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Dunning-Kruger morality

It’s the turn of “Ardent Atheist” Emery Emery to try to peddle the line that all this talk of sexual harassment is actually a campaign to stop everyone having sex. It’s a campaign to shut down pleasure and fun and joy and good things altogether.

The in-groupers at FtB have been attempting to redefine flirting as sexual harassment and sexual intercourse as rape. The problem with this tactic is that it obfuscates actual acts of sexual predation while criminalizing very healthy sex-positive human interaction.

No actually we have not. Not at all. We’ve been attempting (as have many others – we sure as hell don’t deserve all the credit for this) to define sexual harassment as sexual harassment. Flirting is mutual; harassment is unilateral. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to sexual intercourse and rape.

We are not opposed to healthy sex-positive human interaction. That’s an idiotic thing to say – but of course it’s also a very familiar trope about feminists and feminism. DJ Grothe and Emery Emery and the rest of them are reaching into a particularly foul box of tools for this particular trope. It ought to be beneath them, and it says a lot about this haha “community” that it isn’t.

Adults choosing to be sexual with each other is beautiful. and we in the atheist/skeptic community are by and large, not weighed down by sexual hangups. We tend to be not only sex positive but also highly honest and moral people.

Oh dear god. That last sentence froze me in place for a second when I read it – from a capital S Skeptic!!

No. No, you don’t; no, we don’t. We don’t tend to be highly honest and moral people. I’ve never thought that about any set of people, because it’s just a ludicrous claim, about anyone; but in addition I’ve been learning to think it’s less and less true of people in “the atheist/skeptic community” over the past couple of years. That “community” is riddled with malice and aggression and tribal dudely misogynist bullshit. EE’s post is a classic example of that.

This insidious attempt to malign the fine people who frequent skeptic/atheist conventions as white, male dominated communities who both prey on women and work tirelessly to protect this so-called culture of rape we’ve been accused of building, must stop!

Not all of the people who “frequent skeptic/atheist conventions” are fine people. Why would they be? People are people. We’ve all got faults, and many of us have the kinds of faults that can inflict misery on other people. It’s not in any way extraordinary for people to be selfish or greedy or sexually predatory, or all those at once. Some people like that frequent skeptic/atheist conventions. Shocker! Not. And saying that doesn’t equate to saying all such conventions are “white, male dominated communities who both prey on women and work tirelessly to protect this so-called culture of rape.” That’s not what’s going on here.

The A+ folks have demanded that convention organizers add to their harassment policies, that no speaker be allowed to engage in sexual contact with any convention attendees. The attempt to instate such an insidiously over reaching rule speaks volumes to the mind set of these people.

I don’t know what he means by “the A+ folks” there. That is a label of course that is pervasively misused to name people who have nothing to do with “A+” apart from agreement with the claim that atheism by itself is not enough to make “highly honest and moral people.” If that’s what he means by it, then his claim is a ridiculous lie. Nobody I know or know of has demanded any such thing.

As this drama unfolded I found myself becoming more and more afraid to speak my mind and share my thoughts. And as I pondered whether or not I should say anything about this new development I realized something quite horrific. The only people who have frightened me into silence prior to this moment have been extremist Muslims. Think about that. The tactics of the FtB in-groupers have had on many in my community the exact same effect as the tactics of Muslim extremists. Ask yourself, “have I been frightened into silence?”. If the answer is yes please, speak up.

I’ll tell you what’s “horrific” about that. It’s the malicious dishonesty of it. It’s the grotesque insinuation that he’s afraid of being killed by “the FtB in-groupers.” People like us – people in our oh so honest and moral “community” – are afraid of violent Islamists because violent Islamists kill people they dislike. We don’t do that.

Moral and honest. No, I don’t think so.

Comments

  1. Nepenthe says

    white, male dominated communities who both prey on women and work tirelessly to protect this so-called culture of rape

    So… which part of that is supposedly inaccurate?

  2. blf says

    We tend to be … highly honest and moral people.

    Citation needed. Also, terms need to be defined: Who is this “we”, kemosabe? What set of laws? And which understanding of “moral”?

  3. says

    Speak up #braveheros … That has really not been an issue for them. Unless Emery Emery is saying his side is really the “special snowflake” brigade not the #FTBullies?

  4. says

    We tend to be … highly honest and moral people

    Hey, Shermer wrote a whole book on morality. And, on his website he explains why rape is immoral. So, it follows that famous skeptics are highly honest and moral people.

  5. Jean says

    He’s afraid to speak his mind because he knows his arguments are laughable and he’s going to look ridiculous.

  6. notsont says

    We tend to be … highly honest and moral people.

    And yet in the same sentence he goes on to say that a very large part of this community is definitely not “moral and honest”. Which is it?

  7. jedibear says

    I was never frightened into silence.

    I was, however, embarrassed by my incompetence to the point that I felt it was better to shut up and listen.

    Which I think self-identified Skeptics should be doing from time to time anyway.

  8. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    Well, if those are the thoughts he’s got on his mind, he’d be right to be embarrassed to share them, but he seems to be heedless of that. It does show the level of desperation that people on the other side of the not yet wide enough rift have to stoop to this level of dishonesty to make their case sound “reasonable.” It also tells you something very unpleasant and frightening about what they think counts as “sex positivity.”

  9. Martha says

    I can’t take anything that guy says seriously after that awful video he did with some of his buddies in which he nearly turned apoplectic, saying that Rebecca was hurting TAM. And that was one of the nicer things he said, as I recall. It was among the most irrational and absurdly emotional responses I’ve ever seen. He certainly didn’t make a very strong argument that atheists are honest and highly moral people!

  10. says

    In his defense I do recall some people (I’m afraid I can’t remember who exactly) bringing up the “no speaker be allowed to engage in sexual contact with any convention attendees.” position when SH policies were being discussed…. was it last year already? time flies…. but yes, I do recall some people saying this so its not without some kernel of truth. A quick bit of googling and it was debated a bit in the June 17th 2012 google hangout according to Daniel Fincke. Though I don’t think the idea was ever nearly as universally lauded as Emery implies.

  11. LeftSidePositive says

    Michaeld, I only heard it brought up in the context of the Secular Student Alliance’s policy, and no one to my knowledge advocated it being a standard thing. The SSA has some certain particulars in that they have to deal with a lot of university policies when they have on-campus events, and they are particularly catering to much younger people (and in the case of high school activists, those actually below the age of consent). While that policy makes sense given the specifics of the SSA, it wasn’t something that was considered generally applicable.

    Some people did mention it’s creepy when famous speakers try to leverage their star power for consensual sex, but I think the general consensus was that such behavior should be dealt with by social disapproval, not a formal policy.

  12. says

    @LSP
    Ah yes the SSA. I just wanted to say it wasn’t entirely out of no where but I couldn’t remember the exact circumstances of the discussion. Indeed I don’t disagree with anything you say.

  13. says

    michaeld – right – I remember that, because I was in that google hangout, as was Rebecca, and she and I disagreed with that suggestion.

    The idea was that being a speaker was equivalent to being an academic, so a speaker hooking up with an attendee would be like an academic hooking up with a student; that it would be an exploitation of the one-up situation of the speaker. I pointed out that speakers aren’t necessarily one-up at all, using myself as an example – I’ve been a speaker but I’m just some shlub.

    In any case none of that had anything remotely to do with “demanding” anything. It was an idea, tossed around among some friends one afternoon and then abandoned. Nobody went on to make it a demand.

  14. A. Noyd says

    Of course, no one could be calling out harassment and rape because those things are un-fun. Nooooo, those are fake concerns wielded by people who are just anti-fun.

  15. says

    @Ophelia
    Nope I agree with you just wanted to try to cut off possible future arguements a bit by mentioning that the idea was being discussed a bit a year ago (like many lies there is a grain of truth to it). I just couldn’t remember all the specifics V.V

  16. Pen says

    So, in his world sex positivity means you have to feel positive about having sex with just about anyone all of the time? And if you don’t, you may just need a little help to unwind with surprise foreplay and/or alcohol? I’m afraid these guys are just having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it may not be possible for them to get laid as often or as easily as they would like by honest means.

    Maybe they wonder why that is and why many (perhaps not all) women appear to have different priorities from themselves? I know if I’d paid out good money and rearranged my life to attend a conference on a subject I care about, getting laid would be pretty low on my list of priorities. I can do that at home for free. Also I’d be unlikely to pay money and re-arrange my life if I thought I would spend my time getting hit on. I can do that by taking a walk in my local park (apparently). The constant stream of offers fielded by most women makes each individual one pretty low value at best – frankly it’s more like being bombarded with spam. So our brave heroes respond with the kind of tactics usually associated with desperate sales people! Finally, would I think sleeping with random guys at a conference might impact my likelihood of being taken seriously in that circle? In our honest sceptics egalitarian, sex positive world, it shouldn’t, should it, but watching them in action, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t take me seriously whatever I did. And I don’t sleep with guys who treat me like that, not if I can detect them and avoid them. Because with having a positive attitude to sex comes some ideas about trust and mutual respect between me and the people I might decide to engage in this very positive activity with.

    They really need to wrap their heads around this stuff a whole lot better.

  17. says

    The “A+ folks” would have no fundamental objection to a skeptic conference which included daily orgies. Many would choose to avoid such a conference, but they’d respect the rights of others to make their own decisions. That last bit is what these repellent clowns don’t get: the right to decide, and to have that choice respected.

    For that matter, the nauseatingly lecherous behaviour of many “skeptics” would get them kicked out of any well run sex party.

  18. says

    FTFY, Emery: persistent, unwanted flirting is sexual harassment and sexual intercourse without consent is rape.

    And yes, I agree that speakers should be especially circumspect, and disagree with Ophelia. As mentioned, we have that in academia: if I had sex with a student, under any circumstances, I could lose tenure and my job. If they’re grand enough to be invited to speak, they should be willing to be held to a higher standard. You’re not just a schlub, you’re a schlub with somewhat more prestige than the attendees, and that represents a potential power differential.

  19. says

    Overlooking his overheated language (“criminalizing”, “demanded”, “afraid”, “horrific”), what is it he’s actually complaining about? Assuming he isn’t “frightened into silence” because he actually thinks he might be beheaded by a mob of angry, bearded feminists, what’s the looming danger that lurks if he should dare to articulate his views publicly (like he just did)? That a significant subset of the “community” might publicly disagree with him? Or worse? Mockery, riducule, fake Twitter accounts, Photoshops? What has he had to deal with compared to what we have had to deal with?

  20. maudell says

    Do you have a link, Ophelia?

    Gee, it’s horrible to feel silenced when you want to explain why repeated unwanted sexual contact and/or threats is the pinnacle of sex positivity! Just like how he must feel when he tries to explain to a group of black people about the blatant reverse racism against white people. They talk back! Oppression! Silencing! On the other hand, I have been trying to present my views of the situation in a calm, posited way to their blogs for over a year now. Of course, they gang up on any disagreements and don’t even bother to try to understand what is said. But that’s different. That’s just being a true hero. In fact, me trying to write my opinion on their blog is also oppression.

    Obviously, the people getting harassed are also super not silenced, so it’s really unfair that we only hear one side of the story.

    Seriously, are these people for real? I honestly can’t tell if they just enjoy making up fake positions. I was on Ian Murphy’s blog this morning, read Pitchgu*st’s 50 comments about why being an asshole was not absolute proof of rape. As if anyone ever said that.

    How ironic is it that they are targeting people who are actually sex positive (not that there’s anything wrong with people who criticize sex culture). Then, they show how ‘hypocrite’ it is that so-and-so (usually Rebecca Watson) wrote something positive about sex! Flirted! Posed nude!

    Do they need to fight against people that bad? Or maybe they don’t read the actual texts they are so up in arms about? It’s puzzling to me. It’s also making me feel like I’ve been wrong for so long. I’ve been rebutting ‘atheists are assholes’ tropes among my social circles for years now. Now I think they had a point.

    I’d really like those guys to explain what people (especially women or trans* people) are supposed to do when they are harassed. Of course, I’m talking about the ones who still believe sexual harassment and abuse exists. Because the more this is going, the more the message is clear: if I am abused, the best solution is to shut up. [note to the assholes: flirting is not harassment. consensual sex is not harassment. what is wrong with you?] And they’ll try to throw CFI-style bullshit back, claiming the reason so many women feel this way is the actions of A+. No. Stop. It is entirely your bullshit, misogynistic response. We got the message. Women who are harassed are a burden to your freedom. We get the message, the only possible rape happens Jeffrey Dahmer style. And there needs to be at least four white males to confirm its occurrence for people to be allowed to talk about it. Now where have I seen this before?… Oh! Radical Islam! Wow, I can play that game too. Catholic church is obvious, creationism (for the scientific denialism), puritan mennonites (rape doesn’t exist, female imagination). The difference is that those comparisons are actually analogous with their message. Fuck them.

    Finally, why can’t they just not be part of A+ if they don’t like it? I’m not a fan myself, and my solution to this epic problem is to *not be part of that group*. I think it’s great that people want to have their own subgroup with like-minded people if they want to. Kind of like atheist social groups in the wider society. Case closed. Still, what the hell does A+ have to do with harassment?

    If only they’d actually stop and think about it. I tried. I don’t get this new rule of skepticism they’ve introduced “the least you know about sexual harassment, the more accurate your view is. Because knowing is being emotional!”. It’s not hyperskepticism, it’s tin-foil hat woo. I’d tell them to read the scientific literature on the topic, but they seem to think that’s a great conspiracy too.

    Note: the questions are meant to be rhetorical (unless someone feels like answering). I just needed to vent, sorry it is so long. I tried to ask them questions directly, but interactions are not possible with those people. I am so disappointed in the turn of events. I was naive enough to think self described people of reason would be more prone to questioning their assumptions and biases. Instead, skepticism is only a trick to rationalize their contempt for different people, feed their messiah complex and love of authority.

  21. says

    Compelling points, Pen.

    PZ – well if we’re just suggesting speakers should be especially circumspect, I think I do agree with you, at least somewhat. I think it’s a spectrum, and the more starry the speaker is, the more circumspect he/she should be. But it’s a should thing, as opposed to part of a written harassment policy.

  22. stevebowen says

    What the atheist community could and, in my opinion, should do is expose perceived unethical behaviour in its ranks, that way we get to be honest and talk about it. Some things are genuinly moot, some are obfuscated by people with agendas. What religion does is shut down the debate and hide its transgressions: so we should not.
    I agree that atheists are not a homogeneously more moral subset of people than any other, but we do tend to think about morality rather than accept a dogma which I think is a point in our favour. Let’s face it, we don’t see Catholics in Twitter wars about the “niceties” of priestly child abuse.
    Let’s air our hypocrisies. If we are to be the moral alternative to religion, transparency and the disinfectant of light and reason are the ways to achieve it.

  23. joreth says

    As someone active in the poly and kink communities and who frequents sex-oriented events, I have to reiterate this point:

    ‘For that matter, the nauseatingly lecherous behaviour of many “skeptics” would get them kicked out of any well run sex party.”

    I like sex-oriented events, I like flirting outrageously I support multiple sex partners either over a lifetime or simultaneously, and I am in favor of casual sex for those who enjoy it. And yet I and my other sexually open female friends would avoid attending the sex-oriented parties if these so-called “skeptics” were regular fixtures there, and we might even leave the ones we were at if one of them showed up as an unusual occurrence. Nothing will ruin my lady-hard-on faster than a guy who doesn’t respect personal space, bodily autonomy, consent, or who thinks his right to flirt with me trumps my right to not be flirted with.

    #ConsentIsHot #RespectingWomenIsHot #SexualEntitlementIsAMoodKiller #OnlyYesMeansYes

  24. Sili says

    I still tend to think that a speaker at a conference should think twice about fucking an attendee.

    The fact that someone was invited as a speaker makes them into someone in a position of relative power – even if just for the conference.

  25. says

    Let’s face it, we don’t see Catholics in Twitter wars about the “niceties” of priestly child abuse.

    Well I don’t think I see enough Catholics on Twitter to know about that, but to be fair, there certainly are Catholics who are disgusted by priestly child abuse and by the coverup.

    Now, I think that should prompt them to think again about Catholicism, and ask themselves why Catholicism doesn’t prevent priests and bishops from acting in such a horrible callous way – but that’s a bit different.

  26. says

    Seriously, though, speakers at conferences don’t have power. They have a little temporary status or glamor, yes, but that’s all. It doesn’t count as power.

  27. Sili says

    Outside of the conference, no. I would have no issue with a speaker and an attendee pursuing an affair or the like afterwards.

    But during the conference, I still think it’s ethically suspect.

  28. supernorbert says

    the difference between a professor or teacher and a conference speaker is that the professor has eventually to grade his students and that clearly doesn’t go along with fucking them. even if the the prof keeps his objectivity it would be easily questionable That isn’t the case for shlubby conference speakers They can happily engage in sexual activities as long as they are consensual of course.

  29. says

    Sili – can you spell out why? I just don’t see it. If it’s genuinely mutual, what about it is suspect?

    Part of what puzzles me about this is the excessive glorification of speakers it entails.

  30. says

    Seriously, though, speakers at conferences don’t have power. They have a little temporary status or glamor, yes, but that’s all. It doesn’t count as power.

    Except they do. At the very least, they have connections within the organization that’s running the conference.* It’s not hard to imagine someone taking advantage of that influence to promote (“hey, you should invite so-and-so, to be a speaker at next year’s do) or blackball (“so-and-so is a bitch; you should stay away from her and her local chapter/organization”) someone–especially someone who is trying to establish herself as a speaker/writer/organizer in her own right. I wouldn’t put it on the sexual harassment policy (except for SSA or similar orgs; or on cruise ships *cough* say, where a person who rejects a proposition for sex by a celeb speaker has nowhere to go to avoid him until the event is over), but I might mention it on the guidelines given to speakers: don’t pick up strangers** for sex, please.

    *And let’s be honest here, the glamour isn’t temporary. It’s cumulative. The same speakers are invited to most of the conferences. If not, then they’re often Big Names who are wealthy and famous beyond the skeptic/atheist community and thus have even more power.
    **I specify strangers because I’d be far less worried about a relationship established beforehand or over time being exploited in this way.

  31. notsont says

    And yes, I agree that speakers should be especially circumspect, and disagree with Ophelia. As mentioned, we have that in academia: if I had sex with a student, under any circumstances, I could lose tenure and my job. If they’re grand enough to be invited to speak, they should be willing to be held to a higher standard. You’re not just a schlub

    It goes beyond that, conventions may be a vacation or a big party for attendees, but conferences are a business for the people organizing it. They have every right if not a duty to demand that any speaker if they wish to be asked to attend again will not embarrass them with their behavior, especially while they are at the con.

    Lets pretend that no illegal activity occurred in this case or cases, The scandal and damage can still be tied directly to behavior that should not be tolerated by speakers.

  32. Stacy says

    Except they do. At the very least, they have connections within the organization that’s running the conference

    Well, so do I, and I’m a volunteer who serves as cashier in the local CFI branch bookstore.

    I doubt most speakers are really all that powerful. The Big Names, maybe. But as long as they’re not abusing that power, meh.

  33. Stacy says

    Back to Emery Emery–so many of these capital-S Skeptics don’t even bother to understand their opponents’ argument.

    They flash their Skeptical heuristics and pat themselves on the back and they think that excuses them from the hard work of actual critical thought. It really is the Dunning-Kruger effect. If they were self-aware enough to realize what they’re doing, I’d be embarrassed for them.

  34. says

    notsont – I’m talking solely about consensual sex.

    And I’m assuming that’s not people crawling all over each other in front of everyone. You know, tasteful. That needn’t be embarrassing to the organizers.

    Ibis – they don’t. Not most of them anyway. The real stars, yes, but everyone else, no.

  35. says

    They flash their Skeptical heuristics and pat themselves on the back and they think that excuses them from the hard work of actual critical thought.

    And the Skeptical heuristics aren’t always even that good. “All claims require evidence” – jeezis.

  36. says

    Except that this discussion is not at all about whether speakers should be allowed to have sex with conference attendees(I agree with PZ, it’s a power imbalance, and they should not exploit that), it’s about Emery’s pathetic whiny strawman of “sex is beautiful, why won’t the feminists let us have some”.

    The person who wrote this crap may be overconfident, but to me they appear to be defending their and their male mates’ dudebro privileges more than anything else, and apart from that, they come across as just a little bit dumb.

  37. Erp says

    I think PZ does have a point when it comes to the Secular Student Alliance because because so many of the participants are under 21 (so legally no alcohol in the US) and some are under the age of consent (I’ve met university students who were 14 when they started university and one who had been 12 [she finished med school when she was 18] and SSA now includes High School). Young people are still learning including learning what boundaries they want to set (as opposed to boundaries others want to set for them either of the no sex outside of marriage crowd or the person was nice to you/bought you dinner/is important so sex must be given if asked crowd).

    The UUA has specific policies for youth and for dealing with youth (which can include those up to and including 20). I gather this is in part due to earlier bad experiences in the 60s and 70s (many in the UUA took to the sexual revolution with gusto) where some youth (and others) were coerced into sexual activity (peer pressure, alcohol, awe of respected figures, etc.). Among other things they have a Code of Ethics For Adults and Older Youth Working with Children and Youth . Their policies do change over time and being UUA they probably have a multitude of committees. It might be wise to learn from their experience and those of others.

  38. says

    quoting myself from what I said on Stephanie’s blog:

    The in-groupers at FtB have been attempting to redefine flirting as sexual harassment and sexual intercourse as rape. The problem with this tactic is that it obfuscates actual acts of sexual predation while criminalizing very healthy sex-positive human interaction.

    from this I have to conclude that Ardent Atheist likes his sex/flirting consent-free, since what we’ve “redefined” as sexual harassment is sexual attention without consent; what we’ve “redefined” as rape is sexual intercourse without consent.

    and I guess I’d also add that saying FTB has the same effect as extremist Muslims shows an impressive inability to tell the difference between being mortified and being mortally afraid.

  39. rnilsson says

    Not much to add, except you’re no shlub, Ophelia. (From a safe distance noted:)
    Also applies to many decent folks here. AFAIK. (Which may be insufficient evidence in a Court of Law.)
    Anyways.

  40. A Hermit says

    The in-groupers at FtB have been attempting to redefine flirting as sexual harassment and sexual intercourse as rape.

    And that statement is enough evidence to conclude that Emery is living in a fantasy world of his own creation. Or, to be charitable, he might just be a compulsive liar.

  41. Funny Diva says

    “so-called culture of rape”

    Oh, that’s charming. That’s the “tell” that puts “I DON’T GET IT” in foot-high neon lights above anyone’s head…
    Bleah.

    _Love_ the title of this post. It’s perfect.

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