The scope of the problem, and the availability heuristic


One of the big complaints we’ve seen recently regarding the anti-harassment-policy campaign, the question of feminism intersecting with our communities, and the question of whether the assholes in our movement represent the movement, is whether the feminists and anti-bigots are blowing things out of proportion. How often have you seen someone say “the whole community doesn’t have a problem with [X-brand bigotry], only a very small subset“? Often enough, I bet, that I hardly feel the need to repeat these arguments or point to any specific ones, though I’m certain I could give you a dozen or so with a quick search of my own blog’s comments. Never mind big names like Thunderf00t and Paula Kirby making it the entire premise to their opposition to harassment policies and to “feminazis” and “FTBullies”!

So the question, then, is why does this argument gain so much traction? No matter how measured we are with describing the scope and scale of the problem, people will always say we’re making mountains out of mole hills. I posit this is because of the availability heuristic — a cognitive bias wherein, when you’re presented with specific examples of a problem, it is easier to remember those examples, and you assign improper levels of importance to them.

Normally this is a beneficial heuristic, where we remember extreme outlier results from particular actions and take care thereafter to avoid detrimental outcomes as a result of those actions. It is actually to our advantage to remember the outliers are outliers when dealing with issues within our community, like that the hate-filled antifeminist misogynists who want to bully feminists out of our community are actually only a very tiny slice of our community themselves. Just like how actual “grab a stranger” rapists are few and far between (as most rapes are by acquaintances), that the average woman encounters thousands of strangers in their lifetimes, but is very probably only raped by one, if by any. The availability heuristic still inclines women to avoid strange men in situations where they are not totally in control (the vast majority of rapists, even rapists of other men, are male, whether you like it or not guys).

It is by this same availability heuristic that one avoids barking, snarling, angry dogs even if the dog has never bitten anyone in their lives, and even if the person who is doing the avoiding has never themselves been bitten. It is around that availability heuristic that the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist (as with Schrodinger’s Racist, Schrodinger’s Thief and Schrodinger’s Attack Dog) is built.

That heuristic, however, also inclines outsiders looking into our community to see the rabid misogynist fuckwits and see that as a problem for the whole community. It also inclines some people who are incapable of seeing those fuckwits as part of our community to think that the REAL problem is that the feminists fighting them are “tarring the whole community” by pointing those fuckwits out.

To that end, I guess we need another Venn diagram like the one I used to explain what exactly the atheism plus label is constructed in opposition to. The last one worked well enough to describe the factions at play; this one should hopefully describe some of the actual problems and the scale of them.

Venn diagram of overlapping circles showing the community's problems with misogyny and denial that there's even a problem

Movement atheists are but a subset of atheists in general. We are the ones who talk about atheism on the intranet; we’re the ones who organize to challenge issues of church/state separation; we defend other atheists who are under attack by theists or even who are simply undermined by religious privilege. We challenge these issues proactively. Maybe by blogging about them, maybe by holding rallies, maybe by raising funds like we did for Jessica Ahlquist.

These movement atheists publicly represent atheism in general to the larger public, even though most atheists are content to simply exist without actually challenging religious privilege. Some of them even hide their atheism to get on better with the religiously-privileged. But the movement ones are the public face, and that public face is tarnished by the actions of the scant few vocal assholes who really and actually want to push out those also talking about social justice and protecting women, who really want to entrench their own privilege within the movement.

The misogynists, scumbags and assholes are a very tiny subset of the community at large. In fact, I’ve only made the circle as big as it is to fit all the words in it. But they are vocal and they are very motivated by their hatred of those ideas imported into the atheist community by the humanists and social justice advocates.

A subset of movement atheists realize that the scumbags exist, including most of the scumbags. (Some of the miscreants don’t know they hold those views, and they don’t know that they’re viewed by the rest of movement atheists that way. They are unaware of themselves, I guess.)

Most of the people who realize these scumbags exist want them to stop being scumbags in their spaces, to stop representing movement atheism as a whole. This is represented by the green circle. All Atheism Plus folks fall in that category, including those that fit the definitions of A+ without wanting or accepting the label itself.

A largely overlapping subset of the misogynists is the circle that thinks that the real problem is that green circle. This includes a subset of movement atheists who think there are no misogynists in the community (the willfully blind). It also includes a sizeable chunk of people who aren’t themselves bigots, but who just want to get along with those bigots (even at the expense of the underprivileged they’re driving out). These people think that the green circle’s availability heuristic has run amok, that we’re blowing the problem out of proportion by pointing it out. They themselves don’t realize (or refuse to accept) that the people in the green circle are not blowing the problem out of proportion — they are saying that others outside the movement will blow it out of proportion because the size of the purple blotch is irrelevent, only that there’s a blotch.

So there are actually three problem groups here. There are the bigots, obviously, and they’re the root of the problem. But the people who think the green circle are the REAL problem, are themselves a problem and in fact a very bad one. They’re actively condoning the bigots’ actions and condemning the folks in the anti-bigot subset as, say, “feminazis” or “authoritarians” or the likes. They’re the ones who balk at being “misidentified” just because they think the problem is overzealous anti-bigots. I can’t cry about their hurt feelings, frankly — they’re almost as big a problem as the bigots, after all. And the third problem group is the people who know about the misogynists but aren’t motivated to do anything about it, who try to straddle the line and play at neutrality, who refuse to be polarized between choosing the bigots or the anti-bigots; or who can’t even be bothered to pretend at neutrality, who are simply apathetic about it (the “everyplace is like this, learn to live with it” people).

It doesn’t matter how small a subset of movement atheism the bigots actually are, either — because they’re incredibly vocal, they’re succeeding in wearing down those vital women like Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson, and Stephanie Zvan; of vital advocates for underprivileged groups like the trans community like Natalie Reed, and fighters of the “Race Realists” like Crommunist. They’re doing chipping damage and wearing away at these folks’ resolve because they keep talking about things the bigots personally don’t like. They are being divisive in telling us that we have no place to talk about those issues within the atheist community. The A+ers say “fine, go ahead, divide, your kind isn’t welcome in spaces where we dominate anyway”. And for that another subset thinks WE’RE the problem.

I’ve said a few times that the complaint that we’re “tarring the movement” with the actions of a mere few is completely analogous to a cancer patient telling a doctor to stop tarring their whole body with the cancer label when it’s only a very tiny subset that’s cancerous. Never mind that a very tiny bit of cancer can and will kill you if left unchecked — letting cancer fester is very divisive and will cause a great rift between you and the land of the living. Maybe that’s a bit of an insensitive analogy but I happen to think it’s a very close one. If we let their hatred fester within our movement unchecked, no matter how tiny a subset it is, it will hurt and maybe even kill our movement.

If that makes US the divisive ones, fine. Divide the body of our movement from the cancer.

Comments

  1. says

    Nice one Jason!

    The only bit I guess you could have included is the group who think that “real” harassment either rises to the level of police involvement or it doesn’t count. They are the same sort that believe that the only “real” racism happens from under a white hood, and insist on a binary definition of problems as “the worst thing ever” or “not worth dealing with”.

  2. Pteryxx says

    Joe, I’d call the “FBI or STFU” harassment deniers part of the yellow group. There’s no earthly reason to even bring up that false dichotomy except to tell the green group to shut up about it.

  3. thomasfoss says

    Yeah, when I first saw the Venn, I thought it could use the “people who intentionally or unintentionally offer support to the bigots by minimizing/dismissing the problem or engaging in false equivalence,” but Jason’s explanation of the yellow group suggested that it includes those folks.

  4. LeftSidePositive says

    I think you need another circle:

    Adjacent to (and possibly somewhat overlapping) “misogynists, assholes, and scumbags,” you need a much larger “casual sexists/racists/transphobes, privilege-deniers, and the unintentionally demeaning,” and then “thinks the green circle is the real problem” should cover the vast majority of both those circles.

    I think this gets at the point that even if there weren’t overt misogynists and frothingly hateful people, we’d still have a huge problem with sexism in the atheist movement, from people who bring their background level of unthinking sexism with them (and generally, even though these people would rather the misogynists weren’t there and find them distasteful, they tend to think everything would be fine if the feminists would shut up). So, these people aren’t *only* problematic for blaming the feminists, they also perpetuate a high-volume, low-grade background level of sexism themselves.

  5. says

    Your Venn diagram has “misogynists” as part of the group who “know that there is a group of misogynists, assholes, and scumbags”.

    That is completely wrong.

    Most of the so-called “misogynists” don’t even consider themselves to be misogynists. Very often, they argue that the feminists are the true misogynists.

  6. consciousness razor says

    Uh, what makes you think the vast majority of movement atheists don’t know a few scumbags exist within the movement? If you’re involved in it at all (i.e., not hiding under a rock), even if you don’t self-identify as a “movement atheist,” how could you not know?

    Shouldn’t the green circle fit outside the red one as well? I don’t think all of the people fitting the label necessarily or are more likely to “know” about the existence of these scumbags in some special way, not any more than anyone else is. It should be obvious to anyone who isn’t being dishonest or willfully obtuse. They certainly care more about it, but that’s not simply knowing about it.

    We also don’t know how many (on the internet) are just trolls who aren’t atheists (with a theistic bent or just an indifferent, destructive streak) but like to stir up shit because they have an axe or two to grind. I’m sure those make up a small minority, but we’re dealing with a lot of small factions of factions of minorities of minorities.

    Anyway, making up diagrams without data usually isn’t a good idea, but this just doesn’t make much sense either. I don’t know how any actual data could fit it.

    The misogynists, scumbags and assholes are a very tiny subset of the community at large. In fact, I’ve only made the circle as big as it is to fit all the words in it.

    Then there are more than you realize. I don’t know. Maybe you’re in the big bluish-gray circle.

    It doesn’t matter how small a subset of movement atheism the bigots actually are, either — because they’re incredibly vocal, […]

    It does matter. Some may not want to believe that they’re being scumbags, but that doesn’t matter. Those in the yellow have a pretty high Scumbag Factor™, even if they don’t do every conceivable scumbaggy thing, like issue rape or death threats.

  7. says

    Kevin: no, I think that’s mistaking the active MRAs and antifeminist types and “race-realists” and trans-haters for the people who are merely casual bigots, and those who simply think the feminists are inflating or inventing the problem. Maybe I AM being generous to that group; but this is illustrative, not data-based science.

  8. says

    consciousness razor: I agree, the people in the yellow circle are nearly as big a problem as the purple, if for no other reason than because it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the people who defend bigotry on purpose or accidentally.

  9. Nepenthe says

    Just like how actual rapists are few and far between

    This is not true and it is an idea that needs to die. 1 in 4 women are not being raped by a few extremely busy people, who apparently still have time left over for multiply victimized women, men, and children not counted by that stat.

    Roughly 1 in 10 men will tell an interviewer that they’ve raped or attempted to rape someone, fairly explicitly. There may very well be more rapists than LGBT people, and we don’t talk about them/us as if they’re/we’re a tiny group.

    I know it’s not the point or anything… bah. [/rant]

  10. says

    Nepenthe, sorry, I’ll amend that to say what I meant — that actual “grab a stranger” rapists are few and far between, since I was talking about Schrodinger’s Rapist. Most rapes are acquaintances.

  11. consciousness razor says

    consciousness razor: I agree, the people in the yellow circle are nearly as big a problem as the purple, if for no other reason than because it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the people who defend bigotry on purpose or accidentally.

    Okay, but what about the rest of the diagram being wrong and making no sense? Anything about that?

  12. says

    I think you’d need to show me how it’s wrong rather than barely asserting it, consciousness razor. Especially where you say I’m not part of the group I identify with primarily. And where you say that everyone knows these misogynists exist — then why are we fighting this war at all, if not to raise consciousnesses?

  13. thomasfoss says

    There’s a lot of people in the purple & yellow groups who “know misogynists exist,” but a lot of them seem to think that “misogyny” consists only and exclusively of people who stomp around shouting about how much they hates the wimmins, like a sexist Yosemite Sam.

  14. Rodney Nelson says

    It’s the yellow group I find most frustrating. They have a few memes but like to repeat them over and over again:

    – “You’re divisive.” Of course we’re divisive, we want a safe place away from the bigots.

    – “You should join the Humanists.” We’re atheists, many Humanists aren’t. Secular does not mean atheist.

    – “Atheism doesn’t mean social justice.” Maybe not for dictionary atheists, but for us atheism should include social justice.”

    – “I don’t like the name.” That’s your personal preference which we do not share.

    – “Both sides are equally culpable.” Yeah right. One side is bullies who want to scream at their victims and the other is victims who want to be left alone by the bullies.

    If you don’t want to join Atheism+ then don’t.

  15. says

    thomasfoss: EXCELLENT point. Perhaps many of them acknowledge that there are these problematic people in the community but THEY can’t possibly be PART OF THEM. Thus the people who cry “mislabeling” when their actions are actually terrible to women.

    Rodney: yes, because they’re the ones we actually most often come into direct conflict with. I fear a large portion of that circle is the movement’s leadership.

  16. consciousness razor says

    And where you say that everyone knows these misogynists exist

    Do you mean they know about specific misogynists or incidents, or the existence of them in general? They may not know about these exact people you’re talking about or details of what they’ve done, but that doesn’t imply they don’t know atheist misogynists exist. So I’m guessing you’re going with knowledge of much more specific things, which would explain why you’re making the bluish-gray circle so big it doesn’t even fit in the image. (And I don’t know what you’d say about those who aren’t “movement atheists,” scumbags or not, as well as people who only fall in the red area.)

    If so, then suppose there are some who would otherwise fit the label (w/o necessarily self-identifying) of being atheists who care about and want to do something about SJ issues, but who are ignorant about the specific things you’ve determined in advance. Ignorance of that doesn’t imply they don’t fit the A+ label.

    then why are we fighting this war at all, if not to raise consciousnesses?

    Just like your diagram (mistakenly) shows, some people do know about scumbaggery, yet do not care. So simply making people know isn’t sufficient. It’s not the only thing we should accomplish in fighting this war. People have to care too, want to do something about it, understand the issues (and the opposition) clearly, agree on what courses of action to take, and work together to keep doing them as long as they are successful.

  17. says

    Yes, I think everyone in the world but the most innocent and unsocialized realizes that there are bigots, misogynists and scumbags generally. However, in our community, there appears to be a very large amount of denial or cluelessness that any community so rational and evidence-based, so social-justice-oriented (on the axis of countering religious privilege), could harbor such misanthropic views about other axes of privilege. Hell, even Rebecca Watson thought this place might be better than average when she first jumped in, til she became a target by talking about girl stuff and daring to say “hey, maybe guys shouldn’t expect hitting on a girl in an elevator at 4am to actually work, maybe those guys should consider the creepy factor!”

    I am, in fact, talking about people who realize this community does intersect with MRAs and antifeminists, libertarians (of the not civil varieties), racists, anti-gays, and misanthropes of every stripe, and that some of these people are actually in positions of power and influence. If they don’t know these people exist, they can’t be blamed.

    And I’m willing to admit that there should perhaps be some green outside the red-pink circle. People who intersect in all the same ways on humanism and social justice but who are deluded into believing this community is better than background levels of bigotry. I’d be surprised if any of them label themselves as Atheist Plus though, because A+ is largely a response to the active bigotry. I’m not sure the label has picked up quite enough steam to start picking up people unaware of the reasons for its existence, but it would be an excellent sign of growth if that was the case, in my estimation.

    But you do realize that’s not the point of any of this illustration, right? The point is to show that no matter how small numerically the “actual bigots” are, there are further problems we face. Problems like, yes, making people care once they know.

    So I don’t see terribly much difference between your thinking on the matter and mine, ultimately. And I don’t think you’ve been terribly charitable to my attempt at illustrating the problem in saying it is all wrong and doesn’t make any sense.

  18. says

    Nepenthe, sorry, I’ll amend that to say what I meant — that actual “grab a stranger” rapists are few and far between, since I was talking about Schrodinger’s Rapist. Most rapes are acquaintances.

    True, however “acquaintances” is the most important category in point here. Attending a conference or a meet-up or a demo together; eating lunch or going to the bar together – these activities turn a stranger into an acquaintance.

    And acquaintances can very easily be dangerous. Hell, so can friends, husbands and lovers but we have much better information there. You know that 5-10% of men who admit to rape as long as you don’t use the dreaded r-word? All of them are talking about date rape or acquaintance rape.

    Think 5%. Think how many men were in attendance at your last atheist conference. Do the math.

  19. Rob says

    Alethea H. “Crocoduck” Dundee –

    You know that 5-10% of men who admit to rape as long as you don’t use the dreaded r-word? All of them are talking about date rape or acquaintance rape.

    I have not seen anything about actual numbers, but I have seen plenty of rationalisation, hair splitting and story telling designed to cloud the issue of rape. A good example would be the ‘story codes’ used on porn and erotica websites. Common definitions would be:
    1. Rape – Use of force and/or restraint. Victim actively resists.
    2. Non-Consent – No or minimal force, victim resists little or passive only.
    3. Reluctance – No physical force used, victim does not want to participate but is coerced or persuaded then participates to some extent.
    4. Drug/Drunk – Victim is drugged/drunk to ensure compliance.

    There are variants and additional categories, but all serve to cloud the point that a person (usually a women) is raped in these stories. My issue is not with the porn, but with the underlying message of the classification system that not all rape is actually rape. The same woolly rationalisation is sadly applied when talking about real world rape, misogyny and other forms of discrimination and bullying “oh that’s not really X, because…”.

    Justin. I like your Venn diagrams. Not literally correct, but sufficiently illustrative.

  20. see_the_galaxy says

    If we let their hatred fester within our movement unchecked, no matter how tiny a subset it is, it will hurt and maybe even kill our movement.

    OK. What do we do?

  21. bjartefoshaug says

    It’s the yellow group I find most frustrating.

    I couldn’t agree more. And as Jason puts it, ” I fear a large portion of that circle is the movement’s leadership”. As it stands, they include the most famous atheist alive (*cough*dearmuslima*cough*) and the leader of at least one major skeptical organization (“distasteful locker room banter”, “a few women recounting sexual exploits”) as well as a large number of lesser luminaries like Kirby, Blackford, Stangroom, Coyne, Kagin, Thunderf00t etc. As I wrote at Stephanie’s blog, in the light of everything that has happened in the last year or so, if you think the problem most in need of addressing is anything other than the insanely immoral and sociopathic hate-campaigns directed at Stephanie, Rebecca, Amy, Jen, Greta, Ophelia and every other woman who have dared to bring up issues of sexism and misogyny in the atheist/skeptical movement, then don’t expect any sympathy for being lumped in with the haters.

    - “You’re divisive.” Of course we’re divisive, we want a safe place away from the bigots.

    This!

    - “You should join the Humanists.” We’re atheists, many Humanists aren’t. Secular does not mean atheist.

    Some of the most hostile anti-atheist rants I have ever heard have come from self-professed humanists. Plus, as Jen McCreight has pointed out, it’s not as if the part of the established movement that labels itself “humanist” has been any more immune to the problem of misogyny than the “atheists”, no matter what values they claim to represent on paper.

    - “Atheism doesn’t mean social justice.” Maybe not for dictionary atheists, but for us atheism should include social justice.”

    I actually agree that “atheism doesn’t mean social justice” (emphasis added). “Atheism” still just means “lack of belief in god(s)”, which is where the plus sign comes in (it’s “A+” people, not “A=”. Get a clue!) People who don’t understand the difference between “adding A to B” and “conflating A with B” are beyond redemption.

    - “Both sides are equally culpable.” Yeah right. One side is bullies who want to scream at their victims and the other is victims who want to be left alone by the bullies.

    This!
    To accuse Stephanie, Rebecca, Amy, Jen, Greta, Ophelia etc. of being the real bullies (or even a part of the problem) here is like beating up another person and accusing her of hitting your fists with her face.

    Finally I just want to add that the next f**ker who tries to play the labeling-people-as-misogynists-and-bigots-only-for-disagreeing-with-you-card can be told where to stick it in no uncertain terms. We are so far (as in light years) beyond “disagreement” at this point. What we have here is f**king terrorism!

  22. says

    bjartefoshaug says:

    What we have here is f**king terrorism!

    I agree with most of what you wrote, but that’s just silly. The haters are abhorrent, but they’re not terrorists.

  23. ibbica says

    hyperdeath, they’re not bombing buildings, but that’s not a requirement of ‘terrorism’, is it? What’s your definition of ‘terrorism’?

    I’m asking sincerely, because I had the same initial reaction you did (or seem to have had, anyway), but am having a hard time justifying it to myself.

    For example, I can’t seem to come up with a really good way to distinguish between ‘terrorism’ and ‘bullying’, other than whether a government defines it so (and even then, different governments don’t necessarily agree…). They seem to describe similar tactics (use of force or threats of force to induce fear) with similar underlying intent (compliance of the threatened party/group).

    Best I’ve come up with to distinguish between the two might be “undirected attack harming the target *and* bystanders (terrorism) vs. directed attack harming *one* individual (bullying)”. I’m not super happy with even that… if anything, the actions displayed by “the haters” are harming/frightening a broad group rather than any specific individual alone.

    Why would you stop short of calling their behaviour, meant to intimidate others into compliance with threats of violence, ‘terrorism’? Is it just a legal thing?

  24. thetalkingstove says

    Allow me to recommend to everyone not to waste your time with the blog link @ 25.

    It links to that crappy phawrongula wiki as if it is evidence. Yep.

  25. bjartefoshaug says

    @hyperdeath

    I agree with most of what you wrote, but that’s just silly.

    Not as silly as calling it “disagreement” though…

  26. says

    I’d define terrorism as using violence and the threat of violence to advance a cause. They’re using harassment and the threat of harassment to advance a cause. I’m not denying that it’s vile, and that the people behind it are disgusting, but calling their behavior terrorism is an exaggeration.

  27. karmakin says

    The problem with comparing bullying to terrorism is that you’re probably ignoring emotional/social bullying and only thinking about physical bullying. The former is actually a much bigger problem than the latter, considering that the latter is much easier to deal with. (The former is generally about the target and sometimes involves the community at large vs. the target(s))

    But creating an us vs. them dichotomy, which is what has been done for a while, quite frankly is just forcing people to take sides and hope that your side comes out on top. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it’ll won’t. But it just generally serves to amplify the conflict.

    Put out red meat. Get maggots. Unfortunately, but it’s true. And there’s a LOT of red meat out there. Quite frankly the concept that culture warring could EVER result in a safe space for most people is beyond laughable.

    Stop thinking in simplistic circles and start thinking in scales. Everybody is sexist to a degree..some more than others to be sure, but the goal isn’t to put everybody in neat little boxes at one side or the other…regardless of how “fun” people think that is…the goal is to move people…and it’s slow sometimes…from the bad side of the scale to the good side of the scale.

    But that means keeping an open mind and policing one’s own (like it or not…I don’t like it..hypocrisy is a powerful argument for most people) and that’s no fun! It’s not community cohesive. Social justice work isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s work. Hard work. But it’s important work, and ultimately fulfilling work.

  28. says

    Cool post – very clearly defined and thought out – I like that the myth of vast numbers of atheist misogynists everywhere is exploded.

    Most of the people who realize these scumbags exist want them to stop being scumbags in their spaces, to stop representing movement atheism as a whole.

    Similarly one of the key reasons the people at sceptic blogs/the pit/etc are so vociferously fighting FtBs is apparently that they are worried about the FtB lot being seen to represent ‘the atheist movement’. Note they reverse the words Jason uses from ‘Movement Atheists’ to ‘The Atheist Movement’, they seem to mean anyone that is an atheist and happens to be on the internet.

    That heuristic, however, also inclines outsiders looking into our community to see the rabid misogynist fuckwits and see that as a problem for the whole community

    So who are these ‘outsiders’ we putting our make-up on for and looking good? In both cases it makes no sense if the outsiders are non-atheists who will see atheists as horrible for saying god does not exist never mind anything else.

    If Jason is making the separation of ‘Movement Atheists’ as they are people actively working to promote atheism to non-atheists or working within the community then it makes more sense to me. A movement seemingly dominated by misogyny and bigotry is not going to be attractive to atheists from minority groups and socially aware people are not going to devote their time to it. Dawkins made a good point about our apathy or lack of ability to get things done when pointing out the power of the Jewish lobby despite its small size. I’d reckon part of that is also sceptic-atheists inability to agree on anything, or even their ability to rabidly disagree when told they *should* agree.

  29. says

    I like this a lot, especially because you point out that not everybody who thinks atheism+ is a “problem” is themselves a bigot/misogynist. I’ve seen a lot of people being all like “WAHHH I DISAGREE ABOUT ATHEISM+ SO YOU THINK I’M A RAPIST.” No. Calm the hell down, nobody’s calling you a rapist. You’re still a problem, though.

    I will admit that before I joined what you might call movement atheism–which happened very, very recently–I too thought that this community was made up almost entirely of bigoted idiots. The catch, though, is that I did NOT think this because of people like Rebecca Watson speaking out about it. I thought so because of encounters with nasty atheists both online and IRL. Anecdotal evidence, but there ya go.

  30. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    The epithets used here weaken the argument provide me an opportunity to distract and derail because I do not like that we’re having this discussion. We should all refrain from them I hope you continue using them as that will allow me to avoid engaging with the substantive argument.

  31. says

    thetalkingstove@28: No, I recommend everyone waste a little time on that link @25 if you can stomach it. Especially if you’re one of the ones who doesn’t know there’s a problem, or doesn’t care.

    What would an outsider think of atheists in general, seeing this guy representing one example of the sort of nuanced argumentation and civil discourse to expect?

  32. karmakin says

    The chances of an outsider seeing that page are effectively nil. Really.

    The reality is that most outsiders actually already see Atheism as Atheism+, or at least the goals as such. Libertarian Atheists are effectively invisible (and this is natural, considering that they are small minority of the movement), as the assumption is..correctly I think..that atheism is by and large a progressive-based movement.

    (Truth be told in terms of Atheism itself the presence of Libertarian Atheism can probably only help in the long-term, although speaking for myself I don’t really care as Big-L Libertarians are an intellectual pox)

    @Josh: The substantive argument is that there are sexist culture warrior gits on both sides of the debate and they should all just go away.

  33. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    @Josh: The substantive argument is that there are sexist culture warrior gits on both sides of the debate and they should all just go away.

    So those who are pushing back against sexism are “sexist culture warrior gits” just like the sexists themselves? How does that work?

  34. eupraxis says

    @36,
    Is the remark meant to allege that I had/have an ulterior motif for suggesting that the general discourse be less toxic and less … well, sophomoric sounding? We can do better than that, surely.

  35. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    @36,
    Is the remark meant to allege that I had/have an ulterior motif for suggesting that the general discourse be less toxic and less … well, sophomoric sounding? We can do better than that, surely.

    It’s meant to accuse you of fetishizing tone and spending more time policing terminology and etiquette than grappling with toxic bigotry.

  36. karmakin says

    So those who are pushing back against sexism are “sexist culture warrior gits” just like the sexists themselves? How does that work?

    Sexism is, at it’s core of making and spreading generalized thought patterns about genders (likewise the same for racism, classism, etc.), especially if you are making a value judgement about them, although I’d argue that the generalizations are bad in and of themselves.

    That we see it is unsurprising, as I said above, we’re all sexist to some degree. However, there does seem to be more than a baseline amount on both sides of the debate. Personally, I think it’s a natural result of a tribalistic/us vs. them train of thought (which is why I think that such a thing is in itself something we should strive to avoid).

    And this isn’t even just about a “What about the menz?” basis..there’s baseline sexism saying that all women want or desire the same thing or have the same needs or whatever.

    Quite frankly, I think to a degree it’s natural, but I’m more concerned with the culture warrior attitude, us vs. them (as I stated above) as I think that generally speaking, again, expecting it to result in either safe spaces or progress is quite frankly, a bit naive. I think that down that road leads utter defeat and feminism (in particular) is far too important to see that happen.

  37. says

    It is not ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ to oppose and fight harassment – ever. A single case is enough for me and, dammit, there are far more cases than there should be for people who claim to hold reason and rationality up as their standard.

    Keep pointing out the jerks Jason…good on ya’.

  38. ibbica says

    The problem with comparing bullying to terrorism is that you’re probably ignoring emotional/social bullying and only thinking about physical bullying.

    Not really. The whole point of using “terrorism” isn’t typically to kill or even physically harm all your enemies, it’s to frighten them into compliance. Effective terrorism strikes fear into those who have not been directly harmed (presumably as well as those who have been directly physically harmed, of course).

    I’d define terrorism as using violence and the threat of violence to advance a cause. They’re using harassment and the threat of harassment to advance a cause. I’m not denying that it’s vile, and that the people behind it are disgusting, but calling their behavior terrorism is an exaggeration.

    This actually does make some sense to me. ‘Bullying’ then would include non-physically-violent ‘harassing into compliance’, while ‘terrorism’ requires ‘use of physical force to frighten into compliance’?

    Does ‘a demonstration of physical violence’ do the same? Or ‘a threat of physical violence’? Some of that ‘harassment’ has included more than just verbal denigration. I’m willing to concede the point if there’s a real problem with using the term ‘terrorism’ to describe behaviour that stops short of actual physical violence. But I’m not really seeing it.

    I don’t think this is just an irrelevant semantic issue, because I don’t think we do anyone any favours by playing down the seriousness of their actions. And I do think their actions are doing real harm in a way that ‘bullying’ doesn’t quite capture.

    While I hope we all agree that bullying is wrong and harmful, it sounds to me like something children do, before they’ve fully formed their concepts of right and wrong and what it means to act morally. It is something you do to make yourself feel powerful, without consideration for the harm being done. It is something that stops when you understand that it’s not moral to threaten or harm others.

    ‘Terrorism’ on the other hand captures the malicious forethought taking place in an “adult” brain that understands the harm being done and acts anyway, to serve what it perceives as some worthy goal. Now, I’m not convinced that ‘the haters’ really have no idea of the harm being done, but that may be a possibility.

    (And of course I’ll just shut up now with apologies if Jason you see this as a derail!)

  39. karmakin says

    @jennifer: Aimed at men is easier…”mansplaining” being a big one (I’d actually rather call it philosophizing), aimed at women, it’s a bit tougher, as it’s more subjective, but generally when you see people claiming to speak for “women” as a group, that’s sexist. Schrodinger’s Rapist is sexist as well (I think it’s understandable, but still sexist).

    Note on Schrodinger: I actually think that concept works for a whole lot of things, and that’s why it’s understandable.

    Re: Culture Warrior stuff, the example I give is that I don’t think that the CW posture has done any favors for Christianity. While the breakdown hasn’t been all that fast, studies (The BARNA one being the one I’m most familiar with) show that most young people view Christianity as overly judgmental and hypocritical. As in other forms I see similar comments about feminism and how it unfortunately pushes people towards MRA attitudes, I can’t see this as a good thing at all.

  40. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    eupraxis—We can be a ‘we’ if I don’t have to listen to tone trolling and mis-prioritized concern about insults. Been there, done that, not interested. I don’t spend time with people who squander their time and mine on etiquette concerns (note that I’m often, but not always, profane—most of us loudmouths do in fact understand when to use different tactics. Etiquette complainers? Not so much.). It is always a waste of oxygen and an exercise in frustration.

  41. says

    No, a change in topic focus to another related problem is not a derail — it helps to explore the problem more thoroughly. It’s a derail when someone tries to change the subject altogether because they don’t like the current one. Carry on. I only regret that I can’t more thoroughly participate in this because I think the distinction made between bullying and terrorism being purely physical is interesting, and probably wrong. The guy that beats you up for your lunch money every day — is he a bully or a terrorist?

  42. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Schrodinger’s Rapist is sexist as well (I think it’s understandable, but still sexist).

    Only if you make an obsession out of the literal meaning of the word without recognizing that most of us mean “discriminatory against a sex with no good reason and no connection to reality” when we use the term ‘sexist.’

    You spend a lot of time publicly feeling sorry for yourself, Karmakin, and complaining about things like ‘mansplaining.’ Forgive me if I question your motivation. It appears to me you’re more upset at a perceived slight to Karmakin than you are worried about people “being pushed to MRA attitudes.”

  43. karmakin says

    @Jason: He’s a strawman. Well no. I hate that term, especially in this case because he does happen. He’s a red herring. A distraction. He’s a derail. That’s better.

    Like it or not, for the reasons I mentioned, at least in schools, physical bullying is easy to deal with. It’s the Nelson Muntz’s in the world. They probably need help themselves as well, but at the very least the things they are doing are already against the rules, and especially in a violence zero-tolerance environment..well..like I said. It’s easy. More or less, we got that covered. Note that I generally disagree with zero-tolerance environments.

    But social bullying. That’s where the problem is. We don’t have rules against that. It’s very hard to even come up with rules against that. But here’s the first thing to know about social bullying.

    It’s rarely about the bully, it’s about the victim.

    That is, social bullying can’t really be done alone. It has to be done by an entire community. Enforcement? A joke. And why is it done?

    To enact change. Often negative change, to be sure, but still change. To stop gay people from being gay to stop geeky people from being geeky to stop introverted people from being introverted etc.

    It IS terrorism…but it’s also a political weapon in some circumstances. Does the righteousness of the cause justify the use of the weapon? Personally, I don’t think it does, mainly because I don’t think it’s effective in the first place. You just end up escalating things over and over, especially when you can’t marginalize your target and actually win/shut them up. (Which, to be honest is the goal here. Not a value judgment on this btw).

    Which is again, why I see it as bullies on both sides running the debate to the detriment of everybody.

  44. Rodney Nelson says

    I see bullying as an individual or small group effort while terrorism is a larger group effort. Another difference is that bullies are picking on someone momentary satisfaction while terrorist have a usually political goal in mind.

    A bully bullying a weaker person is establishing dominance. A terrorist wishes some group or society to react in a certain way. The published goal of the 9/11 terrorists was to get US troops out of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. That’s more nuanced and long-term then getting grins and giggles out of harassing a school child.

    Are the pitizens bullies or terrorists? Some of both. Some of them get their jollies from sadistic behavior to perceived weaker groups. Others want to continue their dominance over women. And some of them want both.

  45. karmakin says

    @Josh: You believe whatever you want to believe, but you’re doing feminism and equality no favors by defending sexist/bigoted speech/actions.

    I’ll continue actually doing the hard work and try to convince people to adopt a more positive/progressive point of view while you have funsies here.

  46. smhll says

    I see bullying as an individual or small group effort while terrorism is a larger group effort. Another difference is that bullies are picking on someone momentary satisfaction while terrorist have a usually political goal in mind.

    I think there can be organized group bullying with the intent to terrorize.

  47. richardwatkins says

    To paraphrase:

    “To show how totally not divisive we are, here’s a diagram illustrating the division of us from them.”

  48. Chaos Engineer says

    Does the righteousness of the cause justify the use of the weapon? Personally, I don’t think it does, mainly because I don’t think it’s effective in the first place.

    It’s hard to tell from what you’ve written, but I think what you’re talking about is the use of social sanctions in response to deviant behavior. Those aren’t always a bad thing. I mean, it seems silly to say, “Kidnappers want to imprison law-abiding citizens, but law-abiding citizens want to imprison kidnappers. Really both sides are equally bad.”

    Now, social sanctions don’t have to involve putting people in jail. They can start with a mild rebuke (“Guys, don’t do that!”) and gradually escalate to glaring, ridicule, and eventually ostracism from polite society. This process is about 99% effective in discouraging unwanted behavior. From a moral perspective, the only question we need to ask is, “Do the level of sanctions fit the magnitude of the offense? In particular, is the ‘deviant behavior’ in question really harmful to other members of society, or is it just a minor eccentricity that we should be able to cope with?”

    So, consider the set of sexist lunkheads that haven’t been cured by mild rebukes or glares. Do you think there’s any reason not to escalate to ridicule and ostracism? Do they deserve to be treated any better than That One Guy who was talking on his cellphone the whole damned way through the movie I was trying to watch? (You don’t need to answer that, I’m just still ticked-off about the movie.)

  49. bjartefoshaug says

    I agree that speaking of “terrorism” is putting it strongly, but I don’t think it’s entirely out of place. If there is a difference, it is only one of degree. To be sure, I haven’t encountered any examples of actual physical violence yet, but there have definitely been threats of both rape and murder (Just ask Rebecca Watson). I also think it is safe to say that we are dealing with something more than childish “bullying” just for the fun of it. There’s been a clear and concistent message of intimidation running through the endless hate-campaigns we have seen against feminists in the movement: “Shut up about about that ‘sexism’ crap, or you’ll get (more of) the same”. Finally, I think we can begin to distinguish a couple of fairly obvious agendas at this point, including, but not necessarily limited to:
    1. Defending the “church” and its “righteous prophets” from negative attention. (Works pretty well so far, don’t you think, dear Muslima?)
    2. Defending male privilege and opposing anything that would make it more difficult for the worst males who ever lived to seek pleasure at women’s expence (Thunderf00t’s objections that anti-harassment-policies at conferences would ruin his “fun” are highly revealing in this respect).
    3. There may* be a libertarian angle, in which case it’s rooted in a more general aversion to rules and restrictions (based on the kind of paranoid, slippery slope thinking that sees normal standards of decency as a first step towards Big Brother coming in and taking away our rights)

    * I’m saying “may be”, since those of my friends who (unlike me) identify as libertarians seem as disgusted by the pro-harassment crowd as I am, and I’m the one who introduced the word “terrorism” to describe what they are doing.

  50. says

    Know what’s cool about your “more accurate” diagram, proudmra? Both sides are wrong, both are straw dummies.

    I bet you think you’re not a misogynist but perceived that way, too. Maybe if you stopped fighting with feminists, people would stop thinking you’re misogynist. I’m willing to bet you’re in the part of my diagram that overlaps the actual bigots and the people who think the A+ers are the problem, but don’t realize you’re actually damaging women. Congratulations, you’re a (very fucking vocal) rarity!

  51. proudmra says

    The core theme of the plussers is “Anyone who disagrees with a woman is, by definition, a misogynist.” Your recommendation of “quit disagreeing with feminists and you won’t be called a misogynist” reflects the same silly attitude.

    No thanks. Atheists and skeptics aren’t as likely to fall for that routine as the general populace, which is why the new Atheist Tea Party is doomed to fail. Simply declaring “Anyone who disagrees with us is evil” never works.

  52. ibbica says

    The core theme of the plussers is “Anyone who disagrees with a woman is, by definition, a misogynist.”

    *Sigh* No, it’s really not.

    Your recommendation of “quit disagreeing with feminists and you won’t be called a misogynist”

    Well yes, that would be silly. But that’s a silly point to make because that not what anyone’s saying. Well, other than those repeating blatant misrepresentations.

  53. Myballs says

    Alright, but the real question now is, what should we do with them.

    Should we kill them? burn them? rape them? because we clearly can’t let them go on like that.

    I think it’s our duty to take away their freedom, and to shut them up for good. Because that’s what we believe in at freethoughtblogs, freedom of speech, unless it hurts my feeling.

    RON PAUL FOR PRESIDENT, 9-11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB.

    8========================D, my balls.

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