• No platforming in the secular community

    The United Kingdom played an outsized role in the Age of Enlightenment, giving the world great thinkers such as Francis Bacon, John Locke, and David Hume. Some centuries later, the zeitgeist has shifted from open debate to callout culture, and British students have invented the No Platform movement. The basic upshot of this movement is that certain undesireables should never be given a (university) platform from which to speak, and that a student protest movement is necessary to ensure that fascists, racists, sexists, transphobes, and “rape apologists” will not be given a stage and handed a microphone.

    I’m nowhere near qualified to judge which speakers warrant which platforms in the U.K., but I am more than a bit concerned that this practice has been seeping into the American public consciousness, despite our long tradition of allowing people with bad ideas to air them in public. Probably the most high-profile case of no-platforming a secular speaker here in the U.S. was the disinvitation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Brandeis University. As one Skeptic Ink colleague noted at the time, many of the top tier of freethinking public intellectuals came out in support of her and against the spineless university administration, who passed up the opportunity to hear an important message from a powerful speaker.

    Closer to home, for me, a popular skeptical cartoonist was no-platformed by Skepticon 6, as a result of a rather superficial and motivated reading of his artistic work (a process that will sound familiar to Charlie Hebdo fans):

    (Full disclosure, Kyle and I both used to draw for the satirical magazine www.eDoDo.org many years ago.)

    More recently, a handful of atheist feminists have been microblogging in support of the indefinite no-platforming of a highly popular skeptic speaker:

    All of the above no platforming efforts fit into a fairly predictable pattern, wherein callout culture warriors get a bit too vigilant in protecting their fan base from disagreeable speech, typically racism or sexism or something like “Islamophobia” that can be awkwardly shoehorned in as a social justice issue. Lately, though, it seems as if no-platforming has been normalized even further, which brings us to a small but dedicated campaign to deny atheist blogger PZ Myers a platform at Gateway to Reason in St. Louis.

    I am now in the process of contacting each of the speakers scheduled for Gateway To Reason, to urge them not to tarnish their own reputations by associating with a proven doxer, liar, and libeler of real atheist activists.  These other speakers have the power to convince the Gateway To Reason organizers that PZ Myers does not deserve a platform to spew his vile smears.


    While I must agree with the so-called “Dictionary Atheist” that PZ’s rhetoric has been frequently vile and often anti-humanist, I expect this no platform  approach will backfire in a few ways. Firstly, anyone on the fence about him may well take his side when they see that some pseudonymous blogger is trying to deny him a platform. Secondly, and much more importantly, if the no platforming approach actually worked this time it would inspire a rash of counter-attacks as loyalists on all sides attempt to take down their least favourite niche-famous public speakers. Finally, it would demotivate volunteer conference organizers who are already exhausted from the process of trying to pick an entertaining lineup that won’t eat its own, leading to fewer and less diverse conferences.

    Given all the ways that this can go bad, after extended consideration, I am forced to conclude that we need to uphold a general norm against no platforming within the secular community. This would end up protecting some whom I’d really rather not see on stage, but (barring truly exceptional circumstances) the benefits will outweigh the costs.

    Category: Free ExpressionSecularism

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.