Oh hi Phil

My public commentator blotted out the sun with another volley of exclamation points.

I almost forgot from my last email! You called Michael Nugent the ‘Irish wanker’ which is definitely racist! You, in your various blog screeds, have demonized all whites, men, heterosexuals, especially all white heterosexual men as racists, homophobes, misogynists and religious bigots! You’re in no position to be attacking Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or anybody else, asshole!!!

I’m sorry, I’m already tired of him.


  1. mathman85 says

    Ah, the good, old-fashioned tu quoque fallacy. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that one.

  2. blf says

    You, in your various blog screeds, have demonized all whites, men, heterosexuals, especially all white heterosexual men as racists, homophobes, misogynists and religious bigots!

    “Phil” forgot penguins, points out the mildly deranged penguin. (It’s not entirely clear where she — the mildly deranged penguin — thinks “penguins” should be placed in the quoted sentence. Possibly in more than one location.)

  3. HappyHead says

    Weird, as a white heterosexual male of Irish descent, I don’t feel demonised at all. Embarrassed by the behaviour of many of the other people who share those categories with me, definitely, but that’s not PZ’s doing.

  4. KG says

    You, in your various blog screeds, have demonized all whites, men, heterosexuals, especially all white heterosexual men

    How dare you go around demonizing yourself, PZ?

  5. azpaul3 says

    I’m sorry, I’m already tired of him.

    I don’t think you are. If you were why would you lather on more encouragement for him with this level of publicity?

  6. says

    “Irish” as an insult reminds me (as a person of English provenance) how the English tell insulting jokes about the stupidity of the Irish; the Irish tell similar ones about Kerrymen; Kerrymen about the Kerry village of Dingle—and the inhabitants of Dingle the very same jokes about the English.

  7. says

    You really shouldn’t call Nugent the Irish wanker. Because wanking is a good, healthy way to relieve stress and there is nothing about Nugent that is any of those.

  8. PaulBC says

    I’m tied between letting it rest and adding my two cents, since it’s all pretty obvious, but here I go. If you called someone “Irish” who is American of Irish descent (like me) that’s in questionable taste, but really not something that’s going to bother most people. (I don’t care, but spare me the green beer and green plastic hat on “St. Patty’s Day” or at least do it somewhere I can’t see.) Nugent is “an Irish writer and activist” (Wikipedia) and born in Dublin, so it’s a statement about nationality. “Wanker” is of course a matter of speculation (though a safe bet for most men) and a term of derision but not racist.

    I could call the late Idi Amin a “Ugandan thug” without, I think, many people accusing me of racism, because it’s clear I am not making a generalization about all Ugandans. He was a terrible dictator who committed atrocities on his own people. Note that I have not only acknowledged his crimes and his nationality, but used a loaded term for it. Is anyone offended?

    It gets more problematic if I call Ben Carson a Black pediatric neurosurgeon, because in some contexts, it suggests I need to single him out for being Black instead of just identifying his accomplishments in that field. But when years back, he went on speaking tours presenting himself as a role model to Black youth audiences, it might be a reasonable descriptive phrase. To be honest, I’d probably avoid it. Baltimore has the wonderfully named “Great Blacks in Wax Museum” and it’s tricky, because I could never name something like that, but its proprietors can.

    Now if I want to refer to Ben Carson as a creationist idiot and Trump toady (despite his undisputed accomplishments as a neurosurgeon, such as conjoined twin separation) that’s a place to avoid racial epithets. They completely miss the point. Ben Carson is, sadly, a creationist idiot and Trump toay. What can you do? We are all multitudes I guess.

    “Phil” is first off just being disingenuous and probably knows that “Irish wanker” is not a racist term. But it’s also safe to say that he does not even comprehend the nuances that would allow you to reach a judgment about whether a mere reference to a group is a bigoted reference to that group. It’s really not all that complicated.

  9. says

    I am properly chastised. I’ll have to think of a new epithet. The “Irish asshole”? But no, assholes are useful.

    I’ll need suggestions from the commentariat.

  10. PaulBC says

    Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow is a big fan of the term “wanker” (often through his proxy Sparky the Wonder Penguin). I’d hate to see him shamed out of using it. It’s catchy and just fits somehow.

    Since just about everybody masturbates, maybe the point is to identify a particularly loathsome way of masturbating that merits the term. Or maybe the point, as in mental masturbation, is not that jerking off is bad in itself, but you expect more e.g. from an NYT opinion column than a window into the author’s autoerotic habits. So I’m not sure “wanker” is as problematic as all that. Just because we all self-pleasure, doesn’t mean I want to part of anyone’s captive audience.

    I don’t use the term, though I say “asshole” an awful lot. I still think it can be rehabilitated.

  11. PaulBC says

    Finally, on the topic of Nugent himself. Since I hadn’t heard of him and must have missed the dispute with PZ, everything I can find out about him suggests that he’s an activist who has worked hard over decades to help real human beings, such as fighting a conviction of two youths that was later declared a miscarriage of justice . Not to deny any genuine lapses and differences, but based on a cursory reading, he sounds like one of the good guys to me. (As is PZ Myers.)

    It puts him pretty far ahead of other “new atheist wankers” who seem to be in it primarily to assemble an audience for their self-pleasuring and probably do merit the term.

  12. says

    he sounds like one of the good guys to me.

    Unless you’re a woman and he decides that since you weren’t deferential enough to him the guys wishing you to be gang raped are actually the good guys (look up Nugent and the Slyme Pit). Or if you’re trans, regardless of whether you’re a trans guy or woman.

  13. PaulBC says

    @20 I only have a cursory reading to go by. I will look that up, but I do not believe in defining anyone by a single lapse. Nugent’s attacks on PZ (which came up in the same search) also seem very petty to me. Whatever his offenses, he seems very different from the usual people on PZ’s shit list, like Jordan Peterson: self-indulgent assholes who have never helped anyone. As far as I can tell, I agree with Nugent on most causes he has taken up. Probably not the one you refer to. (Again, I’ll google nugent slyme pit).

  14. PaulBC says

    @20 I read some of this, though I’m a little confused about the specific incident. Slymepit sounds like a group of truly repugnant people, and the only comments I can find by Nugent (from 2013) are critical (though also way too polite). It seems like an internal dispute to me rather than an indication of his impact on the world at large, which still strikes me as positive. Look, I will call Bill Clinton one of the “good guys” though I have reason to believe he’s a serial rapist and I know that he abetted Republicans in demolishing the US social safety net. On balance, I’m still relieved it was him and not Bush Sr. or Dole in office in the 90s. And the late 90s was the last US economy with genuine growth and opportunity. But Clinton is pretty marginal and I could be persuaded he is one of the bad guys. Nugent is probably horrible in certain ways, but on balance, he seems to have worked really hard on things I care about (falsely accused, church/state issues) and I have simply never lifted a finger for (at least no farther than it takes to strike a keyboard).

  15. says

    You know you’re talking with the people who have been thrown under the bus by Nugent, right? While you may deem those things as “minor incidents”, they were not and are not for those directly affected by Nugent’s actions. Please don’t tell me that the abuse he facilitated was nothing, or that trans folks should be ok with him supporting Terves.

  16. PaulBC says

    @24 I said “internal” not “minor.” E.g. the internal affairs division of a police department handles issues of major concern. Anyway, I would like to end this discussion if possible. I’m really not here to piss people off whether I do or not. Sorry. I’ll shut up now.

  17. Vreejack says

    Some of my best friends are Irish. Come to think of it, I am Irish. But Nugent is still an Irish Asshole. Also, he does good work.

  18. blf says

    “Wanker” is a rather strong pejorative term in Irish & British English (from memory, the BBC(?) classifies it as one of the strongest insults, almost at the level of the n-word and the c-word (both of which are blocked by poopyhead’s filter (without employing HTML trickery))).

  19. harryblack says

    Didnt know who Nugent was until I looked at his body of work. He certainly has contributed a lot to Irish culture and politics.
    However until his views on our non cis country people change, he can fuck off and die in obscurity now for all I care.

    Cheers for the help. Give us a shout when you are not awful anymore and willing to work to make amends.

    Dublin Skeptics in the pub used to be great and very inclusive. Such a shame it died off.

  20. Ridana says

    If “wanker” is off the table, then so is “jerk”(off) as they both derive from the same activity. I imagine the concept of it as an insult is both from the religious prohibition of masturbation and the image of said wanker or jerk(off) engaging in it publicly (metaphorically speaking) to be intentionally offensive, and chronically doing so. Sort of the verbal kin of the stroking gesture to tell someone to fuck off.

  21. Jazzlet says

    I don’t agree that “wanker” is a strong perjorative in British English, it’s on a par with the British English use of “twat” ie rather mild.

  22. blf says

    @32, Swearing and offensive language, ranks “wanker” as the 4th most severe (in both 1998 and 2000, I didn’t bother to look for anything more up-to-date). Besides the two I mentioned in @27, the other more severe word was the mf-word (which I presume poopyhead also filters out).

  23. Rob Grigjanis says

    blf @33: To me (raised Northern England working class) that table looks very weird. “wanker” wouldn’t even make the top ten.

  24. davidc1 says

    Hi Doc ,for a small fee ,i will step up and take one for the team ,and you Americans put it .
    Just forward me his email address to me in a plain brown envelope .

  25. Jazzlet says

    I was raised in the south – Oxford – but now live in the north and round here wanker really isn’t a serious insult. I don’t recall it being a serious insult in my youth, but I could be wrong.

  26. says

    blf #33
    If you look at the numbers for specific answers, though, it’s clear that there’s a distinct break between the top three and number four.

  27. says

    Given that a whole bunch of actual slurs including the n word is rated as less offensive than “fuck” on that list, whoever participated in the exercise can go fuck themselves.

  28. PaulBC says

    The entire notion of obscenity in public or polite discourse has changed so much in the past, say, 40 years (sticking to personal experience here) that I would not trust any language reference on the seriousness of an insult. It’s not to say that people haven’t been calling each other pigf***ers or what have you for a long time, but they didn’t do it in writing or over the airwaves. I’m sometimes amazed at what kids are exposed to. Even something as currently innocuous as “Oh my God” was a little edgy in the 70s (though Bonnie Franklin said it a lot on the sitcom One Day at a Time) but not at the level where 10 year olds are writing OMG LOL… like they do now. (You’d get a stern scolding at Catholic school for such blasphemy.)

    Words that disparage specific groups are the ones that get you in trouble now. (Wanking and pigf***ing are activities, not groups I guess.) In the 80s, few Americans were even aware of the term “wanker” and I suspect none of the nuances have made it across the pond to us.

  29. says

    There are some interesting patterns when it comes to the racial slurs on that list. For some reason, they have a high percentage of people answering “not swearing”, considering their rank. Rather than a smooth gradient of opinion, you have a split. One wonders if the people who answered “not swearing” really think it’s totally unoffensive, or if they just wish it was more acceptable to say it.

    A similar thing seems to be happening with the female-coded words (and “spastic”, for some reason), but I can’t tell if it’s significant without doing more math than I can be bothered to.

  30. wzrd1 says

    Well, as wanker and asshole are out, there’s always dipshit, shithead, shit for brains for consideration for numbnuts.
    Meathead, but that’s essentially every organic being on the planet, perhaps something on his relevance in life to all in general, null or the ever popular numbskull, the nincompoop ninny.
    Or, one of my go to favorites, “incompetent, myopic, anencephalic arboreal misanthrope.
    Or, when expressing ire, double-barreled dipstick.

  31. blf says

    @40, On “spastic”: Keep in mind that is a British list / survey. Up until 1994 (about six years before the list in @33), the Scope charity was known as the Spastics Society; as the link explains, although used as an insult by children, the term wasn’t seen as too problematical until the early 1980s. (I lived in England during that time and still recall how shocked I was to see a “Spastics Society” sign — an example of different words having different levels of acceptability based, at least in part, on locale / culture / history.) My guess, therefore, is the relatively low rank is a hangover from the then not-that-long-ago acceptability of the term in that locale / culture.

  32. PaulBC says

    @41 I am partial to the term “knucklehead” though it’s pretty tame. I just like how it rolls off the tongue, and it is so very appropriate.

  33. PaulBC says

    On that subject. In the process of an attempt at fictional dialogue, I searched high and low for an idiomatic British equivalent of “knucklehead” and came up with “plonker.” I am not sure if it has the same nuances or is potentially more offensive. Any thoughts?

  34. PaulBC says

    @42 I would like to be able to say “spaz” because it’s phonetically appealing and brings to mind the insults of my youth. But I guess it’s offensive. I think I stopped or got extra careful some years back.

  35. nomdeplume says

    Calling one man an “Irish Wanker” is not racist. If you were to say “All Irishmen are wankers” that would be racist.

  36. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Ah yes, the amazing right wing tactic of saying that the left sees race everywhere and then conflating race and nationality in order to accuse the left of being racist.