Before we get to that, she says that her own original story was about how a certain kind of courage in revealing falsehood and credulity can degenerate into contempt. Her original story, as you may recall, was this:
Other kids were impressed with the brave girl. They started saying the same thing--"The emperor has no clothes! The emperor has no clothes!" Soon just saying he had no clothes lost its appeal. They shouted louder and louder, and called the emperor a fatty and laughed uproariously.Now let's look at this for a minute. The children begin shouting, calling the emperor "a fatty", and laughing uproariously. When some adults ask them to control themselves, they call the adults names and they deride "the whole idea of Communicative Restraint and Politeness". This is pretty clearly a story about how the children go beyond saying bravely that the emperor has no clothes to (1) behaving in an uncivil manner (being rude and insulting, shouting, and engaging in uproarious mocking laughter), and (2) deriding the very idea that they should be civil.
Some of the adults said: "Children. You're right he's naked. The brave girl was perfectly right to say so. But you've gotten carried away. It's time to think this through. Maybe the emperor actually enjoys being naked. Maybe he really doesn't know he's naked, and he can't figure it out when you're yelling at him. Maybe when he looks at you, your clothes look ridiculous to him, too! Control yourselves, think about how you're communicating!"
This made the children very, very angry. They wanted to believe they were just like that first brave girl. They didn't want to see themselves as rude and insulting. So the children went after the adults who had chided them, and called them names, and derided the whole idea of Communicative Restraint and Politeness, which they called crap for short.
If this is intended to be a metaphor for the New Atheist (sort of) movement - once it goes beyond the four horsemen of the apocalypse to the lower levels of the infantry of the apocalypse, or perhaps the pedestrians of the apocalypse - it's rather strained to say the least. The suggestion is that some group of people who are analogous to the children in the story are not merely being forthright but are engaging in something equivalent to rudeness, shouting, in-your-face laughter, and so on, that they reject all ideas of politeness and communicative restraint, and that they actually call ideas of civility some equivalent of "crap".
That may be how things appear to Jean, but as I suggested in my response and my further thoughts over the past few days, it's not how things seem to me at all. There are several points to be made here. First, there is always going to be a level of very robust debate on the internet, so it's always possible to find examples of people who really are behaving very rudely and perhaps rejecting ideas of politeness. But that's not something unique to people with New Atheist sympathies. You'll find people behaving like this when discussing the merits of political parties, sports teams, movies, comic-book artists, or whatever else people get passionate about. So it's hardly fair saying that the New Atheism encourages incivility any more than these other things. The most that can be said is that the subject of religion is now debated on the internet in a way that was not common a decade ago, so inevitably it attracts the same kind of very robust arguments as, say, sport or politics. Inevitably, some people will let off steam on their own blogs, and we'll see even more robust expression from anonymous commenters.
Second, a great deal of what we've seen has not been "adults" telling the uncivil "children" to please show some communicative restraint. In the case of the debate around Jerry Coyne's "Seeing and Believing" piece in The New Republic, what we saw was someone showing all the appropriate communicative restraint, and basically being told that the content of what he said was not acceptable. He should not have questioned beliefs, criticised certain kinds of believers, or supported the view that there's no God. The "adults" (in this case Barbara Forrest and Chris Mooney) were not telling him to be civil - they were telling not to say these things even in the civil way that he did. More generally, a great deal of the criticism of the New Atheists goes beyond disagreement and beyond tut-tutting about actual incivility (by normal standards of civility) to involve complaints that these people say the things they do at all - or at least that they say them to a wide audience. When, like Cordelia in my version of the story, they express annoyance, they are then attacked further for their "stridency", and so on. Inevitably this escalates the situation.
Now, I'm not going to go to a lot of trouble to document the preceding paragraph. I dealt with some of it last time, as far as the original incident goes. I'm mainly reporting how it seems to those of us on my side of the fence, why the Kazez story seems very unfair, and why it is unlikely to change anyone's behaviour. Simply put, people in my position don't actually feel as if we've shown no communicative restraint, been especially uncivil ... or lacked reasonable justification on those occasions when we have, in fact, expressed annoyance. I'm sure that what I'm saying here will ring true for many readers, or gel with their experience. That's the reality that Jean and others are confronted with.
Third, a great deal that has happened has had a context. If people who don't believe they have been especially uncivil are chided not to be "a dick", or if lies are told about people like them behaving in public in outrageously uncivil ways, and if stories are told that suggest they are uncivil in the manner of the children in Jean's story, it produces certain emotions. To be blunt, it creates anger and ill-will. At a minimum, it looks as if the people (the so-called "adults") saying these things are insensitive to the feelings and grievances of the "children" they are telling to Be Moar Civil. The result is that the children are likely to express annoyance and anger ... and again the whole thing escalates. In such circumstances there will inevitably be genuine examples of uncivil conduct on both sides of the debate. But that happens in any debate - once again, whether it concerns political parties, sports teams, comic-book artists, or whatever you want to name.
One lesson to be learned from all this is that there's a danger in going meta. Once you move away from debating the truth or falsity of ideas to discussing other people's behaviour, what should or should not be said, and so on, you almost inevitably add to whatever degree of incivility was around in the first place. That's not to say that going meta is never appropriate. But people who decide to go meta should be aware of the likely outcome - an escalation of ill-feeling, and even feelings of injustice and moralistic anger - and take this into account. If you do decide to go meta, you'd be advised to show a lot of explicit humility and trepidation. If you then use the annoyed responses of others as evidence of their inherent uncivil tendencies, you'd better be aware that this will be seen by them as further unfairness or injustice ... and will provoke even more annoyance.
In the current Gnu Wars, a lot of ill-feeling was created by the bogus Tom Johnson story, which was used as evidence of Gnu Atheist types engaging in extreme and foolish kinds of public incivility. As this escalated, it became very ill-advised of Phil Plait to go meta in a vague way that seemed to accuse others of being "dicks" - without giving examples. In some other context, what he said may have been quite sensible. In the historical context that he was actually involved in, going meta in this sort of way - and defending it with no real show of humility and understanding of how others felt - was an incredibly dangerous thing to do. I'm not going to say that it was, itself, a dickish thing to do. I just think it was an extremely naive way to act in the volatile circumstances that had arisen at the time, in which any attempt to go meta this way would quite predictably have caused hurt and anger.
Jean offers other examples of supposed incivility, but these are to a couple of posts by Ophelia Benson that don't actually seem uncivil at all. In each case she responds in a way that is forthright, but not out of place on her own blog, to other people going meta in ways that understandably annoyed her. That's not to say that I necessarily feel the same annoyance towards Julian Baggini, for example, that Ophelia does - for a start, she has had personal dealings that she refers to briefly and which I have obviously not had. The whole thing can soon get complicated. But the kind of meta-comment by Julian that Ophelia quotes will inevitably produce annoyance, and it's no use then using a reasonably civil expression of that annoyance - or even a not-so-civil one if that's how you perceive it - as evidence for the initial complaints about incivility.
There's a lot more to say about all of this, but I should comment just very briefly that Jean makes clear that she does actually support arguments for certain things not being said in "the public square" - by which she apparently means not being said in books, journals, etc., aimed at a broad, educated audience. These things should be discussed in academic journals, philosophy classes and seminars, and the like, she thinks, but they should not be said more widely. She gives, as an example, her view that I should not be defending moral error theory in the public square. She also supports the view that Jerry Coyne's stance in his New Republic piece was "unwise".
Now that's a large topic. But I just want to highlight how surprising, if refreshingly honest, it is. Jean says that she's not telling people in the second person to "Shut up," but regardless of whether she issues a command in the second person or merely says, "Russell should not say X or Y in the public square," the effect is much the same. It's being put that certain things should not be said except to a specialised audience of philosophers and philosophy students. Among those things are claims about the incompatibility of science and religion (though she is less confident about this than about promulgating moral error theory).
Now, I'm not someone who defends telling the truth at all costs. If the proverbial Nazi death-squad comes knocking on my door looking for Jews and homosexuals whose location I happen to know ... believe me, I'll do whatever I can to keep my knowledge secret and to mislead the Nazis as well as I'm able. There are many such examples, some of them much more everyday. I'm not committed in a fanatical way to telling the truth.
Perhaps there are utilitarian (or similar) reasons not to say certain things too widely, or even reasons to go out and tell the Folk noble lies that, if believed, will make the world a better place (based on some standard of "better" that most of us would subscribe to, such as having less pain and suffering). I can't rule any of that out, and certainly not in the space of a blog post. But it shouldn't be surprising that many people on the Gnu Atheist side of the debate get the impression that a lot of this ongoing conflict is not really about incivility. Some part of it, at least, really is about whether certain things should be said at all, even in a civil way, out there in the public square. Even if we're not addressed in the second person and directly told, "Shut up!" there are some things that at least some of our opponents just don't want us to say. This comes to much the same thing when we're part of the audience to which it's communicated.
And it produces a reaction.