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Oct 13 2011

From the Neighborhood

While I’m busy arguing with some guy who thinks I can’t possibly not use the same insults he would, and another who thinks only one white guy can handle the problems of Canada’s First Nations, have some tasty blogging from my neighbors who have a bit more time.

Dana was at GeekGirlCon on a panel about skepticism, and she’s bringing back the goodies for the rest of us.

Skepticism 101: In Which I Say What Skepticism Is, and Shoot a Video

Being a skeptic isn’t something you are so much as do. Because, you see, skepticism is a tool. It’s a way of detecting bullshit. It’s a set of methods applied to assess the truth of a claim. It saves you from falling for Nigerian princes and people who claim there’s a curse upon you which can only be lifted by silly rituals and the application of generous funds to the fortune teller.

And that’s what we tried to impress upon the audience at GeekGirlCon: skepticism is a tool, or rather a tool kit. I’ll show you mine.

Skepticism 101: Popular Pseudoscience

Women have a lot of woo aimed their way. Men aren’t exempt, not by any means, but there’s some woo targeted almost exclusively at women. Our Skepticism 101 panel explored some of the varieties on offer. Some of the woo might not even appear to be woo, on the surface.

Take makeup, for instance.

Jason is continuing to follow up on his privilege posts.

The Disadvantages of Being a Man

The patriarchal society we find ourselves in today is a significantly eroded one, where the patriarchy finds itself under attack from almost every angle, but it remains a patriarchy still. Thanks to the monumental efforts of the feminist and civil rights movements, not to mention the recent secular pushback against religious authoritarianism and its adherents’ less than progressive ideals about women’s role in society, what was once a society that prided itself on its white male hegemony is now a more pluralistic one, though far from egalitarian. This patriarchy still exists, and societal pressure for men and women to conform to specific gender roles still has the very inertial effect on forestalling progressive change.

And while these gender roles have many powerful side-effects with regards to women and their sexual self-determination, men are not wholly insulated from the splash damage. In fact, I strongly believe that these gender roles are largely responsible for all of the gender related issues that all sexes and genders experience today.

Owning the slur

There are a number of words whose only use is to hurt. There are words that once meant something strong and proud but, through repeated historical misuse, have become tainted by every bit of hate and venom that has ever flowed through them in their use. There are words that might, to some people, serve as a mere descriptive, an adjective to be used in daily discourse, but to others inculcate a fear of the types of violence with which the word has so often been used in parallel.

And then, there are the concerted efforts to retake those words, to rebrand them.

Ophelia is on fire on the topic of reality versus “truth.”

Higher bullshitting

He’s saying stories about miracles can be true even if they’re not real. Try that with the New York Times then. Try it with the Atlantic. Try it with the Daily Beast. If Sullivan reports something, as opposed to commenting on it or interpreting it, does he give himself permission to report it as true even if he knows it’s not real? Does he actually make truth claims in print in journalistic outlets that he knows are not “real” (by which the rest of us mean “true”)? I doubt it, and if he does, he risks getting in the kind of trouble that Jayson Blair did – but with a much bigger reputation to lose.

In other words, I think he’s bullshitting. I think he’s bullshitting rather shamelessly, since he probably wouldn’t act on that (bogus-seeming) distinction in his professional life.

Greta is keeping her eyes firmly on the American Cancer Society story.

American Cancer Society Moves from Dodging to Covering Their Tracks

And the plot thickens.

The American Cancer Society is now not just evading the issue with bland denials and passive- aggressive little digs at atheists for bringing it up. They’re now apparently taking active steps to cover their tracks.

I just got this email from Todd Stiefel, regarding the story about the American Cancer Society refusing to let the Foundation Beyond Belief participate as a national team in the Relay for Life… and declining a $250,000 matching offer from the Todd Stiefel Foundation to make it happen.

Crommunist is being very funny about baby futures, but that’s in email (one of the perks of blogging here). He’s also writing about recognizing racism even when it isn’t blatant.

Reading between the lines – execution and de facto racism

Like guns, and the Civil War, capital punishment rests in the bones of the American South. It is not something that can be grokked fully by those of us who weren’t raised there, but it is part of the underlying culture. To be sure, just like not every Canadian is a hockey-playing socialist, not everyone from the south is a gun-toting, General Lee-driving, death penalty nut. That being said, if you were looking for such a person, you’d have a much easier time finding them in the South than in, say, Vermont.

The problem with this kind of cultural association is that it shortcuts critical consideration of the issues, relying on heuristics rather than facts to make its case. The South also has a unique relationship with racism that underpins its culture, which evidently intersects with its fascination with capital punishment. When these kinds of cultural assumptions run deep, we end up only being able to observe them by panning our critical camera out, to look at the macro-level trends:

Lots of good reading around here. Get to it.

2 comments

  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    Thank you kindly for the links!

  2. 2
    Francisco Bacopa

    This ties in with the whole believer vs. skeptic dichotomy. To be a skeptic is not to hold to any set of positions, it is to take a certain approach to claims, warrants, and evidence. Scully in The X-Files was initially a skeptic, or was she? She investigated case after case, had ample evidence all kinds of things were going on, yet she still denied conspiracies thereafter. Was she a true skeptic? No.

    I don’t believe in many conspiracies. There are no UFO abductions. Vaccines are generally a good thing, there was no thermite on 9/11.

    But I do believe that the 1980 October Surprise happened. Reagan himself admitted there was contact with Iran at that early date and there was also the payoff: We bailed on Lebanon and let the pro-Iran factions gain influence. And we did trade arms with Iran even though it was forbidden by law.

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