Yesterday, Ed Brayton, one of our cofounders, announced that he is leaving FreethoughtBlogs and moving to Patheos:
So why am I leaving? Also omnipresent since the start of FTB, as I’m sure you well know, has been controversy. The bloggers here have often gone on crusades and launched battles, most of them necessary and justified. But along with that has come a great deal of drama and stress. I’ve endured several threats of lawsuits against me as the owner of the network over the words and actions of others. I’ve had continual demands that I do something about this or that blogger, that I throw them off the network or censor them. I’ve been caught in the crossfire of a great many fights, continually taking shrapnel in battles that I wasn’t even involved in.
I believe it has to some degree impeded my ability to engage in important activist projects by making some people reluctant to work with me because of all that controversy. That frequent stress has also begun to affect my health. I have two autoimmune disorders that are triggered by stress and I have come to the conclusion that it would be better for my health, both physical and mental, to get out of the crucible and be responsible only for myself and my own words and actions.
We (especially Greta and I) talk a lot about self-care here, and we always emphasize that it should be okay to step back or quit when you need to for your own health. (Mental health is, obviously, included in health.) Of course, Ed isn’t really quitting, just moving his blog elsewhere, but he’s stepping back from the responsibility of leading a network like this one and being deluged with all the crap he got deluged with because of it.
Something I often say is that we should thank and encourage people when they practice good self-care, because that helps (if only a little) assuage the guilt that many people feel when they need to step back and also show others that self-care is okay (and not selfish, and definitely preferable to not-self-care). So, props to Ed for doing what he needs to do regardless of what others think he should do. I hope that his actions help more people feel empowered to care for themselves and trust that the projects they started will either continue in their absence, or maybe be reborn as something different, perhaps even better.
I also want to thank Ed for creating this amazing space. Despite some of the challenges, I think I’ve really grown as a thinker and writer as a result of being here. Ed has personally encouraged me many times and I appreciate that also. Often it’s fellow writers who best understand how easy it is to get discouraged and how quickly the self-doubt sets in.
I want to address some disturbing things I’ve been seeing in response to Ed’s departure:
1. “FtB is doomed!”
No, it’s not. Ed left an executive committee in charge, and I trust that they’ll be more than able to keep the network going. And if the loss in readership really makes it impossible to pay the bills, then either we’ll make money some other way or we’ll dissolve the network and continue blogging on our own. That wouldn’t be the end of the world either, but also, I don’t think it’ll happen.
Moreover, it’s actually not at all supportive to tell Ed that his leaving the network will doom it. A lot of these comments are being made in what is clearly meant to be a complimentary fashion, like “oh no Ed you’re so awesome FtB will just turn into a barren wasteland without your leadership,” but it’s not really a compliment to tell someone that they did such a crappy job of setting up a blog network that it’ll fall to pieces as soon as they leave, and also, that’s not going to make him feel any better about having to leave! So why say it?
Another important thing that Stephanie pointed out in a Facebook thread yesterday is that sometimes, it’s ultimately really helpful for older leaders to step back from the projects they started and let new leadership take over, because that’s how leaders get developed. If the same person always led a group or project from start to finish/dissolution, then nobody else would ever get a chance to try leading it. I’m curious and excited to see what will happen now.
2. “Well, what a shame, you and PZ are the only FtB bloggers I read, I check Pharyngula and Dispatches every single morning…”
I’ve actually been seeing this for years and only recently has it started to bother me. Obviously–obviously–you shouldn’t read blogs you don’t like that don’t interest you. If Ed and PZ are really the only FtB bloggers that interest you, then, I guess, only read Ed and PZ.
However, a lot of this is just sheer ignorance of what other people on the network are doing. When PZ shut down his social threads recently (also, like Ed, because people were being fucking overwhelming), I saw a comment from someone saying that they only read Ed and PZ because everyone else only blogs about their “bowel movements” and “mental health problem du jour.” (I’m not going to find and link the comment, because I value myself and my time.) That is so inaccurate and narrow-minded that I don’t even know where to begin with it, so I’ll just leave it.
There is something really disturbing to me about the sheer number of people who proudly announce–as if it’s meant to be a compliment to Ed and PZ, who started this network and brought all these diverse people onto it–that they only read two of the very few straight cis white male bloggers we’ve got. None of the women, none of the queer/trans writers, none of the people of color. Just two straight cis white male bloggers.
I realize I’m probably preaching to the choir, because if you’re already decided that only Ed and PZ are worth your time, you’re probably not reading this. But if you happen to have decided to explore the wild outskirts of FtB today, I really want you to think about why you’re only reading two straight cis white male writers on this network and nobody else. Especially if you specifically value Ed’s and PZ’s contributions to progressive discourse and social justice.
None of this is to put down Ed and PZ, whom I like and think are great even though I disagree with them sometimes (as I do with everyone). Both of them have always tried, to the apparent disregard of some of their readers, to promote and signal-boost the voices of other writers, both on FtB and beyond. Ed paid us a thoughtful compliment in his departure post:
Let me also say this: There are some very important voices here at FTB that should be getting far more attention. Miri Mogilevsky, Heina Dadabhoy, Taslima Nasrin and many others are doing some very exciting writing and if you aren’t reading them, you’re really missing out. The bloggers here have challenged me, proven me wrong a time or two, changed my way of looking at things more times than I can count. I really can’t thank them enough for that. Regardless of all the drama, I am hopeful that these young, dynamic, incredibly thoughtful people will help us transcend those divisions and make the atheist/humanist community stronger.
This isn’t just me trying to get more readers; I don’t feel that I especially need additional readers. I just don’t want people to think it’s some sort of a compliment to my friends and colleagues to proudly announce that they don’t read me and the other bloggers, and I also want people to diversify their reading in general, whether or not that ends up including me.
In any case, I wish Ed the best over at his new blog, and I hope that a little change in leadership might actually do us some good.