Stupid is as stupid does

One of the points made in that discussion yesterday is sometimes the “trolls” are just people trying to make an argument contrary to our own, and that they should have a right to express themselves; I was also told that dismissing disagreement as stupid or wrong was a prejudicial value judgement.

I would agree that there certainly are boundary conditions where that might be true; we’re looking at a continuum, not a sharp black and white world, where one side is uniformly bright and stellar and the other is dark and dim. But even on a continuum there are extremes; sometimes one side really is stupid.

Free speech is not an automatic good. Stephanie Zvan has done a fabulous job of documenting the tactical mode of some of our opponents, the ones who claim to dwell in “a bastion of the most free of free speech”, where they are totally free to say whatever they like, and where the shoddy operations of their lazy, slimy brains are openly exposed for all to see. These are the people who think the argument “YOUR FAT AND UGLY” is cogent, and who think spicing it up with a photoshopped image makes it more persuasive.

There’s a reason I automatically ban those people. They’re assholes, as they demonstrate over and over again.

Comments

  1. says

    When so-called arguments run along lines such as “who are you to tell me using bitch and cunt is wrong?”, “acid in the face” and “evil feminazis are looking to dominate and subjugate all men”, I feel no obligation to listen, let alone try to correct so much wrong.

  2. ChasCPeterson says

    They’re assholes

    prezackly.
    This is the thing. These people refuse to face the real difference between, say, ‘banned for disagreeing’ and ‘banned for being such an asshole about it’.

    (that said, and acknowledging a difference in degree as well, there are some assholes around here, too.)
    (go ahead and interpret that as self-referential if you like.)

  3. Ogvorbis says

    These people refuse to face the real difference between, say, ‘banned for disagreeing’ and ‘banned for being such an asshole about it’.

    I suspect that if PZed banned anyone who disagreed with his writings no one would be left. Not even thee and me.

    And, speaking strictly for myself, I would also have been banned if the criteria was being an asshole. Luckily, I have many more facets than just assholery. Those who earn the bannhammer usually have to work very hard at persistent and continuous assholery.

  4. k_machine says

    Trying to silence your opposition with threats and insults isn’t free speech – it is the opposite. Libertarians hate freedom so they try to destroy it by label their own tactics “free”. It’s like saying that the SA were exercising their right to assembly when they broke up the meetings of political opponents. Godwin, you might say, but libertarians are really the latest incarnation of the extreme anti-freedom right. When Hitler blew his brains out in 1945, the last hope of killing freedom by attacking it directly disappeared, so ever since the extreme right have been flocking under the banner of “freedom”, all the while ceaselessly working against it. In libertopia there would be no restrictions on speech – think of how bad the cable news networks are now, and imagine how much worse it would be if they weren’t restricted by the threat of legal action.

  5. k_machine says

    One more thing re: trolls. The problem as I see it, is not so much the holding of extreme views, but the dishonesty that trolls use when arguing for them. This includes not backing down when you’ve been proven wrong, re-using debunked arguments when arguing with other people. Sometimes it is also useful to delineate borders of a debate, so that for example every discussion about WWII doesn’t revolve around the holocaust, it isn’t necessary to allow people who want to pray away global warming time to argue about solutions etc.

  6. glodson says

    Even here, in this space, I can say whatever I wish. I can post nearly anything. And sometimes, that comes with a consequence. In my limited experiences lurking(sorry, I can’t say that I’ve been a gold medal lurker, it was merely a hobby), I’ve not seen people banned for dissent. It seems to take some work, usually by jumping feet first right into something indefensible.

    But even those assholes, like a moron rape apologist, still can write whatever they want. And they face the reaction of the community. This might get you kicked out. But I’ve seen people argue points well, with a full range of emotion and language, and not face any community censure or banning.

    This free speech talk is just a way to shift blame. It isn’t their fault we can’t take their opinions when they express them with photoshop and threats. That’s just free speech!

  7. Mattir says

    If disagreement was all it took to get banhammered, I would have never survived my first posts, since I showed up here to defend our family’s right to choose to homeschool (a decision shared by my kids, for the record). It wasn’t, at the time, a popular opinion to express on Pharyngula. And I’m pretty sure I’m an opinionated asshole at times.

    (An aside, during the brief T-f00t debacle, I was told by the Slymepit that child protection should investigate me for allowing my kids (who are SEVENTEEN) to associate with the Commentariate Horde.)

  8. Rodney Nelson says

    One problem with free speech is that some people think it includes the right to be listened to. You can say whatever you want, I can walk away from you or even stick my fingers in my ears and go “LA LA LA!” Another problem is some people think free speech means not being criticized, that free speech only goes in one direction. You can say whatever you want and I can use my free speech to tell you how and why you’re wrong.

  9. atheist says

    Free speech is not an automatic good. … There’s a reason I automatically ban those people. They’re assholes, as they demonstrate over and over again.

    The haters need to remember that there is no constitutional right to make haterade. They can be just as disgusting as they want to be — on their own blog. If they don’t like the banhammer they can complain to their mom (assuming she still listens).

  10. No One says

    Free speech ends at the sidewalk. If you are in my driveway your free speech is is limited by my good graces.

  11. throwaway says

    What the fuck is with the attempts to twist words to make people look like hypocrites on some things – why yes, we’re all well aware that we have feet of clay; now can you show how the dictum is flawed instead of the execution? Because if there are to be no standards of decency – due to flawed standard-bearers – that is enough permission for them to behave as churlishly as they wish? That sense of morality most of us outgrew is what is being clung to – “Mommy stays up past 8:30, she doesn’t follow her own rules, so since she is wronging me by not obeying her own rules then I will stay up to 10 tonight.” or “Daddy said it’s wrong to throw stones at windows, but he told me that one time he threw stones at windows, so it’s not really wrong for me to throw this stone at that window since he’s done it.”

    They have convinced me on one thing only: were I forced to choose, I would rather have my nipples ripped off than to spend one second in the presence of any of them. They are just that detestable.

  12. johnmarley says

    But I must also say that the right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.

    - Hubert Humphrey, address to the National Student Council (1965).

  13. neutrinosarecool says

    Freedom of speech is a concept that grew out of resistance to autocratic regimes of various sorts – religious states, dictatorships, etc. Many countries today still have laws against ‘insulting state institutions’ – particularly in autocratic religious states. There’s little doubt that religious institutions with a political bent would like to put such laws in place in the United States, prohibiting say, speech that condemned Roman Catholic church leaders for engaging in and covering up the practice of child molestation. Similar problems exist in Saudi Arabia, but anyone raising the issue of sleazy child-abusing Wahhabi clerics ends up in the Saudi prison system.

    Ignorant religious fundamentalists, when faced with criticism of their religion, respond first with verbal threats and intimidation, and then with physical violence. That’s precisely how a dominant alpha chimp responds when his position as group leader is challenged, amusingly enough for those who also deny the existence of a common ancestor for humans and chimpanzees.

    Calling the former ‘free speech’ is perhaps technically correct, legally speaking – but at the very least, nobody needs to give it any space in their media. The latter, engaging in physical violence in the name of defending one’s beliefs, is more generally known as terrorism, and is also closely associated with religion, both historically and currently.

  14. Anri says

    Even here, in this space, I can say whatever I wish. I can post nearly anything. And sometimes, that comes with a consequence. In my limited experiences lurking(sorry, I can’t say that I’ve been a gold medal lurker, it was merely a hobby), I’ve not seen people banned for dissent. It seems to take some work, usually by jumping feet first right into something indefensible.

    Interestingly, you generally won’t even be banned for attempting to defend the indefensible. I’ve argued on the wrong side of questions here on – well let’s just say more than one occasion – and have never even been close to attracting the attention of the banhammer.
    Of course, when I was wrong, I was simply wrong, I wasn’t being a bigoted asshole. And when I realized (which is to say, Had It Forcibly Pounded Into My Wittle Skull) that I was wrong, I apologized and thanked the folks that did the pounding.

    That’s one of the awesome things about this blog. You can be wrong. You can be rude. You can even be stupid.
    What gets you gotten rid of is if you’re bigoted, or impervious to argument, or dedicated to making noise while not contributing anything of substance.

  15. smhll says

    These people refuse to face the real difference between, say, ‘banned for disagreeing’ and ‘banned for being such an asshole about it’.

    I watched the whole Google hangout discussion yesterday. I thought this meme, the oft-repeated idea that PZ swings the banhammer at people “just for disagreeing” was the biggest stumbling block to mutual understanding. My evidence is subjective, but I’ve spent at least 30 hours reading Pharyngula over the last year and another 20 hours, say, reading other left-leaning blogs on FtB. Therefore I think I’ve witnessed enough arguments with and without banning to form an informed opinion. Clearly I don’t read every word at this blog, but I do read well down many of the comment streams, especially about gender issues. When I see bans, they tend to be for straight up obnoxiousness. (Of course my POV does influence which arguments strike me as dumb or worthless or discredited. I freely admit that it is quite difficult for me to have a high opinion of someone who makes an argument that I think smells like crap. And my crap evaluator is probably half subjective and half objective.)(Most regular readers here are going to have a high opinion of PZ, and a tendency to develop a low opinion of people who disagree with PZ, unless that disagreement is expressed well.)

    (Arguments that seem to be anti-feminists arguments do get a lot of pushback from the commenters here. Not all of that pushback is ‘polite’, but that atmospheric issue one degree removed from the accusation that PZ personally crushes descent due to an unwonted love of crushing and “just because”. The Google hangout argument was that banning disagreement was wrong, not that disagreeing with disagreement is wrong. So let’s set aside any discussion that The Horde is disagreeable.)

    While I didn’t think the other three participants in the discussion were always arriving at logical conclusions, I appreciated that they stayed polite and generally tried to support the claims they made. However, I would like to know how much they actually read here at FtB, compared to how much they read complaints that are about here. My observation is that people who are in internet fights are dreadfully inaccurate at summarizing and reporting even short discussions that they took a side in. (And here’s my exaggerated metaphor — they are about as bad as eyewitness narcissists with something to hide playing Telephone with five other people on the witness stand bad.) (Sometimes this happens on ‘both sides’, human nature being what it is, but I do see some people making an effort to be precise. I certainly wish this happened more.) My conclusion: anyone who believes that paraphrases of what happens on Pharyngula are accurate is misguided. Get a link. Read the text. Ask. Playing the game of escalating inaccuracy does not advance productive discussion.

    PS Arguers who only “wish to be heard” (and are hurt by being called trolls) usually don’t shut up after making their point. The worst of them go on and on if you disagree with them. Many of them have the goal of either proving you wrong or changing your mind. Fighting endlessly about one small piece of the discussion is not something everyone wants to do. Many readers will leave the comments if the comments are overrun with argle-bargle that doesn’t go anywhere. I have the feeling that the underlying message from the Hangout is that (paraphrased) “We want to argue with PZ more about who he bans. We’d like to dispute each case and tell you what the banned poster meant to say”. I cannot be counted among the list of people who would find that fascinating and fruitful.

  16. Rob says

    Hi Mattir

    An aside, during the brief T-f00t debacle, I was told by the Slymepit that child protection should investigate me for allowing my kids (who are SEVENTEEN) to associate with the Commentariate Horde.

    I remember that. Contrast that attitude with the pits refusal (as far as I’m aware) to do anything about Jason’s stalker who was apparently a minor, as far as could be established, and who was hanging out in the pit.
     
    Gotta love the ‘one rule for me, another rule for you’ mentality.

  17. stevenbrown says

    I’ve yet to have the opportunity to sit down and watch the entire hangout but I will say this based on what I got from the opening statements: Concordance, who’s videos I find great and who seems like a swell guy, has an incredibly, uh, forgiving? Naive? view of things. Could it be because he is one of us privileged male types?
    I’d agree with the chap on the far left when he says that some trolling can be good. I’ve seen people use an artful bit of trolling to make people see that they are arguing about nothing.

    Which brings me to my point: I don’t think that what the SP crowd do is trolling. It’s verbal and mental abuse. They are not trying to derail a conversation to show how absurd it is. They are not subverting anything or being even slightly clever. They are abusing people in a way that should, in a just and fair world, see them in court for said abuse.

    Troll is such a vague term that has different meanings for different people but I cannot see how the actions of all the people on twitter and youtube fall into any of those categories they are simply hatefull, abusive assclams who need have so little empathy that they are not worth the carbon they are made from.

  18. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I watched the whole Google hangout discussion yesterday. I thought this meme, the oft-repeated idea that PZ swings the banhammer at people “just for disagreeing” was the biggest stumbling block to mutual understanding.

    It’s hard to get someone to understand something, when their ability to feel superior depends on not understanding it.

  19. says

    As I watched that I got the impression that they wanted to keep every shouting lunatic around just in case they said something clever. I can relate to that feeling from when I was a bored college student with a comically lazy class load and simply not enough to do till my next class- but I can’t see ever advocating for that as a best practice sort of thing.

    The other thing I might have distilled from that was that by banning trolls they were probably not talking about the mediums where you actually ban people but rather mediums where you block them. Also something I can relate to in a very direct way (“when I’m right and somebody doesn’t know it I will surely fix this with aggressive persistence, or at least establish that they are a lost cause” …or maybe other people don’t do that for reasons other than lacking patience…)

    Now, if we changed the social rules the way they seemed to be proposing? That would work great for me. Magnify my voice with a very short list of negatives that I’m not already personally desensitized to. For other people or if I want to spend my time doing better things? It would be… kind of a magnification of current problems.

    They’re easy ones to ignore, dismiss, or outright stop yourself from seeing if you have any such inclination. I wouldn’t have thought it was a systematic problem back then, and I doubt anyone could have convinced me otherwise in a day.

  20. Aaron Hamilton says

    This reply will be entirely on the post that PZ Myers has made. I believe there is extremism on both sides, in that the side against PZ Myers goes to the “he just thinks anyone with a contrary view is a troll” perspective, whilst the side for PZ Myers goes for the “he only bans people who are proper trolls” perspective. I don’t believe neither of these perspectives are actually true, and I will attempt to provide an argument, quoting from this topic, on why that is so.

    Someone who is “stupid” is not necessarily a troll

    I will first agree with PZ when he refers to the people he bans as follows: “These are the people who think the argument “YOUR FAT AND UGLY” is cogent, and who think spicing it up with a photoshopped image makes it more persuasive.”

    These are the type of people who evidently do not belong in a rational discussion. However, you seem to group these people with people in the “really stupid” side.

    “But even on a continuum there are extremes; sometimes one side really is stupid.”

    If this is true, then that is not cogent. The reason being is that someone who is stupid is not necessarily insulting and/or making ad hominem arguments. When you group these two groups of people together(as I believe PZ Myers has done), you inevitablly ban people who may be “stupid”(in your point of view, whether that be by contributing poor arguments, fallacious arguments, sloppy arguments, are not on the same level of intelligence as you ext…) but do not commit an act of ad hominem.

    If this is the case, then I would suggest instead of banning them, you should:

    a) Expose their arguments as fallacious(non-cogent) as any rational person should do
    b) Ignore their arguments if they repeat the same argument OR
    c) Explain to them the concepts they don’t understand in order to raise their intellectual level and remove them from the realm of “stupid” people

    But if you are indeed banning the “stupid” people(as per my statement above), then I would question whether you are banning them for something they did, or simply because your argument truly isn’t rational.

    Now, I am not making any claims as I have not viewed enough of either sides arguments, so I hope this is a rather objective view of the situation.

  21. Amblebury says

    Oftentimes I believe, trolls are calculatedly provocative a-holes who disguise their need to gain gratification from the distress of others as “making an argument contrary to our own”.
    -

    They’re despicable. They don’t deserve airtime.

  22. says

    I believe there is extremism on both sides
    [citation needed]

    Time for you to pony up with the Photoshop collection of the anti-Slymepit, if you want to play that false equivalence game. Oh guess what, you can’t.

  23. stevenbrown says

    If this is true, then that is not cogent. The reason being is that someone who is stupid is not necessarily insulting and/or making ad hominem arguments. When you group these two groups of people together(as I believe PZ Myers has done), you inevitablly ban people who may be “stupid”(in your point of view, whether that be by contributing poor arguments, fallacious arguments, sloppy arguments, are not on the same level of intelligence as you ext…) but do not commit an act of ad hominem.

    Really? So saying that someone belongs to two groups automatically means you treat all members of both groups the same? If that is how you operate you might want to examine yourself before you start telling PZ what he should be doing.

    People come here all the time and disagree with PZ. They generally get their weak arguments pointed out and if they then start abusing people they get either banned, if they have a history such as being a slymer, or they get banished to the Thunderdome. But it is THEIR actions, either here on this blog or elsewhere such as the pit, that earns them the ban.

  24. alanbagain says

    I am a little confused here. If I invite someone into my home I expect a certain level of coutesy. For example:
    “Yes, you may smoke … outside.”
    “Don’t defecate on the carpet.” You know the kind of thing.
    They also aren’t allowed to shout (my wife has sensitive hearing).
    Or beat up the kids (that’s my job – No. Don’t take that seriously.)

    You come to my house, you play by my rules (they aren’t onerous).
    You come to the Professor’s house, you play by his rules. I know many sites where no one but no one can say anything that remotely disagrees with the owner so things aren’t at all bad here.

    You don’t like my rules? Don’t come into my home.
    You don’t like the poopyhead’s sniney rules? Don’t comment but you are free to read and learn.

    Free speech allows you to say your own thing on your own site.

  25. Anri says

    I will first agree with PZ when he refers to the people he bans as follows: “These are the people who think the argument “YOUR FAT AND UGLY” is cogent, and who think spicing it up with a photoshopped image makes it more persuasive.”

    These are the type of people who evidently do not belong in a rational discussion. However, you seem to group these people with people in the “really stupid” side.

    Only in that they are both bannable offenses here.
    Being an admitted troll and being a boring poster impervious to argument are both bannable, but are not actually equivalent.

    “But even on a continuum there are extremes; sometimes one side really is stupid.”

    If this is true, then that is not cogent. The reason being is that someone who is stupid is not necessarily insulting and/or making ad hominem arguments. When you group these two groups of people together(as I believe PZ Myers has done), you inevitablly ban people who may be “stupid”(in your point of view, whether that be by contributing poor arguments, fallacious arguments, sloppy arguments, are not on the same level of intelligence as you ext…) but do not commit an act of ad hominem.

    Again, not the same thing.
    Being banned because you persistently use bigoted language while making your arguments (however good or bad they may be) is not the same as being banned because all you do is copy/paste bible verses and Chick Tract quotes.

    In much the same way as one can receive a traffic ticket for driving competently, just too fast, or for clearly not having proper control of your vehicle.

    If this is the case, then I would suggest instead of banning them, you should:

    a) Expose their arguments as fallacious(non-cogent) as any rational person should do
    b) Ignore their arguments if they repeat the same argument OR
    c) Explain to them the concepts they don’t understand in order to raise their intellectual level and remove them from the realm of “stupid” people

    And, you know, sometimes this even actually works.
    Not often, mind you, but it has been known to bring people around.

    PZ feels he is not obligated to grant a forum to people who demonstrate it isn’t going to work on them.

    But if you are indeed banning the “stupid” people(as per my statement above), then I would question whether you are banning them for something they did, or simply because your argument truly isn’t rational.

    Now, I am not making any claims as I have not viewed enough of either sides arguments, so I hope this is a rather objective view of the situation.

    It may be objective, but it’s not really accurate.
    There are times when I think PZ is a little quick with the banhammer – but it’s his blog, not mine, and his rules to be enforced at his whim. If commenters show a resistance to following the rules, both as laid out in the page intro and as typically explained to them by the regulars, they will probably be banned.
    As for intolerance, there’s PZ’s semi-formal “Three Post Rule” (they’re more like guidelines than actual rules!), which is just what it says on the tin – keep from assuming someone’s an idiot or troll until we have seen three of their posts.
    This rule is waived for slymepitters, who are shoot-on-sight.

  26. David Marjanović says

    They are not trying to derail a conversation to show how absurd it is.

    …I thought “trolling” meant “saying something calculated to infuriate people and then laughing at the infuriated reactions”, whether so lofty a goal as showing a conversation to be absurd is involved or not.

    Now, I am not making any claims as I have not viewed enough of either sides arguments, so I hope this is a rather objective view of the situation.

    Dude… you haven’t read enough of Pharyngula to form an opinion. Any opinion. It’s painfully obvious, and I say this in the nicest possible way.

    Oftentimes I believe, trolls are calculatedly provocative a-holes who disguise their need to gain gratification from the distress of others as “making an argument contrary to our own”.

    That’s the abovementioned definition of “troll” I’m familiar with.

  27. Amphiox says

    Oftentimes I believe, trolls are calculatedly provocative a-holes who disguise their need to gain gratification from the distress of others as “making an argument contrary to our own”.

    My view is that stupid speech of any kind should not go unanswered. Evil speech of any kind should not go unanswered.

    Now if a hypothetical troll should be deliberately provoking a reaction for gratification or whatever other psychological reward it happens to prefer, so be it.

    There is not enough happiness in this world, and I have no qualms about adding a small bit, even if it should benefit in some small way a troll.

    But it is the speech, independent of the speaker, that warrants, requires, a response.