Ron Lindsay’s #wiscfi twist on the conventional Opening Speech

I was going to add a quicklink to this clusterfuck in comments on the Open Thread, but then I realised that I had too much to say for the comment input box.

Over the weekend I’ve been following some of the FTB live-blogging of the second Women In Secularism conference (aka WISC2), and enjoying the speeches of thoughtful activist women on various topics. I didn’t bother to click on anybody’s liveblogging of the welcoming speech, because welcoming speeches are all pretty much the same, right? Welcome and thank you to the attendees, here’s the speaker lineup, the vendor stalls are in the lobby and the bar’s over there – isn’t that the job of the opening speech? With a few encouraging soundbites thrown in to get the audience excited? Usually 5-10 minutes, tops?

Well, I missed something different. The opening speech was given by Ron Lindsay, CEO of the event sponsor, the Center for Free Enquiry (CFI). Ron apparently thought that all those traditional aspects of a welcoming speech were entirely superfluous for WISC2, and instead dedicated half of his 30-minute opening talk to ‘splaining privilege and how feminists were misusing the concept to silence men and how all this fed into the divisive controversy etc etc

No mention of the sustained intimidation campaigns waged against women who have pointed out that atheism/skepticism/secularism is not immune from the same sexism/racism etc as the religions they’re rejecting, and that those campaigns are specifically designed to silence those women from speaking out at all ever, not just asking them to listen in certain spaces for a short while. The lack of respect and blatant hositility demonstrated by that sustained silencing campaign was obviously far less significant to Lindsay than (surprise) how Feminists R Doin It Rong.

Lindsay bizarrely equates social justice advocates asking those who are privileged along one or more of the axes of oppression to “shut up and listen” to those who lack those privileges with women being utterly forbidden to speak in houses of worship in many religions i.e. Lindsay is equating a request for the generally dominant group who have many platforms to step back and let others lead a discussion at the front of a platform for a change with a religious taboo whereby the generally subservient social group who has no platform is forbidden to speak at all in sacred spaces.  He even explicitly labels requests for the privileged to stay quiet and step back for once as dogma.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

I started my talk with that reading from the New Testament which unmistakably assigned women a subordinate role. Both the symbol of that oppression and the vehicle for enforcing that oppression was silence. Enforced silence is always and everywhere the enemy of truth and progress. If someone is forbidden from speaking, you are obviously not going to hear what they have to say.

As many others have already pointed out, how Lindsay thinks anybody can listen if they don’t shut up? I dunno.

As an opening speech, this effort undermines the whole purpose of the conference. Might it possibly have been an interesting addition to the speech roster somewhere in the middle of the program? Maybe. But as an opening speech from the event sponsor it’s simply bizarre, does nothing to encourage the women in attendance, and does everything to encourage the already hyper-active flying monkeys.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, social justice

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. And relatedly, why didn’t someone nudge him and say “hey! even if you hold that opinion, maybe you should pick a different venue for expressing it?”. Knowing your audience is a fairly important skill for someone trying to lead an organization. Vital, you might say.

  2. The sheer gracelessness of the man has left me gobsmacked. Imagine having that platform and deciding that this would be the best use for it.

  3. That’s so deeply ironic, I might be able to laugh about it in a couple of years.

  4. I see that Lindsay has blogged a narky followup to Rebecca Watson’s followup, in which he postulates, as if it’s an insult, that she must live in a different universe. She does, Mr Lindsay, she does, we all do, and that’s exactly what she and other feminists have been trying to tell you. You, as a privileged white man, have no idea what it’s like to be a woman, what it is like to move around in the world as a woman, what it’s like to experience the discrimination and dismissal and harassment and hate that women experience. We are trying to tell you, and you refuse to listen, because you think that your universe is the only one.

  5. Ugh, what a dipshit. He may have shut up when they asked him to speak, but he wasn’t listening to the brief; he was already wondering “what brilliant piece of ‘truth’ can I plant in this platform? They’ll be so astonished, and humbled, and grateful, once they see how it is. Excellent!” . And yes, he will insist that this stink bomb of irony still smells sweet, because he seeees people! [shudder]

  6. There’s a wonderful scene amidst the Marc Norman/Tom Stoppard flummery of ‘Shakespeare in Love’, where Ned Alleyne (one of the leading actors of the day, played with notes of arrogance and charisma by Ben Affleck) interrupts the droning of Hugh Fennyman, asking with mounting frustration, “Who the hell are you?” Fennyman is about to answer back in kind but thinks better, and meekly replies “I am the money.” Whereupon Alleyne points out that he’s not ‘the talent’ and if he wants to learn to be an actor (rather than a mere financier) then he should keep silent and pay attention!
    Since learning that like last year’s WiS1 conference, the ‘welcome’ speech for WiS2 was not to be given by a woman but instead by the CEO of the Center for Inquiry, I couldn’t help casting Ron A. Lindsay as the capable financier but incompetent thespian from the movie, who insists on reminding everyone else that without him they wouldn’t be even putting on a play. And just like Fennyman from the film (who seems to have mentally rewritten the play Romeo and Juliet into The Dramatic Encounter of an Apothecary, with a whole five other acts of irrelevant happenings; and then proceeds to talk over Romeo’s lines), Lindsay was essentially given the privilege of a keynote speech to set the tone for the conference, and bumbled it with a tone-deaf, off-key brown note.
    Not content with embarrassing CFI with a massive organisational own goal, he’s since doubled down on it, not by red carding himself, but by attacking some of the players on his own side (whoops, seem to have changed metaphors). *slow clap*
    Anyway, this is where the ‘alternate universe’ kicks in – Lindsay probably has no idea precisely how inappropriate his speech was in the circumstances – with a campaign of harassment against many women in the audience having been sustained for years; and how different the situation would be if he were the female CEO of a non-profit making such an inappropriate faux pas.

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