Jan 23 2013

The duelling myth postulate examined: anti-Feminism

One last example to round out the day’s discussion. This one comes to us courtesy of former FTBorg turned reluctant prophet to horrible people Al Stefanelli. In making a completely original argument comparing the Atheism+ forum to McCarthyism, he also rails against a new foe of all that is good and right in the world – radical feminism:

The purpose of equality should be focused on bringing any demographic that is marginalized to a place where they are no longer discriminated against. This goal is best accomplished by ascertaining which group has the least amount of marginalization, and making that group sort of a primmer. This goal is least accomplished when any given group seeks to reduce the rights of the least marginalized group.

When my children were adolescents, one would attempt to win my favor by bringing up something negative that the other had done. This is typical of childish behavior, because it takes some time for a child to grasp the concept of favor by accomplishment. Instead of a child telling a parent they should be favored because of something they had done to garner praise, they will generally tattle on another child to make the other child appear less praiseworthy. This is like the rapist stating, ‘Well, at least I didn’t kill her,’ instead of admitting what they did is a heinous crime in of itself.

Women, as a whole, should have the same rights as men. Period. End of story. Men, however, should not have rights that women do not have taken away from them. Can you imagine if the answer to slavery was not the emancipation of the practice*, but to enslave those who were not subject to slavery? It would have been an atrocity of gargantuan proportions if this had been the means and method of dealing with the problem.

Now in the absence of links, one is left to speculate as to who exactly it is that is looking to enslave men or make them subject to the kinds of prejudice that women have been subject to. My guess is that he’s talking about anyone who disagrees with him about the place of feminism in skeptical discussions, but again that can be nothing more than speculation because he provides not a single goddamn example of this supposed widespread persecution (actually going so far as to say “I can give you a list of these people who have been targeted as ‘pure evil‘ by almost everyone at the Atheism Plus forum, several writers on Freethought Blogs and a few sympathizers, but if you have been keeping track, you already know who they are”, which really does sound like something Joe McCarthy would say…)

One would also wonder if Al thinks that restitution paid to interned Japanese people during WWII, or reparations that should have been paid to slaves, are therefore unjust because they would take away the honestly-earned money of the majority group, but maybe that’s a discussion best left for another time (or never).

Al’s asshattery aside, let’s run his claim through the f-myth framework and see what we get:

The world is fundamentally fair when it comes to the status of men. Men are not granted any special rights that they do not deserve. The existence of gender inequalities is due to the fact that women are not granted the same rights that men are. If women were granted the same freedoms that men are, there would be no inequality.

The answer is not to ask men to change their behaviour or accept a lesser position than they have now, but it is rather to ensure that women are elevated to the status that men currently enjoy. Demanding the restriction on the freedoms of men is morally reprehensible. Conversely, opposing efforts to change a fundamentally fair system that accords men the rights they currently deserve is morally laudable. Rights should not be taken away from some people to fix inequalities between groups.

By standing in opposition to the violation of a fair system in which the status of men is fundamentally fair, my stance is morally laudable. In demanding that a fair system be changed to arbitrarily grant rights to some at the expense of others, the stance of the “radical feminists” is morally reprehensible.

And the u-myth response might read as follows:

The world is fundamentally unfair when it comes to the status of men. Men are in possession of privileges that they call rights, but are actually products of a combination of ignorance and false entitlement. In many cases, when men exercise those privileges, the result is that women are relegated to secondary status for arbitrary reasons (gender being an arbitrary basis upon which to divide rights).

Insofar as the exercise of male privilege prevents women from engaging on a level playing field, the achievement of equality is not something that can be accomplished through a passive, laissez-faire system. Groups and communities have a duty to address the structural elements that inhibit equality, privilege being among them. Members of groups and communities have a corresponding duty to examine their own individual privilege and make the necessary adjustments.

By making the effort to oppose and counter a fundamentally unfair system, my stance is morally laudable. In resisting efforts to change an unfair system into a fair one, Al’s actions are morally reprehensible. In believing that privileges do not exist, and are in fact “rights”, Al’s beliefs are morally reprehensible.

Also nobody’s trying to take anything away from men, Al you muppet. Read a fucking book or something.

Maybe that last part is better left out of the argument.

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*That’s not what the word ‘emancipate means, Al. The practice of slavery was plenty emancipated when people were allowed to own slaves. It was the slaves who needed emancipating.


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  1. 1


    Is there any way to build a u-myth filter, like the pronoun switching one that Lousy Canuck mentioned the other day?

    (Read a book, indeed!)

  2. 2
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Yeah, you should leave out that last bit, or at least edit it to read “Also nobody’s trying to take anything away from men that they actually earned” since it would be fair to say that some people do want to remove unearned privileges.

  3. 3

    But not all u-myth arguments are necessarily correct or incorrect. Some things legitimately ARE fair, and changes to them WOULD be unfair.

  4. 4

    Oh. You may wish to relabel the f-myth as the s-myth, s for straw-myth. You are to be congratulated of course, for successfully defeating it.


  5. 5

    Great post, I’m really enjoying this series, and I loved the “Road Less Traveled” pieces as well.

  6. 6

    I’m enjoying the series, but I’m still not certain it would be a useful tool.

    As I understand your postulate, it may be useful to help a person understand some aspects of their opponents position during a discussion. But there appear to be limitations in that the postulate only discusses moral arguments while many positions are arrived at by non-moral (not immoral) arguments. Further, many positions which do consider moral arguments have conflicting moral arguments which require choosing between the lesser of several sub-optimum results, resulting in intense discussions about what is optimum.

    Let me give an example as an attempt to illustrate what I mean.

    Point of discussion: welfare distributions

    Position of A; f-myth argument: Having the state provide necessities to people is a balancing act where we don’t want people to die, but we don’t want them to rely on state subsidies because at some level the people who are generating economic output have are then forced by the state to provide for people who are not able to support themselves. Maybe improvements can be made in some area, but they are minor and can be dealt with on an individual basis. However, broadly expanding welfare programs is immoral because it teaches people that they do not need to labor to survive. Therefor it is moral to oppose an expansion of these program, and immoral to attempt to expand these programs.

    Position of B; u-myth argument: Suffering through privation is entirely preventable. Our society is wealthy enough to enable everyone to receive enough food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to be fed, clothed, warm, and healthy. Further, the vagaries of chance means that any of us could be in danger of privation at almost any time. Establishing social programs to ameliorate such suffering is moral and it is moral to support the expansion of these programs to cover all these needs. It is moral to oppose maintaining these programs at the current level and immoral to prevent expansion of these programs.

    Position of C; u-myth argument: C agrees with B. It would be moral to expand these programs, but opposes the expansion of these programs because C believes that society cannot afford it. In other words, one of the beliefs of B, that society is wealthy enough to provide enough for all, is inaccurate. This is not a moral argument, and falls outside of your proposed dueling-myth postulate.

    Position of D; u-myth argument: D agrees with B. It would be moral to expand these programs, but opposes the expansion of these programs because D believes that government does not, and cannot, administer such programs efficiently. In the framework of your discussion, this would be a competing myth. In this case, D has embraced the myth of ‘private enterprise will always be more efficient than government’ leading D to the conclusion that all government programs should be eliminated. Welfare should be handled by private entities like churches or other charities who are immediate to the problems. For D, the u-myth of inefficient government out-weighs the u-myth of preventable suffering. For D it would be moral to expand these programs and immoral to opposed the expansion of these programs, but at the same time it would be moral to remove these programs from government control and immoral to oppose removing these programs from government control. D does not experience any cognitive dissonance because the combination of the myths allows D to believe that reducing government welfare would, in fact, improve the quality of the welfare provided.

    Position of E; f-myth/u-myth argument; F agrees with A and D. The level of welfare we have today is about right, but F also believes government is inherently inefficient. So F’s position is that private charities would have less of a burden than they do today because not only would they be more efficient at distributing welfare, they would be less impacted by the interference of government oversight on their distribution of welfare.

    It would be easy enough to add other factors, some moral others not moral, to this discussion. There is the u-myth in the other direction, which says that the current level of welfare is excessive and unfair. There are sub-myths within the welfare myth: it is moral to provide food, clothing and shelter, but not medical care; it is moral to provide food, but families should be able to provide shelter and clothing; it is moral to provide emergency medical care, but not preventative care.

    There are non-moral arguments: it costs less to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care on a regular basis than three emergency visits to the hospital. This economic argument can led to the conclusion that the costs of emergency care need to be reduced, which doesn’t address the moral problem of privation at all.

    Now I should get back to work. I hope the above is not seen as being dismissive of your framework, but as criticisms which may reflect both the preliminary nature of what has been revealed thus far, or my own incomprehension of what you are proposing. I am still interested in seeing where you are taking this discussion, it is an intriguing approach. My criticisms are not to dismiss you ideas, but hopeful to help me understand them more fully.

  7. 7

    Jay (4)

    Oh. You may wish to relabel the f-myth as the s-myth, s for straw-myth. You are to be congratulated of course, for successfully defeating it.


    Where’s the straw? You can’t just yell “Fallacy! I win!”; you have to actually point out the fallacy.

  8. 8

    Where’s the straw? Thank you for asking.

    Crommie totally makes up Al’s pov, as well as the pov of MRAs. Crommie makes no attempt to verify that his f-framework matches the actual arguments of either Al or MRAs.

    He then handily makes up his u framework that defeats the s framework. Woohoo!

    That is what is known as STRAWMAN IN ACTION.

    Now if Crommie can ask Al what his views are, or Crommie can show evidence his s-frame does faithfully represent Al or MRA viewpoints than he can claim his s-frame is an f-frame. This blog post is an exercise in silliness unbecoming of someone claiming to be a scientist or skeptic.

  9. 9

    How would I know that Al isn’t lying about his views? Unless it can be PROVEN, then asking him (and then taking him at his word) is a BETRAYAL of everything skepticism stands for!

    See? I can argue like a Slymepitter too!

    I am not making a claim about Al’s specific frame of mind. How he specifically justifies his position is more or less immaterial – I am using his argument as an example of a statement that is made about men’s rights. The only purpose is to a) demonstrate the process, and b) demonstrate that these kinds of arguments exist ‘in the wild’, rather than just making up an argument on my own.

    I think it’s interesting that you describe “directly quoting in context” as “totally making up”, but that’s your cross to bear I suppose. Unless you are willing to demonstrate specifically where I have misinterpreted his argument, then you are in fact just screaming “fallacy” and claiming the win.

  10. 10

    I know what a strawman is. Why don’t you show that this is one by stating what your position ACTUALLY is?

  11. 11

    But both (f-myth and u-myth) are true and false. Some things in the world are fair and some are not. It’s a ridiculous category error to categorize the world (as an ontological entity) as fundamentally fair or fundamentally unfair. And Al has a point. In remedying social inequality it is important to ascertain whether one group is denied a basic right possessed by another, or whether one group merely possesses more privileges (which it does not have a right to). In the latter case, equity may be obtained by redistribution of those privileges; but in the former, rights can’t be “redistributed”, which only ends in more injustice. For instance, the solution to a racially biased criminal justice system is not to imprison more innocent whites.

  12. 12

    First of all, I wish to offer my stunned congratulations on the occasion of you making a coherent comment. I hope to see many returns of this happy event.

    The problem with Al’s line of reasoning is that he is tying it to a larger point about (and I am paraphrasing, but not by much) ‘witch hunts’ happening within skeptical communities. His argument is that there is some kind of imminent (or even remote) threat that men will have their rights stripped from them. He offers no evidence, aside from wink-nudge innuendo, that anything like this is happening. So to the extent that it would hypothetically be bad if people’s rights were stripped from them as some kind of bid for retributive justice, yes Al ‘has a point’. However, in the context in which he is writing, and with regard to the specific thesis he is attempting to demonstrate, no he doesn’t.

    the solution to a racially biased criminal justice system is not to imprison more innocent whites

    I invite you to give some thought to how the world would look, through the eyes of a white person, if laws were enforced evenly across racial lines – if white skin didn’t give you access to a whole bunch of institutional and cognitive loopholes for escaping the consequences of your actions. From their perspective, I would imagine that the world would look very much like a place where “innocent whites” were being imprisoned. The regression to the mean, from an exalted position, looks like the loss of rights. And again, in the absence of an example of a specific policy where men are being asked to sacrifice rights they currently have, I can’t get all hot and bothered about a hypothetical.

    As far as the “some things are fair and some are not”, I absolutely made that point early on. And while Al’s argument is factually incorrect (or, at the very least, ‘not guilty’ of being true), the logic upon which the f-myth is expressed as neutrally as possible. The whole point of the exercise is that if the myth is true, then the rest of the argument is entirely reasonable. Also, I thought that I was pretty clear in the writing of this and the rest of the series that when I say “the world”, I am using that as a short-hand for “the world relative to this particular issue under discussion”.

  13. 13

    @12, I’m inclined to think of the current situation as innocent PoC being imprisoned. Also, I’m curious why your example changed to whites being treated like PoC rather than to PoC being treated like whites? With what the fuckhead prosecutors* did to Aaron Swartz I think there’s some small merit to the idea that we need to make sure the enfairening of the justice system results in everybody having what is now white privilege rather than everybody having black anti-privilege. Move the punishment for crack down to that for coke, not raise coke to crack, to use an example, since I’m groggy and not sure how clear I’m being.

    This is weird because I can see the u and f framings of the justice system race issue, but regardless of which framing is most correct, shouldn’t the social justice goal be that everyone is treated a bit better than middle class whites are now? My understanding was that the status quo is shitty for everybody and worse if you’re not white. It would be a new injustice to raise the mandatory minimum of coke to that of crack and it would perpetuate the old injustice of crack having a ridiculous mandatory minimum. Not that SJ advocates are fighting for that, but I think there are some equality issues where it’s fuzzier which should be the default (privileged or non-privileged status) and those with substantial class privilege (which includes lawmakers, in and of itself an injustice) would just as soon hijack the SJ momentum into treating all the poors worse because it would increase the 1%’s power and be all “ok we’re Tough On Crime ™ and you’re equal now, quit bitching about it.”

  14. 14
    Ewgenij Belzmann

    @13, I think the choice for hardness of punish for crimes should be a question of your drug politics and not of any direct or indirect racial politics. So if you believe that hard drugs (for your definition of “hard”) are an evil to society than drugs considered hard should be severely punished, even if that puts blacks and whites in the same, bad position.

    It’s the same bullshit argument Al uses when talking about feminism and slavery. The problem isn’t hard to spot. If it is not okay to take away the rights of the least marginalised (aka. most priviliged) group, then should the result of the Civil War have been not the abolition of slavery (taking away the right of the whites to own black people as property), but granting the most marginalised group the rights of the least marginalised – allowing blacks to own whites? Now everyone can own slaves. Seems fair, right?

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