Philosophers who understand neither philosophy nor biology

Peter Boghossian is demonstrating that he’s a fool and an ignoramus again.

Why is it that nearly every male who’s a 3rd wave intersectional feminist is physically feeble & has terrible body habitus?

You just have to love that extra fillip of the term “habitus” — it adds an extra level of pomposity to a statement that basically, feminists men are weak and have ugly physiques. It’s the male counterpart to the old anti-suffragette cartoons that portrayed them all as hideous crones and spinsters. That attitude is alive and well among regressive assholes today.

But then he goes further and invokes his poorly understood version of biology to justify it, and claims the authority of Science behind his opinion of those ugly feminists.

My “body habitus” tweet was a reference to what evolutionary biologists term “sneaky fucker” theory.

I have to correct HJ Hornbeck; the “sneaky fucker” theory was not invented by MRAs, but is a legitimate evolutionary idea that’s been around for quite a while. The thing is that you don’t publish a term with an obscenity in it — editors tend to chop those out. It’s more often called “sneaks and guards”, and if you want to find it in the scientific literature, better search terms are “alternative mating strategies” or “dimorphic males”. One of the clearest examples is found in Onthophagus beetles, where there is an allocation trade-off in development between investing in giant horns for use in direct battles with other males, vs. giant testes for better sperm competition. That’s also an experimental model where you can manipulate the tissues in the larva. Cauterize the developing testis, the horns grow bigger; cauterize the primordium of the thoracic cuticle that forms the horn, the testes grow larger.

But MRAs do love this theory, because they think it justifies condemning those wimpy feminist males (“betas” and “cucks”; by the way, that whole nonsense of “alphas” and “betas” is misappropriation of ethological descriptions used in wolves and some other species, which have more complex life history strategies than the MRAs can imagine). They’re just “white knights”, “sneaky fuckers” who sidle up to women and pretend to be on their side in order to have sex with them! They’re just as bad as the noble, straight-forward Alphas, but they’re devious about it!

However, I have to mention another, more useful term to Boghossian: the naturalistic fallacy. I hear that he teaches philosophy, so he might have heard of it, but he clearly doesn’t understand it. Spend less time on Reddit and YouTube where it is dreadfully abused by internet atheists to rationalize all kinds of bad behavior — if chimps throw feces, then obviously YouTube commenters have evolved to be shitlords. They take a grain of truth from animal studies and extrapolate it into all kinds of nonsense about people.

But sure, you can find animal models that fit an extreme pattern.

Beetles demonstrate a pattern of disruptive selection to produce large bodied “guard” morphs and smaller “sneak” morphs. But I am not a beetle, and humans do not show such a pattern.

Cuttlefish also have large aggressive males that zealously guard their harem of females with threat displays, and also smaller males that turn off the threat displays and instead camouflage themselves as females to join the harem. But I am not a cuttlefish, and humans show a wide range of courtship behaviors.

Orangutans have large flanged adult males who also guard harems of females, and smaller, unflanged young males skirt the outside of his territory, looking to mate opportunistically. But I am not an orangutan, and humans change their courtship behaviors to suit the circumstances, so you don’t get to claim a dichotomous suite of mating practices within our species.

Gorillas have a high degree of sexual dimorphism allowing one large male to control a group of smaller females. I am not a gorilla. Humans have evolved to reduce sexual dimorphism and increase cooperation, making the “guard” strategy impractical and counter-productive.

So please, do not shoehorn human behavior into your simplified model of how sex works. It’s reductive and also fails to appreciate the importance of female mating choice. Think about it: “sneaky fuckers” would be a total flop if females of the species didn’t go along with the opportunity and mate happily with the sneaky guys. Females have reproductive strategies, too, and they would rarely favor having their mate choice removed because the big thug corrals them and controls when and with whom they can mate. Unfortunately, we still live with a Victorian influence on science that tends to downplay female participation and initiative, leaving us with many theories that treat females of the species as objects collected and used by the males.

I am a human being. I am a member of a species with complex life histories and prolonged child-rearing requirements that require extensive social behaviors for survival. We have reduced sexual dimorphism, and rarely does our survival hinge on brute force muscular development. We form communities with intense social interactions. We choose mates based on long-term compatibilities — we form partnerships between individuals. One sex does not do all the choosing, and further, choices are based on fairly sophisticated intellectual and emotional properties. Does he or she have a sense of humor, do they have shared interests, are they willing to cooperate in necessary chores, are they fun to be with, are they sexually compatible, do they share the same religious beliefs, do they enjoy the same movies, do they have complementary skills, etc.? Rarely do women wonder whether he would be able to lock them in in the basement and successfully fight off all other human beings who come to visit, and if they do, it’s an argument to reject further association with the man.

Physical appearance does play a role, and we’d be foolish to pretend it doesn’t, but if you look around you at the world of human relationships you might notice that there a lot of stable, long-term couples where neither individual looks like they’re going to be featured on the cover of People magazine. Why? Because all the social and intellectual connections trump all the ephemeral details of looking like a 20 year old model. Appearances matter more in casual hookups (which rarely produce offspring, especially nowadays when birth control is cheap and easy), but the evolutionary outcomes are going to be more dependent on successful family construction and integration into communities.

We need terms more appropriate to the human condition. I suggest that we call superficially handsome, virile, young people like Peter Boghossian “shallow fuckers” while us old homely (or otherwise) guys who can recognize the autonomy of women and form relationships on the basis of long term cooperativity “decent human beings”. At least, that’s a good idea if you’re one of those shallow fuckers who also demand that the world be divided into no more than two classes of people.

Matthew Facciani also gets the science wrong:

“Sneaky f*cker” theory refers to the evolutionary psychology idea that beta males will “sneak in” and have sex with a female while the alpha males are busy. This theory was coined by John Maynard Smith and doesn’t have much (if any) scientific support.

This is not evolutionary psychology. It’s standard, ordinary old ethology, and it’s an idea that’s been around for a long time (I don’t think Maynard Smith coined it, either, he just gets credit for it because he’s a prominent authority), and there is plenty of scientific support — in specific species. But at least his criticism of Boghossian is spot on.

Both Tweets by Dr. Boghossian here are embarrassingly ignorant and illustrate his own bias against feminism. It’s like Pete can’t imagine why any man would embrace feminism so obviously they must be doing it to do get laid. It’s also just sloppy reasoning based on supposed anecdotes. Did he actually measure the body fat of a sample of male feminists and compare it to the average population? Until he shows the study he did, it’s just a childish attack on people he doesn’t like. But interestingly, he attempts to use pseudoscientific jargon to justify his biases.

This is interesting in another way, though: it reminds me of some old debates where pro-evolutionary people would argue against creationists that the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution was made up by creationists, and that the terms weren’t used by real evolutionary biologists…so I’d have to cite lists of books and papers that explicitly used those entirely legitimate terms and help out the wrong side of the debate. It was kind of annoying.

Which do I dislike more, Encyclopedia Dramatica or Johnny Monsarrat?

Hey, y’all remember the Secular Policy Institute? The dodgy atheist organization that was formed when Edwina Rogers got fired from the Secular Coalition of America, and immediately signed up some big names like Dawkins & Harris & Shermer & Pinker & Boghossian &tc, who shortly afterwards all fled the organization? No? Maybe this photo will trigger your memory, or your gag reflex:

Yikes, but that was one atheist shit-show I wish I could forget. In addition to the desperate reaching to grab the Usual Suspects, there was another individual I’d never heard of, who was busily working hard to alienate other organizations, and also didn’t like me (but I’m so loveable!). This individual had a prominent role in the SPI, and was also working for the Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

That person was Johnny Monsarrat.

I know. Who? Never heard of him. But apparently he was going to be a new mover and shaker in the world of atheism He wasn’t. This was several years ago, and he’s more or less vanished from the scene, in part because of odd crackpot crapola in his history, like this:

Reader Jason sent over a blog post that sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, following the story through a variety of twists and turns. The key player in the story is Jonathan Monsarrat, who among other things founded the video game company Turbine (Asheron’s Call, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, etc.). In early 2010, Monsarrat was arrested concerning events at a party in Massachusetts. The charges against him were later dismissed. However, there were various blog discussions among local bloggers and commenters. Not long ago, approximately three years after all of this happened, Monsarrat sued two named defendants and 100 “John Does” in a Massachusetts (not federal) court on a variety of charges, centering around defamation, but also including copyright infringement, commercial disparagement, deceptive trade practices and conspiracy. He’s asking for an astounding $5.5 million.

He’s one of those obnoxious people who flings around lawsuits when people say mean things about him, which, unfortunately, seems to be a common affliction within the atheist community. In this case, he tried to sue people who wrote about his rather tacky behavior and arrest record.

Upon arriving at the scene, police found broken beer bottles near the door of the first floor of the apartment and 25-30 teenagers inside. Many were attempting to conceal bottles of beer and other alcoholic beverages, the police report states. Open bottles of alcohol were found in the kitchen area as well as a small amount of marijuana.

Monsarrat identified himself as the host of the party, but denied that any alcohol was being served, the report states. When asked by an officer to inform his guests that the party was ending, Monsarrat became “argumentative” and refused to follow instructions, police said. Officers asked for identification from several partygoers who responded, “We’re in high school, we don’t have ID.”

So what we have is a fellow who is very full of himself and likes to file frivolous lawsuits who managed to get himself associated with some major players in atheism. He has a reputation as a copyright troll who brings on lawsuits with extravagant demands — basically, he’s a legal extortionist. And now he’s up to his old tricks again.

He’s suing Encyclopedia Dramatica for $750,000.

I detest and despise Encyclopedia Dramatica. It’s a kind ugly amalgam of 4chan Lite, fake news, and generic hate, a wiki for 12 year olds who want an outlet for puerile slurs. They even have a page about me with fake quotes and dishonest characterizations, so I owe them no fondness.

But here’s the thing: I don’t care. There are lots of sites filled with what they consider amusing lies, and no one in their right mind is going to cite Encyclopedia Dramatica as a source for anything — any claim made there is immediately tainted by juvenalia and their disregard for the truth. But I also have no patience for wankers who file SLAPP suits, having been a target for this shit myself.

I can’t quite bring myself to donate to their legal fund — it’s one of those sites that would improve the internet with its disappearance — but I also can’t condone this attempt to extort it out of existence, as a general principle. So I’ll just mention here that yes, you could hold your nose and donate to their legal defense fund, if for no other reason than that Monsarrat is a walking talking chancre.

Ugh. Feel so unclean now.

Now that’s an interesting variation of the argumentum ad populum

People are crawling out of the woodwork to defend that bogus Boghossian hoax and they’re making some awesomely bad arguments to do so. Here’s one guy who makes a sweeping dismissal of all of the social sciences because few of their journals are highly ranked.

There is a curious lack of social science or humanities journals in the top 100. For instance, there is only one journal dedicated to psychology. If business and economics are counted, then a total of 12 of the top 100 journals cover the social sciences. (Put another way, there are more top 100 journals covering the biomedical subdisciplines of cell biology/microbiology/molecular biology than all the social sciences combined.) SJR considers Administrative Science Quarterly (which we classified as a business journal) to be a sociology journal, so it represents the one sociology journal in the top 100.

How many gender studies journals are in the top 100? Zero. In fact, there is only one gender studies journal in the top 1,000. Titled Gender and Society, it ranks at #933.

The takeaway from this analysis is clear: The hard sciences constitute the hottest fields and most prestigious journals. By comparison, social science journals are not nearly as prestigious. By definition, that means social science journals, as a whole, are not cited by prestigious journals.

There are many reasons for that. But one of them certainly is that the quality of the research just isn’t very good. That’s why penis hoax articles can get published.

That’s a stunningly stupid interpretation. How stupid? Well, he has helpfully organized the list of top 100 journals in descending order for us.

Apparently the quality of the research in mathematics just isn’t very good, using his reasoning.

Another problem is that a system that ranks journals by their ‘significance’, that is, how frequently cited they are by related journals, is going to be sensitive to numbers of participants within a discipline, so this metric is also going to be strongly skewed; popular disciplines will have more popular journals, regardless of their relative quality. So just to give you an idea of the numbers of people working within these general fields:

Number of scientists and engineers in the US: 6.2 million.

Number of psychologists in the US: 188,000.

Number of sociologists in the US: less than 3,000, which does seem awfully low; same source says the number of biochemists, just biochemists, is about 34,000.

So it is totally unsurprising that fewer social sciences journals are listed among the top 100 journals — there are fewer social scientists. It’s also meaningless to compare a broad category of “biomedical journals” with a sub-sub-discipline like “gender studies journals”. Everything about this is bad logic.

But then, it’s also unsurprising given the source. This is coming from the American Council on Science and Health, which is a reactionary pro-industry think-tank of dubious value.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader once said of ACSH,

A consumer group is an organization which advocates the interests of unrepresented consumers and must either maintain its own intellectual independence or be directly accountable to its membership. In contrast, ACSH is a consumer front organization for its business backers. It has seized the language and style of the existing consumer organizations, but its real purpose, you might say, is to glove the hand that feeds it.

Numerous ACSH publications (that do not disclose the corporations that have funded the organization) take positions attacking public concerns about various corporate products and practices, such as genetically modified foods (GMOs), pesticides, herbicides, and more, and have sought to downplay concerns raised by scientists and consumers. However, the tobacco industry has never been an ACSH client, and Whelan has very cleverly used her anti-tobacco stance to gain some credibility among health professionals and some activist groups. All of the tobacco connections were conducted by her partner, Fred Stare.

Some of the products ACSH has defended over the years include DDT, asbestos, and Agent Orange, as well as common pesticides. ACSH has often called environmentalists and consumer actvists “terrorists,” arguing that their criticisms and concerns about potential health and environmental risks are threats to society.[2]

ACSH has been funded by big agri-businesses and trade groups like Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsico, and the American Beverage Association, among others.

It’s also a front for the Koch brothers.

I’m not going to reject a scholarly discipline because some conservative shill found a way to tag it with a small number; I’d have to admit that zebrafish developmental biology must be of lower quality because there are fewer publications on that specific subject than in, say, geology, which is such obvious nonsense the author should have noticed. But I am happy to follow the money to dismiss a source because it is funded entirely by industries that are trying to protect their bottom line with fake science that undermines honest work.

So…when creationists sneak bad papers into legit journals, does evolution collapse?

A few days ago, a paper was pointed out to me as a particularly horrible example of bad social science: it was titled “The conceptual penis as a social construct”. I glanced at. It was a murky mess and so bad that I couldn’t even get past the first paragraph, so I abandoned it as simply too much effort to criticize. As it turns out, it was a hoax: the authors were trying to pull a Sokal and expose “‘academic’ fields corrupted by postmodernism”.

We intended to test the hypothesis that flattery of the academic Left’s moral architecture in general, and of the moral orthodoxy in gender studies in particular, is the overwhelming determiner of publication in an academic journal in the field. That is, we sought to demonstrate that a desire for a certain moral view of the world to be validated could overcome the critical assessment required for legitimate scholarship. Particularly, we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil.

The lead author is Peter Boghossian, whose own biases are rather obvious in that passage, and I think he overplayed his hand. He actually completely failed to demonstrate what he set out to do.

He sent the crap paper to NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, a journal with an impact factor of 0, and it was rejected. So, wait, the fake paper was punted? How does that demonstrate that “gender studies is crippled academically”?

NORMA nicely sent them off to resubmit to an even more poorly ranked journal, Cogent Social Sciences, which is so new it doesn’t even have an impact factor, and which is also a pay-to-publish journal. Boghossian then coughed up $625 to convince them to publish it.

At this point the hoax has become completely meaningless. There are bad, predatory journals out there that will take anything a hack scribbles up and publish it for a profit. This is not news. It is also not unique to gender studies or sociology. I’ve pointed out these bad papers more than a few times in journals in science fields.

So when I point out that Erik Andrulis published, in complete seriousness, a paper titled Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life that attempts to explain chemistry, development, and evolution as functions of spiral gyres, does that discredit those fields? When David Abel of the Department of ProtoBioCybernetics and ProtoBioSemiotics publishes a paper on the origin of life that is packed full of buzzwords and pseudoscience, does that mean that Nick Lane and Bill Martin are full of crap, too? Because the Journal of Cosmology exists, astronomy is fake science? John Bohannon created an automatic molecular biology paper generator that churned out garbage papers. They were accepted by 157 science journals. I guess we can scratch the entire field of molecular biology.

As I wrote about that last example:

I agree that there is a serious problem in science publishing. But the problem isn’t open-access: it’s an overproliferation of science journals, a too-frequent lack of rigor in review, and a science community that generates least-publishable-units by the machine-like application of routine protocols in boring experiments.

The lesson to be learned here is that Boghossian executed a poorly performed experiment that didn’t succeed in what he engineered it to do, and which was embarrassingly derivative, and then analyzed the results poorly. At least it cost the hack $625 to attempt some click-bait sensationalism.

There’s more. See Kris Wager, and Ketan Joshi lists lots of examples of hoaxes in science disciplines that didn’t indict entire broad fields of research.

Students! Demanding weird pronouns! OFFENDED!

I was asked if I listened to this interview with Peter Boghossian.

No! I had not! Thanks for asking!

But, out of morbid curiosity, I did click on the link. I even listened to it for 15 minutes, in sick fascination.

He’s very annoyed that students ask him to address them by their preferred pronouns. How dare they! This is the problem with The Left nowadays, they take offense at everything, and are actively looking for excuses to be offended. It’s ridiculous that we professors are expected to master the impossible, arcane skill of talking to students appropriately.

Boghossian must be incredibly stupid, because I’ve found that it’s really easy — the harder task is to remember all those names, and when I’ve got 50 students in a class, it sometimes takes the entire term before I’ve got them all straight. Pronouns are trivial. If I could address everyone as he, she, they, or “hey, you”, it would be so easy to sail through the semester, never bothering to recognize students as individuals. It’s even easier to adapt to these pronoun requests because most students are gender-conforming and wearing clothing that signals their gender identity, and it’s only a few exceptions that you have to consider…and again, it’s no big deal, no more difficult than recognizing that Student A needs help with statistics, Student B did really well on the last test but is struggling in organic chemistry, Student C is looking for a chance to do summer research. Student D wants to be addressed by “they, them”? No problem.

Boghossian doesn’t get it. He seems to think students are his enemy, and that this is all a leftist tactic to make him suffer. Try a different point of view, guy: maybe your students are looking for respect, and would like you to recognize that they have a history and a context and opinions and needs and desires, too, and would appreciate that being acknowledged. Maybe they’re not looking to be offended, but are already tired of being treated as faceless, interchangeable tuition-paying blobs, who are expected to conform to your expectation that they will readily fit into two and only two boxes.

I had to stop listening after a quarter hour, though, because he started complaining about how these pronoun issues are taking away from his valuable class time, and important issues like establishing his seating chart (???) for the class.

P.S. I’ll mention this because I know it will infuriate self-identified Classical Liberals like Boghossian. One simple tip I got at my conference at Howard Hughes Medical Institute was a suggestion to help foster more inclusion: professors should include their preferred pronouns in their syllabi. I had never thought of that, because of course I am an obvious male figure who would be addressed as “he/him”, and then I realized…yep, that’s my privilege talking, that I’m your standard male-conforming American citizen, and the only “of course” in this situation is that I assume the minority will have to take the effort to explain things to me, while I will benefit from the default assumptions.

So naturally, as a craven leftist, I’m going to follow the recommendation of a major granting authority and take 5 seconds to type in “Preferred pronouns: he/him” into all of my syllabi next term. I know, it’s a disgraceful submission that will snatch away so much time that I could have spent teaching cell biology or evolution, but hey, I’m taking the long view that respecting student identities will actually help them learn. And if I slip up, and a student needs to correct me, I won’t take it as a conspiracy by the Left to attack me, but will thank them for helping me improve my awareness of who they are.

P.P.S. Remember when people got all outraged at the introduction of “Ms.”? It was very important to know whether a woman was a “Miss” or a “Mrs.”, for some reason, but we didn’t have to make any such distinctions within the category of “Mr.”

Oh no! Racist Twitter is mocking me!

They’re all amused that I don’t understand biology, as evidence by my criticisms of Boghossian’s blatant biases. Would you believe Jordan Peterson chimed in, too? Oh, how I tremble in terror and shame. I have roused a loud army of dumbasses (get used to it, Trump generation).

Except…I’m reasonably confident in my knowledge, and my opponents seem to be grossly ignorant and pandering to the twin trickster gods of prejudice and common sense. Never trust those guys. So I’ll keep it simple. They don’t understand that distinction between brute fact and social knowledge.

Here’s a brute fact: John produces sperm. Jennifer produces ova, sometimes. There’s no denying these simple, measurable observations. Further, we’ll stipulate that these are healthy eggs and sperm, and that I can extract these cell types in the lab and combine them in a dish and create a healthy, growing diploid zygote, that I could then implant in an individual who has a uterus and grow to adulthood. In fact, if I wanted to engineer a master race, I could go through the population and segregate out the individuals who make sperm and those who make ova and begin doing all kinds of interesting biological experiments.

Now, here are some social facts: John is a man. Jennifer is a woman. And Racist Twitter is saying, “Of course!” Except that that has taken a simple brute fact, the presence of organs that produce gametes, and extrapolated it into the socially loaded gender terms that carry huge amounts of baggage and imply lots of details in our heads that aren’t necessarily true. For example, you might then imagine John is a bit larger and physically stronger than Jennifer, which, on average, is probably true, but not necessarily so.

Or you might assume John would be a better scientist than Jennifer, which is not at all true.

In their study, Moss-Racusin and her colleagues created a fictitious resume of an applicant for a lab manager position. Two versions of the resume were produced that varied in only one, very significant, detail: the name at the top. One applicant was named Jennifer and the other John. Moss-Racusin and her colleagues then asked STEM professors from across the country to assess the resume. Over one hundred biologists, chemists, and physicists at academic institutions agreed to do so. Each scientist was randomly assigned to review either Jennifer or John’s resume.

The results were surprising—they show that the decision makers did not evaluate the resume purely on its merits. Despite having the exact same qualifications and experience as John, Jennifer was perceived as significantly less competent. As a result, Jenifer experienced a number of disadvantages that would have hindered her career advancement if she were a real applicant. Because they perceived the female candidate as less competent, the scientists in the study were less willing to mentor Jennifer or to hire her as a lab manager. They also recommended paying her a lower salary. Jennifer was offered, on average, $4,000 per year (13%) less than John.

Having functional testes is not a requirement for a lab manager, yet our society as a whole has this mental shortcut that categorizes the suitability of individuals to particular jobs on the basis of a raft of irrelevant, but usually easily detectable, characters. This is a reality that those who want to reduce people to a definition based on sex are ignoring. Even when a social fact is turned into a brute fact by social scientists like Moss-Racusin, they deny. It’s kind of depressing.

Furthermore, I snuck in another social fact in that paragraph introducing John and Jennifer. Did you notice?

Why is the sperm-producing person named “John”, and the ovum-producing person named “Jennifer”? These are arbitrary signifiers that we associate with a gender, and then to their roles in culture, and to traits like their qualities as lab managers. Imagine if I’d started that paragraph “Jennifer produces sperm. John produces ova, sometimes.” Many people would be confused. They’d think I’d made a mistake. I’d created a conflict between their social assumptions and the brute fact of biology. But there are people named John who have ovaries.

Hmm. I wonder how good they are at lab management?

By the way, allow me to introduce Jessie*. Jessie doesn’t produce sperm or ova, or maybe they do, but their behavior intentionally prevents reproduction. They do not dress in a socially conventional way for either gender. They do not engage in any of the standard courtship and mating customs of their culture. They ask you to use the non-gendered plural pronouns when addressing them.

But…but…there are only two sexes! We will struggle internally to fit Jessie into one of the two gender boxes convention allows. We must. We need to find some indication to help us accommodate our stereotypes.

Then we learn that Jessie is employed as a lab manager, and we are relieved. Jessie must be a “man”, then. We’ll be polite and continue to use the non-gendered pronouns, though. Or perhaps we’re an asshole like Jordan Peterson, and we’ll insist on forcing them into our biased pigeonholes.

And thus do we close the loop in our stereotypes and maintain the fiction of a binary reality, despite all the complicating evidence otherwise.

*Note that I snuck in yet another social fact for you to deal with: I chose what we consider a gender-neutral or ambiguous name for this person. But it can also be that someone named Jane or Joe chooses to defy those gender stereotypes, and then what happens? Everyone assumes Jane is female, of course. Even if Jane has testes hidden away under their school uniform. Because the gender binary must be served.

P.S. I forgot to mention the other criticism they’re shouting at me: “Myers is all ideological!” They’re completely oblivious to the fact that their position is blatantly ideological, too.

I admit to it. My ideology is to consider all of the evidence, even the stuff that makes my understanding of a situation more complicated.

Their ideology is to always make the evidence conform to their prior assumptions.

An epistemological battering

Peter Boghossian has a schtick: he presents some simple, logical rules that are great for smacking down irrational claims and getting people to engage in critical thinking, and he shows how they can be applied effectively to ideas he doesn’t like. But then he pulls a switcheroo, and starts promoting his own biases, and never applies his own tools to them. It’s weird, annoying, and inconsistent, and it means I can never take him seriously. In his case, it’s obvious who shaves the barber — it’s no one, and he runs around absurdly unkempt and shaggy.

Siobhan does a marvelous and entertaining job of tearing Boghossian down. Go read that. I could just stop here, case closed, Siobhan has hammered all the high points, but I can’t help myself: Boghossian punched a few of my buttons, so I have to be all superfluous and redundant.

  1. There’s the “It’s all the Left’s fault!” mantra, which we’ve heard from the Sam Harris wing before.

    It’s fascinating. I would be lying to you if I told that I wasn’t genuinely concerned about Trump’s presidency. I think the Left bears considerable responsibility in him being elected.

    I think Boghossian would have no problem dealing with an accusation that “it’s atheists like you who make people turn to Jesus!”, but somehow he can’t recognize the inconsistency here. People who voted for Trump got him elected, not the people who didn’t vote for Trump. You could legitimately argue that poor decision-making and over-confidence by the Left contributed to Clinton’s loss, but let’s not let the people who pulled the lever for the horrible plutocrat off the hook. Do you deny them agency?

    But here’s another thing that bugs me: what side are you on? If you yourself are a left-leaning, social justice, anti-racism and misogyny type (as they all say they are), why are the complaints always phrased as “they lost the election” rather than “we lost the election”? These guys always refer to the losers in the second or third person, distancing themselves from the outcome. If you’re aligning yourself with the right wing, be confident and say so. Again, apply your reasoning to yourself. Are you willing to bear some of the responsibility for this election? What will you do in the future? Besides blaming everyone else.

  2. Then there’s his small-minded version of post-modernism.

    Disciplines such as gender studies don’t have a dialectic. They’re not truth seeking enterprises. They think they’ve already found they truth and exist to indoctrinate students. There is no dialectic at the core of those disciplines like there is in philosophy. And there are profoundly negative consequences for peoples’ views of reality — it untethers them from what’s real.

    This is so completely, utterly the reverse of the truth. Post-modernism does have a very severe dialectic, and in fact is all about dialectics, which I’ll remind Boghossian is the discipline of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions. It is actually the very heart of skepticism, although most people who call themselves skeptics are more interested in bigoted dismissal than, you know, investigating it. I’ve written about postmodernism before, so I’ll just quote Michael Bérubé here:

    Sokal’s admirers have projected almost anything they desire–and they have desired many things. In early 1997, Sokal came to the University of Illinois, and quite graciously offered to share the stage with me so that we could have a debate about the relation of postmodern philosophy to politics. It was there that I first unveiled my counterargument, namely, that the world really is divvied up into “brute fact” and “social fact,” just as philosopher John Searle says it is, but the distinction between brute fact and social fact is itself a social fact, not a brute fact, which is why the history of science is so interesting. Moreover, there are many things–like Down syndrome, as my second son has taught me–that reside squarely at the intersection between brute fact and social fact, such that new social facts (like policies of inclusion and early intervention) can help determine the brute facts of people’s lives (like their health and well-being).

    I love that counterargument. People like Boghossian like to thunder about how they know precisely what a fact is, yet never seem to recognize how strongly shaped their version of “fact” is conditioned by their social world, and never consider the possibility that social facts can represent a significant truth. Consider race, for instance. Race is scientific nonsense; people’s perception of “race” does not coincide with the patterns of descent they purport, and ought not to be used to justify the discrimination and prejudices they endorse. But at the same time, race is a social fact, and ignoring those perceptions has “profoundly negative consequences for peoples’ views of reality”. Declaring that all humans came from Africa is true, but doesn’t do a thing to negate the harsh realities of how society’s have judged humans on the basis of their skin color.

    Denying social facts, as Boghossian does, is harmful.

  3. Boghossian’s specific rant in this case is about gender, and again, he scores an own goal by failing to perceive his own social facts. In response to a quote from a transgender studies professor who rightly points out that biological sex is a complex, messy topic that doesn’t divide neatly into the boy-girl binary, he makes this ranting non-argument.

    That is the most asinine, ridiculous, preposterous piece of ideological tripe. The only way someone could possibly believe that is they’ve been sufficiently indoctrinated by radical Leftists. I was once covering a lecture for a colleague and this topic came up. I said: “If sex were really a cultural construction, why don’t men menstruate? Why don’t men have babies? Why are there no women on professional football teams?” And an individual from the back of the class got up and started yelling, “Fuck you,” gave me the middle finger, shouted at me and stormed out of class.

    That student did the right thing, and I give them credit for speaking out. Professors are supposed to be informed on a subject, and Boghossian just outed himself as an ignoramus.

    He’s a philosopher, for dog’s sake, and he just proudly created an ontological framework and declared it to be an absolute. Women are people who menstruate, have babies, and don’t play football; men are people who don’t menstruate, don’t have babies, and play football.

    Is he even aware of how intensely socially constructed his list is? Does he consider all the exceptions? He’s blitheringly oblivious. If I declared that, for example, women have long hair and men have short hair (which is not as absurd as it sounds — Americans of my parent’s generation took that as a fact), then I have just made Rachel Maddow a man and Fabio a woman. If you bounce back and rightly explain that there are multiple factors, not just one criterion, then you have admitted that the gender binary is already false. Thanks for doing my job for me.

    And if you try to play the “biological reality!” card, I’ll just point out all the exceptions to your claims that women menstruate (not all do), women have babies (childless women aren’t men), XX chromosomes (not always), and anatomy.

    Boghossian is not a biologist, yet he’s always claiming biological authority for his narrow-minded views. He’s a lot like creationists that way.

  4. Boghossian ends by citing his supporting sources, which is a good idea, but in his case, undermines everything he says. Who supports him? Dave Rubin, a right-wing pundit on youtube. Christina Hoff Sommers, anti-feminist hack and lackey of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. Joe Rogan, misogynistic and unfunny comedian. And a Twitter account I’d never heard of before, @RealPeerReview, which is nothing but a person loudly laughing at gender studies articles they don’t understand. Some of those papers are terrible, I agree, but I seem to have frequently found papers in biology that are terrible (it’s actually not hard to do at all), and yet I don’t think all of biology is wrong, because I understand the theory and the evidence behind what I criticize. I can’t say that for Boghossian’s sources.

    Goddamn, but organized atheism has enabled a lot of cocky asswits who like to hide behind “objective reality”.

I haven’t had this much fun since I was condemned by the Catholic League

The Secular Policy Institute has now flexed its mighty muscles and done something. You might be wondering “who?”, so I’ll remind you: this is the vaporous think tank that used to be called the Global Secular Council, or Secular Global Institute, but then underwent a few confusing rearrangements of the chairs on the poop deck to reorganize under this new name. Their specialty seems to be attempting to strong-arm feminists into supporting them, listing celebrity atheists on the masthead, getting together for photo-ops, and otherwise…doing nothing at all. They’ve lately discovered a latent ability to wag their fingers, though, so they’re going to try to do that with this announcement.

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Two white dudes spend an hour talking about how racist and sexist it is to criticize other white dudes

It was a painful 50 minutes, but I listened to the entirety of Peter Boghossian and Stefan Molyneux patting each other on the back, in this video, Feminists vs. Atheists: The Death of Rational Discourse. I think you can tell from the title that there is not much hope for rational discussion here, and from the two speakers, you know it’s going to be awful. What I did was listen while I was engaged in some other work, and just extract a few paraphrases of the conversation now and then, when they said something particularly tiresome.

And really, that’s what it’s all about: reciting cliches at each other without thought, repeating bogus accusations we’ve all heard a thousand times before. These are not people who think very deeply about much of anything.

So what I’ve done below is scribble down the general tenor of the discussion. This is not a transcript. I’ve included some time points so if you really want to, you can go back and check on all the context.

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CJ Werleman self-destructs

And it’s really unfortunate — politically, we’re probably more alike than different, and we need more outspoken liberal voices in atheism. But he has done the unforgivable: serial plagiarism, and when caught out, has apologized, but simultaneously belittled the seriousness of the offense and blamed it on a campaign by our little neo-conservative atheist cabal of Harris and Boghossian.

I agree that they are wrong about so much else, but when they’re right, they’re right, galling as it is. This is a situation that requires much more reflection and far greater amends than Werleman has given it. He has also effectively written himself out of any of the debates, internal or external, about atheism.