Internet Etiquette

On “Not Harassment Per Se”

Posted on April 29, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Social Justice |

EDIT:  If you are here to talk specifically about Justin Vacula and WiS2, I have created a follow up post that addresses many of the issues hashed out between myself, John C. Welch, Pitchguest, and others.  See my new post “On ‘Not Harassment Per Se’ Part 2” to join the discussion there.

This is going to be one of those harder posts for me to write.  I’m going to be talking about things I’m not that proud of; I’m going to be recounting a time when I wasn’t at my best.

I had a pretty steady girlfriend in High School.  We started dating when I was in Grade 11 and she was in Grade 9.  We were together for 5 1/2 years over the span of about eight years.  We had, as you can imagine, many of the same friends- being together as long as we were means nurturing many common friendships.  As with most relationships, there are several sub-groupings of our common friends- there are those much closer to her, those much closer to me, and a large swath in the middle that hold no immediate allegiance to one of us more than the other.

My girlfriend and I once broke up around the end of May in my Grade 13 year.  The whole thing was rather anti-climactic as far as break-ups between us usually went; there was no yelling or fighting or schisms within our group of friends.  It was really just her telling me that things were done, and me not really liking it but trying my best to be mature about the whole thing.

There was an end of school party planned by several of our friends- we were all going to camp out in tents and toast the end of another school year.  My ex didn’t want me to go to the party.  She made that pretty clear to must of our common friends, perhaps hoping that I would get the hint.  At the time I thought it was pretty childish of her to try and prevent me from going to this party, after all these were our mutual friends and I knew and had good relationships with many of them.  Why should I have to stay home while she has a good time?   In her defence, this party was going to be overwhelmingly occupied by people who were closer to her than to me- and I knew this.  In my mind though, these were my friends too, and I was not about to sacrifice my social life for the increased comfort of my ex girlfriend.

Just to make sure my bases were covered, I took special care to let as many people as possible know that I was going to be coming to the party.  Most were very supportive of my coming, though some indicated some trepidation at the prospect of having to be put in the middle of things.  Those who were closest to me were of course excited that I would be coming and considered my ex’s protestations to be petty and unfair.  The friends who were closer to her tended to suggest that maybe my going was not necessarily wrong per se, but that it might significantly impact the enjoyment of everyone there and that I might want to avoid her as much as possible if I did decide to go.

Once it became apparent that I was most definitely going and that I wasn’t about to change my mind on this- my ex made a very public decree that if I were to show up that I was not to speak to her at all.  She told everyone that if I was in the same circle of conversation- that she would leave, if I attempted to speak to her- she would not respond, and that several people she knew who were very close to her would be avoiding me as well.  Lines were drawn- and the ball was in my court.

So the day of the party I did what any reasonable person would do….  I showed up and made it my mission to make her look bad. 

I didn’t go up to her and speak to her directly because I knew that she explicitly had said that would be wrong.  No, instead I told everyone that I thought it was just so childish that the two of us couldn’t exchange cold pleasantries- that I understood how hurt she was, I understood her decision, but that perhaps- just maybe- it was a little immature and petty and cheap.  I took special care to join into conversations in which she was one of many participants- surely she could not tell me when and with whom I could have conversations, right?  I made a concerted effort to involve myself as much as possible with her close friends, thus forcing them to choose between being being dicks to me or anger her.  If she was in a certain area- I was happily found within earshot, but never speaking to her or hanging out with her specifically.  I made a conspicuous show of just how much fun I was having with everyone, laughing a little louder and drinking a little more and hamming it up in general.

What I never did was talk to her.  What I never did was break the rules that she had set for that party.  I never tried to turn people against her, or take friends away from her or confront her in any way.  Not at all.

What I did instead was just have a good time with my friends.  Sure, maybe I really needed to speak with that person who she was presently engaged with.  Maybe I spent an inordinate amount of time within 10 yards of her present location.  Maybe I was having an absolutely wonderful conversation with her two best friends that night.  Perhaps I was really genuinely enjoying a wonderful party.

So how do you think she reacted?

She got mad. 

She cried. 

She had to be consoled by several other guests, she made a scene, and then she left.

“It’s not my fault” I said, “I never spoke to her or confronted her at all!”

Some of the people on Team George said it too….

She was being unreasonable.  She couldn’t expect me to not go to the party- even if most of the people there were more closely aligned with her.  We were still all friends, right?  George didn’t confront her.  He didn’t speak to her against her wishes.  He didn’t do anything that was harassing her in any real way.  She was the one with the problem.

See?  I was not harassing her.

Well, not per se.

Did I purposely do things in an attempt to force her hand?  Yes.  Did I do things with the intention of making her look silly?  Yep.  Was I enacting a calculated and methodical plan to ruin her experience and try to get her to do something irrational and blameworthy?  You bet I was.  Not just that, but I was manipulating friendships and social conventions to make other people complicit in my passive-aggressive vendetta.

Yet I really didn’t do anything that I couldn’t explain away as normal party behaviour.  I was just having fun at a party, right?  I knew those people I engaged with when she was talking to them.  I wasn’t ever in her personal space.  I was never threatening.  I was just conspicuously there.

Could a case be made that my ex was being unreasonable and petty by asking me to be uninvited?  Certainly.  Someone could make the case that people need to be aware that when you have a relationship long enough you are going to have many of the same friends and likely find yourself at many of the same gatherings.  Perhaps it is immature to ask someone to not speak to you at all at a group function or to foster the kind of tribal loyalties that are a reality in and group of feuding people.  Some people might see what I did as a reasonable punishment for being unreasonable.

I just look back and feel like an ass.

What I accomplished felt very satisfying at the time.  I was cheered on by a bunch of my friends who felt she deserved to be shown as a fool.  My ex was hurt by the whole thing- as were some of her closer friends who had to deal with the fallout.  In the meantime- though they wouldn’t necessarily say it- I managed to alienate several of the “fence-sitters”, those friends who really didn’t want to take sides.  Most of them were smart enough to see through the “just a guy having fun at a party” act.  They knew I was punishing her- and whether they called it harassment or not- they knew that it was genuinely wrong and just as petty as anything she had done to that moment.

I’m not proud of any of this.  I just read something today that reminded me of what a complete jerk I was and the sharp pangs of guilt and remorse came bubbling up to the surface.  What felt like requital now feels like hollow contempt. Some people might not call that harassment.

I guess it isn’t harassment per se, but I don’t particularly want my actions to be thought of as “not harassment per se“.

This is one of those moments that I wish I could have back.  What if I had have passed on a party that I was destined to sour?  What if I had have gone and just made an effort to live and let live- to consciously avoid putting either of us in an unnecessarily compromising position?  What if I had have been the bigger person and tried to build solid bridges and fences instead of charging around with a battering ram?

What I’m saying is that victory never tasted so sour or left me so wanting.

With all that said enjoy Women In Secularism 2.  I’m sure nobody is planning to follow around certain speakers in a totally non threatening manner.  I’m sure no one is planning to ask questions of speakers who have asked that person not to speak to them, or conspicuously “just need” to speak to that person who is currently engaged with certain speakers, or find themselves always in the next conversation over in the room, or otherwise try to “do absolutely nothing wrong” in an effort to make others misbehave.  I’m sure it will be an absolute blast…..

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Taking the Camels With Hammers Civility Pledge

Posted on February 13, 2013. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Politics, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Religion, Social Justice |

I would like it if all of my readers read this pledge- and if those that were in agreement that civility is the key to productive discourse would sign it.  I worked with Dan Finke and several other bloggers to help craft this pledge (though admittedly I didn’t contribute a fraction of the time or energy that Dan and others did).   I think that the rules laid out here are important; I believe that if we wish to have constructive dialogue that focuses on ideas and doesn’t devolve into nasty epithets and hard feelings- then we ought to all support this effort. 

I normally would link to the original post and let my readers read the full text there, but since I was

Artwork by Steve Greenberg- Click for link

Artwork by Steve Greenberg- Click for link

part of the group that worked on the pledge and Dan has generously offered to allow it reprinted verbatim- I have decided to print it in its entirety here (including all links that reference Dan’s fantastic posts on these subjects at CWH).  I would like to have it handy so that I can link to it when people commenting here step out of line and also so that I have a standard to be personally accountable to.  

I hope you read the pledge, sign it here or at CWH, and share it if you agree.

-George-

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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.

found at demotivationalposters.net

found at demotivationalposters.net

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

George Waye

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I am a Misogynist. (or, The Lengths I Will Go To In Order To Protect You From My Bad Behavior)

Posted on June 27, 2012. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Politics, Social Justice, Trolls |

I have a confession to make.  I am the reason we need to keep harping on about gendered insults.  I am the reason we need to keep reminding people not to use words like “Honey,” or “Dearie” (unless, of course, someone posts under the pseudonym Honey or Dearie- which would be awkward).  I’m the reason we need to keep reminding people that women are more than just a pretty face- that we should be attentive to measurements of them that can’t be expressed in either Metric or Imperial quantities.

I am a misogynist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be quoted on Man boobz any time soon.  I’m not going to start droning on about how feminists have fucked up our entire society, or how all women are soiled by an overblown sense of entitlement, or why they can’t just shut up and make a damn sandwich for me.  Those are things we traditionally think of as being misogyny.  We all agree (well…fine, most of us agree) that these attitudes are not welcome in our society at large.

So why do I think I’m a misogynist?

I am generally ignorant of what it feels like to be a woman in my society.  I sometimes blind to the ways I treat women different from men.  Sometimes there are things that make the women in my life angry or uncomfortable that I just cannot relate to.  I’ve called a woman a “bitch”, or used “bitchy” as a way to describe behavior that I would not necessarily have felt was “bitchy” of a guy.   I can be less hard on a woman and her ideas than I would if they came from a man.  I could go on confessing for hours, but I think you see the pattern.

I’m just not that good at consistently treating women with the respect that they deserve- the respect that I sometimes give all to easily to people who are men.

The fact that I notice these things gives me the tools to change my attitudes.  Yet they are attitudes that are engrained in our language and culture- attitudes that inform our socialization.  These attitudes take time and effort to overcome.  They are part of my psyche, and minds are slow to discard even the most worthless of heuristics.  I need to be reminded when preconceptions betray me.

I am a reluctant misogynist, and I’m trying to be a better man.

I am a homophobe.

I pass unfair judgements based on something as simple as who someone loves.  I make jokes that perpetuate ridiculous stereotypes.  I overcompensate at times.

I am transphobic. 

Hell, I don’t even really know anyone who isn’t cisgendered.  Virtually everything I know about what it means to be transgendered comes from a single blogger (H/T Natalie).  I’m unbelievably ignorant.

I’m a racist.

I cannot really share the experiences of what it is like to be Black, Asian, Hispanic, East Indian, etc.  I live in a town where I turn my head when I see a visible minority, because they are so obviously from “away”.  I say certain things, at times, that cannot help but “other” my fellow man.

So what?

So when I hear people throw around these words at people like me, and my compatriots get entirely bent out of shape about how unfair it is to point out the ways they could improve- I get concerned that we aren’t really being internally skeptical.  A misogynist is not just some guy harping on about Feminazis- he’s also the guy who thinks that harassment policies are a priori designed to prevent them from expressing sexuality in healthy and constructive ways.  A homophobe is not just some guy who thinks that gays are morally depraved, he’s also the guy that tells us that he knows how they feel because he was bullied in school.  A transphobic person isn’t just the person who assumes that they are all depraved, confused perverts- but also the person who refuses to acknowledge their preference in pronouns.

Fighting these attitudes means accepting responsibility for the ways we perpetuate bad behaviors.  Racist jokes perpetuate attitudes that allow for systematic and overt racism- even when we think we are just being “funny”.  The intent to harm or marginalize may not be there- but the repetition and perpetuation of lazy heuristics does the dirty work.  We need to be conscious of those times when we let shorthand give an unintended narrative.  One turn of phrase might take us 1000 words to set right.

I like being called a racist (well, not really- or at all, honestly. I appreciate the opportunity for self-correction).  I like knowing that others are looking out for those times when I’m being lazy.  I value being reproved when I’m approaching things from the wrong vantage point.  Don’t get me wrong, I can be defensive.  I can be skeptical of the degree to which I’m culpable.   Those are human reactions.

We can’t stop calling out misogyny just because it is sub-contextual or unintended.  We can’t stop calling out homophobia, transphobia and racism because it is  harmless ignorant privilege and not crafted hateful attacks.  We need to consciously decide to point out not just Man boobz level misogyny, but those innocent-enough moments when we parrot the ideas that are the mortar of institutionalized mistreatment of our fellow human beings.

If you won’t call me a misogynist- a racist, homophobe, transphobe- whatever, then we have a problem.  We have a problem because you evidently don’t understand what those concepts mean.  They mean that I am someone who needs to pay attention- I need to check my privilege.  They are descriptive words for people who are not just blinded- but also shortsighted- by regressive patterns of thought.

So now that I’ve come clean about my faults, here is what I intend to do about it: I’m going to listen when you tell me I’m being insensitive.  I’m going to gladly support you when you try to make common sense codes of conduct institutional- so that I’m reminded of what ought to be self evident.  I’m going to use my skepticism as a tool of understanding as opposed to one for dismissing.

I’m going to go to great lengths to protect you from my bad ideas- and I hope you’ll do the same.

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An Open Letter to The Tone Troll

Posted on June 22, 2012. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Religion, Social Justice, Trolls, You're Not Helping |

Hi there!

     I bet you’re wondering why I’m writing you this letter.  You might even be wondering why people are all so mad at you right now- and why they are calling you mean names.  I know, I know- you were only trying to help, right?  You just wanted to see a little decorum, a little civility- and everyone is just amplifying the very thing you are trying to help them discard.  It must be frustrating.  It must feel as though you are experiencing the cruel effects of tribalism- a sort of “internet xenophobia”, if you will.  You are a mere missionary preaching the gospel of civil discourse and the lynch mob stands with torches and pitchforks waiting for you at the county line.

Amirite?

Here is the thing.  Those people you were trying to help?  They are having a conversation.  That conversation has a topic.  That topic is important to them.  It is important enough that they are wearing their gut reactions on their sleeves.  So when you come waltzing in, and you say “Guys- hey, guys- Y U mad, bro?” they are more than likely going to turn on you.

Why, you ask?  You’re only trying to let cooler heads prevail, right? I totally get what you’re feeling right now.  I understand.

What you need to understand is that the reason they are mad is right in front of you.  It’s right there- in the post you are reading.  Heck, it may even be summed up pretty succinctly in the title of the post.  Yet here you are, telling these people that you don’t understand what could possibly have them up in arms.  This, to them, is the problem.

Imagine you find yourself in a hotel burning to the ground.  You see a number of people frantically yelling to wake the guests up- pounding on doors and shouting.  You have that mental image yet? Don’t worry, I’ll wait….. (more…)

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Fahgettaboudit: What Happens When Right People Say The Wrong Things

Posted on June 9, 2012. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Trolls, You're Not Helping |

There is a pattern emerging in the comment section of posts about “good people behaving badly”.  It seems that some people seem obsessed with the idea that people we share some common goals with are beyond reproach. 

Richard Dawkins writes off sexual harassment as a worthless First World Problem- people insist that he get a pass. Commenters all over the internet tell us that we can disagree, but politely- and we must- MUST- afford his comments the most charitable possible interpretation.  I agree with Dawkins on most subjects- but I find his line of reasoning dismissive and dangerous on this issue.  So why am I supposed to give that idea less measured criticism than I give to any other? 

We come to respect people because they are uncannily right- so when they get something wrong- do they not equally earn criticism as they have earned esteem?

The faux-pas du jour is now DJ Grothe’s.  The President of the James Randi Educational Foundation has handled the issue of harassment at TAM with all the tact of a bull moose courting a chihuahua. 

DJ decided to do some classic victim blaming.  He suggests that harassment victims “regret” past “sexual exploits”.  In other words, he suggested that harassment is not that big of an issue because the people claiming to have experienced it are just feeling guilty for letting their hair down.  Some of the bloggers out there have suggested (in no uncertain terms) that DJ is forwarding an offensive and unwelcoming opinion of people who are trying to share their experiences in an effort to make conferences safer and more enjoyable. 

Once again, the chorus of those who think that certain people deserve a pass chimes in.  Why should victim blaming be considered reasonable by virtue of the person who initiates it?  Why should I or anybody else give Grothe’s comments the most charitable interpretation when such an interpretation doesn’t even exist?  He doesn’t get a pass.  He doesn’t get to act like he never said those things.  People have a duty to call him to account until he acknowledges his mistake. 

Did people call DJ some bad names? Sure.  Has he earned most of them? Yep. 

Ideas that don’t respect facts don’t deserve respect.  Period. 

They deserve to be mocked.  They deserve to be attacked.  They deserve disdain.  Measured comments deserve measured responses. Poisonous comments deserve poisonous responses.

So why am I writing a post about this?  Because a friend of mine is dealing with a troll over at his blog who is arguing that DJ deserves to be treated with more respect than his actions deserve.  Not only that, said troll is arguing that he himself doesn’t deserve to be called a troll- and doesn’t deserve to be banned- because he is Kind of A Big Deal™. 

The only way that sentiment could be any more annoying is if it was written in Comic Sans.

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Random Religious Texting: The Great Commission Goes Wireless!

Posted on April 25, 2012. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Internet Etiquette, Original Sin, Personal, Religion |

So I’m sitting at my desk at work the other day just wrapping up with a customer, and my cell phone beeps with an incoming text message.  (I like my phone to make an old-school “beeper” sound when I get text messages, because I’m an ironic hipster.  Hey!  Remember beepers?) 

Anyway, I assume it is my wife, since she texts me about 247 times daily- and since it’s nearing the end of my shift I assume she wants a bottle of wine to have with dinner or that we are out of sour cream to have with the Greek Potatoes.  I check my phone as soon as the customer leaves, and there is a message from a number I don’t recognize.  It’s from a different area code- 519 (Western Ontario, about 5 hours away)- I don’t know anybody who lives there.  The gentleman sending me the message is Philip W. (I assume, since he signed the text “Philip W.”) and he’s either mistyping phone numbers into his phone or randomly texting people  about their “walk with God”.  I’m not sure.

Here is what he wrote- and how I responded:

 

 

I was really hoping he would have texted me back.  That’s the “great” thing about the Great Commission though, you only need to speak the Word- if people don’t want to listen that’s their problem….. even if it is cryptic and insincere.

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Getting Our Priorities In Order & Coming Out On Facebook

Posted on March 28, 2012. Filed under: Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Politics, Social Justice |

I love this conversation.

Here is a guy who comes out of the closet on Facebook and gets the best ever reaction.  His friends are rightly indignant and critical of his choice. 

 

Thanks to HSSE on Facebook for the link!

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Getting Skeptical About Woo Juice Part 1:For The Credulous Asshole Troll- Neil C. Reinhardt

Posted on September 2, 2011. Filed under: Astrology and Related Bunk, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Humour, Internet Etiquette, Personal, Science, Trolls |

Last week I wrote a eulogy to one of my personal heroes who died of cancer.  Regardless of the political views of my readers and Canadians in general, most people are happy to agree that Jack Layton was a very special human being- someone worthy of a fond farewell.

I would like to point out that I have more than a few readers who hold political views in diametric opposition to Jack’s vision- and each and every one of those people had the courtesy to let my post stand as a testament to someone they knew I respected deeply.  I might have even tolerated a right wing diatribe about how my “pinko socialist” hero was plotting to ruin Modern Western Civilization.  Jack would have liked that.  Being accused of being “unrealistic”, “utopian”, and “socialist” would have made him proud.

Meet The Troll

Enter Neil C. Reinhardt- a professional atheist troll who spouts pathetic and misguided conspiracy theories because people don’t believe that he has stumbled across a MLM (Multi Level Marketing- aka Pyramid scheme) product that cures every single ailment known to man.  He rails against “skeptics” for not making the effort to credulously accept that his “miracle tropical beverage”  can cure any and every known disease and symptom.  Skepticism is to be lauded until it bumps heads with his faith in fruit juice. Fruit juice that apparently tastes like licking testicle sweat off of a turd. (That is how you know it works- why else would people ingest such foul tasting swill?)

Neil apparently thinks that a very personal post about a very personal subject is the perfect place to insert his delusional ramblings about how the medical establishment are covering up the cure-all effects of ingesting and topically applying the fruit juice equivalent of equine effluent.  Apparently I’m to assume that his 15 year foray into faith-healing is supposed to make me run out and buy his snake oil.  Here is the blathering, disjointed ramblings deposited in the comment section of my post: (more…)

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The Problem With The Abortion Debate

Posted on July 28, 2011. Filed under: Abortion, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Canadian Politics, Internet Etiquette, Politics, Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, Religion, Social Justice |

Ed.-Read Pt.2 of The Problem With The Abortion Debate here.

Perhaps it is that me and my beautiful wife are going to be welcoming another member to our already large family this December (#5- if you’re counting)-lately I have been really getting annoyed with the tone of the debate over abortion.  There are the “pro-life” people- forever calling people who disagree “anti-life”, “pro-abortion”, “abortion advocates”, and the like.  There are those on the “pro-choice” side forever bringing up abortion clinic bombings as though every “pro-lifer” is a domestic terrorist- or the constant and droning use of the term misogynist at the drop of a hat.

There are words flying across both sides of the fence that make any reasonable treatment of the topic impossible.  It boils down to two very important and very reasonable positions.  On the one hand, we have the pro-choice camp who believe women need to have ultimate control over their bodies and be given the same opportunities as men.  This seems quite reasonable.  On the other side of the fence lies a group of people who believe in the primacy of existence- that once you create life there is no return policy.  Quite reasonable as well.  Both miss the point when boiled down to this kind of generalization.  Both miss the point when staring down the opposing position.

As  a Pro-Choice advocate, I am most familiar with what frustrates me when trying to explain my

This Graphic: Kind of True....Not Very Helpful.

position to people who have a laundry list of preconceptions, misleading talking points and bad logic regarding what it means to be an “abortion advocate”.  I know some Pro-Life people, and I can sympathize with their feeling that they are generalized and marginalized as well.  This post is meant as a treatment of what frustrates me most when discussing abortion- how I feel that my position is mistreated and misunderstood by the Pro-Life camp.  They surely feel the same, and I’m happy to make room for that conversation as well.

Conversation stopper #1:”You are anti-life”

(more…)

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Meet My New Guest Poster!

Posted on May 11, 2011. Filed under: Internet Etiquette, Personal |

When I started this blog, I posted about once every two days.   Lately, that has reduced to once a week or less.  I could get off my lazy ass and write more posts.  Really I could.

In keeping with my creative procrastination though, I have decided to allow friend-of-the-blog-who-doesn’t-have-his-own-blog, zqtx, the opportunity to be a semi-regular guest poster around here.

His style is more in-your-face than mine, more emotionally driven, and less deliberate.  I’m looking forward to having a bit of that attitude around here.

Zqtx will publish his first post today.  I hope everyone takes a moment to welcome him on board, engage his ideas, and keep the conversation going.

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