Skepticon video: Greta Christina – Avoiding Activist Burnout

I absolutely loved the shorter version of this speech that she did at another con a while back, and was pleased to get to see it live. Unfortunately for me, though, Dave Muscato of American Atheists had put out a call to the intertubes asking whether or not anyone had a flash card reader and the ability to transfer a movie file to him by email. I happened to be on my laptop with a flash card reader and an internet connection, so I swept out to be the big damn hero and ended up missing a significant chunk of this speech. I’m happy this video exists so I can fill in the missing bits.

At the moment, I am actively attempting to control my activist burnout by learning Java programming, learning LibGDX, and generally pursuing my pipe dream of building a rogue-like Castlevania-alike platform game with retraversal and RPG stats*. It seems like a more immediately attainable goal, to me, than expunging sexist sentiment from a community whose members often prioritize getting along in a big-tent fashion rather than actually fixing the systematic empathy failures entrenched in some quarters.

* If you don’t get this, and care, ask me. I’ll explain. At length.

Rage Blogging and Drama: The Elan Gale Story

It has come to my attention that there are some members of the various internet skeptical and secular communities, not to mention members of the greater internet “blogosphere”, who evidently do not know what “blogging” actually IS. I am obligated, therefore, to explain, because I happen to be a “blogger” on occasion myself. It behooves me that everyone understand exactly what it is I’m doing here.
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Why they don’t report — except, sometimes, they do

Trigger warning: accounts of rape and discussion of how these rape conversations are cyclical.

Every time we go ’round the rape mulberry bush, well-meaning newcomers to the conversation make unreasonable demands of victims of a crime. It seems obvious to anyone armed only with common sense that if you are the victim of a crime, you report it to the police. So these newcomers make demands of the victims, and some long-term participants in the same conversations actually relish the opportunity to argue the same ground again. The demands almost always include that rape victims be re-victimized by submitting their life to intense scrutiny by the police and by bystanders who are reflexively defensive of the accused.
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Splitting the difference between reality and mythology

Something I’ve noticed very prominently recently in these wars amongst atheists and secularists, wars waged over our daring to suggest that maybe us feminists might also want a say in how women in the community are generally treated, is that every time one particular section of our community dislikes something, they find it sufficient to build up mythologies around it in an attempt to destroy it, rather than challenging the ideas on their merits. This subset of our rationalist community invents things from whole cloth to demonize the people they want out of the movement.

It has happened with Freethought Blogs, Skepchick, Atheism Plus, and just about every person associated with both the ideas of secularism, skepticism or atheism, and the idea that maybe we need to sort our house out if we ever hope to be welcoming to people other than the stock-in-trade of the community, the semi-affluent cis white male. It has happened with me a number of times. It has happened with Ophelia more times than I can count, and Stephanie, and Rebecca Watson, and PZ Myers. To people who disagree with A+, like Natalie Reed. Even to people who had never heard of any of these fights before.

It has happened and will continue to happen to every person who dares to say “I disagree” to any “leader” in this so-called leaderless movement, on any topic approaching social justice. I mean, with that sort of temerity, surely they’re just asking for a river of shit to flow over them, amirite? Surely they’re dishing “it” out, so they can take it (never mind that we’re amplifying “it” by many orders of magnitude)?

And so it goes that an incident in which I was involved tangentially, and briefly, kicking around some anti-feminist goobers on Facebook until their break with reality became blatant and too overwhelming for me to deal with, was morphed by certain elements’ mythologizing into a concerted effort to shut down a forum and silence free speech.

BECAUSE FTBULLIES.

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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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Atheism Plus is just like a religion

Over and over and over again, we’ve heard that the Atheism Plus is driving divisiveness, is tribalistic, and is just like a religion. I’m not really sure how to answer that last one, except to point out that if we didn’t have a point when we say “hey, we have an adoption problem, people are being turned off of atheism by all the douchebags that have entrenched themselves in it”, we wouldn’t be fomenting so much hate from those same self-identified douchebags, would we?
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The Heresy Club on Age Trolling

Alex Gabriel, Hayley Stevens and Rhys Morgan, a trio of young skeptics and atheists from a group blog known collectively as The Heresy Club, had a Google+ hangout describing some of the trolling they’ve received in our communities from other members over, of all things, being too young. They discuss the strange double-standard of lauding young skeptics when they agree with a person’s philosophies, but turning around and dismissing their concerns as stemming from inexperience when those very same trolls disagree. It’s funny how many parallels there are to the A+ and feminist blogospherics of late.

Excellent hangout, folks. I think the only thing I’d clarify is that dismissing someone as not having had the experience you expect — which Rhys and Alex rightly point out is an unfair preemptive dismissal of someone’s perspective — does not implicate the privilege argument at all. When someone is privileged and has no way of understanding the scope of a certain tilted framework by virtue of never being affected by it, it’s possible they don’t have any valuable insights to offer. I agree that it’s terrible to suggest that because a person is young, they are too inexperienced to have valid arguments. I expect this wouldn’t extend to understanding problems that are unique to old age — short of what they’re able to read about those things, they haven’t yet experienced them themselves.

I’m heartened by this video significantly, regardless of picayune clarifications like mine. These folks aren’t just the FUTURE of skepticism and atheism in our respective movements. They are the PRESENT. And I’m glad to have them on our side.

The campaign against Amy Davis Roth

I met Amy Davis Roth, also known as Surly Amy, two years ago at CONvergence 2010 – SkepchickCON 2. Jodi and I were on our honeymoon — yes, we spent our honeymoon at a geek convention. Couldn’t have picked a better venue. Amy had a table in the dealer’s room, selling her ceramic Surly necklaces, and I picked up a green atom necklace so I could wear science iconography where so many others wear their religious iconography. Her partner Surly Johnny was a bad influence on me and I drank too many Buzzed Aldrins. The experience was a bit of a whirlwind one, but I got a sense from everyone working the Skepchick party room that they were passionate, committed, and principled, even when they were doing their damnedest to make sure everyone had a good time.

My already favorable impression of Amy was redoubled when I found out that she’d nearly singlehandedly sent dozens of women to TAM over the years, organizing and running fundraisers and committing resources from her Surlys to that end. She had a great deal of help, but she was almost certainly the lynchpin. And she writes timely and important rallying cries when the movement needs them the most — and that’s what a leader does, even if they don’t necessarily want or accept that mantle.

I met her again at SkepchickCON 4 a month and a half ago, and her enthusiasm and pink Darth Vader costume put her over the top for me — I have a ton of respect for the lady. If we ever disagree, it’ll be on good terms. She’s earned quite a bit of goodwill with me.

So I guess it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that a mainstay of the skepto-atheistic blogosphere, who’s done so much to promote skepticism and atheism, and to foster inclusiveness of women in our communities, is under concerted attack.
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The Problem with Pseudonymity

I really want to get a post out at some point in the near future discussing the heavy parallels between the online atheist/skeptic communities’ current misogyny imbroglio, and the nearly identical one happening presently in the online video game community. There’s a lot to chew on though, and my writing time (and energy) has been severely limited lately by a bad combination of work and life interfering heavily with blogospherics. That might be a while in the making.

Others, however, are striking blows for the side of the angels in both communities, including this excellent post calling on men to “man up” and stop the misogyny in our communities — because without male participation in the initiative to end male-on-female harassment, we ain’t going to get very far.

However, for all its good, there are a number of very problematic aspects to this post. Notwithstanding the buying into the “boy”/”man” dichotomy, rigid gender roles for men, etc., the author of this piece, Ernest W. Adams, makes an absolutely monumental error that needs addressing. One that exposes that he has engaged the same sort of magical thinking Google engaged in when building their no-pseudonymity policy on Google+. This error is that attaching your real name (or a real-sounding name) to your account will somehow provide a prophylactic effect against online harassment and cyber-bullying — preventing it from happening in the first place.

This is categorically not the case.
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CONvergence: Rebecca Watson ruins everything

I noticed something shortly after the very well-received Don’t Feed the Trolls panel at CONvergence’s SkepchickCON, once ZOMGItsCriss posted the video. People who otherwise have never seen the level of anti-Watson hatred that her mere existence incurs, were surprised and angered by the fact that the comments on Criss’ video largely ignored the fact that there were five other panelists present. As such, Watson only comprised a smallish fraction of the discussion — and yet, some folks’ comments ran along the line of “why would I listen to That Skepchick bitch whine hysterically about nothing for an hour? She should get raped so she loosens up, the prude whore.” (This is, of course, a composite of real comments on that video. Edit: For skeptics of this exceptional claim, like “…” in the comments, click this to see a Youtube comment that’s very, VERY similar.)

That sort of shit was exactly our point, and it appears to have catalyzed at least one bystander to radicalize against that sort of trolling.

The last night I spent in Minneapolis, Skepchick Kammy held a barbecue at her place for the participants of the SkepchickCON track. At one point, Kammy’s son pressganged his parents into moving the attendees into their driveway so they could set off the remainder of the fireworks (left over from the celebration a few days prior, when Minnesotans celebrate Three Days After Canada Day in a sweet, but odd, gesture to your neighbors to the north). We pulled our chairs out from their back yard and set them up to watch the firework display, and I found myself setting my chair up near enough to Watson to pronounce loudly:

“Well, I was really looking forward to seeing this firework display, but now that I’m stuck here next to Rebecca Watson, it’s just ruined for me. I mean, who wants to listen to her sit quietly for an hour?”
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