In which I fansquee over my favorite talk at Skepticon

I wasn’t going to do a roundup of talks and workshops of Skepticon, because that stuff Is generally well taken care of by the folks at Skepchick and FTB.

But.

Dr. Monica Miller‘s talk, titled “I Got 99 Problems But God Ain’t One: Hip Hop and Humanism’s New Black Godz” was fucking amazing. And I almost didn’t go, because I don’t music in general, and Hip Hop specifically doesn’t figure at all in my life. So I didn’t think I was going to get much out of that particular event. But I stayed and was glad for it. It was an hour of sociology and cultural analysis beyond the 101-level of explaining to people what “socially constructed” means, and because neither the topic nor the particular perspective on it were something I was familiar with, it was one of these talks in which I felt my brain re-arranging its well-worn ways of thinking about humanism.

Her talk was a discussion of how a humanism can be expressed with religious language, without actually talking about old bearded dudes in the sky etc. Specifically she talked about the way hip hop uses “god talk”, meaning religious imagery and language, to express non-religious, humanist ideas, e.g. criticism of class and race structures, as well as criticism of organized religion*. She mentioned that the history of this practice goes back to the slave spirituals which used religious/biblical language to talk about the very here-worldly topic of fleeing north and described this as a dominant language or framework being pushed on an oppressed people. That framework didn’t get rejected but subverted instead, put to a use different from the one the Christian framework serves/served in the dominant community. In the talk, Dr. Miller also notes that she is suspicious of statistics about the religiosity of America’s black communities, which show black Americans to be extremely religious. The interpretation of religion and the religious framework as a subverted and re-purposed thing which she presented in this talk is one way to think about this supposed religiosity: that despite superficial appearances, it’s not actually always about some “god” out there, but about “gods” in humanity; that it is humanism, expressed through god talk.

What was interesting to me at a more personal level was her self-description as both a functionalist and a deconstructionist. Most of the functionalism I’ve been familiar with until now has tended to view society as a more-or-less unified whole with structures that function for the purposes of society as that unified whole***. A functionalist who focuses on non-dominant groups, and especially on the functions of dominant structures as subverted and re-purposed by the subaltern is deeply fascinating to me. Or, as the Internet used to say, “I am intrigued by [her] ideas and would like to subscribe to [her] newsletter”. Which I can. Because she’s on twitter and she writes at Culture on the Edge, and she wrote a book**** which I have and shall read shortly, and she also wrote this paper and this paper, which I’d also love to read but can’t cuz the university finally yanked my library access *coughhintcough*.

Most importantly though, I hope to see more of Dr. Monica Miller at skeptic and atheist events. Because she’s awesome and her ideas are awesome and she’s a great speaker.[/fansquee]

- – – – – – – – – -
*The complete list of songs/videos in the talk:
No Church In the Wild, New Slaves, I am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven. For those who can’t do video, or like me can’t process language in music very well, here are the lyrics in text: No Church in The Wild**, New Slaves, I Am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven

**Note the Euthyphro dilemma :-)

***with the sole exception of the essay on the Uses of Poverty(pdf), which goes through the effort of distinguishing between benefits to society as a whole, and benefits to the dominant groups within it.

****the price is so high because it qualifies as an academic book/textbook. We don’t make the rules, we just suffer from them.

A collection of reading comprehension fails

I was going to respond to the second pitter response in the “dialogue” the same way I did to the first, but it turns out that’s not possible. That’s because there isn’t nearly enough content, and what content there is looks like a massive reading comprehension fail when taken at face value (one can speculate whether these pitters really are that dumb, or whether they’re playing dumb to avoid having to answer properly).

So instead, I’ll pick at some of the more interesting fuckups of that response, rather than focusing on the supposed point of the dialogue. (content of quotes not altered, but form adjusted for easier reading)

a pitter: We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

Stephanie: I agree and disagree. We dont only seek truth for reasons that are that dramatic or noble. The basic reason we seek truth is that, without it, were flailing ineffectually in the dark. Curiosity drives us to seek truth. The desire to predict and control the world around us drives us to seek truth.

a pitter: Scientifically driven skeptics like us may pursue truth for different reasons compared to others in society. We agree that curiosity serves as an impetus for some people; so may a desire to explain the world around us. While desires to predict and control the world around us may serve as an impetus for some people, those reasons seem less likely to be widespread among atheists & skeptics.

1)The pitter response to Stephanie totally reads like “but we’re not like other, normal people, we’re better than the commoners! We Are Skeptics!”
2)I’m pretty fucking sure that curiosity and a desire to explain the world is the main motivation for knowledge-seeking among scientists.
3)Wanna bet they read “predict and control the world around us” not in the clearly intended sense of bending the environment to our needs (e.g. curing disease, improving agriculture, etc.), but in the Pinky and the Brain sense?

a pitter: We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

Stephanie: I am unwilling to put competence at truth-seeking above other-Ill call them ‘virtues’ for lack of a better word. It is certainly important, but making it our primary consideration has come to be recognized as a bad idea. Placing the collection of knowledge above all else was the kind of thinking that led to the Tuskegee experiment. Researchers uncovered a great deal of truth about the progression of untreated syphilis, but they did so at the cost of the health and lives of people who did not volunteer to be sacrificed for truth. In response to this and other travesties, weve instituted safeguards intended to curb unchecked truth-seeking. Putting truth-seeking above ethics and compassion is deeply troubling.

a pitter: I dont see any disagreement amongst the atheist community on the importance of ethics in biomedical research.

Dumb or disingenuous? You decide! Definitely fucking hilarious though.

a pitter: In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can – and sometimes must – be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations. We can do this without rancour or dismissal and it is a key requirement in achieving our objectives: freeing this world of the terrible injustices we see all around us.

Stephanie: [...]Where I disagree in that case is that science is supposed to be a cumulative process. Once consensus has been reached on a particular topic through that process, its typically time to shelve that topic and move on until we come across information that doesnt fit the models. Continuing to study geocentric models of planetary and stellar motion at this point would not advance our pursuit of truth. Debate does not go on forever on a topic without the introduction of substantial new information.

a pitter: This description of science seems at odds with that typically seen in a research environment. Scientists do not shelve topics and move on to the next subject. Nothing is proven absolutely in science and even topics that seem certain are being constantly tested – for example the recent experiments testing the idea that some particles might be able to exceed the speed of light in a vacuum. The principle that every hypothesis must be open to falsification is the primary means we have to distinguish science from pseudoscience. In other words, I agree that the scientific process should be as open as possible, and disagree that science is supposed to be a cumulative process in which a topic is shelved once consensus is reached.

1)How ignorant do you have to be to disagree that science is a cumulative process? If it weren’t, we’d still be trying to figure out whether the earth goes around the sun or vice versa. As Stephanie noted.
2)Wanna bet this is just their attempt at defending their refusal to let go of privilege & the biases that come with it?

Stephanie: If this is intended to suggest that individuals must test all their beliefs through debate and that this process will lead to understanding the truth, I strongly disagree. When people who are taught to debate are taught to be equally comfortable taking either side of an argument, we are looking at a process designed for winning, not truth. If we want to arrive at truth through give-and-take, we need a more collaborative process in which the goal is not to win.

a pitter: This is rather confusing and perhaps would be better expanded so that the meaning is made clearer. Certainly we cannot expect the scientific method to determine every aspect of our lives (for example regarding the love we have for family and friends, taste in music, literature, etc.) These are questions about emotions. Again, many political questions are based on personal values that have an emotional rather than empirical basis. It is best to separate out value-based questions from those that have an empirical solution.

reading comprehension fail, disingenuousness, or do they really think science is practiced like a debate club?

a pitter: We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

Stephanie: Promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism, and secularism is worthwhile, necessary work. I would disagree that any individual owes it to anyone to do specifically this work. There is other humanitarian work that is just as necessary and just as worthwhile. One of our challenges going forward is making people feel that ours is the worthwhile, necessary work on which they want to spend their time.

a pitter: [...] we disagree if you are saying that “making people feel that ours is the-work on which they want to spend their time” is a widespread goal among atheists and skeptics.

lol. I wonder how the pitters imagine social movements grow, if not by convincing people that theirs is the work they should consider important to do/support?

Scratching at the veneer of reasonableness

I’ve been sort of half-assedly following the Atheist/Skeptic dialog thing, and was already taking notes to take the opening statement apart, but now that Stephanie Zvan has posted her “official” response which is part of this dialog, I figure I better finish up this post, before it becomes obsolete. So here you go, my version of a reply to “Jack Smith’s” introductory statement:

The primary purpose of this dialogue is to find common cause on which we can ‘work together’ while accepting diverse political and social beliefs.

If the point is to promote skepticism and evidence-based thinking, why would it make sense to accept political and social beliefs that go against the available evidence?

In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can — and sometimes must — be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations.

Except those ideas that are so thoroughly embedded in our society that we don’t even see them. Those must be left off the table, lest we upset the status quo and get accused of promoting “ideology”. Can’t talk about why the atheist/skeptic community is so white/straight/cis/male/middle-class dominated; can’t discuss the ways dominant perspectives dominate and exclude others; can’t talk about the unwarranted assumption that the perspectives of dominant groups are seen as “objective”, while the perspectives of minority groups are seen as biased; those things apparently must be left off the table. But discussing whether it’s women’s own fault they’re not better in STEM, that’s fine and dandy.

We can do this without rancour or dismissal

I see no evidence for this being the case; especially given that this very message accuses people who disagree of “imposing political and social beliefs on others”; also, “dismissal” has been a long-standing tradition, to the point of having its own name. The whole point of the Courtier’s Reply is that it’s something that can be dismissed because it’s an argument that assumes its premises (that god exists) and demands that the atheist do so, too.
Or to put it in the words of a dude apparently well-liked by the “atheist and skeptic community”: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
Apparently the thing about not dismissing people is only relevant now that it’s not just the religious but also other atheists who are the ones having their ideas dismissed.

We recognize that personal feelings have limited utility when determining objective reality.

True, except when the emotions in question are the reality under discussion. Also, we’re back to the part where dominant perspectives are considered objective (or in this case, free of emotional investment), while minority perspectives are not. Apparently it doesn’t cloud someone’s “objectivity” to have one’s privilege challenged. Because no one ever reacted to that emotionally, amirite?
Embedded in this is also the unwarranted assumption that one can’t be both emotionally expressive and right. Another unwarranted one, but another one that serves the status quo insofar as discussions of minority perspectives are more likely to elicit responses coded as “emotional” from the minorities who are the subject of discussion, than from the dominant groups (and as already noted, discussion of the dominant groups gets coded as ideological, and even genuinely emotional reactions to such discussions get coded as “rational”. funny how that works)

We therefore feel, in the interests of mutual cooperation, that it is appropriate to consider the best in others, give the benefit of the doubt, and assume others are acting in good faith.

I thought we were supposed to be empirical? People who’ve shown themselves in the past incapable of arguing in good faith don’t deserve any further benefit of the doubt; and since harm is caused regardless of intent, it’s often irrelevant at that point whether a person didn’t mean the harmful effect. t still happened, and it’ not gonna un-happen because you didn’t mean it. As such, “good faith” is worthless. Either you’re saying harmful shit, or you’re not.

Imposing political or social beliefs on others.

Sez the crew who’s trying to get RW blocked from speaking, and who throws a shitfit at the existence and popularity of FTB, and complains at the existence of WIS2 as somehow bad for skepticism/atheism; and who tries very hard to make sure that its own political and social beliefs remain the dominant flavor in the skeptic/atheist community.
Another benefit of being a dominant social group: you get to define your ideology as neutral ground, and perspectives conflicting with that ideology as impositions.

Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.

For the love of FSM, learn what an Ad Hominem Fallacy is. Hint: attributing motives and character traits ain’t it.

Our strength is in our diversity.

Actually, the lack of diversity in the atheist/skeptic movement is one of its greatest weaknesses and one of the main reasons we even have this rift.

Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply. The right of reply is fundamental to any open society.

Pathetic dog-whistle is pathetic. If I comment on your behavior on my blog, you have every right in the world to respond to it on your blog. What no one has a right to is a right to my readership. There’s no right to other people’s comment sections or twitter feeds.

If we criticise others then others have the right to respond to that without being personally attacked for doing so.

Ah, I see. This is one of those irregular verbs: “I criticize”, but “you attack”.

Ignoring the feelings of others. However we should not use our feelings to shut down valid and genuine debate and discussion.

And who gets to decide when an action is “ignoring the feelings of others”, and when it’s “not allowing feelings to shut down discussion”? Who gets to decide what is or isn’t valid and genuine debate and discussion?

Shutting down all forms of criticism. Criticism has been a mainstay of free debate for hundreds of years. Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia.

1)”Shutting down all forms of criticism” is a strawman so huge and ridiculous, it’s absurd someone could take the claim that it was occurring seriously.
2)Again with the “valid”; what the fuck is “valid” about making fun of someone’s weight, health, or gender identity? What the fuck is “valid” about using gendered slurs?

it’s even on the walls of ancient Pompeii.

So are dick jokes and “Livia is a cheap whore” comments. The walls of Pompeii are not to be taken any more seriously that toilet-wall scribbles; which they pretty much are. Weirdest argument from authority ever.

We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years.

What was that about “good faith” and “attributing motives” and “fully examining all ideas”?
Anyway, this is like Carlin’s “your stuff is shit, my shit is stuff” thing: “my ideology is principles, your principles are an ideology”. It also raises the question who “us” is here, since the whole point of the current “rifts” is that the ideologies that have dominated the atheist/skeptic communities so far has in fact not served many people who are atheists and who use the tools of skepticism.

This kind of imposition will necessarily divide the movement and weaken it. It will set up an ‘us vs. them’ mentality which distracts from our core aims.

A movement that will be weakened by becoming more attentive to the aims of its minority members is not worth maintaining. Like my feminism, my atheism/skepticism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.
Aside from that, this assumes that there hasn’t already been an us vs. them going on. Judging from the comments and reactions of many minority atheists/skeptics, they were already being treated as a “them”. The difference is that they’re now speaking out about it and insisting that they want their fair share of the atheist/skeptic community.

And it will alienate our friends and allies who would otherwise wish to support us, but will be discouraged if they do not hold the same political beliefs.

If someone holds a political belief that will in effect harm me or actual friends of mine, why would I consider such a person a friend or ally?

It will impose unelected political leaders and encourage schisms.

I don’t remember the Four Horsemen being elected. And don’t tell me they’re not “political leaders”. New Atheism is and always has been political, and Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins at least have never shied from political expressions even in the pointlessly restrictive sense of politics = gubmint-work.

And why exactly are “unelected political leaders” something bad? No one ever voted for MLK or Lucy Stone. Now, unlelected government leaders, that’s a problem. But last I checked, the atheist/skeptic community was not a nation-state or any other entity with a formal governmental structure.

We do not seek to control anyone’s space, the policies in others’ spaces, or their expression of their beliefs and values. However, when people in one such space criticize or challenge other people, we feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.

IOW you do not seek to control anyone’s space, you just seek the right to take over other people’s spaces. Yeah, no.

Failure to reach a common ground on these issues puts at risk our efforts in achieving our common goals.

Not really. It just makes it impossible to be part of the same community. But I’m also not in the same community as the progressive Christians here in town, and yet I’m perfectly capable on working with them on common issues.

We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

Meaningless, pompous waffle.

Day of Solidarity with Black Atheists/Nonbelievers

Day of Solidarity
As Naima Washington’s blog-post on Black Skeptics noted, these sort of events tend to be decried as “balkanization”, “dividing the Movement”, or similar crap:

when we ask everyone in the secular community to celebrate along with us, and we set aside one day out of the entire year to do so, there’s a problem! Last year, some very intelligent and insightful atheists declared efforts to organize a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers as segregation! Those same people are otherwise dead silent about the segregation, hostility, and alienation directed towards black atheists within the secular community year-round.

This is bullshit.

What events like the Day of Solidarity, the Women in Secularism conference, the African Americans for Humanism conference, etc. do is a)discuss issues not given much space or weight in the “general” (rea:, male, white, straight, cis dominated) conferences, groups, or writings; and b)highlight speakers and activists not given much space in the same “general” venues. To complain about them because we “shouldn’t have to” have such separate events is a lousy, blinkered argument for not having such events, or not supporting them. After all, we “shouldn’t have to” have skeptics or atheist conferences either, since that’s how all people ideally should deal with the world anyway, right?

So on that note, here’s my (admittedly measily) list of black atheists, skeptics, and nonbelievers that write stuff everyone should read:

Bridget R. Gaudette, contributor to Black Nones, blogger at Freethoughtify and Emily Has Books; she also currently has a kickstarter going for her next book: Grieving for the Living, so go contribute!!
Ian Cromwell, also a contributor to Black Nones, blogger at The Crommunist Manifesto
Anthony Pinn, author of African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk
Sikivu Hutchinson, author of Moral Combat and the forthcoming Godless Americana, contributing blogger at Black Skeptics
G. Andrews AKA Flexx, blogger at Human2O

Paula Kirby wrote stupid shit

This is how Paula Kirby tweeted about her essay* in re: the Harassment Policy discussion:

I’ll wait until you’re done laughing and/or rolling your eyes.
Done? Alright, let’s get on with this blogpost**. And btw., I’m ridiculously late to the game. Others have competently dismantled large parts of that ridiculous essay about Teh Ebil #FTBullies, but there’s just so much incredibly ignorant and untrue crap in this essay, I figure I’ll have a stab at it, too. But do read the other commentary on it, if you have time. Like I said, there’s so much crap in this, a single essay doesn’t do it justice: atheist logic, Ophelia Benson pt. 1, pt. 2, and SUIRAUQA (there’s probably more, but those are the ones I know about)

First, since I gather this has touched a nerve in some quarters, I shall deal with the terms “feminazi” and “femistasi”. As a general principle, I oppose the use of any kin dof name-calling. But sometimes an apparently rude term is doing more than being rude: it is conveying a meaningful point in shorthand form. For the record, I am categorically NOT suggesting that the people I have applied these terms to are, in fact, Nazis or Stasi members, or would ever have sympathized with either of them.There are many of us who are proud to be called Grammarnazis and who know perfectly well that no aspersions are being cast on our intentions towards either Jews or Poland. It might be considered distasteful that the suffix -nazi has come to be used simply to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, but nevertheless, it has come to be so used, and The Sisterhood of the Oppressed cannot legitimately chalk it up as yet another example of their alleged victimization.

This is the first paragraph of the essay, and it’s already complete crap. And here’s why:
1)To be “proud to be called Grammarnazis”, and even to refer to oneself like that, is an act of Reappropriation; something that was used as an insult to try to shut someone up by making them feel bad for doing what they do by calling them -nazis is now being worn proudly as a banner, in a way similar to the way the Queer community has reapppropriated the term “queer”. And, in fact, in exactly the same way that many of Teh Ebil #FTBullies have for years now worn the worst epithets thrown at them as titles behind their handles, including the word “feminazi”.
2)A reappropriated word is still an insult/slur though, and so when it is used negatively against someone else, it is not used in the reappropriated, positive (or at least, non-negative) sense, but in its original, negative sense. Therefore, comparing being proud to be called a Grammarnazi to calling someone else a Feminazi in order to compare them to Nazis*** is worse than comparing apples to oranges (at least, apples and oranges are both fruit, and are both good for you).
3)The main difference, of course, between something like “Grammarnazi” and “Feminazi” or “Queer” is that being called a Grammarnazi is not an act that flows down a power-gradient, nor is it used to shut down anything too particularly important****. As such, you wouldn’t even be able to reasonably compare the insult-use of Grammarnazi to actual slurs used as insults, since they perform entirely different kinds of cultural work.
4)Regardless of any truth value to claims that the suffix -nazi has merely come to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, this is obviously not true for the suffix -stasi, since that suffix doesn’t have a culturally acquired meaning other than the literal one, since it’s not in common use. As such, points 1-3 aren’t even necessary to establish the BS in that paragraph, since even if everything she said about the suffix -nazi were true, she didn’t just use that one. Calling someone a Femistasi is actually literally comparing someone to the East German Homeland State Security.

In both “feminazi” and “femistasi” the allusion is to certain totalitarian attitudes and the intolerance and suppression of dissent. Indeed, it was this, and eminently not their politics, that the Nazis and the Stasi had in common, which further underlines my point that no comment about anyone’s wider political views is being made.

This is part of the previous line of thought, but it’s crap in a different way, so I’m quoting separately. Paula here seems to imply that running a totalitarian state is not politics. Because a form of government is not political? I’ve complained in the past about such incoherent restrictions on what can be considered “political” so I won’t get into that here, but really. Suppression of political dissent, being part of a totalitarian state government, and being often the enforcing arm of the politics of the government is not political?

In the case of the -stasi suffix, it draws attentions to behaviours associated with the thought police, for whom anyone who dares to hold non-approved attitudes is automatically persona non grata and to be treated as an enemy of the people. I am referring, of course, to the unfailing response on certain blogs whenever someone has had the temerity to challenge the claims that have been made there. Any suggestion, no matter how mildly phrased or how in keeping with the principles of skepticism, that The Sisterhood might not be automatically and wholly right by default has been met with torrents of abuse, and a pot-pourri (actually, dung-heap would seem a more appropriate metaphor) of accusations ranging from troll at the lower end, through slimebag, douche etc, right up to misogynist or even rape-apologist.

“Thought police” is an Orwellian term. Originally, it referred to an actual police actually making sure that no unapproved thoughts happened, since people caught thinking the unapproved thing were brainwashed to “fix” the problem, and ultimately killed. Obviously the Stasi couldn’t quite achieve that level of efficiency, but they certainly tried, by arresting and/or killing people they’ve found expressing unapproved sentiments, even in the “privacy” of their own homes. So, what does Paula compare this to?
To argument. To people disagreeing, often with long-winded explanations and links to evidence, and doing so while liberally dispensing invective. In writing. On their own blogs, as well as in comment sections on other blogs. Most of these “oppressed” dissenters aren’t even banned from commenting on these blogs, and they certainly are free to express themselves in the privacy of their own public blogs without any repercussions (other than maybe having someone disagree with you (publicly even! *gasp*), or say that they don’t like you anymore, and maybe won’t give you their money) or restrictions. That’s stasi-like behavior. But apparently only when Teh Ebil #FTBullies do it, since the antiFTB contingent indulges in exactly the same behavior (plus occasional threats and extensive use of bigoted slurs; minus the evidence), but when they do it it’s just “calls for balance” and “challeng[ing] the claims”.

Good heavens, we have even seen Ophelia Benson describe DJ Grothe’s call for more balance in the discussions as “sticking a metaphorical target” on her!

This “call for balance” btw. was Grothe’s silly-ass, evidence-free claim that talking about harassment has caused a drop in female attendance at TAM, and therefore talk about harassment should stop. I fail to see “balance” here, except in the “Fair And Balanced” sense (more details about this, from Ophelia herself).

Let’s not forget the abuses of speakers'”privilege” at certain conferences, where audience members holding “the wrong attitudes” have been picked on by the speaker from the platform.

Elevatorgate is never going to die is it? Also, Paula is in business, not science… but really. It has never been a bad thing for a speaker to analyze and criticize an attendees public writing. Most of the time, this bit of whining is some sort of “the internet isn’t real” luddism. In this case, it seems more generic hypocrisy in the service of “when we criticize, it’s just criticism; when you criticize, it’s ‘picking on’ and being the thought police”, as noted above. Also, she’s just plain bullshitting when she claims Stef McGraw was “picked on” for her “attitudes”. She had a publicly stated written argument deconstructed. An argument is not an attitude, by any definition of the word.

Let’s consider 1930s Germany for a moment. How did the Nazis gain popular support? By exploiting a sense of grievance post-Versailles, by continually telling the German people they’d been treated abominably, had their noses ground in the dust,been unfairly penalized, that they were the victims of an international, Jew-led conspiracy, that they needed to rise from the ashes and gain their revenge and their proper, god-ordained place in the world.

Yeah, let’s consider this. And by “this”, I don’t actually mean the historical inaccuracies in this paragraph, because they’re not relevant just now. For starters, as Paula herself reluctantly admits in a later paragraph, it’s not actually a case of the Nazis “telling the German people they’d been treated abominably”, since the German people were well-aware of that fact (and a fact it certainly was), Nazis or no. But let’s consider the political situation in 1930’s Germany. Here we have an abysmally poor, systematically oppressed people, who end up becoming radicalized and a totalitarian state results. Happens all the fucking time. What’s the solution to the problem?
Well, according to Paula, it seems to be “Oh you silly Germans. Stop feeling oppressed and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, and “Don’t talk about systemic oppression, don’t try to eliminate oppression, and don’t ever dare publicly and openly argue with those who say there isn’t any. Because if you do, you’ll be propagating a victim mentality and also being Nazis yourself.” Where in the goddamn universe has being silent about systemic oppression and telling people to instead fix themselves ever worked?
The real solution to the existence of systemic victims is not cries of individualist empowerment, but deconstruction of the oppressive system. The French learned this lesson, which is why WWII was followed by the creation of the Council of Europe and the EEC instead of another oppressive Treaty of Versailles.

So is the Sisterhood’s sense of victimhood also justified? No.

Fuck the evidence from years of social science*****. Paula says there’s no oppression of women, therefore there isn’t.

In my experience (and I’ve attended and organized a lot of conferences in my time)there’s a sexualized atmosphere at all conferences involving an overnight stay:people are away from home, probably drinking more heavily than they would at home, *cough* networking, surrounded by people who share a common interest, whether that’s in secularism or buttercups or ball bearings, and who are equally letting their hair down and out for a bit of fun, and, moreover, with hotel rooms conveniently located right above their heads.

What a sorry world Paula lives in, if she’s never experienced collegiality not laced with sex. It’s a bit like eating all foods drenched in Ketchup (or any other condiment of your choice).
Well, I have experienced plenty of friendly, collegial drunkenness, fun, and “letting your hair down” while away from home, too. Some of it involved sex and an atmosphere that could be described as “sexy”. Some of it however was just hanging out with awesome people and shooting the shit, without sex appearing anywhere on the horizon. It’s awesome (it also oddly seems to be clustered around Poland). Why, last October I spent an entire weekend in mixed company away from home, sleeping in the same room with two dudes, and somehow no one got propositioned. We must be all prudes; or asexual. Or, maybe, we prefer some variety in our life, and are therefore capable of sometimes not thinking about getting laid. Seems there aren’t that many people like that in Paula’s life, if she’s never experienced anything like that.

Anyway. What do you want to bet that most, if not all, of these conferences has sexual harassment policies (after all, this is what this latest “ZOMG Stazinazis” is about)?

I simply do not accept that any reasonably mature, rational adult does not know exactly how to avoid getting into this kind of situation if he or she would prefer not to,or how to deal with it if it occurs.

This is quoted just to laugh at it. Because really, she just finished saying that this happens at all conferences and that anyone can find themselves propositioned. Which I guess means “how to avoid getting into this situation” = “not going to conferences” :-p

And, of course, she’s being very disingenuous when she implies that we say people don’t know how to deal with propositions (or harassment; because let’s remember, this is about harassment policies, dissembling on Paula’s part notwithstanding). but you know, knowing how to deal with stupid shit because you’re constantly exposed to it is not actually a valid reason for stupid shit to exist.

Note that I am talking about normal, non-violentsituations in which no assault takes place. I am talking about the kind of normalinteraction that, whether you like it or not, goes on wherever you get a group of adults letting their hair down while away from home.

False dichotomy which denies the existence of harassment which is not assault.

but to give the impression that such assaults are commonplace is to do a disservice

Boring lie is boring, but at least explains why the preceding false dichotomy exists.

To tear a movement apart, [...] over something that is just a feature of life in general and not specific to the movement itself

Translation: atheists and skeptics shouldn’t strive to be better. Average is fine. Doesn’t matter that average is pretty fucking horrible.

I did a sociology module as part of my degree many years ago: I know the arguments about socialization and normative values, and structural discrimination and all that malarkey.

This was hilarious the first time, and it’s never stopped being hilarious. Paula knows better than social scientists with years of work and experience and science to back them up. Because she took one sociology module. Is there any better demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

So there is an alternative, and it is this alternative that I would urge women to seize with both hands – whether we’re talking about how we interact in our jobs, in our social lives or in the atheist movement. And that alternative is to take responsibility for ourselves and our own success. To view ourselves as mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride, and can speak up appropriately. To really start believing that we can do whatever men can do. To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, silliest of all, “privilege”, and start simply practising being more assertive.

And the way to fight poverty is to stop “externalizing” the causes of poverty, and instead tell people to stop being so goddamn lazy and to view themselves as “mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride” and stop blaming their poverty on rich people or hierarchies or classism or “privilege”.

Libertarianism is such tiresome bullshit.

Anyway, she’s repeating the bullshit trope that non-libertarian feminists are saying that women aren’t capable of doing what men do. This is of course bullshit. Women are just as capable as men, and they are often far better able to deal with adversity since they don’t get shit handed to them on a silver platter and have to constantly fight against stupid sexist bullshit. Men faced with even a fraction of the shit a woman who shares their other social statuses has to face tend to dissolve into incoherent puddles of self-pity rather quickly (see: MRA), because they lack the practice and have never acquired the requisite hardened skins. However, as noted above, being able to deal with stupid shit is not actually a good reason for stupid shit to exist. Plus, as everyone should realize, two people with identical ability but different stressloads will rather obviously not perform equally at the one task they have in common. All we’re trying to do is a)undo some of that damage of the extra stressload in the short term, and b)equalize the stressload.

But I am saying that we women do ourselves no favours by assuming that the system is malevolently weighted against us

And here Paula says that women shouldn’t know the truth, because it does us no favors. And she says we’re belittling women?

Yes, there’s the occasional Neanderthal, in any walk of life. But it’s up to us whether we let him put us off doing what we really want to do. Let’s not give him that power over us! We can choose to rise above him (or sidestep him) and continue pursuing our own goals.

Here Paula is being anti-scientific, because this comment basically amounts to “willpower is an unlimited resource”, which we know isn’t true.

In almost any fieldyou care to consider, the women who have made it to the topare generally not sympathetic to the view that men or the system were desperately trying to hold them back. They havesimply adopted the tactics I am describing here, and have refused to let anything stop them.

Women who mold themselves to and make bargains with a patriarchal system are more successful within the patriarchal system than those who try to dismantle it for the benefit of all women?

Shocking.

They certainly haven’t diverted their focus from their goals to worrying about how men are treating them, and they haven’t waited for men to give them permission to succeed.

indeed not. Other women (and their allies) have done this for them and done something about some of the structural barriers that exist so that these exceptional women could succeed. How is this an argument for not continuing to dismantle these barriers, so that even more women can succeed?

Activism is by definition controversial: we don’t need activists for causes that are already widely accepted. This means that conflict comes with the territory. Activists need to be able to cope with that, we need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence us and discredit us at any cost. It can turn nasty.

I quote this specifically because it’s so fucking hilarious that this comes from the woman who whines about feminazistasi oppression because she and others are being criticized. As I said before, she’s basically saying that other people mustn’t speak up when they’re mistreated and instead they “need to be able to cope with that” and “need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence [them] and discredit”. But she and the other antiFTB-whiners should be totes encouraged to whine all day and night about Teh Ebil #FTBullies, because they apparently don’t need to learn to cope. Not even with the much smaller amount of unpleasantness that they are receiving, as compared to what they’re dishing out.

Look in the pages of any self-help book you care to pick up.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Self-help books. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Paula is advising skeptics to read the quackery that is self-help books. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

What we have seen endlessly on the pages of the worst of the blogs over the course of the last year-plus is just a tedious, counterproductive, alienating, divisive, pointless self-indulgence.

Don’t care to argue “alienating” and “divisive”, but the fact that WIS happened, WIS2 will happen, and harassment policies are being adopted, is boringly obvious refutation of the claims of “counterproductive” and “pointless”.

How many of those speakers [at WIS] were not already well established in the movement? [...] Talk about “Four legs good, two legs better”!

This is hilariously incoherent. A conference that previously didn’t exist and doesn’t cannibalize other conferences in terms of speakers can by definition not provide less exposure to these speakers (and the group they belong to) than its nonexistence. Also, it should be noted that Paula doesn’t actually know what these women who spoke at the conference talked about (other than the speeches they gave; she might know that, but I doubt she’s seen all the videos), and what kind of networking happened at the conference.

Far from encouraging new women to get involved, all this hysterical and unjustified insistence on how dangerous our conferences are for women, how hostile our movement is to them, the indignities and humiliations they will be exposed to should they dare to set foot over the skeptical threshold could have been calculated to scare them away.

I note she provides precisely zero evidence for any of this. Also, bonus point for using “hysterical”.

Ophelia Benson herself wouldhave us believe she’s been scared away from attending a conference because of the exaggerated and over-the-top messages she got about the terrible risks she’d face if she went.

Another boring lie. Paula here is basically claiming that “nice business, would be a shame if it burned down” is a warning about fire hazards.

- – – – – – – – -
*Incidentally, posted on scribd by hoggle. Nice allies she’s got.
**After sufficiently complaining at the fact that the link in her tweet can only be accessed with a google account**. because really, wtf? (in case you’re wondering, a previous tweet had the link to the scribd document. still a dumb format, but at least it doesn’t require anyone to log in anywhere to read it)
***she’s actually lying when she’s saying she’s using the suffix to mean “extremist” or “obsessive”, since she DOES compare FTB to actual, real, 1930’s Nazis later in the essay.
****being a stickler for the use of grammar where it actually helps communication, I still very much acknowledge that knowing the difference between you’re and your, and knowing when to use the word “whom”, is piddly bullshit compared to social justice activism.
*****a sample this, as well as other scientific articles and essays, are of course collected in the comments of this post

“Honesty is Hard”, indeed

Yesterday I got a pingback on the social context post from this blogpost. Didn’t think much of it, except then the same pingback showed up on Almost Diamonds, and I got curious. The first half was blandly uninteresting, but when I got to the second half, my SIWOTI Syndrome was triggered. So, here it is, taken apart Marjanović-style:

[...]I’m bothered by two (somewhat related) themes I keep seeing crop up in these discussions:

1) It’s wrong to want sex from people without being interested in getting to know them

Well, that’s off to a bad start. It’s not wrong to want sex with anyone* and I highly doubt anyone said that. What’s been under discussion is not “want” but “ask”. There’s a lot of people I want a lot of things from, but I only ask them for it if/when it’s appropriate. So this “theme” that this writer is bothered by doesn’t even exist. So here it is, with corrections:

1) It’s wrong inappropriate to want ask for sex from with people without being interested in getting to know them sufficiently well to establish whether such asking would be appreciated

Moving on.

This is generally couched in reasonable-sounding language like this from PZ Myers:

I have a simple suggestion. Think of sex as something two or more friends do; but also keep in mind that most friends don’t have sex together. When you’re at a meeting, plan to make friends promiscuously, but remember: the purpose first and foremost is friendship, not sex partners.

At first glance, this seems like a reasonable suggestion. Most people prefer to get to know people before having sex with them, and most people would rather have sex with someone they like for nonsexual reasons also. But some people just want sex, and there is nothing wrong with that. [emphasis mine]

And this is where the “honesty is hard” part starts to come in. This writer quotes PZ talking about doing sex, but then answers as if it were about wanting sex. So: is this writer too stupid to accurately read the very bit they quote, or are they being dishonest?
I should also note that this quote from PZ is about atheist conferences, the main purpose of which is indeed friendly socializing, not fucking. Hence, his advice about priorities is quite accurate, given the social context.

It’s not up to us to tell people what their goals should be in a social interaction.

This is another inaccuracy, since PZ didn’t say fuck-all about goals. The quote is about methods and general priorities for socializing at atheist conferences. If your first-priority goal is to find a zipless fuck with someone you don’t want to have to talk to, there are meet-ups for that, but atheist conferences ain’t it.

Denigrating anonymous men for wanting to “bag a young hottie” (which is Jen McCreight’s paraphrase, not an actual quote from anyone) at each speaking gig sends the sexnegative message that desiring sex with a person you find attractive (which is how I would have phrased it) is WRONG and CREEPY.

And again we’re in “honesty is hard” territory, since plucking that phrase from Jen’s post without context is pretty fucking close to quote mining**. Jen wasn’t “denigrating”. This quote is from the post in which she retells how women had started sharing stories about speakers’ behaviors towards women (themselves or others) with her. And of course, she and the women who shared these stories with her are absolutely entitled to feel uncomfortable with any of these behaviors and thus want to avoid the men thusly described. Just like dude can want/try to fuck a young woman at every speaker event, so these women can want to not be targets of these advances and stay the fuck away from dude and warn other women, in case they also don’t want to be targets. It’s not sex-negative for women to decide that they do not wish to be targets of this dude’s depersonalized*** agenda, nor is it sex negative to share that information with others. In fact, using “sex-negative” in this sense implies that women having individual boundaries and personal preferences is “sex-negative”; a rather problematic implication, to say the least.

In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do…

More BS. Jen didn’t say it was something only men do. As it happens, she was warned by other women about men. Likely there simply aren’t enough lesbian/bi/pan speakers for the entitled douchenozzles to have made an appearance, and thus women were warning other women about sexual behavior from men. Should they have made up shit about being sexually objectified by women, for the sake of equality? And if any straight female speakers were behaving inappropriately towards other male speakers, why would Jen know about this? It’s not like dudes knew about the warnings circulating amongst women, so why would these women know if similar warnings about women circulated among men?

And in any case, when the conversation expanded to sexual harassment as a whole (i.e. not just inappropriate behavior from speakers), a female entitled douchenozzle appeared rather promptly (See Elyse’s encounter with the swinger-couple. The straight, and therefore woman-including, swinger couple). Like I said, it’s bullshit to say people are claiming only men behave like this.

In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do contributes to the myth of men not being hot.

I would like everyone to read this, and think about the incredibly fucked up assumptions this one simple sentence contains. Apparently, being propositioned inappropriately is a sign that you’re hot, and not getting unwanted sexual propositions from strangers in inappropriate contexts means you’re fugly; instead of, you know, the fact that some groups of people feel, because of socialization, more entitlement to ask sex “from” people, especially if those people are members of the Sex Class. Therefore, I guess, women shouldn’t complain about inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances (they’re a compliment), and we shouldn’t ever point out that men are more likely to act on their sexual urges regardless of whether signals of interest are present and regardless of the appropriateness of such a proposition given the context (because that would imply that men are ugly, not that there’s a difference in privilege/entitlement and differences in the way men are seen (as people) and the way women are seen (as members of the Sex Class)). wow.

McCreight puts desiring sex with attractive women in the same category as talking only to a woman’s chest, nonconsensual groping, and following a woman to her hotel room.

Again, the conflation of wanting with asking. Is this writer comprehension-challenged, having a hard time being honest, or actually incapable of telling the difference between wanting something and actually acting on that want?
and anyway, if all those things are “things Jen doesn’t want to experience from other speakers”, then they are in the same very broad category. The category of “Jen does not want”, and apparently also the category of “things other women told Jen they didn’t want, but experienced from speakers anyway”. What the writer seems to be trying to imply is that Jen equated these things as equally bad, and I think that claim is a stretch.

There is nothing wrong with desiring sex for purely physical reasons.

More conflation of wanting and acting. Blah blah, moving on.

Resorting to slut shaming is not necessary to discuss harassment.

Slut is a gendered term, a slur against women and women’s sexuality. Claiming “slut-shaming” against men is like claiming racial discrimination against whites.

2) Dishonesty is expected, and even encouraged, where sexuality may be involved

This is a direct lie related to my “social context” post. I’ll explain below, when we get to the specifics.

This is related to Point 1 by virtue of the fact that if wanting sex is wrong…

Blah blah wanting acting blah blah.

…then people who want sex are going to be encouraged to hide that fact until the socially appropriate time.

Interesting phrasing. It implies that there is something wrong with putting a filter between your wants and your actions, by using the word “hide” (as opposed to simply not acting on something), and by connecting it to the previous claim of sex-negativity, as if the demands for filtering between wants and actions was a special case because it was sex. By that logic, it shouldn’t be considered rude to eat or talk loudly in a theater if I want to; it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate to drop my pants and piss whenever and wherever I feel the urge to; it shouldn’t be inappropriate to tell other people that I think they’re ugly, smelly, dumber than a moldy avocado, have no sense of how to dress, their voices are annoying, et cetera; lie down to nap wherever and whenever I feel like; et cetera ad nauseam. In reality of course, basic filters between wanting and acting on those wants is expected of every neurotypical person over the age of 5, and of all adult people considered fit for socialization with other adults. Sex is no exception.

People who just come out and say they want sex (even in the least coercive and lowest pressure way I can think of) are disrespectful, objectifying, and should be ashamed of themselves.

This refers to Elyse’s encounter, and is therefore a lie of omission, since the disrespectful, objectifying part was not the “just come out and say they want sex” part, but the “while I was at work, from complete strangers, in violation of the convention’s policy” part.

Asking for sex is not seeing a person “as your plaything.” It’s just asking for sex.

There’s no such thing as “just” asking for sex. Nothing is “just” anything when it comes to human communication and interaction. Most actions involving other humans have subtextual and contextual meanings beyond “just” the surface-message. And so, me asking someone to dinner is not “just” asking someone to take in nourishment in my physical vicinity, and nor is asking a convention speaker you have no acquaintance with and no reason to assume they’re into your kink to sex “just” asking to touch bodies for physical pleasure. this is once again the denial of social context that pissed me off when JT was doing it, except here it’s even worse. The last two quotes taken together read as if the writer despises the existence and insistence on acknowledgment of social contexts in general. The writer, in other words, is starting to sound like Holden Caulfield.

Objecification only happens if you see the other person’s desires as irrelevant.

not irrelevant; merely less important that your own desires. Which breaking a conference-policy and asking for sex from someone while they’re at work absolutely is.

As long as you are genuinely seeking enthusiastic consent, if you want sex, you ought to ask for it!

yeah. I should totally ask my hot, monogamously married prof to have sex with me. Because fuck social context, my ability to always act on my wants is more important than making other people deeply uncomfortable and disregarding their desire to be seen as professionals instead. *rolleyes*

Hiding your intentions is just being dishonest, not respectful.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Holden Caulfield, indeed.
Also, desires are not intentions. Intentions are intentions.

As one commenter on this blog put it:

I too find smart, interesting people who think about things quite sexy, yet am generally skittish of strangers. I’m also alternately oblivious to and skeeved out by the way flirting (in most mainstream venues) happens most times. Still, I’d far prefer for someone to tell me they think I have great boobs and would like to make out with me than to just hint at it, assuming they are respectful of my possible “no thank you.” I like transparent, respectful asks, and people who ask for consent frequently and sincerely.

because social interaction in general is a game of lowest-common-denominator, where if one person doesn’t mind socially inappropriate behavior, we must all abandon our own boundaries and definitions of socially inappropriate behavior.
Wait, no. In reality, to behave like a civilized social being, you should behave as is considered appropriate to the given social context, and only when you learn someone’s personal preferences do you get to move on from there. since that’s tricky for socially inept people, we made buttons. Use them, if you prefer bluntness, but don’t force bluntness on others. Your desires for bluntness do not override my desire not to have my boobs commented on constantly, when the social context is such that my boobs are not considered an appropriate subject (now, if I entered a “best boobs” competition, that would be different).

In addition to those desiring of sex being encouraged to remain silent

This is, incidentally, another dishonesty. Behaving in a socially appropriate manner given the social context, and (if your primary goal is fucking), finding social contexts in other people’s primary goal is also fucking is not silencing, it’s modulating. It’s telling you to not scream but whisper while in a movie theater.

women who are objects of such desire are also encouraged to be dishonest about their refusals.

this includes a link to my social context post. The writer here claims that my social context post is about encouraging women to be dishonest. As mentioned above, this is (self-evidently, to anyone who has actually read my post) a blatant lie.

The (true) observation that rapists ignore refusals is used to suggest that women shouldn’t be encouraged to clearly communicate their own desires.

More lying. The social context post suggested that women are being quite clear, using socially understood means of “letting someone down easy”, and that certain men simply choose to ignore them. The writer conflates “clear” with “blunt”, even though the mythcommunication link explains quite well that women’s communication is quite clear and understandable even when it’s not blunt.

The (also true) observation that women are socialized not to clearly communicate a refusal is used to suggest that we should not be encouraging women to break free of that socialization and be more honest about what they want.

This is also a lie, since I have in fact included a suggestion of how to encourage women to be willing to be more blunt.

This is confusing the “is” and the “ought.

This is just confused. The “ought” in question is to ask women to break through socialization-pressures for the benefit of men. I reject this as a valid ought because of the realities of the “is” of the consequences to women of breaking through this socialization, which are greater than the consequences of them not breaking through or (as I suggested) of them demanding that first, the dudes put some effort into changing the dynamic that reinforces the socialization.

The undeniable state of mainstream heterosexual flirting is that men are expected to be the aggressors, that clearly communicating a desire to have sex is disfavored, and that a clear refusal is often met with hostility. None of this is an argument that the status quo is the way things ought to be.

Well, good thing then that I didn’t make that argument, eh?

We should all be encouraged to be more open and honest about what we want from a social interaction, even if the we may be subject to negative social consequences.

Who’s “we”? And if the writer had paid any attention to the post they’re criticizing, I actually suggested means by which women can be encouraged to be more blunt. However, demanding of disprivileged strangers one doesn’t know that they should subject themselves to social punishment for the benefit of the privileged class is an asshole move. How about the privileged ones put pressure on each other to lessen social punishment, instead?

The exception, of course, is when physical safety is in question.

Because emotional harm is just hysterical whining, amirite? Besides, women should all want to spend their leisure time being made to feel like shit for the greater good, eh?

Of course, the flipside of this is that we should stop punishing women for being blunt. A woman who clearly communicates a “no” is not being harsh, she’s being honest. A woman who says she’s not interested in someone (even if s/he hasn’t made any advances) is just being communicative. Hurting someone’s feelings through deception is a dick move. Hurting someone’s feelings by telling them the truth is a brave and awesome thing to do, and we should encourage people to do it.

This is just repeating what I said as if it were some clever thought the writer themselves came up with.

However, the danger of social disapproval is not a good reason to be dishonest.

Communicating in a clear but non-blunt fashion is not dishonesty. Claiming that subtlety is the same as dishonesty on the other hand is dishonest.

If the object of your affection will see you as creepy for being clear about your sexual interest, that’s not a reason to hide your interest.

Actually, yes it is. If you can’t proposition someone in a non-creepy fashion, don’t proposition until you learn how to interact appropriately to the given context, or find social contexts in which your behavior is seen as socially appropriate. Your horniness is not a right to sleaze on other people any more than my full bladder is a right to pee on a bus.

It does not follow that dishonesty is justified. If flirting should be about creating intimacy, then it relies on both parties behaving in a trustworthy way (i.e. not lying to each other).

More equating of tact with outright lying. Our Holden Caulfield is morphing into Gregory House now.

Jadehawk disagrees:

You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

Not a word in that quote about how lying is good. And the stuff in the brackets is exactly the same as what the writer just proposed themselves, except without the use of the gendered expletive. Shocking. Who knew this champion of honesty would be such a blatant liar?

I agree that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to completely go against their socialization, but that doesn’t mean that we should not ask them to do so

Will the writer explain why we should ask women to deal with social punishment to make men’s lives easier, instead of asking men to stop the punishment to make everyone’s lives easier?

Society socializes us to do many things that we reject. Dishonesty could be one of them. Jadehawk’s view is that women are just brainless products of society’s conditioning, and have no choice in how to act.

More lies. Women have a choice, and most of them, in the risk-benefit analysis of “being blunt, risk punishment, but make d00dz lives easier” vs. “behaving averagely, not getting punished, not caring whether some inept d00d won’t get laid”, most women will rationally chose the second. A rational person would then of course work to diminish the risk of punishment, not bullshit about how explaining and defending women’s right to do so is somehow calling them brainless.

I think we all have a choice, regardless of what we’re told, or how we’re taught. I don’t think “the social context is what determines how women will respond.”

Five bucks says our writer has libertarian leanings. Belief in Counter-causal free will is, of course, a given.

I think women will respond based on their own individual choices, in light of the social context.

This, as if it were somehow a contradiction to what I said. Precious.

If you intend to send the message for someone to back off, do it clearly. Don’t use subtle social cues that are open to interpretation.

And here the writer shows that they either didn’t read or didn’t understand the “mythcommunication” essay, since it makes it very clear that what women’s forms of rejections are actually clear. And than men chose to pretend that they’re open to interpretation. It also makes clear that this writer has no fucking clue how human interaction and communication work, demanding that language be stripped of half the work it does****. Whether that’s only in the case of sex, or whether the writer actually wants people to blurt out all their feelings and opinions and desires in crassly blunt language regardless of context is unclear.

If you want to get to know someone, do that. If you intend to communicate sexual interest, do it clearly. Don’t do it by pretending you want to get to know someone.

This goes back, I think, to the earlier quote by PZ. If so, it shows clearly that the writer completely misses the point of the quote, because PZ suggested that a)atheist conferences aren’t a good place if your primary goal is getting laid, and therefore b)that people should come to these with the expectations to socialize and make friends, not get laid (as I said, if you want to get laid, there are meetups for that). But beyond that, it’s posing a false dichotomy, in that, unless you’re in a darkroom (and therefore already know the intentions of the other people there explicitly), you always need to get to know a person you have the hots for at least well enough to know whether they’d be interested in your proposition (and often also to let them get to know you enough to decide whether you’re someone they want to fuck). Cold-propositioning in a not explicitly sexual context is being an entitled douchenozzle, noting more, nothing less.

And don’t pretend you’re interested in sex if you’re only interested in getting to know someone.

Nobody actually does this, but it’s a common stereotype about women that they “string guys along” or are “being a tease”. Propagating bullshit, sexist stereotypes falls under “honesty is hard”, too.

My only problem here is dishonesty about one’s intentions.

Not actually true, since it’s evident that the writer’s problem is actually impulse control and/or distaste for the social norm that requires people to have impulse control. Also, inability to not lie about other people’s writing; that also seems to be a problem.

Flirting is not easy. But if we try, we could make it a little easier.

Rejecting the notion of impulse control and the existence of appropriate and inappropriate contexts for sex and flirting won’t make any of this “easier”; it will however make for an even chillier climate for most women.

- – – – – – – – – – – -
*wanting sex from people is an… interesting phrasing, however. Sex is not something you “get”, nor do you get it “from” people, because it’s not a service or good (unless we’re talking about prostitution). sex is something you “do”, and you do it “with” people; because it’s a form of social interaction.

**also, I don’t know why this writer assumes to know that “bag a young hottie” is not a quote? Maybe the person who told Jen that particular story actually used the term. Maybe that person even quoted the dude in question. Point being, the lack of quotation marks doesn’t allow for the degree of certainty the writer espouses on this point.

***it’s absolutely inarguable that wanting to “bag a young hottie at every event” is depersonalizing, since the “young hotties” are interchangeable. This is comparable to “I want to get married” before you ever meet someone you might feel like marrying: it’s a depersonalized goal into which you then try to stuff the people you run into, as long as they fit the qualifications.

****Steven Pinker to the Rescue ;-)

An ally by any other name…

The recent, aggressive fights over who is or isn’t an ally, and who can or cannot call themselves or others an ally made me really think about what the word means, and how it has been used.

Traditionally, “allies” are two (groups of) people aligned for one common cause. Such allies are, in theory if not always in practice, equals in terms of investment in the common cause and power/privilege at least in regards to the issue at the core of the alliance. It is a word that designated collaboration, the co-working of different and maybe even otherwise opposed groups and individuals on a particular common cause. There’s however a newer use of the word now. I don’t know where that particular usage originated, but personally I blame the naming of the Gay Straight Alliance for its propagation. In any case, such an alliance is completely different from the traditional one. An alliance of gay and straight folks on the issue of gay rights, to stick with that example, is not an alliance of equals. It’s an alliance of, on the one hand, people for are the cause, i.e. people who are directly affected and oppressed by the axis of oppression being allied against; and, on the other hand, people who have privilege on that axis and thus aren’t directly affected. This new “alliance” contains a power-imbalance as well as what I’d call a salience-imbalance, which doesn’t exist in the traditional meaning of “ally” and “alliance”. This is a significant difference, and I think that the non-differentiation between these two meanings can even make the difference worse, because it erases the imbalance and the completely different dynamics that are a consequence thereof. And, it gives the privileged “half” of such an alliance more power without acknowledging that it does so (by using a word that implies equality).

A word that would more accurately describe the Gay Straight Alliance kind of ally is actually “supporter”. “Supporter” acknowledges the difference in salience: I can support someone in their fight for their rights, but it’s obviously wrong to say they support me in my fight for their rights; allies, on the other hand, support each other in the fight for a common cause. “Supporter” also addresses the issues of power imbalance, because it relegates the privileged groups/individuals to a supporting role by definition, reserving the center stage for those whose issues are actually at stake. Without that, you end up with “allies” who feel that, because of the nature of alliances, they get to speak for their allies, and that they have the same rights to leadership positions in the movement as all the other members of such an alliance. Which is a nice, liberal idea right up there with being “colorblind”, and with the same effect: pretending equality when an obvious power imbalance is present hands more power within such an alliance to the already privileged. “Supporter” is also a word that’s more evaluative, and specifically evaluative of actions: someone who is “for” a particular social justice issue, but doesn’t do anything to make it happen is at best a cheerleader or bystander, or at worst a de facto supporter of the status quo. In order to gain the title of “supporter”, one actually has to be doing some supporting. Allying on the other hand is simply aligning onelself with a cause, which requires no further action. This part especially, I think, has been the cause for some of the drama recently: I can declare my alignment with a particular cause, issue, or movement freely, and being told that actually I’m not thusly aligned can feel like mind-reading and invalidating one’s feelings and agency. But it doesn’t make sense to declare oneself a supporter unilaterally, even when the people I claim I support are telling me that my actions are not supportive but counterproductive. Hence the blowups about the “you’re not my ally” type comments: they’re generally meant in the newer sense of supporter-ally, indicating that the person’s actions are less-than-supportive. but the privileged person to whom such a comment is generally addressed perceives it typically in the older, common-cause-ally meaning, and will thus assume that a counter-supportive intent or alignment is being implied, and their right to self-identify by naming their alignment is being trampled.

Now, I’m not asking for people to stop using the word “ally” in the newer meaning. I can’t, not being that kind of influence on social justice movements everywhere, and not being able to command other people’s use of words. That ship has sailed. But I do think it’s fair and reasonable to demand that people distinguish between common-cause-ally and supporter-ally when using and hearing/reading the words, to avoid pointless arguments. And it’s not like it’s difficult to know which of the two meanings is used at any given time, since the common-cause-ally is bidirectional (for example, a black gay dude and a black straight woman are both each other’s allies in the fight against racism) while supporter-ally is unidirectional (The same dude can be an ally of the woman in fighting for women’s rights, and the woman can be his ally in fighting for gay rights; but it’s incoherent to say that a gay person is an ally to a straight person in the fight for gay rights, or that a woman is an ally to a man in the fight for women’s rights). Making this distinction in conversation and argument, I think, is quite important. Because without it, you get things like this article from Stephanie Zvan, which is an excellent description and analysis of the traditional common-cause-alliance, but completely fails to note that the word now also means “supporter of someone else’s cause”. Her article is an excellent description of alliance if it were about how atheists of different backgrounds can work together for the atheist cause; or how liberal atheists, liberal Christians, and liberal Muslims can, despite their differences, ally to fight against environmental destruction or for better education in public schools. But when it’s about straight people being allies to LGBT people in fights for LGBT-rights; white people being allies to people of color in the fight against racism; etc., then the old model of alliance fails: if your support is conditional on not having your fee-fees hurt; if your support amounts to a libertarianish “I already see/treat all people as equal”; if your support, because it’s based in the ignorance that comes with privilege, actually ends up counter-productive; then the people you claim alliance with absolutely get to point out that you’re not being much of a supporter-ally to them.

And just to make this very clear: while I think it would do good if everyone were more careful and conscious of this dual meaning, it’s primarily the privileged halves of such alliances I want to see take greater care in seeing the distinction, so that we can avoid dealing with pointless flailing about hurt pride when someone points out that one’s behavior hasn’t been very ally-like (read: has not been supportive of the people one claimed such an alliance to).

EDIT: one more important point about the difference: when someone uses the “you’re not my ally” line when it’s clearly about supporter-allies, it also makes no sense to assume that this is a statement about all alliances of the common-cause-category the two people in question may be in. I’ve seen people make the much stronger statements that social justice movement X isn’t for them because it’s insufficiently intersectional; I’ve seen people make statements claiming that a particular individual can make potentially harm a movement by making it less appealing to people on other axes of oppression because of their behavior, political position or whatever; but both of those are distinctly different than pointing out that a person with whom one is common-cause-allied in fights about X, Y, and Z is not an ally in the fight for one’s own rights.

“let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context”

JT Eberhard decided that his contribution to the discussion about sexual harassment at atheist conferences was going to be to talk about how to make sex happen anyway, especially for socially clueless guys like himself. And the list that came out of that might even be decent advice to guys. But the post itself? And the comments?

*shudder*

For one, this is crap:

But ladies, we need your help (which is why I’m writing this post). I’m not an idiot, but I’m terrible at catching subtle hints. Seriously, I’m awful. Men like me need you to communicate with them. If we’ve crossed the line and you don’t tell us, it’s very possible that we won’t even be remotely aware that the line has been crossed at all. If you then go tell other people how terrible we are for having crossed your line, you’re creating drama instead of working toward a resolution.

You know why women give “subtle” hints? It’s because 1)they’re actually not that subtle at all, certain people just prefer not to listen when it’s about sex, and 2)rejections that are more-blunt-than-socially-accceptable are socialized out of women because they regularly and rather thoroughly get punished for employing them.*
So yeah. Women are going to be “subtle”, which really just means they’re going to behave averagely, because that’s usually enough (when it’s not about sex) and because even a bit more will usually get a woman punished.

Oh, but of course we’re not supposed to talk about this:

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking only about these two very fun things, flirting and physicality, that are ultimately a very small aspect of getting to know somebody. I say that because I’m trying to avoid the conversation of, “but women don’t want to feel like sex objects whose primary purpose is to be flirted with.”
[...]
Now there are guys who do view women as a means to sex and have no interest in respecting a woman’s boundaries if it means they can’t push for sex. Those guys are a liability. They don’t want help and I’m not writing this post to help them. I’m talking about the men who want to create a friendly environment for women but who also want to interact with the possibility of flirting/getting laid if things go well.

Well, sorry JT, but you can’t just exclude the context from the conversation. Because women can’t exclude that context from their life into which you’re barging when you flirt with them!
You can’t exclude the existence of the creeps, because after being creeped on by 5 guys, it simply no longer matters that you’re not a creep, you’re still Yet Another Dude Who Wants Sex. And at that point, a woman might simply no longer care why you want it or whether you’d flirt correctly and respect her boundaries; because at that point, she’s too sick of all the unwanted attention to still want any sexual attention at all.
You also can’t exclude the existence of creeps, because in order to give you an unsubtle answer, a woman will by definition have to give an unsubtle answer to every man who may or may not be flirting with her. Which not only goes against past socialization, but is also most likely going to result in her being punished for it, both by the man she was just “unnecessarily harsh” to (or maybe she interpreted the signals wrong and he wasn’t even flirting with intent; then she’ll be an altogether “presumptuous bitch” for thinking a guy would even want to fuck her. pffft.), and likely by others in the social circle as well. I mean, shit, Rebecca Watson loosened an internet-wide shitstorm for just saying “guys, don’t do that” about cold-propositioning in elevators late at night!** And you want women to go against socialization and risk social punishment every time they talk to a flirty dude, just because you’re socially awkward?

Yeeeeaaahh, no. You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

And nevermind that this whole scenario ignores the existence of socially inept women, since it puts the burden of clear communication on them (notice how it’s the women who have to say “no” as bluntly as possible, socialization and possible punishment be damned, but the socially awkward dudes are still allowed to operate within the subtleties of basic human interaction).

And then, the fucking comments. The entire fucking comment section there needs to read “Yes Means Yes” instead of bleating shit like this:

While I have many times found myself in similar situations, I have to say this: it is absolutely vital that you find a way to communicate effectively, as there is absolutely no way that JT or anyone else can create a functioning environment that is safe for people who won’t/don’t say “no” when they mean “no.”
I totally agree that social leveraging is a dick move. That doesn’t change the fact that your refusal to say “no” makes every social situation more dangerous for everyone involved.

or complain how a “ask first, hug later” culture would somehow be a logistical nightmare.

And of course, the stupid-ass “why don’t women just wear buttons” idea came up. I’ve dealt with that crap before, and some of the less dense posters also pointed out that degrees of consent are every-changing, context-specific and person-specific, so such buttons are fucking worthless. But hey, here’s an idea for you lot: since desire for intimacy is shifting, but social ineptness isn’t, why don’t you guys who want to flirt and get laid but are afraid of missing signals wear a giant red button saying “socially inept; speak bluntly to me”? That way, women would know when they can safely be more assertive (or, if they don’t think they can bring up the energy to go against socialization, just void you) and also remind you that you wanted bluntness when your sexist conditioning kicks in and you (or one of your friends) feels like punishing the woman for being blunt. And at the same time they’ll know that those who aren’t getting their messages and aren’t wearing the button can be safely reported as harassers.

Everybody’s problems solved (that’s fucking sarcasm in case you didn’t notice; but don’t tempt me with more demanding posts like that, or else I’ll decide I’m serious about this buttons-for-the-clueless thing)

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*yeah, I am quite aware that both links talk about rape. The concepts discussed therein are still applicable to flirting and similar interactions. Rape, after all, doesn’t just happen out of the blue; it is simply the nasty pinnacle of rape culture, and rape culture reinforces itself in all these much smaller, much more innocuous-seeming interactions in which boundaries are pushed and assertive rejection punished.
**and then there was also the woman who said “no” to the obviously not-previously-discussed super-public proposal of her boyfriend, and everyone came down on her like a ton of bricks for being “cruel” for rejecting him publicly.