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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Shook Distraction (3)

This is the third post of three, and it'll be shorter. Some folks who've got caught up in this trainwreck created by John Shook are now saying that it will make them stop donating to the Center for Inquiry. Frankly, I think that's a shortsighted reaction. A poorly-thought-through, badly-worded article should not be enough to outweigh the enormously impressive programs that the CFI conducts, which depend on memberships and donations. The policy and political programs alone are worth every cent that gets donated, and then there are innovations such as Camp Inquiry. We need well-resourced organisations such as the CFI to do this work, and frankly it would be madness to lose its accumulated expertise and experience. The better resourced the organisation becomes, the better in the scheme of things ... especially as it goes through a period of adjustment now that the Paul Kurtz years have come to an end.

But the Shook distraction shows how the good will built up by all the good work can be negated by bad organisational communications. No one sees the totality of what CFI is doing - except, of course, for a few insiders - but a statement at a highly-visible outlet such as the Huffington Post is seen by very many people all over the world, most of whom have no idea what CFI does ... or even what it is.

Individuals associated with the CFI (and other such organisations) would do well to keep this in mind. They have it in their power to do enormous damage very quickly, and to undo an organisation's reputation built up by countless hours of hard work, some it spectacularly successful, by many, many people. That's the kind of responsibility that is on your shoulders when you speak for an organisation - even if you don't think you're speaking for it on that particular occasion.

But this cuts both ways. One badly worded article can have an immense cost in good will, and the managerial staff of advocacy organisations should realise that. However, organisational supporters should also realise it. One prominent, damaging action may be far outweighed by much work and planning elsewhere that should not be allowed to come to nothing. We all get to choose where we spend our money, and the staff of the advocacy organisations that we support need to be mindful of this when promoting their own personal projects. At the same time, we ought to recall the much bigger picture. The struggle for a truly secular society is enormous, potentially all consuming. Let's keep in mind all the folks who are working with professional dedication in that struggle, as well as who might be hurt if we respond prematurely, or simply overreact, when something goes wrong, as will inevitably happen now and then.

Though there are issues to tackle and lessons to learn, an organisation like the CFI is too valuable to jeopardise over an issue like this.


Russell Blackford said...

Edit - a typo corrected. Thanks to the person who pointed it out to me.

steve oberski said...

One badly worded article can have an immense cost in good will

I agree that it would be intemperate to make a decision on CFI based on this one article.

However this does not seem to be an isolated incident, what with the hiring of Mooney, the bizarre defence of de Dora's ramblings by Ron Lindsay and now the Shook Incident.

Unknown said...

"A poorly-thought-through, badly-worded article should not be enough to outweigh the enormously impressive programs that the CFI conducts, which depend on memberships and donations."

This on its face sounds very reasonable.

However, I suspect that those that will stop donating to CFI don't think it was merely a "poorly-thought-through, badly-worded article" but something far more insidious: a very public attack on an already marginalized group.

setAD7 said...

I like these three posts on "The Shook Distraction". They really say all that is to be said on the subject (until we hear more from Shook).

I do think it's interesting that a lot of 'senior level' atheists seem more and more keen on distancing themselves from the public face of atheism that is DaDeHaHi.
All these new books and articles coming out will create a wide array of atheist opinions and lead to new discussions. It worries me though. Should we not be more outward-looking?

Russell Blackford said...

I think the comment about being outward-looking is correct and important.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"the bizarre defence of de Dora's ramblings by Ron Lindsay"

You mean where Lindsey dryly observed, "I find it remarkable that in the space of a few months, CFI is alleged to have been taken over by 'atheist fundamentalists' and then by those who are wishy-washy about religion. Was there a coup and then a counter-coup of which I was unaware? Both aspersions, of course, lack empirical support, and it is regrettable to see them being made by two learned individuals, Paul Kurtz and PZ Myers, who claim to base their beliefs on evidence"?

steve oberski said...

"You mean where Lindsey dryly observed"

No, this was when Lindsay commented on De Dora's CFI blog article titled 'The Problems With the Atheistic Approach to the World' (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/the_problems_with_the_atheistic_approach_to_the_world/):

"... the views expressed by the blogger are her or his own ..."

My response was:

"So is it just a coincidence that the president & CEO of CFI is making his (personal I assume) views known about an article expressing the personal views of another executive of CFI made on a blog that in no way represents the official position of CFI ?

Is this a service you perform for all the personal CFI blogs ?"

J. J. Ramsey said...

steve oberski: "No, this was when Lindsay commented on De Dora's CFI blog article titled 'The Problems With the Atheistic Approach to the World'"

You mean in comment #22, where Lindsay wrote, "My own (personal) view is that Michael makes a number of valid points. On the other hand, in places he tends to lump atheists together as though there were a monolithic bloc of atheists with specific, uniform positions on certain matters, including tactics to use when addressing religion"? What's so bizarre about such a partial defense?

steve oberski said...

What's so bizarre about such a partial defense?


Perhaps bizarre is too strong a word.

De Dora's CFI position is prominently displayed at the top of his CFI blog along with CFI graphics and blurbs, presenting to the world a CFI imprimatur.

Ron Lindsay expresses what he claims is his personal opinion on this blog article. I've only seen him comment on the articles by CFI staff when he is doing damage or spin control.

Either these blogs are completely personal in which case why the need to weigh in claiming this or Lindsay knows full well that they represent the position of CFI in the minds of the audience no matter what obscure links to the CFI about pages say.

To claim that when he comments on a CFI staff blogs it is strictly his personal opinion is simply not true, he is president and CEO of CFI and this can not be negated by the word "personal".

This is the behaviour that I find, if not bizarre, at least contradictory. It makes me wonder what is going on internally at CFI and since I'm a member I have a vested interest in the money I freely give them being used in a manner that is consistent with their stated mission.