First and last words…

Last year, I quietly resigned from the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). After subsequently having my departure “explained” by a member of the HSSA, last month I came clean by writing a piece for Butterflies and Wheels, explaining a number of my issues with the way the HSSA is run (i.e. the actual reasons why I left).

You can read that over here

As you’d expect, this was met with indignation. A few points;

  • No, my list of complaints was not a full, rounded account of people’s characters, but given that it wasn’t an attempt at biography – an entirely different genre – that’s not an issue.
  • Yes, inferences were made. I complained about the smoke, but didn’t demonstrate the existence of the fire. This isn’t however, an issue if I left on account of the smoke. I can leave an organisation on whatever basis I choose and yes, those reasons can infer other things. This is largely unavoidable and does not obligate me to silence.
  • It should occur to some people, especially those in leadership roles, that we’re all forced to communicate within given limits, and rely in good faith upon our audiences to pick apart and analyse things according to their ability and what they’re given to work with. You can’t reasonably expect people to just trust you, or to agree with you in all things, or to come to a given issue with an approved set of interests.

As you’d expect, (with the exception of one HSSA member) none of this was demonstrated to have been appreciated.

The kind of story telling that only convinces those who’ve opted to believe in advance, ensued. I’ve recently pulled some of this fabulist rubbish apart, again over at Butterflies and Wheels.

You can read that here.

~ Bruce

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A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

***

Continue reading

Guest Post over at B&W: The Good Juror Pose

It’s been almost two weeks since I mailed this essay off to Ophelia Benson, but I’ve been on holiday in Melbourne sans notebook and passwords for most of the time. You’ll have to forgive me for my tardiness.

There seems to be a trend of late, of people lecturing jurisprudence at people who it is reasonable to assume, have been victims of rape or sexual assault. Notably, it’s often not just “Skeptics”, but “Skeptics” with friends accused of acting up and pestering people sexually (or worse), who engage in this practice.

It’s not that the presumption of innocence is to be suspended, it’s just that the presumption of innocence is often irrelevant to the context these discussions are taking place in, with potentially harmful consequences. I spend 2600 words (including quotes) on the matter over here

~ Bruce

This is what PR dissembling looks like…

For those of you who don’t know, Karen Stollznow, sceptic, public speaker and author, revealed her account of how sexual harassment was dealt with in a recent Scientific American blog post. You can read that here.

Subsequent to this publication, multiple outlets are now naming the alleged sexual harasser/stalker, as the relatively high profile sceptic, Ben Radford. As I’m not privy to the details or evidence, I’ll not speculate on his guilt, but I suspect more details are going to come out in the wash at some point.

The employer, also not named in Karen Stollznow’s post, has since been named as the Center for Inquiry (CFI). CFI has now responded to all of this in typically boilerplate language. You can read their response in full, here.

For a moment ignoring the names, that have been named thus far, the personal politics, and the potential culpability of individuals in this matter, this is a strange document that borders on the meaningless. It’s almost a deepity in PR long-form.

“As a general rule, CFI does not discuss personnel matters in public. We refrain from discussing these matters in public not only out of consideration for our staff, but also because experience has shown that this is the best way to encourage people to come forward with complaints.”

In general yes, this is a good strategy. Especially before due process has worked its way through (something Karen Stollznow complied with).

But CFI is responding to a specific case here, and in this case Karen Stollznow has opted to go public owing to the alleged inadequacy of CFI’s process, and after the process has completed at that. Keeping things private in this context, is meaningless; CFI can’t keep it private because it’s already public, and it’s what CFI does under the veil of privacy that is in question.

People with potential complains seeing this case unfold, aren’t going to be worried about CFI’s ability to keep things in-house. Indeed, Stollznow, and about every other critic of CFI’s management, positively speak to CFI’s ability to maintain the hush.

Further, who’s decision is it, ultimately, to keep things quiet, or go public, if something has gone wrong? That’s not the organisation’s call, and unless we see court action deciding to the contrary, it was Karen Stollznow’s right to bring this to light.

What does CFI think people with complaints about harassment are more likely to be worried about – that CFI will go public with their information, if the issue is already public, or that CFI will decide of its own accord, without regard to the wishes of the person making the complaint, what level of openness is appropriate?

Yes, there are legal concerns about going public, for all parties, but in it’s release, CFI doesn’t cite this as a justification. CFI claims it doesn’t want to deter future complaints.

CFI’s response reduces the serious matter of privacy, from a human relations concern, to the level of marketing pablum.

And then things proceed to where the wheels really begin to fall off…

“However, we would like to make it clear that any suggestion that CFI has been less than diligent in addressing harassment complaints is mistaken. During the administration of current president and CEO, Ronald A. Lindsay, that is since July 2008, CFI has investigated all complaints that have been made to management, and, where necessary, has taken appropriate corrective action. “

On the face of it, this looks like a good thing, right? Investigating every case? Good-o.

“Neither allegations nor denials determine the actions CFI takes. The results of the investigation determine the actions taken by CFI. If CFI has employed an outside investigator, we go with the investigator’s findings; we do not substitute our suspicions. If the investigator found, for example, that a sexual assault occurred, we would accept that finding; likewise, if the investigator found that no sexual assault occurred, we would accept that finding.”

If you’ve read the whole release, you’ll notice that the remainder is mostly rhetoric in this vein, talking about rumor and gossip, while ironically not even vaguely citing any examples of rumor and gossip – CFI is gossiping about alleged gossip. While I’m not commenting on Ben Radford’s guilt, I wouldn’t dismiss Karen Stollznow’s concerns as “gossip”.

That aside, and to the point I want to make – CFI defers to investigators, in deciding the facts. It’s fair to say, that seeing as CFI acknowledged that sexual harassment did indeed occur, there are at least some facts between CFI and Karen Stollznow that are uncontested.

Furthermore, it’s the allegedly lax penalties for sexual harassment that were met out by CFI that Karen Stollznow disputes in her article. Are we to believe that CFI outsources it’s values as well, such that independent investigators also decide upon penalties, in addition to the facts of the case?

No. This is Ron Lindsay’s job, and the accusation is that he failed to appreciate the implications of the facts, such that remedial action was inadequate.

Raising the matter of independent investigators is an irrelevant act of self-promotion that (by design?) distracts people from the substance of Karen Stollznow’s concerns.

I’m not entirely sure that distracting attention from the substance of complaints, and dismissing them as gossip, is going to make people more comfortable with the prospect of making complaints to CFI. But if you’re not actually facing this prospect, and you can’t tease the implications out of the boilerplate language, then I guess CFI’s release would look nice and fuzzy.

I’m wondering how long they can manage to keep treating this matter like a PR issue, and making fatuous statements about privacy, instead of realizing that transparency about the process is the solution.

~ Bruce

Medicated #04: If you can’t come out swinging…

Contra this time last year, I can sleep quite well, actually. Thanks for asking. Too well, in fact.

An appointment with the doctor has it that the source of a persistent narcolescence is likely something other than my medication. Apparently my SSRI of choice doesn’t do that.

To test the hypothesis, my dosage is being dropped by half.

Gym has been suspended, and then given the green light, owning to the need for an opinion on an umbilical hernia I likely first obtained when body surfing across Gawler Place. It was either that or a taxi would have ground me into road pizza. I’ll take the hernia, thanks.

As it turns out, it’s not so serious, and it would have been better (with the benefit of hindsight) had I stayed at gym. Gym helps with my depression. It also makes me sleepy.

Now I’ve been away from the blogosphere quite a bit this year, but don’t you think that means I’ve been doing nothing.

In my spare time, when not twiddling my thumbs, I’ve been trying to organise the drafting of a harassment policy for the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). We’re going to do this democratically, or not at all, so that takes a little more time, work, and patience than if we were to opt the route of executive power. I like to think that discussion both makes for a better policy, and keeps the membership aware of why the policy is there.

In dribs and drabs of I’ve-got-to-get-it-finished-soon (although it really leads into an event in May), I’ve been working on an article I started in December of last year. Suffice to say, the fact checking, verification and investigation took longer than I thought, and I now know a bunch of stuff related both tangentially and directly to the subject, than I ever knew before.

Some of it I wish I didn’t. Some of it agitates my clinical depression.

I’m forced to ask myself; which is more depressing, the knowledge that a problem exists, or inaction on said problem? Because if inaction is more depressing, then being depressed into inaction is going to cause feedback.

Problem; Inaction; Depression; Inaction; More depression; More inaction.

It’d be a lie to say that I’ve been inactive, generally, but by fuck (which is sacred around here), I can’t half feel the blanket pressing down on me.

Which I guess is an improvement over the last twenty years. The blanket always did press down on me to some extent, only for the most part, I wasn’t aware of it. I guess the meds have been doing their work.

I guess the crux of it is that the blanket doesn’t give me room for a good swing and hit. The alternative is struggling?

I’ll labour on. I mean, you do that when you’re depressed anyway, as best you can. The trick though, is to find the things that motivate you, which contrary to the cliché, are not necessarily the things you love.

Burning moral outrage doesn’t burn in me like it used to, which has had the twin effect of helping me see things clearer, and investigate further instead of getting my jocks in a twist. But a little more impulsiveness along these lines would at least help me get my volume of writing up.

Of course, I don’t burn out, either, being as I am at the moment.

I can’t even act out anger for the rhetoric of the rant anymore. Or at least, not for an extended period.

Poetry, or at least poetic prose is starting to flow more freely, and with humanistic intents. One of the themes emerging the HSSA has been religion’s monopoly on hope, and it seems to me that a godless literary tradition could offer competition.

Short of the suspended critical thinking of some of the transhumanists, the selfishness (and self-serving readings) of the Randroids, or the totalitarianism of some of the worst of the 20th century’s godless dogmas, that is. A literary tradition that speaks to what good humans can do, without getting all bleary-eyed about it.

The thing is, human folly notwithstanding, there’s still reason for hope without recourse to divine intervention, or secular fictions. Denmark does it pretty well, and largely without recourse to deities.

I have selfish reasons for wanting to see these hopes recognised in my own time, and my own circle, if only to motivate me through my own depression. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this side to it.

That being said, I’d like to think that this would be a good way to get out there, if not quite swinging. I’d like to think that it’d be a good way to help others, and to fulfil an ethos of contribution.

But more on that, hopefully soon enough.

I have things planned and in the works. We’ll touch base again, and hopefully (I’m not ashamed to use the word) I’ll have a little more to show for my efforts.

~ Bruce

Upgraded…

Just a short bit of news…

The Humanist Society of South Australia Inc, has now been officially incorporated (nice work, Pres and Secretary!) We now await the decision of the national council to see if we’ll be accepted into the national and global fold.

Also, I’ve been up-voted to treasurer. Uncontested. It is treasury after all.

In semi-related news, I’m considering adapting Keatingisms into my everyday language. Desiccated coconuts and spivs beware.

~ Bruce

…The Expert of Everything

Years of preparation have gone into breeding The Perfect Expert of Everything. Unfettered and unimpaired by having had to have read anything, but adept at entering into every domain and every conversation, the Expert of Everything threatens to make everyone else redundant, in their relentless quest to have things their own way.

Why do readings at University, when they’d only be re-inventing the wheel – they already know what it’s about, which is why they dominate discussion in tutorials.

This time has been better spent, by The Expert, honing their skills, lawyering Dungeons and Dragons games to their own advantage, and chairing debates on who would win out of Superman and The Hulk.

These skills, they then bring to every meeting, of every kind, for these skills are infinitely transferable. The Expert, can be identified through their use of earthy, common phrases, used to keep ‘in-touch’ with the laity.

***

‘Political correctness’: This phrase lets you know just what a dissident, and critical thinker you’re dealing with.

‘It stands to reason’, or ‘it just stands to reason’: The Expert, is reasonable in all things, including their most hastily adopted assumptions.

‘I’d argue that…’: The Expert doesn’t need to read, to keep up with the discussion (see ‘re-inventing the wheel’).

‘Aha!’: The Expert has encountered something like this before, and it was silly.

‘Haha!’: You have reminded The Expert of one of their past intellectual conquests, friend!

‘Hmmm…’: The Expert could say something, but doesn’t want to embarrass you.

‘Yes, but…’: This is how The Expert lets you know, mid-sentence, the you’re argument is going to go awry. The Expert already knows what you are thinking, and doesn’t want you to embarrass yourself.

‘X is often misunderstood’: Misunderstood by laypersons like you, not by The Expert, who doesn’t even need to read about these things (again, see ‘re-inventing the wheel’).

‘It seems like…’: The Expert is charitably allowing you to join the dots.

‘I can’t imagine…’: Logically impossible, despite what you may think you can reasonably imagine.

‘Hah hah haaa! [wink]’ (that’s three ‘haa’s with a key change in the middle, and a wink at the end): The Expert knows that you think they are charming, but are too modest to let you know.

Never under any circumstances, allow the commonality of this language lead you to believe that The Expert has nothing new to teach you, nor assume that any of their wisdom is borrowed…

***

Other, less definitive signs that you have an Expert of Everything in front of you are; possible beard ownership; likely penis ownership (even if diminutive), and an almost universal penchant for exaggerated or grandiose hand gestures.

(In rare cases, ‘tosser’s wrist’ – a symptom of compulsive twenty-sided dice rolling, often resembling a masturbatory gesture – may present itself to the observer).

***

The ecology of The Expert of Everything is that they often gravitate towards rationalist social groups; atheists, ‘Skeptics’, humanists, and so on. Intellectual and organisational resources are monopolised as competing minds are made redundant by The Expert’s sheer charisma, wit and genius.

While this may give mere mortal members a reprieve, such monocultures are inherently unstable.

The Expert may through a sheer act of will and self-approval, achieve ‘Mission Accomplished’ status for their social group, rendering the group purposeless. The Expert may see beyond the horizons of the group, and bring new purposes beyond the ken of ordinary members, thus unavoidably excluding them (this process may involve peanuts, imported Cherry Coke, and ‘character sheets’.)

Most likely though, is that the normal means of operation will atrophy while the group is dependent on The Expert, for everything. At some point when The Expert is needed elsewhere (which they always are), their dedication to a group will have to wane, leaving an unprepared people to fend for themselves.

You would be selfish and keep The Expert all to yourself?

***

If you don’t want to destabilise you Expert-friendly group, or you wish to attract an Expert of Everything to your existing, expertise-devoid, group, there are realities to observe.

By all means question The Expert (they’ll tell you all about that), but don’t undermine them, or waste their time with contrarian clap-trap. They have finite time on this Earth, and they are used of their opponents being self-evidently wrong, as this is always the case.

Make sure peanuts and beer are at hand, and if not that, then cheesy-puffy-things, and cola. The mind of an Expert of Everything doesn’t run on nothing – that would defy the Laws of Thermodynamics (which they’ll tell you about)!

Remember to disregard all evolutionary psychology as just-so-stories, unless they allow The Expert to justify their sexual proclivities, or their need for cheesy-puffy-things, or to explain the inherent attractiveness of their non-deodorized body. These things are self-evident, and hence need no empirical substantiation, ergo evolutionary psychology is true in these respects, Q.E.D.

In all other respects, if in doubt, don’t ask – you’ll be told. Unless you’re told to ask, in which case I’m wrong – I’m not an Expert of Everything.

~ Bruce

See also: Neckbeard.