Since Atheism+ has sought to unite the worst elements of FTB, Skepchick, and elsewhere under a common banner of emotional outrage, I have wondered what it would look like where those who opposed these people were to have a common set of principles. The A+ contingent and allies already believe that their critics have such a set of principles, but they are wrong about them; they simply refer to their critics in such collective terms as ‘The Bigots’.
What I’m going to attempt to do is write out a set of principles for conducting debate, ones which I think are (reasonably) common to those within the atheist and skeptic community that have rejected the Myers/Watson/McCreight dogma. I have chosen to describe this as ‘rationalism’ as I suspect that an objection to the anti-rationalist stance of those promoting such ideas (‘privilege’, elevating the anecdote of the Oppressed Woman to the status of actual evidence etc.) is the key cause of the current schism.
So, here it is. I present the first draft of these principles:
A Rationalist Charter (V1.0)
1. The Charter – The charter is a set of ideals to strive for in order to create more productive debates. It is a living document, subject to revision when it does not meet its goals, and is not to be treated as a set of commandments
2. Disengagement – No sanction is to be used against someone for not accepting the principles of this charter, except to disengage from discussion with them, and direct them to this charter as an explanation why.
3. Good Faith – Assume good faith until shown otherwise. Failure to follow the principles of this charter in a debate does not indicate a lack of good faith, so long as a participant at least tries.
4. Labels – Do not apply to anybody a label they would not apply to themselves.
5. Definitions – Debate can only proceed when all participants agree on the definitions of the terms in use. Do not attempt to force your definitions on the debate.
6. Dog piling – Do not dog pile. Do not enter a debate in progress unless you have something constructive to add. Do not engage with someone purely to attack them.
7. Misrepresentation – If summarizing a position someone else holds, try to show it in the best possible light. Avoid summarizing where possible, in favor of quoting or linking.
8. Personal Attack – Do not dismiss the argument of someone because of their in-born characteristics (race, gender, etc…), and do not attempt to find personal information about them.
9. Authority – Do not claim to be an absolute intellectual or moral authority. Do not assert expertise that you do not have, nor claim a level of experience you do not have.
10. Evidence – When asking for evidence, always first offer evidence of your own position. When disputing evidence, first ensure your evidence is of a higher standard.
This is a casual whim of an idea. I won’t flounce off like Jen McCreight if this doesn’t go down well. I’m unlikely to start a website or a forum to promote these principles. As implied by the version number, this is subject to revision and I welcome feedback. As implied by the indefinite article, I don’t consider this to be the only description of how to be rational.
I don’t even claim to adhere to all the above myself. I simply think its a good set of things to aim for, and also a set of things that seem to have been forgotten in much of the recent drama.
All I am thinking here is that the grievances many of us have can be expressed formally and clearly so they can be understood better, and that we can lay down some ground rules for how to conduct discussions so that the crap we are seeing right now in the atheist and skeptic communities won’t continue to occur.
I eagerly await feedback.