July 28, 2014

Joint Statement from Benson and Dawkins

© Copyright Dave Spicer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
A few days ago, Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins released a joint statement suggesting that while disagreement is inevitable in the atheist/humanist/skeptic/secular communities, we need to be able to disagree without being horrible to one another in the process.
Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.
Yes, and it isn't only about wanting atheism and secularism to gain respect; it is also about how we can be more effective secular activists. We will not always agree, but we are going to be far better able to accomplish the few goals most of us share when we can overcome our differences and work together. This is what a great many of us have been advocating for some time, and I sincerely hope that it sticks this time.
It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.
I agree. We'd be better off without anything on this list. We don't need any of it. And while I think this list is a good start, it strikes me as incomplete. I'd add doxing, intentionally quoting people inaccurately or out of context to misrepresent their views, mocking others when one would characterize this as "harassment" if one was on the receiving end of it, the use of gendered slurs to silence women who express disagreement with one's views, and trying to get someone fired because they express disagreement.

I realize there is a great deal of skepticism out there about the joint statement and whether one of the authors in particular is willing to make some significant behavioral changes. I really hope it reflects a commitment to change. I also appreciated Prof. Dawkins' clarification that he does not support this sort of behavior. I think we already knew that, but at least it is now on record just in case some remain confused about it.

We have seen many previous calls for cease fires, civility, and the like. I think it is probably fair to say that some have changed some minds but none have completely resolved the problem. I don't expect this joint statement will resolve it either. And yet, if both authors demonstrate that they were serious about it, that would certainly be an important step in the right direction.

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