Opinion: On Staying Silent

People are remaining silent on various issues.  For many, silence is considered supportive of one side or another.  If you don’t disagree visibly or vocally, then you must agree! It’s a fallacy, we all know it, but never the less it’s happening.  Right now, we have members of the skeptical movement who are staying silent out of fear of the resulting backlash.  It seems the silence is greatest when something is going wrong but, people are afraid to comment.  We all know when something has gone awry and we all know the moment of clarity that happens each of us, when it does.  What is puzzling for the skeptical movement is the silent stance.  After all, what has been one of the big tenets of our movement? Engagement.  We skeptics research, read, get informed, find answers that get us upset… then do nothing? What good comes from that?

All our information and no questions or engagement, what is it all for if not to help others make informed decisions. Of course, when you do engage in our community it can get messy.  I know this all too well.  I wrote a blog on a skepchick article, which was my last straw, in the feminist movement.  I felt like I was being told how to think or feel about the topic.  My ability to stay silent was no longer palatable.  It was time for me to consider putting up or shutting up.  So, put up I did.  I am no worse for wear, my backlash could have been worse.  Not, like Stef McGraw, a virtual no one in the skeptical movement spoke out on a YouTube video.  Stef McGraw started a “knife fight” with Rebecca Watson and was greeted with a “bazooka”.  The response was not equitable and what is the outcome?  Do we have someone new in our midst to help, or do we have an alienated girl who will never look back? (Stef, will have to answer that question.)  However, no one takes the messy cake more then Dawkins.  The biggest name in atheism/skepticism movement stepped into the fray with, maybe, what he thought was response of refreshing perspective.  Dawkins, (#75) realizing it or not stepped on the biggest land-mine I have seen setting foot into the movement.   Calls to boycott, letters being sent, oh boy the list goes on for miles.


Right or wrong, the three of us stepped out, extended our necks and to varying degrees have experienced attempted beheadings.  Many of the people who disagree with you are going to get angry and try to shut you down.  The angry ones are going to do so in a variety of ways: Dismissiveness, Insults, Ganging up, Block you, Un-friend you, Mean Tweets, E-mails of anger, and a 100 other ways I care not to think about.  It’s the internet folks It can’t help itself, it’s going to get messy.  It is shame-almost criminal-to let anyone scare others into being silent.  If you are not ready to take the heat, do not start with the hottest topic out there.  Start with the small controversies-if there is such a thing-to get your feet wet and into the game.  For example: Large: my “feminism” article; many comments, much energy resulted from this on both sides.  Small: I wrote another article on chemicals natural versus synthetic; no comments and no interest.  The Internet is messy and it is fickle, don’t take it personally.  When you decide to write, write what interests you regardless of what you consider of interest to the public.  (I am an amateur.  I am not internet famous. However, this has been my limited experience: messy and fickle)


Now that you have been scared off, there is a good side to the internet.  The positive response.  It is so rewarding to know you are not the only one who thinks the same way.  I am not going to lie, it is a little kick of caffeine-my drug of choice-to my system.  However, when the topic is a controversial one of great magnitude, it will be mostly of the silent hidden kind.  (Silent is defined as private messages, emails, and conversations) Again, almost criminal to not share your opinion because you are letting the loudest and meanest voices of the internet scare you.  By staying silent out of fear, you are allowing only one side to have a voice and dictate the end result.  So, if you are staying silent out of fear, who are you helping and what are you sending to people like Stephanie?


Now, I am not taking any sides.  The side of the Skepchicks, Dawkins, or Stef; even though this article until now does sound like I have taken one.  “Write what you know” is what my classes say.  This is what I have seen and experienced and therefor what I know.  Are there other examples out there? Sure! Do I know enough to write about them? NO!


Happily and Sadly, we are a group of evidence seeking people.  Happily, because how else do you keep people properly informed?  Sadly, because there are just some things, evidence is not in existence for-if even needed.  So, this whole article maybe dismissed due to a lack of “evidence” but if support or any other opinion is silent… then I have none to give do I? (None as in it was given in private. Meaning, they did not want to be ousted, so it is not in existence. The evidence it is not mine to give) It is a viscous circle; “You say there are those who share your opinion, but are afraid to give it.  So you have no proof! So you are free to attack and how can anyone defend themselves?”


Now, I don’t want visible pats on the back, this is not why I write.  Nor do I want people to speak just for the sake of speaking.  When I choose to write, I write to share my ideas regardless of public opinion.  (That is a bold thing to for anyone starting out to do!)  So, what the heck is the point, what do I want out of this article?  I want constructive commentary from both sides of any issue.  I want constructive engagement of ideas that compliment/conflict with one another.  If we all shout the loudest, no one will listen.  If we all agree, we will accomplish little and if we all disagree, we will accomplish little.  I want those who are afraid to speak up, regardless of the “sides” they support or the issue of interest.


What purpose does it serve to call someone a troll, other then to cut down and alienate.  If you are capable of calling someone a troll, then you certainly are capable of saying “I need to disengage with you, it seems we are getting nowhere and frustration is getting the better of me” Is it idealistic? OH HELL YES! I know this, however, why not work towards it?  If we want more diversity in our movement, then maybe we need not only seek out more women and nationalities explicitly, but through demonstration of diversity of voice and ideas.  So, speak up!  Thanks to Dawkins joining in, more people have gotten engaged and have chosen to join in discussion.  Hopefully, this trend of increased engagement continues in a constructive manner.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Dale Roy

Recently retired physical science teacher. Going for Masters Degree for Science in the Public thru the University of Buffalo Married to Sc00ter Looking to be more involved and active member of the skeptical community now that I have time.

One thought on “Opinion: On Staying Silent

  1. Kochanski

    Great article, I don’t know that there is a solution to this. Things on the internet tend to extremes, things escalate quickly, and it is easy to get scared into silence when there is an avalanche of opinion supporting one view. You know that you will be eviscerated if you disagree by too many people to even have a hope to answer adequately and support your view.

    In blogs it is very difficult, in forums if they are well moderated it is a bit easier, but still not that easy.

    I have been guilty of silence lately for some of these reasons and for a few others too. Some topics have escalated to the point that more discussion seems likely to just escalate it more. The more attention the subject gets the more feverish and strident the voices. So I have stayed silent in hopes that the controversy will peter out if fewer people get involved. I am hoping that a bit of time and thought will produce a more rational and less emotional response.

    I have always followed the count to ten rule when replying to things that I feel strongly about. I “count to ten” before I think of replying, then look at what I want to reply to again and try to compose a reasoned reply to what has been said, then I don’t send it immediately, I “count to ten” again and reread what I have composed and make sure that my response is well reasoned and well supported. I want to make sure that my emotions have not carried me to a place where I do not want to be.

    That is my approach but it is not something that you can enforce on people.

    I am going to try to speak up a bit more, especially on issues involving women and feminism. The voices being heard at present are not representative of my views and I do feel there is a danger that the lack of opposition to those views is skewing people’s view of women and feminism.

Leave a Reply