I guess I should be writing a political blog; I would get a lot more comments.
But this isn’t a political blog.
When I wrote,
“Here’s my approach to these interviews; I think that verbal combat is an important element of the fire that forges better ideas. But I want that verbal combat to center around the ideas that are under discussion, not the people who voice the ideas.”
I did not intend to censor anyone (I have a hard time seeing how the comment could be read that way, especially when most of the comments are coming from people who have their own self-published blogs). I just meant that Bill Schambra has some ideas that are worth discussing. Namely, 1) attacking the root causes of social problems is a waste of time, 2) foundations don’t examine the work they do and instead he believes there is a “conspiracy of silence” when it comes to their “grand failures”, 3) that nonprofits and foundations should not strive for business-like efficiency, because the current “messiness, amateurism, and the sloppiness” serves a critical need of civil society. Read/listen to my interview with him for his thoughts on each subject. Holden Karnofsky has been highly critical of Schambra’s points (here, here, here and here), but he’s addressed the points on their merits.
I think that each of these viewpoints is worthy of discussion. Does Bill have a political motive behind his views? Yes, and frankly I don’t really care. Understanding his political motives may shed light on his thinking, but each of the three topics above can be addressed directly instead of de-legitimizing his arguments by exposing his “ulterior motives”.
Phil Cubeta wants this conversation to be an alley fight. I don’t. On Phil’s blog, there is a carnival atmosphere, where the fun is in the masks people where. I like a good carnival. But I’m not holding a carnival here.
I got an email today from the person who writes Gates Keepers Blog. This is an anonymously written blog that is highly critical of The Gates Foundation. I’ve objected to their anonymity in the past and they noticed my disapproval of a recent anonymous comment. They asked:
I can see that you don’t like anonymous comments on TP. You’ve just re-iterated your point in the Schambra comments. I see your point that there is more value to an anonymous posting when the context if not the identity of the commenter is given.
Would you consider making a posting outlining points that anonymous commenters should provide as *context*. I can’t speak for others but I need to completely protect my identity while adding value to the my comments for the good of the community.
Great question. I think that anonymity should be avoided whenever possible. However, I can think of lots of cases where it is unavoidable and the statements are better made anonymously than not at all. For instance, if you were an employee of the Gates Foundation who felt that there were some ways the foundation could be doing things better. Or if you were a fundraiser who thought there were a lot of ways that fundraising is done that is wrong and that donors don’t know about. Or if you are at a Carnival and playing various roles is the way that truth is told. If the Gates Keeper Blog would simply say, “We are employees of the Gates Foundation”, or “We are Microsoft Employees”, or “We are consultants who were previously engaged by the Gates Foundation. The relationship went sour when we saw how bad things were under the hood and we decided to write this blog to let the world know. However, we’d never get another consulting job if other foundations knew we were writing this and frankly being foundation consultants is how we pay the bills.”
What I object to is anonymous comments that appear to be someone saying something that they don’t want to be associated with. Let’s look at the anonymous comment from the comment thread:
Don’t blow out the lamp yet. Says Bill about evidence that foundations do not conspire to remain silent: “…first I’ll have to read…ummm, reread the reports so it may take a while.” Bill, how convenient. You make an accusation. Sean points out that you might be off base. You acknowledge you read the reports, but claim foggy memory. And, then say you’re obviously too busy to refresh your memory. It’s not just your memory that’s foggy. It’s the way you won’t own up to being wrong. Could that be the “root cause” of what makes other of your claims suspect?
Frankly, I was disappointed that Bill was unable to comment on the reports as well, since his complaint that foundations don’t examine their failures rings hollow when he says he hasn’t read two recent, major examples of foundations doing exactly what he has called for. There’s nothing wrong with saying that. I would guess that the anonymous comment came from someone who has a job to protect, but if you don’t want to be identified with your views, than maybe you need to take a pass this time. If the anonymity allowed you to say something that few other people could say (like in the examples of acceptable anonymity above) than the compromise is worth it. But it is not worth it to use anonymity so that you can say something you aren’t willing to put your name behind when the comment is a simple observation that people in other roles could say as well.
I mentioned I don’t mind anonymity in the context of a Carnival, such as when “Missy Proctor” mocked me (note: that link is to a website that is probably the only philanthropy website that might be considered “not safe for work”). But on that site, the Carnival context rules. As I said, I like Carnivals, but I’m not throwing one on Tactical Philanthropy.
I have to admit to a mistake of my own. Before the interview, a discussion occurred on Gift Hub about potential questions to ask Schambra. I posted a comment objecting to the pre-planed questions on the grounds that the questions should be in reaction to the interview (which had not been posted yet). That’s when Phil told me, “Don’t wimp out, Sean. Either you play Bill or he plays you. That is his job.” The fact is, I shouldn’t have objected. Gift Hub is Phil’s blog and in the Gift Hub context, Schambra’s potential ulterior, conservative motives is highly relevant.
William Schambra is a conservative. Phil Cubeta is a liberal. Great. Now let’s talk about philanthropy.