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Schroedinger’s Threat

So as some of you may know, Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels posted this to her blog a couple of days ago:

I got email threats about TAM today, so I’m not going.

One less thing to worry about.

Today she posted a follow-up, saying that the threat in question seems not to have been intended as a threat — it seems to have been a sincerely well-meant warning, worded in a clumsy, hyperbolic manner that made it indistinguishable from a threat. (Content of both emails is posted in the follow-up.) And, of course, she’s getting comments from people trivializing the entire matter, and saying that Ophelia should never have treated the email as a threat. Mostly she’s getting empathy and support: I want to spell that out right up front, for people who are feeling battle-worn about this whole conflagration. But she is also getting some of the “Oh, that wasn’t a threat” response.

And I’ve seen this “Oh, that wasn’t a threat” trope before: not just from trolls, but from intelligent, thoughtful people who I generally consider allies.

So now seems like the time to say something about threats, something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Here is the thing about threats, veiled threats, joking threats, references to threats, and warnings about threats that are indistinguishable from all of the above:

They’re all Schroedinger’s Threat.

There is no way of knowing whether the person making the threat actually intends to be be threatening, or is just goofing around. Assuming for the sake of argument that they do actually intend to be threatening, there is no way of knowing whether they intend to carry out the threat, or simply mean to intimidate, frighten, and bully you. Assuming for the sake of argument that they do intend to carry out the threat, there is no way of knowing how likely they are to actually do so.

In fact, Schroedinger’s Threat is even more indeterminate than Schroedinger’s Cat. If someone winds up not carrying out a threat, that doesn’t mean they never intended to harm you — they could easily have missed their opportunity, or had a technical snafu, or been talked out of it, or lost their nerve. In fact, if someone winds up not carrying out a threat, that doesn’t even mean they never intended to threaten you — threats are often genuinely intended to frighten and intimidate, even if there’s no intention to actually do physical harm. Schroedinger’s Threat is like Schroedinger’s Cat… except that opening the box and seeing the cat alive still gives you no indication whether the poison pellet was released or not.

Consider, for instance, the common threat we see referenced in Mafia movies: “Nice place you’ve got here. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.” The whole point of the wording of this threat is deniability. People making actual threats don’t always come right out and say, “If you don’t give us $500 a month in protection money, we’ll set fire to your business.” Veiled, deniable threats are very common.

So when someone posts a comment on your blog saying they’re going to find you at a conference and put something in your pocket? When someone posts on Facebook saying that they want to hit you and kick your readers in the cunt? When someone sends you an email saying that you need to be careful at TAM, because you might get shot?

You have no way of knowing if this is a threat or not.

You have to look at context. Was this Schroedinger’s Threat a casual passing comment made in a comical and otherwise friendly conversation… or did it come at the end of an ugly, escalating, increasingly personal altercation? Does the person making this Schroedinger’s Threat have a history of bizarre, unstable, inexplicably hostile behavior… or are they generally fairly calm and controlled? Is the person making this Schroedinger’s Threat someone who’s generally been hostile and ugly towards you… or are they someone who’s generally been friendly and supportive? Is the current climate in which this Schroedinger’s Threat was made one in which tensions and hostilities are running high, and in which the target of Schroedinger’s Threat has been one of the main targets of this hostility… or is it a relatively calm time for the community, in which the biggest controversy is “kittens or squid?”

And none of the answers to any of these questions is a guarantee that Schroedinger’s Threat will or will not be carried out. All it does is give you more information with which to weigh the odds.

And very importantly: If a threat was not actually carried out? That does not mean it wasn’t a real threat. In fact, even if a threat was never intended to be carried out, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real threat. If the Mafia people telling you, “Nice place you got here, shame if something were to happen to it,” are secretly saying to each other, “Nah, we’re not going to torch that place, it’s too much trouble and it’s right next door to that awesome gelato place we like so much”… if they say it with the intention of intimidating you into giving them money, it is still a threat.

Here’s what my wife Ingrid — known as Nurse Ingrid on the Interwebs — had to say about this in a comment on Ophelia’s follow-up post:

Ophelia, this situation is a perfect illustration of why it is absurd for anyone to dismiss threatening statements made online as “just a joke,” or “they didn’t really mean it,” etc.

By what means are these people suggesting that you determine, based on text on a screen from someone you have never met and know nothing about, which threats are credible and which are not?

I am a health care provider with a lot of experience in mental health. I can tell you that there is no agreed upon set of reliable criteria by which mental health professionals can predict which patients who threaten harm to others — or suicide — will go on to act on those statements. Most of them don’t, but there is no way to be sure if the patient in front of you is one of the very small number who really are serious. So we take all threatening statements as potentially serious and act accordingly.

It’s the same reason that airport security doesn’t allow you to joke about having a bomb. The stakes are too high if they dismiss someone as “just joking” and they’re wrong.

And all of this is dialed up to eleven if you’re a public figure, and threats are part of the background of your everyday life.

Now. None of this means that anyone issuing Schroedinger’s Threat immediately needs to be arrested and thrown in jail. Not even close. What it does mean… well, it means a lot of things. But one of the main things it means is that, if a Schroedinger’s Threat is made about a conference or another public event, the event organizers need to treat it as a real threat. They need to investigate. They need to do what they can to find out who is issuing a threat, and what their history is, and what the background and context of the threat is. They need to make a record of it, so that they can see over time if there’s a pattern, and so that future investigations will have a paper trail. They need to let law enforcement know. They need to find out what the target of Schroedinger’s Threat needs to make them feel safe. They need to take it seriously.

And one of the other main things that this means? It means is that the community needs to take it seriously. Again, this doesn’t mean assuming guilt until innocence is proven. It means not treating reports of threats with a hyper-skeptical demand for absurdly high, impossible to meet, goalpost-moving levels of evidence. It means not requiring more evidence for reports of threats than you would for homeopathy or Bigfoot. It means not treating reports of threats as extraordinary claims demanding extraordinary evidence. It means understanding that reports of threats are actually a fairly ordinary claim. It means not jumping to the conclusion that, unless your rigorously high standard for evidence is met, the person making the report must be a liar. It means not assuming that, if the target of the threat didn’t report it to the police, they must not have taken it seriously, and are just stirring up drama. It means, when discussing threats, not omitting the relevant details that actually made the target see it as a threat. It means not derailing conversations about threats with endless “Yes, but…” discussions of whatever it is that you feel like talking about instead. It means understanding the Schroedinger’s Threat nature of threats, and understanding that even if you, personally, think the threat is unlikely to be carried out, it still deserves to be taken seriously. It means that the community needs to not contribute to the climate that fosters threats and allows bullying to work.

Comments

  1. says

    The writer received a clumsily-written, weird, explicitly non-threatening email.

    So apparently we’re re-working elevatorgate. Yawn.

    In ‘elevatorgate,’ an offer of coffee was kookily interpreted as a grave attack upon female dignity. For sharing my viewpoint, Richard Dawkins was savaged by–among others–PZ Myers.

    We miss you, Hitch.

  2. Rob says

    I don’t think so, but it’s upper quartile for sure.

    Fourth comment in and the condesplaining starts. Is that a new record?

  3. Sethra says

    @ Gavin:

    Misrepresenting facts is the sign of a skeptic?

    I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    /Inigo moment

  4. Onamission5 says

    @Gavin:
    You said skeptic, but I think you meant Overskepticalness-ist.

    ‘Cause I was not aware that blatant misrepresentation of well documented occurrences in order to derail a conversation counted as skepticism. That sounds eerily like something creationists do in fact when they’re trying to keep people from talking about science.

  5. A Hermit says

    In ‘elevatorgate,’ an offer of coffee was kookily interpreted as a grave attack upon female dignity. For sharing my viewpoint, Richard Dawkins was savaged…

    No, an an awkward drunken advance was interpreted as an uncomfortable situation and met with the sensible, gentle advice; “guys…don’t do that…”

    Dawkins unfortunately, chose to respond to the over-reaction some people had to that simple, common sense observation, instead of taking the time to find out what had actually been said. He should have known better, and was rightly criticised for his carelessness and his ignorance. I have a lot of respect and admiration or Dawkins, but I don’t take everything he says as Holy Writ…even he (and Hitch, for that matter) can be wrong from time to time.

    The “grave attack on female dignity” came in the over-reaction; the lies about what Watson actually said, the hysterical, unthinking, irrational spate of ignorant, childish comments…oh yeah, and the threats…

  6. Greta Christina says

    If this thread turns into yet another re-hashing of Elevatorgate, I am going to scream.

    Don’t let the derailers derail.

    Gavin Sullivan: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Akheloios says

    @ Gavin Sullivan

    No you’re not, if you were a skeptic you would accept that violence against women is endemic in our society, whether straight forward physical violence, or the attempts to silence women through intimidation.

    The figures, researched by really real scientists ™ show that physical violence, including rape, is something that a vast number of women have had to endure.

    If you were a skeptic, you’d look at the evidence, see that there is a serious problem, that serious evidence has been presented to back it up, and support those who wish to see the problem tackled.

  8. loreo says

    Greta has it right. I grew up in a rather poor neighborhood that got dangerous at times. Kids got their asses kicked for speaking Spanish or being white fans of hip-hop – violent cowards, by their nature, don’t have rigid principles which allow observers to accurately predict their behavior. They lash out at things they hate and fear in a way that can seem random.

    That’s what MAKES them dangerous – you CAN’T tell what they will do. Get it? The uncertainty IS the danger. Take away the uncertainty and you take away the danger.

    For example, if someone had told Ophelia that a gunman armed with a .38 caliber revolver carried in the inside pocket of a navy blazer would be approaching her at precisely 10:14 AM as she left airport terminal 2, she would be well armed AGAINST that exact danger and would be able to circumvent it.

    The whole fucking POINT of threatening somebody is taking away that person’s ability to know what is going to happen.

  9. Sethra says

    Greta: Sorry for my part there.

    I’d like to know why there are separate standards for “acceptable” evidence or testimony from those who identify as men and those who identify as women.

    When male skeptics or atheists inform people that they have received threatening messages, they are taken at their word and the incident is treated in a serious fashion. When female skeptics or atheists inform people that they’ve received threatening messages, people from certain quarters present endless demands for evidence and the threats themselves get buried in denial.

    How is this skeptical?

  10. Greta Christina says

    Akheloios @ #13: Thanks. But just to clarify: This post isn’t just about threats against women. That conversation is certainly the context in which it was written, and your point is certainly valid — but this post isn’t just about that. It’s about threats made against anybody.

  11. Simon says

    How about ‘Pascal’s Threat’? It would seem prudent to err on the side of caution in cases like this.

    And yes, I can see why someone would be alarmed after getting such an email and don’t fault Ophelia for how she handled it.

    Kudos to Tim Farley for locating the person.

  12. HP says

    Here’s a suggestion of one thing it might mean to the commentariat: Don’t assume that a prominent blogger, who you read regularly and may even have met once at a conference, is a trusted friend or confidant, and don’t send them emails telling them how important it is to be careful. Because our relationships with these bloggers, no matter how much it seems otherwise, is not intimate. They already know how important it is to be careful, and overfamiliarity is . . . well . . . creepy and easily misinterpreted.

  13. A Hermit says

    Sorry Greta…

    Gavin’s real error is, of course, that he thinks the fact that the e-mails weren’t explicitly threatening means they were “explicitly non-threatening”. Not the same thing at all. It’s that ambiguity that makes it especially troubling; not knowing for sure adds an extra layer of worry to the whole situation.

  14. Greta Christina says

    Gavin’s real error is, of course, that he thinks the fact that the e-mails weren’t explicitly threatening means they were “explicitly non-threatening”. Not the same thing at all. It’s that ambiguity that makes it especially troubling; not knowing for sure adds an extra layer of worry to the whole situation.

    A Hermit @ #20: Yes. This. Especially since the ambiguity adds the extra worry that, when you tell people about the threat, they won’t take you seriously, and will trivialize or dismiss it.

  15. Mattir says

    To follow up on #19, 0ne might even, were one a considerate person, email the blogger with one’s real life identity and contact information, outline one’s experience with addressing threats to the safety of a public figure, and ask if the blogger would like one to give advice about a worrisome situation.

    If one is not considerate, then by all means, send the scary weird anonymous advice that is completely indistinguishable from a veiled threat.

  16. says

    [engaging exclusively upon the meta, in compliance with Greta's gag order]

    Were one a considerate person, one might advocate on behalf of open discussion and free speech.

  17. HP says

    @Mattir #23: No, I wouldn’t even go that far. I’ve occasionally emailed bloggers with suggestions for posts or questions that aren’t relevant to a particular post, but even then, I rarely get replies and I’m not concerned if I don’t.

    I’m older than the Internet, and I can remember when a lot of people were really concerned about Jodie Foster’s well-being, but sane people didn’t write her letters.

    I know that the Internet, and social media in particular, creates the illusion of intimacy where it doesn’t exist. If you can’t write it in a comment in a public forum, don’t write it, because the private relationship you imagine doesn’t exist.

  18. Mattir says

    On the Jodie Foster question – I am also older than the internet, and would like to amend my suggestion to further limit the circumstances in which such a note might be in order – only if you have been a regular, non-troll commenter for longer than a couple months,, are sending your email from the same account you used to log in for those comments, and have actual documented professional experience in personal security.

    It’s really a very very limited pool of people who could send such an email without being creepy. Better not do it.

  19. sk says

    @4 Did you miss the last 2 paragraphs in that message? Wouldn’t you be even a bit concerned receiving something like that from a someone you knew nothing about, just prior to an event you were about to go to where you are well known?

    Would receiving a letter explicitly stating “I hope you don’t get shot at event x” by a complete stranger not worry you in the least?

    Cmon.

  20. says

    @27 Please bear in mind, sk, I’ve been ordered not to respond substantively. If you believe my contribution is warranted, you’ll need to state your pro-free-speech viewpoint to Greta Cristina.

  21. mandrellian says

    Were one a considerate person, one might advocate on behalf of open discussion and free speech.

    Were one not behaving in a pompously ignorant and condescending fashion and presuming to dictate what others should consider personally threatening – on someone else’s private property where they get to set and enforce codes of conduct – one might have a point.

    I have trouble understanding why, a year after That Thing With The “Don’t Do That”, we’re still having this goddamned conversation with people who don’t – won’t – get it. Then I realise that, that fact that we’re still having this conversation one year later is the reason we still have to have this conversation.

  22. julian says

    Explicitly non-threatening? Threat isn’t something you can wave away with a few words. It’s a threat, an unfavorable outcome or allusion to such an outcome that can cause emotional and/or physical distress/harm. For something to be non-threatening it would have to be almost the opposite of that. It couldn’t cause the emotions or anxiety that signal we’re assessing how likely (and how much we’re willing to risk) these unfavorable situations are.

    @loreo

    We’re in the same boat. I grew up in a pretty beat down neighborhood and was mugged, jumped and beat enough times to understand ‘Pascals Threat.’ (I love that term) I don’t know if the four shadows behind me are hostiles or not. They could be and these are the only shoes I have so I’m going to do what I can to protect myself.

    I don’t care if people think me paranoid for that. The threat is there and I have no way of knowing if I’m walking away from this so I’m not going to risk it.

  23. julian says

    @27 Please bear in mind, sk, I’ve been ordered not to respond substantively.

    Oh quit being dramatic. She said, your concern is noted. No one has banned you or stopped you from speaking.

  24. Loqi says

    @Gavin –
    If you are trying to make some kind of meta-point about taking what was said and interpreting it as something that wasn’t said at all, it’s not going to work. And if you can’t grok how these two instances are different, I don’t really know what to say.

  25. Gregory in Seattle says

    If it looks like a threat, and sounds like a threat, and walks like a threat… it is probably not a duck.

  26. says

    Commenters 29, 30 and 31 appear to dispute my interpretation of Greta’s warning–so I will defer to them and respond substantively:

    29: You’re somewhat correct: I don’t entirely defer to the email’s recipient. I don’t endorse her every interpretation of the admittedly bizarre email. I do not view the email as entailing any threat.

    To whose private property do you refer, btw? (Certainly not Greta Cristina’s, I hope, since throughout this conversation I have been entirely deferential to her rules.)

    I note further you accuse me of pomposity. By this I interpret you to be accusing me of not prejudging your viewpoint as being persuasive–and to that extent you are correct: I don’t think folks who disagree with you ought necessarily to be censored.

    @31 Thank you for defending my right to engage on these issues. I hereafter depend upon you to come to my defense should my viewpoint be deemed undiscussible.

    @30 You are correct: I don’t view the recipient’s stated emotional response to the email as having any presumptive superiority, outside of my own reading thereof. I grant the email is bizarre and unpleasant–though I don’t identify any significant threat within it. It is not fair to impute threats where none can be found, imho.

    Our esteemed host has written: ‘this post isn’t just about that. It’s about threats made against anybody.’

    Needless to say, I oppose threats against anybody, emphatically including myself. Reading the published correspondence, I identify no actionable threat–and would merely argue, to the email’s sender, on behalf of civility.

  27. throwaway says

    I identify

    It doesn’t matter how you see it. It matters how the target sees it. You can have this self-assurance about it because it wasn’t directed at you and you have nothing to risk by assessing it as non-threatening.

    We’ll see how your tune changes once anyone deems to actually give a fuck about you.

  28. Suido says

    Gavin, your wisdom on the topic of females feeling uncomfortable due to the action of males is (to my humble eyes) obviously greater than any female opinion.

    Please, tell us how you came to be such an expert on the subject?

  29. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    @Gavin:
    You said skeptic, but I think you meant Overskepticalness-ist.

    I think the word you want may be “seleptic.” (Selectively skeptical)

  30. Greta Christina says

    Re Gavin Sullivan: I have said this many times, and will no doubt say it many more.

    Anyone who read this blog regularly, or has even read it for the past couple of weeks, knows that I welcome dissent and debate in my blog, and plenty of space in comment threads here has been devoted to opinions that I not only disagree with but find reprehensible. The accusation that I repress free speech in my blog is, frankly, laughable.

    I do, however, moderate my blog, and have guidelines as to what constitutes acceptable conversation here. Among the behaviors that will get people warned or banned: thread derailing, comment hogging, making comment threads all about themselves, not respecting my right to moderate my blog, and treating the fact that I do moderate my blog as censorship or a violation of their rights. Gavin Sullivan has done all of this, in an impressively short time.

    Normally at this point, I would issue a warning. But I’m about to go to bed, and Sullivan has already spent a significant amount of space derailing and comment hogging and making this thread all about him, and I don’t want to wake up in the morning to find this thread totally off-track and filled with his comments. So I have put Sullivan into comment moderation. Any further comments by him must be approved by me before they are posted. If they are on topic and in compliance with my comment policy, they will be approved. If they’re not, they won’t.

  31. RowanVT says

    Once, when I was at college and had returned to my dorm fairly late at night (~2am) I had a similar situation to Elevator Gate. I had just gotten on the elevator at the ground floor, when a perfectly sober seeming, very tall and very strong looking guy partially got into the elevator with me. We were the only people around.

    He immediately asked “This where the hos at? I was told this building has all the hos.”

    My verbal response was “No, I’ve not heard that.” My mental response? “Leave, oh gods leave, don’t get in the elevator with me.”

    He left.

    Based on the attitudes of various individuals I’ve seen, I had no reason to feel at all concerned about this situation and that I was never in *any* danger and there was no potential for danger at all because he didn’t do anything.

    To anyone who thinks that way, there are not enough words in all the universe to express my disgust.

  32. Rutefrosk says

    “Oh, that wasn’t a threat”

    I wonder how they would feel if their doctor used the same kind of language to tell them they might die of cancer if they didn’t stop smoking.

  33. throwaway says

    OT – I just want to apologise to Gavin for being disrespectful of him and any allusion to his worth as a human being at the end of my last comment. You didn’t deserve it. It is not right for me to have gone so far. Apologies to Greta as well. );

  34. says

    Greta, you’ve gotten really good lately about putting multiple digressions into your posts so people won’t take them and straw man you. It doesn’t seem to have done a lot of good.

  35. Rutefrosk says

    @HP:

    Here’s a suggestion of one thing it might mean to the commentariat: Don’t assume that a prominent blogger, who you read regularly and may even have met once at a conference, is a trusted friend or confidant, and don’t send them emails telling them how important it is to be careful. Because our relationships with these bloggers, no matter how much it seems otherwise, is not intimate. They already know how important it is to be careful, and overfamiliarity is . . . well . . . creepy and easily misinterpreted.

    This! So much this!

  36. says

    Greta Christina:

    It means not treating reports of threats with a hyper-skeptical demand for absurdly high, impossible to meet, goalpost-moving levels of evidence. It means not requiring more evidence for reports of threats than you would for homeopathy or Bigfoot.

    Bingo! I am glad that you and Ingrid pointed this out. I would also like to add that those specific tactics (i.e. goalpost moving, hyper-skepticism which is really a form of denialism, etc.) are the exact same tactics I see routinely employed by the Christian Right and the “freedom of religion” champions of misogyny, cruelty, and torture. And I find it more than just a tad disturbing when I see it so prevalent in its usage among those who are supposedly from the “better” social classes, the “more educated” people, claiming a moral high ground based on “reason” and their “superior” ability to “rationally analyze” an argument while those skeptics who question them are shouted down, belittled, ridiculed, or otherwise silenced.

  37. says

    I had made the same connection as Gavin but with the opposite conclusion. to me, it was a failure on the side of the transgressors in realizing that they were perceived as a threat. We may never know if a threat is real, but as thinking, feeling humans we can do our best to make others feel comfortable. You don’t yell “fire” in a movie theater, you don’t say “give me all your money” when you go to the bank, and you don’t send mail telling people that they might be harmed next time they go to the park. Why not change your behavior to make others feel more at ease? specially when the rules to follow aren’t getting on the way of your own freedom.

  38. says

    It may not have been intended as a threat by the e-mailer, but it certainly implied that there was a threat to her. I don’t blame Ophelia for backing out of TAM. TAM should be a fun event, not one where you have to be in fear of your life.

    DJ or Carrie should make a post clearly stating that any threats, harassment, or acts of violence will not be tolerated at this TAM or any other TAM. As well as stating that the JREF will work with hotel security and the police to provide a safer space for everyone. I’m not holding my breath, sadly.

  39. Onamission5 says

    If I had received those emails, I may likely have drawn a couple different conclusions–

    One, that the person was trying to get me to isolate myself so that I’d be an easier target for them, or

    Two, that the person knew first hand of a specific threat or set of specific threats to my safety, and was being deliberately vague as to try to warn me while also distancing themselves from any responsibility of reporting those threats to the authorities, or

    Any number of other possibilities ranging from benign but odd to outright manipulatively hostile.

    Regardless, the outcome is basically the same, because intent isn’t something which is magically discernable. Unsettled feeling achieved, actions taken that I felt was best for me given the circumstances. Which is why I fully understand why Ophelia withdrew from speaking, and do not understand the lackluster response she got in return.

  40. wdimac says

    Given the vitriol that has been lobbed at all of you on your side of the ‘discussion’, I’m not at all surprised that Ophelia interpreted the email as she did. Gavin’s pedantic parsing of the email to determine that there was no ‘real’ threat completely misses the point. If you want women (or anyone) to feel welcome in the community, you need to take into account their feelings. Ophelia was obviously feeling attacked (with very good reasons – like ‘She was’). The email was the proverbial camel-back-breaking straw. Proving that there was no ‘real’ threat is not solving the problem and is not going to make Ophelia feel more welcome at TAM. It’s just being dismissive and and a bit dickish. Kudos to Ophelia, Greta, et al. who continue to speak out about this.

  41. says

    So the rhetoric has escalated to death threats now, eh. Doesn’t surprise me, given the level of rhetoric and outright bullying I’ve seen in this debate. And, yep, I damn well blame both sides.

  42. says

    So the rhetoric has escalated to death threats now, eh. Doesn’t surprise me, given the level of rhetoric and outright bullying I’ve seen in this debate. And, yep, I damn well blame both sides.

    Without validity, you do. The progressive side has not made threats of harm.

  43. says

    Flewellyn says:

    “Without validity, you do. The progressive side has not made threats of harm.”

    That’s not what I’ve heard. I hear several people on the wrong side of PZ Myers have had behind-the-scenes poison pen missives sent to their employers in a way off-base attempt to get people fired over internet drama. I would count that as an attempt to hurt people IRL.

    More generally, I very much blame the –cough– progressive side for contributing to an atmosphere of blog warring and verbal bullying. The comments sections on FTB are absolutely toxic, as are a number of the FTB blogs. Is there any content at all to Jason Thibault’s blog, other than hateful attacks against those who don’t share his politics?

    And really, this is all very rich coming from you. I remember you well, specifically as an ardent defender of one Ginmar Rienne, a loose canon if there ever was one, with a long history of direct threats toward people she disagrees with. Usually with some excuse about her “PTSD” when called out on her more excessive behavior. Turning a blind eye much?

  44. Matt says

    Greta,

    Again, I think some people are conflating two different things:

    “I feel threatened” =/= “This letter is a threat”

    The former can be true and the latter false. That does not invalidate or change the feeling. Everyone will interpret the latter differently. No one can argue the former.

    It is incredibly arrogant and presumptuous for a person to imply to another what they should feel. If she felt threatened then she felt threatened. End of story. The letter is irrelevant.

  45. julian says

    And, yep, I damn well blame both sides.

    Personally I blame the parents.

    ((My not so subtle way of expressing how vacuous I found your commentary.))

    Is there any content at all to Jason Thibault’s blog, other than hateful attacks against those who don’t share his politics?

    Why mention lousycanuck? Why not Ed Brayton’s blog which actually has a strong political bend?

  46. says

    That’s not what I’ve heard. I hear several people on the wrong side of PZ Myers have had behind-the-scenes poison pen missives sent to their employers in a way off-base attempt to get people fired over internet drama. I would count that as an attempt to hurt people IRL.

    This is the point where the people on the, ahem, “regressive” side of this would have several very predictable responses:

    1. You’re rumor-mongering. Are you TRYING to destroy the skeptical movement?
    2. Where’s the evidence? Show us the emails and the IP addresses or you are a liar.
    3. So what? That’s not really that big a deal. They should put on their big kid shorts and deal with it.

    There is a range of things that could be described by what you wrote above–anything from drawing attention to someone’s abusive, bigoted writings on a totally public forum like Twitter to having one’s pseudonym outed. The latter is despicable. The former, not so much. The fact that you are rather vague about the specifics doesn’t incline me to believe that it’s in the range of truly despicable things. Present more specific evidence and I’ll update my assessment. If anybody is being that despicable then they’re an idiot and an asshole, regardless of whether I agree with them about sexism or whatever.

    More generally, I very much blame the –cough– progressive side for contributing to an atmosphere of blog warring and verbal bullying.

    You don’t have any good reason to. You haven’t presented any, and none exist in reality. “Bullying” is a word with a real meaning, it does not correspond to what goes on on FTB in the real world.

    The comments sections on FTB are absolutely toxic, as are a number of the FTB blogs.

    No, they’re not. You thinking so doesn’t make it true. That, or the word “toxic” means something drastically different to you than it does to most people. Most people would call misogyny a toxic thing, and pushing back against it as non-toxic. If you’re a fan of misogyny then maybe you have those categories reversed.

    Is there any content at all to Jason Thibault’s blog, other than hateful attacks against those who don’t share his politics?

    Yes, there is. Thanks for proving, once again, that there is such a thing as a stupid question.

    And really, this is all very rich coming from you. I remember you well, specifically as an ardent defender of one Ginmar Rienne, a loose canon if there ever was one, with a long history of direct threats toward people she disagrees with. Usually with some excuse about her “PTSD” when called out on her more excessive behavior. Turning a blind eye much?

    I remember Ginmar. I’ve read her comments all over the web, and yes she does have PTSD from serving in the military, in Iraq mostly IIRC. Why the scare quotes? Don’t you think PTSD is a real thing? Or are you accusing her of lying about it? In any case, if you can’t produce the specific quotes that you think warrant condemnation then your attempt at pulling a hypocrisy-gotcha are just so much empty ranting.

  47. says

    That’s not what I’ve heard. I hear several people on the wrong side of PZ Myers have had behind-the-scenes poison pen missives sent to their employers in a way off-base attempt to get people fired over internet drama. I would count that as an attempt to hurt people IRL.

    But you have no evidence of this? Really, this is only a step above “the lurkers support me in email”.

    More generally, I very much blame the –cough– progressive side for contributing to an atmosphere of blog warring and verbal bullying.

    I think you mean “calling people on bullshit”. This is a common theme, especially at Pharyngula, but on other blogs as well. If you take exception to being told that you’re wrong in a harsh tone, that is, I would suggest, not a problem with the message. There’s certainly a large difference between being told, even harshly, that you are wrong, and being bullied or threatened. But, you have also shown evidence here on this very blog, that you can’t tell the difference between disagreement and apoplexy, either.

    And really, this is all very rich coming from you. I remember you well, specifically as an ardent defender of one Ginmar Rienne, a loose canon if there ever was one, with a long history of direct threats toward people she disagrees with.

    That’s neither here (on FTB) nor there (accurate in the least). She never made threats against anyone. And I know full well that you can’t provide any evidence of her doing so. Besides which, what does Gin have to do with Greta’s blog here? Or what she has posted about? I see nothing useful here.

  48. says

    Yes, you don’t like what I have to say, Julian. You’ve mentioned that before. Now ask me whether I care.

    The reason I bring up Lousy Canuck/Jason Thibault’s blog is because of the abusive rhetoric that’s self-evident there to anybody who cares to go over and give it a read. One could also point to many posts by PZ Myers and Stephanie Zvan with the same problem, but Thibault is the worst of them, by a long shot. Why should I mention Ed Brayton’s blog? I see no particular reason to mention at all – it’s political without being hateful and attackey (unless there’s something I missed) – clear difference from what I’m calling out.

  49. says

    Aw, Flewie, it’s pretty clear you choose what you choose to see, and are blind to pretty much all else.

    I’d say much of what gets dished out by FTB goes way beyond “harsh criticism”, that people on these blogs are quite guilty of using intimidation tactics of their own, and bear their share of responsibility for the kind of inflation of rhetoric that leads up to things like death threats.

    And I bring up Gin, because it’s relevant to your history of supporting bullying behavior on the part of people you perceive to be “underdogs” in some way. (And BTW, she most definitely has made threats to “kick their ass” before to various people. And been banned from several blogs for it, too. Probably just empty internet rhetoric, but re-read Greta’s post above before you go using that as an excuse.) So knock it off, already!

  50. says

    Thanks for your unbiased and objective opinion, Sally. I guess there’s really no problem with verbal bullying, piling on behavior, politically-motivated blogwaring, etc, because, uh, you said so. And anyway, even if there were, it’s justified in the Fight Against Misogyny.

    OK, whatever.

  51. says

    the abusive rhetoric that’s self-evident there to anybody who cares to go over and give it a read

    Translation: I have no evidence to back up my assertion, so I’m going to assert that my assertion is self-evident.

    And you wonder why people have no patience for your crap? Go on, whine some more. I’m bullying you right now! RAH, BULLY. I’m such a mean bully.

  52. says

    I guess there’s really no problem with verbal bullying, piling on behavior, politically-motivated blogwaring, etc, because, uh, you said so.

    Bullying’s bad. But the things you call bullying, aren’t. Well, probably. I have to say probably because you aren’t offering either definitions or examples.

    Piling-on? There’s some piling-on going right here, you’re the target, and that’s a GOOD thing. You need it.

    Politically-motivated blogwaring? What the hell is a blogwar? A bunch of bloggers disagreeing with each other? Heavens to Betsy, what is the world coming to? Quick, fetch my fainting couch and my smelling salts. Does anyone have some pearls I can clutch?

    What’s the difference between feminism and internet feminism?

    Prediction: Iamcuriousblue will not answer that question.

  53. Greta Christina says

    Iamcuriousblue: I am giving you a warning. You are violating my comment policy left and right, and you are quickly becoming this blog’s Number One Troll. I have been giving you a lot of latitude because you used to be one of my favorite commenters back in the day. But your recent manner in this blog has consistently been nasty, snide, derailing, comment hogging, flamey, and just generally ugly and unpleasant. Stop it now, or you will be banned.

  54. says

    I’d say much of what gets dished out by FTB goes way beyond “harsh criticism”, that people on these blogs are quite guilty of using intimidation tactics of their own, and bear their share of responsibility for the kind of inflation of rhetoric that leads up to things like death threats.

    As they say on Wikipedia, “[Citation Needed]“. And I seem to recall victim-blaming is verboten here?

  55. says

    I was going to say, Flewellyn. That comment does contain some victim-blaming. Iamcuriousblue does not, of course, explain how “going beyond harsh criticism” translates to “intimidation tactics” (though zie does tacitly admit that the regressives–hir terminology!–are using intimidation tactics). Zie also does not explain how using intimidation tactics makes one responsible for the opposition issuing “things like death threats.”

    Hir arguments are bad. Without exception.

    And this is the level of engagement we’ve been seeing from the anti-feminists on this issue, over and over again. Just lots and lots of absolutely awful, terrible, no-good argumentation.

    It’s almost like good arguments for their views and behavior don’t exist.

  56. says

    I believe Iamcuriousblue is talking about that florist who got in trouble for sending anti-gay screeds from his major flower chain e-mail. However, contacting someone’s employer about them using their work e-mail to abuse people is not a threat of violence. If you’re talking about something else, what?

  57. says

    The reason I bring up Lousy Canuck/Jason Thibault’s blog is because of the abusive rhetoric that’s self-evident there to anybody who cares to go over and give it a read. One could also point to many posts by PZ Myers and Stephanie Zvan with the same problem, but Thibault is the worst of them, by a long shot.

    Wow. Out of 1910 published posts, I only called DJ Grothe a douchebag in four of them. Once to start off, then once again every time someone tried to claim that I was a misogynist, a homophobe, uncouth, uncivil or something else. In various admixtures of each insult.

    But it’s perfectly okay for you folks to smear me thus, right?

  58. says

    Thanks, by the way, for comparing me favorably with PZ Myers and Stephanie Zvan. I aspire to their writing skills.

    And who knows, maybe I could get a job one day as the next Penn Jillette only, you know, without all the libertarianism. I’ve got his language down pat, don’t I? Plus, he’s totally on DJ’s good side!

  59. says

    One could also point to many posts by…Stephanie Zvan with the same problem

    Please do. Or will this by like the last assertion you refused to provide evidence for?

  60. says

    Actually, that would be a derail in this thread. If Greta would prefer and iamcuriousblue indicates a willingness to answer, I could move the question to my blog.

  61. says

    Sally Strange writes:

    “Piling-on? There’s some piling-on going right here, you’re the target, and that’s a GOOD thing. You need it.”

    Thank you for proving my point.

    But, hey, I guess it’s a cardinal rule of internet commenting: they who can pile on the most are right (and brave).

    Greta:

    Go ahead and ban me, if you think that’s going to prove anything. (As if that will shut me up – it’s a big internet and a bigger world.) It’s quite apparent that you are not enforcing any kind of standard of civility *in general*, and just enforcing it on people who go against group consensus. Which means I have to be careful what I say, but anybody else who wants to be an asshole to me has carte blanche. That’s a pretty crappy way to moderate, I must say. Every negative thing you’ve said about my commentary applies *in spades* to the people I’m arguing against.

    You say in your moderation policy “this isn’t Pharyngula. If that’s what you’ve been trying to avoid, I’d say you’ve missed that goal by a long shot, if that’s in fact what you’re aiming for.

    It’s too bad, because you have been a favorite writer of mine, but sadly dragged down by the atmosphere of this place.

  62. says

    “And this is the level of engagement we’ve been seeing from the anti-feminists on this issue, over and over again. Just lots and lots of absolutely awful, terrible, no-good argumentation.”

    And really, this is the weakest point in your “argument”. You really do think this is all about feminism vs. anti-feminism, don’t you?

  63. says

    For the most part, the hyper-skepticism and other bad arguments only come out during feminist issues. Granted, labeling someone an anti-feminist doesn’t rebut them and doing it reflexively with no real argument is just a way of stopping criticism of bad ideas, but that’s not what happened here. Plenty of people on FTB, including Greta, jump on bad feminist arguments when they come up. It helps preserve their own credibility and they roll their eyes when some TERF calls them misogynists for it. Here, you just aren’t makign much of a case and crying that you’re a victim of political correctness when pushed, which isn’t very compelling.

  64. says

    Go ahead and ban me, if you think that’s going to prove anything. (As if that will shut me up – it’s a big internet and a bigger world.)

    Holy crap. Someone who’s both trolling, and knows that being banned on one blog doesn’t actually deprive them of freedom of speech. You’re a rare species!

  65. says

    Ace of 7s:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “hyper-skepticism”, but I think toxic atmosphere here is *abundantly* clear. Now if you happen to be on the right side of the pile-on, maybe that isn’t so clear. If you think that what the commentariat are offering up is reasoned, evidence-based debunkings of positions they take issue with, I would say you’re looking at it with rose-colored glasses. More accurately, I see the level of rebuttal as basically name-calling, personal attack, piling-on, and an extreme case of groupthink and “us vs them” mentality. This is the character of skeptical debate? Please.

    Does “the other side” exactly present themselves much better? Not really, but that’s hardly an excuse for the atmosphere here. And if this keeps up and we continue to have big-name skeptics participate in and encourage this atmosphere, then, yes, I think it’s going to drag down IRL skepticism with it. You think this atmosphere of hatred to the point of threats came out of nowhere, or that it’s just one group of big meanies hassling innocent lambs?

    I think Ask an Atheist did an excellent series calling out the very problems I’ve pointed to:

    http://askanatheist.tv/2012/06/10/the-problem-of-dogmatic-feminism/
    http://askanatheist.tv/category/opinion-rant/

    They were way more diplomatic about it than I’ve been, too, and got largely the same hateful responses from the usual FTBers.

    But, whatever. You all just keep cultivating this idea of poor put-upon feminist FTB vs the world. It will take you and the skeptical movement far, I’m sure.

  66. julian says

    Yes let’s ask an atheist who can’t so much as provide a definitive or meaningful definition for dogmatic or point to dogmatic behavior.

  67. says

    Sally #68:

    It’s almost like good arguments for their views and behavior don’t exist.

    Come on now, Sally. Don’t just assume that, there might be good arguments for their views and behaviour somewhere. You’re just a tribalistic liberal who can’t see past her own cognitive biases and accept the need for diversity of ideas.

    Also, stop complaining about harassment, you’re scaring away all my fellow independents with your divisive tribalism. You really need to learn how to be more diplomatic with the people who want to stomp all over your rights.

  68. says

    Thanks for summarizing this so well, Setar. It’s all about people like me wanting to stomp all over the rights of people like Sally, or really, anybody who isn’t a cis, straight white male.

    If there’s any more straw figures you’d like to build, I’d be happy to help. Honest. :-D

  69. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Iamcuriousblue, it’s really frustrating to me to see people who make arguments I have some sympathy with otherwise acting so frickin’ stupidly. For example, there ARE some commenters at Pharyngula I find to be unpleasable, gratuitously mean-spirited, determined to control the discussion at any cost, and generally toxic*. About half of them have been explicitly slapped down by Greta for bringing that shit here in violation of her policies. The argument here has been entirely substantive. So what the hell are you complaining about?

    (*my thoughts on this are evolving somewhat – I had the insight today that the behavior I observe that I find so disturbing from some of them resembles behavior I sometimes lapse into myself when I’m especially saturated on dealing with clueless, arrogant Neurotypical privilege and ablism – but that I tend to feel *ashamed* of it and make an effort to extract myself from that mindset, whereas the people I have in mind clearly don’t…)

  70. says

    Azkyroth: Substantive? Sorry, but I don’t see it. The only thing I’ve seen ‘established’ by the last round of argument is that anybody who doesn’t believe in the general consensus about FTB vs TAM is a) some kind of horrible misogynist, and b) really deserves a good shouting down. I’m not sure what’s substantially been established, other than you can’t disagree with aspects of feminism or FTB bloggers without being considered The Enemy. For the most part, all my critics have done is prove my original point about the atmosphere here.

    Oh, and as for the “death threat” to Ophelia? Even that’s turned out to be a non-event too: http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/06/closing-the-file/ . And I really hope nobody on either side does escalate to that point. In fact, dialing it down a notch would and engaging in some actual dialog would be a good thing, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  71. says

    That judgment seems to be reserved for people who demand levels of proof that sexual harassment occurs in line with what it would take a creationist to believe that humans evolved from earlier life forms. Do you have specific commenters in mind who got treated unfairly?

  72. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Substantive? Sorry, but I don’t see it.

    Well, okay, I also see relatively little of it through the morass of boilerplate like what you’re spewing in this thread. But it’s there.

    I’m sure you don’t see it. You’re working very hard at that, clearly.

  73. says

    Azkyroth: Then perhaps you can summarize what “substantive” has been said.

    And, “boilerplate”, really? Because I guess disagreement with the consensus here is just evidence that I’m part of some generalized attack on the awesome truthiness of FTB?

    Ace of Sevens: Who get’s treated unfairly? Oh, I’d say me, at this moment. But probably anybody else who gets perceived as and “anti-feminist” or an MRA or just not down with the particular ideology favored here would get the same pile-on. Quite a few commentators seem to believe that you’re either completely down with the version of the left/feminist ideology favored at FTB, or you’re fundamentally all about beating down the weak and oppressed in favor of the privileged, which is a pretty damn unfair assumption if you ask me.

    And, going beyond commentators here, I’d say the reaction of FTB bloggers and commentators to Ask an Atheist’s critique, rather than being at all thoughtful or nuanced, was pretty damn kneejerk and, yes, tribalistic.

  74. cyranothe2nd says

    @ Greta–OT: Holy crap, Nurse Ingrid is your wife? How did I not know that? Congrats to both of you for having excellent taste in wives.

    @ Iamcuriousblue: This isn’t about TAM vs. FtB and never was. This vast misunderstanding of the terms and stakes of this debate tell me everything I need to know about where your head is at.

    @ All: I just want to say, contra to what some of the trolls are saying–I am so, so thankful that we are having this discussion. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s disheartening. But it’s also uplifting because I don’t feel so alone anymore. I know it’s not just me that sees this stuff or gets angry at this stuff. It makes me feel less lonely and a lot more supported to see people like PZ, Ophelia, Greta, Rebecca and Stephanie posting about this stuff and getting it.

  75. cyranothe2nd says

    Oh, and as for the “death threat” to Ophelia? Even that’s turned out to be a non-event too.

    Wow, way to miss the point of this entire post. I would say I’m disappointed but my expectations were already pretty low.

  76. Greta Christina says

    iamcuriousblue has been warned about commenting here in ways that are nasty, snide, derailing, comment hogging, flamey, and just generally ugly and unpleasant. They have ignored this warning, and have persisted in this behavior. They have therefore been banned.

  77. epsalon says

    In this comment I’m deliberately going to talk about the question of threats in a gender-neutral form, and refer to general threats of violence as to avoid sidestepping the main topic of the post.

    The classic mafia threat of “you have a nice place here, it’s a shame if something happened to it” only works because both sides know this is intended as a threat. The same phrase uttered by an (however sleazy) insurance salesperson wouldn’t be considered a threat. In fact, insurance companies regularly run ads with a similar message.

    A threat is not very useful for whomever issues the threat if it not received as such. That is, an insurance salesperson that’s also an arsonist in their spare time won’t be very effective in threatening people while selling them insurance.

    That said, people may misinterpret things meant as honest warnings out of genuine concern to be possible warnings. This leads to an interesting question, how does one raise the alarm without sounding threatening?

    This problem also exists in other contexts, such as people criticizing the TSA and other anti-terrorism systems by pointing out holes seen as aiding the terrorists or even of being terrorists. I think in both situations, the world would be a safer place if warnings will not immediately be seen as threats and attacked ad-hominem without looking at the substance of the warning.

    In Ophelia’s case, it pretty clear (now) that the sender of the emails was well-meaning but paranoid. Paranoia is a serious condition not to be taken lightly. I am confident (barring future evidence to the contrary) that the sender of the email could not imagine how threatening his message may have seemed. This should serve as a cautionary tale that whenever one issues a warning they should carefully re-examine if what they said may unintentionally be read as a threat.

  78. says

    You really do think this is all about feminism vs. anti-feminism, don’t you?

    More or less, yes. That is the most interesting and divisive aspect of this whole thing.

    It’s certainly not about how some bloggers and commenters are mean and hate free speech and how pointing out the obvious, gaping holes in iamcuriousblue’s argument is the same thing as bullying iamcuriousblue.

    But zie’s gone now so I guess it’s a moot point. Greta is a tyrant and we’re all bullies for not buying hir weaksauce arguments.

  79. says

    [epsalon]: A threat is not very useful for whomever issues the threat if it not received as such. That is, an insurance salesperson that’s also an arsonist in their spare time won’t be very effective in threatening people while selling them insurance.

    That second sentence is confusing the hell out of me, and I suspect you have one too few or one too many negatives in there somewhere.

    In any case, it seems to me that you’re taking too narrow a view of this. Threats which are phrased in a really ambiguous manner, such that there is complete plausible deniability, can be very useful to the issuer. They sow seeds of fear and uncertainty which make the recipient doubt their previous perception and understanding. When the entire atmosphere becomes consumed with this, it becomes quite reasonable for the individual to become worried for their safety.

  80. says

    Giving public recognition to threats placed anonymously over the internet (which, if done through tor or proxies without logs, have zero chance of the perpetrator getting caught) is precisely creating a “climate that fosters threats and allows bullying to work.” since the bully’s risk is zero and his reward is big.

    The police work needs to be done behind the scenes, without big announcements unless the threat is directed at an entire community. Compare wikipedia’s unofficial policy on denying recognition to vandals. There are a lot of good reasons to do so. Ideally the threat maker should suspect his email got caught by a spam filter, until the cops come knocking (if he ever gets caught)

    Given the realities of the internet, it is impossible to make the risk greater than zero for the competent threat making bully. Consequently the signal to noise ratio for threats has gotten lower than it ever was before the internet. All that can be done to change the risk/reward ratio of threat-making in those cases is to reduce their reward by denying recognition to them and perhaps training your spam filter to catch threats.

  81. Chris Willett says

    Tribalism run amok. FtB vs. ERV. Watson vs. Dawkins. Watson vs. McGraw. Myers vs. Dawkins. The skeptic “community” is like reality TV: Arguments are interpreted to mean the worst; disagreements on any point, no matter how minor, place you in the opposing camp or get you labeled a “troll”; personal attacks from otherwise intelligent, well-spoken people are routinely vicious and unrestrained; selective moderation that reeks of censorship; accusations and rumors fly about; improper conflations abound. It’s childish and it’s pathetic. And it has crowded out any meaningful content. But it sure is entertaining. Please, don’t stop. Let’s see how many *years* we can spend on the ego wars.

  82. says

    Well, Mr. Willett, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to everyone else. That, and managed to utterly avoid discussing the issues at hand, leaving the status quo firmly in place.

  83. Chris Willett says

    Your attempts at mind-reading have failed. First, I’m not interested in feeling “superior” or any of that, else I might be involved in the ego wars. Second, I’m not here to discuss the issues at hand; I’m here to watch and laugh.

  84. says

    First, I’m not interested in feeling “superior” or any of that, else I might be involved in the ego wars. Second, I’m not here to discuss the issues at hand; I’m here to watch and laugh.

    These two statements directly contradict each other.

  85. Rrr says

    Chris, Willett never end?
    Who can read an empty bottle? Interpret the contents of an evacuated vessel? Concordance a blind, vacuous cranium stuck in the Dark Nadir?
    Solstice has passed. Curtains, please.

  86. Chris Willett says

    Aww, cue all those clever personal attacks by pseudonym’d commenters! That is what I find most amusing – that a community of so-called “skeptical thinkers” has been reduced to name-calling and tribal infighting. How long will you allow rational thinking and charitable interpretation to be overcome by the scourge of negative emotional reactivity? Grow up already. Your childish insults reflect only upon yourselves.

    But what isn’t at all funny is the manner in which some at FtB have trivialized the very serious issues of sexism and rape and sexual assault by using them as a tool in bloggers’ overwrought ego wars. By slapping the slur “misogynist!” onto anyone whose opinion differs even slightly from your own when it comes to interpreting ambiguous events (PZ Myers and Greg Laden are the chief perpetrators of such ridiculousness), you have rendered that term meaningless. You have also made it less likely that women with complaints about mistreatment will be taken seriously. And that’s shameful.

    All the hours “skeptics” spend rehashing Elevatorgate and subsequent scandals within this cocoon of blogs represents hours not spent actually making peoples’ lives better. Instead of howling for resignations, angrily boycotting conferences, reading the worst into every remark, and conflating every disagreeing commenter with the terrible people sending rape threats, why not work cooperatively with conference organizers to work out clear harassment policy? Why not have an open dialogue where the minority opinion isn’t piled upon or banned outright? But I see that these questions have already been answered, in force, by the FtB community: Outrage is just so much more appealing.

  87. julian says

    There has been no trivialization of rape at FtB. Saying so won’t make it true.

    The concerns of sexual harassment and assault brought up by Stephanie Zvan, Jen McCreight nd others are not illegitimate or tools they’ve been using in blog wars.

    Here’s how the typical conversation goes, Stephanie Zvan makes an entirely uncontroversial point regarding the lack of anti-harassment policies at many atheist gatherings. She points out how this is problematic and should be rectified.

    Stephanie Zvan is then accused of trying to institute Talibanesque rules into the skeptical community.

    There’s trivializing going on but it isn’t any of the bloggers you’re mocking.

  88. KG says

    Why not have an open dialogue where the minority opinion isn’t piled upon or banned outright? – Chris Willett

    Yes, and let’s adopt the same principle when it comes to racism, and not pile on or ban those who whine about how whites are now the persecuted minority, and how they just want a rational discussion of the science of racial differences. Let’s apply it to holocaust deniers, who say that the holocaust never happened and anyway the Zionists were responsible for it and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is no way a forgery.

    After all, the principle is exactly the same. But somehow I suspect Chris Willett can’t or won’t see that.

  89. ben says

    So what’s the difference between a threat and a warning?

    You come very close to assuming that those letters were threats. I can’t see that. Not even a little, and not even if I’m primed for it. I see someone trying to scare Ophelia into taking precautions, but usually people don’t take precautions if they’re unconcerned, so it’s generally impossible to get people to do anything if they aren’t worried.

    It’s comforting to shoot the messanger, isn’t it? But the person issuing a warning is just a messanger. The person issuing a threat is _not_ just a messanger, but it’s damned important not to leap to conclusions. It’s not really a great solution when we’re all so scared of being accused of threatening that we don’t dare to warn anyone. Security is _not_ best handled by a small number of people–the best security is when _everyone_ thinks about how to do damage and then talks about it, because a population as a whole is far more imaginative than any finite number of security experts.

  90. Chris Willett says

    KG, that’s only if you buy into the narrative at “Freethought” Blogs that everyone who disagrees with the crowd here is by definition a misogynist. And the piling on that goes on here isn’t necessarily substantive. My experience is that the crowd here often dismisses opposition not with rational refutation, but with nasty and childish personal attacks that only serve to make the majority look desperate and insecure. Just take a look, for example, at the way PZ Myers and Greg Laden often address anyone who dare oppose them.

    By comparing the minority opinion to racists, you’re acting as if everything discussed here is a clear-cut issue with a definite right or wrong – just as those who were outraged about Elevatorgate managed to change the narrative from “Dawkins doesn’t care about Elevatorgate” (which is essentially what he said) to “Dawkins doesn’t care about rape and sexual assault” (Watson’s flawed interpretation), which enabled them to stake out what they believed to be an unassailable position of moral superiority. I’m not convinced that all of the views of Freethought bloggers are so patently correct and flawless as to preclude debate, especially in the wake of their reactions to Elevatorgate.

  91. says

    Alright, what’s your minority opinion that you feel is not being respected or listened to?

    Stop debating the debate, and just debate. What’s your concern? What do you want to actually say?

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