How To Do Wrong Right

Picture of a traffic sign in green with white lettering and border against a cloudy sky, which has arrows pointing both right and left, one labeled Right Way, the other labeled Wrong Way.After my post last month asking for a date the following week, many very positive and some slightly negative things transpired in result. The date went well. I chose a very lovely person who replied to my advertisement awesomely. We hit it off very well and are now in a relationship (mutually open). Others asked me out on future dates that have happened or will. Still others were inspired by my post to strike up an exploratory correspondence from afar, and some of those encounters might become future relationships. The hostility that was generated came mostly from sexists or anti-feminists with weird hangups. Some feminists had problems with it but weren’t hostile. I also received a lot of wonderful support.

This post won’t be about that.

Today I’m going to bring up one particular issue that has come up many times before in my discussions with movement insiders across the spectrum. The meta-question is, how do we draw the line, or even tell the difference, between honest, open, consensual, sex-positive behavior, and behavior that should be criticized and disapproved. But within that umbrella is one particular aspect: everyone screws up from time to time; and we can’t pillory the whole world. So what is a positive and constructive way to deal with correctable error, and what distinguishes that from behavior beyond the pale?

Of course, the Slymepit won’t care about that distinction. Even though they insist they do, they just horribly attack and harass anyone and everyone who ever defends any standard or policy whatever. And regardless of what those of the Slymepit profess, in actual practice they are the scary, amoral nihilists of this movement. They are also beyond facts, reality, or reason. So this post is not intended to educate them. They are uneducable.

Who I’m writing for now, is everyone else. [Read more…]

Some Good Stuff on Social Justice Responsibility

Thank you, David Wong and Miri Mogilevsky!

A girlfriend tipped me off to David Wong’s really amusing and spot-on 101 on why social justice (particularly regarding structural racism and sexism) is not about white guilt but about fixing what our ancestors broke. Check out 5 Helpful Answers to Society’s Most Uncomfortable Questions to see what I mean (and yes, this is impressively educational and insightful for an article at Cracked!). That’s really elegantly written. Funny. Apt. And a much needed summary of what many of us take for granted but find hard to explain so well. Required reading for anyone who doesn’t already get it (but wants to), and rewarding reading for anyone who already does!

As it happens, just by chance, Miri Mogilevsky also published a really excellent article at DailyDot [Read more…]

Katherine Cross on Tone Policing

Katherine Cross has written an excellent piece on distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate tone policing: Words for Cutting: Why We Need to Stop Abusing The Tone Argument. The article is a valuable read all through. Do not regard my summary here as its replacement. My aim is only to expand on it.

-:-

Cross makes two overarching points. One is that though intention is not magic, it does matter (as she says, it’s still data). And we should acknowledge that. I shall have nothing to say about that; it’s obviously correct (see Dan Fincke). The other is that while it is legitimate to denounce tone policing in many cases (and not only because it’s a fallacy), this should not become a non-circumstantial rule that applies to every instance, as if all tone policing were bad. It’s not.

Within that overarching point she makes the following supporting points:

  • Tone policing someone who is defending the oppressed or victimized is often illegitimate. Because when someone does that, “while they claim to be attacking tone, they are actually attacking the message, and often as not the very identity of the messenger.” This is thoroughly explained at GeekFeminismWiki. In these cases, tone isn’t really the issue. It’s just being used to silence someone or avoid addressing the point they are making. And that’s wrong. If you try to do that, you deserve to get called out on your shit. Own it. Then stop it. And do better in future. (I think this can also be done in ignorance—not just as a deliberate tactic, but out of not appreciating the context that evokes a particular tone, as I noted in the case of JT Eberhard’s attempt to tone-police Bria Crutchfield two years ago.)
  • Anger and other so-called negative emotions are important and have tremendous personal and social utility (without which, see Miranda). Anger is not irrational. Anger is data and motivation. You can be angry for irrational reasons. But not all reasons to be angry are irrational. Nevertheless, as Cross says, “like any emotion or tool, there are right and wrong ways to deploy it.” Thus, calling someone out for (let’s say) calling for sexists to be killed (even in jest) is not an illegitimate tone argument. That is a fully legitimate tone argument. If you are doing that, your tone is fucked. Sort that shit out.
  • Genuinely censurable tone can include threats, ill-wishing, calls for violence, ad hominems, or just plain abuse (see my article The Art of the Insult & The Sin of the Slur for more on that last point).

In short, in Cross’s words:

To put it simply: sometimes someone is being too angry. Sometimes an activist’s rage is doing more harm than good. Sometimes there is no good being done by it whatsoever. Not every emotion we have is a great strike against oppressive forces. Sometimes you are just being too loud, abusing people verbally, triggering them, and so forth. Sometimes you are just being a jerk and your tone is a fairly reliable indicator of this.

Quite. There are some things I think that could be added, though… [Read more…]

Shermertron the Bigot: Polyamory as the New Reefer Madness

Famous scene screencap from the 1936 film Reefer Madness in which a snearing dope dealer takes a puff in a lounge chair.Lock up your wives and daughters. Polyamorous men are going to seduce them! That’s the new panic emanating from atheist anti-feminists. Along with horror at Bacchic orgies at atheist conferences, and a denigration of sexual liberation as the scourge of society and a sure sign of the decline of public morality. Christian reactionaries? Nope. This is coming from atheists. Seriously.

Anti-feminist atheists are rarely logical and always fact challenged. They live in a bubble of impenetrable mythologies like moon landing deniers and people who vote for Ted Cruz. So none of their reaction to my coming out as polyamorous ought to be surprising. But since one of them is making a lame attempt at harassing my employers, it’s time to document and make fun of it.

The featured villain of the day is some guy (?) who goes by the charming moniker Shermertron. It would be truly awesome if that was actually Michael Shermer but reality is never that sweet. I’m assuming it’s an obsessive Shermer fan. He writes a vile blog called Orwellian Garbage, which is basically just a bunch of illogical rants about me and PZ Myers that rarely contacts reality. His silly & sad sidekick goes by the moniker Yeti’s Roar who does basically the same thing on his own blog (I suppose they could be the same person).

Shermertron and his associates suffer from the following delusions:

  • They can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and consensual flirting.
  • They can’t tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate ways of pursuing intimacy with someone.
  • They can’t tell the difference between being pleasantly drunk but still in possession of your faculties (and thus fully able to consent when asked) and being so drunk as to not even comprehend what is happening or where exactly you are.
  • They can’t tell the difference between advocating for ethical sexuality and being against all sex.

They are also liars.

If you want the full skinny, then sit down, secure your safety belt and hang on for the ride… [Read more…]

Appearing All Over Southern California Next Week

Photograph of a building fronted by a beautiful waterfall backed by palm trees on the campus of the College of the Desert in Palm Desert California.I will be appearing to speak at numerous venues in Southern California next week and the following week. And of course selling and signing my books. I might also be available for hanging out with nice folk over drinks now and again while I’m around there. Here is the breakdown…

[Read more…]

Take My October Class: Moral Reasoning from Theory to Practice (Applying Science and Philosophy in Everyday Life)

This will be a survey of contemporary moral theory and the scientific study of morality, with an aim to improving your own moral decision-making, and encouraging the same in others. Register now. It’s a one-month, online, do-at-your-own-pace course in which you can participate as much or as little as you want. Lots of people just lurk, do the readings, and read the ensuing discussions, and that’s totally fine. But there will also be challenging assignment questions each week that will help you grasp and benefit from the readings and discussions, for anyone who wants to take that additional step.

Subjects covered in this course will include:

  1. [Read more…]

Why I Don’t Always Trust Israel

Does Israel resort to war crimes, and then lie about it, to gain its ends? It has in the past. Which is why I have a hard time believing Israel’s claims now that it isn’t targeting schools and hospitals, which are UN-observed civilian refugee sites. That would be a clear and horrific war crime under international law and the Geneva conventions. I also have a hard time believing what they also in the same breath say (see previous link), that they actually are targeting those sites because they are storing rockets for Hamas. (Yes, those two claims directly contradict each other; yes, it’s absurd to think sites observed by UN personnel are storing rockets–in fact, they clear any rockets found at sites set up as refugee centers).

To get up to speed on this, read this and this and this.

Hamas, of course, is evil and insane, if ever those words had meaning. They lie and kill all the time, in vile ways and without any rational sense. They also try to manipulate the public with false claims. But this isn’t a claim coming from Hamas.

There is a difference between responding justly with necessary force to legitimate terror and danger, and using that legitimacy as cover for trying to get away with evils even greater than those achieved by the enemy you are answering. Because of the Christian Armageddon Lobby, Israel does get away with quite a lot, and getting a free pass is a form of power, and power corrupts. If Israel is beyond all criticism, then it can slip in any evil and play the same get-out-of-jail-free card. If they are allowed to get away with anything, then they will in the end do anything. (So do we. Consider Tuskegee.)

Why am I doubtful that Israel is telling the truth this time? Because neutral observers confirm it. And Israel has done this before. In the most appalling way. And I want to share with you the example I mean. You can’t understand the world without it.

As a historian, I wonder at all the things people don’t know about our own history, and yet history repeats itself when we don’t. So let me recount something you probably have never heard about. It will sicken you. Especially the most patriotic, ra-ra, pro-military folk among you. Yes, especially you. [Read more…]

Dawkins Takes a Positive Step

“Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.” — Richard Dawkins

This is part of a new statement Dawkins issued this weekend, on his own website and elsewhere, denouncing the horrible way many (usually anti-feminist) atheists have been behaving the last few years. Greta Christina for the full scoop.

This is a remarkably positive sign. Dawkins has up to now been insensitive and out-of-touch on the treatment of women inside the atheism movement (the worst example being now a named trope, Dear Muslima). So my opinion marker is being moved a little back to favorable by this.

For those who aren’t sure what this is all about, see coverage by Alex Gabriel, Greta Christina, Stephanie Zvan, and Ophelia Benson.

[I apologize for not being clearer, but in my original posting of this information I expected people to read Christina’s coverage for the full scoop, but some may not have and thus may have missed key facts of the story: this was a joint statement proposed and written by Ophelia Benson in consultation with Richard Dawkins and agreed to and signed by Richard Dawkins.]