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Sep 17 2012

Talking to Tauriq Moosa: full transcript

Here is the full text from Tauriq Moosa’s response to my original e-mail. My response is here.:

Dear Ian

Thanks for replying and eloquently replying to some of my points.

> His assumption is that atheism+ (and the larger movement toward awareness of anti-misogyny) is focussed on the organizations within the movement is a bad one.

I wasn’t aware that this was his focus. While I understand he may be confusing the movement for membership to organisations, I wasn’t aware that he had located A+ solely within the framework of this. I suppose as he’s equated “the movement” with “organisational membership”, the continuing framework that he operates in will be slightly narrowed (ignores those instances where divisive behaviour does occur because they’re not part of “the movement”). I assume this is what you mean?

> I hope you will forgive my laziness

Never!!!

> The organizations that Mr. Lindsay notes speaking out against threats have not, therefore, done a particularly adequate job of addressing the main part of the argument, which is that misogyny must be dealt with directly rather than simply tamping down its more obvious outbreaks.

I agree both with this and your point that they’re not obligated to tackle it – though they’d be wise to do so. However, what do you mean by “misogyny must be dealt with directly rather than simply tamping down its more obvious outbreaks”. Do you consider the harassment policies and so on, to be part of this? I’m interested since in my own efforts to “combat misogyny”, I’ve also merely reacted to instances where women were treated (obviously) horribly (Anita Sarkeesian, being the latest).

> I would hasten to add at this point that it is my position that there is no real obligation in a practical sense to root out things like misogyny, racism, homophobia, in any organization that is not explicitly concerned with those things.

I think I would disagree with you here, depending on what we mean by obliged. If one is part of an organisation which hopes to, say, lead the charge for something like evidence-based public policy and fight for issues of equality, fixing problems within the organsation would be part and parcel of that fight. I don’t think you and I disagree on this, but I think it would depend on what we mean by “obligation”.

> That being said, there has been consternation in recent years over the fact that women have been reticent to participate in the community. One potential explanation that was offered is that women just aren’t interested, or that they were too shy. When misogyny was pointed to as a more likely potential explanation for that difference, the response was vicious and has perhaps grown more so.

I think this is an important point that is often not brought up or reiterated enough. It seems that pointing out misogyny as no doubt you’ve also done invites particular individuals to take serious offence to this. (But as you say later on, it’s the confusion surrounding that term that also invites it.) Yet one can’t help think that most of those responding with sensitivity – as has been in my case – do harbour pretty blatant misogynistic views (women are inherently weaker, women are inherently stupider, nature has made them for motherhood, etc.)

> It is intensely gratifying to know that threats are taken seriously by these orgs, but the atheist community is much more than those.

I think this is pretty much your point in the beginning: Lindsay’s false equating?

> To say that atheism+ uses up scarce resources that CFI needs is roughly akin to the US Department of Education saying that CFI is horning in on its territory – they are organizations with perhaps roughly overlapping bailiwicks, but they do not focus on the same issues.

From what I understand, CFI does fight for marriage equality, women’s rights, etc. They’ve hosted conferences and have specific people dedicated to those areas. Perhaps I’m mistaken that they’ve done these, but I recall Lindsay and others discussing this. Lindsay himself has done a lot of work in the area of bioethics, too, since he’s a qualified lawyer and philosopher. My point here is, assuming CFI is fighting, say, for gay rights, would it not make sense to focus on putting the passion who considers herself an A+ toward that “department” of CFI?

This, note, isn’t me being some kind of cheerleader for CFI – even though I am a supporter – but I’m using them as an example. The others, like JREF, have a clear focus on science and society. However, if you are correct that (1) there really are no groups which can cater to the goals of A+, which I find doubtful since these are goals people have been fighting for, for ages (2) or the ones that exist are crippled by too much internal politics, ineffectiveness, and the problems of wider society (too much misogyny, etc.), then I grant you that resource should rather remain. I would support whatever attempts to accomplish the broad goals of A+, even if I don’t sign up as a “member” or whatever.

> I do not think it is a good point, or ever a valid one, to speculate on whether or not atheism+ will succeed, thus wasting money. Atheism+ is sure to fail if nobody puts any effort into it, but for the reasons I outline above, the fact that the major organizations are not doing what atheism+ does is reason enough to suggest that this line of reasoning is empty, at best.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by it not being a good point on speculating on A+’s success. Could you please clarify? I think we might have different notions on what it might be, then.

> The issue of “civility” is one that I find very tiresome

Then I think you’ll get tired of me quite quickly. Could you define civility for me?

> it is based on extremely flawed assumptions of de facto equality between groups

Is every instance where someone who articulates reasonable dissent and is mocked, namecalled, not something worth being concerned about? I’m not sure how this kind of instance fits into issue of equality between groups. If anything those shouted out into silence seem to be on the weaker end. But again, I think you and I might not mean civility in the same way. So before we continue this focus, we should clarify what we each mean. By incivility I mean, for example, comments on a blog at, say, FtB where a commenter uses excessive name-calling at the OP, swears at all the supporters, and so on, and barely or does not even mount an argument in defence of his view. For example, this comment on Kagin’s blog. Another would be “[name redacted*]“‘s entire post calling Jen McCreight’s father a “failure” and McCreight “completely incapable of functioning as an adult.” [This post irrationality was such that I wrote a six-page currently unpublished reply.)

> To use an extreme example, if a man calls me “nigger” I am not being ‘equally uncivil’ when I call him a “racist cockbucket”. To use a less extreme example, it is not “equally uncivil” to call out someone who suggests that pregnant rape victims should “see it as a blessing in disguise”, even in extremely harsh language. To use an even milder example, it is not “incivil” to identify someone as homophobic when they say that while they don’t “have a problem with gay people”, they don’t think they should be allowed to marry each other because it will destroy society.

I don’t disagree but I think you’re locating civility in the actual words or phrases, as opposed to their, say effect or character content. One can use “rude” words to friends as a sign of affection (as I do all the time). I don’t think I’d say you’re being uncivil if you responded to a racist assertion like that. My only point would be to not resort to more dubious cases: for example, commenters who ask questions like “I’ve seen evidence that most Muslims are terrorists” should, in my opinion, be responded to with charity, not with incivility: we should question their evidence, show counter evidence, be able to mount our arguments. If they refuse and continue their absurd assertion, then perhaps mockery and derision is in order. Again, I don’t think you’re reply to a racist is uncivil!

> There are a number of high-minded and “civil” ways to dehumanize minority groups. There are comparatively fewer ways to mount an appropriate defense that will not be seen as “incivil”. Demanding “civility” often results in a restoration of the status quo of power divides, in which minority groups must sit mutely in the face of politely-worded abuse (or worse, appease their abusers with equally politely-worded responses). The problem that the “incivility” argument has is that it assumes that any level of incivility is equally bad, and that cracking down on it punishes/restricts both groups evenly.

Again I don’t disagree, but this again seems to me to locate civility with the actual words rather than the intent. It’s a bit muddled but I hope you see from my previous paragraphs what I mean.

> There are things that can be accomplished by a “third party” that cannot be (or cannot more easily be) accomplished from within the existing framework. New, external organizations are far more nimble and not prone to organizational inertia.

This is a good point.

> I do not share your assessment that this labeling is “unfair” – I do however think that applying it to a person globally (i.e., “soandso is a misogynist”) is a mistake, and I have said as much several times on my blog.

Is it not “unfair” because we’re all products of it, etc. as you said in the previous paragraphs: thus one can be a “perfectly normal person” but say or have views which are misogynist? I’m slightly confused: do you then think that Blackford is this? Just because you think it’s wrong to apply this globally doesn’t mean you don’t think someone like Blackford is “a product of a misogynist environment who is failing to recognize the flawed assumptions underpinning his argument, and thus allowing himself to reach a fatuous and harmful conclusion” (that is a mouthful!).

I see us diverging and disagreeing on many points. This is to be expected. You have a far better grasp on these matters than I do and your taking time to explain it to a bumbling fool like me is greatly appreciated.

Best,

T.

*In the interest of not having personal spats that don’t involve me spill into this space (at least not when I don’t want them to), I have removed the name. It doesn’t matter who said it – it’s a shitty thing to say. It’s also ridiculously untrue, but whatever.

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