(Guest Post) Words of mass destruction: the weaponization of ‘free speech’

A guest post by Robert Fendt. Please address comments appropriately. :)

(Note: this text deals with harassment, sexism, misogyny, racism and transphobia. Readers’ discretion is advised.)

Dear reader: are you male? White? Heterosexual? Cisgender? Healthy? Congratulations: this text is for you. It also means you are among us lucky ones who get to play the game called ‘life’ on the easiest setting there is. Don’t believe it? Read on.

Disclaimer: I’m also a white male cisgender heterosexual person. And for a long time, I would have said about me having it particularly easy in life: don’t be ridiculous. But I do have friends and colleagues who are not male, who are not white, who are not heterosexual, who are not cisgender, some of whom have to deal with disability or illness, and listening to them has changed and reshaped my perspective. It’s time it changed the perspectives of us all.

In the ‘western’ countries, freedom of opinion and speech are fundamental rights, designed to protect minorities from persecution. So how ironic is it that nowadays ‘free speech’ also functions as a smoke screen for the harassment of women and minorities?

Imagine being a woman walking down the street. Now try to guess how common cat calls and whistles are, and how many unsolicited comments about your body and looks you get. Try to guess how common it is that strangers come uncomfortably close or even touch you without your consent. If you guessed “rarely”, then guess again. Being a woman in public means being scrutinised and ogled and commented upon, at the very least. And now do me a favor: honestly try to imagine being in that position. Imagine dealing with stuff like that. For every. Single. Fucking. Day.
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Privilege, Dialogue, Harassment, and the Anti-Availability Heuristic

The Availability Heuristic is a well-known cognitive bias that primes people to more readily believe something when they can easily come up with examples. Of the cognitive biases that I’ve encountered among rationalists in the skeptical and atheist communities, this bias is the one I’m most capable of coming up with examples. I am therefore primed to believe more readily that atheists and skeptics are not immune to this bias — myself included.

But there’s a little-discussed inverse to this bias, where examples are generally filtered out of one’s daily existence because they don’t impact on you directly, and thus, you are less ready to believe someone claiming to experience them. I call this the anti-availability heuristic, though I’m sure there are better names for it.
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