Asking the Wrong Question about Ingersoll #wiscfi

I ended up missing the last two talks of the Women In Secularism conference because I had to catch a stupid plane that was stupid ten hours earlier than I would have stupid liked. Stupid. Blah.

Okay, I’m happy that I’m home, and completely bloody spent, but in a good way. A mostly good way. There were a few nasty objectionable ragey bits, but that’s okay, we can all disagree here on the internet. And it’s not like disagreement with those nasty bits weren’t put front and centre on the stage through the entire conference.

Those ragey bits had a minor trend among them — several of them were expressly about how uninviting such a conference or such a social justice movement in general might be to men. In the one case, you have CFI CEO Ron A Lindsay’s opening speech claiming that feminists are using the word privilege to shut down civil disagreements or as a club to end arguments (without providing examples), and “cautioning” the feminists in the audience that men should not be told to “shut up and listen”. (As though only men did that.) We won’t talk about this poorly thought-out exercise in well-poisoning, this abuse of Lindsay’s bully pulpit, because many people have already expended far too many words (though here’s some excellent ones) about a man’s point of view during a conference attempting to expand women’s input in the secular movement. Suffice it to say, I strongly disagree with Ron, but making this conference even more about him undercuts all the worthy content from the women who spoke this weekend.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see one of the other ragey bits in person. During the second-last slot of the day today, R Elisabeth Cornwell of the Richard Dawkins Foundation presented a talk titled Who Speaks for Feminism. Kate Donovan was on hand to live-blog it. There were a few sticking points in it, but I’m most interested in this brief post (well, brief compared to all the other transcription I’ve done this weekend!), in challenging only one part.
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The further hyper-skepticism stalling our conversation

Last year, when the bugs crawling out from under the rock that had been overturned several months prior by Rebecca Watson continued unabated, and pretty much everyone was shocked that that many creepie-crawlies resided in our vaunted skeptical community, I wrote a series of posts on the whole ordeal called The Problem with Privilege. One of those posts dealt with the rampant and repeated demands for evidence regarding the incident that Rebecca had called creepy — as though recounting a story and saying “guys, don’t do that, it’s creepy” was some kind of misandrist clarion call, which must be rebuffed lest it result in fewer pick-up artists getting their dicks wet.

So these trolls, being part of the skeptical community (apparently), used our strengths against us by attacking the claim on its merits, since the claim “I was tipsy in an elevator at 4am and a guy followed me in and asked me to his room” doesn’t meet the high standards of evidence we use in the skeptical community when it comes to extraordinary claims. Never mind that it was a perfectly ordinary claim about someone’s experience with a slightly-offputting person that did not result in any physical harm. Specifically, I characterized this compulsion as hyper-skepticism, along the same lines as 9/11 truthers, birthers, and other conspiracy theorists.

We’re now seeing the exact same tactic being used again in the wake of a conflagration that Jen McCreight accidentally set off when she casually mentioned at the Women In Secularism CFI conference that female speakers occasionally warn one another of potentially creepy male speakers.
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CFI Canada creating “Good and Godless” campaign

CFI Canada sent around via email, as part of a fundraising effort, the news that they’re planning on starting up a campaign with which I couldn’t agree more. I quote:

Hi Jason

Did you hear that Atheists are as distrusted as rapists? That’s the result of a UBC study:

105 UBC students between the ages of 18 and 25 were presented with a description of an untrustworthy person – an “archetypal freerider” who committed selfish and illegal acts when he thought he could get away with it. Subjects were more likely to find the description representative of atheists than Christians, Muslims, gay men, feminists or Jewish people. Only rapists were similarly distrusted.

In response, the Centre for Inquiry is starting a Campaign “Good and Godless”, inviting atheists of all backgrounds to record short videos explaining who they are, how they contribute to society and why they are indeed moral people. Videos will be displayed on our Think Again! TV YouTube Channel.

Click Here to Join or Renew Your Membership or Make a Charitable Donation

This is just another project supported by your membership and donation to the Centre for Inquiry Canada. This will be our last email to thank you for helping make 2011 an amazing year for our shared values – skeptical inquiry, freedom of thought, and secular humanism – and to encourage you to make a tax-deductible charitable donation and renew your membership (extending it by 12 months from its expiration date) at this time.

It’s a damn good idea, if you ask me — though I’m ever leery of doing video. And donations are tax-deductible, if you are so inclined.

James Randi in Halifax Sept. 30th

I need to see this. I’ll have to get off work early to make this visit, but this might be my last chance to see the man that took out Uri Geller in person. James Randi’s doing a tour of Canada, and his ultimate destination is St. Mary’s University in Halifax.

Randi will be speaking on human psychology and the ease with which it can be manipulated to convince people to believe in psychics, UFOs, ghosts, and other paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.

This unique and provocative lecture is not only educational but also highly entertaining. It appeals to persons of all educational and social backgrounds and provides a rational perspective on the seemingly paranormal and otherwise unexplained happenings in our day-to-day life. Randi illustrates just how easily many scientists (who should really know better) can become blind to the fact that they are not proficient at detecting fraud, often managing to fool themselves when the prize is sufficiently attractive. And he puts up a million-dollar award as bait!

Admission paid upon entry

$5 for CFI members

$15 for non-members

There’s a special reception for CFI members, too. One of these days I’m going to have to spring for a membership.