We all do eventually.
When I was in Ireland, I shared a stage with Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins. Later that evening, Watson stepped into what may now be the most famous of all elevators. We all know that after that Watson said something that was blown way out of proportion. This was largely because Dawkins said something that, well, wasn’t his most brilliant commentary. This lead to a whole bunch of other people saying a lot of shit I wish they hadn’t said, escalating a series of wholly unnecessary flame wars.
The videos of mine, Rebecca’s, and Dawkins’ participation on that panel are available on my channel. But there was a fourth person on that stage with us, Tom Melchiorre, then editor of Secular World magazine. His part of that speech is not available, because he said things there that were shown to be factually inaccurate. So he asked me to take his portion down. OK. I understand and respect his decision, because he doesn’t have control over my video, and what he said there might mislead someone else. We don’t want that.
If it were me who said something embarrassingly wrong, and I have control over the video, I would probably have left the up at least for posterity. I would have posted annotations of course, admitting my error, but I don’t think I would take it down. Personally I would rather own the mistake publicly. In fact, I’ve already done that at least once already.
Eventually though I’m gonna say something that’s gonna piss off a buncha people. Eventually we all have that moment where we say, “Dear Muslima, it’s more of a guy thing” or we express an unpopular opinion that results in a “clearing out of the friend cabinet”. At every conference I’ve been to, someone said something that a lot of the audience objected to. Myself I probably don’t agree with anyone 100% to begin with, but I think how we recover from such incidents is important. Can we or should we defend a comment or controversial stance to the point that it divides or excludes our own resources?
In recent controversies, I have seen a couple people whom I respect admit that their first reaction was inappropriate. Dillahunty is one such example. He quickly corrected his behavior -on his own cognizance- and apologized accordingly. This is why I like him so much. However a few others haven’t been quite so self-reflective.
For example, Michael Shermer used to be a climate change denialist where he is not anymore. Before that, he was religious. So I know he can concede major positions, or even his whole life’s perspective when he should, but he doesn’t do that every time he should. So he said something dumb. The moment I read it, I realized it, and I winced. He should have realized it the moment he said it. Once it was pointed out, (I think) he should have said, “Yeah that was dumb; let me retract or rephrase that”. Instead what he did was to double-down his defense of an indefensible comment and start crying persecution to the point that he even evoked Nazis. (sigh) That was not the way to respond to what should have been a trivial human gaff, a momentary lack of eloquence. Now he reportedly thinks he’s being ‘purged’ from the community. If so, he’s doing that to himself, and he has the choice to stop doing that at any time.
I wish he wouldn’t turn this into Libertarians versus Liberals, an argument he’s welcome to lose at another time. I’m sick of the controversy over feminism, and all the other petty flame-wars too. What Shermer -and the rest of us- should be conscious of is that -as atheism grows as a movement- we’re only going to become more diverse. That means much more conflicted opinions on a wider range of subjects. But different sub-groups does not mean different groups. We still have the same common enemy and same ultimate goal with regard to religion’s influence over science, education, politics, human rights, and so on. That’s why there is a movement to begin with. We’re outnumbered, out-funded, and out-gunned by a well-established and under-handed opposition. At the risk of sounding like a hippie (which I am not), we’re not gonna make any progress with all this in-fighting and simulated persecution. We shouldn’t be banning, blocking, trolling, or blacklisting each other either. It would be best to talk directly to our detracting allies instead of talking about them in public posts…. like this one. Shit, now I’m doing it too.