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Posted by on Feb 23, 2014 in Atheism Plus, Feminism | 20 comments

A Series of Improbable Events

A Series of Improbable Events

Content warning: copypasta, violated expectations

On the sixth of this month, Amanda Marcotte wrote something which made a lot of sense to me:

I’m sure this story is on its way to a conservative media outlet near you, where some white, privileged man in tighty-whities will roll his eyes about the hysterical feminists, which, in this case, well—good call. Still, one thing I’ve been trying to keep in mind is that the women getting wound up about the statue are really young and just starting to explore the identity of “feminist.” College is a time for taking everything too far, from drinking beer to sports fandom to sexual drama to using your fancy new vocabulary words picked up in women’s studies courses. Which doesn’t mean that one should refrain from having a laugh over this, of course. Let’s hope Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are taking careful notes for the next season of Portlandia.

She is basically saying that social justice activists should be on guard against taking feminist ideals and jargon too far, using the Sleepwalker incident as an outstanding example. I say “hurrah” for calls to moderation (softly, of course) even when they come from unexpected quarters.

On the tenth of this month, Greg Laden wrote something which made a lot of sense to me:

The perfect storm of upset that arose from the DN Lee post take-down, the Bora take-down, the declaration of Henry Gee as the Feminist Anti-Christ, and the cries for boycott of Nature Publishing Group are examples of the tendency to accuse, try, convict, sentence, and severely punish perceived (real or not) transgressions to the Nth degree. I’m not sure if this eSociological phenomenon is more akin to a Monty Python-esque Medieval witch hunt or immature middle-school antics. Henry Gee was subject to ruination of his career and depression-inducing depression because some people did not like one of four hundred pieces of short fiction he was editor for. That would be a rather steep penalty even if Womanspace was the most sexist piece of literature ever written (though it was not).

This is pure pish and tosh when we consider the fact that promoting women and diversity, and promoting science generally, are shared goals of every single individual explicitly mentioned or implied as involved in this large scale conversation. We can be better than this.

Sounds to me like he is saying that sometimes we should focus more on our shared goals and values rather than witch-hunting each other in spasms of pro-feminist moral panic. I completely agree on this point, though there is much else in that article that I might call into question.

On the fifteenth of the month, Rebecca Watson wrote something which made a lot of sense to me:

I mentioned in a comment on Amy’s post that the idea that we should avoid words like “stupid” sounds like it was created by 4chan to troll people who care about social justice. On the other hand, there are apparently feminists who argue that a statue of a man in his underpants is a form of sexual assault, so it’s worth remembering that no movement is free of activists who get just a bit too excited about calling out perceived injustices. With that in mind, feel free to discuss the finer art of slur-free insulting in the comments below, but do try to keep the outrage in check.

Once again, we are counseled to show some restraint; social justice activists may “get just a bit too excited about calling out perceived injustices” and fail to “keep the outrage in check.” This is, of course, precisely what followed in the comments.

It is good to know that my fellow secular activists agree that we should be careful not to take “social justice” ideology so far that we start to do damage to our shared secular goals and humanist values.  I sincerely hope to see more open discussions which allow us to explore which limitations are reasonable and productive and which are more akin to a Monty Python or Portlandia sketch.

  • I have gelato

    The call for calm will not last.
    There will be calls for outrage once more.
    On this I will bet.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I’d bet against you, but I’m still looking for a suitable leopard skin dress.

    • I have gelato

      2 weeks before I change it to doing a everysolera gstring dance imo

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      That might be easier to swing.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

    In some cases, it may be too much to presume that the “goals and values” are different from defending the ideology. Rather, the disagreement may lie between two or more would-be authorities over an ideology, who mean not to share that authority. That isn’t about values or goals or their frictions; it’s just politics, same as any others.

  • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Ðavid A. Osorio S

    You keep on reading those hate sites? I wish I had such a tolerance threshold for stupid and self-serving people’s agendas of that ilk.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I see no need to call people stupid.

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Ðavid A. Osorio S

      I meant to say their agendas are stupid. Curiosly enough, I happen to think they’re pretty clever… which makes them even more dangerous and evil than any innocent wrongdoer.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I’m not entirely confident that they have an agenda beyond drawing attention to themselves. Which is understandable,of course, but can be overdone.

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Ðavid A. Osorio S

      That’s the agenda… towards the end of being the sole guardians and bearers of the Absolute Truth, who can’t be questioned or doubted, or wrong, and to live off that.

      C’mon, the Pope’s agenda, only 2000 years late.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      Are those pink panties going up or down?

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Ðavid A. Osorio S

      Down ;)

  • Brenda Weber

    Science is studying why progressives seem to have less success than conservatives in advancing their agenda.

    Tl;dr Special Snowflake Syndrome keeps us from working together.

    http://m.pss.sagepub.com/content/25/1/137

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      I am so going to have to download this.

  • http://skepticink.com/humanisticas/ Peter Ferguson

    I think you misunderstand Damion. They don’t apply their own logic to themselves. I think it’s called “hypocrisy” or some such.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      They must first realize that it is possible to go to far in the service of ideological purity before they can start to ask whether they have been doing so themselves.

    • 5ulman

      I think they’re a long way from that kind of self-awareness. I suspect that there’s been some instances of the crazy going up to 11 and this being so obvious there’s little choice but to acknowledge it.At least one of the people you have quoted is displaying such hypocrisy it is hard to believe it is the same person.

  • Shadow of a Doubt

    On one hand, I’d love to see controversial figures in the “skeptic” community actually come back to skepticism, but call me skeptical, I have my doubts about this being a sincere change of heart so much as a shift in advertising to appeal to the skeptic crowd they want to pander to.

    We have several “skeptics” who have either spewed outright nonsense (though I suppose we can blame Greg’s testosterone damaged brain, in his own words), lied about or inflated statistics or flatly denounced actual science (or entire fields of it) to support their agenda. They haven’t recanted any of that or changed their minds, what has changed is the attitude of the audience, which not-so-coincidentally the income and prestige of the above individuals depends entirely upon. Certain popular news sites as well as some which claim to support “freethought” are losing contributors, supporters and views faster than you can throw a rape grenade, and with that goes the advertising money, paid speaking gigs and columns in news sites that people actually read.

    This hearkens back to the old saying “If you and a friend are being chased by a bear, you don’t need to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun your friend.” Denouncing extremists is always a way to build good skeptic “cred”, and throwing those more extreme than oneself under the bus is a time honored political tradition to draw attention away from your own extreme views by saying “at least they’re not as extreme as that guy’s over there, so pick me instead”.

    What we haven’t seen is an apology for any of the nonsense they’re spewed out, an acknowledgement of their own extremism in the past or a recantation of any of the blatant bull crap they’ve spewed forth to try and support nonsense that fits their agenda. What we get instead is a finger being pointed while saying “See, SEE! There are people worse than us, look over there, he’s being even more of an extremest than I am, so everything I’ve done is ok!”

    I won’t let them off so easily, anymore than I’d let off a murderer because they pointed to Stalin an said “look he killed more guys than me!”, and if it ever pays to become extremists to the point of self parody again, they’ll all be back on that boat again faster than you can blink, think or turn on the lights.

    But then again, time will tell, and unlike most of these so called “skeptics”, I’ll acknowledge that I may be proven wrong.

    • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

      “What we haven’t seen is an apology…”

      Of course I do not expect, for example, that Ms. Watson will ever apologize to Ms. McGraw for saying that she somehow validated misogyny by repeating “ancient anti-woman rhetoric” but then most people (even self-identified skeptics) are not terribly willing to admit when they’ve gotten something wrong.

    • Shadow of a Doubt

      I agree and while it is true that it’s hard to say “Ooops, I goofed”, that would actually seem a sign of change or reformation. All I see is finger pointing to someone else who is worse, which taken to its logical extreme always ends with “at least we’re not as bad as Hitler/Mao/Stalin”.

      My point is that anyone can always find someone to point at and say “I’m not as unreasonable as this person”. The fact that we take such petty politics as a “positive” trait shows just how bankrupt of reason these “skeptic” celebrities are.

      Say what you want about the 4 horsemen being old white men, at least they defend(ed) their arguments, even the bad ones, instead of simply pointing to someone else who had a worse one.