What does psychology consider harassment?

Because certain entities on the web feel like redefining all forms of internet harassment and threat as “trolling” just because it happens online or via unusual media, I decided to look at what actually qualifies as harassment in psychology (rather than in law, since we’re talking about whether it affects people, not whether it’s illegal). I looked at a couple psych studies that were doing experiments on the effects of harassment, and excerpted the part where they describe the form of experimental harassment they subjected their test subjects to, as well as relevant results:

http://www.jpsychores.com/article/S0022-3999%2898%2900075-0/abstract
Harassment used in experiment:

For subjects in the harassment condition, scripted harassing comments were delivered on a fixed schedule, at minutes 2, 6, and 10 of the task, by an experimental assistant of the same gender as the subject. All experimental assistants (three women and three men) were trained to deliver the harassing statements in a firm, authoritative, but neutral (i.e., not angry) tone of voice.

Results:

The harassed subjects reacted more strongly than the control subjects to the stressor on all cardiovascular and cortisol measures and recovered more slowly than the nonharassed controls. In addition, several gender differences in response to the stressor and during the recovery period were observed. The harassed men exhibited the largest reactivity on cortisol and DBP indices, whereas the harassed women showed a more pronounced response on the subjective ratings of hostility and HR. The harassed groups were the only ones to show significant cortisol responses, with cortisol reactivity in harassed men approximately twice that of their female counterparts. Control groups did not exhibit significant cortisol reactivity. During the recovery period, harassed men exhibited attenuated return to baseline on cardiovascular indices and cortisol, whereas women, overall, tended to exhibit an overcompensation response on cardiovascular measures.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10661604
Harassment used in experiment:

For subjects in the Harassment condition, the procedure for the first four TAT cards was identical to that just described for subjects in the Nonharassment condition. Before the fifth card, however, the experimenter said that the last four stories had been “somewhat boring,” and that the subject should try harder to make the next few stories interesting. After the fifth card, the experimenter said “you still do not have it right.” After the sixth and seventh cards, the experimenter again indicated that the stories were inadequate, and said “I cannot see what the problem is,” and that “you should make some effort” to improve them. During the eighth story, the experimenter interrupted the subject with a critical comment.

Results:

Results indicate that the harassment manipulation affected increases in [heart rate], [systolic blood pressure], and [diastolic blood pressure]. Furthermore, among subjects in the Harassment condition, anger repressors showed greater HR reactivity than low anger expressors, but similar HR reactivity to that shown by high anger expressors. [...] among subjects in the Harassment condition, anger repressors reported levels of anger arousal similar to those of low anger expressors, but lower than those reported by high anger expressors. For subjects in the Nonharassment condition, no such effects emerged

There are other definitions, e.g. cyberbullying being typically defined as intentional and/or repeated harassment, which is ok except intent is hard to prove and easy to deny; and vague definitions that include terms like “verbal abuse”, which don’t explain anything. When studying entire organizations, there tends to be also a requirement of “creating a hostile environment” for harassment, so that even when each person only commits a harassing act once, it still counts.

Conclusion: Even mild interruption, ridicule, and criticism elicits stress responses, and all these mild stress-response-elicitors count as harassment in psychology. That doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing people, and it doesn’t mean that people who want to be skeptics, scientists and/or activists don’t need to learn to deal with a certain degree of both criticism and “trolling”. However, as with microaggressions, a constant barrage of aggression (some low-grade some decidedly less so) is typically more wearying/damaging than the occasional blatant, massive outburst. Consequently, telling a person who’s subjected for months to non-stop criticism, “satire”, parody, “trolling”, and plain old “as defined by every college campus everywhere” harassment* on multiple fronts that they aren’t being harassed is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Even the thickest skin will eventually be worn down** my months, or even years, of this sort of thing.
What this means in effect is that even harassment that doesn’t quite live up to persecutable legal standards*** still causes harm to people. Real, measurable harm.

What the pitters & their associates have been doing to certain individuals for months, even years now is definitely this kind of long-term harassment that creates a toxic environment and has negative physiological effects on people.

And the Horde isn’t entirely guilt-free here, either. The Reset rule and the Three Post rule exist for a reason, m’kay?

EDIT: more studies on this and related topic can be found at the bottom of this comment, because I’ve talked about this before.

- – – – – – -
*for example, NDSU defines it as “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior which has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual’s employment or academic endeavors or creating a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment. Harassment may include (but is not limited to) jokes, derogatory comments, pictures, and/or direct physical advances.”
**interestingly, the second study cited here also points out that people who repress their anger still have a hightened physiological response, but they don’t seem to perceive it (or want to disclose it to the researchers)… so “thick skinned” people may well not actually all be that thick skinned, just good at repressing their emotions. The physiological harm is still there though.
***according to USLegal.com, the legal definition of harassment in the US is determined by state, but typically includes this basic core:

Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.

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48 comments on “What does psychology consider harassment?

  1. [...] has a useful post about what psychology considers harassment. Just imagine: there is research. It’s possible to find out what harassment does to [...]

  2. Origami Isopod/Ms Daisy Cutter says:

    And the Horde isn’t entirely guilt-free here, either. The Reset rule and the Three Post rule exist for a reason, m’kay?

    LOL. The reset rule exists because of your buddy Strange Git Before Me. Now he uses it as yet another tool in his arsenal of abuse.

    Stephanie Zvan said it well:

    Sometimes the identity of the person making an argument tells us what their argument really says. It tells us what background they’re leaving out of their argument to make it sound as though they’re being reasonable. It tells us what they intend to use agreement with their argument to justify next. In short, it tells us how much charity is reasonable in interpreting the words of the argument.

  3. Jadehawk says:

    “arsenal of abuse” my ass. and if he actually were the main problem with this, it wouldn’t be an issue anymore. Not the case, so obviously him being the last straw is hardly relevant. And for most interactions, it’s a good enough rule. You’re of course welcome to go nuclear on everyone immediately though; but then they won’t be wrong in accusing you of bullying. Tradeoffs and shit.

    and yes, sometimes history is relevant. often, it’s not. when it is relevant, it will be brought up as part of the argument. But that’s not what’s happening.

  4. Hunt says:

    A lot of these people deserve each other though. The Slymepit seems to be a perfect counterpart to PZ, who has trolled and harassed creationists, for instance, for a decade. He’s finally come up against people who are as willing to put the same energy into trolling back, irreverently and in a very similar way to what he’s done to others for years, and it’s pissing him off. What goes around comes around. I have more sympathy for others, though Benson also appears to troll others, protestations to the contrary. Recall how she issued multiple posts goading Shermer into responding, and then cried Why oh Why is he bothering me!!!? when he did. These guys have made their beds. They can now sleep in them, high cortisol levels or no. If they want to damage their cardiovascular systems in a perpetual escalation of stress, perhaps it’s must natural selection in action, the Darwin Awards fulfilled.

  5. Reblogged this on EllenBeth Wachs and commented:
    We will be starting the Professional Victims Club very shortly. All those attacked by #SPhaters will feel safe and welcome.

  6. [...] has an interesting post up on what psychology considers harassment — that is, when the pros assess effective harassment campaigns, what do they [...]

  7. Yes, Hunt, because it’s totally Karma for PZ allowing all those creationists onto his blog to read what PZ has to say and then to comment in PZ’s comment section, and then totally 100% equivalent that the ‘pitters start a monumental hate campaign because PZ says things they don’t agree with. The hell?

  8. opposablethumbs says:

    Hunt, perhaps you could cite one single instance where PZ or any comparable individual has “trolled and harassed” creationists? For example, by sending them threats or flooding creationists’ blogs with expletives (as opposed to posting criticism of their speech or writing on his own blog)? By revealing or threatening to reveal personal information about creationists which is not already displayed on their own sites (such as RL address, RL identity etc.)? By signing creationists up for silly subscriptions? By photoshopping creationist’s heads onto pornographic images?
    Tsk tsk. I think you have forgotten the difference between criticising someone’s arguments and harassing them. Or are you perhaps so happy to think that someone you don’t like is being harassed that you don’t care about the fact that what you are saying is simply not true?

    Oh, and do you seriously think that PZ is on a par with creationists as far as legitimate criticism is concerned? Judging from your comment, I suppose you must do – which says a lot about you.

  9. Jadehawk says:

    Recall how she issued multiple posts goading Shermer into responding, and then cried Why oh Why is he bothering me!!!?

    This… resembles the actual course of events not at all.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    BTW, what happened to the “recent comments” part of the sidebar? It disappeared a few days ago…

    Sometimes the identity of the person making an argument tells us what their argument really says. It tells us what background they’re leaving out of their argument to make it sound as though they’re being reasonable. It tells us what they intend to use agreement with their argument to justify next. In short, it tells us how much charity is reasonable in interpreting the words of the argument.

    Uh, yeah, but that’s very easy to overdo: it can lead you to think that the person in question just must fit the box you’re trying to shoehorn them into, so that any attempts to show that they don’t fit is interpreted as “protesting too much” or as taking sides with the box.

    I’m not talking about you personally or SGBM personally here. Lots of people do that on Pharyngula when a slightly unconventional creationist shows up (like, some weird Old Earth brand as opposed to the Ken Ham/Kent Hovind New Earth version we all know and “love”) or when some muddle-headed atheist makes arguments about religion and is assumed to be a theist. And now I’ll hand the mike to my good friend Cpt. Obvious:

    Cpt. Obvious: It goes without saying that this fairly often this happens to people who are very, very wrong in other ways, or even evil (for instance trolls).
    Me: Indeed it does! Thank you, Captain!

  11. Jadehawk says:

    BTW, what happened to the “recent comments” part of the sidebar? It disappeared a few days ago…

    huh? oh, I hadn’t noticed that. I didn’t do anything with it, so that must be a glitch. I’ll see if I can fix it.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    It’s back. :-)

  13. Edward Gemmer says:

    Pretty interesting. It’s clear in the atheist community, and pretty much everywhere else on the internet, that disagreement can cause strong emotional reactions. I do think as skeptics learning about this is recommended, because disagreement and discussion should be a valued above preventing emotional reactions.

  14. Jadehawk says:

    That depends. A discussion that basically investigates and questions the status quo in order to improve on it? Emotional reaction from those defending the status quo will have to be a acceptable price, but even then shouldn’t veer into prolonged campaigns of denigration against individuals.

    Insisting on constantly re-arguing from a “philosophical perspective” discriminatory ideas affecting members of groups you don’t belong to, questioning their ability to be “objective” about issues affecting them while never questioning one’s own ability to do so? No. The desire of some folks somewhere to have abstract, theoretical, and/or philosophical mental-masturbation sessions on topics that don’t affect them does not trump the health of people who are the topic or target of those “discussions”.

    IOW, we don’t need rich white feminists theorizing about whether sex-work contributes to patriarchy more than makeup or high heels; not when the actually important part is that sex-workers are being harmed from marginalization. We don’t need white atheists hypothesizing why all those non-whites are too “brainwashed” to find their way out of religion, when we have black atheists explaining over and over that religion provides a social safety-net not otherwise available to many people of color. We don’t need cis people debating whether what trans-ness is (e.g. whether it’s “sex” or “gender” as these terms were constructed by cis folks). Etc. Nothing productive ever comes of that.

  15. Jadehawk says:

    or to put it differently: subversiveness is the most useful quality of skepticism, and an appropriate use of a tool that will cause some mental anguish regardless the topic; hyperskepticism in defense of the status quo on the other hand is an abuse of the concept to spare oneself the need to accept unpleasant ideas at the cost of other people

    Probably the biggest example of that is AGW denialism: hyperskepticism on that topic is already leading to devastation of peoples living on permafrost and on low-lying islands. And all just so people don’t have to change their comfortable lives and ideologies (I’m looking at you, libertarians!)

  16. Hunt says:

    ‘pitters start a monumental hate campaign because PZ says things they don’t agree with

    Last I heard, the pit has about 400 members, which hardly encompasses the entire source of satire and ridicule (or psychological harassment) pointed FtB way, though that doesn’t stop everyone there from making them complicit in every single bit that comes their way. The pit is far more acerbic than mild criticism, but I have a feeling they would come in for about as much protest if they were just that. They are a group critical of FtB. They are an identifiable boogeyman. That in itself would be enough to trigger the outcry machine. Unfortunately that is characteristic of “the house PZ” built. If you don’t believe it, you live in dreamworld.

  17. Edward Gemmer says:

    Well, I agree it can be frustrating when people who don’t know what they are talking about start spouting off opinions. Isn’t that really what this study (and most harassment) is all about. Opinions are advanced, either knowingly or unknowingly triggering an emotional response from those who hear them?

    That being said, there is a responsibility on the part of any good skeptic to understand this. I may hate it when people who know nothing about crime spout off about what should happen with rapists in the criminal justice system, but that’s because I work in the criminal justice system. It is their responsibility to not talk about it? Or mine to give a unique point of view?

    Rich white feminists talking about high heels may be frustrating, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have valid points or they have nothing to offer. Good things definitely can happen from discussion about nearly every issue. Whether they understand their limitations or not, treating them as second class citizens doesn’t strike me as effective. In fact, it seems like the worst solution. Rich white feminists would probably have a lot more influence about many things than poor ones, so including them seems like a wise thing to do. This idea that someone has nothing to offer solely by virtue of who their parents are or their stage in life seems to ignore the central message of the civil rights movement, which was “Don’t make bullshit assumptions about people.”

  18. Jadehawk says:

    I have a feeling they would come in for about as much protest if they were just that

    hahahahahahahahaha. The slymepit started for the express purpose of allowing assholes to express their disdain for RW and their joy at making up vagina-related nicknames for her. It is fundamentally broken.

    They are a group critical of FtB. They are an identifiable boogeyman. That in itself would be enough to trigger the outcry machine.

    except for the part where FTB is also criticized elsewhere, including on this blog on occasion. That’s the thing: there’s no criticism of FTB at the slymepit; it’s all “omg the FTB women are so ugly” and similar bullshit.

    If you don’t believe it, you live in dreamworld.

    projection.

  19. Hunt says:

    Oh, and do you seriously think that PZ is on a par with creationists as far as legitimate criticism is concerned? Judging from your comment, I suppose you must do – which says a lot about you.

    All it says is that I’m sticking to the topic, which is psychological harassment. I wonder where exactly you think this is all leading? As far as I can tell ‘psychological harassment’ is just the next concept being fielded, like ‘stochastic terrorism’, to silence opposition. Otherwise, it’s just an interesting academic observation that peoples’ bickering correlates with cortisol release in the bloodstream.

    Remember, psychological harassment lowers the bar on harassment far below the legal level. The fact that the concept is tied to certain physiological correlates, like stress hormone release, only bolsters its pseudo-scientific creds.

    If you’re really desperate for examples, try the recent instance where PZ described Abbey Smith as a slimy bottom dweller, or some such. That is bona-fide ‘psychological harassment.’ I challenge anyone to tell me it isn’t. There is every reason to think that the statement boosted Smith’s stress hormone level. Are you still so sure you want to start down this road?

  20. Jadehawk says:

    Edward…. how exactly did you manage to so thoroughly miss the point here?
    1)My last comment wasn’t about “frustrating”, or “hating it when”; it was about emotional damage, up to and including PTSD-like symptoms
    2)No, it’s actually not the job of minorities to teach every individual privileged fucknozzle why they’re wrong.
    3)comparing people getting something wrong about your work to people wanting to discuss your right to bodily autonomy is fucked up. deeply fucked up.
    4)I didn’t say feminist shouldn’t discuss high heels, I said they shouldn’t discuss whether sex workers are colluding with the patriarchy more than wearing heals would. Which is more than just “frustrating”, it’s harmful to sex workers.
    5)yes, rich white feminists do have more influence; that’s why rich white feminism effectively erased all other forms, by defining its own needs and experiences as THE needs and experiences of feminism. That’s a BAD thing.
    6)Please don’t tell me you’re one of those dimbulbs who thinks MLK would have been against affirmative action because he said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

  21. Jadehawk says:

    As far as I can tell ‘psychological harassment’ is just the next concept being fielded, like ‘stochastic terrorism’, to silence opposition.

    in other words, you didn’t actually read what I wrote in this post. Good to know.

  22. Hunt says:

    That’s the thing: there’s no criticism of FTB at the slymepit; it’s all “omg the FTB women are so ugly” and similar bullshit.

    Not entirely, though there’s plenty of that, and for most people that’s more than enough. There are nuggets of valid observation and true satire, but I’m not asking you or anyone else to sift through it to find them. Again, I “have a feeling” that the actual upset comes more from the sincere accusations, like promotion of a culture of victimization, rather than the Photoshopped image level of harassment, though I may be wrong. Nobody like to be criticized, especially when it has a bit of sting to it.

  23. Jadehawk says:

    like promotion of a culture of victimization

    oh, I’m sure they’re sincere. About as sincere as Phyllis Schlafly was when she said it.

    Nobody like to be criticized, especially when it has a bit of sting to it.

    lol.

  24. Edward Gemmer says:

    1. Sure, but this is a range, right? An emotional reaction to something is an emotional reaction to something. It may be quite mild or quite strong, but at the end of the day, we are talking about emotional reactions to things someone says on the internet. It is usually triggered by disagreement or criticism. It just seems that if we know this, it makes it a lot easier to deal with. I can’t possibly know the amount of criticism or harassment you have received in your life. You do. So whose responsibility is it to know this fact and react accordingly?

    2. It may not be their job, but why not? By definition, the minority will have unique experiences not common with the majority. Is it the majority’s job to figure out who the minorities are and listen to them? Maybe, but this seems self-defeating, because why would the majority do this? Criminals are perhaps the least privileged class. Is it a criminal’s job to show that he is worthy of value to non-criminals, or is it the non-criminals job to understand the value of the criminals?

    3. Maybe it is. However, statements such as “society doesn’t listen to rape victims” or “society doesn’t punish convicted rapists” or “no one cares about rape” are completely and totally wrong, at least in regards to the criminal justice system, so it is frustrating to see them advanced without much thought. Like I said, it is frustrating when people talk about things they don’t understand when you do.

    4. I understand – but there are a million billion different scenarios we could talk about where people start talking about things they don’t fully understand. Instead of yelling down someone for not knowing exactly what they are saying, praising them for addressing the issue in the first place seems like a better approach. Strong dissent is great, but it’s the “isolate and destroy” or “blame and shame” approach that seems so popular despite being mostly ineffective.

    5. Ok, but it is realistic to suggest that rich white feminists just stop talking?

    6. Nope. I love affirmative action. It got me a full ride to law school. I can’t say what MLK would or wouldn’t support, and I don’t care. If affirmative action is a good thing, we should be able to display a range of strong arguments for it. If we cast away every person who questions it, we aren’t on a good path to do that.

    To put it a different way, I think we as skeptics got fat and lazy picking off arguments about bigfoot and ghosts and creationism. There are mountains of evidence against these things, and it’s relatively easy to argue against them. Other arguments are harder – why should the majority consider the minority? Why should we care if women aren’t equally represented? Why should gay people have equal rights to straight people? We think we are right, but instead of putting in the work to prove it, we get lazy and insult people who question us or disagree.

  25. Jadehawk says:

    but at the end of the day, we are talking about emotional reactions to things someone says on the internet.

    the pretense that the internet is not real is tiresome luddism. please divest yourself of this illusion.

    It is usually triggered by disagreement or criticism.

    oh, you know, discussions about whether I have the right to bodily autonomy.

    I can’t possibly know the amount of criticism or harassment you have received in your life. You do. So whose responsibility is it to know this fact and react accordingly?

    actually, it’s quite easy to predict who will likely have received more harassment online. Once again, it’s really not a disprivileged person’s responsibility to manage their mental health so that privileged people don’t ever have to spend some time considering whether what they’re going to say might be a well-known (micro)aggression.

    It may not be their job, but why not? By definition, the minority will have unique experiences not common with the majority.

    and that information is now easily available all over the internet. No one is owed private lessons from a member of a disprivileged group. I mean, think about it: if every privileged person needed to have their dumbosity explained to them on an individual basis, disprivileged people wouldn’t have time to eat, sleep, or live their life; especially when they’re also numerical minorities!

    Is it the majority’s job to figure out who the minorities are and listen to them?

    you make it sound as if this were difficult. As if googling “feminism”, or “trans advocates” or “sex worker activism” were difficult.

    is it the non-criminals job to understand the value of the criminals?

    yes.

    are completely and totally wrong

    are you fucking shitting me.

    praising them for addressing the issue in the first place seems like a better approach.

    are you fucking shitting me. no. you don’t fucking deserve a cookie because you feel like talking about whether sex-workers are brainwashed; you don’t deserve a cookie for wanting to debate whether women are too stupid to be allowed bodily autonomy.

    despite being mostly ineffective.

    [citation needed]

    Ok, but it is realistic to suggest that rich white feminists just stop talking?

    it’s realistic to demand that they listen and support non-rich, non-white feminists, or otherwise be called out on their bullshit.

    why should the majority consider the minority? Why should we care if women aren’t equally represented? Why should gay people have equal rights to straight people?

    you’re simply a horrible human being if you think you have the right to decide for others whether they should be considered fully human.

  26. Ichthyic says:

    I vote Hunt shunt.

    he has no clue what he’s on about, he just wants to blather. waste of comment space.

  27. Edward Gemmer says:

    But why should the majority consider the minority? You can talk about cookies and bad people and the like, but this idea is essential to modern liberalism. The minority should be considered. Why? We can get lost in the weeds about everything else, but this idea is central, and important to be able to answer without insulting anyone who asks it.

    People go on and on about privilege and the like, without any respect for what it actually means. Why should the privileged care about what other people do? Why should they care about trans people at all? It’s easier to not care, and if the alternatives are to not care and not worry about it or to care and be insulted over it, what do you think most people would choose?

  28. Jadehawk says:

    but this idea is central, and important to be able to answer without insulting anyone who asks it.

    but there is no scientific or “logical” or whathaveyou answer to this. Either you value people’s agency, or you don’t. This is axiomatic, it’s the why Human Rights usually get hung from “skyhooks”. You can bullshit around this and invent “rational” philosophical underpinnings, but ultimately, the value of human life is axiomatic.

  29. opposablethumbs says:

    So, Hunt, all those examples you had of PZ “trolling and harassing” creationists? For example, by sending them threats or flooding creationists’ blogs with expletives (as opposed to posting criticism of their speech or writing on his own blog)? By revealing or threatening to reveal personal information about creationists which is not already displayed on their own sites (such as RL address, RL identity etc.)? By signing creationists up for silly subscriptions? By photoshopping creationist’s heads onto pornographic images?

    I mean, you must have had lots of examples in mind when you said he has “has trolled and harassed creationists, for instance, for a decade”? Right? … right?

    You weren’t just … making stuff up, were you? Surely not.

  30. Hunt says:

    You don’t think Myers has harassed (and in some cases trolled) creationists for going on a decade? Are we talking about the same PZ Myers? And “harassed” in this context is “psychological harassment” as per the OP, as measured by blood stress hormone titres. Each time Myers quotes someone in his “dumb guy” boxes, it’s a mini aggression, and that’s just blog layout, before the stream of invective. It’s true, I don’t characterize his manner of harassment as equivalent to those you list. I guess being made to walk to your office door and drop a stack of magazines into the “free” box is now considered far more egregious than posting insults or public shaming for thousands to read. Fine. I’ll go along with that (erp!). You might note that the first line I wrote here was “A lot of these people deserve each other though,” not that PZ deserves all these people. Also note that I’m not entirely (or very much at all) sympathetic to the pit. It’s also a true possibility that it may transform into something entirely unlike what it is today. Online communities often do that. You may (or may not) recall that Pharyngula, once upon a time, was a place where CrackerGate could take place, a brilliant harassment of Catholics. I admit that I too chucked at the thought of Myers desecrating the wafer, though I’m quite sure that many Catholics were not quite so amused. If it happened today, no doubt the pit would be giving Myers a slow clap, but that’s the point. It wouldn’t, couldn’t, happen today. Pharyngula has transformed from an irreverent site of virulent activism to a site of vicious PC thought policing. There is no fucking way CrackerGate would or could happen today. Also consider the Expelled teleconference crash, which almost burned him by comparison during the Tfoot debacle. Perhaps this is progress; I honestly don’t know. I guess Myers has found God, in some sense. You can fill in the blanks.

  31. Edward Gemmer says:

    but there is no scientific or “logical” or whathaveyou answer to this. Either you value people’s agency, or you don’t. This is axiomatic, it’s the why Human Rights usually get hung from “skyhooks”. You can bullshit around this and invent “rational” philosophical underpinnings, but ultimately, the value of human life is axiomatic.

    Sure, but there is a difference between valuing people and valuing all people equally. Most claim to do both, though in practice this does not happen and will never happen. Discouraging talk about people IMO doesn’t help either cause. It’s a heck of a lot easier to claim to value people and then ignore everyone outside of your bubble rather than engage and possibly learn new things. That is the most frustrating part about this atheist spat. People are suspicious of all new people and ideas, so instead of talking and learning, it’s shame and blame, constantly and repeatedly. It is like the above experiment, except comparing the groups as they harass each other.

  32. Jadehawk says:

    Hunt darling, you really should actually read what I wrote in the conclusion of my post before you keep on pointlessly rambling on. Also, I wish folks like you would learn what thought policing actually means.

  33. Jadehawk says:

    Edward, I can’t believe I actually missed that yesterday, but you actually, seriously claimed that Skeptics who argue for Social Justice are “lazy”, just because they see no reason to spend their entire waking lives privately tutoring privileged douchenozzles who want to wax philosophically about their human rights. That is both amazingly appalling and amazingly ignorant.

    and I’m sorry, but it’s absolutely useful to prevent constant JAQing off by wannabe philosophers and hyperskeptics. Conversations that forever stay at the 101 level don’t advance causes.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    If you’re really desperate for examples, try the recent instance where PZ described Abbey Smith as a slimy bottom dweller, or some such. That is bona-fide ‘psychological harassment.’

    I really don’t think one insult counts as harrassment. Now, there are slymepitters that send PZ hate mail every day – that’s harrassment, especially the ones with the threats in them.

    You may (or may not) recall that Pharyngula, once upon a time, was a place where CrackerGate could take place, a brilliant harassment of Catholics.

    Nope, not a harrassment, just a single isolated insult. And to be fair, PZ didn’t expect the reaction would be what it was – he didn’t expect the stream of hate mail, he expected reactions more like “*sigh* best ignore him” or stereotypical little old ladies praying for him.

    I guess being made to walk to your office door and drop a stack of magazines into the “free” box is now considered far more egregious than posting insults or public shaming for thousands to read. Fine.

    You misunderstand. The people in question cyberstalk PZ long enough to find out what his home address is, and have the stuff sent there.

    the Expelled teleconference crash, which almost burned him by comparison during the Tfoot debacle

    …what? How?

    2. It may not be their job, but why not? By definition, the minority will have unique experiences not common with the majority. Is it the majority’s job to figure out who the minorities are and listen to them? Maybe, but this seems self-defeating, because why would the majority do this? Criminals are perhaps the least privileged class. Is it a criminal’s job to show that he is worthy of value to non-criminals, or is it the non-criminals job to understand the value of the criminals?

    The latter, and… interesting choice of example.

    statements such as “society doesn’t listen to rape victims” or “society doesn’t punish convicted rapists” or “no one cares about rape” are completely and totally wrong, at least in regards to the criminal justice system

    Do you have any idea how many accusations of rape result in a conviction? Do you have any idea how many victims don’t bother even going to the police, because they expect – often realistically so, judging from the experiences of those who did go – to be ignored, not taken seriously, or even blamed for the events by the police?

    Sure, once a conviction is there, the penalties are high. But it hardly ever gets to that point.

    Other arguments are harder – why should the majority consider the minority?

    Why not?

    Why should we care if women aren’t equally represented?

    Maybe because half of us are women?

    Why should gay people have equal rights to straight people?

    Why should anyone not have equal rights???

    Why should the privileged care about what other people do?

    …If you want a reason that doesn’t mention empathy, how about the fact that almost everyone is disprivileged on some axis – or at the very least could become so at some point in the future?

    First they came for the… When they came for me, there was nobody left to speak out for me.

  35. Edward Gemmer says:

    Edward, I can’t believe I actually missed that yesterday, but you actually, seriously claimed that Skeptics who argue for Social Justice are “lazy”, just because they see no reason to spend their entire waking lives privately tutoring privileged douchenozzles who want to wax philosophically about their human rights. That is both amazingly appalling and amazingly ignorant.

    I don’t know about that. For example, we “know” evolution is right, and there are mountains and mountains of irrefutable evidence to back it up. Many people have no problem arguing and questioning and debating creationists, mostly because all the facts are on their side. However, when it comes to “social justice,” where facts and figures are much murkier, people tend to resort to insults, condescension, cuss words, and other things as a cover for doing the actual work of proving their case.

    The cause needs work, too. This stuff about privilege gets tossed around liberally. That’s fine, but the conversation about it is mostly useless. A serious conversation about privilege can’t happen without looking at various types of minority groups. Right now, the conversation about privilege hasn’t graduated to the 101 class. It would be generous to say it’s on the remedial class. It’s still focused solely on race/gender/sexuality and tends to ignore the huge number of other factors that contribute to one’s perspective on life. For example, criminals are one of the least privileged groups in existence in any society. You can’t have a serious conversation about privilege and ignore this fact. However, conversations about privilege almost always ignore this fact, which is why it can be hard to take them seriously, especially if you aren’t allowed to participate in them.

    Do you have any idea how many accusations of rape result in a conviction? Do you have any idea how many victims don’t bother even going to the police, because they expect – often realistically so, judging from the experiences of those who did go – to be ignored, not taken seriously, or even blamed for the events by the police?

    Yep.

    Why not?

    Hey, who knows? If there aren’t convincing reasons to support a cause, then it’s hard to convince someone to support a cause.

  36. Jadehawk says:

    Many people have no problem arguing and questioning and debating creationists, mostly because all the facts are on their side.

    actually, it’s because arguments over evolution aren’t arguments over whether you’re a human being or not. Also also, it’s surprisingly easy to find a minority of evolution-accepters to do the arguing when evolution-accepters vastly outnumber creationists. Most evolution-accepters don’t want to have to deal with creationists constantly either; but their vast numerical superiority makes it possible for the tiny group who does want to to be large enough to take on creationists. this is impossible on a purely logistical basis when you’re a numerical minority. And having to constantly defend your humanity to others is psychologically damaging in ways that defending a scientific theory isn’t and can’t be.

    However, when it comes to “social justice,” where facts and figures are much murkier, people tend to resort to insults, condescension, cuss words,

    actually, that’s pretty much been the MO of the New Atheists to religious people, too. Emotional pushback instead of always being on the defensive. I mean really, remember Crackergate?

    other things as a cover for doing the actual work of proving their case.

    assumption of facts not in evidence. And again, it’s logistically impossible for minorities to give private tutoring lessons to every entitled douchecanoe hankering for a philosophical debate. When you’re outnumbered, it’s absolutely essential to pick your battles.

    Right now, the conversation about privilege hasn’t graduated to the 101 class. It would be generous to say it’s on the remedial class. It’s still focused solely on race/gender/sexuality and tends to ignore the huge number of other factors that contribute to one’s perspective on life.

    oh honeycakes, just because you’re not part of these conversations doesn’t mean they don’t happen. They just don’t happen in spaces where JAQing off is common, because JAQing off is always about race, gender, or sexuality. That’s what I meant by not wasting time with every privileged fuck who wants to wax philosophically about the most basic shit.

  37. Hunt says:

    In other words, these topics are being discussed in some ivory tower somewhere, so don’t bother your pretty little head about them. What you need to know will trickle out to the unclean masses. Oh, they’re only what we want to talk about? How the hell did that happen?

    Nice to know the right is totally wrong about the elitist left.

  38. Jadehawk says:

    hahaha ivory tower ahahahahaha elitist left hahahahahahahah

    no, you dolt; they’re discussed by on the ground activists who are trying to effect change. The ivory tower is populated with those who want to philosophize over these issues over and over again for no good reason.

  39. Jadehawk says:

    omg I just can’t stop laughing at the idea of an “Ivory Tower” populated by oppressed people, with the white straight, cis, middle class, etc. dudes being the “unwashed masses”

    hahahahahahahahah

  40. Hunt says:

    “hahahahahahahahah”

    You’re going to get carpal tunnel if you keep doing that.

    Nope, not a harrassment, just a single isolated insult. And to be fair, PZ didn’t expect the reaction would be what it was – he didn’t expect the stream of hate mail, he expected reactions more like “*sigh* best ignore him” or stereotypical little old ladies praying for him.

    Yes, but you know what else? He didn’t stop what he was doing when he got that stream of hate mail, death threats, etc. either. Crackergate happened over the course of a couple weeks, from the time he solicited stolen crackers, to when he dumped the Body of Christ in a trash can with coffee grounds and banana peels. Once obtained, he slyly taunted Catholics with possible fates for the Starch Jesus, twisting the knife in its wound. It was clearly harassment, and we don’t even really need to qualify it as just ‘psychological.’ He tossed their god in a trashcan, man. And admit it, we loved it! This is the reason we can know with absolute certainty that much of the present crapfest is utter hypocrisy.
    Now, granted, it was harassment with a purpose, as activist harassment should be. That is what separates it from “Duh, look at teh ugly fem-nists…” I agree that that type of a harassment is wholly pointless and stupid, but harassment as a tool has occupied the arsenal of activists for quite some time. In my opinion, distinction between pointless and germane is not really driving the present upset. What is driving the present it is the fact that harassment has been hypocritically demonized as an out-of-bounds tactic, even though everyone is fine with it if they’re not in the cross-hairs.

    Here is a comment from “Lawrence” on Benson’s blog that fairly capture the emerging FtB zeitgeist:

    This whole thing that’s been going on for however long it has been has made me not want to be identified as a skeptic ever. I never really identified as one before (I typically prefer the term atheist) but now I definitely don’t want to. I care much more about how I treat people than I do about being “skeptical” (whatever that means).

    And there you have it, the primacy of sensitivity activism. Ever so slowly FtB is changing from its Morlock origins into PC Eloi, but I’m not convinced it isn’t mostly deceit, since, again, the unforgivable of unforgivables is not harassment as a tactic, but that they are being harassed!.

    All the same, I’m sympathetic to the harassed, particularly the pointlessly harassed. Even when harassment is part of the rules of engagement, it sucks being the target of overwhelming harassment.

    My unsolicited advice is..,well you can try death threats!? I mean, it worked for the Catholics! Lamentably, they are illegal. Second, you can opt for open table discussion. Much of what is fueling this is the sense of powerlessness the Pit, et al. feel in the face of being pushed out of the conference hall, figuratively and literally. Third, you can ignore, bide time until this blows over. And it will. We will close ranks eventually and be stronger than ever. People who say this is the end of A/S are totally full of shit. This too will pass, not in a day or a week but in a year or three or ten. It will be like taking antidepressants. You’ll never notice just when the change happened. Just one day we’ll all wake up and wonder why we were ever so crazy.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Most evolution-accepters don’t want to have to deal with creationists constantly either

    Exactly. I’m on the Dinosaur Mailing List, and there it’s forbidden to so much as mention creationism. Reason? The list is about dinosaur science, and creationism ain’t science.

    Everywhere else on the Internet, I engage creationists whenever and wherever I can. But that’s because I happen to have SIWOTI syndrome – most people don’t.

    actually, that’s pretty much been the MO of the New Atheists to religious people, too. Emotional pushback instead of always being on the defensive. I mean really, remember Crackergate?

    Or PZ’s “point and laugh” approach in general.

    Or indeed, remember: “Why do people laugh at creationists? Only creationists don’t understand why!”

    In other words, these topics are being discussed in some ivory tower somewhere

    :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

    “I know nothing
    Google knows everything”
    – Jan Kaiser

    He didn’t stop what he was doing when he got that stream of hate mail, death threats, etc. either.

    AFAIK, most of it came after he was done.

    It was clearly harassment,

    How can a single person harrass a billion people when he has no power over them?

    It was an insult, oh yes, a big one. But it wasn’t harrassment.

    and we don’t even really need to qualify it as just ‘psychological.’ He tossed their god in a trashcan, man.

    o_O What’s not psychological about that? He didn’t toss them (in a trashcan or any other hard place).

    Much of what is fueling this is the sense of powerlessness the Pit, et al. feel in the face of being pushed out of the conference hall, figuratively and literally.

    They’re having a “What the hell, hero?” moment and are still not understanding it.

    This too will pass

    Not automatically, no. The arc of history doesn’t bend anywhere unless we bend it.

    (…Those last two words amount to an unintended but highly appropriate pun.)

  42. Jadehawk says:

    It will be like taking antidepressants. You’ll never notice just when the change happened. Just one day we’ll all wake up and wonder why we were ever so crazy.

    can’t be bothered with the rest of that absurdity, but let me assure you, this is not how going on antidepressants works. For one, starting antidepressants means constantly measuring your own moods to see if it’s working; for two, it means hard work in figuring out the right means of getting it under control; for three, getting rid of depression tends to require getting rid of the behaviors reinforcing it. So to stick with the analogy, it’ll take hard work and a lot of self-searching and improvement to make this problem go away; it won’t just blow over by itself.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    (…Those last two words amount to an unintended but highly appropriate pun.)

    …Um. I’m not telling anyone to get bent; I’m thinking of something completely different.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    I may have confused pitizens with thunderf00t commenters. I’ll need to look that up at some point…

  45. Liberationist says:

    The problem here is that emotionally repressing anger by *not* venting or making critical comments is *also* psychologically corrosive. While constant exposure to hostility wears people down, constant failure to respond to frustration can lead to buildups of negative emotion which are turned inward or displaced elsewhere. This leads to a generalised pressure-cooker environment in which negative emotions simply build up to disaster point. There is empirical support for this, in studies of the mental wellbeing of service sector workers, who have to stay smiley and cooperative all the time in their jobs. The more they have to repress their emotions, the more they suffer from a whole range of problems both physical and psychological.

    Another problem here is “morality-dependent distress”. Seeing anti-racist messages or even interacting with people of other “races” may be distressing/harassing for a racist. Others eating meat might be distressing for an animal rights advocate. Public displays of religion might be harassing to a militant atheist. Belittling of “extreme” positions will be distressing to people who hold the targeted positions. Swear-words might be harassing to someone with a middle-class background, yet be normal in other cultural backgrounds. In practice, however, it tends to be mainstream positions which get singled out for protection. Things which are “harassing” to the majority or elite are banned, whereas things “harassing” to out-groups are not. The result is that harassment or psychological harm provides a backdoor for intolerant people who wish to impose and enforce a particular morality. The excluded face the worst of both worlds – no free speech, and no protection from being harassed either.

    This happens very systematically in Britain, where harassment laws are particularly extreme. People get arrested for saying the Prime Minister has “blood on his hands” for cutting benefits. But the Prime Minister talking about scroungers and the undeserving poor is not arrested. Someone gets arrested for wearing a T-shirt supporting an alleged cop killer. But people demonising victims of killings by police are not arrested. A Black councillor gets disciplined for calling a colleague an “Oreo”. But when David Starkey appears on TV and says Black culture is inferior, nothing happens. Basically, harassment easily becomes an excuse for preventing any kind of criticism or social sanctioning of the people in power.

  46. David Marjanović says:

    In practice, however, it tends to be mainstream positions which get singled out for protection. Things which are “harassing” to the majority or elite are banned, whereas things “harassing” to out-groups are not.

    Good point.

    People get arrested for saying the Prime Minister has “blood on his hands” for cutting benefits.

    :-o Wow.

  47. […] Microaggressions matter. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] […]

  48. When I engage with anyone on the web I always treat them with respect no matter who they are or what they think. I never attack individuals only ideas. It is a golden rule that I believe in absolutely. This makes zero difference to the subject matter or the level of intensity it is generating

    Once you start engaging in ad hom you have lost the argument and absolutely so too. Now I am a passionate advocate in absolute free speech. If I had a blog my comments policy would be that there is no comments policy. Nothing would be banned. But I also believe in personal responsibility and proportionate response too

    I accept full responsibility for everything I have ever said since becoming an adult. I have said some terrible things in my time but instead of denying them I stand up and admit to them while offering unreserved apologies for each of them. I do not provide excuses at my age. This is all part of my own moral development

    I think it is too simplistic to reference harassment as coming from only one of the so called sides in the eternal online dispute between pitters and non pitters. But the non pitters seem to have suffered the most psychological damage by far. It is well documented that one of them has considered leaving blogging because of it unfortunately. She and all the others who suffer harassment especially systematic harassment have my complete sympathy. It goes without saying that it should stop but that is unlikely regrettably

    It should be perfectly possible for all to engage in a respectful manner with each other on the web. One might think the problem lies in the anonymity it provides and while there is some truth to that the real cause is the dark side of human psychology. The web is therefore the symptom rather than the cause. And as I have said elsewhere that is a shame because it is a wonderful tool for the dissemination of ideas. That is what it should be used for not relentless harassment of others for whatever reason. I wish it would stop. I wish I could stop it. I wish those doing it would see it was wrong and would stop it themselves. I really do. Maybe one day they will but I am not too optimistic on that one. I wish I was

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