There should be a rule for leaders of organizations: Thou shalt not contribute to divisive shit storms.
Since I’m not any kind of a leader, I don’t have to follow any such rule. But I usually try to keep quiet about the Internet flame wars and other non-productive poo flinging that goes on in the blogosphere. Sometimes I can’t resist getting an oar into the water, like the time I chastised my hero, Richard Dawkins, for being a stubborn and insensitive prick. And here I go again.
When a leader gets a fairly mild criticism of his behaviour, the appropriate thing to do is to listen, recognize that you have pissed somebody off, and apologize. It’s not a time to launch a counter offensive, invite all the enemies of the person you have offended to pile on with ad homs and ancient history. It is not a time to double down or triple down. It is not a time to go on a hyperbolic attack spree. It’s a time to take the moral high ground, absorb whatever blow to the ego you have suffered, and sincerely apologize for whatever it is you did, even if you don’t feel that what you did was so terrible. You offended somebody. That is enough. That is what you need to apologize for. And a real apology, not a notpology. Not excuses and evasions. And definitely, but definitely, not an attack on the person who raised the criticism. That just makes you look like a jerk and makes people question why you are in a leadership position.
No, I don’t think this is funny. But somebody does. It’s part of the meme that women should shut up and let men be men. Flip the genders and men get very upset.
You know what this is about, don’t you? Feminism of course. Those touchy feminists are at it again. Strident. Trying to silence anybody who disagrees with them. Trying to get a man fired for simply standing up for a principle. Screaming for blood. Because some man dared to assert that men should be heard too. So very unfair.
No. That’s not the way it went down. That’s not the issue. Here’s the situation:
The senior white male leader of an organization that sponsored a gathering of women decided that he was the right person to introduce the event. That’s a bad decision from the get go.
Instead of welcoming the women (and the forty percent of the audience composed of men) who had paid money to attend, he explained that he would not waste their time welcoming them because, well, you all know you are welcome, thus wasting at least as much time as he would have wasted if he had simply welcomed them.
Instead of expressing his excitement about their speakers, and their participation, he decided it was a good time to make some points about the relationship between the feminists and the men who don’t listen to them very well.
And then he proceeded to lecture them on their behaviour toward men. Because, you know, men never get a chance to express their position about anything. Men are always being told to shut up and listen. Women are being strident and pushy when they point out white male privilege and tell men to shut up and listen. You women didn’t know it but you’ve all paid money to have an old white man tell you that it’s wrong to tell men like me to shut up and listen.
When a prominent feminist referred to his speech as “strange” in context, he then went ballistic and used the home page of his organization’s website to launch an attack on her, filled with distortion and hyperbole, disparaging other prominent bloggers who support her position and attracting a horde of her enemies to support his.
In short, he not only contributed to a shit storm, he actually created one.
What is the problem with a simple apology? What is so hard about saying I’m sorry? I fucked up and please forgive me. I didn’t fully understand your feelings about this and I did not mean to give you the wrong impression. Why is that so damn difficult for these old white men to do?
I’m an old white man myself. And I can be plenty full of myself at times. I have been known to lecture a young gay guy about the history of gay pride. That was arrogant, but the fact is he didn’t know the history. He was dissing the pride parade and treating it with contempt. He didn’t realize that the privilege he felt and exercised in coming out of the closet and announcing his orientation was won by the blood and bruises of a generation that preceded him. In other words, I knew more about the history of gay pride than he did. I would certainly be more respectful if I were talking to, say, Dan Savage. And if I were told that my comments were offensive, I would certainly apologize. That’s easy. That cools the conflict. That avoids the shit storm.
Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and now Ron Lindsay need to learn how to shut up and listen, and then apologize if they have said something truly stupid. It’s a sure sign of male privilege that they don’t understand this.
If you are interested in dissecting a shit storm, here’s Richard Carrier on the same subject. Happy reading.