your web semantics are not universal.

    • yazikus

      Fair enough, web semantics considered. I was out of line there, I apologize. Post is indeed what it says.
      -
      Obviously communicating by comment misses much nuance, and I hope I am getting your point now. Thank you for the clarification. But as far as the whole

      What ‘cool kids’ are you talking about? The ones I’m talking about are the ones who believe, as PZ does, that JT needs to “learn something” and until he does they will shun him like an apostate Jehovah’s Witness.

      Again, I haven’t seen PZ really advocate what you are saying. Several prominent bloggers have, and their arguments are reasonable, but PZ hasn’t. So using him as the example just seems off. JT’s friends and former friends are calling him out, not PZ. Use them as examples, it would be more on point and useful.

    • Highlander

      Ah, but I didn’t have a convenient link for them. For a claim like that I felt I needed a citation. Perhaps if you knew more of the criticism of Justin Vacula you would understand why this comment by PZ really is saying for JT to change his mind or he will be forced to associate only with the worst sort of people.

    • Edward Gemmer

      It wasn’t exactly War and Peace. It was just more of the same – “once you realize I am right, you will be a better person.” Not exactly a new thought from anyone.

  • Bugmaster

    I still believe that this entire debate is unresolvable, because it all comes down to a clash of worldviews. Dan interprets public discourse in the context of a debate, whereas his detractors on the Atheism+ side see it as a war.

    In a debate, your goal is to change minds, and you do that primarily by persuading your opponents through reason. This can only be accomplished if all sides possess a certain degree of mutual respect.

    In a war, your goal is to eliminate your enemies’ ability to hurt you, and you do that primarily by destroying them. Mutual respect is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in that situation; it would only slow you down, and every second you waste is another second of suffering that the people on your side have to endure.

    Therefore, when Dan attempts to treat his opponents with any degree of respect, his detractors see that as picking the wrong side in the war (wittingly or unwittingly). That makes him an enemy at worst, and a quisling at best, and the best way to deal with both enemies and quislings is to destroy them as quickly as possible, before they can cause even more harm to the war effort.

    • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

      Sometimes shaming people for their behaviour is appropriate and A+ and SJ advocates agree with this. Debate when someone has done/said something sexist/racist/etc is legitimising them. BTW I’m absolutely not saying this is what is happening to JT, more frustrated anger than shaming. Here’s a good example of public shaming of a prominent blogger for a sexist comment ->
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/06/greg-laden-wont-have-sex-with-me/#comment-941800262

    • Bugmaster

      Debate when someone has done/said something sexist/racist/etc is legitimising them.

      Agreed. If your goal is to destroy the other side in a social justice war, then you must avoid legitimizing them at all costs, because by legitimizing them you only lend them more ammunition.

      On the other hand, if you are seeking to persuade people in a debate, then initiating a public discussion on sensitive topics is the only way you can proceed.

      Again, it all depends on your point of view.

    • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

      Ok lets be clearer, I don’t mean when someone says *one* thing, I mean when they have a history. The sort of people who cry that they are being “destroyed” by FTBs are people like Reap Paden and Justin Vacula. They have been destroyed, but far more by what they have said and done themselves than by FTB bloggers pointing it out and shaming them.

      ETA: I had a “debate” with Reap Paden and we couldn’t get past his freeze peach argument that its fine for him and friends to call women they are criticising “dumb cunts”. That is not at all misogynistic apparently. Dan had one with Vacula and it was like pulling teeth to get him to admit even the most basic point. “Debating” womens basic rights not to be demeaned is not an option, IMO.

    • Bugmaster

      I wasn’t talking about individual people, but rather about the overall tactics.

      In a social war, you want to shut your opponents up so that they can’t spread their hurtful ideas. In a debate, you want to persuade people (including opponents and those who are undecided), so that false ideas have a much lower chance to spread.

      I can’t say that “debate is better than war” or “war is better than debate”, because what you see as “better” already depends on which worldview you have adopted. However, “history” has only a minor bearing on the issues in either case.

      In a war, you want to spend more resources on shutting up people who have a history of being effective at damaging your side; but ultimately you want to shut up all of your enemies, it’s just a matter of whom you target first. In a debate, you want to spend more time on engaging with prolific opponents because their ideas are shared by many; but you ultimately want to persuade as many people as possible, so again, it’s just a matter of whom you engage with first.

    • KRS

      I can’t say that “debate is better than war” or “war is better than debate”, because what you see as “better” already depends on which worldview you have adopted.

      Actually, I don’t think this is a matter of worldviews so much as an assessment of your opponents. The pro-FTB faction in these debates believes that their opponents have previously demonstrated the kind of bad faith that makes rational debate impossible.

    • Bugmaster

      Well, yeah, there’s that, but that’s not the whole story. The pro-FTB people have repeatedly said that having any kind of a debate at all legitimizes the opposing point of view, and that’s unacceptable; and that the very concept of “civility” (which is required for debate) is basically a Trojan Horse that the privileged majority uses against the powerless minority.

      The thing is, in the war context, they are 100% correct. In that setting, being civil to your enemies is tantamount to disarmament. Who in their right mind would do that ? The enemy is never going to stop throwing insults or being generally offensive (since this is not a debate and no one can ever be persuaded), so why should you ? They already think they own you, are you going to prove them right ?

    • ObserverDC

      “Well, yeah, there’s that, but that’s not the whole story. The pro-FTB people have repeatedly said that having any kind of a debate at all legitimizes the opposing point of view”

      So we have the same debates over and over and over again to no effect? Because getting certain people to agree to the basic principle that all human beings are worthy of a basic level of rights, regardless of genetic makeup seems to be never-ending. I guess that’s great if all you care about is having an Internet Debate Team to hang out with after school, but realize that not everyone sees this as merely an intellectual exercise to navel-gaze at.

    • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

      Also “debating” a person’s humanity is unethical, much of the “debate” is sexist. I recommend reading this to understand how it is not on -
      http://www.shakesville.com/2009/08/terrible-bargain-we-have-regretfully.html

      Also how seemingly polite, respectful, debate plays into the hands of the status quo and undermines those that want to change it. They are dismissed as responding “hysterically” to the “gold standard” in the rationalist community — so called polite debate.

      ETA: Ha, just realised how appropriate this quote from the post is to the Bria situation… “Swallow shit, or ruin the entire afternoon?”

    • josh

      No one is debating anyone’s humanity. This is simply an unsupportable and irresponsible implication.

    • Bugmaster

      As I said, whether you value discourse or not depends on which worldview you subscribe to. Ultimately, I am pretty sure that picking Debate vs. War is a matter of faith, and thus neither side can be convinced one way or another.

      That said, however, this part of your reply is disingenuous:

      Because getting certain people to agree to the basic principle that all human beings are worthy of a basic level of rights, regardless of genetic makeup seems to be never-ending.

      Both sides are pretty much on board with this sentiment; for example, I believe you can find many statements to that effect in Dan’s own posts.

      On the other hand, I understand that, as a member of the War faction, you necessarily see everyone as either an ally or an enemy; and thus someone who disagrees with your tactics is, from the War-like point of view, about as bad as the inhuman monsters you must fight every day.

      As I said, ultimately it all boils down to faith, and these arguments about civility will never be resolved, unless one side manages to somehow suppress the other through brute force.

    • ObserverDC

      You have still not answered the basic question of my prior post – at what point *do* you abandon navel gazing and actually act? Because right now, I am getting the impression that the answer to that is “never.”

      And I would also be careful about your binary distinctions, which seem to reflect far more on your own view of things than mine. In most of these discussions I end up lurking because I am in the Treebeard position – I am not on anyone’s *side* as I find no one is fully on my *side*.

      Or to put it a bit more bluntly, I find your classification system to be arrant nonsense at best, and a post hoc rationalization for choosing your own side at worst. It is not deescriptive of reality and therefore pretty much useless.

    • Bugmaster

      I find your classification system to be arrant nonsense at best, and a post hoc rationalization for choosing your own side at worst.

      I don’t recall choosing a side; please refrain from doing so for me.

      It is not descriptive of reality and therefore pretty much useless.

      I definitely described reality, as I see it. If you believe that I see it incorrectly, please tell me which parts you disagree with, as there’s no way I can disprove a blanket statement like that.

      To reiterate, I believe that there are two distinct clusters of social justice warriors in the atheist community: the “Debate” cluster, and the “War” cluster.

      Adherents of the “Debate” view (such as Dan) believe that most (though not all) of their opponents are more or less decent people who are deeply misinformed. Therefore, they need to be educated through rational discourse; and therefore, the “Debate” faction prefers policies that allow rational discourse to take place (such as civility pledges).

      Adherents of the “War” view (such as PZ) believe that most (though not all) of their opponents are vile beings utterly beyound reason, decency, or redemption. Therefore, they must be silenced, in order to prevent their ideas from spreading; and therefore, the “War” function prefers policies that clamp down on any kind of discourse (such as public shaming).

      The two factions cannot be reconciled, since their goals are in direct opposition, and since they have radically different values. When a Debater makes a perfectly reasonable (from their point of view) request for order and calm, a Warrior interprets that as capitulation, navel-gazing, and a direct attack on all they dear. When a Warrior makes an effort to silence a particularly vile enemy(from their point of view), the Debater interprets that as needless belligerence and unprovoked aggression.

      Unfortunately, faction allegiance is primarily a matter of faith, and thus the inter-faction battles will not stop until and unless one faction manages to destroy the other.

    • ObserverDC

      And people who believe neither of your sides are wholly correct? Where does your model account for them? Do not deny that they exist: you are speaking to one.

      You are ignoring a tremendous amount of nuance. And you still have not answered my question. When is it time to move beyond words to action?

    • Bugmaster

      And people who believe neither of your sides are wholly correct? Where does your model account for them? Do not deny that they exist: you are speaking to one.

      Obviously you exist, but you aren’t saying anything besides, “Bugmaster, you are just wrong”. That’s an unfalsifiable statement. Can you tell me specifically which parts of what I said are wrong, and why ?

      When is it time to move beyond words to action?

      This question cannot be answered with a single all-encompassing reply, because the two factions mean very different things when they say “action”. For example, I am relatively certain that Dan views his posts on this blog as a mild form of “action”, whereas a Warrior such as, presumably, yourself, will view them as merely empty words.

      I am not claiming that you should view calls to dialogue as “action” (since you’d have to abandon your War-faith and switch to the Debate-faith in order to do that, which is unlikely to happen). Instead, all I’m saying is that you need to be a lot more precise when you use terms like “action”. Otherwise, you risk spiraling into an endless string of “did not/did too” posts, merely because both sides believe that they did employ some form of “action” — they just mean different things by that word.

      That said, I believe that both sides support certain kinds of actions, such as passing Affirmative Action laws, updating sexual harassment policies, etc. The Warriors would additionally support implementing laws and community policies — just to use one example — aimed at eliminating broad domains of public (and possibly private) speech; the Debaters may agree that these policies count as “actions”, but would believe them to be counterproductive.

      I should point out that, historically, the term “Direct Action” sometimes stood as a euphemism for domestic terrorism, but I do not believe that either side would advocate anything so drastic.

    • Bugmaster

      In a war, free speech is absolutely the last thing you want to have, because it gives your enemies the freedom to hurt you. In a debate, free speech (the concept, and not merely the law as per the Bill of Rights) is crucial, because you can’t persuade people if you aren’t allowed to speak. Again, this depends on your point of view.

      Of course, personal attacks are a big no-no in both cases (as Dan had repeatedly pointed out), though for slightly different sets of reasons.

    • B-Lar

      This is a really interesting notion, and I like your further elaborations too. Cheers for that.

    • Ronja Addams-Moring

      “Dan interprets public discourse in the context of a debate, whereas his detractors on the Atheism+ side see it as a war.”

      Interesting – I would like to learn more. Could you cite a source or briefly describe the data and methodology you used to come to this conclusion? Or is it a hypothesis looking for method(s) and data?

    • Bugmaster

      It’s just my personal opinion, not any kind of an experimental result worthy of being published in a sociology journal. That said, I formed my opinion by reading Dan’s blog, the comments on his civility-themed articles, and the anti-civility posts on FTB.

      The FTB folks consistently use warlike metaphors (“feel the wrath of the banhammer”, etc.) to describe their policies, and they consistently argue for more aggressive restrictions on speech, and for harsh penalties for anyone who says things they dislike (f.ex., see the Donglegate inicident, just to name a recent example). The stated goal of the Atheism+ movement (as per their forums) is to implement public shaming/ostracism campaigns to make racist/sexist/etc. opinions impossible to utter in polite company (or, in fact, any company). These tactics are consistent with a warlike approach.

      Dan and his supporters, on the other hand, consistently talk about convincing their opponents, and Dan’s recent series of posts focus primarily on empathizing with all the parties in a conversation. His prior posts on civility basically included a set of rules for conducting public (as well as private, I suppose) conversations in a well-organized manner. Such rules are consistent with a debate-like approach.

      If you really want, I could spend some time digging up quotes from some of my prominent actors to illustrate my point. However, I would much rather have someone else do the work. I doubt that my opinions are novel in any way, so perhaps you could point me to some literature and prior research on the topic ? I am not a sociologist, so I wouldn’t even know where to start my search; but if I’m wrong, I want to be convinced to change my opinion and eliminate my false beliefs.

  • Laurence

    I’m sorry Dan. I disagree with you on this one. With the way he has treated Chris Stedman and Vlad Chituc in the past, he is a hypocrite when it comes to this. He has treated both of them much worse than Bria treated the question-asker in this situation.

  • http://www.secularview.com/ Dirty_Nerdy

    I think the allegation is more like “JT is fine with berating and humiliating religious people who say dumb stuff (including bigoted stuff about atheists), but he seems to have a problem with a black speaker berating and humiliating an atheist who said dumb (and bigoted) stuff.” Yeah, that’s the part I have a problem with. Hell, he even wrote a post in February about the need for social punishment.

  • smhll

    Then last summer I made broad remarks against being personally abusive to anyone when I laid out my comments moderation policy and was vigorously attacked by various proponents of social justice who insisted that marginalized people need recourse to interpersonal abusiveness in order to defend themselves.

    This is such a strong over-simplification of the critical comments that you received that it verges on being unfair. (Are you addressing the totality of the negative comments, or just selecting out a few?)

    I understand that your series of comments on civility was a very large amount of work to write. It makes sense to me that at the time you were very connected to your work. I want to suggest that now that time has softened that tie, you go back and review the comments. I think they might feel different now that you are standing further back from the original work.

  • http://erinnikla.wordpress.com/ erin.nikla

    Then last summer I made broad remarks against being personally abusive to anyone when I laid out my comments moderation policy and was vigorously attacked by various proponents of social justice who insisted that marginalized people need recourse to interpersonal abusiveness in order to defend themselves.

    I respect you Dan, but I don’t respect the fact that this is the way you characterize the myriad objections to your policy and pledge.

    I disagree with you that “you’re being an asshole” necessarily constitutes interpersonal abusiveness. So when I say that I see no ethical obligation for marginalized people to refrain from saying such things in discussions (in particular, in response to what we both agree is interpersonal abusiveness), you cannot claim that I insist marginalized people need recourse to interpersonal abusiveness.

    I realize that there were people who were perhaps making this argument. But I don’t understand why they are consistently the only people among the many who disagreed with you that you acknowledge.

  • ThePrussian

    It’s a good post, and I respect your point of view. I think that a healthy social ecology needs both people like you, who do the smooth, thoughtful talking – and people like me, who are more lapel-grabbing loudmouths.

  • http://withinthismind.com/ WithinThisMind

    Dan, in this thread(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2013/05/feminism-civility-and-ron-lindsays-welcome-to-women-in-secularism/#comment-909411542) I asked you a question, which you still have not answered.

    Would you please answer it now?

    What response can we give that will qualify as both A) effective, and B) civil?

    If the response is not civil, I will be condemned as a bitch.

    If the response is not effective, the bad behavior will continue.

    Please tell me what response I am supposed to give, the magic words I
    can say that will make the abuse/ harassment/ mistreatment/ discriminating derailing actually stop?

    You’ve given call after call to ‘civility’.

    Obviously, you have a deeply profound faith in these magic words. I would just like to see some evidence that they exist.


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