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Jan 24 2013

What To Do When Half The Atheosphere Dogpiles On You And Tells You That You Screwed Up

Some of you may remember that Charlie Jane Anders, one of the writers/ editors on io9, wrote a really dumb piece a couple of months ago about how smug atheists need to read more science fiction. If you do, you may also remember that she got reamed up one side and down the other about it, all over the atheosphere. She’s actually a colleague and friend of mine… and even I was going, “WTF? Charlie Jane said that?”

You might be interested to know that she’s now apologized for it, handsomely. Her apology is included in a piece she’s written on what she’s learned from five years of arguing on the internet. The relevant graf:

At the same time, I’ve definitely written things I regretted afterwards. Like that piece about atheism and science fiction a while back — that was a case where I hadn’t fully thought through what I was trying to say, and I wrote something kind of half-assed, that hurt people who already felt marginalized and under assault from mainstream culture. (And in retrospect, a lot of what I had been reading as “smugness” from a few of my fellow non-believers was probably more like anger at that marginalization.) I’m sorry about that.

This is how it’s done, people. She didn’t double down. She didn’t insist that she hadn’t done anything wrong; she didn’t equate “lots of people disagreeing with you” with tribalism, bullying, McCarthyism, or witch hunts. She kept it short and sweet, without a “making it worse” morass of defensive rationalizations/ making it all about her hurt feelings about people being mean to her. She heard the criticism, accepted that she screwed up, and apologized. This is how it’s done.

([cough] Michael Shermer [cough])

109 comments

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  1. 1
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    … and she didn’t have to debase herself to do it, either.

    There’s this weird dichotomy in some people’s heads that when someone says you screwed up, you either have to drag yourself across a sea of poop and broken glass to get forgiveness, or you need to double down and go on the offensive. The reality is that for most people, a really simple “I screwed up, I understand where I screwed up, and I’m sorry” is enough to go ahead and forgive almost any “slip of the tongue.”

    What’s so damn hard about that?

  2. 2
    coelsblog

    ([cough] Michael Shermer [cough])

    You make a fair point, as always. Though if you do want someone to recognise the error of their ways and apologise it helps if you don’t first make out that their crimes are far worse than they actually were (by “you” I don’t mean you specifically Greta, but FTB bloggers in general).

    I wonder what would have happened if, instead of stripping Shermer’s remark out of context and surrounding it by another context to make it seem far worse, complete with gumby-quoting etc, if instead FTB bloggers had fully acknowledged the somewhat-mitigating surrounding remarks and context, and produced a more balanced complaint, Shermer might then have acknowledged that and re-phrased that one bit which was unfortunate.

  3. 3
    redpanda

    @1. Unless you run a Gelato shop.

  4. 4
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    But Hitler?

  5. 5
    ronstrong

    Nobody forgives anybody for anything on the internet. There is no point in apologizing. Five bucks says that this ‘apology’ leads to a fresh round of reaming for this Anders person. Likewise, If Shermer apologized, anything he said, and I mean anything, would just enrage people more. If he just said “I screwed up and I’m sorry” the apology would be called perfunctory. If he debased himself and crawled over ‘poop and broken glass’ as the poster above put it, the apology would be called overdramatic and insincere. If anything said in the apology could be construed (correctly or incorrectly, it doesn’t matter) as justifying his words in any way shape or form, even a little, it would be a notpology. On the internet, you can’t win, you can only hope that people find something else to get mad about.

  6. 6
    bcmystery

    @coelsblog

    And it took almost no time at all for some butthurt Shermerite to jump in and misrepresent what actually happened in an effort to validate Shermer’s ridiculous and repeated overreactions to a single point of valid criticism of his accurately quoted words. Not of him. Of a thing he actually said.

    Shermer could have been a Charlie Jane Anders, but chose instead to be a Justin Vacula. He’s earned all the criticism he’s received for his ongoing failure of critical thinking on this matter.

  7. 7
    Raging Bee

    coelsblog: so what you seem to be saying is that a person’s audience has to be measured and careful in their response to the person’s words, otherwise they’ll make it impossible for him to admit he made a mistake? Seriously?

    Also, I think you’re kinda misrepresenting people’s reaction to Shermer’s dumbass comments. He said something that sounded stupid and sexist, and people said his words sounded stupid and sexist. And no, they didn’t “strip his remarks out of context” — his words sounded just as stupid when quoted in context.

    Shermer’s audience didn’t dig him into a hole; he dug himself into a hole by freaking out and equating criticism with Nazi-style persecution, when he could more easily have said “Oops, I kinda used the wrong words, that’s not what I meant to say, sorry about the misunderstanding…”

  8. 8
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    ronstrong,

    That’s simply not true. I see people apologize and other people move on all the time. It sounds to me like you’re just making excuses for people to not only be assholes, but to be unrepentant assholes. But if you correct yourself, I promise it won’t make me angry even one bit. :)

  9. 9
    Raging Bee

    Nobody forgives anybody for anything on the internet. There is no point in apologizing.

    If that’s how things are where you hang out, maybe you should find yourself more pleasant surroundings. “The Internet” isn’t all the Slymepit, just like “New York” isn’t all crime-ridden filthy alleys.

    Five bucks says that this ‘apology’ leads to a fresh round of reaming for this Anders person.

    Only five bucks? Not very confident in your assertion, are you?

  10. 10
    coelsblog

    … point of valid criticism of his accurately quoted words.

    Sorry, but the original complaint made out what he said to be vastly worse than it was. Ophelia said:

    “… women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.” Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that …

    Well, that’s not what he said. Nowhere did he say that women are “too stupid to do nontheism” or “don’t do thinky”. What he did say could be taken (if reading charitably and recognising that he was speaking live) as being more about activism and self-promotion.

    I agree that what he said was unfortunate and should be retracted and re-phrased (and when one speaks live a certain amount of latitude to do that should be granted), but again, if you accuse him of vastly worse than he actually said then it makes it much harder for him to apologise because any such apology could be taken as an admission to the vastly worse.

  11. 11
    Gretchen

    Apologies on the internet matter, if you’re not the sort of person who either hates public figures or is sycophantic to them, and/or the sort of person who assumes everyone else is.

    That is, if you recognize that they’re just people, like you and me. Prone to making mistakes. Capable of honestly recognizing, acknowledging, and regretting them.

    Asserting otherwise sounds like digital dualism to me. If the internet is part of the real world, then people on it can function like they do in the rest of the real world– including apologies and forgiveness. Granted, there are a lot of people who can’t manage that on the internet….but they’re probably the same people who can’t manage it anywhere else, either.

  12. 12
    Pteryxx

    Seriously? How crawling-over-broken-glass would this have been?

    At the same time, I’ve definitely said things I regretted afterwards. Like that reply about atheism being a guy thing a while back — that was a case where I hadn’t fully thought through what I was trying to say, and I said something kind of half-assed, that hurt people who already felt marginalized and under assault from mainstream atheism. (And in retrospect, a lot of what I had been reading as “smugness” from a few of my fellow non-believers was probably more like anger at that marginalization.) I’m sorry about that.

    Note how little that would’ve had to change?

    (And it’s a bit rich to complain that the person apologizing is going to get insufficient praise with folks like you around, coelsblog, talking about what a huge heroic effort apologizing is.)

  13. 13
    Stephanie Zvan

    I wonder what would have happened if, instead of stripping Shermer’s remark out of context and surrounding it by another context to make it seem far worse, complete with gumby-quoting etc, if instead FTB bloggers had fully acknowledged the somewhat-mitigating surrounding remarks and context, and produced a more balanced complaint, Shermer might then have acknowledged that and re-phrased that one bit which was unfortunate.

    Oh, the irony. What Ophelia said, without the quotemining.

    The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do non-theism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”

    Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that a week ago on a video panel discussion on The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented the question: why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

    It’s all there – women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved – it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.

    Oh, look. Context. And there’s Shermer’s quote. There’s how it reads to Ophelia. Also, I’m pretty sure Free Inquiry doesn’t have Gumby CSS.

  14. 14
    Greta Christina

    Nobody forgives anybody for anything on the internet. There is no point in apologizing.

    ronstrong @ #5: Piffle. The David Eller incident is a perfect counter-example. Don’t remember the David Eller incident? Probably most people don’t. That’s because when he said something dumb and got called on it, he apologized, and it went away.

  15. 15
    bubba707

    Frankly, it all just makes me want to go off and pick the blues and forget other people exist for awhile. The way Shermer spoke was completely lacking in respect and he’s been called on it. That it’s continuing makes skepticism resemble Chronos.Shermer seems to overlook the fact that more women aren’t speaking at events because not many are invited to be on those panels in the first place and those that are get dismissed quickly. The visciousness I’ve seen in the counter comments on various blogs is just as bad. I don’t have that much of life left to spend it trying to make sense of this warfare or participate in it. I’m done with it all until the infighting and hostility is over. See y’all around sometime maybe.

  16. 16
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Greta @#14:

    That’s the irony, isn’t it? Apologies and forgiveness happen all the time, but it is hard to find specific examples because they blow over so quickly that they barely make an impact at all.

  17. 17
    coelsblog

    @13 Stephanie Zvan

    Hi Stephanie,
    I’m wondering (genuinely), what is the aim of such a piece (Ophelia’s original)? Deepening rifts? Awareness raising? Reinforcement among ones readership? Or hoping for an admission of error from Shermer? Greta’s post suggests that the last might have been part of it.

    If it was, I’m wondering how things might have been if the post had quoted that it was a response to Cara Santa Maria saying: “In putting together this panel I had a hell of a time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me to discuss her atheism. Why is that?”, and had quoted the first part of the Shermer’s reply: “I think it probably really is fifty-fifty …”, and noted that it was mostly about activism, not intellect, and noting that the phrase was “it’s *more* *of* a guy thing” (not as Ophelia quoted it: “that’s a guy thing”, which is very different) — and then after that context (rather than the misleading lead-in in Ophelia’s post) had suggested that the actual wording was unfortunate and inappropriate and should be re-phrased. I would think that, had that been the case, Shermer would have happily done so. After all, he has stated that he didn’t intend it in the way that Ophelia read it.

  18. 18
    Greta Christina

    I’m wondering (genuinely), what is the aim of such a piece (Ophelia’s original)?

    coelsblog @ #17: How about, “Letting a prominent, well-respected leader in the community know that he said something dumb and insulting that perpetuated harmful and mistaken ideas, so he can realize it and maybe not do it again”?

    And I’m very, very tired of this trope that, when marginalized people protest their marginalization, they have to do so in exactly the right way, using the exact right words that won’t ruffle feathers… or else they’ll be accused of tribalism, McCarthyism, and witch hunts. And it will be their fault.

  19. 19
    Gretchen

    And I’m very, very tired of this trope that, when marginalized people protest their marginalization, they have to do so in exactly the right way, using the exact right words that won’t ruffle feathers… or else they’ll be accused of tribalism, McCarthyism, and witch hunts. And it will be their fault.

    Me too, but “be as fair and accurate as possible” ! = “don’t ruffle feathers.”

  20. 20
    Matt Penfold

    And as for “deepening rifts”, why would that matter ? Shermer seems to be interested in promoting atheism and a particular form of libertarianism and not looking to make society a better place of women, gays. transgender people, non-white people and so on. Why would it be a problem to have a “rift” with him ?

  21. 21
    Gretchen

    Well, Matt, you don’t know that Shermer is uninterested in making society a better place for minorities, do you? Generally speaking it’s better to assume that people are interested in that, and point out to them the ways in which they are failing in contributing to this goal perhaps without their knowledge so that they can have the opportunity to do Charlie Jane Anders did– recognize, apologize, and change.

  22. 22
    John Horstman

    @20: Duh, because fighting atheist oppression is all that matters (because I’m straight, White, male, cisgendered, economically/materially comfortable, normatively attractive, able-bodied, etc. so religious marginalization is the only kind I face and thus it’s the only front of activism that’s legitimate for anyone) and if you’re challenging e.g. misogynist atheists to stop doing shit that harms women, then you’re undermining the only important form of activism: atheist activism. /satire

    (See Greta’s ongoing exchange with Andrew Tripp for an example of how the “my activism is the only important activism” attitude can play out even when one isn’t looking at activism from a position of overwhelming privilege.)

  23. 23
    Matt Penfold

    Well, Matt, you don’t know that Shermer is uninterested in making society a better place for minorities, do you? Generally speaking it’s better to assume that people are interested in that, and point out to them the ways in which they are failing in contributing to this goal perhaps without their knowledge so that they can have the opportunity to do Charlie Jane Anders did– recognize, apologize, and change.

    Well he certainly does not seem very keen on doing so for women, and given his politics it seems unlikely that he does for other minorities as well.

  24. 24
    Matt Penfold

    @20: Duh, because fighting atheist oppression is all that matters (because I’m straight, White, male, cisgendered, economically/materially comfortable, normatively attractive, able-bodied, etc. so religious marginalization is the only kind I face and thus it’s the only front of activism that’s legitimate for anyone) and if you’re challenging e.g. misogynist atheists to stop doing shit that harms women, then you’re undermining the only important form of activism: atheist activism. /satire

    It would not be a problem if Shermer was uncommitted on the matter, leaving the fight to others. However, his comments and subsequent conduct indicate he is actually hostile to the aims of those who seek more representation for women.

  25. 25
    Gretchen

    Ha, that’s funny. I’m a libertarian, and Ed’s a libertarian, and so are countless other people who are very much concerned with the welfare of minorities. Unless you can name something specific that you know a person supports which is objectionable on those grounds, it’s better to not just assume.

  26. 26
    Matt Penfold

    Ha, that’s funny. I’m a libertarian

    We all have our failings. I guess I now know yours. It seems what you are describing is a liberal, unless you oppose the state becoming involved on solving ills such as racism and sexism.So rather than accuse me of assuming, maybe you should be more precise in your language.

  27. 27
    Deen

    I’m wondering (genuinely), what is the aim of such a piece (Ophelia’s original)?

    How about you read the original piece? It’s not about Shermer, it’s about stereotypes about women. Shermer is merely one example of someone who unwittingly got influenced enough by the “women don’t do thinky” stereotype to say something she wouldn’t expect him to say if he had thought it through some more (for example by employing the “replace ‘woman’ by ‘blacks’ and see how that sounds” test).

  28. 28
    Stephanie Zvan

    If it was, I’m wondering how things might have been if the post had quoted that it was a response to Cara Santa Maria saying: “In putting together this panel I had a hell of a time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me to discuss her atheism. Why is that?”, and had quoted the first part of the Shermer’s reply: “I think it probably really is fifty-fifty …”, and noted that it was mostly about activism, not intellect, and noting that the phrase was “it’s *more* *of* a guy thing” (not as Ophelia quoted it: “that’s a guy thing”, which is very different) — and then after that context (rather than the misleading lead-in in Ophelia’s post) had suggested that the actual wording was unfortunate and inappropriate and should be re-phrased. I would think that, had that been the case, Shermer would have happily done so.

    What do you base that thinking on? Anything tied to Shermer’s actual behavior anywhere?

  29. 29
    John Horstman

    Also, politicians would be well-served to learn this lesson; we’d have a lot fewer “scandals” if they would just say, “Yup, I made a mistake, I’m sorry, I’ve taken steps to correct this mistake, and I’m going to try to not make the same mistake again, though I will probably make some mistakes in the future because I’m a human being.”

    Additionally, we’d have fewer scandals if they stopped apologizing – or, more often, notpologizing – for having sex with people to whom they are not married. They *might* have to apologize to their spouses if they’re breaking an agreement they made (though I don’t presume to know whether sexual exclusivity was part of any of their marriage agreements), but there’s no harm to any of the public due to a politician having sex with anyone.

  30. 30
    Captaintripps

    Greta @ 18: It was barely that, even. Shermer had a slight mention in a thousand words or so piece. Maybe coelsblog should read that piece to get an idea of what it was about.

  31. 31
    coelsblog

    @30 Captaintripps:

    Shermer had a slight mention in a thousand words or so piece. Maybe coelsblog should read that piece to get an idea of what it was about.

    The Shermer bits were in paragraphs 4, 5, 6 and 7 of a 16-para piece, making it the central and most prominent example of the piece. That’s not a “slight mention”. And, yes, I have read it.

    @28 Stephanie Zvan

    What do you base that thinking on? Anything tied to Shermer’s actual behavior anywhere?

    It was my assessment of reading his two replies (in skeptic.com and in secularhumanism.org). My assessment might of course be wrong, I’ve never met him and don’t know him.

    @18 Greta Christina

    How about, “Letting a prominent, well-respected leader in the community know that he said something dumb and insulting that perpetuated harmful and mistaken ideas, so he can realize it and maybe not do it again”?

    Yes, and it was appropriate and good for this to have been raised. My suggestion is that doing so would have been more effective, and given him far less ammunition in response, had the original piece by Ophelia been fairer and had not altered the context and misquoted and misrepresented his words.

  32. 32
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    … and she didn’t have to debase herself to do it, either.

    There’s this weird dichotomy in some people’s heads that when someone says you screwed up, you either have to drag yourself across a sea of poop and broken glass to get forgiveness, or you need to double down and go on the offensive. The reality is that for most people, a really simple “I screwed up, I understand where I screwed up, and I’m sorry” is enough to go ahead and forgive almost any “slip of the tongue.”

    What’s so damn hard about that?

    This. Really, a lot of third party apologies are actually painful to read; this was a refreshing change.

    (I’ve unfortunately met a few people for whom that isn’t nearly enough, but, well, fuck them.)

  33. 33
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Yes, and it was appropriate and good for this to have been raised. My suggestion is that doing so would have been more effective, and given him far less ammunition in response, had the original piece by Ophelia been fairer and had not altered the context and misquoted and misrepresented his words.

    How did she “alter the context?” She cited a trope and then cited his words as an example that fit into the trope. You’re not really under the impression that statements like that exist and are interpreted in a vacuum, are you? The context of that statement was a sexist society in which the trope that intellectual and activist pursuits are a “guy thing” is both entrenched and rampant. She interpreted it in that context.

    I don’t think you’re being intellectually honest here. (I’m not sure you’re being regular honest, either.)

  34. 34
    ildi

    coelsblog:

    It was my assessment of reading his two replies (in skeptic.com and in secularhumanism.org). My assessment might of course be wrong, I’ve never met him and don’t know him.

    Sound more like you’re channeling Michael Heath…

    I recommend watching the Q&A portion of The Point (“atheist Q&A the point” on youtube) which apparently Michael Heath never bothered doing.

    At 11:38:

    Santa Maria reads part of a question she got on facebook: Atheist groups always consist of a bunch of (mostly old) men. You are very nice middle-aged men, but you are mostly men. In atheism we don’t have a rule that makes a woman worth only 50% as much as a man and we don’t make women stay silent and only ask their husbands questions. We in atheism supposedly treat women as equals. So why isn’t the gender split closer to 50/50 as it should be?

    Santa Maria: And I think that this is a valid question. I personally don’t have any statistics on this, but I can tell you in my experience when putting together this episode and putting together this panel I had a hell of a time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me and talk about her atheism. Why is that?

    Shermer: I think it’s, it probably really is 50/50, it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conference and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; it’s more of a guy thing.

    Santa Maria talking over Shermer’s response: That’s really the question, who’s an outspoken atheist.

    Santa Maria: Why do you think it’s more of a guy thing? I mean, cause I don’t get it, I don’t get it, because for me it’s a me thing and I’m a girl, and I don’t know why other girls don’t see it as being a girl thing.

    Carroll: There is self-reinforcement, because we don’t invite women to give talks at the atheist convention and we don’t know who they are; I think that the men need to do some positive outreach here to support and bring up the women who are willing to talk about it and are interested in the subject I think AJ’s video was fantastic… etc.

    Shermer later says that the last skeptical conference had more women than men speakers for the first time, but then points out that that conference was about skepticism, so it incorporates a lot of different things, not just atheism.

    At 13:58:

    Falzon: I have heard, I have heard some, just anecdotally, it’s partly, there might be actually an imbalance of women to men in atheism for emotional reasons. Women, I’m told, maybe somebody can help me out with this, are more inclined to hang onto their faith for emotional reasons than men.

    Santa Clara laughs: It’s a hypothesis, right?

    Shermer: Probably it’s more like justification of faith. Guys are more likely to say I believe in God because of intelligent design and they’ll spout the arguments that sound rational and women are probably more in tune to the real reason people believe, the emotional need and [comfort?] social reasons and so on.

    So, in summary, Shermer agrees with the questioner that the gender split among atheists is probably 50/50; that being outspoken and intellectually active is more of a guy thing. In fact, at a recent conference it was actually more women speakers than men for the first time, but that conference dealt with general skepticism, not just atheism. He goes on to say that he thinks men are more likely to justify their faith for rational reasons and women for emotional reasons.

    Tell me again how Ophelia altered the context of what he said.

  35. 35
    ildi

    That’s what I get for copy-pasting. It’s Santa Maria all the way.

  36. 36
    coelsblog

    @34: ildi

    Tell me again how Ophelia altered the context of what he said.

    My reading of Shermer is this. He first says that the actual balance in the atheist community really is 50:50, “it probably really is 50/50″, referring to the first question about the gender split of atheists in general. His next bit is then a response to: “I had a hell of a time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel”, which is about activism rather than atheism per se, and he says: “it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it …”.

    Thus he seems to be saying that atheism is 50:50 but that atheist **activism** is “more of a guy thing”. He does make the unfortunate remark “intellectually active”, which could be taken with the emphasis more on “intellect” or with it more on activism. This could indicate biased prejudice on his part, or it could just be mis-speaking when speaking off the cuff. Since it comes after: “it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conference …” the charitable interpretation is that it is intended to be about activism and self promotion.

    So, a charitable reading of his reply is: “atheism itself is 50:50 but activism is somewhat more prevalent among men, that is perhaps why you had trouble finding a female panelist”. Interpreting that “guy thing” as about intellect (rather than activism) does not fit in with his “it probably really is 50/50″.

    So, you ask how Ophelia altered the context? Essentially she stripped out all context about activism and made the remark out to be only about intellect and stupidity. She introduced the remark with:

    “… that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.” Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that ….”.

    Ophelia then writes: “The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, ..”

    Thus Ophelia presents the remark as a response to the question about the gender split in atheism, whereas it seems to me that his answer to *that* was the “it probably really is 50/50″, and the remark that Ophelia quoted was instead about activism and specifically Cara’s statement that she had had difficulty finding a female panelist.

    Thus, Ophelia had deleted all of the context about activism and made it instead all about intellectual ability. I suggest that, because of this, Shermer felt he had been seriously misrepresented, and hence his reply saying that rather than apologising.

  37. 37
    Reginald Selkirk

    I agree with Pigliucci on this one, Shermer makes multiple serious mistakes in that column. But in general I recommend reading the original along with Pigliucci’s response, because he has a history of straw-manning and touting credentials over substance.

    Shermer: Question: What is the best form of governance for large modern human societies? Answer: a liberal democracy with a market economy. Evidence: liberal democracies with market economies are more prosperous, more peaceful, and fairer than any other form of governance tried.

    Multiple fail. “Best” not defined. Fails to consider that some other form of governance might be “better,” but has not yet been tried.

  38. 38
    Reginald Selkirk

    Raging Bee #9: Only five bucks? Not very confident in your assertion, are you?

    When i was young, that would have meant you were serious. If you were not confident, you would bet some unattainable amount, like a million dollars. That way no one could really hold you to it and expect you to pay up. But five dollars is real.

  39. 39
    Reginald Selkirk

    Sorry, #37 was intended for a different thread.

  40. 40
    emburii

    coelsblog,
    Reading the excerpt that Ildi posted, maybe Shermer wouldn’t have been taken quite so badly if he just hadn’t added the ‘intellectually active’ bit. Ophelia Benson quite reasonably reacted to the implication of that phrase, that made it from social pressure not to take part into an inherent intellectual quality. Maybe he didn’t mean it that way. But even so, even if Ophelia Benson reacted to his implication rather than his exact words, Charlie Jane Anders’ apology is still a perfect model of what Shermer should done if he really wanted to correct the record in good faith. Instead he thinks it’s fair to compare any criticisms to witch hunts, tribalism, all that fun stuff that shifts any onus or responsibility from him to (implication) those hysterical feminists.

    As Greta points out, he could have done better like Charlie Jane Anders. He didn’t. So instead of shifting the blame in any post that mentions the topic, maybe you should work on that positive outreach that Shermer used to believe in before he doubled down on his misstep.

  41. 41
    Argle Bargle

    I’m getting really tired of Shermer and his acolytes complaining about “witch hunts” and “Nazi persecution” over criticism of a comment he made. Criticism is not “McCarthyism,” it’s an evaluation of what someone has said or done. In this case, Shermer said something sexist and Ophelia pointed out just how sexist his comment was. Shermer was not cast out of skepticism, his atheist card was not taken from him for burning, he was not sent to the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. He said something sexist and was called on it.

  42. 42
    ildi

    coelsblog:

    So, a charitable reading of his reply is: “atheism itself is 50:50 but activism is somewhat more prevalent among men, that is perhaps why you had trouble finding a female panelist”. Interpreting that “guy thing” as about intellect (rather than activism) does not fit in with his “it probably really is 50/50″.

    … except that he repeats the same thing when he talks about women being more likely to justify faith for emotional reasons while men are more likely to justify faith for intellectual reasons.

    Also, Ophelia was giving his statement as an example of the the quote she provides from Cordelia Fine in that article:

    The social psychologist Cordelia Fine sums them up in Delusions of Gender: “Measures of implicit associations reveal that men, more than women, are implicitly associated with science, math, career, hierarchy, and high authority. In contrast, women, more than men, are implicitly associated with the liberal arts, family and domesticity, egalitarianism, and low authority.”

    So, a charitable reading of her position is that Shermer is reinforcing the stereotype that women are associated with low authority (i.e., men being more active because it’s more of a guy thing) as well as reinforcing the stereotype that women are less intellectually active in the atheist movement because it’s more of a guy thing, and also justify their faith for emotional rather than intellectual reasons. Funny how the charitable reading only goes one way.

    This could indicate biased prejudice on his part, or it could just be mis-speaking when speaking off the cuff.

    People are usually more likely to show their biases when they are speaking off the cuff. If he just mis-spoke, he could have just said so, instead of going on about witch hunts and all. Even his response, that he he unequivocally believes women are more than capable of thinking, writing, speaking, and debating about God and theism does not address the actual stereotype he was perpetuating.

  43. 43
    SallyStrange

    Indeed; Shermer’s actual beliefs about women are not really relevant to the question of whether his statement challenged, was neutral towards, or reinforced existing negative stereotypes about women.

    He clarified that he doesn’t actually think that women are less intellectually active than men. He has never been able to admit that saying so in the first place reinforced existing gender stereotypes and was probably influenced by his own subconscious biases about gender and sex.

    And let’s be honest: when faced with a question about “why are there more men and not more women,” any answer given will either challenge or reinforce existing stereotypes. Statements that are neutral towards existing gender stereotypes don’t occur in discussions about gender.

  44. 44
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    Did Shermer actually pull an evopsych bullshit argument out of his ass?

  45. 45
    thetalkingstove

    So, a charitable reading of his reply is: “atheism itself is 50:50 but activism is somewhat more prevalent among men, that is perhaps why you had trouble finding a female panelist”.

    I’m dubious, but let’s say this was indeed what he meant. Why wasn’t his response simply

    “I actually meant . But obviously my previous words were unclear. I don’t think women are intellectually less capable and I’m sorry for the frustration I caused by accidentally suggesting otherwise”

    I think that would have been the end of that.

  46. 46
    Captaintripps

    coelsblog @ 31: Nope, he was only mentioned explicitly in paragraph 5 as an illustration that someone did actually say something about it being a guy thing. That most certainly counts as a slight mention in a much larger piece that’s nothing at all about Michael Shermer and everything about how sexism appears within the community.

  47. 47
    coelsblog

    @45 thetalkingstove:

    Why wasn’t his response simply …

    I don’t know, I’ve never met Shermer and don’t really know his personality, but I suspect the answer might be that he felt he’d been totally misrepresented in Ophelia’s article and accused of far worse than any fair reading adds up to, and thus wanted to directly deny any of that (which indeed is what his reply does).

    @bcmystery

    Shermer could have been a Charlie Jane Anders, but chose instead to be a Justin Vacula

    I don’t think that Shermer was blameless, and I think that complaining about his wording is entirely justified. My only real point here is that if the complaint is itself unfair and misrepresents him and makes his words out as far worse than than they were, then that increases the chances of him doing a Justin Vacula and reduces the chances of him doing a Charlie Jane Anders.

    Hence my (genuine) enquiry as to what the aim is, whether the misrepresentation is a deliberate strategy, wanting to deepen rifts and send people down the Justin Vacula route. Up until now I’d presumed that that was indeed the aim of some FTBloggers; Greta’s article set me wondering whether, instead, they would genuinely welcome people giving a Charlie Jane Anders response.

  48. 48
    Cornelioid

    @coelsblog

    Sorry to add to the dumping on you, but in reading through your responses i get the impression that you’re responding to several finer details while (perhaps inadvertently) avoiding others.

    1. Do you see the threshold in behavior between Shermer (a) buckling down over a sexist remark that was called out forcefully or hyperbolically* and (b) buckling down over the same remark had it been called out more gently and literally as being more important than the threshold between (c) the two of these together and (d) in both cases not buckling down but rather apologizing and moving on? I think that this position is untenable, and that you’ll come across as making a bit more sense if you clearly disavow it.

    2. Specifically in Shermer’s case, is it not fair to expect a pioneer of skeptical activism with decades of promoting reason behind him to be able to correctly interpret criticism (regardless of whether that criticism is hyperbolic or even unfair) and acknowledge his own error? It seems strange to me that anyone should be expected to explainlikeimfive. Put differently, should (3) and (4) below even be relevant in the first place to Shermer’s responsibility?

    3. (#17) In what way does Shermer’s intention with the comment factor into the discussion? To me it seems only relevant to any accusations he may have received of harboring ill will toward women skeptics, though i am unaware of any such accusations.

    4. (#10) Why should it matter to Shermer that any number of (by definition) unreasonable people would construe an apology from him as an admission of whatever unwarranted guilt his detractors accuse him of? His career is premised upon a rejection of this kind of concern.

    5. (#47) You seem to have applied the principle of benefit of the doubt to Shermer but not to Benson (or others at FTB). Why?

  49. 49
    ildi

    coelsblog:

    Hence my (genuine) enquiry as to what the aim is, whether the misrepresentation is a deliberate strategy, wanting to deepen rifts and send people down the Justin Vacula route.

    I see you’re still assuming a misrepresentation occurred. Is this your own perception based on watching the relevant parts of the Q&A video and reading Ophelia’s article using Shermer’s statements in the video as examples of steretypes that are still endemic in our culture, or are you still basing your assumption that a misrepresentation occurred only on Shermer’s response? If yes, don’t you think it behooves you to go to the sources?

    If you agree with Shermer’s perception based on watching the video and reading the article that a misrepresentation occurred why are your (and Shermer’s) perceptions valid, but other people’s perception that he said sexist things not valid? If Ophelia states that she did not misrepresent what Shermer said, are you implying that she is lying and is engaging in a nefarious scheme to ‘deepen rifts?’

    OTOH, if you believe that she did not intend to misrepresent what he said (which the quote above seems to deny), but the effect was that it appeared that she misrepresented Shermer, why are you not willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, whereas you’re willing to give Shermer the benefit of the doubt that he did not intend to to say sexist things?

    Inquiring minds want to know…

  50. 50
    sawells

    @49: we could also note in passing that Ophelia already gave Shermer the benefit of the doubt that he did not _intend_ to say sexist things. Ophelia pointed out that Shermer _said a thing which included a sexist stereotype_, not that Shermer is A Sexist Boo Hiss Kill Him Now.

  51. 51
    coelsblog

    @48: Cornelioid

    Sorry to add to the dumping on you …

    No problem!

    Can I clarify that I do think Shermer was at fault. If I was talking to him I’d say that, whatever the intent, the wording he used sounded bad. I’d also suggest to him that in his first reply it would have been far better had he openly accepted that and apologised, in addition to then saying that Ophelia had blatantly misrepresented him. Because this is an FTBlog I’m commenting more on the FTB response rather than on Shermer (though I do realise I’m commenting on Greta’s blog whereas my comments relate mainly to Ophelia and PZ).

    You seem to have applied the principle of benefit of the doubt to Shermer but not to Benson (or others at FTB). Why?

    Shermer was speaking live, and one should be more charitable in accepting that someone might express things badly in a live and unprepared answer. Ophelia’s piece was written and thus one presumes that, as a good writer, she had considered and revised the wording. One thus presumes that her markedly changing the context and presentation of Shermer’s remarks was deliberate. Note that Shermer has accepted that his live wording wasn’t good, talking about “slips of the tongue” in his response. I would be vastly more critical of Shermer had he used his wording in a written piece.

  52. 52
    Cornelioid

    @51 coelsblog

    You did mention several times above that you understand Shermer to be at fault, which is why i didn’t ask. My question was whether you consider the possible import of the context of the pointing out of this error to his ability to acknowledge it is more important than whether he acknowledges it at all. You seem to think that this is a very important concern, but i don’t see that it is.

    Perhaps i should have been more clear that by extending the field to Benson’s writing generally (and that of other bloggers at FTB), i was implicitly also extending it beyond Shermer’s sexist comment to include the manner in which he has defended himself (which includes quite a bit of mischaracterization of Benson). If you presume, based on reading her adversaries, that Benson is motivated to create rifts, why not presume, based on the dialogue over Shermer’s comment, that he (including his recent rebuttals, not just the comment itself) is motivated by sexism?

  53. 53
    Cornelioid

    (Argh. Glancing back, i come across as snarky at the beginning. Sorry about that.)

  54. 54
    coelsblog

    @52 Cornelioid

    Nothing snarky there, don’t worry! First, I’m probably not very good at psychoanalysing either Ophelia Benson or Michael Shermer and discerning the intent of either.

    Second, regarding your “which is more important” question. I’d say that both are important enough to raise, I certainly wouldn’t say that Shermer’s fault is unimportant in comparison.

    On Shermer’s two replies, I certainly think that his “witch hunt” language and the citation of the Niemöller poem are distinctly unhelpful and inflammatory. But then I also consider the mode of Ophelia’s complaint to have been unnecessarily inflammatory, and thus counter-productive (compared to a fairer complaint that didn’t misrepresent). (And as for PZ’s pouring gasoline on the flames, well PZ is PZ nowadays.)

    The basic problem seems to be that everyone takes the faults of their opponents as justification for their own faults.

  55. 55
    Cornelioid

    On the first, i agree that we shouldn’t be in the business of speculating over intentions. In this case your presupposition about FTB (which i assume you would now agree was unfounded) strikes me as illustrative of a trend, and i suggest that you begin (if this hasn’t already prompted you) questioning the reliability of the sources that so fervently dismiss this network.

    I’m afraid that we won’t meet on the second point. I see no sense in ascribing comparable weight to the the form a refutation takes to that ascribed to whether its target acknowledges error. I disagree with you that Benson’s original column was unfair or misrepresentative (prejudices like sexism are understood to rarely be conscious or malicious (though they are to be damaging), while the dialogue surrounding the excerpt does not really play into whether or not the comment revealed latent sexism, and any argument Shermer might make that he reasonably misunderstood it is undermined by his own gross mischaracterization of it), but in a world in which i agreed that it was i would still find Shermer an order of magnitude more at fault for failing to acknowledging his error than Benson for making her own (which itself would be of the same order as Shermer having made one, though you are right that written errors are more blameworthy, all else being equal). (The question would then be whether she acknowledged her error, and i invite you to read her blog posts on the matter to discern for yourself whether she has exhibited due reflection.)

    While i also notice that many people justifying their faults through others’ (a manifestation of the fallacy fallacy), i don’t particularly see it here, except possibly by Shermer. Benson’s accusations were unprompted by criticisms, and Shermer seems to have kept his awkward defenses nonetheless separate from his reciprocal criticisms.

  56. 56
    Cornelioid

    (Sigh. “A trend” in the movement, or at least in the online community and some in higher echelons, not in your own statements, which have been pretty consistent.)

  57. 57
    coelsblog

    Hi Corneloid,

    i suggest that you begin … questioning the reliability of the sources that so fervently dismiss this network.

    I don’t really read those sites much, my opinion of FTB is mostly formed by reading PZ and the Horde (admittedly that’s the extreme end of FTB). I’ve read some SIN articles but don’t read them much (Jerry Coyne’s blog is the one I read and participate in most, and that largely stays out of Rifts).

    The question would then be whether she acknowledged her error, and i invite you to read her blog posts on the matter to discern for yourself whether she has exhibited due reflection.

    I may have missed something. Are you referring to any post in particular?

    i don’t particularly see it here, except possibly by Shermer.

    Well yes, Shermer is definitely guilty of it. It seems to me that Shermer made badly phrased remarks that gave a sexist and stereotype-reinforcing impression. Ophelia then used that as a license to make it seem worse by selective quoting and markedly altering the context, Shermer than took that misrepresentation as an excuse to avoid dealing with the main issue and instead criticise and rebut Ophelia’s article, then PZ used Shermer’s lack of apology as an excuse for a totally OTT response in typical PZ attack-dog style, and that then gave Shermer excuse to Godwin and talk about “witch hunts”. Everyone seems much more intent on escalation than reconciliation. Hopefully there will come a time when people don’t use others’ (possibly far worse) faults to excuse their own (possibly more minor) transgressions.

  58. 58
    Cornelioid

    May i ask then how you came to presume that some FTB writers were making a conscious effort to divide the community?

    I meant the second quote not to convince you of anything but to point out that we can evaluate Benson’s reflectivity on her criticism of Shermer; whether she’s buckling down is a question we can answer arguably better than we can with respect to Shermer, if the only reactions of his we’re to be privy to are his articles.

    But let’s review the plays, since i still don’t see the fallacy fallacy.
    1. Shermer’s original sexist remark wasn’t a rebuttal to anything, so it’s not an example.
    2. Benson’s column was about the perpetuation of sexist stereotypes, and she quoted Shermer as an example. How would quoting more than she did have revealed that Shermer wasn’t invoking a stereotype?
    3. Shermer would be guilty if he’d deflected accusations of sexism by only focusing on Benson’s alleged misinterpretations, but he devoted several paragraphs in his second reply to explaining away the sexism. I think he failed, but not because he dodged the criticism.
    4. I haven’t read Myers’ post.
    5. See (3).

    I don’t know that anyone prefers escalation to reconciliation; given that everyone’s convinced that they’re right, they really shouldn’t be backing down. I just see one person with only a partial grasp on the situation (and evidently none on the science of sexist stereotypes) refusing to submit his own position to scrutiny.

  59. 59
    Jacob Schmidt

    @Coelsblog

    Ok, this is the paragraph you’re complaining about:

    “… women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.” Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that….

    I agree. That bit was problematic. On it’s own. Ophelia went on in the very next two sentences to give the full context and the full quote from Shermer. Given that, where’s the misrepresentation?

  60. 60
    coelsblog

    Hi Cornelioid,

    May i ask then how you came to presume that some FTB writers were making a conscious effort to divide the community?

    I’m pretty sure that this intent has been explicitly stated by PZ and the Horde (though I’d have to do some searching to find examples).

    Benson’s column was about the perpetuation of sexist stereotypes, and she quoted Shermer as an example. How would quoting more than she did have revealed that Shermer wasn’t invoking a stereotype?

    I wasn’t suggesting that, I was suggesting that Opheila’s post seemed to be taking the line: “since he is in the wrong, it’s ok to twist things a bit and make him seem even more in the wrong”.

  61. 61
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    I was suggesting that Opheila’s post seemed to be taking the line: “since he is in the wrong, it’s ok to twist things a bit and make him seem even more in the wrong”.

    Twist? How? She quoted him. Please explain the alleged twist and misrepresentation.

  62. 62
    sawells

    @61: you have to understand that Shermer and his supporters think that Shermer has been accused of _being a sexist_, which means that they think other sentences said by Shermer which don’t sound sexist are relevant.

    They have not grasped that it’s about whether Shermer said _a thing which is sexist_, which he did.

    Some people do not grasp the difference.

  63. 63
    ildi

    I was suggesting that Opheila’s post seemed to be taking the line: “since he is in the wrong, it’s ok to twist things a bit and make him seem even more in the wrong

    I see, so it’s ok for you to twist and misrepresent Ophelia? THE ARTICLE WAS NOT ABOUT SHERMER! She didn’t write a diatribe excoriating him! She gave his statements as an example of the unconscious biases that are still prevalent, even among those we would expect not to have them.

    You seem to want to blow off Shermer’s original comments as merely ‘badly-phrased.’ If they were badly phrased, they were badly-phrased several times in the video, which would indicate more of a bias than a poor choice of words. Really, how can you say that his statement (the one that Ophelia didn’t even use) that

    Guys are more likely to say I believe in God because of intelligent design and they’ll spout the arguments that sound rational and women are probably more in tune to the real reason people believe, the emotional need and [comfort?] social reasons and so on.

    is not a sexist thing to say? It smacks of a very strong double standard on your part to assume that Shermer is just galumphing along mis-speaking left and right while Benson has a nefarious plan to make him look like a sexist asshat in order to be divisive.

    It seems typical that this kind of forgiving attitude on the one hand and hyperanalysis of every possible nuance for negative meaning on the other seems to happen when women bring up feminism and sexism in the atheist community. Your interpretation of the situation, and Shermer’s over-the-top reaction, is what is causing the divisiveness.

  64. 64
    Cornelioid

    @coelsblog

    I might know what you are talking about then. If what you’re describing is of the form “I don’t mind that rifts occur because this issue is too important” or the form “I want the community to disengage from a very small, clearly harmful subgroup” then i don’t agree that they may be fairly characterized as efforts to divide the community. The former clearly is not, while the latter involves salvaging the community from its most divisive elements—or, at least, those elements that contribute most to undermining the movement while having no comparable benefit. (Here of course i mean apologists for sexism and other prejudice, though i might also mean global warming deniers or alternative medicine proponents or some other subgroup if their involvement presented a substantial problem.)

    OK, i understand your objection (and still disagree with it), but to be precise what you’re describing would be a strawman; Benson would have been at fault by mischaracterizing Shermer’s error, rather than invoking Shermer’s error as grounds on which to mischaracterize something else.

    @leebrimmicombe-wood

    coelsblog has said a bit about their views on this; do a text search for the handle in this thread.

  65. 65
    Jacob Schmidt

    coelsblog has said a bit about their views on this; do a text search for the handle in this thread.

    Except xe has not demonstrated any misrepresentation. At all.

  66. 66
    coelsblog

    @61: leebrimmicombe-wood

    Twist? How? She quoted him. Please explain the alleged twist and misrepresentation.

    See my post 36, see also the transcript in 34 and Ophelia’s original post. Essentially she changed the context from being mostly about activism to a context all about intellect.

    @59 Crayzz:

    Ophelia went on in the very next two sentences to give the full context and the full quote from Shermer. Given that, where’s the misrepresentation?

    She had still totally changed the context, what the words were about. For example it omitted what those words were directly responding to. So she didn’t give the “full” context and she didn’t give the full quote, it omitted one very relevant and mitigating phrase. (Again, compare 34 with Ophelia’s post and see my 36).

    @63 Ildi

    I see, so it’s ok for you to twist and misrepresent Ophelia? THE ARTICLE WAS NOT ABOUT SHERMER!

    The bits about Shermer were in paragraphs 4, 5, 6 and 7 of a 16-para piece, and were the central and most prominent example of the piece. That is quite clearly “about Shermer”. Note that an article can be about more than one thing (e.g. many blog posts have more than one tag).

    Really, how can you say that his statement … is not a sexist thing to say?

    That depends on how one defines “sexist”. In that quote he is not saying that women are more emotional or believe more for emotional reasons, he is saying that BOTH women and men believe for emotional reasons, but that the men then kid themselves by making false rationalisations whereas the women do not, and are actually more aware of and honest about the real reasons. I don’t read that as demeaning to women, if anything it demeans men more. Note also this was in reply to a suggestion that was more sexist, namely that women did believe more for emotional reasons, which Shermer was then disagreeing with.

  67. 67
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    See my post 36, see also the transcript in 34 and Ophelia’s original post. Essentially she changed the context from being mostly about activism to a context all about intellect.

    No, she quoted it in a context of ambient sexist stereotypes about intellect, into which the comment fed and played. Which was the context it was made in.

    You need to stop ignoring this point.

  68. 68
    Cornelioid

    @crayzz

    I agree. I only meant that leebrimmicombe-wood would be able to ask more precise questions—i.e. specifically challenge coelsblog’s points—by first reviewing what coelsblog had already said. In particular,

    @Azkyroth etc.

    Also agreed.

  69. 69
    coelsblog

    @67 Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    No, she quoted it in a context of ambient sexist stereotypes about intellect, into which the comment fed and played. Which was the context it was made in. You need to stop ignoring this point.

    OK, fair point, but there can be more than one “context”; you have pointed to the overall context of the piece, but the specific context of the remarks — what they were about and what they were responding to — was changed from “activism” to “intellect”.

  70. 70
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Essentially she changed the context from being mostly about activism to a context all about intellect.

    That may have been something to do with Shermer’s use of the words “intellectually active”.

    However, Ophelia *was* talking about activism as well as intellect, as evidenced by her words immediately after the Shermer quote:

    It’s all there – women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved – it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.

    Unless ‘talking at conferences’ and ‘involvement’ describe something other than activism (no they don’t), I think you are twisting what Ophelia said and misrepresenting her.

  71. 71
    ildi

    That depends on how one defines “sexist”. In that quote he is not saying that women are more emotional or believe more for emotional reasons, he is saying that BOTH women and men believe for emotional reasons, but that the men then kid themselves by making false rationalisations whereas the women do not, and are actually more aware of and honest about the real reasons. I don’t read that as demeaning to women, if anything it demeans men more. Note also this was in reply to a suggestion that was more sexist, namely that women did believe more for emotional reasons, which Shermer was then disagreeing with.

    Your contortions are impressive, which seems to be affecting your reading comprehension. First of all, what is the evidence that people in general believe for emotional reasons? Even if this is true, the fact that he thinks men are fooling themselves by intellectualizing it while women are in touch with their true emotional selves is a sexist thing to say. It is demeaning to both men and women. Also, he is not disagreeing with Falzon, he’s agreeing with Falzon.

  72. 72
    Steersman

    Pray tell, why should Shermer apologize for something that absolutely no one has yet managed to prove that he is guilty of? Play judge-jury-and-executioner much? Simply just asserting that that is case really doesn’t hold a lot of water. And insisting on it doesn’t redound much to the credit of skepticism.

    My understanding of the word sexism is that is has to entail either discrimination or the “promotion of a stereotype”. Do tell, where is the discrimination? Did he assert that because “[atheism], it’s more of a guy thing”, women shouldn’t be allowed to speak at atheist conventions? How about “promoting a stereotype”? Even Ed Brayton managed to recognize that “a distinction can be made between women having the ability to think and women being interested in taking a public stand on atheism or secularism”. From which it follows that should there be fewer women so interested – a recent Pew Forum survey puts the atheist population at 64% men and 36% women – hardly justifies concluding that anyone making that observation is engaging in rampant and egregious sexism by asserting that there are more men than women who have the ability to think. Much less for attempting to crucify someone for that unfounded and discreditable charge.

  73. 73
    PatrickG

    Wherever Sherman shall be discussed
    Steersman appears to show digust.
    For wherever groups try to discuss
    This one-trick pony cries “More of!”

    Ok, what d’ya want, I’m no Cuttlefish.

  74. 74
    PatrickG

    Wherever Sherman shall be discussed,
    Steersman appears to show disgust.
    While others deal with actual issues,
    This one-trick pony starts crying “More of!”

    (Ok, fine, I’m no Cuttlefish. :D)

  75. 75
    PatrickG

    Bah replicated comment due to internet burp. Oh well. I prefer the second version anyway.

  76. 76
    Raging Bee

    Steersman, you spent about three weeks losing the same argument on TWO of Ed’s posts, and now you’re trying to drag that dead horse over here? You really think you’re fooling anyone?

    Since all you’re good for is repeating the same bogus pseudo-statistical argument, over and over, no matter how many times it’s refuted by how many other commenters, I’ll just make it easy and re-paste my latest refutation, from this thread:

    ‘It’s sexist to say that something is “more of a guy thing,” and it’s doubly sexist to try to justify such stereotypical assertions by reference to a smattering of statistics that hint at “disparities” without explaining what may or may not have caused them, or what they even mean. I’ve seen “race realists” doing the same thing to try to justify their stereotypical thinking about black people. You’re not fooling anyone here, dipshit.

    ‘Oh, and you’re citing the Pew Forum? Didn’t their polls have Mutt Romney ahead in the Presidential election all the way up to Election Day? Your arguments from authority just keep getting lamer.’

    I’m not the only one debunking this wanker either, not by a long shot. It’s not my place to tell anyone else how to handle a stupid troll, but I can pretty much guarantee that all you’ll get from this guy is the same arguments he’s been repeating for the last three weeks or so.

  77. 77
    Raging Bee

    Much less for attempting to crucify someone for that unfounded and discreditable charge.

    It’s about time you got around to Shermer’s cries of Nazi persecution. What took you so long? Oh wait…

  78. 78
    Greta Christina

    coelsblog: I’m going to say this once.

    For the sake of argument, let’s concede all your major points. Let’s say that while Shermer’s statements were sexist, he didn’t intend any of the sexist intent that came across. And let’s say that Benson’s interpretation uncharitably took them out of context: what he said was sexist, but it wasn’t as sexist as she made it out to be. I don’t agree with this assessment: but for the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s true.

    So what?

    Does that in any way, shape or form justify Shermer’s reaction? Does it justify him calling criticism of him a McCarthy-like witch hunt, a purging, an inquisition, comparing it to the Nazi party? Does it make Benson responsible for what Shermer said? And does it make Benson’s actions more problematic than Shermer’s, and more worthy of extensive critique?

    If you think Shermer’s ranting response was justified, or that Benson was somehow responsible for it … then I have nothing more to say to you. That is an indefensible position. And if you don’t… then why are you so fixated on Benson? Why are you micro-analyzing her comments in comment after comment after comment? Why do you think that her misinterpretation (in your eyes) is more worthy of more criticism than Shermer’s off-the-rails hissy-fit?

    When you say something sexist, racist, homophobic, whatever, and someone calls you out on it… you apologize. Full stop. Even if the person calling you out got something slightly wrong… you let that pass. You say, “I’m so sorry. I did not intend to say anything sexist/ racist/ homophobic/ etc., but I can see why people are angry, and I can see why they saw it the way they did. I’ll speak more carefully in the future.” You don’t make it all about you and how everyone’s being mean to you; you don’t make your hurt feelings over being misunderstood more important than sexism/ racism/ homophobia/ etc. Do you think that every atheist who called out Charlie Jane Anders got absolutely everything right, and said everything in the best way possible? I doubt it highly. She didn’t focus on that. She focused on the injury she had done, and the apology for it. That’s what makes her a class act.

    And when you — speaking to you now, coelsblog, not to the generic “you” — acknowledge in passing that Shermer’s sexist remarks were not okay, and then spend comment after comment after comment micro-analyzing Benson’s criticism of it, and blaming her for his off-the-rails reaction… it’s a classic “yes, but” response to sexism. In fact, “Yes, but… the person writing about this incident didn’t behave absolutely perfectly in all respects. Why aren’t we talking about that?” is one of the “Yes, but…” examples listed in that piece. The expectation that critics of sexist behavior always get everything absolutely right — and if they don’t, they should expect the targets of their criticism to react horribly — is, itself, unbelievably sexist. Stop it. Right now. Just stop it.

  79. 79
    Greta Christina

    It’s not my place to tell anyone else how to handle a stupid troll…

    Raging Bee @ #76: It’s not. However, my comment policy says this:

    9: Do not behave atrociously in other blogs. If you are barely walking the line of acceptable behavior in this blog — but you have a pattern of foul, demeaning, sexist/ racist/ etc., insulting, violently threatening, or otherwise reprehensible behavior in other blogs — you will be banned from this one, with no second chance, and no warning.

    Many of my readers are more familiar with what other commenters are saying and doing in other blogs. If Steersman (or anyone else) is behaving unacceptably in another blog or blogs, I want to know about it.

  80. 80
    Steersman

    PatrickG said (#73 & #74):

    Wherever Sherman shall be discussed,
    Steersman appears to show disgust.
    While others deal with actual issues,
    This one-trick pony starts crying “More of!”

    (Ok, fine, I’m no Cuttlefish. )

    Not bad, although a quibble – it’s Shermer and not Sherman. But I think I’m some ways from being just a “one-trick pony”. It maybe only looks that way because of the one-ring circus that the pillorying of Shermer has turned FfTB into – or maybe it only added the cherry on top. Not that the writing hasn’t been on the wall for some time.

    However, probably what disgusts me the most is not the criticisms directed at Shermer – lots of people probably get worse – but that the charges are leveled without a shred of evidence and proof to justify them; that his supposed transgressions were amplified by Benson’s hatchet-job to make him the poster-boy of misogyny. That sexism exists – even in the atheist community – is not in dispute, at least by me. But to virtually crucify him to further Benson’s rather demagogic efforts to peddle some synthesis of “non-theism and feminism” when the latter brings along some rather problematic baggage is decidedly odious at best.

  81. 81
    Steersman

    Raging Bee said (#76):

    Since all you’re good for is repeating the same bogus pseudo-statistical argument, over and over, no matter how many times it’s refuted by how many other commenters, I’ll just make it easy and re-paste my latest refutation, from this thread:

    It’s sexist to say that something is “more of a guy thing,” and it’s doubly sexist to try to justify such stereotypical assertions by reference to a smattering of statistics that hint at “disparities” without explaining what may or may not have caused them, or what they even mean. I’ve seen “race realists” doing the same thing to try to justify their stereotypical thinking about black people.

    As mentioned before, it seems that your definition of “sexist” is “whatever Shermer said”. Might work in the delusional world you and others seem to inhabit; in the real one where dictionaries have some relevance – not so well. Until you actually address what the dictionary definition asserts and show how it applies to Shermer’s statement all you’re doing is blowing smoke out of your arse.

    As for the reasons for those disparities, considering the very large amount of information which suggests that significant differences in psychological behaviour between men and women are due to genetics – as described in this synopsis of Steven Pinker’s – it seems a perfectly reasonable conjecture that any given disparity is due, at least in part, to those differences in genetics. Or as Shermer put it, “[atheism], it’s more of a guy thing”. Although a more problematic manifestation of that is the fact that there are ten times as many men in prison as there are women – maybe y’all might want to rectify that disparity too by legislating against it – maybe, for starters, impose longer sentences for women for the same crime ….

    You’re not fooling anyone here, dipshit.

    Up yours.

  82. 82
    Greta Christina

    FfTB

    Steersman # @80: And that’s it. That’s the dogwhistle. Goodbye.

  83. 83
    SallyStrange

    Virtual crucifixion now?

    Wow, I joked about the sexist faction treating Shermer like an Atheist Jesus.

    Little did I know…

  84. 84
    Greta Christina

    You’re not fooling anyone here, dipshit.

    Raging Bee @ #76 (and others here), a reminder: Please don’t aim personal insults at other commenters in my blog. This isn’t Pharyngula. Insults aimed at ideas and behavior are okay (although I prefer they be voiced in a more civil manner). Insults aimed at people are not. Please don’t call other commenters dipshits in my blog. Even when they’re being a dipshit. :-)

  85. 85
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Sorry, it was late last night and I wasn’t thinking or writing straight and may have come over a little abruptly. Let me put it more clearly. I asked coelsblog how Ophelia twisted and misrepresented Shermer. He pointed me at some previous comments and summarized it thus:

    Essentially she changed the context from being mostly about activism to a context all about intellect.

    He also stated the view @36 that:

    Essentially she stripped out all context about activism and made the remark out to be only about intellect and stupidity.

    So I went back and looked at what Ophelia said. Immediately after Ophelia’s quotation from Shermer she writes:

    It’s all there – women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved – it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.

    Looking at this, Ophelia clearly talks about intellect AND about activism. Are references to speaking up, conferences and involvement not about activism? Not even in part? I don’t think so. This does not read to be ‘all about intellect’ at all. To my mind:

    ‘Thinky’ = intellectualism
    ‘Speaking up’ = ‘activism’ (though you could charitably claim it is an element of intellectualism)
    ‘Talk at conferences’ = ‘activism’ (though again, you might say it overlaps the intellectual life)
    ‘Involvement’ = ‘activism’

    I don’t know how coelsblog can say that she stripped ‘all context about activism’ out when she explicitly talks about activism.

    So I have to conclude that coelsblog’s summary, asserting that Ophelia changed the context to be ‘all about intellect’, is utter humbug. Rather, she talks about it as part of a continuum that includes intellectualism and activism as intertwined activities.

    Coelsblog, do you wish to modify your stance on anything said so far?

  86. 86
    coelsblog

    78: Greta Christina

    And does it make Benson’s actions more problematic than Shermer’s, and more worthy of extensive critique? [...] Why do you think that her misinterpretation (in your eyes) is more worthy of more criticism than Shermer’s

    Nope it doesn’t, it does not make them more problematic nor more worthy of criticism. I’ve commented more on that because I’m commenting on FTB; if I were talking to Shermer or to people defending Shermer then it would be the reverse.

    Why are you micro-analyzing her comments in comment after comment after comment?

    It’s tricky, if people reply to my comments and ask me direct questions I tend to reply to them, it seems natural to do so. However, doing so can result in over-doing a theme. Maybe I should ignore more replies and questions to me. So, taking my own advice, I won’t comment on this again after this reply.

    The expectation that critics of sexist behavior always get everything absolutely right …

    I certainly don’t think that critics of sexism have any special beyond-the-norm obligation to get things right; I do think that people in general, in all contexts, have an obligation to make their criticisms fair, and that hurt feelings are not an excuse to misrepresent.

    @85 leebrimmicombe-wood

    I don’t know how coelsblog can say that she stripped ‘all context about activism’ out when she explicitly talks about activism. [...] Coelsblog, do you wish to modify your stance on anything said so far?

    Ok, yes, I’ll modify to saying she much reduced the context about activism and much increased the context about intellect. The original words could be taken as applying to activism only (with the “it probably really is 50/50″ being about atheism overall and thus intellect), whereas they are presented, particularly in the first of the paragraphs in Ophelia’s piece, as applying to intellect. Certainly Shermer felt that he had been badly misrepresented.

    Anyhow, this is getting into more micro-analysis and comment after comment, so I’ll just end by saying that the words were badly phrased and gave a sexist impression, and Shermer should have conceded that and apologised, whatever else he said. Bye.

  87. 87
    huntstoddard

    Does it justify him calling criticism of him a McCarthy-like witch hunt, a purging, an inquisition, comparing it to the Nazi party? Does it make Benson responsible for what Shermer said?

    This is total speculation, i.e. feel free to ignore me and tell me to stuff it, but I have a feeling that, truth be known, Shermer is bringing a lot more baggage to this check-in than he’s letting know. I have a feeling he’s closer to the “other side” of the deep rift than the FtB side. Full-disclosure, I’m kind of still in the driver seat on the snow crawler straddling the crevasse myself (you’ve all seen the picture).

    The expectation that critics of sexist behavior always get everything absolutely right — and if they don’t, they should expect the targets of their criticism to react horribly — is, itself, unbelievably sexist.

    See above. The Nazi persecution thing may have been metaphor, but I think the explanation for its vividness is that this was something of a “last straw” for Shermer, and he’s reacting to a whole lot of other stuff here. But really, how horrible is all of this these days anyway? Metaphorically comparing one group or another to Nazis is pretty much daily fare on the Internet. Is anyone really all that offended when someone else goes Godwin nowadays?

  88. 88
    huntstoddard

    certainly don’t think that critics of sexism have any special beyond-the-norm obligation to get things right; I do think that people in general, in all contexts, have an obligation to make their criticisms fair, and that hurt feelings are not an excuse to misrepresent.

    As a group strategy, though, “mostly right is good enough” shouldn’t be voiced, any more than “This year’s goal: only a couple injuries” should be a factory floor motto. The fact is that misrepresentation and error costs you more than you think in both group morale (not knowing you are entirely right) and by supplying fuel to your adversary’s arguments. ideally, a group should know that finding and eliminating its own errors are even more important than the errors in its opponent’s arguments.

  89. 89
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Ok, yes, I’ll modify to saying she much reduced the context about activism and much increased the context about intellect.

    Okay Coelsblog, so you have stepped back from your previous position. Your earlier characterisation of Ophelia as making it ‘all about intellect’ was not only incorrect, but by painting it as an absolutist position you were substantially wrong. You concede that Ophelia was also talking about activism, and so we are quibbling about how much she made it about intellectualism and stupidity.

    However, when he misspoke, Shermer talked about ‘intellectually active’ women. I don’t know about you, but that term seems to cover 50% intellectualism and 50% activism. So, arguing that Ophelia increased the emphasis on intellect and stupidity, when her own summation was if anything tilted towards activism (see my list in post 85) seems to be unfair.

    We could, if you wish, subject all Ophelia’s comments about Shermer to line-by-line counts of how much she was talking about intellectualism and how much about activism, though I think we would certainly be getting into absurd levels of analysis.

    I would prefer it if we agreed that your accusation that she twisted and misrepresented Shermer is very weak sauce. She talked about the intellect and activism in, if not equal measure, than close enough as makes no difference. I see no injustice here.

    You have been defending a man who made a sexist remark, was pulled up short on it and went over the top in his response. Your attempts to fault Ophelia really do not stand up to examination.

    Certainly Shermer felt that he had been badly misrepresented.

    He did, that’s true. However, he is accused of overreaction and I’d surmise that may be due to him misreading Ophelia as badly as you appear to have done. Thank goodness you are now modifying your view. Let us hope he has the generosity of spirit to do the same.

    I’ll just end by saying that the words were badly phrased and gave a sexist impression, and Shermer should have conceded that and apologised, whatever else he said.

    Good, we seem to be in agreement, then.

    However, I have yet to see you take Shermer to task for his vitriolic overreaction towards Ophelia and Co. You know, the Nazi, ‘witch hunt’ stuff. Can you comment on this?

  90. 90
    ildi

    huntstoddard: I think you hit the nail on the head. Back when ‘elevatorgate’ first caught momentum, there were a lot of bloggers who seemed to have the Dawkins “Dear Muslima” attitude (which is probably why Shermer is saying Dawkins was “purged” from the ranks), and probably thought the thing would end there. Then ERV’s Monument (and whatever the other thread was called) exploded, so they went silent on the whole thing. I don’t think they changed their attitude, however, in that they are not about social justice issues, including feminism, but about ‘skepticism’ and debunking religious and pseudoscientific claims.

    I can see Shermer, as a libertarian, considering focusing on social justice issues to be a liberal political thing. So, when Benson uses some of his sexist statements as examples, she is trying to force him to ‘pick sides.’ Coelsblog seems to agree with his assessment by postulating that Ophelia was trying to deepen the rifts.

    What’s interesting is that the reaction to Benson’s article is as over the top as the reaction to Watson’s aside in a video on a conference. Rebecca is now accused of saying she was almost raped by elevator guy (I often wonder about him…), Ophelia is now accused of being a libelous demagogue.

    Here’s the thing, though. Just because Shermer doesn’t want to ‘pick sides’ doesn’t mean he is exempt from criticism for perpetuating sexist stereotypes, in this case that women are more emotional in their decision-making, men more intellectual (even if in this case he is limiting it to religion and thinks that women are on the right track), and that men in general are more active in participating in movements, though he thinks this appears to be changing in the skeptical realm. This wasn’t a horribly, horribly sexist thing to say. It was sexist, though. Coelsblog may think it deserves a “Dear Muslima” response, but many would disagree that women have to be silent on this issue until a certain level of sexism is reached. This is what is causing the rifts among otherwise like-minded people. (I’m not going to address the Freeze Peach and “professional victim” end of the disagreement, because I think that’s just wack.)

    Regarding your comment that

    ideally, a group should know that finding and eliminating its own errors are even more important than the errors in its opponent’s arguments.

    guess what; that is exactly what Ophelia was doing in her article. Shermer chose to interpret himself as being the opponent, rather than being one of the group who showed his unconscious bias. Note, again, that his response that he thinks that women are just as capable as men (he gives Ophelia’s book as an example) WASN”T THE ISSUE. The issue was that he seems to think that men are MORE LIKELY to be active participants to and be intellectually active. His over-the-top reaction seems to indicate that he really believes that part, but thinks it’s not worth making such a fuss over.

  91. 91
    Greta Christina

    Nope it doesn’t, it does not make them more problematic nor more worthy of criticism. I’ve commented more on that because I’m commenting on FTB; if I were talking to Shermer or to people defending Shermer then it would be the reverse.

    coelsblog @ #86: In other words, no matter who you were talking to, you were going to pick a fight. That is the working definition of trolling.

    And in other words: In a conversation about sexism, in a forum of people who have been battling sexism in the atheist/ skeptical community for well over a year and have been targeted with relentless harassment and abuse as a direct result of it, you chose to join the conversation by focusing comment after comment after comment with a micro-analysis of the one unbelievably minor thing you thought one of them might have done wrong, and insisting that the over-the-top horrible response to it was her fault for not speaking perfectly, with almost no discussion of the actual sexist behavior that was being discussed. That is one of the main working definitions of sexist trolling.

    Do this again in my blog, and I will ban you so fast it will make your head spin.

  92. 92
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Thank you, Cornelioid and Greta! Clearly, coelsblog is trying to point out that the important thing is Shermer’s hurt feelings. The fact that Ophelia Benson gave her reaction and then quoted Shermer, to be clear about what she said, does not excuse her. She Hurt His Fee-fees!

    Shermer’s answer does not point to useful action. If men are naturally more intellectually activist, what actions can we take to attract more female speakers and panelists? It’s like “God did it” applied to a science question. If, on the other hand, they fear to stir up the kind of shitstorm of threats and denigration that hit Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, Surly Amy, and other women for daring to have a voice, then perhaps there are actions we might take, starting with not designating women as naturally passive.

  93. 93
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Sorry, meant to say “about what _he_ said.”

  94. 94
    Cornelioid

    @Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    …not sure i deserve credit here, having drifted into micro-analysis myself. I defer to ildi #90 for what strikes me as the tidiest analysis and Greta #91 for the view from orbit.

    But, yes, basically agreed.

  95. 95
    coelsblog

    @ 89 leebrimmicombe-wood

    However, I have yet to see you take Shermer to task for his vitriolic overreaction towards Ophelia and Co. You know, the Nazi, ‘witch hunt’ stuff. Can you comment on this?

    For obvious reasons I am not replying, except to note that I did comment on it directly in 54.

    @91 Greta Christina:

    Dear Greta,
    Sexist trolling was certainly not the intent, nor was picking a fight. If anything the intent was trying to get people to see better how others see things (you might see misrepresenting a named person on a high-profile blog as “unbelievably minor”, others don’t), as a step towards mending rifts rather then deepening them. I do realise that this is hugely naive of me and likely counterproductive. Prompted by your initial post I was genuinely wondering whether the intent of some bloggers was deepening or mending. I guess that for now I have my answer. I do appreciate your writings, by the way, even when (which is a minority of times) I don’t always agree with them. Bye.

  96. 96
    J. J. Ramsey

    coelsblog @ #86:

    Nope it doesn’t, it does not make them more problematic nor more worthy of criticism. I’ve commented more on that because I’m commenting on FTB; if I were talking to Shermer or to people defending Shermer then it would be the reverse.

    Greta Christina:

    coelsblog @ #86: In other words, no matter who you were talking to, you were going to pick a fight.

    That’s a stretch. There’s little point in just adding a comment that just agrees with everyone else, because it’s redundant and doesn’t really add to the discussion. Thus, it’s fairly natural for comments to focus on points of disagreement. If one is barbing one disagreement with insults or other triggers designed to get other people angry or upset, then that’s trolling.

  97. 97
    Cornelioid

    @coelsblog #95

    The extent to which you’ve characterized whatever error Benson might have made as anything other than minor (including “misrepresentation”) is very nearly the extent to which you have mischaracterized it, which seems to have skewed your understanding of Christina’s point.

    @J. J. Ramsey #96

    You present a false dichotomy. There is much conversation to be had over these issues that consists neither of chorusing nor of playing devil’s advocate. (Follow this thread #5,8,11,14,etc for one example.) The classic definition of trolling, before it was diluted, essentially amounted to the intentional derailing of threads—to be distinguished from the raising of disagreements with an aim to resolve them—which is not far from what we see here. By coelsblog’s admission (as i and, i gather, Christina read it), to disagree was their purpose, not a means to greater understanding.

  98. 98
    J. J. Ramsey

    Cornelioid:

    By coelsblog’s admission (as i and, i gather, Christina read it), to disagree was their purpose

    That seems like a skewed and uncharitable reading of what coelsblog actually said.

  99. 99
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    For obvious reasons I am not replying, except to note that I did comment on it directly in 54.

    Yes, your comment is noted. A bare sentence expressing your disappointment, which stands in comparison to the screeds you have expended here at Ophelia’s expense (and characterise Ophelia’s response incorrectly and unfairly).

    This really isn’t very seemly, Coelsblog. I wish you would make amends.

  100. 100
    dontpanic

    I’m still waiting for Coelsblog to point out the instances of commenting taking Shermer to task in the pro-Shermer sphere of the interweb. I’m mean it’s all well and good to nit pick about one side and then when called on it say “well, I’m actually a fence-sitter and boo on both sides.” But it doesn’t sound very sincere.

  101. 101
    Cornelioid

    @J. J. Ramsey

    My interpretation was not intended to be charitable (though my original comment #48 was). The principle of charity is of greatest import when a statement (or any action) is ambiguous, and part of that ambiguity must be a lack of context. There is, however, plenty of context on display in this thread that attests to coelsblog’s motivations and sincerity. (Note, for example, the selectivity with which they answer objections, even those i was careful to enumerate.)

    Incidentally, the same reasoning leads me to think that the principle of charity bears no longer upon Shermer’s original sexist comment.

  102. 102
    coelsblog

    99: leebrimmicombe-wood:

    This really isn’t very seemly, Coelsblog. I wish you would make amends.

    Out of deference to the blog owner’s clearly expressed wishes I don’t want to comment further on Shermer/Benson here. Greta has clearly asked me not to. If you want to pursue this issue further with me then you could post on Thunderdome and I will respond.

    97 Cornelioid

    the intentional derailing of threads—to be distinguished from the raising of disagreements with an aim to resolve them—which is not far from what we see here. By coelsblog’s admission (as i and, i gather, Christina read it), to disagree was their purpose, not a means to greater understanding.

    If you read it that way then I apologise for my bad phrasing, because that wasn’t what I intended to say. I was indeed discussing because I disagreed, but it was not my purpose to disagree. I was indeed attempting (however ineptly and however naively I might have done it) to discuss the differences of opinion with the aim of resolving differences, or at least of better understanding different perspectives. Trolling as I see it is posting dishonestly or with the intent just to provoke or annoy. I was doing neither of those. If people are annoyed with me then apologies, it wasn’t the intent.

  103. 103
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Coelsblog. I wasn’t asking you to prolong the debate. Rather, having been caught out making a mischaracterisation, I was hoping you would make amends. After all, is this not what you have been demanding of Ophelia?

    However, it seems you have no intention of doing so. So I’ll leave it there. Somewhat saddened by your behaviour.

  104. 104
    coelsblog

    @103 leebrimmicombe-wood

    Post that on Thunderdome and I’ll reply. If you prefer to leave it there, fine, so will I.

  105. 105
    ildi

    Ooh, I was just reading the comments to the article by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman “What it’s like to be a victim of Don’t Start Me Off’s internet hate mob”, and guess how comment #4 (I hate threaded comments with a passion) starts off:

    salamander • 8 hours ago
    The abuse is appalling, peurile, unacceptable – and at least the final outcome appears to be that the DSMO site has closed.
    However, Cath Elliott has form – on the graun talkboards she wrote an article saying that the ‘rapists don’t rape because they’re evil or perverted or different from the average man in the street – they do it because they can’. If this was a misconstrued slip of the keyboard she certainly didn’t make it clear as she rejected the outrage from ‘average men on the streets’ and indeed women, who did not like her accusing all and sundry of being rapists.
    If she writes abuse, she is far more likely to get abuse back. It’s wrong, but her holier-than-thou victimhood as she trawls the net for fights is risible.
    Left wing publications like the NS, the graun are also less than innocent – the abusive comments they host about people not in a position to respond or defend themselves, eg Margaret Thatcher, Duchess of Cambridge etc – means they hardly have credibility regarding nasty misogynist baseless attacks.
    Robofish  salamander • 7 hours ago
    So because some people were offended by Elliott’s comments about rape, they’re justified in subjecting her to years of vile abuse and harassment? Bullshit. If they can’t disagree with her without resorting to such tactics, they shouldn’t be on the Internet in the first place.
    I can’t speak for Elliott, but I do not think she was saying that the average man on the street is a rapist either. I would guess what she was trying to say is that rapists are typically entirely normal in other areas of their lives, and often apparently decent and upstanding members of society, rather than the subhuman monsters of popular imagnination.
    Claire_M  Robofish • 6 hours ago
    Saying that all rapists are men on the street, is not the same as saying all men on the street are rapists.
    Come on, that is basic logic.
    greenacre  Robofish • 7 hours ago
    Never mind second-guessing what she *meant* to say.
    That article stands as written i.e. “rapists don’t rape because they’re somehow evil or perverted or in any way particularly different from than the average man in the street: rapists rape because they can.”.
    Well pardon my saying so, but there is something particularly different about them: they are rapists!
    Helen Lewis  salamander • 7 hours ago
    I’d be glad if you could provide me with a link to that piece, because the quote you provide sounds to me like an attempt to make sense of the puzzle that many rapists are otherwise upstanding citizens, liked by their social circles – rather than the obviously cackling evil monsters it would be more comforting to assume they are.
    In any case, there is a difference between making a general, ideological point and systemic personal harassment.
    greenacre  Helen Lewis • 7 hours ago
    You are right about there being a difference between making a general, ideological point and systemic personal harassment: one affects a single person; the other is directed towards half of the human population.
    or pick a name  greenacre • 5 hours ago
    This is a weak argument used to justify the attacks, just like the ‘freedom of speech’ wheeze. Freedom is about a trade off: the freedom of someone to swing their fists about savagely ends at my face – I think I’m quoting a philosopher here but can’t remember who.
    Likewize the freedom to write comments ends when it becomes abuse. It is not really about dishing it out and taking it. Everyone loses their cool now and then but sustained attacks are a different
    greenacre -Helen Lewis • 7 hours ago
    (Links to her piece in the Guardian “Facebook is fine with hate speech, as long as it’s directed at women”)
    gichidan  greenacre • 6 hours ago
    Jesus, can you not actually read? The article quite simply says that men who rape are in no way discernible from men who don’t rape.
    I think there might be a link between illiteracy and people supporting harassment.
    greenacre  gichidan • 6 hours ago
    She says, “‘rapists don’t rape because they’re evil or perverted or different from the average man in the street – they do it because they can’.” – she does not say, “You can’t tell a rapist apart from a non-rapist by looks, alone.”, which is your strange interpretation.

    It goes on. Sound familiar? Anyone?

    Also, coelsblog, if you’re still commenting, what kinds of comments are you making on those blogs where people are defending Shermer? (I’m assuming you are, since that’s what your comment at #86 implies.)

  106. 106
    Ophelia Benson

    Well I’m late to the party. I didn’t see this until now.

    Just one point. The article is not about Shermer. It’s about stereotypes and their relationship to the perceived scarcity of women in atheism. I know a couple of people have pointed that out, but I wanted to reiterate it from the POV of the person who wrote the article.

    It was an adaptation of my opening remarks in a panel at Women in Secularism. My remarks didn’t mention what Shermer said, of course, because he hadn’t yet said it. They didn’t mention Shermer at all. I didn’t want to make the article just the remarks in written form, because the video was available anyway, so I adapted and expanded. Shermer had just said what he said, and I had just watched the discussion and flinched when he said it. I didn’t use what he said in a fiendish plot to Deepen Rifts or some such nonsense – I used it simply as a classic and current example of the stereotype I was talking about.

    If you don’t think that stereotype is real…you need to do some reading, or talking to people. Find out about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy, for instance. And then there are the STEM fields. And then there’s…”the atheist community.”

  107. 107
    michaelpowers

    People make mistakes. It’s what we do. Ideally, we keep ‘em small, and to a minimum. Most importantly, we learn from them. Those lessons tend to be the most profound.

  108. 108
    michaelpowers

    Ildi: I haven’t read Ms. Lewis’ article (I’m on my way there after this), but if she was quoted correctly – that rapists rape simply because they can – she is essentially correct. Of course it doesn’t just apply to men who rape. It often applies to anyone who does harm to another.

    Years ago, I was a “guest of the state” (not an experience I’d recommend, as it was nothing like the brochure). Occasionally, the guards would come in, out of the blue, and do something mean-spirited. Like, say, trash your cell, then write you up for having a dirty cell. That sort of thing. Maybe they were bored. Or maybe it was their way of keeping us off-balance. I still don’t know. Thing is, you could always tell who the new inmates were, because they would invariably ask, “Why?” The guards’ answer was so consistent, that I came to believe that it was actually a part of their training. “Because we can.” They would say.

    As time went on, and I was witness to man’s daily inhumanity to man, I began to realize that it really was that simple. Circumstance, or in my case, authority, had given them leave to do someone harm, with little consequence, and they did so. Oh, the rationalizations, and justifications always come later. But while it’s happening, violence especially, is a base, mindless thing. And the additional tragedy is that we all end up being less human for it.

  109. 109
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    For reference, I wanted to mention that I have opened a discussion with coelsblog on the Thunderdome, here.

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    Not Part of the Debate Club » Almost Diamonds

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    Writing to be understood » Butterflies and Wheels

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    On sexism, Ophelia Benson, Michael Shermer, hyperbole, and my stumbles into the Rift | coelsblog

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    an apology to atheists, smug and otherwise | SorryWatch

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