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Moving Right Along

My disputed post has stopped being disputed and has been posted for discussion, albeit in two parts. I’m posting both parts here together. That makes relevant links so far:

For the sake of word count, I have removed points of settled agreement from this statement, though I expect we will refer to them throughout the dialog. I’ll start with Thaumas Themelios, who responded to my opening statement.

SZ: The key to working together under these circumstances is to understand that there are myriad solutions to each of these problems. None of them are complete in themselves, but together, they provide a strong force for change. Additionally, pursuing multiple strategies at once allows us to take advantage of the diverse talents and motivations of those who find value in promoting all or any of these ideals.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. The ‘many approaches’ approach supports and encourages multiple ways of pursuing activism, and I’ve argued this also. However, when you state that none are complete, but together they are strong, this omits mentioning a critically important caveat: Some ways can also be misguided and actually harmful. History is littered with tragic examples of good intentions resulting in more harm than good. And it’s not always clear at the outset which approaches are the misguided ones and which not. There will be disagreements on this topic and it seems our current ‘rift’ is an example of this. Speaking only for myself (Thaumas) here, I do not believe we can answer the question of “How we can work together … in the real world” without each of us also asking ourselves: Where do I draw the line? Do I support everyone regardless of approach (all inclusive)? Do I go it alone (all exclusive)? Somewhere in between? And what is the basis for this decision? Each person will have their own answers, and our individual criteria for making this decision will ultimately decide “How we can work together … in the real world”, depending on how they overlap. So, in the interests of moving the dialogue along, here are my own views:

  • I may not like or prefer some particular approach to activism myself, so I might not actively support it. But so long as there is no clear evidence that such activism is likely to lead to more harm than good, then I will not actively oppose it either. Diversity of approaches is generally a good thing. This is the basis of my support for ‘many approaches’.

  • However, if I consider some particular approach likely to lead to more harm than good in the long term — even if it is intended to promote some cause or idea with which I agree — then I will not support it. Indeed, I may actively oppose it, especially if it involves the promulgation of potentially harmful, unsupported ideas in society. This is the basis for my skeptical and atheist activism in the first place (i.e. against theism/religion, faith-based reasoning, pseudo-science, etc.).

1. I have already stipulated that an approach that is either not effective (points 13 and 14 here) or not ethical (point 3c here) should not be supported. If there are other criteria that would lead you to oppose a form of activism, please specify. Otherwise, we are in agreement.

SZ: To use science as the least contentious (currently) of these topics, we already recognize that there are different roles to be played. We recognize the bench scientist and the field scientist. We recognize the physicist and the sociologist. We recognize the philosopher of science and the critic of methods. We recognize the lab manager and the lab technician. We recognize the grade-school science teacher and the PhD student. We recognize the peer reviewer and the science journalist.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. I readily endorse the methods and findings of mainstream science (pending future shifts in scientific consensus, of course). And that does not preclude discussions on emerging advancements or areas of active scientific debate. However I do not accept the latter type of discussions as beyond question or debate as they do not form part of mainstream scientific consensus.

  • Furthermore, no one has a complete and thorough understanding of all of mainstream science. So in my view part of our role as skeptic activists is to educate both the greater public and indeed ourselves on a continuous and regular basis. This allows us to further develop the public understanding of even the most basic aspects of science, as may well be needed.

  • Many of us are inspired by famous popularizers of science, such as Carl Sagan, Einstein, and many others. We are deeply curious about everything in this universe. We want to fully explore science ourselves. There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers. The most tragic honest question is the one unasked, for whatever reason. The most dangerous answer is the one which cannot be questioned. Some of us delight in being asked even the most mundane questions, because it offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves, “Hmm! How do I really know that for sure?”

2. I don’t understand the point of this response. I simply said that we recognize multiple roles in science. I don’t understand whether there are reservations with that statement or whether this was meant to introduce a new topic.

SZ: There are far more roles to be played in promoting science than I’ve listed, but this gets the idea across. We require all those people and more to do good science, and we understand that. We don’t expect Neil deGrasse Tyson to be Shinya Yamanaka or either of them to be Mary Roach. We don’t tell them they’re hurting science because they’re not doing each other’s job. We all understand this.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. Some people in some roles taking some actions can be positively harmful to the promotion of science and reason. We cannot blindly accept all efforts, however well-meaning, as inherently valid and immune from critique. Further, some critics of science offer no useful criticism but serve only to undermine public understanding of science. For example: Post-modernism, Intelligent Design, the Templeton Foundation, Scientology, pseudo-scientists, ideologically motivated academics and scholars (such as some Bible historians for example), alternative medicine, etc. These are exactly the kinds of pseudo-allies we need to be wary of and should be allowed to question.

3. Postmodern critiques of measurement and classification have been extremely useful in at least the social sciences. Otherwise, I agree.

SZ: For whatever reason–possibly because the secular and skeptical movements in their current incarnations are much younger, smaller, and more consistently besieged than the broad institutions of science and science popularization–we lose that insight when talking about these movements and their priorities. All sorts of people suddenly seem to know The One True and Proper Way to conduct the campaign for the Pure and Shining Platonic Ideal of…whichever issue we happen to be promoting.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. Your paragraph appears to be describing dogmatists and ideologues. Could you give an example from within the atheist/skeptic community to illustrate your comment that “All sorts of people suddenly seem to know The One True and Proper Way to conduct the campaign for the Pure and Shining Platonic Ideal …”?

4. The accommodation “wars” can largely be seen as a disagreement between those who argued for many approaches and those who say that “militant atheism” cannot lead to any productive discourse. Similarly, in skepticism, some people want to apply skeptical methods to a large variety of topics while others describe “proper areas of focus for skeptics” (pdf). In each case, the latter person is declaring a “One True and Proper Way” to conduct activism.

SZ: According to these people, we may not or we may or we must include religious skepticism under our skeptical umbrella. We may not or we may or we must build friendly working relationships with religious institutions with similar goals. We may not or we may or we must shape our agendas to appeal to groups of people whose relationships to these various issues are very different from the relationships of the white, cisgendered, educated, middle-class to upper-class men who have shaped the traditional concerns of our movements.

TT: I cannot agree or disagree without clarification. Could you please define who these prescriptive people are and include evidence to support that?

5. See point 4 above.

SZ: That kind of prescriptivism is no more necessary for us, however, than it is in science. Beyond the basics of ethics and efficacy, we can take as many approaches as we have time and/or money, talent, and motivation for. Beyond ethics and efficacy, the more prescriptivist we are, the more people we exclude, because we don’t offer meaningful work that motivates them and puts their talents to work. The demand for active volunteers is high. They can always find another issue that motivates them with groups behind those issues that will welcome their work instead of endlessly insisting it’s the wrong kind of work.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. If by prescriptivism, you mean dogma, then I agree.

  • I agree with second sentence. I endorse a ‘many approaches’ approach. This kind of diversity is very healthy and more importantly it works very well to counter dogmatism and to reach a wide variety of people from all backgrounds.

  • I’m concerned with your vague usage of the word ‘efficacy’. How are you measuring efficacy? What are the criteria for separating effective from ineffective? Are you allowing for context-dependence? Are you unintentionally letting in a form of prescriptivism through the back door by importing, without realizing it, assertions of ‘what is effective and what is not’ which are not themselves open to examination?

6a. By “prescriptivism”, I mean declaring that there is a single way to conduct a particular type of activism.

6b. I am using a dictionary definition of efficacy. Once we have identified a goal, some actions will help us reach that goal. Some will not. Those that do are effective. However, they may still be more or less effective than other actions, they may help or hinder us in accomplishing additional goals, or they may be undesirable actions for ethical reasons.

6c. If only one type of activism is effective, that would support an evidence-based prescriptivism, yes. However, as a practical matter, there will rarely if ever be only one way to make progress toward a goal. For that matter, there will rarely be situations involving just one single goal. I don’t see any kind of broad prescriptivism being granted much ground under these circumstances. At most, this kind of analysis may take certain approaches off the table for specific goals because they don’t work.

SZ: Some of us are particularly in developing younger activists and support the Secular Student Alliance, have joined Secular Woman because we’re motivated by the assault on women’s rights to bodily autonomy, or feel that the Black Skeptics Group Los Angeles do important work with young adults that no one else is doing. Or we’ve joined some other specialized affiliation group that speaks to our interests. Some of us take our advocacy for skepticism or secularism with us into our other advocacy work because those principles can and should make our most important work better. Some of us consider our advocacy for skepticism and critical thinking our most important work and insist that we apply these principles to our shared advocacy work do for exactly the same reason. And on and on and on.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. See point 8 above. In addition as already stated no person or group of persons has the right to impose their particular brand of advocacy on anyone else.

7. As I have noted in points 7 and 13 here, I don’t understand how anyone is able to impose any brand of advocacy on anyone. Please explain how this would be done.

SZ: All of that is working toward common goals, even when it isn’t working hand in hand. It’s working together without having to agree at every point or even to work closely with anyone else. Everyone gets to do what motivates them–to a point. We do still have to consider ethics and efficacy.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. See point 1 regarding the risk of unintended harm.

8. See my response at 1 above.

SZ: I’ll assume I don’t have to get into ethics at this point. I will later if it becomes necessary.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. I think discussion of ethics is critical to establishing common ground. See point 1.

9. I agree.

SZ: When we’re talking about promotion of ideals and behavior, attending to efficacy is particularly important and not always easy. I recommend two resources highly. The Skeptical Activism Campaign Manual (pdf) by Desiree Schell, Maria Walters, Trevor Zimmerman, and K.O. Myers is an amazingly detailed resource for thinking your way through activism, including who your target audience is, how you expect to reach them, and how you’ll measure your success. I would also recommend Todd Stiefel’s presentation on Strategy and Leadership that he’s given at a couple of conferences. It covers a similar sort of planning but at the organizational level and over a longer period. Both resources strongly promote an “eyes on the prize” perspective.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. Efficacy needs to be defined. See 7b.

10. See my definition at 6a above.

SZ: That’s an important perspective. We become emotionally invested in the groups and activities in which we invest our efforts. If we hear that we’re not successfully reaching everyone we’d like to, it’s all too easy for us to find reasons to dismiss that feedback or blame the failure on others. Setting benchmarks ahead of time protects us from our own biases–as well as those of other people who might have their own reasons for persuading us to change.

TT: I agree with this with reservations. Whilst benchmarks might be suitable for the objectives of certain individuals or groups within the activist communities, no person or group has the right to impose benchmarks on any others. Benchmarks will vary according to the individual’s or group’s motives or final targets and they are the ones best able to formulate their own criteria for establishing them. It may even be undesirable for some groups or individuals to set any particular benchmarks as their beneficial activities speak for themselves. Finally, many people may have no interest in having a formal structure by which they are required to adhere.

11a. I disagree. Once again, I am not sure how anyone can impose benchmarks on others. People can, however, make observations as to whether any group or person’s actions move them closer to their stated goals. I see no reason to object to this.

11b. I also disagree that it might be counterproductive for a person or organization to measure their efficacy. However, I’m not certain that we’re very far apart on this point. What you seem to be describing here is the use of a mass of anecdotal evidence to support efficacy. I don’t object to that. For example, we understand that Richard Dawkins wrote an effective book in The God Delusion, because people continue to come forward to tell us what part the book played in their deconversion, and deconversion is one of Dawkins’ stated goals. Not all measurements of efficacy have to involve–or can involve–scientific studies.

11c. I agree that not everyone wants formal structure. However, I disagree that this is required for effective advocacy. In fact, in point 10 here, I listed a number of less formal activities people do that are already considered effective in the general case.

SZ: Sometimes that analysis of our efficacy will lead us back to a single, more prescribed approach. For example, we may want to craft a single message that can be broadcast to as many people as possible while alienating as few as possible. Sometimes it will lead us to use more parallel approaches, perhaps because we expect an issue to be important to different demographics for different reasons. Either way, our behavior going forward will be based in evidence rather than our innate or learned biases.

TT: I disagree with this. I already assert that establishing efficacy is problematic. Therefore to impose a prescriptive approach on that would be extremely troubling. Not only will this require a high authoritarian and top-down approach to activism it risks destroying all the bottom-up flexibility that we have already established as crucial to the movement’s success. Furthermore, who is in a position to assert on others which particular standard of efficacy we should follow? This comes across to me as a potentially highly dogmatic way of trying to control people who have no wish to be controlled. I firmly reject this as a concept. While people can lay down the rules on their groups or themselves, they have no right to try to impose that on others. In fact this whole statement seems to fly in the face of what was said in paragraphs 4, 6, and 7.

12. See my points under 6 and 11 above. See both the manual and presentation referenced in point 13 here. All of these talk about groups or individuals setting their own goals. I strongly disagree that there is anything top-down in suggesting attention be paid to efficacy and, again, have no idea how an authoritarian approach would be accomplished. Going forward, please refrain from referring to any concerns about “imposition” or “authoritarianism” without explaining where the power or authority necessary would come from. Otherwise, we’re discussing nebulous fears with no basis in reality. I don’t believe that’s a constructive use of anyone’s time or energy.

SZ: So, in short, we work together by not always insisting we all have to work closely on the same projects in the same ways and by keeping an eye on our ethics and efficacy in order to make sure we don’t overlook opportunities for outreach.

TT: I agree with this with reservations.

13. I will assume all the reservations were already discussed above as no specifics were given here.

Now on to Skep Sheik’s response to my response to Jack Smith’s opening statement. Responses here are somewhat more difficult as Skep Skeik did not indicate agreement or disagreement on each point.

JS – The subject of this opening strand, first of 5 strands, is: ‘How we can work together on core issues on which we broadly agree, including promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism and secularism in the real world’. I speak as an individual member of ‘the atheist/skeptic community’ and recognize that other members of that community will not agree with me, or not on every point. What I say here is consistent with my understanding of core features of atheism and skepticism. The primary purpose of this dialogue is to find common cause on which we can work together while accepting diverse political and social beliefs. We first need to identify core areas of agreement and of disagreement. I think the following are core to atheism and skepticism and have served the community well for many years; on which of these do we agree, and on which do we disagree?

SZ: I agree that this is a fair characterization of the purpose of this portion of the dialog. I think it would be useful to define the term ‘community’ wherever it is used, however, as it is often a source of confusion.

SS: It may make communication cumbersome if we attempt to define commonly used words such as community. Perhaps we can agree to specify if we mean any fairly well delineated community, for example the members of one particular national atheist society or another.

14. I agree. This was what I meant.

JS – We stand for equality for all. We believe that all humans should be treated equally as people, with no inherent superiority of one over the other, as there is no rational basis for such claims of inherent superiority. Addressing areas of inequality such as seen in religions, cultures, and laws is done on the basis of these principles.

SZ: I agree with some reservations. The first reservation is that treating people all the same is not the same thing as treating people equally. This becomes obvious when one sees arguments from opponents of marriage equality who claim that everyone is already treated equally under the law because everyone already has an equal opportunity to marry someone of the opposite sex. Prescriptions for equal treatment that don’t include consideration of how different people want to be treated are not merely meaningless but likely to drive away people who could, and other circumstances would, be happy to work with us.

SS: Could you give a different example here to illustrate what you mean? The question of marriage equality is not one that is an issue within the atheist community – with almost no exceptions we support equal marriage rights for all.

15a. As no agreement nor disagreement was specified explicitly, I assume the reference to the general acceptance of marriage equality signals disagreement with “equal opportunity to marry someone of the opposite sex” as meaningful equality and, thus, agreement with the idea that not everything that is called equal treatment is, in fact, equal.

15b. The obvious example within secular and skeptical activist circles would be the idea that people must be willing to be subject to, for example, “dramatic readings” of their words on YouTube with no criticism attached, effective impostor Twitter accounts, being propositioned while working, threats, having their employment information published online, etc. in order to engage in or express opinions on secular or skeptical activism in public–with the rationale that, because some people say they are wiling to deal with these things happening to them, everyone else must allow them too. While this is “equal treatment” in theory, it is not equality in fact. It is unequal in that it bars only those people who do not wish to deal with this treatment. It is further similar to the marriage equality issue in that the bar to participation is irrelevant to the institution in which people are trying to participate. There is nothing inherent to marriage that requires it be limited to one man and one woman, just as nothing about tolerating this kind of harassment is required to advance our shared goals.

JS – 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.

SZ: I agree and disagree. We don’t 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.

SS: 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.

16. I disagree that atheists and skeptics are fundamentally different from the rest of the world in the reasons why they value truth-seeking. I have seen no evidence to suggest this.

SZ: Additionally, ‘dogma’ here seems to be used in a limited sense that may cause confusion later if not unpacked now. On top of the common meaning of ‘a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds’, ‘dogma’ is also that set of common agreements or principles that underlie our work. For example, the Freedom From Religion Foundation treats the desirability of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as dogma. That idea is the foundation of their work, and they dont devote energy to exploring whether the idea is true. Dogma is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it escapable. Any dogma must be examined on its own to determine whether it is problematic.

SS: We agree that ‘dogma’ can refer to foundational principles and that any dogma must be specifically examined to determine whether it is problematic. When it is clear that there is more than one definition of a word, it is erroneous to assume that only one of these definitions will be understood by all. This question of how we treat words that have differing definitions, particularly definitions that are not shared by people living in different countries, is an important point that we will address later.

17. I agree that we will continue to need to define our terms. I suggest that “dogma”, as both an ambiguous word and one with unpleasant connotations that should rightly accrue to only one of the definitions, be taken off the table in this discussion in favor of terms/phrases that are more precisely descriptive.

SZ: 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.

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

18. Nor do I. I used it as my example for that reason. Please indicate whether you agree that truth-seeking in general should not be placed above ethical concerns.

JS – 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.

SZ: I’m not sure who ‘we’ is supposed to represent here. I can’t tell precisely what this is advocating for, so I’ll cover the most likely interpretations. If this is a statement that the scientific process should be as open as possible-given the ethical constraints I’ve already discussed-I generally agree. 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 doesn’t 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.

SS: 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.

19. See Jack’s original point here. We are discussing active debate, not unchanging absolutes. Additionally, I stipulated the circumstances that would reopen active debate in the text to which you responded. As such, I don’t see that this statement is responsive. Do you agree that active debate on geocentric models of planetary and stellar motion has ended and rightly so?

SZ: 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.

SS: 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.

20. This was not a statement about the scientific process. This was a statement that debate outside the scientific process has very limited value in reaching an understanding of the truth. For example, William Lane Craig is widely considered to be an effective debater. When he wins a debate, however, he has not helped his audience understand the truth any better. Please indicate whether you agree.

SZ: Additionally, we have long since passed the point at which every person could be well educated on every topic for which we have accumulated evidence, if such a time ever existed. I could debate with someone on whether a call made in a hockey game was a good one, but since I dont know much about the rules of hockey, debate would not be productive. What would be productive is listening to expert consensus (or disagreement) on the topic or pursuing a course of education. When discussion is used as a pedagogical tool, it is guided by someone who is educated on the topic.

SS: We agree that no one person can be well educated on every topic for which we have accumulated evidence. A person who is not educated on a topic is most likely at a disadvantage compared to someone who has proven expertise. In terms of debates between groups of individuals, however, this point is often moot. Experts often exist on both sides of debates and so any one side attempting an argument to authority will simply face another authority on the opposing side who simply disagrees.

21. While I agree generally with what is said in this paragraph (with strong reservations about the general availability of experts), I disagree that this paragraph is making any kind of case for the usefulness of debates outside the scientific process in reaching an understanding of the truth. This also fails to address the superiority of education over debate for this purpose.

SS: In your reply to this response, could you please comment on whether or not you agree with the ideas in part 4(c) from Jack Smith’s opening statement: “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…”

22. I have already agreed to this in the context of ethical science and disagreed with it in the context of nonexpert debate. The elevation of nonexpert debate as a means of discovering truth is cargo cult skepticism, lacking the empiricism and rigor required to produce useful results.

SZ: It is also frequently reasonable to expect that the uninformed opinion will be dismissed. When the crank sends their ‘theory of everything’ letter to physics departments at universities around the world, we do not expect the physicists there to suspend their research and/or their teaching in order to carefully rebut the letter. We expect them to throw it away or keep it to laugh over. The presence of an idea is not enough to compel debate on that idea.

SS: We don’t disagree on this point, although it is important to distinguish uninformed from unqualified. For example someone who does not have a formal degree in a subject can stimulate a debate through the introduction of empirical evidence – for example finding a new fossil or identifying a previously undiscovered comet.

23. I agree. While it does require a broad understanding of the cumulative knowledge in a field to effectively produce theory, it doesn’t require theoretical understanding to uncover data.

JS – We believe that ethics is a valid area for discussion and debate While morality is an important part of our lives, by its nature it is highly subjective and dependent on values. 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.

SZ: I agree with reservations. I’m not sure what the last sentence has to do with the first two, so I’ll treat it as unrelated for the purposes of this reply. My reservation on debating ethics is that, as with any other sort of debate or discussion, will generally be most productive if done, or at least led, by people trained to debate ethics. This is a field that has experts. We should make use of them.

SS: This is a fair point – although it should be noted that there is not a universal agreement between these experts and that the field itself is one of change.

24. I agree.

SZ: I agree that making immediate judgments about those we are dealing with is not helpful. I agree that when one can, one should generally err on the side of charity in judgment. At the same time, however, not everyone is in the same position to risk that kind of error. Sometimes the consequences to trusting and having that trust betrayed are too much. Given this, it also behooves those who desire to be trusted to create an environment in which risks are reduced.

SS: This statement is rather unclear and specific example are required before we can determine whether we agree or not about those particular situations.

25a. The first comment on my opening statement provides an excellent example. Phil Giordana unilaterally declared it “unacceptable” that I discuss how the organizations of the secular and skeptical movement have been influenced by the fact that most of the leaders of these movements have historically been white, cisgendered, educated, middle to upper-middle class, and male. He was not willing to see where that discussion went before passing judgment on it or even to have the discussion at all. He apparently did not feel that he was in a position to risk the outcome of that discussion.

25b. Thus, if I felt it was important to hold a discussion of that topic that was meant to include Giordana, I should create an environment in which he felt less at risk. At the very least, that discussion should accommodate the fact that he has an emotional response to the topic, as opposed to declaring his arguments invalid because of that emotional response or mocking him (or otherwise making the discussion inhospitable) for having an emotional response. If I were to fail to do that, I would have to recognize that the environment I created excluded him by design, whether that exclusion were intentional or not.

JS – We believe that in order for us to be effective we should strive to avoid: Imposing political or social beliefs on others. We can of course form our own social and political groups within the movement but they have no inherent right to impose those beliefs on others.

SZ: I am confused by this statement. I dont understand how people are able to impose their beliefs on others in this context.

SS: Political beliefs are often based on value judgments of the individual in question. While we may not be able to force people to think the same way as us, we may be able to enforce our personal values on their behavior – for example the moves in certain countries to restrict the right of marriage to men-women unions or imposing laws on society that makes it illegal for individuals to satirize authority or religious figures. In both cases the value judgments of one group are being imposed on the community as a whole.

Picture of a man with blood on his hand and a bloody rag on his nose. Iranian colors in the background and caption, "Free and Fair?"26. I don’t believe that this is responsive to my point. The power of law is not available “in this context”; i.e., the secular and skeptical movements. As noted in point 12 above, unless there is a realistic mechanism for imposition or effective authoritarianism, I see no point in discussing these fears any further, as they are not based in reality. I disagree that we must strive to avoid the theoretically impossible.

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

SZ: I agree with reservations. The more interactions we have with people, the more information we have about how they behave. Granting some charity and proceeding cautiously in how we interpret this knowledge is one thing. Declining to draw any conclusions from it is quite another and not productive in our search to understand and be effective in the world around us.

SZ: Additionally, I have some concerns that ad hominem argumentation not be confused with insults or observations relevant to an argument, but that can be discussed later if necessary.

SS: These last two comments bring up a topic deserving of a more detailed discussion. We shall expand on it in later submissions.

27. I don’t know whether this indicates agreement or disagreement with my points. Please specify.

JS – Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply. The right of reply is fundamental to any open society. If we criticise others then others have the right to respond to that without being personally attacked for doing so.

SZ: I agree with reservations. This is more generally covered under free speech and, thus, is subject to the same restrictions that other speech is. Im not sure what ‘personally attacked’ is meant to mean here, but I will note that a stipulated ‘right of reply’ would not be a right to have ones reply be the last word in a discussion or a right to not be criticized for the form or content of the reply.

SS: Again, the question of the protection of free speech online and exactly how to do so are subjects that deserve more space than a simple comment here. We shall provide more detail in future posts. At present it shall suffice to say that we support the right of a private individual to moderate their own online space as they see fit, and we agree that a stipulated ‘right of reply’ would not be a right to have ones reply be the last word in a discussion, or a right to not be criticized for the form or content of the reply.

28. I take that as agreement in full with my point.

JS – Ignoring the feelings of others. However we should not use our feelings to shut down valid and genuine debate and discussion. How many times have we heard theists say we should never attack their beliefs as it hurts their feelings? Allowing this would put us into a position where we are hostages of our own making.

SZ: I agree that it will not help us to work together to ignore the feelings of those with whom were working. I am confused as to what ‘valid and genuine debate and discussion’ is intended to describe. I dont think this can be discussed until we agree on the circumstances in which debate is useful (see #4 above).

SS: We may come to the conclusion that it is impossible to reach agreement over which subjects are open to debate. But agreeing to differ on that question would at least be progress from the current impasse.

29. I take that as agreement in full with my point.

JS – 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. its even on the walls of ancient Pompeii. While everyone has the right to their own protected spaces that does not provide the right to censor others outside those spaces.

SZ: As with imposing beliefs, I am confused as how this censorship is supposed to be accomplished. I don’t know of anyone in our overlapping movements with the power and reach to shut down ‘all forms of criticism’.

SS: Within a closed network censorship of views is simple to achieve – the heretical individual is simply ‘Expelled’. Luckily the internet is less a small pond than a vast ocean, with those trying to stop dissenting voices playing the role of Canute on the shoreline.

30. As the secular and skeptical movements are not closed networks, I take that as agreement in full with my point.

SZ: I agree that satire, caricature, and critical commentary are common human responses. I am unsure, however, what ‘valid’ is meant to convey in this context. All these things can be illuminating or can serve to obscure the truth. They can be proportional, productive, reasonable-or none of those things. They are all simply means of communication. Talking about them collectively tells us nothing about their content, and this is the important part of any communication.

SS: Indeed. But satire is often a mixture of politics and art, and in neither case have we a simple means of determining validity. We weigh value judgments, personal taste or sense of humor. The question, perhaps, should not be the validity of such posts, but whether they cross some agreed line – for example: would they be considered clearly offensive by someone not personally invested in the debate? This topic will be expanded upon in future contributions.

31. I take that as agreement that “validity” is not a useful concept in discussing satire, etc. I disagree, however, that “personal taste” is the measure by which we should be evaluating anything the creator labels as “satire”. I provided several measures I consider to be much more salient to this discussion. Do you agree or disagree that these are measures that should be applied when evaluating “satire” and the like in the context of working toward common goals?

JS – 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. 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. 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. It will impose unelected political leaders and encourage schisms.

SZ: I have a number of problems with this point. Above, it was suggested that attributing motives is unhelpful, yet this entire view of the conflict is predicated upon ascribing motives to others. Additionally, even if anyone wished to impose any ideology, it has not been demonstrated that this could be done. I dont see anything to be gained in opposing a hypothetical that is also, as far as I can tell, impossible.

SS: The fact that the imposition of sectarian values is a practical impossibility does not, unfortunately, immunize us from the negative results of attempts to do just that.

32. I can neither agree nor disagree with a statement this vague. If there are specific threats to working toward common goals, they should be brought out explicitly in this part of the dialog. What are these “negative results”?

SZ: I am also unclear on how this idea of ‘unelected political leaders’ is supposed to happen. Is this intended to refer to being persuasive? If so, I fail to see the problem, particularly in movements that value skepticism and rationality.

SS: The herd of cats is a prevailing metaphor of the skeptical/atheist movement for good reasons. While individual organizations within the worldwide community, American, Irish, Indian, Ugandan etc, may have leaders, any attempt to assume spokesperson roles for the overall movement is bound to fail.

33. This is not responsive to the question of how or whether attempting to be persuasive is problematic. As with the general question of “imposition”, it also fails to demonstrate that assuming a spokesperson role for the secular or skeptical movement as a whole is possible. I can’t tell whether it signals agreement with me. I continue to disagree that impossible hypotheticals are any threat.

JS – People with similar interests will tend to congregate and should have spaces in which they can communicate and work together cooperatively. We do not seek to control anyones 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 its important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.

SZ: I disagree. Accepting rebuttal in the same space that a criticism was made is at most a courtesy. It is neither an ethical imperative in our world of easy access to publishing nor a universal practice. As a courtesy, it is expected that it will be taken away when abused. When we criticize creationists, we are not required to host a Gish Gallop in return. Those who write about antisemitism should be under no pressure to publish racist comments. When we criticize a climate change denialist, we are not required to allow them to spread their astroturfed disinformation in our space. No less than the blogs editor for Scientific American routinely deletes comments from denialists of multiple stripes. These are extreme examples, but they do illustrate the general point.

SS: We agree that moderation of a personal website should be under the control of the owner of that site. In line with this we agree that it is up to the owner of such space whether they allow rebuttal or criticism on their space. Our major issue is the attempts to silence criticism that is hosted elsewhere.

34a. I would like some indication of whether this agreement about moderation is shared more broadly among the parties involved in this dialog or whether this represents Skep Sheik’s position only. I ask as this is a turnabout from the position given in Jack’s original statement.

34b. Again, if these “attempts to silence criticism” are a threat to common goals, this should be elaborated upon in this portion of the dialog. How is it possible to silence criticism in spaces one doesn’t control?

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

SZ: I disagree. Again, we do not have to work closely together to work on common goals.

SS: There is a difference between reaching a common ground on certain issues, and working closely together. As an example the secularism of western Europe involves both non-religious and religious moderates who agree on a common ground of opposition to state imposition of religion, yet the same groups do not tend work closely together.

35. I take this as agreement in full with my point.

JS – 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.

SZ: I agree that we should follow our principles. I agree that we should remember we are each fallible. I agree that we have an equal right to self-determination. I am unsure how having just one life fits into this list or how most of these fit in with working together. I would request further elaboration.

SZ: 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.

SS: Would you agree that among people who identify as skeptics and freethinkers, we owe it to each other to apply critical thinking and skepticism to the methods that those in our community are using to do the work they consider worthwhile and necessary?

36. I noted in my opening statement that we should be attending to our efficacy. If this is what you mean, I agree but don’t understand why you’re asking me to repeat that. If you mean something else, please specify.

SS: And 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.

37. I am confused. The opening statement from Jack said that we owe one particular kind of work to the world. I disagreed that we have any call to tell people they owe that kind of work to the world when there is other useful work to be done, that we can only ask and make a case for doing the kind of work we see as important. It seems your disagreement is with Jack, not with me.

Image: “Free and Fair #Iranelection” by harrystaab

Comments

  1. mythbri says

    Cynic that I am, I can’t think of any reason why they would want to modify this post except for the fact that they don’t like that you’re right.

    I guess we’ll see what the response is, but sheesh. I admire your persistence and patience, Stephanie, and I’m predicting that they’re eventually going to lose interest in this discussion.

  2. great1american1satan says

    PZ was right about the language, but yours has the advantage of coming from the ethically and intellectually consistent position, so it has more clarity. I remember debating vs. creationism in college once and we didn’t even need to touch our notes to put the clowns down. This feels somehow similar.

  3. smhll says

    I wanted to comment on this part of TT’s comments, under point 2.

    ” Further, some critics of science offer no useful criticism but serve only to undermine public understanding of science. ”

    I can almost feel his pain here, because, IMO, some critics of feminism offer no useful criticism but serve only to undermine public understanding of feminism.

  4. says

    Holy shit. No wonder the wishy-washy waffle warriors wanted to “moderate” this post. Despite my respect for your writing, I think I still underestimated your skills. This response kicks ass in very insidious ways. I’m impressed. Really fucking impressed.

    I suspect more sheik-like sputtering as a response, but i’m curious what they’ll have to say to specifics.

  5. R Johnston says

    Sometimes the truth hurts. I’m sure they wanted to moderate the language of paragraphs 12 and 26 that calls their claims that they are having views imposed upon them in an effort to control them delusional. The “cargo cult” reference in 22 was probably another target. Sadly for them, delusional and cargo cult are apt and utterly fair descriptions of their viewpoints at issue in those paragraphs.

  6. PatrickG says

    2b.

    the idea that people must be willing to be subject to, for example, “dramatic readings” of their words on YouTube with no criticism attached, effective impostor Twitter accounts, being propositioned while working, threats, having their employment information published online, etc. in order to engage in or express opinions on secular or skeptical activism in public–with the rationale that, because some people say they are wiling to deal with these things happening to them, everyone else must allow them too.

    How dare you poison the well!!!eleventy11one! Was this the content that warranted the desired moderation? It’s so.. specific. Topical and relevant, even. Can’t have that.

    6-8. Very much enjoyed your takedown of debate for the sake of winning across multiple points.

    9. Cargo-cult skepticism! Love the helpful link for the metaphorical uses.

    12a. I’d been wondering when that comment would see play in the debate. It seemed to be a perfect illustration of some people’s desire to eliminate questions that are highly relevant to the schism under discussion.

    13. Thank you for that. It was mind-boggling to see SS invoke failures of state authority. Indeed, “political beliefs are often based on value judgments of the individual in question.” Political beliefs don’t confer legislative or judicial power simply by existing, and I was very glad to see you call out the invidious comparison. However, I must note that since FTB is planning to establish a dictatorship… wait, sorry, I lost my tinfoil hat.

    14-16. We shall discuss that later -> You do not disagree. Perfect. I was quite irritated by the position that great and lofty thoughts were not yet to be shared. If you’ve got something to say, say it; if not, don’t just hand-wave it until later. At least not without substantiating your reasons for doing so.

    17. I look forward to the more overt accusation that FTB is a hive mind. Since you’ve asserted they are in agreement with you, I can’t see how they’ll let this stand.

    21a. Surely you don’t imply a community where only rugged individuals exist?

    21b. Really looking forward to the response to that. That’s a major plank of theirs: “Our major issue is the attempts to silence criticism that is hosted elsewhere.” How? By criticizing the criticism? Seriously!

    Great response. Kudos and cheers.

  7. PatrickG says

    Sigh… I should note that my numbering was done with the dialogue post side by side. After posting, I see the numbering is different here. Offset all my numbers by 13 please. ;)

  8. Skep tickle says

    …I’m sure they wanted to moderate the language of paragraphs 12 and 26 that calls their claims that they are having views imposed upon them in an effort to control them delusional. The “cargo cult” reference in 22 was probably another target….

    You may feel “sure”, but since you’re wrong that feeling is just a pleasant mirage.

    Sometimes the truth hurts.

    Would you like some Tylenol for that?

  9. sonderval says

    I may be misunderstanding something, but I think that your statement

    I don’t understand how anyone is able to impose any brand of advocacy on anyone. Please explain how this would be done.

    is in a sense contradictory to the point of this debate (as I understand it): Isn’t the main problem that there are people who try to impose their brand of advocacy on others by harrassment, satire etc., trying to silence those people?

  10. says

    sonderval @8: Silencing feminists does not impose upon those same feminists an obligation to become men’s rights advocates. That’s what these people are objecting to: the idea that to be a “proper” atheist, one must also advocate for feminism.

  11. Martha says

    Dave #9, are you seriously arguing that telling someone s/he’s not a “proper” atheist (assuming for the sake of argument that those on the FTB “side” makes such claims) is worse than a sustained campaign of hate and harassment aimed at silencing an entire segment of the atheist population?

    I wasn’t sure anything could shock me after the last year’s conversations, but the sheer absurdity of this claim leaves me almost speechless.

  12. doubtthat says

    This question of how we treat words that have differing definitions, particularly definitions that are not shared by people living in different countries, is an important point that we will address later.

    Their feigned high-mindedness is so transparent. What word do they endlessly, obsessively defend with glib reference to its meaning in different countries?

    I find this style of argumentation endlessly annoying. They’re talking about something really, really specific, but if they build their point on those specifics, they sound like petulant children, so they pretend like there’s some grand principle at stake.

    This process is CONSTANT among our right wing politicians. Just take a recent example. Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher die and any criticism of their legacy becomes inappropriate gave-dancing. Instead of engaging the argument on the merits (dealing with the legacies of those two politicians) they resort to generating some magical conceptual rule about when and where debate is appropriate.

    Then, of course, Hugo Chavez dies and…

    So, it wasn’t a principle of any sort, it was just a weak way of avoiding a discussion about issues they want to pretend don’t exist. Same thing with this mysterious difficulty with how to use words with different definitions in different countries (Hint: there’s only one fucking word they’re talking about).

  13. A Hermit says

    The accommodation “wars” can largely be seen as a disagreement between those who argued for many approaches and those who say that “militant atheism” cannot lead to any productive discourse. Similarly, in skepticism, some people want to apply skeptical methods to a large variety of topics while others describe “proper areas of focus for skeptics” (pdf). In each case, the latter person is declaring a “One True and Proper Way” to conduct activism.

    Excellent point. For all the crying about “people imposing their ideology” it is the other side who seem to be insisting on limiting approaches.

    I think you’ve done an excellent job of pointing out the contradictions and outright absurdities in the arguments coming from the Slymepitters here. They’re starting to sound like they are arguing with themselves.

  14. says

    Meet Skep tickle, everyone, in case you wanted to know why I only bother to deal with these people in a highly structured environment. And now she goes back into moderation.

    No, it wasn’t those paragraphs that were deemed objectionable. It was 25 and the picture representing the power of the state.

  15. says

    Martha @11:

    Dave #9, are you seriously arguing that telling someone s/he’s not a “proper” atheist (assuming for the sake of argument that those on the FTB “side” makes such claims) is worse than a sustained campaign of hate and harassment aimed at silencing an entire segment of the atheist population?

    No, I’d say that the slymepitters are making that argument. Look at their reaction to merely being called sexists.

    But more to sonderval’s question @8 (now @9), the slymepitters (and others) are claiming that efforts like Atheism+ suggest (implicitly or explicitly) that to “join the atheist club,” one must become an advocate for feminism. That’s where the “imposing a brand of advocacy” stuff comes from. It’s just more lies, but that’s the source.

    And that’s why trying to silence feminists through harassment, satire, imposture (etc.) isn’t “imposing a brand of advocacy” on others in the sense the slymepitters mean it, and also why Stephanie’s question as to how it’s even possible to impose advocacy on others isn’t contradictory to the point of the debate.

  16. hjhornbeck says

    Wait wait, they objected to 25? My money was on 15, which set the stage for a later transition from “harassment exists” to “should harassment exist?” 25 was a clever bit of “if we must concede this to one side, we must conceed it to all,” but was only objectional in that it named a specific comment by a specific commenter. It actually played to their side, in fact, as it places a burden on any discussion with bigots.

    To me, this suggests the objector valued appearance (“does this make us look bad?”) over content (“can we use this statement to argue for our side?”).

    Also, Zvan: hot damn, you would make an excellent diplomant. You’re sticking to your points, and only conceeding when it does not effect those points or allows you to argue in favour of them later. You’re being carefully aggressive, asking for clarity or using the “no objections = you agree” approach to force them to be more defined. I figured you’d be an excellent person to represent “our side,” and you’ve exceeded those expectations.

  17. sonderval says

    @DaveW
    So the argument (of them) is that first they build up a strawman (Atheism+ people say that every atheist/skeptic must advocate feminism – did anyone ever say that???) and from that strawman they derive the right to harass and silence people to ensure the freedom of advocating … nothing?

    Nevertheless, from my point of view my original question still stands: Since slymepitters try to silence people, they are trying to impose their brand of advocacy (or rather no-advocacy) on others. Thus it seems to me that they are becoming exactly what they are claiming to fight.

  18. carlie says

    25? So they ask for specific examples, you give them one, and they want to moderate that out? Not surprising in the least.

  19. says

    @sonderval:

    So the argument (of them) is that first they build up a strawman (Atheism+ people say that every atheist/skeptic must advocate feminism – did anyone ever say that???) and from that strawman they derive the right to harass and silence people to ensure the freedom of advocating … nothing?

    You’ll note that I never claimed that their argument made any sense.

    Nevertheless, from my point of view my original question still stands: Since slymepitters try to silence people, they are trying to impose their brand of advocacy (or rather no-advocacy) on others. Thus it seems to me that they are becoming exactly what they are claiming to fight.

    Perhaps I misread your question, then. I read it as taking Stephanie Zvan to task for questioning how it’s possible to “impose” advocacy on people when the people she’s arguing against are doing just that via harassment. But I don’t think that “be quiet!” is “imposing” advocacy. To bend a popular saying, non-advocacy is a brand of advocacy in the same way that ‘bald’ is a hair color.

    Let me be clear: the slymepitters certainly are imposing. They’re forcing themselves into blog comment threads and Twitter feeds and making asses (or worse) of themselves. But their (not-even-wrong) argument is that feminists are saying, “become a feminist advocate or you’ll be banned from atheism.” Stephanie is absolutely correct to question how such an imposition of advocacy could possibly be enforced.

    We know, however, exactly how these people attempt to enforce “STFU.”

  20. A Hermit says

    “No, it wasn’t those paragraphs that were deemed objectionable. It was 25…

    This 25?

    SS: This statement is rather unclear and specific example are required before we can determine whether we agree or not about those particular situations.

    25a. The first comment on my opening statement provides an excellent example. Phil Giordana unilaterally declared it “unacceptable” that I discuss how the organizations of the secular and skeptical movement have been influenced by the fact that most of the leaders of these movements have historically been white, cisgendered, educated, middle to upper-middle class, and male. He was not willing to see where that discussion went before passing judgment on it or even to have the discussion at all. He apparently did not feel that he was in a position to risk the outcome of that discussion.

    25b. Thus, if I felt it was important to hold a discussion of that topic that was meant to include Giordana, I should create an environment in which he felt less at risk. At the very least, that discussion should accommodate the fact that he has an emotional response to the topic, as opposed to declaring his arguments invalid because of that emotional response or mocking him (or otherwise making the discussion inhospitable) for having an emotional response. If I were to fail to do that, I would have to recognize that the environment I created excluded him by design, whether that exclusion were intentional or not.

    So…they asked for an example of a situation where trust needs to be established and then wanted to cut that example from your reply?

  21. says

    It was 25 and the picture representing the power of the state.

    I’m not surprised. Using Giordana as an example in the specific way and wording you did was brilliant.

    Can’t figure what the issue with the picture could have been.

  22. says

    Does it help anything make sense if I note that they continue to view everything I have to say as some sort of trick rather than illustrating the principles I think are important in the most effective way possible? It’s kind of like the way they keep getting upset that I “changed the rules” despite Mick being very clear that there were no explicit rules on moderating participant statements.

    There is no trust. I’m simply evil, and I will continue to be no matter how many principles we are actually in agreement on.

  23. Martha says

    @Dave #15 (unless the numbers shift)

    My apologies– I did wonder if you were describing the other side’s view. I agree that’s more or less what they’re arguing; I was just shocked that anyone could feel good about making that argument. I’m with you now!

  24. says

    @Doubtthat,

    This question of how we treat words that have differing definitions, particularly definitions that are not shared by people living in different countries, is an important point that we will address later.

    Missed that somehow, cheers. I know you say it is annoying to see the convoluted argumentation but can you imagine how they will tackle that? In coldly logical terms…. The word might even be misogyny not necessarily a slur, apart from in their lexicon. Either way – slur or not it will be interesting to see if they can come up with a logical argument to defend their position. I cannot think of one, so will be good to see either way.

  25. says

    Actually, if you look at that question in terms of working toward our goals, it gets really bloody simple.

    Do you need to call anyone a “cunt” to get things done? No? Really? Huh, lookit that.

    Do you need to identify sexism or misogyny to get things done? What? Sometimes you do because they’re getting in the way? Oh.

    Done.

  26. Martha says

    Does it help anything make sense if I note that they continue to view everything I have to say as some sort of trick rather than illustrating the principles I think are important in the most effective way possible?

    Yeah, that’s the problem with defining oneself as Rational instead of seeing objectivity as a difficult and perhaps unattainable goal that we can only approach by making a real effort. If one is by definition “Right,” then any argument demonstrating the flaws in the putatively correct view must be a trick. The atheists who view themselves as Rational merely because they do not believe in a higher power aren’t very different from the religious people who view themselves as right because they do. They don’t want a movement; they want a self-congratulatory club. If they kept this behavior private, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. Hopefully, by the time this conversation is over, they will have isolated themselves to the extent that they really are only a private club.

  27. says

    There is no trust. I’m simply evil, and I will continue to be no matter how many principles we are actually in agreement on.

    Not sure “evil” is the word as you* are simultaneously the worst thing to happen to sceptic-atheism, the most irrelevant thing and the most ridiculous thing. All in an attempt to stop you being any sort of “thing” in sceptic-atheism… Unless you come around to their way of thinking that is.
    (*FtBs and its bloggers, possibly commenters / generic “Baboons” too)

    IMO its all viewed as a trick as the “dialogue” is an adversarial debate to them, they already know they are right, so this is about proving that. Anything that deviates from the great pittizen put-down of the “wrong brand feminists” narrative will be explained through the usual plot devices. They dun gorn n cheated us!

  28. Steersman says

    Stephanie said (#22):

    It’s kind of like the way they keep getting upset that I “changed the rules” despite Mick being very clear that there were no explicit rules on moderating participant statements.

    But that was well after the issue of the moderation of your responses came up. Disingenuous if not intellectually dishonest to not differentiate between the two cases.

  29. sonderval says

    @DaveW
    Thanks for clarifying. I did not read “imposing advocacy” in such a narrow way (and to me, silencing people who advocate X implies advocating – or at least supporting – non-X).
    But I think you are right that it is meant in this way and so Stephanies statement makes perfect sense.

    One other thought – apologies in advance if this has been said 1000 times before, I’m quite new to the debate: Didn’t some people like PZ say that atheism+ was the next logical step of atheism (because otherwise, what’s the good in not believing in gods if you don’t do anything useful with that?)? This might be read as “imposing” (because logic is compelling). Is that what is meant?
    (Of course, that’s still not the slightest excuse for harassment and other nasty stuff – if you don’t like the logic, disprove it.)

  30. says

    Neither disingenuous nor intellectually dishonest. Interestingly enough, Steersman, you’re not the only one who has gotten upset. If you look, you can find people doing it well after Mick’s statement. Feel free to set them straight.

    You simply continued to insist that I was doing something wrong after I–correctly–told you that moderating participants’ statements wasn’t part of the deal. If you wonder why people find you tedious to converse with, there’s a good place to start.

  31. says

    sonderval, we could define “imposing” that way. However, if we did that, they would just have to explain why imposing generally is a bad thing that needs to be opposed.

  32. says

    @30/32

    If anything persuading would be better then imposing in that example as PZ’s only avenue to affect such a change is by convincing people in the community.

  33. says

    @Martha, I could have been clearer. I’m not at peak performance that early in the morning.

    @sonderval:

    (and to me, silencing people who advocate X implies advocating – or at least supporting – non-X)

    The disconnect is this: you’re talking about the people doing the silencing. I’m talking about the people who are their targets. Becoming silent in the face of a massive onslaught of harassment should not be seen as support of anti-feminism.

    There’s a difference between people who are forced to be silent, and people who choose to be from the start. I wouldn’t suggest that someone who has decided that the risks to xir family and/or job are too high for xir to remain an outspoken feminist has become a men’s rights advocate merely for shutting up. On the other hand, someone who learns about the issues, shrugs and says, “meh, it doesn’t really affect me” and never mentions it again is supporting the status quo, at the very least.

  34. doubtthat says

    @24 Oolon

    I find it annoying because of the implication that they think their audience is too slow to catch the little trick (alternatively, they could just be so lacking in self-awareness that they have no idea how ridiculous the argument is). It’s just a ploy to make a trivial or petty argument seem worthy of consideration. Compare:

    “We must discuss how to move forward when people from different countries are using words that have different meanings in different locations. We are an international movement, and we should resist America imposing their way in some form of intellectual imperialism…blah blah”

    vs.

    “I want to keep saying ‘cunt.’ I don’t want you to be able to call me sexist when I call Rebecca Watson-Ophelia Benson-Amanda Marcotte-Stephanie Zvan a ‘cunt.'”

    Skep Sheik was making the second argument, but it is so inherently petty and objectionable that he chooses to defend a vague principle rather than make the point he really wants to. What is another word that has divergent meanings in different countries that is at all controversial?

    Take a word like ‘fag’ that is a slur in America (and everywhere else, but let’s play along for the purpose of the ‘principle’) but means cigarette in England. Does anyone not realize this? Does anyone complain about the use of the word in the context where it means “cigarette?” No, not at all. So how does this principle apply? Why does it need to be discussed?

    This is also known as the “States’ Rights were the reason for the Civil War” argument. Rights to do what, exactly?

    Oolon, I get that you’d have interest in watching them tie themselves in knots, and I enjoy it myself, I just get annoyed when the same people who are constantly berating folks in an insultingly sanctimonious fashion about True Skepticism engage in such transparently stupid arguments.

  35. sonderval says

    @Stephanie
    I think I muisunderstood your comment – since they are the people imposing, if they argue that imposing is generally to be opposed, they would argue against themselves?

    @DaveW

    Becoming silent in the face of a massive onslaught of harassment should not be seen as support of anti-feminism.

    I’m sorry if I seemed to imply that – the advocating in my sentence is done by the people doing the silencing. I fully agree with you.

  36. Steersman says

    Stephanie said (#31):

    Neither disingenuous nor intellectually dishonest.

    Yes, well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Your assertion doesn’t detract from the bare fact that you were referring to a situation that occurred well after the time during which your statements were being questioned by the moderation team.

    But whether that was the understanding you had or not, the question is whether it is ethical for you to be free of the moderation guidelines that everyone else is subject to. Why should you think that you alone of all the participants to this dialog should not be subject to the same rules that everyone else is subject to? Elitism? Privileged speaking? Papal Infallibility?

    If you wonder why people find you tedious to converse with, there’s a good place to start.

    Eye of the beholder. I might with just as much justification, if not more, suggest that what you are calling tedious is due to a refusal to face the facts of the matter.

    I am quite prepared to concede that you have made many quite reasonable points, as have several others here in this camp – which I have argued rather strenuously in the Pit – which you should have noticed as others here have – and with the Team B moderation group.

    However, I also think you have made some real howlers that egregiously contradict the spirit if not the letter of those moderation guidelines. For instance, I think you went way off the rails and into the weeds in a spectacular fashion in your argument using Phil Giordana’s “this is not acceptable” as some kind of evidence of an “emotional response”. Would you have gotten the picture if he had said as well, “as saying 2+2=5 is not acceptable”?

    You apparently thought that “the white, cisgendered, educated, middle-class to upper-class men who have shaped the traditional concerns of our movements” – to which Phil responded as above – was indicative of some nefarious corruption of some pure principles of atheism and skepticism, and which apparently needed purification by “coloured, trans-gendered, ignorant, lower-class women” to be of any relevance. One might ask, analogously, is there a Black value for the speed of light different from a White one? A cis-gendered molecular weight of plutonium different from a trans-gendered one?

    You made a bare-faced assertion of what many might reasonably call egregious and un-evidenced dogma which the inequitable application of moderation policies would seem to put outside the realm of discussion. Doesn’t look particularly ethical or skeptical; doesn’t look like cricket to me.

  37. says

    Allowing Steersman’s comment out of moderation for the sheer lulz inherent in the contradictions. Poor dear is all turned around.

    Also, this is not cricket. There is no game here. This is about getting work done. Don’t forget that.

  38. A Hermit says

    I think you went way off the rails and into the weeds in a spectacular fashion in your argument using Phil Giordana’s “this is not acceptable” as some kind of evidence of an “emotional response”.

    Sure looked like an emotional response to me.

    Oh that’s right, I forgot…declaring something to be unacceptable is only “emotional” when a woman does it…o_O

  39. says

    Also, someone with an interest in discrediting another person would declare that it is unacceptable for that person to be given a chance to claim that 2 + 2 = 5.

  40. says

    “You apparently thought that “the white, cisgendered, educated, middle-class to upper-class men who have shaped the traditional concerns of our movements” – to which Phil responded as above – was indicative of some nefarious corruption of some pure principles of atheism and skepticism, and which apparently needed purification by “coloured, trans-gendered, ignorant, lower-class women” to be of any relevance. One might ask, analogously, is there a Black value for the speed of light different from a White one? A cis-gendered molecular weight of plutonium different from a trans-gendered one?”

    And here I thought it was about differences in perspective and experience as well as addressing a wider variety of issues that affect a wider variety of issues. One might ask, analogously, is the economy of Australia different from the economy of the USA then the economy of Brazil requiring a variety of experienced people for each issue. In addressing the global economy would you want to populate the discussion with only Americans or a variety of experts on a variety of economic and regional areas? This is not a call to cleanse a corruption but to broaden a discussion and increasing the areas of expertise in the discussion.

  41. says

    Oh, and incidentally, Steersman is currently trying to make some case that people who have abused my patience while commenting should be allowed to comment because they don’t like something another commenter has said. Weirdly, I think we covered this already in the dialog.

    Steersman, Skep tickle, you have derailed my comment threads. You have insisted that you have some right to have me post you being abusive to me. You’ve been general and tedious assholes, and unsurprisingly, that means that when you’re present, even by reference, commenters who have made valuable contributions to discussions here stop doing that and turn their attention to making you go away. I don’t like that, so I make you go away instead. I like my commenters as a group much better when they’re not dealing with you.

    Shoo.

  42. PatrickG says

    @ Stephanie Zvan, #43:

    At present it shall suffice to say that we support the right of a private individual to moderate their own online space as they see fit, and we agree that a stipulated ‘right of reply’ would not be a right to have one’s reply be the last word in a discussion, or a right to not be criticized for the form or content of the reply.

    Now where did I see that… oh right! From Skep Sheik!

    He must be getting a lot of angry feedback from the SlymePit, since they clearly do not agree with this statement. Right?

  43. Steersman says

    Stephanie said (#43):

    Steersman is currently trying to make some case that people who have abused my patience while commenting should be allowed to comment because they don’t like something another commenter has said.

    You were the one who talked about smears, yet you’re unable to wrap your head around the possibility that some in your camp are just as guilty of that, if not more so. Isn’t there a word for that? Starts with an “h”? ….

    Steersman, Skep tickle, you have derailed my comment threads. You have insisted that you have some right to have me post you being abusive to me.

    Yet you’re unable or unwilling to show how that question of Skep tickle’s (1) qualifies as being abusive to you. Looked to me to be a pretty reasonable question. But then again, I’m not wandering around with a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas ….

    You’ve been general and tedious assholes, and unsurprisingly, that means that when you’re present, even by reference, commenters who have made valuable contributions to discussions here stop doing that and turn their attention to making you go away. I don’t like that, so I make you go away instead. I like my commenters as a group much better when they’re not dealing with you.

    Seems you then prefer to have a bunch of sycophants falling over each other to tell you what a marvelous and wondrous person you are. The mark of a true skeptic, dedicated to the pursuit of logic, reason, and justice wherever those paths might lead. ‘Tis to laugh, even if only not to cry ….

    Shoo

    You, madame – and I use the term loosely, are an ignorant, arrogant fucking fat twat ….

    —-
    1) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=84217#p84217”;

  44. says

    sonderval @36: The pitters don’t see themselves as imposing, they see themselves as righteous defenders of the purity of the atheist/skeptic movements against the imposition of a radical feminist political advocacy agenda onto those movements. That’s what Stephanie Zvan’s question is about: how could anyone do what the pitters claim is being done?

    Rather than simply charge “hypocrisy!” (when was the last time you saw that work to change someone’s mind?), I think she’s instead giving them tons of opportunity to tie themselves into knots trying to come up with a plausible mechanism through which the feminists might be able to “impose” advocacy on someone. As she notes several times, we shouldn’t be concerned with impossible hypotheticals.

  45. says

    With this batch of annoying non sequiturs and demonstrations of the complete inability to read, Steersman joins the tiny group of people whose comments go directly to spam.

    And Skep tickle, if you’re reading along at home, which you will at least when this is posted in the pit, you don’t get to be abusive to me and then claim that I have some need to let any nonabusive comments through. You don’t have some infinite number of chances to comment stupidly then have the next comment posted. Let me know if you’d like to join Steersman to make that perfectly clear.

  46. says

    Seriously, pitters, what’s so hard about understanding, “Yeah, some people act like jerks to you. When you’re not around, however, they’re lovely people with interesting things to say. Them I can keep from acting like jerks by keeping them from having to deal with you. You, however, pride yourselves on acting like jerks”? It isn’t a difficult concept.

    No, don’t try to answer. Just go think about it for a while.

  47. doubtthat says

    Having engaged these SAME FUCKING PEOPLE (not same sort of people, same goofballs) over at Nugent’s blog, it’s just depressing how predictable it is. Verbose blather about some perceived slight that is barely intelligible (I still don’t really understand what Steersman was upset about), plus the ubiquitous you do it to: “…yet you’re unable to wrap your head around the possibility that some in your camp are just as guilty of that, if not more so…”

    And there’s all this substance to discuss. Refuse to engage on the actual debate, whine about inscrutable breaches of the imagined rules of the game, what a waste of effort.

  48. R Johnston says

    No, it wasn’t those paragraphs that were deemed objectionable. It was 25 and the picture representing the power of the state.

    Wow. 25 wasn’t even on my radar. I can see why they wouldn’t like it but I can’t see how they’d believe they could form an actual objection to it. You were asked for an example and you gave an example. Even if they disagree with your characterization of Giordana’s comment and needs, that’s not a matter for moderation; that’s a matter for saying “I disagree with your characterization and find it unfair, but assuming arguendo that your characterization is fair your example helps clarify matters.”

    I think it must come down to what you say later, that they “view everything [you] have to say as some sort of trick.” Personally, I don’t understand that mentality at all. Lying is hard work. Tricking people is hard work. It’s utterly exhausting to do such things on a regular basis, and to do so for no tangible gain is bizarre. If someone states a harsh truth that doesn’t seem to be true, it’s my experience that it’s far more likely that they’re merely wrong or that they’re tricking themselves than that they’re trying to trick you, even if dollars are on the line. And, of course, it’s also far more likely that a “harsh truth” that seems untrue is, in fact, true–we all make mistakes.

    Taking people at face value has the further advantage of allowing an actual responsive discussion rather than forcing you to imagine what a person actually means and to non-responsively flail about as a result. If you can’t take a person at face value you shouldn’t be having any kind of a serious dialogue in the first place.

  49. says

    @Sonderval:

    So the argument (of them) is that first they build up a strawman (Atheism+ people say that every atheist/skeptic must advocate feminism – did anyone ever say that???) and from that strawman they derive the right to harass and silence people to ensure the freedom of advocating … nothing?

    It’s remarkably similar to arguments against gay marriage. Like, “if they legalize gay marriage, they’re gonna force churches to marry gay people!” Let’s ignore that no one is seriously advocating that the government force antigay churches to marry gay parishoners (just as no one forces Catholic churches to marry non-Catholics or divorced people or whatever), how would they even go about such a thing?

    Except there’s at least a thread of logic to that line of argument. Not so for “if they force conventions to have harassment policies, then every atheist is gonna have to be a feminist!” or whatever the hell it is they’re trying to insinuate. It doesn’t make any sense, and relies on so many impossible things that it’s a wonder these people call themselves scientific skeptics.

    As to Steersman, it’s nice to see just how thin the veneer of sneering politeness really is. Scratch just a little and the frothing misogynist hate just oozes out.

  50. says

    Does it help anything make sense if I note that they continue to view everything I have to say as some sort of trick rather than illustrating the principles I think are important in the most effective way possible?

    I assume it is just projection. Their insistence on being ridiculously vague seems like the creationist trick you see in discussions and in their forwarded emails. They try to get you to agree to generally non-offensive statements that are carefully worded so that when they get to specifics they can “trap” you in what seems like a contradiction. The fact that you jumped to a specific case too soon prevents them building that trap, and caused the issue.

  51. doubtthat says

    @Steersman, drunk at the wheel, once again.

    One might ask, analogously, is there a Black value for the speed of light different from a White one? A cis-gendered molecular weight of plutonium different from a trans-gendered one?

    I would just like to take a moment to point out how impressively fucking stupid this statement is in context. To review,

    Stephanie says: “We may not or we may or we must shape our agendas to appeal to groups of people whose relationships to these various issues are very different from the relationships of the white, cisgendered, educated, middle-class to upper-class men who have shaped the traditional concerns of our movements.”

    Phil Giordana says about this comment: “It ascribes to someone an intrinsec identity because of their sex, race, or sexual orientation. This is not acceptable, regardless of “oppressor”, “oppressed”, or minorities. It shouldn’t come into account for what someone has to say.”

    Steersman then rambles incoherently about specific factual assertions discovered through the scientific process.

    Now, does anyone seriously think that Stephanie was arguing for a reconfiguring of the Laws of Thermodynamics based on people’s cultural experiences? Is that what “shape our agendas” means? It’s such a simple fucking point, “Hey, more women or minorities would come to our skeptic conferences and participate in our groups if we talked about ___________ instead of Bigfoot.”

    The “black value for the speed of light” will likely be the same, but folks with a different history might not be super excited to listen to crusty old white dudes babble about dowsing for a few hours. Or maybe they’re super fascinated by it, there’s only one way to learn, by listening, so when that process is declared “not acceptable” before even learning what the priorities are, a giant mistake has been made.

  52. A Hermit says

    Michaeld @ 42

    This is not a call to cleanse a corruption but to broaden a discussion and increasing the areas of expertise in the discussion.

    Precisely. Well said.

  53. says

    you know what I find amusing? that Steersman had clrearly an “outraged” (i.e. emotional) reaction to you claiming Giordana had an emotional reaction. But I doubt he’ll acknowledge that, either. Members of the dominant group never have “emotional reactions”, they’ re always rational and their criticism is always objective, doncha know.

    Another point: Steersman’s whine about “a Black value for the speed of light” falls back on what you mentioned in terms of limiting what topics should be subject to skepticism. After all, that whine erases the many topics on which different perspectives do exist and are relevant, even in the natural sciences. Take biology for example, and the problems with medical knowledge that were/are caused with treating adult men as default humans; or the many claims of the biological inferiority of some group of people or another. In both these cases, bias was only dismantled after perspectives from non-dudes and non-whites were finally taken into consideration.

    It’s even more so in psychology: for example, the cracktastic “theories” about transsexuality that came about from cis folks idly speculating based on their own biases.

    And on a related note to that, peer review and the scientific method is only ever as strong as the diversity of perspectives of its practitioners: one scientist can’t fix their own blind spot; an entire discipline full of scientists with (almost) the same blind spot won’t be able to, either. So if scepticism is to accept the usefulness of the scientific method in weeding out biases, it needs to strive for as many different perspectives to cover as many different blind spots as humanly possible. Even, or maybe especially, when it might look from one’s own perspective as if the difference in perspective has nothing to do with the topic at hand (because really, if this is your blind spot, how would you notice that a difference of perspective is relevant to it?)

  54. says

    the question is whether it is ethical for you to be free of the moderation guidelines that everyone else is subject to. Why should you think that you alone of all the participants to this dialog should not be subject to the same rules that everyone else is subject to? Elitism? Privileged speaking? Papal Infallibility?

    I’m mildly curious what the fuck he’s on about here. It’s not like Stephanie or anyone else has been moderating the pitters’ contributions, so where are these “guidelines everyone else is subject to”?

  55. says

    And while the black/trans/gay/female value for the speed of light would undoubtedly be the same, the approach to discovering it and the implications of its discovery might very well be different. It’s skepticism 101 to understand that our perceptions are filtered through interpretive frameworks in the brain, and that a lot of how we interpret things depends on our enculturation and experience (e.g., the same experience of hypnagogic hallucinations interpreted by different cultures as fairies, demons, or aliens). Is it really so radical to suggest that people from different backgrounds and experiences will bring different interpretations and assumptions to the table? That those different assumptions may be useful either in suggesting different approaches to investigation or interpretations of data/observations, or to help expose what is actually objectively true vs. what is just a very common interpretive framework/illusion/preconception?

  56. PatrickG says

    Heh. From the ‘Pit thread linked in Steersman’s post up above, discussing his comment at #45:

    I expect she let it through though as prima facie evidence of the deplorable state of our morals on this side of the tracks

    Considering that kind of body-shaming and misogynist language is a major factor in the current Deep Rifts, why yes, it is evidence. Not that difficult to understand. Though, since he apparently needs a GPS and Rosetta Stone to decipher Stephanie’s comment at 48….

    And, in passing, a big hello to “PatrickG”, and possibly to Stephanie, as one or both seem to be lurking about

    If being banned by an FTB blogger is an achievement on their side, do I get something comparable for being named *hushed voice* over there? No? Ah well.

  57. tonyinbatavia says

    Steersmean @45, later: “You, madame – and I use the term loosely, are an ignorant, arrogant fucking fat twat ….”

    Steersmean @45, earlier: “But then again, I’m not wandering around with a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas ….”

    Lack of self-awareness much?

    Then again, I suppose he’s not “wandering around” with a mighty chip. Who needs to wander when you can obsessively spew venom with a laser-like focus?

    That right there is a small, small person.

  58. says

    Weirdly, I didn’t even notice the name-calling until he was gone. It was the utter pointlessness of talking to someone who felt so entitled and offered so little ability to comprehend that did him in.

  59. says

    It is indicative of the general Slymepit culture that Steersman honestly believes that statements like “You, madame – and I use the term loosely, are an ignorant, arrogant fucking fat twat ….” reflect positively on himself and his fellow ‘pitters, and that use of that sort of language doesn’t invalidate claims of holding the high ground in the “debate” that they are so pathologically obsessed with.

  60. says

    These people are not used to read anthropology, sociology, history, are they?

    of course not. the social sciences are like intelligent design, doncha know? all postmodernism and critical theory and other such evil bugaboos; not “real science”, like EP!

  61. says

    Stephanie, did you know you’re manipulating us by deleting pitter comments, and creating an oppressive structure (to oppress your commenters in, presumably)? You’re unscrupulous and exactly like a religious con artist that way, and the only way to find the truth is to read the pit. yesirree.

    sorry, i’ll stop now. what i actually went there to see is how they’re interpreting what you’re saying. they’re claiming your writing is too difficult for them to comprehend*, so that wasn’t a very fruitful expedition.

    *”Svan’s [sic] posts were written such that I had to keep going back to reread, wondering ‘wtf does that even mean?'”

  62. says

    Jadehawk:

    of course not. the social sciences are like intelligent design, doncha know? all postmodernism and critical theory and other such evil bugaboos; not “real science”, like EP!

    Right, social sciences are only real science if you put a real science word in front of them: Evolutionary Psychology, Organic Sociology, Quantum Women’s Studies, etc.

  63. hjhornbeck says

    Steersman @ the Pit:

    I expect she let it through though as prima facie evidence of the deplorable state of our morals on this side of the tracks.

    I’ve probably been on the internet longer than you have, Steersman, so let me give you some advice on nettiquette. If you don’t want people to post the comments you write to a blog, because they contain foul language that reflects badly on you… don’t write comments that contain foul language. And if you don’t want us to think your comments are typical of those on another forum… try not to link to that forum, where we can see you getting high fives for posting comments with foul language.

    Hopefully that’s been helpful to you!

    Jadehawk @66

    what i actually went there to see is how they’re interpreting what you’re saying. they’re claiming your writing is too difficult for them to comprehend

    I’d rank Steersman as one of the more thoughtful members of the ‘Pit. Can’t say i’m shocked by that…

  64. tonyinbatavia says

    Too difficult to comprehend?! I knew they came off as dense, but I just figured they were being obstinate to protect their desire to continue to be cruel. Stephanie has been nothing but clear and direct in everything she has contributed to that dialogue, and yet they can’t comprehend it? Unreal.

    For those with low reading comprehension skills, Stephanie gave a really good primer (I hope you understand that word, primer) of things @25 above. Take an hour or two to study those four lines of text and you might really understand what’s being said. I wish you luck.

  65. suffragettesass says

    Stephanie, this is downright exhausting. I’ve told you this before on FB. I can’t approach your fortitude. But it makes me wonder, why are you battling a team from their side all alone? Will someone else be jumping in to carry the water? Gracious. I’ve been reading this for over an hour and I need a nap.

  66. says

    Too difficult to comprehend?!

    that’s their claim. given their misunderstandings on pretty much any topic you care to mention (they seem the “chill girl” concept is about getting sexual attention, rather than being rewarded for supporting the status quo; they also seem to have just decided that we think women can’t be part of rape culture, because of Greta’s book), it’s possible that that’s actually true. equally likely is though that they play dumb so they don’t have to think about anything Stephanie said.

  67. doubtthat says

    I went to your blog, enjoyed your commentary, read two sentences of Steersman’s post, then came back here, to a non-Steersman area.

  68. sonderval says

    @DaveW

    how could anyone do what the pitters claim is being done?

    That was my point I tried to express in the first comment: The only way I see that it could be done is by harassing and bullying others into silence (i.e., exactly the tactics they are using). But since even that seems not to work perfectly (thanks to people like certain bloggers), it is probably correct to say that silencing those of other opinion is not possible.
    Thanks again for the clarification.

  69. says

    In one single rage-filled (dare I say “emotional”?) comment, Steersman reinforces most people’s opinions of the Pit and its acolytes, taking absolutely noone by surprise.

    To him I say: well bloody done. Well done for a petulant, obtuse and ham-fisted attempt at representing your “side”. It’s like you aimed to shoot yourself in the foot but missed, blowing your own smug little face off.

    Steersman, you’re a pre-adolescent, hate-filled, ill-tempered jackal with no more commitment to reason or honest, open dialogue than a fucking creationist (yeah, I dropped the “c” word). You’re a perfect representative for the Pit.

  70. John Morales says

    [OT]

    “molecular weight of plutonium”?

    <snicker>

    (It’s an element, not a molecule)

  71. Ariel says

    Perhaps I will put some version of it on the dialogue website. Not sure yet. Anyway:

    SS: We agree that moderation of a personal website should be under the control of the owner of that site. In line with this we agree that it is up to the owner of such space whether they allow rebuttal or criticism on their space. Our major issue is the attempts to silence criticism that is hosted elsewhere.
    SZ 21a. I would like some indication of whether this agreement about moderation is shared more broadly among the parties involved in this dialog or whether this represents Skep Sheik’s position only. I ask as this is a turnabout from the position given in Jack’s original statement.

    And also PatrickG #44:

    [Skep Sheik] must be getting a lot of angry feedback from the SlymePit, since they clearly do not agree with this statement. Right?

    I’m afraid that the agreement about moderation is a rather moot point. The real thing is the last sentence from the quoted passage by SS. I would like to know whether such an identification of the major issue is shared by others, and also what exactly this issue is (in effect I’m in full agreement with Stephanie’s 21b)

    Let me explain. IMO everyone can agree that moderating a personal website should be under the control of the owner of that site. I agree to this, you agree to this, looks like my neighbor’s cat agrees as well. On this level I wouldn’t expect it to be a problem for anyone – not for me, not for you, not for the pitters. The problem – if any – lies elsewhere.

    When my daughter was small, the parents of one of her classmates organized at their place a birthday party. Everyone was invited … except my daughter. Well, you can imagine how mad I was. Oh, I agreed that the house should be under the control of the owners. I agreed also that it should be up to the owners of the house whom they invite. Why shouldn’t I agree to such a principle? Nevertheless, I was mad. In this situation the problem wasn’t about the parents’ rights at all; it was rather about how they were using these rights against my family. The rejoinder “Am I not entitled to invite whomever I want?” would miss the point completely. In principle, sure you are. But it doesn’t mean that whatever specific choices you make, you will be beyond blemish.

    In a similar vein, I wouldn’t put any weight on agreement about moderation. They can safely agree on such principles, while leaving themselves a lot of space for maneuver. Personally I would prefer the discussion to move quickly beyond this stage, as I think that concentrating on this is beating the bush.

    The more curious thing is indeed Skep Sheik’s observation that the major problem lies in “the attempts to silence criticism that is hosted elsewhere”. I didn’t expect it, but … why not? Surprises happen. What such attempts consist in and do the others share this view – these are imo the main questions to be asked.

  72. A Hermit says

    The more curious thing is indeed Skep Sheik’s observation that the major problem lies in “the attempts to silence criticism that is hosted elsewhere”. I didn’t expect it, but … why not?

    This has been the Slymepit schtick all along; when they post insulting, sexualized insults, “nicknames” photoshops and comments about someone’s personal appearance or imagined sexual habits they are engaging (in their minds) in traditional skeptical “criticism” and “dissent.”

    When you suggest that maybe that kind of personal attack isn’t constructive and may even be sexist you might think you are simply criticizing them back but you are in fact (from their perspective) an authoritarian Stalinist Feminazi silencing the dissent of the BRAVE HEROES™ of the ‘pit; defenders of the gendered slur and the bad photoshop which are so vital to the survival of civilization as they imagine it to be…

    That really is what their argument looks like.

  73. says

    … the question is whether it is ethical for you to be free of the moderation guidelines that everyone else is subject to.

    No, Steersboy, the question is whether Stephanie is, indeed, “free of the moderation guidelines that everyone else is subject to.” Either show some evidence that this is, or ever was, the case, or admit you’re full of shit.

  74. PatrickG says

    @ Ariel:

    Everyone was invited … except my daughter. Well, you can imagine how mad I was. … But it doesn’t mean that whatever specific choices you make, you will be beyond blemish.

    Was your daughter previously able to go to parties at that house? Did she throw huge temper tantrums, call the resident child such eloquent terms as “fat twat”, and in general shit on the rug? Did she then blame the host for the bad cupcakes and yell about how awful the parties were? Does your daughter have a history of doing this to multiple people? Had she already done so, been allowed to return, and simply did it again?

    In isolation, perhaps there could be censure for not inviting everyone to the party. This is hardly Steersman’s first such appearance in these parts. Complaints about unfair moderation from someone with such rich, feculent history in mind that are absolutely ludicrous.

    In a similar vein, I wouldn’t put any weight on agreement about moderation. They can safely agree on such principles, while leaving themselves a lot of space for maneuver. Personally I would prefer the discussion to move quickly beyond this stage, as I think that concentrating on this is beating the bush

    In the parlance of the times, I agree with this with reservations. I find the argument on moderation to be intimately tied up with Skep Sheik’s curious point about silencing criticism hosted elsewhere. I suppose we’ll see where it goes.

  75. carlie says

    It seems to me that they ought to clearly state on that site that moderation was requested on your post, who it was requested by, what they wanted to moderate out, and why.

  76. Ariel says

    PatrickG:

    Did she throw huge temper tantrums, call the resident child such eloquent terms as “fat twat”, and in general shit on the rug?

    No way, how dare you!!! :) Ok, I understand your point of course; and my reaction is: the sooner we start considering such questions, the better, because that’s where the real issues are. I still hope they will answer with a simple “we are in agreement about the general principles of moderating one’s personal website”, since – as I said – this leaves them with more than enough leeway for criticism, even of private spaces. So … dear pitters, let’s be done with that and let’s start the real stuff.

    Anyway, it’s their move and as you say, we’ll see where it goes.

  77. Ulysses says

    A Hermit @79

    I’ve made that argument as well. The ‘pitters grudgingly agree that PZ can ban anyone he wants for whatever reason he wants. But people complaining about bad photoshops, videos full of sexist language directed at one or two victims, imitating twitter accounts, and suchlike displays of free speech is an insult up with which the ‘pitters should not put. How dare Ophelia complain about threats to throw acid in her face! It’s just a joke (why aren’t you laughing?) and can’t she take a joke? Besides FREEZE PEACH!

  78. Shari says

    thank you A. Hermit.

    I have been trying to follow this (trying, as i studied ethics, not debate. And I know about enough science to stay ahead of my 8 yr. old and buy the correct Oil of Olay product.) and I have boiled this down to a few conclusions.

    The team Stephanie is debating basically wants their…..behaviour unmoderated. Their NSFW blogs, vids, photoshopping is what they consider ‘criticism’. Even/especially gendered slurs.

    Stephanie (and other FTB members) point out their behaviour falls more in the category of harassment.

    For example – FTBloggers pointed out J. Vaculas’ Public ‘joke’ about groping a female skeptic was unprofessional and harrassment. That caused backlash because now, um, his Public tweet was noticed via….twitter…..and a petition, and he then had consequences (lost his role? stepped down? can’t honestly recall).

    So FTBloggers are criticized and harassed for this event and the ‘pitters feel that is justified. Because a petition pointing out verifiable facts was somehow….unfair. And their criticism (made up of fat shaming, ageism and naughty words) is valid satire and should not be moderated, yet Stephanie’s post should have been?

    I know the point of the dialogue is to identify areas of agreement, and to discuss areas of disagreement (once trust is built) But if it only took a week for Steersman to demonstrate his command personal attacks and naughty words…..that process might take a damned long time.

    please point out if I’ve missed something critical here.

    (btw – Steph – I’ve finally got a minestrone recipe that works as well for me as your soup. I think I owe you a batch or six) :-)

    Have

  79. says

    Shari, Vacula didn’t make the groping joke, but you’re doing pretty well. We ask them to do better because what they’re doing has undesirable consequences. They decide we can’t say anything about they’re behavior unless we’re, not improving ourselves, but already perfect.

  80. says

    to I’m sure no one’s surprise, it took Steersman only 6 comments before he started throwing gendered slurs around on my blog.

  81. Robert B. says

    Isn’t it some kind of messed up to send representatives to a formal, moderated discussion AND take your beef directly to a representative for the other side at the same time? Either let your people speak for you or disclaim their representation – and if no one in the discussion is representing you, why do you even care about it?

  82. PatrickG says

    @ Jadehawk:

    Ugh.

    @ Robert B:

    A similar thought has occurred to me, and it makes me wonder….

    Steersman presents one way on the Dialogue site, and an entirely different way at the site of a participant in that dialogue. At what point does this violate the rules of commenting there? This is quite public antagonism, after all, which is very specifically not the goal of the discussion — in fact, it’s disclaimed by the Purpose:

    It is not aimed at people who want to escalate the hostilities, or who want to continue to cause unnecessary hurt to other people.

    Again, very public. It’s also clearly documented both here and at the SlymePit, since Steersman is considerate enough to post every comment submitted here to forums at the ‘Pit. I haven’t looked enough to see if he does a similar “pre-moderation” post for the Dialogue site.

    I will say that a very casual search doesn’t bring up a comment at the Dialogue since 3/29, so who knows? Maybe he’s acknowledged that this is not the forum for him*. Doesn’t look like it viewing his comments at the Pit, though.

    Just a few thoughts, from a night owl who should be in bed.

    Cheers!

    * I should note that I am deliberately not participating in the debate on that blog. It’s not a space I feel I should contribute to, as I’m definitely one who thinks the Rifts aren’t deep enough. Steersman appears to agree! I’m following Stephanie Zvan’s efforts with great interest, but I don’t want to be a participant myself.

  83. Robert B. says

    I could do with more rifts between me and the sexists, too. My take on this discussion is that it probably won’t work – but if it does work, that means the other side wasn’t so bad as I thought, or at least is improving quickly. I wouldn’t want to do what Stephanie’s doing, but since she’s willing, I’m interested to see if anything comes of it.

    I’m also not commenting on the discussion anywhere but here (and not a lot of that) in light of my views on representation I touched on above.

  84. R Johnston says

    My take on this discussion is that it probably won’t work – but if it does work, that means the other side wasn’t so bad as I thought, or at least is improving quickly.

    The most likely way, IMO, for this discussion to “work” is if the other side becomes more marginalized as a result. They aren’t going to get better quickly, and they’re almost certainly even worse than you think because you only see the public and high profile examples of their harassment, bigotry, and generally selfish antisocial behavior. What the discussion can accomplish is to turn disinterested observers into well informed interested observers who know exactly how bad the pitters and their ilk are and who support their marginalization within organized atheism and skepticism.

    Pitter/libertarian types aren’t skeptics at all and have no coherent philosophical approach to atheism. They are little more than a false flag operation within organized skepticism and atheism, even if they don’t realize this themselves.

  85. says

    These people are not used to read anthropology, sociology, history, are they?

    Social science denialism is a HUGE problem in the atheist/skeptical community.

  86. says

    Social science denialism is a HUGE problem in the atheist/skeptical community.

    denialism, but also plain ignorance; because of course since it’s all pomo BS, they don’t need to know anything about it, right?

    also, sally, did you know that your comment about crocheting and hyperbolic math really meant that you think hyperbolic equations are inherently “a girl thing”, and that that’s bullshit because if that were true, then Hypatia should have discovered that crochet patterns model hyperbolic equations?

  87. embertine says

    Jadehawk, you would be amazed at how many of the conversations I have online are about crocheting and hyperbolic maths, given that I’m neither a mathematician nor a crocheter.

    I am glad to see that I am not the only one.

  88. sawells says

    It’s interesting what Steersman assumed instantly at the start: that any concern about the leadership being all cis white hetero middle-class men MUST imply there’s something nefarious and bad and wrong and sinister about being a cis white hetero middle-class man. I wonder if he’ll ever realise how dumb that is?

    What would happen if somebody told him about stereoscopic vision?
    Sane person: “Hey, maybe you should open both eyes instead of just one. You’d get better depth perception with multiple viewpoints.”
    Steersman: “WHAT! Are you implying there’s something _wrong_ with this eye? Are you saying there are things this eye can’t see? Are you saying another eye would be _better_ than this one? Ridiculous! How dare you insult this eye by suggesting that it isn’t completely sufficient for seeing everything! You stupid [gendered slur redacted] [redacted] [redacted]! I am the true voice of rationality!” (walks into lamp-post).

  89. great1american1satan says

    People talk about an obesity epidemic, but the real epidemic hiding in plain sight is eating disorders. As the leading cause of death among the anorexic is not actually starvation but rather suicide, and with the high rate of eating disorders in the world right now, I’d say calling someone fat in cruelty is functionally telling them that you don’t care whether they live or die. It’s telling someone to kill their self.

    So if Steersman had a vague aura of reason about his sanctimonious bleating, he shat it all to hell in an instant by revealing himself to be a scumbag of the first water. You know what, Steersman? I return the sentiment. I don’t care if you live or die. Just do it somewhere far from me.

  90. says

    also, sally, did you know that your comment about crocheting and hyperbolic math really meant that you think hyperbolic equations are inherently “a girl thing”, and that that’s bullshit because if that were true, then Hypatia should have discovered that crochet patterns model hyperbolic equations?

    How kind and considerate of them to helpfully clarify my own thoughts for me.

  91. cubist says

    New rule: Never participate in a debate when you’re on the side opposing Stephanie Zvan, for you will surely lose.

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