On the PR Disaster at #Skepticon and the lack of #ConcernedStudent1950 representation

Given how the late-addition “Q&A” session at Skepticon came into being, how it was sold to the convention, how it was advertised, and how it was “envisioned” by Danielle Muscato and Mark Schierbecker, it is no surprise the entire thing went off disastrously. Let us itemize the ways this all went wrong.

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Constructing an understanding of social constructs

Throughout the discussions on gender that have been sweeping through our circles of late, there’s been one particularly maddening dichotomy in thought that’s been thrown into sharp relief for me — that people having this conversation evidently have competing ideas of what a “social construct” actually is. Will has a great post on the gender discussions proper over at Skepchick, which has a passage that I think highlights exactly why people are getting it wrong in our communities:

It is no coincidence that many people within the atheoskeptosphere tend toward essentialism. After all, most people in these communities tend to highly value the natural sciences and think of science as a culture-free objective enterprise. Thus, the “soft” social sciences (and the non-scientific humanities) are often viewed as being wishy-washy and far less objective than the natural sciences, and so any theories developed in these disciplines are subject to increased, if not hyper, skepticism.

I cannot think of a more accurate statement to summarize why people in these communities are having such a hard time with these conversations.

Content note for topics that involve violence against certain genders or identities, assault on personal autonomy, and might trigger dysphoria amongst people prone to such. I’m trying to be sensitive herein, but we’re talking about gender-prescriptivists and the nexus of sex and gender.

Full disclosure, I’m a heteronormative heterosexual cis white middle-class male — pretty well the privilege royal flush in our society. But I have a particular interest in society and the so-called “soft sciences” of sociology; of human interactions, gender, and social justice. So, I’m bending my thoughts to the fights I’ve witnessed over many many years of blogging and other internet conversations. Correct me if I get anything wrong herein, please. I’d strongly prefer you voice your concerns and I alter part of this argument, than that I cause anyone (especially those already under scrutiny or oppression) any undue pain.

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The bad logic of “Good People Can’t Be Sexists”

One of the things that makes me averse to getting into deep conversation lately about morality and about people’s sexist and racist behaviour is that we appear to be hard-wired to think the whole conversation is binary — you did a bad, objectionable thing, therefore you’re Evil. You are criticized for doing a bad, objectionable thing, but are generally good, therefore you’re being hounded by Feminazis and Thought Police. Any nuance in the conversation is smashed out by our resorting to binary thinking again and again.

In mathematical terms, the problem is that good and bad, sexist and not sexist, are absolutes. When we render them into pure two-valued logic, we’re taking shades of gray, and turning them into black and white.

There are people who are profoundly sexist or racist, and that makes them bad people. Just look at the MRAs involved in Gamergate: they’re utterly disgusting human beings, and the thing that makes them so despicably awful is the awfulness of their sexism. Look at a KKKer, and you find a terrible person, and the thing that makes them so terrible is their racism.

But most people aren’t that extreme. We’ve just absorbed a whole lot of racism and sexism from the world we’ve lived our lives in, and that influences us. We’re a little bit racist, and that makes us a little bit bad – we have room for improvement. But we’re still, mostly, good people. The two-valued logic creates an apparent conflict where none really exists.

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(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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Brief thoughts on Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech

Satire depends heavily on the cultural context in which it was made. Charlie Hebdo is certainly a leftist rag, and certainly satire, and certainly understood as such within France’s cultural context. However, there are some universals about satire that people, time and again, forget.

The first and most important thing to remember is that satire can damage just as much as the original offense, and sometimes more. Charlie Hebdo’s satire was about taking some aspect of the news cycle — some politician or celebrity who held racist and sexist views — and illustrating the logical end result of those views. In a context where a great deal of damage has been done by outright propaganda by outright racists and sexists, where “Evil Banker Jew” and “Monkey-Like Black Person” are well-worn tropes, depicting them as though you’re resurrecting the trope in order to scandalize the person who still holds those views is fraught and potentially more damaging to the person who’s damaged by the original racism.

The second thing to remember about satire is that it is a powerful weapon, to be wielded carefully so as to avoid splash damage. Attacking a class — or being perceived to be attacking a class — that is already under siege by society, is “punching down”. Even if you’re trying to shame the person who’s holding an antisemitic or anti-black or anti-woman view, you could very well legitimize or normalize attacks on that class of person by increasing the number of instances where it’s perceived to be acceptable. Increasing the frequency of a meme does not NECESSARILY legitimize it, but it CAN.
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Someone challenged Aron Ra to explain feminism to him via a Youtube video, begging every single one of the seven questions. Aron Ra gave laudable answers, though PZ Myers pointed out some errors and some of the pitfalls that Aron Ra stumbled through (owing, entirely, to the framing of the questions — just look at the expectation of an autocratic hierarchy with an authoritarian power structure).

In the comments at PZ’s, the thread rapidly became a “what about the men” derail by someone who apparently, genuinely, just wanted to explore the topic. He suggested an apposite inverse to feminism would be “masculinism”, which deals with the ways that men are disadvantaged in society.

I had done, some time ago, a piece on the disadvantages of being a man. Strangely enough, all of them stemmed from the current structure of our society, which undeniably advantages men disproportionately. There are a few corrections that need to be made to that essay, which I’ll try to touch on in here. I feel the need to talk about “masculinism”, “egalitarianism” (in reference specifically to gender relations), what it could look like, and why it’s particularly incomplete without integrating into feminism.

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Crommunist imagines Macklemore and Tim Wise as a buddy cop story

Absolutely brilliant. What an inspiring story of overcoming adversity in the face of anti-white bigotry!

(ELMORE and WISER sit at a dimly-lit bar, drinks in front of them. Music by Kenny G plays in the background. The bar is mostly empty, save for a few regular patrons.)

ELMORE: I don’t get you, Wiser. You’ve been on the force for 20 years, but you’re still front line. Why not write the sergeant’s exam? Why not try to move up the ladder?

WISER: (Sighs) You still don’t get it, kid. The system is rigged against guys like us. You think I haven’t written that exam? You think I want to be stuck in the same place? It’s all bullshit politics.

ELMORE: What do you mean?

WISER: I used to be like you, Elmore. I used to believe that the system could treat folks like you and me fairly, if we played by the rules. But all that changed when the mayor hired the first black police commissioner. At first I thought it was a great step. Clear out some of the old racists, get some new blood in the chain of command. Really change the force, you know?

ELMORE: So what happened?

WISER: The new commissioner turned out to be just as racist as the old one. The first thing he did was appoint a deputy. You know what colour that deputy was? Black. Then when it was time for a new Internal Affairs chief, the commissioner put forward a list of recommendations. Not a white man on the list.

ELMORE: I can’t… I can’t believe it

WISER: Believe it. Face it, Elmore. The tables have turned. Now guys like you and me are riding at the back of the bus, while the commissioner puts all his buddies in all the positions of authority.

Read more. Now.

Craig Cobb’s got a little black in him

If you’ve never heard of him, this guy’s a real piece of work.

White supremacist and leader of the so-called “Creative Movement”, Craig Cobb was born and raised in Boston. He grew disenchanted with Christianity when his racism was too much even for the more intolerant churches, inherited some money, and moved to Estonia to build a white supremacist movement. There, he founded a white supremacist media sharing website called Podblanc. Then he was deported to Canada after the Estonian government decided he was a hateful asshat; he landed in Vancouver where he was issued a summons to appear in court over Canada’s hate speech laws with respect to his site. He skipped across the border and is wanted in Canada to this day. Cobb is currently trying to remake Leith, North Dakota in his lily-white image.

Only, hilariously, turns out he’s not so lily-white after all. He appeared on The Trisha Goddard show, a UK daytime talk show, agreeing to take a DNA test to prove his white purity. That this was for a daytime talk show should have been a red flag for him, but he plowed ahead anyway.

He has, naturally, since claimed that the DNA test was a sham to build phony controversy.

The interesting thing about science is that it’s replicable. I would pay good money for him to send more DNA samples to other companies, blinded wherever possible. It’s extraordinarily likely that he’s going to have “sub-Saharan African” ancestry in every test, given how humanity has generally evolved, and I’d love for him to have that particular fact so unequivocally proven as to undermine his philosophy for the rest of his days.

You’ve got a little black in you, man. You hate yourself — and every other human being on the planet, ultimately.

Conspiracy theories about Zimmerman’s car crash rescue

I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but they’re setting off all sorts of wishful-thinking and conspiracy theory alarms on my bullshit detection kit. Four days after being declared not guilty of murder after having shot and killed 17-year-old unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman quickly reentered the news. CNN reports that he “stepped out of seclusion” and, happening upon the scene of a family of four having overturned their car, helped pull them from the car before it erupted into flames.

By the time a deputy arrived, Zimmerman and another man already had helped the two adults and two children out of the vehicle, Smith said.

Zimmerman did not witness the crash, and he left after making contact with the deputy, Smith said. No injuries were reported in the crash.

Only there are some minor inconsistencies with the report: that Zimmerman didn’t mention the rescue to his lawyer when they next saw one another; that the family didn’t mention a crash on social media; that the first officer on the scene was a self-described “friend” of Zimmerman even before the verdict.
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#FtBCON: Atheism Is Not Enough panel

As proven by the deep rifts that exist within movement atheism, a common acknowledgement that there is no god is often not enough ground on which to build a coherent, lasting community. Social justice movements often encounter tipping points where they either take into account the natural allies that are other movements, or they fail. Debbie Goddard, Desiree Schell, James Croft, Kimberley Veal, Kim Rippere and Yemisi Ilesanmi all joined me to discuss atheism and social justice, and how atheism shouldn’t be the endpoint of a journey into freethought, but the beginning.

This was a two hour panel. It will be a beast to transcribe. I will pitch in when I can, if someone sets up a transcription project for this.