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Jun 21 2012

Elisions

It’s always fascinating to watch a tale be retold and see what gets left out. It says almost as much about the storyteller as what is left in.

In the case of the infamous elevator, sometimes all that has been left in is the coffee. Even the elevator itself is sometimes elided. The hours of opportunity for a single word of conversation generally disappear. Certainly all the hours of discussion of being tired of being hit on are gone. So is the expressed desire for sleep. That one never makes it into the story.

If it is acknowledged that we’ve been discussing the need for anti-harassment policies the egregious nature of the events that prompted the call are somehow missing. We haven’t educated thousands of people about the difference between flirting and harassment. We haven’t explicitly recognized that other mores prevail in other circumstances. We haven’t, many of us, been explicitly sex-positive for years.

When we’re talking about the propositioned speaker, the card contains no nakedness. The clearly stated professional nature of the event is overwritten by expectations of socializing. The lack of interaction prior to the proposition is replaced with friendly conversation. The praise the speaker had for the event and its organizers has somehow become condemnation.

On the topic of the written harassment report, everything is disappeared but the lack of in-hand upskirt photos. The following, the invasions of personal space, the outspoken sexism–they’re gone. So is every instance of “No” and “Stop” and “Get away from me”. It’s as though they never happened. Even the point of discussing the incident in the first place becomes invisible.

It would say one thing if these details were elided because they were considered unimportant. It would tell us that those trying to argue against us truly had a fundamental disagreement on the issues. “No, I don’t think you have any right to ever set a boundary that I should be expected to respect” doesn’t require changing a thing.

That isn’t what happens, though. Set up a situation in which people must defend that position, and almost every one of them declines or fails. Tell people you will ban them if they ignore or debate the details, and the discussion gets ever so much quieter.

People understand that this position–that we may never demand that our boundaries be respected–is untenable, inhumane. They get this. Their silence when they’re forced to confront that notion directly speaks more eloquently for them than they ever could with words. This isn’t really in dispute.

That tells us that these elisions mean something else entirely. We have a right to have our personal sexual boundaries respected, and they know it. Every omitted detail then becomes an attack on those rights.

Maybe not the first time, of course. People do get things wrong, and they don’t question their sources. But when they do it again, and then again, there really isn’t any other option. They know we have these rights, and they are actively refusing to grant them to us.

Does anyone really have any problem understanding why this makes us angry?

84 comments

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  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    Trolls fighting with people about events they’re “skeptical of” are a lot like negative space in art. The negative space is important too.

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    I’m not even talking about the people who decide to be skeptical of everyday events. There are a remarkable number of people who just continue to talk about these things as though the important details had never been mentioned.

  3. 3
    Timid Atheist

    It is rather exhausting to discuss situations like the ones you described when the opposing party refuses to acknowledge certain, basic facts. It’s so much easier to tear apart something when all the facts aren’t there and to make comparisons that aren’t actually equal.

    Like me being told that not going to TAM if I had the money is lame and like someone else saying that even if they had the money they wouldn’t buy a Ferrari. Not the same thing at all. And me claiming that I wouldn’t go because of the responses I’ve seen so far is a great deal different from simply not wanting a flashy sports car.

    Oh and because I don’t understand TAM’s position then obviously skepticism isn’t my thing.

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    Stephanie @2: I suppose that comes from playing telephone with the info then? Or a lack of care to find those facts? Because it’s not like they aren’t there.

  5. 5
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    There are a remarkable number of people who just continue to talk about these things as though the important details had never been mentioned.

    This post is spot-on. Even worse than the above, the same people will actively adjust their parameters even if you get them to acknowledge an important detail that demolishes their objections. All of a sudden it’s all, “Well, I can see that, but. . ” It’s perfectly clear that dismissing other peoples’ rights to declare boundaries is the goal and they will not flinch at twisting themselves up into literally incoherent argumentation to service that goal.

    That’s what frightens me about such people—that deep and desperate need to deny dignity to other people. It’s chilling.

  6. 6
    Stephanie Zvan

    Some of it comes from that. You can tell because those people stop repeating the story with missing details once they’re corrected. There are plenty of people who keep repeating “just a cup of coffee” long after they’re corrected, however. That’s what that second to last paragraph of mine is about.

  7. 7
    Stephanie Zvan

    Timid Atheist, it can be hugely exhausting, so I usually stop and tell people why. Then, of course, I’m being “dogmatic”.

  8. 8
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Also, it’s really great to see people draw lines in the sand as Greta did. How astonishing that it has to be made explicit that one is expected not to lie by omission or blatantly distort uncontroversial facts! But, apparently it does. I hope to see a lot more of that explicit line-drawing by lots of bloggers. Speaking off a script in your head rather than dealing with reality? You’re done. No discussion. We’ve moved on.

    I wonder if a sustained effort at this across blogs would start to make progress toward marginalizing the liars and confabulators.

  9. 9
    Stephanie Zvan

    I find it almost exactly the opposite of chilling, but that’s not a pleasant extreme either.

  10. 10
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Chilling or blood-boiling to your taste!

  11. 11
    smhll

    That’s what frightens me about such people—that deep and desperate need to deny dignity to other people. It’s chilling.

    From the trolls and quasi-trolls, I’m smelling the strong implication that “of course MY ideas about how to run your life are far superior to your ideas”.

    They are blindingly ignorant about how things are in anyone’s real life, AND can filter out uncounted posts carefully and exactingly describing a different lived experience. I just don’t know if skepticism makes filtering due to disbelief stronger. Maybe sometimes it does.

  12. 12
    screechymonkey

    I think a lot of it comes from people who want to have a particular argument, so they’re warping the situation under discussion until it fits the discussion they want to have.

    Once upon a time, they heard (or think they heard) of a feminist who wanted to criminalize flirting, and they’re still ticked off about that, so they carry that particular hammer around with them until they find a discussion that looks vaguely nail-like if you squint enough. And so a mild “guys, don’t do that” (where “that” has a specific context) gets heard as “don’t ever flirt,” and man, are they happy to get to finally swing that hammer!

    They’re pissed off about the Duke lacrosse case, and so every time someone says “don’t dismiss it when someone tells you they’ve been assaulted” gets heard as “lock the accused away for life without further inquiry,” and the indignant responses are cued up.

  13. 13
    julian

    It all reminds me of the rumor mongering Sturgess and the rest were talking about except in the opposite direction they hinted at. Mind you more than just “the other side” is guilty of omitting those key details but I can’t help but notice how the rumor mongering has a distinctly anti-feminist bent. Not shocking really as without the context so much of this can be spun to be entirely innocuous behavior.

  14. 14
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’ve recently seen it described as “context denialism” and I wish I could remember who said it because it is a perfect description of what’s going on. It whitewashes* every situation of any and all meaning besides one of competing opinions of more or less equal merit, and then describes as “dogmatic” anyone who dares to embrace the context and take an ethical stance. That same whitewashing allows for people to take a “fence-sitting” position of false neutrality and pretend to be above it all, while really being agents of preserving the toxic status quo.

    You folks do good work, not the least of which by revealing and ripping apart the underlying framework of the problem, not just dealing with the symptoms but also working to spell out the causes. Sort of context denialism in reverse.

  15. 15
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    Some of it seems to be coming from a misguided (if not completely insincere) attemp to be a “better” skeptic, or as Jason has put it a “hyperskeptic”. This has a similar vibe to AGW denialists or creationists who claim to be more “scientifically correct” than their opponents. Therefore they should “win” and can’t see why such victory is not conceded.

    That and being sheer, utter assholes.

  16. 16
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    Improbable Joe #14:

    That same whitewashing allows for people to take a “fence-sitting” position of false neutrality and pretend to be above it all, while really being agents of preserving the toxic status quo.

    And said “fence-sitters” will only come out of the woodwork when the progressive side comes out and actually goes on offense, always to complain exclusively about the progressives.

    Even when we’re just discussing applying skepticism to politics, the “centrists” and overt right-wingers/libertarians will always come out crying about “litmus tests” and “diversity of ideas”; in addition, they will condescend hard to anyone who dares forward the notion that the tactics we’re discussing in this thread aren’t exclusive to racists, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, etc, much less the notion that these scumbags by and large use the same tactics as right-wingers/libertarians, and FSM forbid that we start suggesting that the class-privileged scum and the every-other-privileged scum appear to becoming from, if not the same scum pool, the same cluster of scum pools.

    After all, such suggestions even at the mere level of “there is a subset of skeptics ideologically bound to pro-discrimination policy” is just irrational tribalism and there could possibly be rational libertarian/right wing/there-is-no-privilege arguments somewhere, and we won’t find them if we just assume that the arguments we get from that camp will continue to fail because that’s what’s been happening every time we address them.

    Josh #8:

    I wonder if a sustained effort at this across blogs would start to make progress toward marginalizing the liars and confabulators.

    I think this would be as simple as bloggers wanting to do this simply creating an explicitly labelled 101-level thread that gets linked at the top of any post discussing privilege (with the text, say, “This is a discussion about privilege. If you do not understand any of the basic terms in this post, please post your questions in [Privilege 101 thread] where they will be answered. Any questions and responses that belong in [Privilege 101] will be deleted as they are considered off-topic.”).

    Not only is there no excuse, but also no complaints about ideological banning because anyone who continues to post their 101-level JAQing off in the non-101 thread gets banned for spamming, not sustained idiocy.

    Josh #5:

    It’s perfectly clear that dismissing other peoples’ rights to declare boundaries is the goal and they will not flinch at twisting themselves up into literally incoherent argumentation to service that goal.

    I think this ties in well with what I said above regarding the scum coming from the same general cluster of scum pits. Because it’s not just in the skeptical community — this is something that regressives of all stripes are known to do.

    And not only that, but the regressive views towards social justice within the skeptical community appear to be not only using the same arguments, but also coming from the same subsets as the libertarians (in fact, the cluster seems to be mostly centered around Penn Jillette).

    Of course, as I said before, this is just irrational liberal tribalism.

  17. 17
    TwoPiDeltaIJ

    The following is a tangent to the conversation but is relevant to part of what is said in comment #17

    Libertarianism is not “right-wing.” So far as I know, there is no “tenet” of libertarianism which involves denying that privilege exists. Libertarianism is not really as monolithic as you seem to think. There is a libertarian-left, a libertarian-right, and the full spectrum in between. Even someone on the libertarian-right might have no problems with any progressive argument made about a social justice issue, they would likely just have a problem with an implementation of “fixing the problem” that would come after that.

  18. 18
    davidjanes

    That’s what frightens me about such people—that deep and desperate need to deny dignity to other people. It’s chilling.

    Might it be a little less chilling if it were more about a deep and desperate need to defend their own ego from being wrong in public? In other words, they wrong, but can’t admit it? I am not exactly trying to defend them here, only to challenge the immediate conception of malice, rather than crude efforts at self- preservation. Everything I’ve read about human cognition lately seems to point to the fact that reason has its limits when it comes to convincing people to change deeply held beliefs. If the MRAs and the clueless see feminism somehow as an attack on their maleness, then I could see the same defense mechanisms fire for them.

    Doesn’t make them less wrong, of course. It does make them more pathetic than malicificent though.

  19. 19
    Deen

    @davidjanes in #20: I’m not so sure that that would be less chilling. I mean, think about it: how deep-seated must this distrust of anything “feminist” be for it to be so hard to give up for people who pride themselves on being skeptics?

  20. 20
    davidjanes

    @Deen. Fair enough. Perhaps “Less intentionally evil” was what I was grasping for. As well as my first cup of coffee.

  21. 21
    Timid Atheist

    This makes me think of that saying: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    Which is apparently called Hanlon’s razor. Now while I realize most skeptics aren’t stupid. I think they can be selectively so when it comes to things that intersect with sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.

  22. 22
    John

    I’ve recently been debating whether or not policies should be implemented at conventions on another forum, and I’ve been shocked by where the conversation has gone.

    Things are reframed: the card to Elyse wasn’t “necessarily an invitation for sex”, it “technically wasn’t sexual harassment by the legal definition, so you can’t call it that”, “cards like that aren’t illegal so you can’t/shouldn’t ban them”, “you can’t ban all behavior that could potentially offend someone”, and “people just need to grow up, this is a mountain out of a molehill”.

    I’ve tried to argue against these points, and it goes no where. The only point I’ve found that the opponents have against the proposed policy is that it would be construed that a single incident of asking someone out for drinks/dinner at a convention would be considered sexual harassment, and since what is and is not sexual harassment is left up to the recipient or the event organizer, someone could be punished for such a benign action.

    They will then argue that such action is exactly what advocates of such policies are really after, except when it suits them. Basically they’re arguing for a position that exists in the little bit of ambiguity in the policy.

    The only thing I think that could be done in that situation is to better spell out the definition of harassment in the policy. Is that something valid to do, perhaps include an example of “this is acceptable, this isn’t”?

  23. 23
    Frogmistress

    I had a conversation the other day that was primarily about Grothe. Some of the facts were distorted or missing. When I supplied the missing and corrected information, it was as if I hadn’t even spoken. This man had his mind made up. It did not matter, to him, that his conclusions were based on erroneous data.

    John@24:

    I can’t imagine “this is acceptable, this isn’t” would even work because, we don’t exist in a bubble. Context matters (see: coffee).

  24. 24
    Whyohwhy

    Yes, things get elided. Such as – that asking for evidence, requesting proof, suggesting that a system with no checks against abuse whatsoever will get abused, such as the fact that any of the foregoing get’s ignored or smeared. And about the elevator incident – what’s elided completely is that we’ve only ever heard one self pitying whine about it, what’s elided is that even by that description it was damn innocuous (man took “no” to mean “no” – good grief, whatever will we do?), what’s elided is that we’ve never heard the other side of this, what’s elided is that we don’t even have evidence that it ever happened. We just have the word of one person who, when she’s not bellyaching about being “sexualized” (no worries there, I assure you), poses in her knickers in an attempt to attract attention that her prose cannot.

    Oh. Whoops. My bad. This is the new, improved “Evidence Unnecessary” skepticism.

  25. 25
    Deen

    since what is and is not sexual harassment is left up to the recipient or the event organizer, someone could be punished for such a benign action.

    Who else should it be up to but the recipient?

    But what I really wanted to respond to, is what are they afraid of? I mean, even if for the sake of argument there would be a hapless male whose flirting was mistaken for harassment, what do they think feminists would do to him? I think most of us would be fine if in such case he’d get a fair warning, and possibly some explanation of why what he did could be seen as creepy, so he knows for next time how to flirt properly. Where’s the harm? You’d think an actual hapless male with good intentions would even appreciate it.

    It says something about their low opinion of feminists if they think anything worse would happen to those poor hapless males.

  26. 26
    Timid Atheist

    suggesting that a system with no checks against abuse whatsoever will get abused

    Because false accusations don’t happen more often than real ones. And yes, there really is evidence to support that. Look it up.

    And about the elevator incident – what’s elided completely is that we’ve only ever heard one self pitying whine about it, what’s elided is that even by that description it was damn innocuous (man took “no” to mean “no” – good grief, whatever will we do?)

    That’s your opinion that it was self-pity and whining. Hardly evidence of anything really.

    The request that was so innocuous happened at 4 am in an elevator. You know, those things that have only one exit and move, thus making it even less easy to exit whenever a person wants to? And here we go, leaving out details and context. Good job proving Stephanie’s point.

    I think we’re done here.

  27. 27
    Frogmistress

    Shorter Whyowhy:

    Women lie!

    Once you say yes, you can never say no!

    Women lie!

  28. 28
    Deen

    @Whyohwhy in #26: wow, you don’t have a sense of irony, do you? All of your complaints have been addressed many times over, and yet here you are, on a post about “eliding”, pretending all those arguments never happened. I can only hope you’re a Poe.

  29. 29
    Whyohwhy

    Oh, I forgot what’s also been elided: that this whinge has been going on for a year now, and in that time there has been no, that is absolutely no effort, however slight, to stick up for or shine the light on those women who have to face real threats and real oppression. ‘Cause a) those are usually dark skinned and live elsewhere, and b) we’d soon find out that the likes of RW and AD are completely and utterly worthless when it comes to facing anything real.

    The request that was so innocuous happened at 4 am in an elevator.

    Oh, I’m sorry. Did the man lay a finger on her? Did he take no for an answer? Was there anything, even in the self pitying drone of RW to suggest that he was anything other than one of the socially inept twits that you lot seem to attract?

    And that is even before we take into account the fact that we only ever have one person’s word for any of this, and the person in question is given to self dramatization. And I think it is because the “skepchicks” are phenomenally privileged and do nothing effective whatsoever with their privilege to help their much abused and harmed sisters that they have a sick need to pretend that they are somehow the oppressed and victimized.

    Yes, it is always such a pleasure to hear rich, first world spoiled brats whining that they’re oh so oppressed.

  30. 30
    John

    Evidence is another important thing that I’ve been debating with people opposed to these policies.

    I’d really like to clear up what is advocated, or at least what I take to be what we’re advocating for:

    Different levels of evidence are required based on the type of claim being made.

    When someone says “A guy I never met before came up to me and said he wanted to at your conference, you should make a policy that says people aren’t allowed to do that.” it requires less evidence than a specific claim, because even if such an event never happened, the organizer can still validly say “Wow, that’s terrible, I don’t want that happening at my conference, I will make a policy against it.”

    This is compared to:

    “Person XYZ who I never met before came up to me and said 5 minutes ago, please have him stay away from me/ejected/whatever.”

    Where the organizer should go and get evidence before taking action on another individual.

    I don’t think anyone is advocating that actions should be taken against individuals based solely on one persons claim of harassment – or am I mistaken?

  31. 31
    Whyohwhy

    Women lie</blockquote<

    No, shorter me:

    "You (probably) lie”
    “Once you’ve been this tedious and boring you can’t expect persons of worth to ever take you seriously”

  32. 32
    John

    Ugg, my post at 32 got screwed up, in the examples given it should have:

    “person said (insert some harassment language about sex acts here)”

  33. 33
    Stephanie Zvan

    In this case, what seems to have been elided are the responses to all that:

    asking for evidence, requesting proof

    Responded.

    suggesting that a system with no checks against abuse whatsoever will get abused

    Responded.

    such as the fact that any of the foregoing get’s ignored or smeared

    Getting answers you don’t like isn’t the same thing as smearing someone.

    And about the elevator incident – what’s elided completely is that we’ve only ever heard one self pitying whine about it,

    Assumes facts not in evidence, and if that’s all you’ve ever heard, you haven’t been paying attention.

    what’s elided is that even by that description it was damn innocuous (man took “no” to mean “no” – good grief, whatever will we do?),

    Now you’re eliding all the parts where she already said this was something she didn’t want. And what you will do, if you’re a decent human being, is pay attention to those instead of deciding your interest in someone is all-important.

    what’s elided is that we’ve never heard the other side of this

    No, that’s not elided. It’s talked about fairly frequently, in fact, as is the fact that people representing “elevator guy’s” interests do so very badly.

    what’s elided is that we don’t even have evidence that it ever happened

    Yes, we do. We have what Rebecca has said. If that evidence is somehow not good enough for you, you might want to spend some time thinking about why.

    We just have the word of one person who, when she’s not bellyaching about being “sexualized” (no worries there, I assure you), poses in her knickers in an attempt to attract attention that her prose cannot

    How nice of you to call Rebecca an ugly slut who can’t write as though any of that were relevant to you making an argument you’ve entirely failed to make. For the record, this is why you get “smeared”. You’re done here. The evidence says you can’t manage to contribute to a grown-up discussion.

  34. 34
    Barry Walowitz

    My only comment is on this line:

    “The clearly stated professional nature of the event is overwritten by expectations of socializing.” – In reference to the card incident at Ohio Skepticamp.

    Reed, the guy that started the skepticamp movement, has said publicly that, by they’re very definition, Skepticamps are not professional. The point of them is to be ad-hoc, relaxed, and put on by amateurs. The idea came from technical BarCamps that take place, oddly enough, in bars, hardly professional environments.

    If Ohio Skeptics wanted something professional, they should have called the event something other than a SkeptiCamp.

  35. 35
    Deen

    I wonder where “Whyowhy” is going to show up now to complain about how they were “banned for simply disagreeing” or something.

  36. 36
    Stephanie Zvan

    Yeah, this one’s just precious:

    Oh, I forgot what’s also been elided: that this whinge has been going on for a year now, and in that time there has been no, that is absolutely no effort, however slight, to stick up for or shine the light on those women who have to face real threats and real oppression.

    Because what got Rebecca so many of her rape threats wasn’t talking about FGM. Because Ophelia hasn’t been consistently “shining a light on” honor killings and the like. Because I haven’t been talking about how the U.S. legal system is disproportionately hard on minorities of all sorts or promoting Natalie when she started blogging about trans issues. Yes, we all just ignore anyone but U.S., white, middle to upper class, straight, cis women. That’s us.

  37. 37
    Stephanie Zvan

    Barry, the anti-harassment policy they adopted references professionalism in discussing sex: http://skepticampohio.com/anti-harassment-policy

  38. 38
    Stephanie Zvan

    I don’t know, Deen, but I can guess. For the moment, though, he’s just raging in moderation about the stupid lie about Ophelia comparing TAM to Germany.

  39. 39
    Frogmistress

    Don’t you know, Stephanie, that you can only work on one thing at a time? If you are working to establish anti-harassment policies, you are doing NOTHING for the less fortunate!

  40. 40
    Stephanie Zvan

    Well, I will admit that if there were fewer people who insisted on continuing to get the basics wrong, I might get more done.

  41. 41
    Jason Thibeault

    I guess that’s why we need resources that aggregate the facts and you can simply point to them as authoritative and steamroll their “concern”. Since said concern is derived from nonsense, it can be ignored.

  42. 42
    Barry Walowitz

    @Stephanie –

    From the Ohio SkeptiCamp main page:

    “Skepticamp is based on the Barcamp model – user-generated open conferences where the content is provided by the participants. Where BarCamp is focused on technology, SkeptiCamp instead focuses on topics of interest to skeptics, including science, critical thinking and skeptical inquiry. For full details, including a listing of other camps being organized, visit the SkeptiCamp wiki.”

    Items from the SkeptiCamp wiki of interest:

    A professional speaker won’t speak because it’s a ‘free’ event, perhaps fearing it will dilute their value or status.
    SOLUTION: make it clear that these events are about sharing knowledge within communities of skeptics where people ‘pay’ to attend by helping to organize, doing a talk, volunteering on the day of the event, or otherwise actively participating. Emphasize the need for the speaker to share her knowledge and experience.
    SOLUTION: (shorter version) you’ll do just fine without the participation of that ‘pro.’

    INSIGHT where professionals organize our traditional events, amateurs organize our open events and must compensate through collaboration.

    And from the main SkeptiCamp.org main page:

    SkeptiCamps are informal, community-organized conferences borne from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.

    I still stand by what I said. If Ohio Skeptics wanted a professional event, they should have called it something other than SkeptiCamp.

  43. 43
    Jason Thibeault

    I think there’s a huge gulf of difference between “amateur” and “unprofessional” that you’re glossing over, Barry. Because even at a Barcon, handing out nude photos of yourself that say “call this number for a ‘good time’” would constitute harassment.

  44. 44
    Stephanie Zvan

    Barry, you can stand by whatever you want to. Maybe they should have changed the name. They’ve definitely changed the format, as it’s no longer a free event and their materials are clear about being a professional atmosphere where the discussion of sex is concerned. Simply having the Skepticamp name doesn’t change any of that.

  45. 45
    Stephanie Zvan

    Jason, I’m going to cut off that line of argument. It’s irrelevant here and anyone who insists on pursuing it should go elsewhere. The important thing is that Skepticamp Ohio clearly billed themselves as professional, which is being elided.

  46. 46
    Jason Thibeault

    Barry, from their policy:

    We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Explicit sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any conference venue. While some important and relevant issues may touch upon sexual issues, please keep it professional and in an academic context. Conference participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference [without a refund] at the discretion of the conference organizers.

    So they should change their name because the name implies it’s a sexual free-for-all?

  47. 47
    Bernard Bumner

    Does anyone really have any problem understanding why this makes us angry?

    Oh, I’m sure they understand exactly why; that is why they do it. There is no good will whatsoever on one side of this argument.

    I realise that I’m stating the obvious here, but so much of the opposition in and to the discussion of properly formulated, published, and implemented harassment policy has come from a lot of noisy people based only on their animus towards individuals and personalities.

    These would-be great skeptics now find themselves effectively arguing against common sense – that there should effective policies for dealing with harassment which should be discussed, improved, and monitored – and even denying that any problem even potentially exists. The only reason that they are forced to do so is because they are absolutely compelled to posture in opposition to anything that certain people write and say.

    Dislike feeds their bitterness, their rage unmasks their prejudice, and the wrong-minded contrarianism that results inevitably leads sensible people to condemn them, increasing their resentment.

    It is a pathetic downward-spiral where the right-minded are forced to constantly justify quite obviously sensible comments, whilst those on the wrong side of the argument swirl and boil around them in the rush to find the lowest depths to sink to.

    If they have legitimate criticisms, then why have they so egregiously failed to express them? On the other hand, where is their constructive proposal for what should happen?

    There isn’t one. There is only naysaying, cynicism, and attack.

  48. 48
    Jason Thibeault

    In all honesty, I’d love to hear legitimate argumentation against harassment policies that doesn’t elide vast tracts of statistics we have available to us, and that doesn’t amount to “naysaying, cynicism and attack”, because that would mean we have space to refine what it is we’re trying to achieve. The fact that none such argumentation is forthcoming tells me we’re on the right track.

  49. 49
    davidjanes

    If they have legitimate criticisms, then why have they so egregiously failed to express them? On the other hand, where is their constructive proposal for what should happen?

    I know I am not the first to make the comparison, but the similarities between the people who have problems with clearly worded harassment policies and global warming “skeptics” is pretty compelling, isn’t it?

    My personal hypothesis is that both problems are ones that appear to be soluble only via communitarian solutions, so hardcore libertarians find it easier to deny the problem instead of accepting it as real and proposing solutions that mesh with their politics.

    I think I would have more respect for someone whose argument at least acknowledged the existence of the problem and only took issue with the proposed solution.

  50. 50
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    Okay.

    New hypothesis (which seems to cover pretty much most of the evidence I’ve come across on many of the threads on multiple FTB sites discussing this issue).

    I’m thinking that the trolls who enter these discussions with so little regard for reality are the same species as the swirly, sparkly energy thing in the that episode of the original Star Trek that armed humans and Klingons on board the Enterprise with swords and then fed off the anger, hatred and aggression as they battled it out, keeping the fight going by reanimating those who had been killed. They seem to be a lot like that. But without the sparkles.

    Other than that, I’ve got nuthin.

  51. 51
    davidjanes

    Well, it appears one of us needs to adjust our dosage, but I can’t tell if I should up mine or you should lower yours.

  52. 52
    Stephanie Zvan

    david, to whom are you writing, and what are you saying?

  53. 53
    Timid Atheist

    I’m thinking that the trolls who enter these discussions with so little regard for reality are the same species as the swirly, sparkly energy thing in the that episode of the original Star Trek that armed humans and Klingons on board the Enterprise with swords and then fed off the anger, hatred and aggression as they battled it out, keeping the fight going by reanimating those who had been killed. They seem to be a lot like that. But without the sparkles.

    While amusing, this kind of talk has always struck me as a bad idea.

    Whenever I see people saying someone who can defend rapists or who promotes religious violence, etc., is inhuman, it’s giving that person an easy out. If you deny that they’re human that we can pretend that there’s nothing to be done about how they behave and in a way it excuses their behavior. “It’s okay that the monkey flings poo, he doesn’t know any better.”

    I’m sorry, but only my dog gets away with being an asshole because he doesn’t know any better. And at least he learns when I scold him. He may not know WHY what he’s done is bad, but he at least learns not to do it.

  54. 54
    davidjanes

    My bad Stephanie, I am too used to fora that have some threading, and hold habits are proving hard to break. My silly response was to the silly suggestion made in #52.

  55. 55
    Stephanie Zvan

    Got it. Thanks.

  56. 56
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    My apologies. Dosage changed.

  57. 57
    smhll

    Whenever I see people saying someone who can defend rapists or who promotes religious violence, etc., is inhuman, it’s giving that person an easy out.

    Good one. You did pull me back from the brink of taking the low road.

    I see people (men, mostly) who have on average a 14% chance of having sex at a conference who are deeply upset that anything might shave that percentage down to 13%. (Where as listening to the stuff that’s elided might help them chose better oportunities. Hint.)

    I see men from the U.S. who figure that pursuit of orgasm should probably be included in the pursuit of happiness that Jefferson wrote about, and might wish to make a case that they feel infringed upon in this way.

    I see people who are concerned that someone might call conference security if one told an awful dirty joke, or after some great conversation, confessed a sexual interest.

    (I don’t know why I’m devil’s advocating for “my opponents” here. I think it’s because I feel they make their arguments so poorly that they desperately need a better press agent. While not a man, I may be a hopelessly incurable ‘splainer.)

  58. 58
    Ophelia Benson

    People understand that this position–that we may never demand that our boundaries be respected–is untenable, inhumane.

    Not really, not all of them. I had a huge argument with James Onen of Freethought Kampala on exactly this point last year. He really did defend the “no you don’t get to demand that your boundaries be respected” position. He was very clear about it, I have to give him that. I asked him, “So you would just go up to a woman in the supermarket and invite her to your place for dinner?” He said yes he would.

  59. 59
    Stephanie Zvan

    Well, I’m sure he feels differently about his own boundaries being enforced.

  60. 60
    Ophelia Benson

    He actually argued that demanding respect for boundaries leads to racist behavior toward black men. I don’t remember how he got there, probably because the red mist of rage obscured everything.

  61. 61
    Martha

    I was going to make a snide comment in response to whyowhy, but after read Bernard Bumner’s summary of the situation [49], there’s really nothing to add. Well said!

  62. 62
    Martha

    reading, that is…

  63. 63
    CT

    He actually argued that demanding respect for boundaries leads to racist behavior toward black men.

    omg, I’m going to be trying to figure that out for hours.

  64. 64
    Ophelia Benson

    I can probably find it…It was on Facebook, so shouldn’t be too difficult.

  65. 65
    Ophelia Benson

    No; must have been somewhere else after all.

  66. 66
    CT Chimako.27

    The only way I can think to get from one to the other is forcing people to respect boundaries can make them super defensive of their own status? Therefore racism? I dunno. I think instead of trying figure this out, I’m going to go drink some wine.

  67. 67
    julian

    No; must have been somewhere else after all.

    Wasn’t it on his blog site?

    I think instead of trying figure this out, I’m going to go drink some wine.

    Wine’s no good for me. Now American Honey, that’s the stuff.

  68. 68
    Silentbob

    @ 35

    what’s elided is that we don’t even have evidence that [the elevator incident] ever happened

    Yes, we do. We have what Rebecca has said. If that evidence is somehow not good enough for you, you might want to spend some time thinking about why.

    I’d like to add that it doesn’t matter.

    People have a tendency to get very involved in debating the minutiae of incidents like this, as though the specific details are the problem. What did ElevatorGuy say/not say, do/not do, think/not think? At the end of the day, who the fuck cares? This isn’t Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Dublin Elevator. We’re not trying to crack the case here. We’re trying to address an underlying problem.

    Watson only mentioned this incident as an example of attitudes and behaviours that are creating an uncomfortable environment for some women in the atheist/skeptical community. Even if the example was poorly chosen, even if ElevatorGuy was as pure as the driven snow, even if she made the entire thing up out of whole cloth (which there is no reason to suppose she did)… so what? The problem – that a significant number of men are placing a higher priority on their sex lives than on the comfort of women, that that is creating an unpleasant environment for those women, and that it is keeping them from participating in the community – undoubtedly exists.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people saying something like, “Until ElevatorGate, I never really thought about these issues. I didn’t think about things from a woman’s perspective. Am I coming across as creepy?”. Even if Watson had made the whole thing up, just by getting people talking and thinking about these issues, she would have done a great service to the community.

  69. 69
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    TwoPiDeltaIJ #18:

    Libertarianism is not “right-wing.”

    Er, by virtue of how almost all self-identified libertarians will appeal to “free markets” and laissez-faire policy as solutions to everything, yes, it is.

    So far as I know, there is no “tenet” of libertarianism which involves denying that privilege exists.

    “Free market”.

    Libertarianism is not really as monolithic as you seem to think.

    Really. So why then do I always run into free markets and laissez-faire when I look at what self-identified libertarians (like Penn Jillette or Alan Greenspan) have to say?

    There is a libertarian-left a libertarian-right, and the full spectrum in between. Even someone on the libertarian-right might have no problems with any progressive argument made about a social justice issue, they would likely just have a problem with an implementation of “fixing the problem” that would come after that.

    “Libertarian socialist” is the polite euphemism used by academics such as Noam Chomsky to describe their stance, because “anarcho-communism” has been tainted by decades of red-baiting (and whatever the equivalent for smearing anti-authoritarians, aka anarchists, is).

    Most of the people that you might describe as “libertarian-left” will describe themselves as anarcho-communist, anarchist, social-democratic, socialist, progressive, or something similar. Very, very, very few people use the technical definition for “libertarian” that you are appealing to and most self-identified libertarians would (and, in my experience, do) decry the “libertarian-left” as communists and socialists.

    Terms evolve. I know you may not like it, but the term “libertarian” has been co-opted by the hyper-privileged right wing and some of its most radical elements at that — and to give you evidence, I need to do little more than to point you to people like Alan Greenspan and Penn Jillette, and of course the “philosopher” Ayn Rand that today’s self-identified libertarians love appealing to, who represent the public face of libertarianism.

    (Note that I don’t expect you to take this seriously. In my experience, this sort of rhetorical wailing and clawing and grabbing attempts to get away from being identified as right-wing come from people who identify as “centrist” or “independent” up and down until they are made to support a position, at which point they will support the right-wing position either outright or by virtue of saying the leftists need to ‘make concessions’.)

  70. 70
    Silentbob

    And another thing… :-)

    There’s a contradiction here:

    what’s elided completely is that we’ve only ever heard one self pitying whine about it, what’s elided is that even by that description it was damn innocuous

    what’s elided is that we don’t even have evidence that it ever happened.

    Why would Watson invent an incident that is innocuous? How does that serve her evil feminazi agenda?

  71. 71
    TwoPiDeltaIJ

    Setár #72
    I think you might be confused. Right-wing means conservative, as in the opposite of progressive. Libertarianism is not the opposite of progressive, it is the opposite of Authoritarianism. So yes, many Libertarians also claim various Anarchist labels ranging from Anarcho-Communist to Anarcho-Capitolist. I do not think I argued with that point, in fact I think that is what I said (though admittedly using different jargon). I am not sure how relevant it is that some of the people I referenced would not claim the label we both agree fits them, but I will go ahead and acknowledge the criticism that very few people in the US claim to be Libertarian-left. On the other hand, there are very few people who are Libertarian-right (even if that number is big compared to the Libertarian-left).
    Listing names of people you do not like is not evidence against what they believe. I am fairly sure this conversation thread would not be allowed to wander into a discussion about Libertarianism and its evolution in American history, but thankfully I do not think that is the point. I was trying to make it clear (though you seemed to have missed this) that a Libertarian might agree with your goal regarding any given social justice problem but still not agree with your methods of obtaining a solution. This does not make them “right-wing” nor does it make their position necessarily incorrect.

    (Note that I don’t expect you to take this seriously. In my experience, this sort of rhetorical wailing and clawing and grabbing attempts to get away from being identified as right-wing come from people who identify as “centrist” or “independent” up and down until they are made to support a position, at which point they will support the right-wing position either outright or by virtue of saying the leftists need to ‘make concessions’.)

    I have no idea what you are talking about. I think that I have tried to point out where you made a mistake, and offered information to correct it in the future. I am not sure where you think this leads to me or others supporting some specific (presumably political) position.

  72. 72
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I’d really like to see Rebecca come out with a gentle statement about not eating yellow snow. Hilarity would no doubt ensue.

  73. 73
    Martha

    @Setar {72}: I completely agree with you that, especially in the US, libertarians are overwhelmingly right wing. Moreover, I have absolutely no interest in defending that group.

    Still, you still might find the following analysis. which separates a libertarian/authoritarian axis from an economic one, interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_compass.

    I’ve noticed that people in other countries are a little surprised at how right wing US libertarians are. Granted, they’re also surprised at how right wing Americans are, so that may not mean much. Nonetheless, I get the idea that people in countries with socialist parties tend to associate libertarianism with left-wing politics.

    That said, I agree with everything you’ve said about libertarians in the US. Most people who are capable of empathy outgrow any interest they ever had in Ayn Rand before they leave high school. Or at least college…

  74. 74
    Cara

    It’s perfectly clear that dismissing other peoples’ rights to declare boundaries is the goal and they will not flinch at twisting themselves up into literally incoherent argumentation to service that goal.

    That’s what frightens me about such people—that deep and desperate need to deny dignity to other people. It’s chilling.

    Never underestimate some people’s attachment to their self-image.

    Make them feel stupid, especially when their whole self-image is built upon being smarter than all those other dummies out there, and they’ll go all the way to the end of the earth to fight it. Hell, they’ll even switch sides of the argument to try and win it.

  75. 75
    Silvia

    Great post. It shows how these people (the ones that make the elisions) are hypocrites who really don’t want to make any effort to undertand how privilege affects non privileged.
    Whyowhy’s comments reminded me of how so many people, including Dawkins, failed to see that it’s not true that Elevator Guy did take no for an answer when it was said. Rebecca had already said no, she had said she was tired and she wanted to go to sleep. If it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want “to have coffe” in some stranger’s room, my English is far worse than people tell me it is. Therefore the proposition meant exactly not taking no for an answer – in an elevator at 4 a.m. in a foreign country, but that only adds crrepiness to the main fact that the guy didn’t respect what she had already said.

  76. 76
    Skepgineer

    The phenomenon you’re describing is simply confirmation bias. People remember things that fit with their hypothesis du jour and temporarily or permanently forget things that don’t fit.

  77. 77
    Skepgineer

    Or, conversely (and especially if you would like to avoid an excess of fundamental attribution error) their ignorance of certain details results in their beliefs, which are hard to change once formed. This is an ubiquitous problem because everyone is ignorant of many details when they are new to an issue and starting to form an opinion of it, often with secondhand information influenced by others’ confirmation biases.

  78. 78
    TwoPiDeltaIJ

    Martha #76 and Setar #72: You might be helped further by reading about the Non Aggression Principle.. I think you will find that it explicitly agrees with feminism as I understand it. Ayn Rand has an influence on many libertarians thoughts, but mostly on economic thought. Her moral philosophy, while interesting, is not the end of libertarian thoughts on the matter (for most Libertarians).

  79. 79
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    So….

    What else gets left out of the elevator incident and whyohwhy was it brought up by RW in the first place?

    RW has been repeatedly asked by men in the atheist/skeptic movement how to make conferences more welcoming to women. Not just safer: more welcoming. She was asked about it at a conference and said a number of things, but she used herself as an example and said that for her, she’d feel more welcome if guys stop hitting on her. She specifically asked all guys to stop hitting on her. She said the answer would never be yes. She went on & on about it in the bar where EG was listening to her. She said she was going to her room because she was – wait for it – to tired to even TALK. She declined further speech until the next day.

    EG followed her into the elevator and -not taking 56 previous nos for an answer- invited her to coffee.

    He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer. He did not take no for an answer.

    Allow me to repeat for emphasis: He did not take no for an answer.

    If he had, he would never have asked her back to his room.

    So, yes, his behavior was creepy and inappropriate.

    But why was RW talking about it on the internet?

    Not because she was whinging. No.

    She was talking about it because all the guys were constantly asking her to talk about what might make women attend conferences more often.

    If there are 2 pieces of context that are more important than any others for me in this story it is that

    1. EG did not take no for an answer. He took the 57th no for an answer. There’s a difference, FFS.

    2. RW was not rushing to the internet to whinge. She was answering the repeated question from many of the very people who then bashed her for “bringing up” the subject. RW didn’t bring the subject up. Men did when they asked her over and over to bring to light any ideas she might have that could increase women’s attendance at conferences.

    Whyohwhy is this important?

    I can’t imagine.

  80. 80
    BrianX

    Stephanie, may I have your permission to copy this article to the essay space in RationalWiki? It fits in pretty well with our mission, I think.

  81. 81
    Ani Sharmin

    Thanks very much for writing.

  82. 82
    Stephanie Zvan

    Hi, BrianX. Yes, I’m fine with that.

  83. 83
    BrianX

    Thanks. Here’s the link:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Essay:Elisions

  84. 84
    Precambrian Cat

    I’ve been following all this at some distance. I mean, from a complete different country, and native language. And from some time, I mean, since Elevator Gate.
    Back then I interact a little over at ERV, with 2 or 3 ERVettes, and A Smith herself, but I didn’t stay long, as I realized this very same pattern Stephanie identified.
    It happened then and it’s happening now. People seem incapable to simply deal with the facts as they are. I had to keep repeting myself over and over:..4am…explicitly going to sleep…never exchange a word before…ELEVATOR…etc…etc. [the "it was just for COFFEE" line is particularly infuriating, as you know for sure, the very same people who says this, would say "how naive she was, what she was thinking?", if she had accepted the "just for COFFEE", and things turned out badly.]
    It’s painful to see some people whose writings I admire, like Russel Blackford, engaging in this moronic #bullies tag at Twitter. That makes me think if this is not just a pretext for a fight on something else that is not explicitly on the table. Who (individual blogs, networks, conferences, etc.) have more audience/influence, perhaps?
    Or maybe this is just one of those divisive lines, that you didn’t expect to find.
    Tf00t for instance, maybe it was just obnoxiousness, but wow, what? 4, 5 posts all strawmaning from begin to end? Then when the inevitable comes he’s a “victm of the feminazi/stazi”? WTF?
    One irony in all this is that by acusing FtB to be intolerant to “dissent” (to avoid the acusation you’re suposed to do what? ‘Oh, our bad, we’re wrong, sorry’?), they’re implicitly giving FtB an hegemonic/leadership position, aren’t they? Maybe my bad english is showing but ‘dissent’ is a word aplied to whom disagree with a MAIN position isn’t it? At least is the way it’s used in the leftist circles I used to be in when younger.

  1. 85
    Schroedinger’s Threat | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] not have taken it seriously, and are just stirring up drama. It means, when discussing threats, not omitting the relevant details that actually made the target see it as a threat. It means not derailing conversations about [...]

  2. 86
    The second great schism « Lyssa and Me

    [...] are taking place, because there are people within our community who think they should be able to disregard some or all of this. These people are making others uncomfortable, and distressed, and downright [...]

  3. 87
    (Reblog of) The second great schism | Atheism, Music, and More…

    [...] are taking place, because there are people within our community who think they should be able to disregard some or all of this. These people are making others uncomfortable, and distressed, and downright [...]

  4. 88
    What Gets Left Out of Conversations: Stephanie Zvan’s “Elisions” | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] few days ago, Stephanie Zvan wrote an excellent piece called Elisions. I’ve been citing it a lot in comment threads, so I want to take a moment to post about [...]

  5. 89
    Leaving Out Stef McGraw … and Other “Elisions”. « The Verbose Stoic

    [...] Stephanie Zvan, some time back, talked about a hundred dollar word — so hundred dollar that ev…, pointing out what those who criticized Watson usually left out. Which makes what Watson leaves out [...]

  6. 90
    A Taste of 2012 » Almost Diamonds

    [...] for evidence of sexism that don’t seem to stop when evidence is presented. I noted how that evidence is continually elided after being given. I pointed out that we’ve known harassing behavior exists in our [...]

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