This post is pretty late, well into December, but please enjoy.
This morning (afternoon over there!) I watched Kate Donovan’s presentation “Recruitment and Retention on Hard Mode” at Effective Altruism Global in Oxford. Her thesis was that diverse movements work better, and she shared many practical techniques to attract and keep people while avoiding common pitfalls that could do the opposite. It was great!
One anecdote she shared that really grabbed me was her reference to “Elevatorgate”. She doesn’t go into needless detail, and I won’t either, but this was an incident within the atheism, skepticism, and secular movements that became an ongoing albatross around their necks.
Jamy Ian Swiss, a prominent member of the skeptical community and magician, was interviewed recently for premium content for The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. The conversation moved to several topics in its fifty minutes. Much of it was focused on the skeptical movement as a whole and its past, present, and especially future. Some great, high-minded ideas on what the movement lacks and where it needs to focus its efforts were brought up and played with, like the need to form permanent resources, and organizations that are respected and known enough to be called upon by government or outside of skepticism.
One subject that bubbled underneath the conversation was whether the meaning of “skepticism” should be broadened or kept narrow. For example, should the definition of a “good skeptic” include the requirement of atheism? Swiss says no, in order to broaden the tent of people allied against the real enemies: pseudoscience, mysticism, conspiracy theory, misinformation, and all manner of bad thinking. To require nonbelief would exclude otherwise helpful individuals.
I’ll acknowledge that Swiss has been in this movement for quite some time, and so he likely has a long-term perspective on this that I don’t. It doesn’t make sense to me to embrace skeptics who don’t exercise their skepticism on all areas of their life, since that’s one of the core aspects of the promotion of critical thinking, but I won’t pursue that point right now. It’s not only not the point of this post, but it’s also me deferring to a person who might know a thing or two about what works and doesn’t in capital-S Skepticism.
Still, like me, he is someone who does not have mastery of all perspectives. And this is where I think he’s truly mistaken.
Before I talked to more women, especially feminists, I used to have a more limited subset of online behaviors I’d call “creepy”. (This is setting aside obvious cases or stalking or harassing or worse.)
I disliked the casual way a friend used the verb “creeping” to mean “looking through a photo album someone posted of their trip”, even when she was doing it. I disliked how what I felt should be a normal, accepted, even invited activity was being termed that way.
I was confused by how liking photos or comments too much, or too far in the past, was creepy. I felt that these things are made to stay online, connected to a person’s profile, so why is any viewing of it at any time, and incidentally notifying someone that they were viewed, surprising or disturbing?
The problem is that it was an idyllic view that I had. I saw Likes and comments and posts are existing only in this online space, and not having physical consequences. As a guy, I don’t really have to be concerned with whether a person liking a lot of my stuff is just excited and friendly, or potentially a problem. Ask women about their experience online (or worse: at dating sites), and you’ll see the other side of this coin.