Interview with Dan Fisher – Editor-in-Chief, Uncommon Ground Media Ltd.

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Dan Fisher is the Editor-in-Chief of Uncommon Ground Media Ltd., formerly Conatus News.

Here we talk about the work of Uncommon Ground Media Ltd.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s talk about a shift, so, with regards to Uncommon Ground Media, which is now incorporated as a business, it is a new publication. It is taking material from an old publication. What is it intending to do 2019/2020? What is new?

Dan Fisher: So, with Uncommon Ground, in many ways, we are a direct successor to Conatus News. We are carrying on with the same themes, the same topics, as before. But we are doubling down on our values.

Those things that we believe to be the core of Conatus News or what Conatus News was doing differently. It still seems like we are the only site out there, the only organization, which is taking the stance that we are taking.

Everything should be criticized. Everything should be analyzed. If you want to improve the world, you have to be willing to answer the questions. No person is above question. We want to pursue this from a genuine perspective of wanting to improve things.

We feel there are many people insincerely asking questions as there are those who ignore them. We want to be the bridge between them if you like. We want to really emphasize the importance of critical thinking, having an open mind, which is a double-sided approach that we feel is lacking elsewhere.

I had a slogan: equality, education, environment. It’s mentioned on the site in some places. It is not the main focus, but it gives us some indication as to our direction.

So with equality, we are not talking about the Soviet Union. We are not talking about everyone being exactly the same. We are talking about equality in law, equal opportunities, equal education, not just in one country but the whole world. We believe everyone deserves the same rights and opportunities. We are still quite a bit a way off that.

With education, not just education of children but also, including continuing education. It is about continual learning.

Children, in general, are so important to us. After all, they are the future. It boggles my mind that governments could neglect education, neglect children’s welfare. They are the ones you should be investing in as a country. We do not have a future without children being educated.

It’s the same for the environment. Again, there are multiple meanings. I mean both ecological and other issues.

We have to deal with both climate change and also the social environment of people. That’s also important. The way that we relate to each other.

Jacobsen: If you’re taking an orientation of not only a how but a why, what is an example of provocative articles, not necessarily popular but one, that provides a new analysis in a new way on a dull topic?  

Fisher: We have published conservative authors, including people who’ve written for The Federalist for example. But we never publish something, as you say, that is not taking a unique angle on a topic. Perspectives from all sides are important to build an informed position.

For example of an article which would be considered controversial in left-wing progressive circles, we published one entitled “Dylan Omar and the Vicarious Redemption of White Allies.”

It is talking about how instead of atoning for your own issues and problems, if you can make somebody else suffer then you can feel cleansed of responsibility.

I really like it. It takes on the idea of scapegoating, witch hunting, the idea that somebody else can suffer for your redemption, which goes to the core of Christianity.

Jacobsen: It does sound like retributive justice.

Fisher: This is a criticism of this concept in Christianity, which you don’t see very often. I find that very fascinating. He talks about how in the American Civil War. These circumstances where Union soldiers would effectively get their black compatriots to gang rape white Confederate women.

This can be seen as reparations for slavery. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. It is total brutality. But it is revelling in power with a veneer of retribution if you like. This is something that we have to be really aware of, really critical about, because this approach of making people suffer to improve things; in fact, it just makes things worse.

We don’t improve the world by causing more suffering. That’s just not how it goes. People claim to be doing the right thing and then use this as an excuse to hurt other people.

They are some of the most dangerous people around. People say, “It is for a good cause.” But the fact that something is for a good cause should make us even more skeptical [Laughing] and even more critical of what is being done.

You look away when somebody is on your side. Of course, there is a danger of being overly critical of the world. Again, it is sort of that balance. I thought this was a really interesting article.

So, we publish a lot of stuff that we don’t necessarily agree with. We will take things from rightwingers. The question is if it makes us think about the topic in a different way. That, I think, is key. We don’t want to be in an echo chamber.

Hearing things over and over again is a risk in providing a platform for people who do not have any other platform. You can get things excluded from elsewhere over and over again.

We don’t want to reject people who can’t go elsewhere. But we are wary of doing too much on any one topic and locking ourselves down. It is important to take a wider view rather than focus on only one or two issues.

Jacobsen: What is the filtration process for a centre-left publication? For example, someone comes with an article rejected by the far-right, by the right, by the centre-right, by the centre, by the centre-left, by the left, and by the far left.

Then they send it to you. If you are sent these to you and if you are aware of these rejections, what is the filtration process? Is it further consideration or automatic rejection?

Fisher: We wouldn’t reject anyone simply for being rejected elsewhere. In fact, it would make us more likely to value them. We value each article on its merits. I think that’s really important to give everybody a fair shot.

Certainly, we have had people send us articles claiming to be unable to publish elsewhere. But they are simply a rehash of things you can find all over the place. Because, ultimately, everybody believes they are being persecuted and discriminated against.

It is our job to read between the lines and figure out what is really going on. It is something that we are really aware of. Simply providing a platform for voices that you cannot hear elsewhere, of not having any views ourselves and elevating others, that is impossible.

That is why the mantra of listening to the voices of marginalized peoples always falls down because the person who hosts the platform allows who can and cannot speak. We cannot be entirely neutral.

We will always have to pick and choose. That is the nature of running a website. We try to be careful with our approach to that, as to who we accept and who we reject.

Jacobsen: If you’re looking at the media landscape now, what are some rapidly rising topics of import? Those topics or subject matter tapping into a vein of concern across the board.

Fisher: All of the issues around transgenderism is one of our absolutely hottest topics. Of course, you’ve still got plenty of interest in religion, in Islam, issues around it. I would say that these are our two hottest topics.

You might think that the debate around Islam would have cooled down by now. But it is as raging as ever. We are trying to navigate that, trying to bring a thoughtful and nuanced view to it.

Jacobsen: Two questions following from there: 1) Why transgenderism? 2) Why religion in general and Islam in particular?

Fisher: With transgenderism, you’ve got this topic, which is very, very controversial, essentially. You have these polar opposites in terms of perspective.

I am not going to pretend that I don’t favour one side. But trying to be as objective as possible, it is very emotive. You have people who are very, very passionate. It is a lot of people’s personal experiences coming into play, fears, traumas.

This is a conversation that really needs to be had. It is being shied away from. You hear the phrase, “this is not a debate.” As far as I am concerned, anyone saying, “this is not a debate,” is already engaged in a debate.

We need to get those discussions going on this issue. There will be plenty of people who call us hateful and prejudiced for letting these views be aired, in terms of allowing people’s views to be aired on our site.

We are satisfied with what we allow people to say on our site. We are quite satisfied that we would not allow anything to be said that is hateful or prejudiced to certain groups. But again, you have this situation where everybody is ready to accuse everyone else of hatred and prejudice. But we have to make that judgment call for ourselves.

The last few decades have been really interesting ones in terms of the conflicts between different religions, atheist movements, the conflicts within atheist movements as well, and so on.

These debates are still going on: Islamic terrorism, Islamophobia, skepticism. I think these are questions, which have very much not been resolved.

They have been raised over the past few decades. But we are still in the process of answering them. Until Islamic terrorism dies down, as it were, we will keep going back to these topics of questioning the core concepts within Islam. How much is cultural? How much is political? How much is religious?

With the Syrian war potentially drawing to a close, maybe we will see less of it. It remains to be seen. I have said before, I think even if ISIS is defeated militarily; the ideology will continue. We still have countries like Saudi Arabia pumping out propaganda.

The left, by and large, has doubled-down on its defence of Muslims, which is understandable. Questions remain as to how they are going about it. Again, it is what we are allowed to criticize coming up.

My criticism around cultural relativism, how radicals in third world Muslim countries are not being given their fair dues by the West. They are seen as counterproductive to anti-imperialism. These are questions that still need to be addressed and discussed, even if some people are tired of seeing the same stuff.

You’ve got to keep asking the questions until they address the point. Certainly, we are still willing to publish articles on that topic.

Jacobsen: What is the process for the editorial team when they are sifting through the submissions that are given on some of the main topics published now? What should submitters keep in mind when they are giving material?

Fisher: One of the things, we work with people having strong views, as partisan as you like. Obviously, you have to have some sliver of respect for the people you’re criticizing. You have to recognize them as human beings.

There are perspectives. We are not about dismissing them with ideological labels either. If you want to say that these are a conservative viewpoint, you have to explain why and why it’s wrong. Because conservatives aren’t necessarily wrong all the time.

Don’t be afraid to tear into things that you disagree with, but do this from a perspective of understanding; they’re not just evil. They’re not simply out to cause as much pain and misery as possible.

That is one of the keys for us. Other than that, it is about being original. We don’t want to bring out the same stuff over and over again. As long as it makes some interesting points, we are not expecting Ph.D. theses.

Just try to make people think more than trying to just export your perspectives on everyone else, try to shake other people’s views up a bit. Aim to reach out to your opponents as much your own allies.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dan.

Fisher: Great to talk to you.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

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