I decided a week ago to take time out from the recent discussions about the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities, in order to get some perspective on what I had learned from the discussions up to then. I would also like to thank the people who have contacted me privately to make helpful suggestions.
Many of these issues have been most visible in disagreements between members of some specific websites and forums. However, the way that the issues have been addressed has had a knock-on effect on the wider atheist and skeptic communities in real life.
Many people have been unfairly misrepresented and hurt, and many have been alienated in recent years from what was evolving into a stronger international support group and advocacy voice than we have today.
Here are eight choices that I think it would be useful for each of us to voluntarily adopt, not because we are obliged to do so, but because we believe it would be useful to do so, all things considered, as a starting point for productive dialogue.
The first five choices are general
1. We can choose to robustly debate our disagreements about ideas, while not personally insulting or mocking people who disagree with us.
2. We can choose to want to de-escalate, rather than escalate, the hostility and hurt that has been one outcome of how we have addressed some disagreements.
3. We can choose to accept that, just as we know that others are mistaken about our motivations, we may also be mistaken about their motivations.
4. We can choose to charitably interpret ambiguous statements, or ask the person to clarify them, rather than unilaterally attacking the worst interpretation.
5. We can choose to give people the space to reconsider previously stated beliefs, and to either clarify or easily disown off-the-cuff statements.
The next three choices relate to specific issues
6. We can choose to actively tackle the problems of sexism and harassment in our communities, regardless of the scale of those problems.
7. We can choose to robustly debate disagreements about aspects of feminism, without labeling people based on our interpretation of their motivation.
8. We can choose to unilaterally retract any statements that we personally have made that, in retrospect, we now believe were wrong or unhelpful.
These suggested choices are intended for people of good will who want to discuss these issues reasonably, and who also want to make it easy for people of good will who disagree with them to discuss their disagreements reasonably.
I would welcome any feedback.