Thank you to everyone who has, either publicly or privately, welcomed the dialogue taking place here and elsewhere on how to move beyond the rifts in the atheist and skeptic communities.
Dialogue is an important part of improving any situation where people disagree, particularly when dealing with groups composed of individuals with different motivations, and it becomes even more important the more intense the disagreements are. Without reasonable dialogue, these issues will continue to escalate.
These issues go beyond disagreements between individual people, and they go beyond the personal priorities of any one of us. There is now a complex interacting set of issues that continue to effect the wider atheist and skeptic communities in real life, including the day-to-day work of advocacy groups.
These overall issues include sexism and harassment, ideological disagreements about issues including feminism and free speech, personal abuse and bullying, and a tendency to hype up disagreements and attribute motivations and escalate hostility on these and other issues within the atheist and skeptic communities.
If we want to have a strong international support network and advocacy voice for atheists and skeptics, we have to address all of these issues reasonably. We have to move beyond repeatedly reminding people of what they said in the past during these disagreements, and start trying to lead by example by each changing our own behavior.
Some thoughts on the dialogue so far
In my opinion, there have been broadly four kinds of interaction to date. It is important to not lump people together as representing any one approach, simply on the basis that other people who you see as being on their ‘side’ are behaving in a particular way.
Some people have posted comments that seem designed to escalate hostilities. These have included a person bringing an unrelated personal grudge into the discussion, repeated links to pornographic photoshopped images of identifiable people, and a link to some disturbing violent fiction about a named person. I have removed all of these comments.
Some people have defended their positions against unfair attacks by others. That needs to happen. Many of us have been unfairly misrepresented and hurt, and we need to defend ourselves against that. However, as a corollary, many of us have also unfairly misrepresented and hurt other people. And, as each of us knows that we personally didn’t intend to misrepresent or hurt the people that we have hurt, we should not automatically attribute malign motivations to all of those who are misrepresenting and hurting us.
In particular, we shouldn’t accuse each other of lying. From now on, any comments that include the words lie, lying or liar will go into moderation rather than being automatically published. If you believe that somebody has said something that is inaccurate, please make that point and substantiate it, without attributing malign motivations to them. If you believe that any comments published on this website are defamatory about you, please contact me via the contact page and I will deal with it.
Some people have engaged in constructive dialogue, although it can be strained as people naturally mistrust each other. This type of dialogue has included the positive sign of two people apologizing to each other for allegations made. There are some good people, on various ‘sides’ of all of these disagreements, who are trying to engage in a constructive way, and that is the type of behavior that will gradually improve the situation.
Finally, some people have welcomed the fact that the dialogue is taking place and expressed hope that we can move beyond the rifts, and some people have expressed a desire for the dialogue to end and for the rifts to continue. Well, some rifts will certainly continue, because we will never reach a stage of everybody agreeing on everything. But we can make as much progress as we can using reasonable dialogue, and maintain a platform for whoever is committed to such dialogue to engage in it.
As usual, feedback welcome.