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David Smalley, 2016:

​Yes, we had fights. And that’s ok. But our fights were private, and were about the issues. Not public horrific Trump-like attacks because of a simple disagreement in method or opinion.

Ron Lindsay and other HEADS, 2013:

It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. We should be cautious about using this tactic within our community because of the long-term damage it does to relationships and morale. When critiquing people within our community, everyone should remember that our goal is to persuade our allies to see our perspective and modify their opinions. Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.

David Smalley, 2016:

This era of social media is removing the humanity from our interactions, and making our “friends” seem so numerous, that we don’t value each other anymore.

Ron Lindsay and other HEADS, 2013:

Communicating primarily online can make it difficult to recognize each other’s humanity. Online we don’t have the same vocal and physical cues to tell us what another person means by his or her comments, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to develop. The instantaneous and impersonal nature of online communication also makes it much easier for these misunderstandings to escalate, or for civil arguments to turn into bitter fights. Like many online communities, our comment and forum threads all too often become places for name calling and even threats, rather than honest dialogue based on mutual respect.

David Smalley, 2016:

Why are we so quick to look for signs, to see what side of an issue a person is on so that we know whether or not to publicly disavow him or her? What happened to looking at the humans behind the comments to see what’s fueling the rage, or misinformation? […]

Let’s pick up the phone and have conversations when we disagree. If you don’t have their phone number, send them a private message asking to get on Skype to talk it out. Find where you agree first, and hash out the details. Agree to disagree, and move on.

Ron Lindsay and other HEADS, 2013:

When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it.  If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk.  So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation.  Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.

David Smalley, 2016:

Lots of my friends were idiots growing up. Hell, I was that idiot a few times.

But we stuck by each other, we worked through our issues, and we grew together.

Sometimes, years later, we’d look back at things we did and apologize for being assholes. How is that possible? Because we were still there to say I’m sorry.

But why did we stick it out? Because we were all we had. That idiot was our idiot.

And we grew out of those bad ideas together, all at different paces, with patience, love, and understanding for those who were behind in their thought process.

Ron Lindsay and other HEADS, 2013:

We should remember that we weren’t born knowing the things we know now. To get to the reasoned conclusions that we’ve reached, we learned by reading, thinking, and talking with others. When we encounter someone espousing a view we think is based on lack of knowledge or experience, we should remember that we have all held ill-informed views. We should cultivate patience and try to educate instead of condemn.

Huh, I guess the Matrix just reset.

More seriously, it’s depressing to rehash the same technophobic and overgeneralized platitudes we first heard years ago. Why should I be concerned about keeping the “big tent” together, if it’ll endlessly cycle through previous controversies without learning from them? Smalley must be quite out-of-touch with the atheist/skeptic movement, if he’s unaware of what it was arguing over just three years ago.

As a public service, here’s what he missed last time:

While the above statement has a laudable intent, I regret saying that it just didn’t seem like much of a “pledge” to me. It appeared to be more of a statement of what groups want to see generally, with a lot of suggestions for how others should now make that happen (“pick up the phone,” “listen more,” “dial down the drama,” etc). After all, it’s primarily bloggers, commenters, and social networkers — and only rarely the organizations themselves — who are driving the tone of our online culture.

What are the signatory organizations offering as their contribution — beyond the open-to-interpretation “best efforts” — to a more positive online presence for secularism? I felt the Open Letter should have been used as an opportunity for secular leadership to unambiguously commit to actions that would make them agents of concrete change in areas where they do have direct control and influence. For example, groups could develop organizational consequences for online harassers.


As a secular feminist organization committed to understanding and exposing societal constructs that contribute to the inequality of women and other oppressed groups, we have no desire to listen to, respect, or continuously debunk overtly sexist viewpoints. Just as most scientists are not interested in debating the beliefs of creationists, we are not interested in debating gender-biased, racist, homophobic, or trans*phobic beliefs. Although the document contains reasonable recommendations for increasing effective communication, some of these techniques have been used to silence women (and other oppressed groups). When people express opinions that challenge sexism ingrained in social structures and conventions they receive a significant amount of pushback and harassment. Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents.


Many of us, myself included, share the experience of complaints and requests that weren’t effective when made in private. We also have experience that our complaints and requests made in public are more effective. Unless women can be persuaded that handling things privately can and will have the same efficacy, that’s a genie that won’t be going back into its bottle.

All in all, the internet has been a great thing for women in the secular movement. It has been very good to us.

That’s why we’re being harassed.


Often we know perfectly well that “an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad” because it was done in writing, in a public place, and you have read the writing.

So that’s the first thing. It’s not alway gossip; often it’s in writing.

Second thing – if it is in writing, why should we “pick up the phone”? Not to mention the fact that we don’t all know each other personally. If we see a banker or a CEO “doing something that you think is wrong or bad” we don’t “pick up the phone”; we blog or tweet or set up a petition.


But what if the campaign changed? What if the RDF decided that we were maybe being a little too aggressive (they aren’t, don’t worry) and suggested an alternative strategy: keep quiet, call up your local priest, and have a private heart-to-heart with him. Tell him first that you’re thinking of coming out about your disbelief with friends and family; give him a chance to address your concerns. Let him keep his privileged authority in matters spiritual.

Not so impressive anymore, is it? In fact, the deference to the very people we oppose sounds downright pathetic and wimpy.

So you can imagine my response to the open letter to the secular community  deploring the aggressive rhetoric on blogs, and basically minimizing the hatred radiating from the anti-feminists to equate it with calling said anti-feminists mean names.


No mention, of course, of the fact that even those who do dispassionately describe the abuse are subject to the exact same level of vitriol – suggesting, perhaps, that there is no method of criticizing the majority that they will find acceptable. No mention, of course, of the fact that while “both sides” claim to be the target of slurs, the slurs that one side complains about are not slurs. No mention, of course, that only one “side” is having their credibility and worth as human being questioned. No mention, of course, that some anger is legitimate, and that some issues need to be evaluated on their merits rather than assuming that the “real” problem is bad behaviour.


The problem is not just the Internet. I’m not the only one who feels this way. If we don’t take the initiative to solve our “real world” problems, those problems will continue to leak over into the Internet, and vice versa.

That takes care of that. Now on to the bigger issue: should I tell him about Richard Dawkins and Twitter, or can you handle that one?

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