Institutional Betrayal: My Workplace and the Atheist/Skepetic Movement

I recently had the “pleasure” of viewing the dancing nut video during an employee training event. It bothered me then, and it still bothers me; there is something wrong going on. I have pondered it, talked about it, and until today, felt it nag at me.

I know I am bothered by the “true leader” being the first, and second, follower, and that all others who come after simply join to be part of the group. As Derek Sivers puts it, people join and stay because it soon becomes unpopular not to join. This got under my skin, because I saw it as a way to justify abuse. In an organization, when “everyone” is on board, those who have dissent are targeted and punished for that dissent. Whether they have valid points is irrelevant–the masses have spoken.

Then I read a blog post by PZ Myers on Pharyngula, and he pointed me towards this article on the University of Oregon’s website. Carly P. Smith and her professor, Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd, wrote a paper about institutional betrayal, and every brief point made sent shivers down my spine–not only because it unfortunately describes my workplace experience so acutely and accurately, but because it’s the reason why Siver’s movements will eventually implode.

They note that institutional betrayal is a dimensional phenomenon, with acts of omission and commission as well as instances of betrayal that may vary on how clearly systemic they are at the outset. Institutional characteristics that the authors say often precede such betrayal include:

• Membership qualifications with inflexible requirements where “conformity is valued and deviance quickly corrected as a means of self-policing among members.” Often, a member making an accusation faces reprisal because of the institutional value placed on membership.

• Prestige given to top leaders results in a power differential. In this case, allegations that are made by a member against a leader often are met by gatekeepers whose roles are designed to protect top-level authority.

• Priorities that result in “damage control” efforts designed to protect the overall reputation of the institution. Examples include the abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University, the movement of clergy to other locations in the face of allegations and hiding incidents of incest within family units.  More recently, Freyd and Smith noted, the NFL demonstrated this quality by denying it had seen video footage of one of its players battering his fiancee and its previously long record of minor penalties for such interpersonal abuse.

• Institutional denial in which members who allege abuse are marginalized by the institution as being bad apples whose personal behaviors should be the issue.

All the dancers in the dancing nut video are the “workers” following suit, and who amongst them will protest what is happening? Will they sit down on their own, or only do so after the “leaders” get tired and decide to take a break? In my workplace, anyway, the dancers are expected to follow the leaders no matter what, and only sit down when told to do so, no matter how tired or injured they are. Anyone who steps out of this dance and chooses to do their own thing is harshly criticized and punished and shamed. My organization loves to demote employees who do not follow exactly what the leaders tell them to do, and then send out an email telling everyone about the “new” position the employee is being moved to. Speculation rises about what, exactly, the person did to get punished and demoted in that way, and the shame that follows can kill a promising employee’s career path quickly. It demoralizes other employees to the point no one, ever, thinks of dissent. Only new hires try to think outside leadership thought, and they get pruned right fast.

This is a problem, and organizations need to look at ways to fix it, because those that don’t will never keep the best and brightest.

The reason Myers, and Ophelia Benson before him, linked to the article, is that they see the similarities in the atheist/skeptic movement to institutional betrayal. The leadership, consisting of individuals like Dawkins, Harris, Shermer and others, have, in the past few months (and quite notably in the past few weeks) become absolutely insistent that their way or the highway mentality is the only option for the movement. They are the thought leaders–no one can, or should, question or criticize them for any stupidity and/or sexism that leaps forth from their mouths because they are leaders. Follow them or be damned.

Dawkins put it this way, in a response to Jerry Coyne’s blogpost where Coyne is really, really pissed anyone would dare to question the god of atheism for any reason, ever, because screw anyone who doesn’t believe exactly what Dawkins, and therefore Coyne, tells us to believe:

Thank you, Jerry.

I long ago declared that I would not wish to go on living if I found myself in a world dominated by people who no longer care about what’s true and express open contempt for factual evidence. Either a 1984 world where the Party in power is the sole arbiter of what is “true” and enforces it with violence; or a world where truth is whatever society deems it to be, regardless of evidence, and where dissenters are ruthlessly punished by vitriolic abuse or ostracism rather than violence.

I fear we are sleepwalking towards that feared world, where people shun evidence and despise facts: a world where dogma is king, emotion is queen and evidence is exiled; and where dissent from orthodoxy is suppressed by verbal if not physical jackboots.

Whine. Go ahead. Tell the world that if you can’t be a rape apologist (if you don’t know the backstory, read the Oppenheimer piece), it’s the world who is at fault, not you. If women drink then get raped, too bad for them–shut up, sit down, and don’t ruin a man’s life. Who gives a shit if he ruined theirs? It’s to the point you are belittling and lying to a 14 year old rape victim. Good job.

Has it ever occurred to those scared old white men and their scared white male following that what they tweet, what they write, is looked upon with utter contempt from bright, intelligent individuals who might have, at one point, thought about joining the atheist/skeptic movement, but who cannot get past the sexism, racism, bigotry, and hate? You are exactly the patriarchal individuals you claim to denounce when they belong to a church. You are blind to the faults of those you know (and you wonder why the Catholic church hid the pedophile priests from the public. Look what you’re doing with Shermer. Same thing), hateful to those who don’t agree with you, and just as childish and immature when called on it as the gamer trolls are when their beloved video games are critiqued.

The leadership of the atheist/skeptic movement is a lot like the gamer trolls; they are men frightened of losing influence in a rapidly changing world that is not necessarily changing to benefit them. They see their loss of privilege as a horrendous personal attack and refuse to listen to anyone who might point out that having diverse viewpoints could help the movement define goals and beliefs, and help define future action.

There’s no way I want to be part of another organization that treats their membership like sheeple–do as I say or get slaughtered.

I Will Never Stand Down, Christina Hoff Sommers. Never.

Dear Christina Hoff Sommers,

I will not stand down.  I will not be quiet. I will not sit down and shut up, as you seem to think all good little girls should. I will speak my experience, and frankly, that experience with video games does include a great deal of sexism, racism and violence in gameplay.  It does not mean I hate those video games, on the contrary, I enjoy playing quite a few of them, but I believe game creators can do lots better when it comes to content.

Our beloved “hipster” reviewer (and I do wonder if you realize exactly what hipster means), Anita Sarkeesian, has played so so many video games, and not just the CoD and GTA series that you mention. She had pointed out that depicting gendered violence over and over and over again makes it seem normal, expected. It reinforces attitudes that women are disposable sex objects and nothing more, that it’s ok to beat and rape them because everyone else is doing it, and even if they aren’t, they approve.

Boys will be boys is a terrible idea to uphold. It leads to so many horrible things in our society, like harassment, rape, domestic violence, racism, and more. It gives males a free pass to do whatever they like to whomever they wish, and expect no punishment in return, while those who suffer at their hands must endure shame, violence, and worse with no recourse.

Oh, BTW, just stating that video games aren’t sexist, rather than proving it, does not answer the question that titles your video. You should know better, having been a philosophy professor, but the sloppiness, and the ad hominim attacks, etc., are pretty typical for an American Enteprise Institute hack. I would have thought Brandeis would teach their students better than this, but when there’s a ton of money and influence to be made by shitty logic, I suppose that’s too great a pull.

Lucky for us Jonathan Mann has an excellent rebuttal.

Why Do You Have To See The Violence Before You Do Something?

TMZ has shamed the main stream media (MSM). They have shamed the NFL. It never should have come to this. It never should have been an issue. (I’m not going to link to the video, but it’s easy to find.)

The NFL was rightly castigated for the two-game suspension of Ray Rice after video showed him dragging his then-girlfriend from an elevator, unconscious. Of course, that suspension only came after the video was released and public outcry for some form of punishment ensued. It was far too little far too late.

Now we have video of the actual punch that knocked her out.

Why is it, that you have to actually see the violence before you’re willing to believe it? Why does it take the outrage of the general public before the NFL does the right thing? Money speaks louder than outrage, though, and when they thought they could still make money off Rice’s name, they tried to brush the incident under the table. it was not easy, because we have a visual of the after-effects of violence, and people did not forget.

And TMZ made certain the general public revisited their outrage and anger. MSM could not hide either. Shouldn’t one of the networks have actually tried to practice journalism and find that video? Apparently not. It’s far more important to keep the status quo, and the money, that trails along with it.

I’ve read a few articles about Janay Rice defending her husband, upset that people are ruining their lives. She is upset that Rice’s career is in the toilet because of the need for ratings. It is terrible that the life she tried to built is falling apart, but from my perspective, it’s necessary for Rice to receive punishment for criminal acts. The NFL is billed as a positive role model for boys. Work hard, be rewarded. Players work with and promote charities to help kids. Pretending to be a positive influence in a child’s life while supporting a man who, through video, we know knocked out his fiance with one punch, is ludicrous. How many of those kids get to see their father beat their mother every night? How many of them heard about Rice’s initial punishment and wondered if their mother deserved the abuse, since those “in charge” of the NFL thought such occurrences a trivial happenstance?

I also have to wonder if Rice is taking all of this out on her–experience with abusers in my own life would indicate he is. After all, from an abuser’s perspective, it’s her fault he got fired. Victim blaming is a huge part of the perpetrator’s excuse for violence, and if he believes she is the root cause of what is happening now, he will beat the shit out of her for it. That’s what abusers do, just like victims defending their abuser is what victims do. 

I believe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to step down. “He’s ineffective” is a charitable description. And Raven’s owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and team president Dick Cass all need to have their asses handed to them. A man drags his unconscious fiancee from an elevator, and it’s obvious from police reports he knocked her out, and they don’t put two and two together and think about what it’s like to have a much larger man punch his then-fiancee senseless? Really? All-consuming money talks, and the only reason Rice merchandise is getting pulled now is because he’s become a liability; they are unable to hide the incident behind the closet door anymore.

According to ESPN, “Teams were notified that any contract with Rice would not be approved or take effect until further direction is provided by Goodell, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.” Let’s see. Richie Incognito’s been green-lighted to play as a free agent, so it’ll just be a matter of time before NFL decided to give Rice another chance–after the initial furor has died down. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?