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Posted on Jan 30, 2013 in blogosphere | 145 comments

A call for civil discussion, an end to the in-fighting?

Update – 1/30/12 – 6:02PM

Lee Moore of the A-News Podcast has invited me to participate in a series of talks which aim to put a stop to the current in-fighting in the atheist/skeptic community.  He writes, “…I am calling for representatives from both camps in these blog wars to sit down with me in what may be the first of many live and public google hangouts to discuss grievances and come back to the world of civil discussion and cooperation.” I’m more than willing to participate in these discussions and hope others, no matter various grievances they hold, are similarly willing. 

In recent months, as many of my readers know, I have become involved in what could be categorized as ‘atheist in-fighting.’ Upset with the behavior of particular voices in the online atheist community, I have felt compelled to speak up in response to what I have perceived as unfair campaigns of vilification.

I’ve thrown some ‘punches’ here and there, stepped inside and outside the ‘ring,’ and spent a considerable amount of time — rather than focusing on church/state separation issues, atheist activism, or applying skepticism to untenable claims in-line with my ‘central mission’ — participating, in one way or another, in the ‘online soap opera’ which my friend Karla Porter has quaintly called “As the Atheist World Turns.”

There appears to be great differences between two distinct ‘factions’ in the online atheist/skeptic community. Whatever the grievances, and however justified or unjustified they may be from both ‘factions,’ there seems to be a large amount of time spent pertaining to ‘infighting’ that could otherwise be spent on addressing issues such as church/state separation, activism, community-building, educating, and much more.

It would be nice to step back from the ‘atheist/skeptic in-fighting,’ wouldn’t it?

Would others be willing not only to participate in a series of talks, but also to put a stop to the in-fighting?

Can there be a change in discourse?

Sound off in the comments.

4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • Did you really just write a post that boils down to “On the one side we have a group that has been disparaged for valid concerns and on the other we have people who continually lie and distort facts to support unfounded claims”, and then title that post A Call For Civil Discussion?
    Is this as charitable as you feel you can be? Is this really diplomacy?

    • Fair enough, fair enough. I didn’t write what you quoted, but I have edited the post following some criticisms. There’s no need to elaborate on the issues/my point of view/others’ points of view in this post.

      • I don’t agree on this one, Justin. This is YOUR blog, and you should write the way you feel. If they don’t like it, no one’s forcing them to read you, right?

        • The whole point is that he wants to be read by the people who disagree with him. Of course he has to be as charitable as possible.

          • That *would* be the point if those people disagreed with him! They just manufacture controversy; they don’t disagree, they just profit off crying who’s a misgynist and who’s not!

            • Even if you believe it’s all manufactured controversy, the whole point is that Moore’s inviting Justin to take part in a debate as though it were a matter of disagreement instead.

              • Fair enough! And that’s what Justin posted.

        • Lukas Xavier

          Obviously George wanted to read the post. That’s not an issue.
          George didn’t criticize Justin for writing the post as much as for holding opinions that would lead one to writing such a post.
          It’s the difference between criticizing WHAT someone is saying vs. criticizing THAT they’re saying it. I don’t see anything to indicate that George thinks Justin shouldn’t be allowed to post what he likes on his own blog.

          I’ll add in that it’s exactly that type of conflation/distortion that the debate is entirely too full of.

    • xinit

      That’s the many people would agree on – that there are two sides here;

      One side composed of egocentric crazy liars who do nothing but cyberstalk and harass and distort the truth. They’ll NEVER listen to reason! Why try?

      The other is the side is misunderstood and innocent of wrong-doing.

      • And every one of us knows which side THEY’RE on. :-)

        • PZ Myers is on the side of the absolute truth!! xP

          • I always read his blog to find out who’s “Filth” & “Scum”. I would forever be ignorant of these things otherwise, good ol’ PZ.

    • Pitchguest

      Is this as charitable as YOU can be, George?

      Nitpicking? Tone trolling? I don’t think you’re being too kind here. Of course, you will notice that no one else has volunteered their diplomacy chair. Justin is at least willing to participate in an open discussion. What does that say about “the other side”?

      • That says what we already knew!

      • Pitchguest- That was about the most charitable reading anyone who is uninvested or invested in the other side can make.

        I don’t think it is nitpicking to ask that someone reach out in good faith. I don’t think it is tone trolling to point out the obvious dissonance between the intention and the spirit of the post. You can’t call what you are doing diplomacy when you write something like that. Saying “Hey, it’s time to chill you guys” is not diplomacy.
        But whatever. Que sera sera.

      • Tone Trolling? Seems you have a word for everything when there’s a point you have difficulty with. I personally have no time fot FtB or A+ & in the words of someone i can’t remember they should be drummed out of the Atheist community. Sound familiar?

    • When did Atheism+ ever demonstrate they had any actual valid concerns? They haven’t even proved that Elevatorgate even happened by identifying the individual who supposedly propositioned Watson in the elevator. What they’ve come up with is a bunch of “just so” stories to support their radical feminist agenda. They haven’t demonstrated any rampant sexism in the atheist community, although through programs like Surly Amy’s “Send a woman and only a woman to a conference” program, they’ve demonstrated they can, themselves, be entirely sexist. Yes, I know, do as they say, not as they do.

      Unlike Justin, I’m not sure civil discourse is even possible in this case because huge portions of both sides are irrational. Whether it’s the cult-like behavior of the Atheism+ side or the troll-like, stalking behavior of some on the other side, none of them want a rational, civil debate about actual, demonstrable issues, both just want to act like children.

      • Data Jack

        Distortion of the truth is not helping. Rebecca has nothing to do with Atheism+. Demonstrating elevator guy existed in no way supports or refutes her point – which was that the situation made her feel uncomfortable. Amy’s “send women to a conference” is not sexism, because it is an attempt to close the gender gap. No one said sexism was rampant in the atheist community, orat cons, they said it exists there, about as much as it does elsewhere. Honesty, without exaggeration. Give it a try.

        • Whether she does or not is largely irrelevant at this point, that was the event which sparked this whole debacle, yet it remains wholly undemonstrated. The same is true of all of the sexist events that have supposedly happened at atheist conventions, none of which have been proven, at least I haven’t seen the evidence. They have absolutely said that sexism is rampant! They say it’s dangerous for women to go to conventions! They demand that these conventions require harassment policies to combat the blatant sexism and harassment that goes on! If it’s their position that sexism is no worse in the atheist community than it is anywhere else, why are they choosing to focus almost exclusively on the atheist community? Why are they choosing to attack atheists who simply disagree with their position?

          Yeah, honesty without exaggeration. You should give it a shot.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice? I would be happy to stop writing As the Atheist World Turns episodes if there were nothing to write about. As it stands there is more content than anyone could possibly cover. Lee deserves a lot of credit for volunteering his time to coordinate such an effort. As much as i would like to see a positive outcome and everyone playing nice in the secular sandbox, I am not quite as optimistic as Lee that it will happen because too many people are competing for who lifts their leg the highest to piss on the fire hydrant.. But if no one tries – one thing is certain, not even a dent will be made in atheist infighting. Bravo Lee.

  • Each of us individually has the power to “step back” from the fighting. Our own behavior is about all we can control in this mess. Can there be a change? Absolutely. Will there be a change in the near future. I doubt it. I find myself feeling more pessimistic on this question today than I would have been 6 months ago. 6 months from now, who knows?

    • Wait, wait wait! As far as I have been following you and your blog, there’s nothing you should step back. You didn’t do anything wrong!!

      So why are we treating this like both sides made mistakes, when that’s not the case? Isn’t one of the secular movement’s goals to promote acting upon facts instead of wishful thinking: well, there you go, fact is we’d be apologizing for a wrongdoing we never did!.

      • Rocko2466

        I agree. I don’t get where this has come from, Justin. It’s not like you’re a noob who hasn’t interacted with these people. You saw @robotanna above, you’ve seen OB and RW and PZM. These people aren’t rational.

        • robotanna

          how exactly am i not rational. enumerate.

            • robotanna

              No, you would just make up lies! That’s how you work!

              Remember this?

              • Rocko2466

                Actually, maybe it’s worth trying this. If we all get is people like robotanna responding to these things, at least those who are uncivil and irrational are exposed. Maybe those who appear to be on opposite sides can come together and achieve things and people like @robotanna can just yell from the sidelines. It’s always worth another try even if it keeps failing!

                • robotanna

                  why does “uncivil” imply “irrational”. i have yet to hear any actual criticism to what i said that isn’t either tone trolling (yawn) or resorting to debate techniques pioneered by the late great Rush Limbaugh (RIP)

        • Touché!

        • Chas Stewart

          Robotanna is a troll at all times and is not representative of the other faction.

  • robotanna

    Yeah the most important thing isn’t whether or not we’re holding hands and singing kumbayah, the most important thing is that the kind of shit you and your friends do is fucking alienating as everloving fuck to anyone who isn’t or close to a straight white cis dude.

    Being non-inclusive to large swaths of skeptics/atheists (and perhaps more importantly, potential ones) is not something that’s up for debate. Either fucking listen and start being a decent human being, or sit around with your shitty friends and jerk off to how mean those bad evil people who are tired of your racist/misogynist/trans/homophobic shit are to you when you just want to alienate a bunch of them while being all “nice” about it, boo hoo~~~ qqqq.

    The ball is in the court of you and your asshole friends. We’re just fine and happy without you since you don’t seem to give a shit about the rest of us anyway, nor do we have any need for so-called skeptics that aren’t skeptical of their own deeply-held beliefs of white/cis/straight/male supremacy that they hold dear.

    • Nothing like calling someone racist/misogynist/trans/homophobe to really kick off a serious discussion of the issues. Damn, but we need better opponents.

      • robotanna

        let me make a comprehensive list of all the fucks i give about how bad i feel about you or anyone who gets called out for doing shitty things:

        • While we’re at it, you could try making a list of all the things Justin actually said or did which could be rightly characterized as “racist/misogynist/trans/homophobic shit” as you would say.

          • robotanna

            no, that’s the job of justin and/or anyone else that is actually serious about this so-called call to truce, and also lol @ u if u think this is just about Justin

            • Edward Gemmer

              Let’s see: let’s hear criticism that doesn’t include “your racist/sexist, hate gay people.” Instead, examples are great. I for one am pretty new to this community and actually tried to find why some people hate this Justin Vacula. I have yet to find anything. This atheist on atheist hate is like a perpetual motion machine – it seems to grow stronger and stronger based on nothing.

              • We’d die waiting!

              • robotanna

                idk read stuff on freethoughtblogs or skepchick something for a start, stop acting surprised you’re not going to find criticism of a privileged idiot on his own fucking blog

                • Like PZ Myers?!? Ohh, wait – he filters comments!

                • Pitchguest

                  …Criticism of an idiot on his own blog. Brilliant. But if it’s his words we’re looking for, then it would be on “his own blog”, wouldn’t it?

                  Not very bright, are you?

                  • No, she’s not! A femtheist, after all…

            • Robot, you’re the first person I’m going to ban here on Skeptic Ink Network. I really hate to do it, but you’re just clearly trolling and are in obvious violation of Skeptic Ink Network’s comment policy:

              “Our Discussion Policy

              Invectives which demean individuals on the basis of ethnicity, sex, religion, gender identification, appearance, or age will not be tolerated. While it is fashionable in some corners of the internet for atheists to crassly denigrate people, that is not acceptable here. We will focus on the arguments themselves. Sensitive commenters should be warned that poor arguments may be called out as such, and that it is our obligation to do so, even if it is upsetting to the person we argue against. But no position worth defending requires the sacrifice of either manners or respect for other people. We seek a calm, intelligent debate on the issues that divide us or none at all, and we demand the same from our commentariat.”

              The archived comment responsible for the ban:

              • fuck you. After all the bullshit your friends pitchguest, johngreg and the rest have done this is who you choose to ban?

                Fuck. I can totally see you’re not spitting shit when you talk about closing divides.

            • You may be new to skepticism, so I’ll explain how this is supposed to work:

              Person X: Inflammatory claims!

              Person Y: Are you sure? Is there evidence?

              Person X: No, that’s your burden of proof!

              Person Y: Politely explains that the maker of claims holds the burden of proof.

              • Seriously, isn’t that exactly how the religious operate? “You can’t prove God isn’t real, therefore he is!” These A+/whatever they want to call themselves are just laughable when they engage in the same kind of irrational argumentation as fundamentalists do.

            • Pitchguest

              This is counterproductive. You make all sorts of claims about Justin, but you’re not willing to support those claims? It should be Justin’s ‘job’ to find that out? That’s not being honest at all, especially when he’s passing on the peace pipe.

              • That’s the point: these people ain’t honest – they just profit off playing the victim card!

          • No, she would just make up lies! That’s how they work!

            • robotanna

              nobody asked you idiot

          • robotanna

            p.s. you are a disingenuous idiot and you know that what you’re asking is completely unreasonable to produce in a fucking comments section, not to mention easily available with a little bit of research on your own that you are too fucking lazy and scared to do yourself because you’re afraid of what you’ll find and facing yourself

            • What are you, 12? This kind of demeanor is exactly why this call for discussion is necessary. Some adults don’t know how to act like one, and you are certainly proving that point.

            • What OhioAthiest said, Robotanna. Seriously, do you think supporting what you see as some kind of self-evidently perfect “social justice” ideology give you license to be utterly shitty to people who haven’t bought into that ideology? It really is too bad if the ideas you believe in are actually worthwhile, because you’re never never going to change hearts and mind the way you go about it. About the only thing you’re going to succeed in doing is making enemies.

    • Justin, you should know by now: femtheists are to civility what George Bush is to reason.

      I think Moore’s initiative is well-minded, but as naive as it can get. This @robotanna:disqus idiot is enough proof!

      • Guest

        @Daosorios:disqus is proof that all males should be thrown in a meat grinder

      • robotanna

        im not the idiot just because you’re too fucking stupid to read simple words. i could not have made myself clearer.

        • I was able to read’em! You made yourself clear enough! You’re wrong, period.

          A femtheist calling me stupid? Wow, my lucky day!

    • I guess there can’t be a change in the discourse.

      • robotanna

        not if you’re not willing to stop huffing your own farts and check yourself, no

      • Of course there can be a change, but don’t expect it to happen all at once. People will come here to Skeptic Ink for calm and reasoned debate if we consistently show that is what we do here’

        • he says when the most consistently upvoted comments on his blog and this whole fucking network are ones bitterly demeaning FtB and Skepchick

          You people are a joke. You talk about wanting to heal rifts about providing reasoned content but you only ever do the opposite.

          • If you are going to accuse me of demeaning people, Julian, at least do me the courtesy of being specific and providing a link.

      • Edward Gemmer

        There can be. But in all cases, be true to yourself. Reacting to people who aren’t interested in discourse or decency isn’t going to improve things. Or to simply – just because PZ Myers calls you an idiot doesn’t mean you are an idiot or you have to call him one.

    • Wad3_W1ls0n

      BY ODIN! If all A plusers have forked tongues like yours, than any discussion is surely doomed before it begins!

      • robotanna

        im not a “plusser”. i admire what a+ is trying to do but it’s fundamentally broken for reasons that we’re not even close to the same page enough to have anything resembling a decent discussion about why (if you really care just read what Natalie Reed said about it instead)

        however i have been driven away from skepticism/atheism as a movement because apparently we’re too busy fighting about say, whether or not women or practicing Muslims are people to actually be skeptical of things that deserve skepticism, like social power structures that personally benefit us and are difficult to admit to oneself. i have no interest in being a part of that, and if your reaction is “good well we don’t want you either!” then congrats you’re one step closer to understanding how i feel about you

        • Edward Gemmer

          I don’t know that people don’t want you, but what they don’t want is to be insulted on a constant basis for no reason. I think most people would be interested in a discussion of women/muslims/power structures or whatever you like, but when you start calling people racist/sexist/homophobic because they talk about it with you, well, what was the point in discussing it in the first place?

    • xinit

      Perfect example of the worldview I outlined above. Thanks.

    • Cool story, bro.

    • Karmakin

      I know he’s banned, but whatever. Maybe you’ll read this. Please note. I’m someone that who has been on BOTH sides of this debate at one time or another. So I’ve “read” a lot coming from both sides.

      Very few people, and practically nobody in this debate holds any “deeply-held belief” of supremacy. There are a few supremacists out there, of course, but generally speaking, they’re pretty fringe at this point. Most people, in one way or another, value opposing this sort of inequality. To most reasonable people in this day and age, that sort of behavior is socially unacceptable. And rightfully so.

      But here’s the problem. We have different ways of expressing it. Again, as someone who has been on both sides of this divide, and also has explored OTHER “battlefields” for this conflict, it’s pretty much the same thing. Let’s assume that valuing equality is on the left side of the spectrum and that valuing supremacy/hegemony is on the right side of the spectrum. (Not insisting that these are “left” or “right” values, but it’s just for descriptive sake)

      Most of the critics of SJW (Social Justice Warrior) movements, that I’ve seen (of which A+ is one, like it or not), do not believe that we value equality less. In fact, we often think that we value equality more than the people we criticize, and that’s why we criticize them. You can think we’re wrong on this. And you can make your arguments. (I’ve heard them. They’re not convincing at all)

      And we can have a discussion on this. Not a lecture, not “education”. A real discussion. It’s something tangible to discuss. And lo and behold, I do think we SHOULD have this discussion from a skeptical point of view.

      But at the end of the day, until people realize that the critics of these movements value equality just as much as they do, quite frankly, nothing is ever going to change.

      • just said he wasn’t part of A+. n fact he cited the problems with Social Justice Warriors (through reference to Natalie Reed’s explicit criticism). Maybe you should be less of a condescending tool when talking to people and read what they say?

        This whole place just smells to high heaven. And you’re supposed to be the keepers of true skepticism and “good” feminism. Hope this movement burns.

        • Karmakin

          Actually, you should read what I say, and note that I was actually talking about the belief that people are actively protecting their own feelings/desires of supremacy, something that he/she DID directly say, and my comment followed on from that point. It was only about A+/SJW as far as that’s a common belief in those communities.

  • It would be nice if there was civil discussion, but I just don’t think it’s possible – not right now. I’ve distanced myself a bit from the “cause” because of this. I check in from time to time to see if things have cooled down, but it only gets worse. And the problem is that people who claim to be free thinkers just aren’t. There’s a lot of groupthink and childish behavior. I’ll check back again in 5 years or so.

    • Alternatively, you could check in now and help fix this situation in real time.

  • People are not going to stop saying “that’s sexist” when you say sexist shit. So unless you decide to stop saying sexist shit, I guess the answer is no.

    • Hi Sally

      I think the point is if you want to explain why something said is wrong, feel free to do so. Hurling an invective won’t help. And at the end of the day I think you can assume that people like Justin (and myself!) don’t want to be thought of as sexist, so if we (or you!) have something wrong, it would probably help to talk about it. The habit lately has been to hurl abuse, attach a label (i.e. misogynist) and ban them from the discussion.

      Seeing as we all have a vested interest in what the atheist community does (i.e. there are hugely important secular goals to achieve that we all agree on!) we might as well see if we can repair damage.

      I think your willingness to post here suggests you might be open to it.

      • Jenae Reese

        That’s funny, because I’ve seen this topic rehashed over and over again, with people explaining exactly why saying “bitch” (for example) is sexist. And pretty much the argument boils down to the original user of the slur saying, “Welp, I have the right to say what I want so THERE!” or “You’re just too sensitive!”

        Lets grant both of those things might be true-Even if the person you’re attempting to communicate with is being oversensitive, and that OF COURSE you have the right to say whatever the hell you want, it still costs you SO LITTLE to make an effort and not use insults that the person you’re talking to thinks are sexist, ablist, racist, whatever. It’s literally a “my bad, won’t say it again, now what about my point X?” situation.

        But no. Every conversation about this topic has to devolve to accusations of censorship and over-sensitivity. And that’s why I would attach the “Sexist” label to such a person–because even after having it explained numerous times, they choose not to care or stop using those words.

        • Just because the Social Justice Warrior crowd has a particular issue with the word “bitch” does not mean everyone else has to. Now if you want to call for conversation without name calling in general, then I’m with you. But that has to apply to *everybody* on all sides. And I’m not down with stupid games of “my insults are OK, but yours are misogynist!”. I call bullshit on that.

          • Jenae Reese

            I don’t want to rehash this discussion yet again. I don’t agree that that sexist/racist/whateverist words are just insults or on the same level as calling someone a “jerk” or something.

            • Ask me whether I give the slightest care about anything Shakesville has to say. I’m familiar with Shakesville and Melissa McEwan and I find them to be extremist and completely lacking in credibility. I might remind you that I’m a secularist participating in the secularist movement, not a feminist (or at least, not a feminist in the same sense as Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte), and I really can’t see why I should be accountable to the latter.

              The problem, Jenae, is that people like you expect everybody to play by a set of rules that are particular to YOUR ideological predispositions. And in case you haven’t noticed, there’s significant disagreement about that.

              In terms of the word “bitch”, I subscribe to the point of view that language is defined in part by actual usage in ordinary social context. And, like it or not, “bitch” simply doesn’t carry the same meaning vis a vis women that “nigger” carries toward black people. I take that as a guideline. Clearly, your political subculture sees this very differently, but once again, I really don’t have a whole lot of respect for the SJW subculture, so I see no particular need to play by their rules.

              Now, once again, I say that if you want to have a conversation without name-calling in general, however trivial or accurate the insult might seem on either side, then yes, I’m down with this. That would seem to something that all reasonable parties could agree upon. But this ongoing game of being hyper-offended by one set of insults while giving another set a free pass, in a way that favors one’s own position, is, of course, a complete non-starter.

              • Jenae Reese

                “I really don’t have a whole lot of respect for the SJW subculture, so I see no particular need to play by their rules.”

                Fine. That is your right. If you don’t want to communicate with SJW people in an effective way, then don’t communicate with them.

                That’s not what this post is about. It is about how to move the dialogue forward. Disrespect or choosing to use words you know will insult the person you communicate with is NOT productive.

                • Karmakin

                  Doesn’t that go both ways ‘tho?

                  So why, for example, if the SJW movement wants to communicate with people outside of it, shouldn’t they stop using words/terms/ideas that will insult the people they are communicating with?

                  • Jenae – Karmakin raises the same point I was going to make. My point is not that I want to casually throw around the word “bitch”, especially as it is particularly insulting to my adversaries here, but that if we’re going to have a real conversation here, insults and ad-homs in general need to come off the table. And that means not branding me as a “misogynist” and the like just because I don’t happen to agree with their ideology. Is that really too much to ask? A simple policy of “no insults or ad-homs” addresses that, while this kind of hand-wringing over which insults are *really bad* evades that point. I’m not sure why you seem to have a problem with that simple point.

        • Erik Johansson

          Jenae: Two points.
          First, in my experience, the argument about language seldom end up in “free speech” territory, but rather in “you’ve yet to properly explain why XXX is actually sexist”.

          I’ve actually never seen a very good explanation of why for example “cunt” is sexist. And I have, sadly, actually gone looking for explanations of this, after a bit of a cultural crash with an very vocal American.
          The only thing resembling an argument for this, that I’ve seen, is that the word has a cultural baggage in the US.
          If that’s the case, the people that are yelling about misogyny is displaying a staggering amount of US-centrism when they are assuming that all the people they are branding as misogynists somehow are Americans.
          (and yes, I just checked the link to shakesville out, no explanation whatsoever in the “on cunts” page)

          Second, there are a few reasons why not to accommodate these people out of politeness, after they fail to demonstrate why these words actually are bad.

          One of these reasons is that this outrage over certain words is clearly being used as a silencing technique.

          Considering how uninterested these people are when someone on “the right side” uses “forbidden words”, it’s not an unfair assessment that the real reason for their outrage when someone on “the wrong side” use the very same words is not concern about sexism, but rather about making the dissenter shut up while they get smeared with the label “misogynist”.

          Another reason is the blatant sexism displayed in which slurs are deemed to be sexist (“twat”, “cunt”) and which ones are completely ok (“dick”, “cock”).

          When certain people are crying rivers about misogynists calling them “twats” the one day, and then the next day they themselves go on to write public “Dear Dick” letters and make “Don’t be a dick!” rules, they are displaying a staggering amount of hypocrisy.

          Really, why should I care what these people find sexist, when they themselves are the most sexist (and racist) people I’ve seen in this whole atheism/skepticism movement?

          • Jenae Reese

            I’m not super interested in getting into this debate, as I believe that the purpose of the OP is to facilitate communication between both sides, not to attempt to persuade. But briefly.

            “Cunt” is wrong for 2 reasons. First, because there is a long and ugly history in Western culture (Britain & US alike) of objectifying women–of collapsing them down into a body part. So, to refer to a woman as a specifically-female body part props up the objectification of women as ‘female parts’ only.

            Second, the implication of calling someone a ‘cunt’ as a slur is that a ‘cunt’ is a bad, dirty, gross thing to be. Which implies that it’s a bad, dirty, gross thing to have. And again, there is a long history in Western culture of treating women’s vaginas like they are gross, bad, dirty and shameful (as well as hysterical, emotional, ect.) So again, using the word in this way carries a lot of cultural baggage that is NOT simply US-centric, but Western-centric.

            Finally, if the goal is to communicate with me as a woman in skepticism, and I say, “Hey, that word is really offensive to me. It carries a lot of sexist cultural baggage and buys into an apparatus of sexist thought that is still very much in use today. Can we not use it?”– is being able to use the word regardless really the hill you want to die on?

            • Edward Gemmer

              We should be able to talk without calling each other any bad names at all.

            • What Edward Gemmer said. I’m really not interested in a treatise on why certain insults are horrible on sexist. And why casually throwing around terms like “misogynist” as an insult is somehow OK. I’m more interested in a common set of rules that bars name-calling in general. But inherently biased, politicized rules of engagement that exaggerate one side’s insults allowing free rein for the others? That’s not on, and I think it should be pretty clear as to why.

            • Erik Johansson

              I can respect that the topic of this post isn’t really language, and if you don’t want to continue this discussion then simply don’t respond to this comment (or just the parts you feel are relevant, or whatever). In either case, cheers for taking the time to reply in a civil manner, and giving a far better explanation than most that I’ve found.

              With that said, to your explanation, and my problems with it.

              Your first part hinges upon the idea that the usage of the slur “cunt” is a continuation of the sexual objectification of women, since it reduces them to a (sexual) object. I’m having some serious problem with this idea of slurs reducing a person into XXX, as there is plenty of slurs that in that case would be working in the same “reducing” way. Take for example “turd”, with this logic calling someone a “turd” would be complete dehumanization, since it would reduce the target to something that isn’t even part of a human…

              I don’t buy that, IMO slurs work fundamentally differently. If you call someone a turd, you are not reducing them down to fecal matter, rather, what you are saying is that they share the negative qualities fecal matter have.

              Your second part is exactly why I’d argue that “cunt” is not a sexist word, because it relies on the idea that our various pluming equipment is gross, and not any negative qualities perceived in our sex (as in gender, not the sexual organs). There’s really no implication that having a vagina is a bad thing, no more than the slur “cock” imply that having a penis is a bad thing, or “asshole” is implying that the whole human race is bad for having anuses.

              Really, with this reasoning, “cock” should be praise, not a slur, considering that being male at least historically has been seen as a extremely good thing. Yet in pretty much every culture and language you’ll find a plethora of demeaning “dick”-slurs.

              As for your last point, I personally extremely rarely use the word, so the ability to use these word is hardly a hill I’m dying on. Then again this discussion isn’t really about if one should be using the words as much as it’s about labeling people as sexists/misogynists for using them. There’s a pretty significant difference between being rude or crude, and being a sexist pig or a misogynist.

              I really don’t mind adopting my language based on social context. I, and most people, do that all the time, so I really don’t have a problem not using certain words if I were to speak with you here or in real life. However, if you want to butt into other peoples conversations and demand that they regulate their language, and upon failure to do so you label them misogynists, that’s a very different thing.

              At that point, you need to have a pretty strong case for actual misogyny, or people are rightfully going to be quite annoyed with you.

              • I note noone on the “anti-bitch” or “anti-cunt” side is responding when people note the “dick” or “cock” insults. Perhaps they should check their prism of interacting with the world? Perhaps gendered insults go both ways and don’t hold the deeply sexist meanings their ideology leads them to believe…?

    • Edward Gemmer

      One issue is that you seem to assume that people are trying to be sexist. For the most part, they aren’t. So instead of trying to play gotcha, try to explain your position. People respect those who have a point.

      • Jenae Reese

        Edward–its been explained at length to quite a few people, in quite a few places. At some point, people have to be responsible to either change their own behavior and/or educate themselves. It isn’t the job of every marginalized person to explain why X word is racist/sexist/whatever to every privileged person. I don’t want to always have to have that fight. And I’d really appreciate it if it didn’t have to always BE a fight.

        Ex: One of my daughter’s friends replied to a comment on her FB feed by saying, “Lol, that’s so gay!” My 14-year old daughter replied, “Hey, homophobic slurs are not cool to use here. Don’t do that.” And you know what that kid did? He didn’t ask, “Wait, why is saying “gay” homophobic???” or “But I didn’t mean it that way!” or argue about his right to free speech. He said, “Sorry, won’t happen again.”

        If a 14-year old high school kid can do it, so can you. (By “you” I mean ppl who use these words, not you particularly.)

        • Karmakin

          For what it’s worth I agree with you on the power of words sometimes. I don’t think that the power of all words are equal…I don’t think that “bitch” has the same power as “cunt”, as an example. And I don’t think that either of them have nearly the same effect as the common usage, that you gave of the term “gay”.

          But I also think that how “privilege” is often used actually has the same effect in terms of dehumanizing people, both those with the perceived power AND those without it. Believe it or not, we can be dehumanizing even without using words that are often thought of as being swear words.

          But there’s quite a few other problems with all of this, and they really can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. The big one, is that you think that what you’re saying is the absolute truth, and can’t be discussed/disagreed with. This right here is a massive (and rightfully so) red flag for people.

          The second is that language is just one leg in the chair that is sexism. There are other legs. The way we stereotype people, judge them based on these inherent characteristics, really is a large part of how sexist/racist/’ist in general we are. Probably a larger part than language itself. And sexist IDEAS, unfortunately are something that again, can’t be ignored, and this is really the crux of the debate here.

          I’m what you may consider an “ex-feminist”, although to be honest I don’t think that my core beliefs have changed all that much. It’s just difficult to find popular feminist writings these days that focus on a gender-neutral application of gender roles in our society…most people in my boat have moved on to egalitarianism.

          A good example of this, I think, was Adam Lee’s big petition. Although he also does this (and multiple times) in his response to Justin here. Quite frankly, it’s sexist, and unneedingly so. He decries harassment…against women.

          Why not against people in general? If it’s a good idea then it’s a good idea across the board. Now, it may be that women receive more harassment than men in general, and I actually think that’s probably true, but all the same…is the harassment against men NOT a bad thing? What is lost by acknowledging this? What is lost by acknowledging that men have child care needs as well?

          That’s the big beef here, as I see it. And truth be told, this is an ideological conflict that’s not JUST about A+/FTB or whatever. It’s actually larger than that, in other places as well. And you see the same thing over and over.

          My personal opinion/experience is that the critics of the various Social Justice Warrior movements are BETTER on issues of equality…MUCH better than the SJW movements themselves.

          So let’s start the discussion on these policies, on these ideas. And not shut them down because academic feminism should be the defacto starting and end point for it all. (Quite frankly, that’s a form of privilege/entitlement in and of itself)

        • Edward Gemmer

          It doesn’t have to be a fight. If someone says something you don’t like, there is nothing wrong with pointing it out. But that can be that. Every insult is something that can hurt someone’s feelings. That’s the entire point of them being insults.

          For example, PZ Myers routinely calls people idiots. Until recently, idiot was an official classification for profoundly mentally retarded people. Are profoundly mentally retarded people in a marginalized group? Without a shadow of a doubt. Is PZ Myers tapping into a stereotype by calling people idiots? Absolutely he is. Does that mean he hates profoundly mentally retarded people? Not at all. Clearly, he is trying to hurt the feelings of a particular person and not everyone who is profoundly mentally retarded.

          Lots of insults get thrown about on the internet, and they all have some intent to hurt people’s feelings. So, sometimes it seems like people get very arbitrary on what they think are acceptable and unacceptable insults, then get focused on that to the exclusion of everything else.

          • And they downvoted you this comment!! How rational of them…

        • Jenae.

          Further example: One of my friends said once “You’re being a bitch.” Another responded “Hey, that’s sexist.” The first said “No. I meant you were being horrible.” The second said “Sorry. I assumed that you meant to indicate that I was exhibiting masculine traits and you did not agree with my use of masculine traits because you believe that all behaviour should remain strictly gendered and a woman should not be assertive. I guess it’s silly in retrospect that I assigned a deep layer of sexism to what was actually an ordinary insult. I shouldn’t have overreacted.”

          If she can do that, why can’t you?

          • Karmakin

            Strangely enough, I grew up with that definition of “bitch” being a compliment. Go figure.

    • Jeff

      As you guys would say, “citation needed”. I have followed this clusterfuck from the start and although I disagree with JV about anti-harassment policies (I can’t see why they are bad), I don’t know what he’s said or done that generates this much vitriol. The posting of Surly Amy’s address was wrong, but he was already being vilified by that time, so it was something that happened before.

  • Justin- keep up the good work. It takes a lot of ballz (in a good way) to try and stop the pettiness and talk things out. Even if it is to agree to disagree and that is good enough.

  • Pitchguest

    Whoops. Didn’t notice that robotanna had been banned.

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  • You saw @robotanna above, you’ve seen OB and RW and PZM. These people aren’t rational.

    However much you might deny it, Vacula. However much people like Gaudette might want to pretend to be above it. However much people like vjack and Porter might pretend to be dismayed by all the fighting.

    It’ll come back to one of two things

    1)Wanting ppl like Benson, Watson, Myers and Zvan removed from the community.
    2)Supporting everyone who falls under one.

    And that’s the honest truth of it.

    You don’t have complaints. You never had. There was a made up one with the whole chill girl thing (Which Benson, Crommunist and others have disavowed). You maybe had a complaint about how over the top the rhetoric was. But you don’t have that now. Not when you’re all just piss filled jerks hoping to reduce SurlyAmy to tears or get Zvan to crack.

    • MosesZD

      Myers says it best when the shoe was on the other foot:

      I also fear that one of the reasons for the popularity of Phil’s talk (it did strike a chord with many) is that it reassured many that certain aspects of belief were going to be walled off from skeptical criticism in the name of politeness and tone and courtesy.

      There is a fair point being made, that there are multiple strategies that work to convince people to rethink bad ideas, and they don’t all involve punching people in the face…and many of the best strategies do involve politely listening and criticizing. But I think the best ideas involve a combination of willingness to listen and politely engage, and a forthright core of assertiveness and confrontation — tactical dickishness, if you want to call it that./b>

      Funny how when Myers brings in a political agenda that is, in its nature and practice, not skeptical, but rather is ideological and dogmatic his position changes…

      If we can criticize religion… If we can criticize woo peddlers like homeopaths and naturalpaths and all the other crank, pseudo-scientific beliefs… If we can criticize Sam Harris (one of the main players and pioneers of the modern skeptic movement and upon whose back, along with Randi, Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennent, Coyne, etc., gave Myers the opportunity to build his fame) or some other middle-of-the-road atheist (accomodationist) for working with the religious…

      But we can’t criticize the false-claims of radical feminism… At least without having the so-called ‘skeptics’ of FtB demonize and destroy those who dare…

      We call that HYPOCRISY. And doesn’t that make Myers, seeing his 100% flip, the biggest tone-troll and asshole in the (formerly) skeptic community?

    • Edward Gemmer

      I wouldn’t know any of those people if they walked in my house right now, but I wish they and others would quit treating people like garbage because they dare try to join the atheist community and voice their opinion about something.

    • No, no, no, no.

      I do not want Benson, Myers, Watson, etc. removed. I want them engaged. Really, truly, engaged with their interlocutors, which means much more than calling us (women) haters, racists, bigots, and then banning or blocking us.

  • Anonymous

    Justin, talk is inexpensive, as they say. If you want to focus on church/state separation issues, atheist activism, or apply skepticism to, say, Peggy Noonan’s delusional Manhattan Institute drivel then do it. Do it. Do it. Do it.

    And if that doesn’t significantly calm the in-fighting, you may want to try a show of good faith, as it were, and offer an apology to people you may have hurt with your “punches,” whether hurting them was your intent or not.

    It will take overwhelming humanity to rise above the pitfalls of this inhuman medium.

    Do it.

    • Offer an apology?!? For doing what exactly?!? If they were offended, that’s their issue. You see, they’re muslim-like that way: they just feel hurt whenever it’s convenient for them to.

      • Anonymous

        Muslim-like? I can’t really say I know what that means.

        But anyway, something worth apologizing over may be posting Surly Amy’s home address online. While it is publicly available information, and whether or not Justin meant that to be creepy, can’t you see how someone might view that as a somewhat threatening breach of online etiquette? As far as I understand it, the justification for posting said info was to show that she lives a privileged life in a wealthy community. Justin could have easily said that without sharing the address.

        And you’re just flatly wrong to think that when someone is offended it is merely their issue. Sometimes it is, sure, and these things are fairly complex, but throwing away basic consideration for the feelings of others is a recipe for a society of sociopaths. Look, if you knock down some old lady on the bus accidentally, through no intention of your own, do you apologize or do you just consider it her problem?

        I understand the reactionary stance against what some see as PC gone mad, and that definitely happens at times, but sometimes it’s just about being a descent person. And whether you meant to hurt someone or not, a sincere apology can go a long way. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness or defeat; it’s just the opposite.

        At any rate, actually focusing on the things Justin claims to be distracted from because of in-fighting is more important in terms of focusing on the things Justin claims to be distracted from because of in-fighting.

        • Ohh, so Amy herself should be apologizing since HER ADDRESS WAS ALREADY ONLINE!!!

          “can’t you see how someone might view that as a somewhat threatening breach of online etiquette?”

          What?!? Reposting something everyone has public access to is somehow a “breach of online etiquette”? Well, I guess you are no blogger, are you?

          “throwing away basic consideration for the feelings of others is a recipe for a society of sociopaths”

          Not doing so is a recipe for religious privilege and laws criminalizing blasphemy, or, as some might put it, a society of sociopaths.

          “if you knock down some old lady on the bus accidentally, through no intention of your own, do you apologize or do you just consider it her problem?”

          There would have been physical harm! I’d apologize, but I won’t -and nobody should- be held accountable for someone else’s feelings.

          • Anonymous

            I’m sorry that the idea of empathy and compassion (not a legal issue) has upset you so much. I do apologize. And thank you for teaching me that the only way to damage a person is physically. I did not know that.

            • What upset me was you accusing Justin of making public info that was already public and telling him to apologize!

              So you think respecting ideas and people’s prejudices is some twisted kind of way of making progress?

              • Anonymous

                Please, read my comment again. I did not accuse Justin of anything. Truly.

                I think respecting some ideas and prejudices is wise at times. It’s all very case by case, but as a general rule for myself I respect people’s views if they aren’t harming anyone–and, of course, this can be a complicated matter, too. But, for instance, I do not respect people’s choice to keep children from medical attention because of religious reasons, stuff like that. On the other hand, if there’s a chance I’d make a woman feel threatened by me reposting her address online, I would not do that because, whether it’s grounded in objective reason or not, her viewpoint harms no one.

                I didn’t truly feel like I said anything to you that warranted an apology on my part, but I offered one anyway because I thought it would ease the communication process. And it’s not that I was being a phony, I generally don’t want to upset you, yet you were upset about something I actually did not write. See? This is the kind of mutual respect and humanity that can go a long way. I mean, I may have ruined it a bit by talking about it, but these are special circumstances. : )

                • I got confused by the whole “something worth apologizing over may be posting Surly Amy’s home address online. While it is publicly available information, and whether or not Justin meant that to be creepy”.

                  But, since you claim you were not accusing Justin, I’ll take your word :)

                  “respecting some ideas and prejudices is wise at times”

                  I disagree. We should examine critically any idea. I mean, that’s some kind of grown-up respect: taking it seriously enough in order to find out how much truth there’s to it, right?

                  “I didn’t truly feel like I said anything to you that warranted an apology on my part, but I offered one anyway because I thought it would ease the communication process”

                  I know – I saw that, and you didn’t say anything deserving of an apology. The thing is, that’s all very politically correct, and you shouldn’t be apologizing for having an opinion, and caring not to make others feel unconfortable.

                  “I generally don’t want to upset you”

                  Me neither, but people should grow a thicker skin, don’t you think?

                  “you were upset about something I actually did not write. See?”

                  I keep on reading it and I take it that way. Please, tell me what you meant by “something worth apologizing over may be posting Surly Amy’s home address online. While it is publicly available information, and whether or not Justin meant that to be creepy”.


    • In order to apologize, you’d actually have to have done something wrong. When do we think Justin will get his apology from the Atheism+ idiots who have worked tirelessly to harm him, day in and day out?

      Never? Thought so.

      • Anonymous

        That’s not at all true. One can apologize for making someone feel bad whether you think you did something wrong or not. It happens all the time in the adult world. Adults also apologize some times without needing the other party to apologize first or at all.

  • Jenae Reese

    Okay Justin, I’ll bite. I’m a A+er (basically, the only reason I’m still participating in atheist circles at all is because of A+). For me, to move the discourse forward we have to agree on a few things:

    1. That words provide a frame for ideas. We define, delineate, and share our experience by using words–not just to communicate, but also in the act of thinking itself. (for more on this, I recommend reading Saussure’s work on semiotics.)

    2. If words provide a frame for ideas, then creating new words can change how people look at an idea (the gay rights movement’s coining of the word “gay” and abjuring the clinical “homosexual” is a good example of this.) And using other words can also influence how people view an idea. Or a person. Or a group of people. (Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this…)

    3. Civil society is built upon the idea of the social contract–that we give up some freedom in order to benefit from the protection that society offers. AND in order to engage civilly and productively with others, we must sometimes give up our right to say whatever we want, in order to be effective communicators and to maintain a desired level of decorum.

    These are, to me, the minimum levels at which I can communicate rationally and in good faith with another person. I don’t ask everyone to buy into the idea of privilege or my particular views of social justice. But, at the minimum, they must believe that words mean things, and that words can wound others, and be willing to give up some of their freedom to wound me in order to communicate with me.

    What do you think?

    • Metalogic42


      Hi, I’m a “slymepitter”. I also think you make a good point here. My objection to the language policing on the A+ forums isn’t that I think words can’t wound people; it’s that I think no word is *inherently* misogynistic/sexist/racist/etc.

      I’ll keep this short, and explain my stance with a few examples:

      Hateful: “Argh, you’re such a fucking asshole!” (said to a stranger who has slighted the speaker)
      Not hateful: “Haha you’re such an asshole.” (said to a friend in a joking manner)

      Sexist: “All women are bitches”
      Not sexist: “This particular woman (or man) is a bitch”

      Basically, yes, “words mean things”. But it’s also true that words can have multiple usages, and the context in which they’re used often determines the meaning.

      Anyway, my more general objection to your “side” isn’t that I feel I’m staunchly correct in this view of language. It’s that they often don’t want to even respond to this point to show me why I’m wrong. If for example I posted this comment on PZ Myer’s blog, I’d be instantly banned and my comment would be deleted. It’s his blog, and he can do that, but when people refuse to engage me on things like this, it doesn’t exactly inspire me to question whether I’m wrong.

      • Jenae Reese

        I think you’re wrong that no word is “inherently” sexist (lets just confine it to sexism, for the sake of specificity.) I guess it depends on what you mean by “inherently.” I take this to mean that, “In the social context of modern-day, Western society, does this word have X sexist connotation, regardless of the intent of the speaker?” Is this how you mean it? If so, then I disagree.

        I think, like you, that some words are contingent upon who is saying them, and who they say it to (I know lots of feminists who want to reclaim the word ‘slut,’ for instance.) But I think other words are too dependent on a cultural context that is demeaning, or shaming, or marginalizing. (Going back to the prior example–To me, ‘slut’ is too poisoned by sexism to use in every-day conversation. I would use the word to refer to concepts like “slut-shaming” but I would never call another woman a “slut,” especially when talking about her sexual behavior, because its too culturally loaded with blame and shame about women’s sexual behavior.)

        I think that–in general–if a word has a history of being used to shame, control, denigrate etc a marginalized or disempowered group, then its a good idea not to use that word because it has too much cultural baggage. Its simply too loaded. Even if YOU don’t mean it that way, there are plenty of people who DO mean it that way. The meaning hasn’t changed to such an extent that the other, marginalizing meaning doesn’t still exist, and isn’t still actively used. Using these words at the least aids in keeping the sexist connotation alive. It gives aid to sexists who use the word in that way. And, at most, it actively causes people to frame marginalized groups in certain ways.

        Let me give an example. Using the word “collateral damage” instead of “civilian casualties” changes how many people feel about war because it obscures the fact that civilians are dying. I think that, in this same way, using sexist words inures people to sexist ideas. Using “mankind” to refer to humankind implies that “man” is the default and “woman” is the weird “other.” So too ESPN have sections for “basketball” and “women’s basketball,” as if men playing basketball is the default. Calling a woman a “bitch” -even when referring to one specific woman- buys into sexist ideas like “women should be quiet and submissive” and “women who are aggressive are masculine.” This social baggage exists, regardless of intention.

        Finally, numerous studies have shown that sexist insults, even when used towards only one person, affect the group as a whole. For instance: <–A study of how sexist insults of a female politician effects female politicians as a whole. There terms create splash damage. There's lots of info on this out there. But again–a grounding in semiotics is really helpful here. The idea that words cannot be divorced from systems of meaning is key to this debate, I think.

        • Metalogic42

          Regarding the survey: “Support for her initially measured at 43% fell to 33% after the policy-based attacks but to 21% after the sexist taunts.”

          While this is interesting, I’d also like to see the results of non-sexist, non-policy based taunts, such as “asshole”. (I’d also like to see an actual study done on this, as there’s lots of things to control for in politics).

          Anyway, regarding “inherently”: what I meant was that no word has a meaning that it’s completely inseparable from. I also think it’s too broad to look at a word in the context of modern-day western society as a whole. For example, the word “fag” will vary greatly in meaning between different countries, and even from state to state in the U.S. Some words can even vary in meaning if you move to a different neighborhood (this happens a lot with slang words for marijuana). Word meanings can change over time as well.

          You mentioned that some people are trying to reclaim words like “slut”; I think this is a great idea, and should be done for every word that’s ever taken on a sexist/racist/etc. meaning. Consider this: if a word is currently being used in a sexist manner, wouldn’t it just reinforce that usage to point out how sexist it is? Instead, if you start using it yourself (while at the same time actively opposing sexist *behavior*), that’s a step toward eliminating the sexist connotation.

          TLDR: While words can’t be divorced from systems, they can exists in different ways in multiple co-existing systems, and they can be reframed within new systems.

          • Jenae Reese

            I’m not really interested in trying to convert you to my way of thinking. Justin asked for some tips on facilitating conversation. My point is that we may have very different paradigms and very different views about how the world functions. To successfully communicate, these difference have to be understood and worked around. We have to at least understand that we may not be starting from the same place, and compensate for that.

            • Chas Stewart

              As an A plusser, having a discussion with a slympitter is all that Justin is asking for (I think). Not to agree and not even to make concessions (though I’m sure Justin would like that and you likewise) but allow for a free exchange of ideas and to refrain from demonizing the act of broaching sensitive subjects. I’m a slymepitter (kind of) and don’t use slut either. I don’t refrain from using slut because I hate that particular word and have decided to replace slut with promiscuous (a point that Vic was making, I believe) but because I try to not shame people for having sex with multiple partners. So I have no need to use that word or any substitute.

        • Zardoz

          I would like to thank you for actually outlining a position that can be discussed.

          I would generally agree with what you have said about words. Ideally, context should be everything but some words become so loaded in a culture that they are basically unacceptable. This is why you have a word like “cunt” being strictly taboo in the US but in everyday use in the UK. The problem comes, then, when you introduce the internet and people from the UK and US speak to each other in a neutral setting. You can easily see something escalating from a misunderstanding.

          Just one little nitpick. The reason ESPN has sections for “basketball” and “women’s basketball” is that women are allowed to play in the NBA but men are not allowed to play in the WNBA

          You might recall that a few years back, there was a trend where golfers such as Michelle Wie and Anna Sorenson played in PGA tournaments. The skill level is not there (yet) but there is nothing in the rules to stop them playing.

        • Vic

          “I think that, in this same way, using sexist words inures people to sexist ideas.”

          Disagree. Euphemism treadmill: If you replace a word with negative connotations with a new word, the new word tends to take over the negative connotation if the environment does not change.

          If you simply ban a negative word, you have banned the usage of that particular combination of letters, not the “word”. You have not changed people’s minds about the underlying issue, and people with such views will simply invent a new combination of letters for the existing gap.

          Besides, the method, the principle you describe, simply strikes me as Orwellian newspeak. You have identified that, yes, the usage of words can manipulate people to a degree.

          Civillian casualties being referred to as colleteral damage? Bad. For obvious reasons bad. Instead of decrying this tool of manipulation, you suggest we should use this tool “for good instead of bad”. I dare to speak with historically-backed confidence when I say: that was NEVER a good idea. Using some form of manipulation for allegedly good pusposes is literary the plot of a supervillain comic.

          I want to make clear I’m not talking about “bitches” or “sluts”, words
          which have obvious negative meanings for both men and women and which don’t have a place in a debate when addressing the opponent. I refer to words like “mankind”, the usage of which supposedly makes us susceptible for sexist influences; a lovecraftian corruption of the mind from which there is no escape.

          After the english language was purged of sexist words, will we move on to other languages?

          In german, a man is a “Mann” and a woman is a “Frau”.

          Until the 19th century a woman was a “Weib” (from the old german/norse “wib” – wife), which is nowadays considered rather impolite when said in earnest. “Weib” was thoroughly replaced by the word “Frau”, the title of a lower nobility woman, in practically all everyday compound words (except some odd leftovers, like “Altweibersommer” or “Weiberfastnacht”) in the german language as it was used by the upper and middle class of that time (who aped the fashion and language of France).

          Now all men are “Männer” – “men”, and all women are “Frauen” – “dames”.

          Does that usage somehow make people today think that women are better or more noble than men? Germans and Gerwomans don’t seem to have that problem.

          In german, as in italian, in french, in spanish etc. most words are gendered, including professions. And it’s not just “fireman”.

          A baker in german – a “Bäcker”. A female baker? “Bäckerin”. The ending is pronounced. The wordis in common use. No amount of reform will purge these languages of gendered words. Are germans, italians, french, spanish etc. doomed to live in a more sexist society than the english-speaker, because they differentiate between a “default he-baker” and a “she-baker”? If we apply your logic, Bäckerin always be the odd one of the two, instead of being accepted alongside the traditional “Bäcker”.

          Can’t we just say that there are different words for men and women, but describing the same function? Else these countries will never be able to reach the level of gender-blindness you think is neccessary for women to thrive.

          Have a laugh at the expense of the military: in Austria and Germany they decided to keep the officer titles unchanged. Which means a female captain is now addressed as “Frau Hauptmann” – “Lady Captain-Man”. A female sergeant? “Frau Wachtmeister” – “Lady Master-of-Watch-Man”. Best idea of all: In written form, the title is adorned with a “(w)”, the w standing for “weiblich” – female (the adjective being a relative of the old “weib”, but retaining its positve or neutral connotation). So an official document reads “Hauptmann(w) Schmidt” – “Captain(f) Smith”, just to make sure there’s a female identifier for the unchanged default male title. That’s how ingrained gendered words are.

          Regardless of that particular silliness, if somebody thinks “the future of mankind lies in space” means that we will send mustachio-only crews to Gliese 581, the problem is not the word “mankind”, it’s the mind of the listener.
          If somebody thinks that “soccer league” and “women’s soccer league”
          implies that women are the “weird other” and are purposefully alienatedvia language, it says more about that person’s image of women in society than of society’s image of women in society.

          If our fears regarding sexist issues are “There are humans, but no huwomans. That is proof that women are not human. Ever thought about that?” when I’d say we did a rather splendid job so far.

      • AHermit

        ” If for example I posted this comment on PZ Myer’s blog, I’d be instantly banned and my comment would be deleted.”


        You might be asked some questions though; for example, is it sexist when your Slymepit buddies refer to Ophelia Benson as “cobweb cunt?”

    • Clare45

      Regarding the use of words: I think the whole point in a debate is not to use any type of words as ad hominems or personal insults. It is usually a sign that the person using them is losing the argument. If they are used in another context, then no problem . That is free speech.

    • I think the level of over-sensitivity and histrionics I’ve seen on the “atheism plus” forum exceeds reasonable expectations and prevents adult discussions from happening at all. You don’t need a “trigger warning” on every other topic, and you don’t need to pile on someone well-meaning who stumbles a bit. Per your example, I can easily see someone using the word “homosexual” there (a word I personally have no problem with fwiw), and then being met with a chorus of hysterical, expletive- and insult-laden reprimands before they are banned or sent to some weird “education” thread to learn how to speak the proper PC “lingo” before they are allowed to participate in other threads. If I treated my straight allies the way I have seen people treated on that forum, I would have none.

      • Jenae Reese

        I think the generalizations you are making are unhelpful. I can mention past “wrongs” dome by slympitters as well. How does that help to move the conversation forward?

        • How does it help move the conversation forward? Well, for one thing, you can’t actually *have* a conversation when you’re banned from even commenting. If there’s one thing that the Slymepit does right, it’s the fact that *anyone* can post there without fear of getting banned (except, perhaps as a side-effect of PZ Myers’ explicitly stated pre-banning from his own blog of anyone who posts there).

          It’s not an over-generalization if the situation *really is* that generally widespread. Yes, he can run his blog anyway he wants. Doesn’t make it any more conducive to actual discussion, though.

          You can even bring up the ‘past wrongs’ on the Slymepit (or here, for that matter) and discuss them openly, without fear of banning. Not so on most of the blogs of FTB/Skepchick, etc.

          The point of pointing this out is not to point out ‘past wrongs’, but to point out that the atmosphere on ban-happy blogs/forums fails the minimum standards for having a productive discussion at all in the first place. (Liked your earlier/other points about minimum standards for discussion, by the way. Mirrors some of the thoughts I’ve been having too.)

          • Jenae Reese

            Do you have the idea that I am PZ Myers? I can assure that I am not.

    • Randy

      Re:#2. Although not as frequently used, we also took over the word “queer”, a tactic I prefer. Not only does it neutralize the word’s negative power, but it elevates the exact thing the haters hate about us.

    • Could you print out some kind of chart for us so we know exactly what we can say before we would be censored?

  • MosesZD

    You can’t have a civil discussion with the radical feminist niche practiced by those who have caused the rift. They simply refuse to look at the ideology they’ve adopted and defend its dogmatic (and mostly wrong) pronouncements to the death.
    Just like any frothing-at-the-mouth evangelist. And they can’t see it as they are in full denial.
    And denialism doesn’t work with skepticism. It doesn’t work with science. It doesn’t work with rational thought and practice.

  • Once the discussion moves into ‘acceptable vs. unacceptable language,’ the possibility for civil and rational discourse has ended. The topic unalterably changes to “I’m allowed to call you an asshole, but you’re not allowed to call me a bitch.”

  • What a nasty little troll that Robotanna was. But I can completely understand their behaviour. Hurtling out abuse and vitriol (calling Justin and other commenters cis, misogynist, white male, homophobic, transphobic etc), with no effort to make reasoned, evidence-based argument, is getting more and more common on the other side. I’m not saying there aren’t foul people opposed to FTB, clearly there are, but Justin isn’t one of them and there can’t be a civil discussion as long as the FTBers keep linking him to them.

    • Clare45

      It is interesting to note the almost equal number of “likes” vs”dislikes” to Robotanna’s main comment. It illustrates the depth of this divide. May I suggest that the moderator in this debate jumps in as soon as words like “sexism”, “feminism” or “privilege” or “harassment” are used by either side? There is not going to be any agreement on these topics, but as they have nothing to do with atheism and the related movement, that should not make any difference.

  • Credit where credit is due: Justin, I appreciate you making substantive changes to your original post. I hope something comes from calm and reasoned dialogue.

    • Chas Stewart

      His revision is being showcased by Zvan in an attempt to show his true colors but the fact that Justin was able to revisit and revise his statement is a testament to his character.

      • Chas, I don’t disagree that Justin taking the time to listen to honest criticism and change his approach is evidence that he is willing to work in a proactive way.

        My guess is that Stephanie is showcasing his original post so that when her critics start trying to claim that Justin never extended a disingenuous olive branch- she has some evidence to prove otherwise. If you have been following the comments on this thread, you will find that evidence of claims seems to be pretty important.

        Also, I don’t know that we can say that the changes Justin made are a testament to his character if we don’t also concede that his original post was a testament to his character as well. I’m glad that he thought the better of his original approach and made an effort to give him credit when he did; I don’t mistake admitting that he needed to be more diplomatic with admitting that the original post was just Dogma Lite.

        • Chas Stewart

          I can see that and maybe I have stopped being charitable towards Zvan and I should just always be charitable even if I don’t think she deserves it. I just think that we should highlight the good instead of the bad especially when Justin is making the first move to try to resolve problems and open up communication between the sides.

  • chris63084

    This is a post I made here, , with the beginning removed because it needs the context of earlier posts to make sense. I’m posting this here too because I do believe that there is a contingent of free thinkers out there that aren’t evil or out to hurt or offend, and just have some points of disagreement. I’m trying to get this message to them. Maybe I’m just screaming into the abyss, we’ll see.
    —begin original post—
    Unfortunately the prodding of trolls has created another class of
    troll, the covert, possibly unaware,perhaps even well-meaning troll.

    The covert trolls are the ones above launching insults constantly. You
    can see they aren’t idiots, so they know what they’re doing. I’d like
    to first of all ask everyone to stick to the facts and not reference
    personal character. I’d also like to ask the moderator here to enforce
    this. I believe in free expression as much as anyone, but if any
    progress is to be made, we need to get rid of all the trolls, which
    includes anyone who continues to sensationalize this, and persists in
    name calling and personal attacks. They are not actually contributing at
    this point. And I don’t think thy started out as trolls, but they have
    unwittingly become too personally involved and emotional to be

    Something else that had been bothering me for a while is the
    rationalization of the personal attacks on Ophelia(or anyone for that
    matter), it doesn’t matter in the slightest if it was a “joke”, everyone
    should be condemning this. Disagreeing with someone does not make it ok
    diminish them, and saying they should have a thicker skin is really not
    your call to make. Imagine someone making fun of your appearance
    publicly on a regular basis. Ophelia, they’re wrong, and rationalizing
    it is wrong in my opinion, I’d like to call on everyone who has a shred
    of empathy to openly condemn this, and then BLOCK the trolls.
    Criticizing ideas is fine, criticizing people, we need to stop. That’s
    the other part of my message, Ophelia you have every right to speak out
    about abuse launched at you, but before doing so consider the source and
    their motives. You’re doing exactly what they want you to. Reacting.

    The first rule of Internet club is don’t feed the troll!





    My general policy suggestion would be if considered a real threat,
    report to the site, and proper law enforcement, otherwise block and
    ignore. Any response spurs them on.

    The beauty of the Internet is also its downfall-anyone can speak without fear of reprisals. If you don’t feed

    them they really do go away, this is what the block button is for. We should all use it.

    So the first step, I think, is for those that disagree with Ms.
    Benson’s ideas, to clearly and vehemently distance themselves from those
    that seek to hurt her emotionally, or threaten her-even if it does seem
    like a “joke” to you. No one has the ultimate perspective of
    everything, if she feels threatened THAT IS ENOUGH. Even if you think
    she’s overplaying it or doing it for attention, it’s not your call to
    make, it’s hers, and accepting her claims about how she feels is just
    common decency. You don’t have to agree with her to be a decent human
    being, and extend her basic human courtesy.

    And the action I would encourage of Ms. Benson, is to agree to extend
    a bit of a chance for those of us who really aren’t hateful, and aren’t
    out to hurt you, to have a dialogue. Maybe we disagree on some things,
    but we aren’t all trolls. I know I’m not.

    There is a middle. I know moderates aren’t all that hip these days,
    but I’m calling on all the moderates to speak out. Show that you’re
    above the trolls. And for GOD’s sake, let’s heal.

    And before anyone attempts to mischaracterize anything I’ve said-I
    mean nothing I’ve said in this post to disparage, hurt, or insult anyone
    in any way. And my reasoning is not perfect, if you think I’m wrong on
    something, please do say so, but please extend me the courtesy of not
    doing so rudely.

    –end of original post–

    Additionally, I’d like to speak about Justin Vacula for a moment. I met him once, on a bus. I was wearing a bad religion tshirt and so he approached me and told me about the local atheist community, which he organizes. We had a nice little discussion and went on our way. Clearly I can’t claim to really know him or his character in any deep sense, but he did seem like a pretty nice, civil, and good person at first meeting.

    Since then I’ve followed his facebook posts, and through all of it, he’s been civil while disagreeing with atheism+ among other things, while all sorts of personal attacks to his character and beliefs where made without much cause except for the fact that he was publicly disagreeing, respectfully. The closest thing to me disapproving of his actions was when he posted some personal info about someone, this was a misstep in my opinion, and he later voiced his regret, but pointed out one important fact(to deaf ears of those more interested in demonizing him than actually understanding): the info was already public domain. He just posted it. That said, obviously there are trolls out there who may very well be apt to use that info for bad, which is why he later admitted his regret. These are not the actions of a vindictive evil person, this are just the actions of a human being, who like anyone, especially when feeling personally attacked or unfairly treated, can make mistakes.

    Beyond that, he’s just interested in a dialogue, and people have responded with verbal abuse, opting to call him thing like vacuous shitbag troll, and lumping him in with those that seek only to attack others, instead of actually addressing his arguments. I feel that this was a much worse transgression, a transgression on objective dialogue, which is my main objection(and it is a respectful one, don’t you go calling me names now or accusing me of evildoing!), we are sacrificing objective skepticism to ideology. Ideas should not be stamped out by personal attack, the very basis of what skepticism is, is being destroyed. I’ve seen this happen again and again. You should always, ESPECIALLY with the beliefs you hold most strongly(since we all know that’s where bias most easily forms), be willing to have an open objective dialogue with someone who puts forward a thought out argument.

    There are those that disagree, that don’t do so out of hate, or to dismiss, or offend. I’m one of them on some issues, like the handling of anyone who disagrees with the same response. Not every person who disagrees with you is a monster. Hurling insults at them just makes you look bad. If your belief is based on skepticism and reasoning, then why would you opt to attack rather than address?

    Justin Vacula is not a bad person as far as I can tell. He will argue against claims and ideas, but he does not attack people. (disclaimer: I only know what I know, if anyone has any info I missed or got wrong, please correct me.)

    • “The first rule of Internet club is don’t feed the troll!


      My general policy suggestion would be if considered a real threat,
      report to the site, and proper law enforcement, otherwise block and
      ignore. Any response spurs them on.”

      I propose a second rule of Internet club:

      Actually, scratch that first rule. Trolls are inevitable, and even blocking/banning them *is* a response. Besides, they can be fun to watch, when appropriately moderated into harmlessness.

      This is the rule I learned on the RRS forums, where some of us basically specialized in taking on the trolliest of the trolls. They even have a cozy little forum just for trolls, called Trollville:

      On and on we’d go. We knew they were trolls, so we didn’t really expect to convince them of anything, but we’d keep practicing nevertheless. It’s surprising how much you can learn about reason by debating trolls as if they were sincere opponents. I wholeheartedly recommend it as a skill-sharpening activity. You might also be surprised at just how *harmless* trolls really are when they are *just* trolls on a forum/thread, and not actual stalkers/serial-harassers like Mabus.

      It even got to the point where one of the worst trolls we had targeted me specifically (I was a junior mod at the time) and posted some nasty trolly shit about me (well, not really about *me*, this being a troll, it was all bullshit of course, but nasty bullshit), and since I knew it was *just a troll*, I actually advocated that we *not* ban him for violating the forum rules, even though some senior mods thought it would be appropriate (this was only the latest in a series of such nasty outbursts). In that context, I felt that the benefit to the forum of having our own stable of pet trolls to practice debating with was more beneficial than some punitive action to retaliate against some obvious trolling that, at the end of the day, really was just words and photoshopped pictures. We simply deleted the offending post with stated reasons and called him out on his obvious troll outburst born of frustration with the prior discussion (again, this was part of a long pattern of behaviour, so this pattern was becoming noticeable and predictable at this point).

      My point in this anecdote is as a counter-example to “don’t feed the troll! No Matter What …ever!” Even this well-meaning bit of advice should not be treated as a dogma. Sometimes trolls really do serve a good purpose, though not the purpose *they* have in mind. They can be examples. They can be good opponents to practice the *skill* of handling trolls effectively. They can be entertaining in the ridiculousness of some of their rhetoric.

      Now, not every forum, blog, website, or person needs to tolerate trolls (I even made up a word to describe this idea, ‘trolleration’, combining ‘troll’ and ‘toleration’ and rhyming with ‘moderation’). Not everyone has the time or stomach for it. It can test pretty much anyone’s patience. But, sometimes, yes, go ahead and feed the troll.

      The other point of this is we simply do not need to take trolls so seriously. They really *are* harmless to those who’ve learned to … well, not take them so seriously!

      I fully agree: If there’s really any illegal behaviour, by all means it should be reported to the appropriate authorities. Don’t mistake trolleration for supporting unethical behaviour or for *advocating* going out and trolling on one’s own, nor for *ignoring* the actual harm that trolling can have on a forum/blog/website/etc., because, let’s face it, not everyone can or will tolerate trolls. Nor should they have to. However, trolling *as* trolling is *just* trolling. It is not representative of the *real* skeptic/atheist activist community/movement/whatever. It’s *just* internet trolls. We’re not talking about stalkers or ‘stochastic terrorists’ or harassers (again, actual harassment is illegal and should be reported, as David Mabus was reported (a (literally) mentally ill theist, if you’re not aware)).

    • Spectator

      You plead for an end to name-calling. Yet you rant and rave about those you enthusiastically label “trolls”. How about working on your own entrenched blind hypocrisy ?
      Try to criticize the behavior if you are at all serious about ending the volatile use labeling and name calling. Just for practice, try to resist calling me a tone troll. Address my statements without immediately applying one of your approved pejoratively.

  • I think the big divide between the two sides is the degree to which some sort of positivist ideology needs to be promoted alongside the simple baseline of atheism and rational thought. And when it comes to the A+ / Social Justice Warrior types, they seem to be pushing a very narrow and dogmatic ideology as part and parcel of their secularism, and expecting everybody else involved in that movement to simply fall in line. And they seem to think that the only alternative to universal adoption of that world view is giving full rein to racism, sexism, and all manner of other oppressive forms of bias. On the other hand, the way I see it is that I refuse to participate in a secular movement that is promoting ideological hegemony with one hand while fighting religious hegemony with the other. That to me is a contradiction, no matter how laudable the ideology-boosters seem to think their goals are.

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  • It’s not going to happen because now that Skepticism/Atheism has a broader appeal among the general population, you’re going to be in the same boat as other movements and/or political parties. Your best bet is to create as much consensus in the ‘middle’ dealing with common interest issues and let the people with their own agendas go their own way. Quite frankly Atheism/Antitheism isn’t really much of a uniting principle in the first place. But I think you’re finding that out the hard way