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First, I’d like to present you with a link, here


to the set of remarks that occasioned all the fuss.

What you are looking at is the opening statement given by Ron Lindsay, CEO of the Centers for Inquiry, at the recently concluded Women in Secularism 2 conference.

The conference was held to address what many people feel to be a significant underrepresentation of women in secular organizations.  The Centers for Inquiry are the current incarnation of Paul Kurtz’s Council for Secular Humanism.

It’s not the largest humanist organization in the country–that would be the American Humanist Association–but it is the most prestigious, and the one that manages most consistantly to pull in the big names both at conferences and in print publications.  It’s the organization that publishes Free Inquiry.  Its sister organization publishes Skeptical Inquirer.

Now, I  have nothing against the Centers for Inquiry.  Free Inquiry actually  has a columnist (Tibor Machan) that’s a sort of quasi-libertarian.  It’s just the one, and he’s almost certainly there to get the CFI out from under complaints that they’re ideologically onesided.

But, you know.  Hey.  It’s one.  One is better than zero, and every once in a while this one does something that’s very entertaining.  A while back, Machan wrote and Free Inquiry published a column saying that it’s not important (or even possible) that things should be “fair,” and that kicked up enough dust and indignation that last a couple of issues.

From what I can tell, there was not a lot of ideological diversity on offer at the Women in Secularism 2 conference, which I suppose was to be expected.

Even those of us who are in favor of all sorts of feministy-sounding stuff–the full moral, legal, philosophical and social equality of women, say–don’t call ourselves feminists any more.  Whether we like it or not, the term has come to mean a specific set of ideologies on the left. 

Any libertarian who calls herself a feminist will find herself in a firestorm of denunciations about  how she can’t really be a feminist because she doesn’t want to bring down the patriarchy or doesn’t agree with things like comparable worth.

Take it from me.  I went from being told I had a mind like a man to being told I was a “male-identified woman” in no time flat. 

My vision of a feminist utopia is a place where I get to think the way I think without being told there’s something wrong with me for thinking like that.

That said, I went hunting around for Lindsay’s statement after links to strenuous objections to it on the statuses of a number of women I have good reason to think deserve my respect.

I do not generally see these women indulging in knee-jerk politically correct silliness. 

Because of that, what I expected to find when I got to Lindsay’s statement was something along the lines of another kind of knee-jerk response, lately much in evidence among some of the more famous New Atheists, saying something like all this feminism stuff is irrational bunk.

Instead, I got to the statement, and I read it, and it left me–completely nonplussed.

What Lindsay contended was twofold:

a) that “privilege” is often used as an automatic explanation for any phenonomenon, cutting off any actual inquiry into what is going on.


b) that “privilege” is often used as a cudgel to shut people up.

In some ways,  the statement is painful to read.

The man spends so much time hemming, hawing, qualifying, nuancing, whatever, trying to put himself in a position where he has a chance in hell of being actually listened to, instead of hammered and hounded out of his job, I found myself feeling the way my son does when he finds the cats chasing a mouse that has somehow gotten into the house.

I just wanted to take the poor man home and feed him cheese.

But the real kicker is this.

I don’t see how anybody living in the United States today and having anything at all to do with political and social discussion could disagree with anything the man had to say.

Is the idea of “privilege” used in a reflexive, unthinking way in order to “explain” things nobody is bothering to examine?

Yep.  Every day.  All the time.  I can give you numerous examples out of a single composition textbook–composition, not Women’s Studies or sociology.

Is it true that in individual cases where a man–or a  percentage of men–achieve a status or receive an award out of proportion to the women in the same pool, that the reason for that may not be “privilege” but some other factor, like the men involved having better credentials, more productive output or just more aggressiveness about going after the prize?

Yep, that’s true, too.  and it’s true even in cases where there is still a heavy bias against taking women seriously in a field or area.

Of course, we could always test this sort of thing by setting up a truly gender blind evaluation system–no names, no indicators of anything gender specific, no photographs, no personal interviews.

Unfortunately, when we do that, results often don’t support what we want to think about the situation, so we’ve stopped doing that, and declared that it’s all a matter of “unconscious bias” or criteria that must be wrong because they produce a “disparate impact” on different groups.

At the end of the day, however, the remark that got the biggest response was Lindsay’s contention that the concept of “male privilege” is often used as a club to shut people up.

This was treated as unadulterated heresy–and I use the term advisedly.

Shutting up men?  Don’t be ridiculous.  Men are NEVER silenced, they’re just upset that women get to say things they don’t like.

I’m sorry, but what planet are these women living on?

There are, by now, in American society a small set of ideas it is worth your job, and maybe even your life, to question–ever.

And you will be in just as much hot water for questioning them  if you’re on the right as you will if you’re on the left.

Ask Larry Summers, forced out of his job as President of Harvard for saying its possible that a talent for math is more prevalent in men than in women.  Ask the poor low level staffer at the Heritage Foundation forced out of his job in the last couple of weeks because some blogger discovered that he’d written his dissertation at Harvard on the thesis that Hispanic immigrants were less likely to score high on intelligence tests than the native born.

The issue isn’t whether these ideas are true or  untrue.

The issue is that some thing  have become undiscussable, completely off the table as objects of inquiry. 

If you don’t think people are self-censoring themselves all over the place, if you don’t think this has resulted in massive  policy  mismanagement because in a whole host of areas we’re not even allowed to ask if our assumptions are true–

Well, then you haven’t been paying attention.

I think Lindsay is going to end up learning the hard way what happens to heretics in the modern church of Scientism and Social Justice.

And I think that’s too bad.

Because I also agree with the other thing that got him into this hot water.

Just because you’re a member of Group X does NOT mean that you know best anything at all  about what is going on with Group X.

Subjective experience does not, and should not, trump logic, reason and objective investigation.

Written by janeh

May 23rd, 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Dogma'

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  1. I was less impressed. Yes any sane person would agree with him on those two points. But if he grew a spine, he didn’t grow much of one. Outside of those points, the speech was typical kneejerk leftist. (“we can’t just be atheists: we have to fight oppressive structures too!”) At some point you have hemmed, hawed and nuanced yourself out of any right to respect, or even respectful attention. You can argue that St Paul was wrong, but he said what he believed to be true and didn’t apologize for it. St Paul is still read and studied and helped build a structure which has outlasted empires. Hedgers and trimmers build–nothing.
    And the hedging will do him no good. The fires of Smithfield await him regardless. Cranmer set an example which is still with us after more than four centuries. This man will be forgotten by Christmas.


    23 May 13 at 1:41 pm

  2. His original speech contained those statements, which, as you note, are true. But this was supposed to be the official welcome to the conference, so chiding us for what he expected we might do was awfully tone deaf. When he got called on that, he doubled down and blogged about how one of the people was like North Korea for saying it was a problem. If he had just clarified his remarks and apologized, everything would have blown over pretty quickly.

    Cathy F


    23 May 13 at 1:59 pm

  3. Cathy, I’m a little hazy on the protocol. How long does the conference need to go on before anyone is allowed to speak an unpleasant truth? Was he booked for an appropriate slot?
    “Clarified” is also problematic. The statement as written seems quite clear enough. Normally on the left “clarified” means either “retracted” or “apologized” but you want him to apologize AND “clarify,” so is he supposed to retract something even you say is true?
    And you say “like North Korea” as though it was a bad thing. Isn’t it progressive? Hasn’t it already abolished all the oppressive private ownership of property? I note Lindsay here didn’t have enough backbone to say that does not advance the glorious cause of female empowerment.
    I really don’t think he can crawl any lower without a retraction. There just isn’t room.


    23 May 13 at 4:24 pm

  4. It wasn’t just informing us of an unpleasant truth (that some people use “privilege” to silence people), but warning us pre-emptively not to do it during what was supposed to be the welcoming remarks at the conference. The clarification I would want would be that he didn’t intend to imply that we, personally, were going to do that at the conference. The apology would be for chiding us instead of welcoming us.

    If you don’t want to welcome a feminist conference that your organization is sponsoring, either don’t sponsor it in the first place, or have someone give the welcome that actually, you know, welcomes it.

    I don’t think that pointing that out is brutal oppression.

    And surely you don’t think that Social Democrats revere North Korea? We even occasionally disagree with Sweden.

    Cathy F


    23 May 13 at 5:05 pm

  5. North Korea. We wander from Jane’s subject, and it’s my fault. But it’s a legitimate question.

    You know, a few years ago a loudly Marxist friend was caught up in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and none too happy about it. After listening to years of griping, I finally asked her what economic power she felt the government there ought not to have, or whether she just wanted a central government to have absolute economic power but some how not to respond to absolute power the way people do. There was silence out of Matabeleland.

    I have, in a sense, been listening to that silence for about 45 years now, waiting for the left to modify the 1848 program in the light of experience instead of just assuring me that next time will be different.

    “Social Democrats” want governments of North Korean power, but tell me they want different long-term results. They may find the DPRK a bit inconvenient at the moment, but they have in their time made excuses for–indeed “revere” may not be too strong a word–Lenin and Stalin, Mao, Castro and Pol Pot.

    So when Lindsay quotes with no stated disagreement, the observation that the abolition of the Patriarchy requires the abolition of private property, I’m afraid I can’t quite see the gap between him, his leftist critics and Kim Jong-un that I’m evidently supposed to.


    23 May 13 at 6:49 pm

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