Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Another penny drops

Jul 16th, 2011 12:49 pm | By

Wait; what? Michael Ruse in the CHE:

There are days when, I swear to God, I am all set to enroll under the banner of Richard Dawkins and anathematize all religions and those who subscribe to them.  I take a lot of criticism from my fellow atheists, including my fellow Brainstormers, for arguing that science and religion are compatible.  I still think that, but increasingly I cannot for the life of me see why any decent human being would want to be religious, and increasingly I think one should be ashamed to be religious.

Increasingly? Increasingly?

What on earth took him so long? What’s different now? Why has he been yelling at us all this time just for being aware of what he is only just catching up to?

I asked him that; it will be interesting to see if he replies. I think he did reply to something I said on one of the Berlinerblau threads, but I’m not sure.

It’s really very odd though. What does he talk about as examples of this “increasingly”? The Cloyne report and the Toronto school that lets girls from Muslim backgrounds be shamed for menstruating at “prayers.” Well quite, but we’ve been talking about this kind of thing for years, while Ruse has been shouting at us for years, so what is different now? And, to repeat, what took him so long?

That’s all this piece says to me – wo, Michael Ruse finally notices the obvious. Yes, Professor Ruse; exactly; no kidding.


Jul 15th, 2011 11:34 am | By

Music, I tell you.

Ireland’s government demanded answers from the Vatican’s ambassador Thursday…

Gilmore and Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Vatican of violating Ireland’s sovereignty by instructing bishops in the letter that they should place the church’s laws above the nation’s…

“There’s one law in this country. Everybody is going to have to learn to comply with it. The Vatican will have to comply with the laws of this country,” Gilmore said after his face-to-face grilling of the ambassador, a rare experience for the pope’s diplomats anywhere, let alone long-deferential Ireland.

Exactly why it’s music. It’s about fucking time. The pervasive deference to the Vatican – by no means just in Ireland – is ridiculous and appalling.

Kenny, who didn’t attend the meeting with the Vatican diplomat, said his
government soon would make it a crime to withhold evidence of child abuse from the police. He specified this would include any information a priest received during the sacrament of confession.

“The law of the land should not be stopped by a crozier or a collar,” Kenny


Kenny called the Vatican’s written intervention — first revealed in full by The Associated Press six months ago — “absolutely disgraceful.”

Irish leaders had sought formal Vatican approval. Instead the Vatican’s then-ambassador, the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, warned Irish bishops that a powerful church body, the Congregation for the Clergy, had ruled that such mandatory reporting of abuse claims to civil authorities conflicted with canon law.

Storero wrote that the Irish policy had the status of “merely a study document,” while the new Irish policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.”

He wrote that canon law, which required abuse allegations and punishments to be handled within the church, “must be meticulously followed.” Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the “highly embarrassing” position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome.

In other words the Vatican “ambassador” to Ireland ordered Irish clerics to disobey Irish law.

A former altar boy, Andrew Madden, was first to go public with his lawsuit against the Dublin Archdiocese, which had tried to settle the claim in quiet.

Madden offered one possible solution Thursday to the church’s difficulty in choosing between Ireland’s laws and its own, which still do not make explicit the need to report suspected child-abuse crimes to police.

“If the bishops want to live by canon law,” he said, “they should take themselves off to the Vatican and live there.”


That’s more like it

Jul 14th, 2011 4:09 pm | By

The Irish state getting properly angry at last.

Ireland’s foreign minister summoned the country’s papal nuncio and demanded that the Vatican give a formal response to the Cloyne Report into the mishandling of clerical abuse.

That’s the stuff. Summoned; demanded.

The Cloyne Report said the Vatican, through its opposition to the Irish bishops’ 1996 guidelines for handling child sexual abuse, gave comfort to dissenters within the church who did not want to implement the procedures. In a letter to the bishops, the Congregation for Clergy described the rules as “merely a study document” and refused to give the document formal recognition.

Gilmore said the Vatican intervention was “absolutely unacceptable” and “inappropriate.” He said he had told Archbishop Leanza that an explanation and response were required as to why the Vatican had told priests and bishops they could undermine the rules.

That’s the ticket. Absolutely unacceptable; explanation required.

Responding to journalists’ queries, Gilmore said: “I want to know why this
state, with which we have diplomatic relations, issued a communication, the
effect of which was that very serious matter of the abuse of children in this
country was not reported to the authorities.”

Damn right! Finally.


The bishop takes full responsibility

Jul 14th, 2011 3:41 pm | By

It sounds as if the people who run Ireland are finally pissed off at the church.

Tough new laws to force the disclosure of information on child sexual abuse are to be introduced in response to another damning report on the failure of the Catholic Church to protect child abuse victims.

The withholding of information about serious offences against a child will be made a criminal offence, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced yesterday following the publication of the report on the handling of sex abuse claims in the diocese of Cloyne.

Which makes the necessary point that what the church has been doing all this time is a crime.

The report found that the Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, misled the minister for children by claiming the church’s guidelines for handling abuse cases were being fully complied with. It also found he falsely told the Health Service Executive (HSE) that allegations of abuse were being reported to gardaí.

In other words, he lied. The bishop lied. He lied to government bodies. He did it to protect his friends and colleagues at the expense of victims, who were children. He lied when he said he and his friends were in compliance. The bishop lied. His subordinates were raping children, and the bishop lied about it.

In fact, two-thirds of complaints made between 1996 and 2008 were not reported to the Garda and no complaint was passed to the HSE during this period.

The report accuses the Vatican, through its opposition to the Irish bishops’ procedures for handling child sexual abuse, of giving comfort to dissenters within the church who did not want to implement them. In a secret letter to the bishops, Rome describes the 1996 rules as “merely a study document” and not official.

They did what they wanted to do, which was good for them, at the expense of children who were victims of their organization – their Thing.

As Ms Fitzgerald pointed out: “This is not a catalogue of failure from a different era. This is not about an Ireland of 50 years ago. This is about Ireland now.”

“It is truly scandalous that people who presented a public face of concern continued to maintain a private agenda of concealment and evasion,” Mr Shatter commented.

The bishop “apologized” all over again.

Bishop Magee repeated earlier apologies for his failure to ensure abuse victims were fully supported and responded to. While insisting he was fully supportive of the 1996 church guidelines on abuse cases, he admitted he should have taken a much firmer role in ensuring their implementation.

“I am sorry that this happened and I unreservedly apologise to all those who suffered additional hurt because of the flawed implementation of the church procedures, for which I take full responsibility,” he said in a statement.

Oh, bullshit. That’s just words. Words are easy.

Filthy girls

Jul 14th, 2011 11:34 am | By

I first learned about Valley Park Middle School via Tarek Fatah at Facebook. Tarek Fatah is a great fella. He posted pictures of himself at the Gay Pride march the other day – in his wheelchair, beaming, in front of a decorative crowd of marchers.

So what is a Toronto public school doing providing a prayer service in the cafeteria? Where

girls are placed in the back, behind the boys, separated by benches used as shields.

And menstruating girls are segregated, off in their own little group, like this paragraph.

Sitting all the way at the back, yards from the other girls and more yards from the all-conquering boys. Separated out because they’re so dirty and filthy. Ewwwwww endometrium. Ewwwwwwwwww it might come off on me. Ewwwwwwwwww pollution.

Robyn Urback asks a salient question.

How is it that the TDSB can call for instruction on sexism and gender inequality in its Social Studies classes, yet look the other way when girls are facing active discrimination within its walls?

Allow me to answer that question: it can’t.

An integral aspect of our

Jul 13th, 2011 3:24 pm | By

Did you read the warm pool of sick at the “Tony Blair Faith Foundation”?

It’s such a boneless mess it’s hard to figure out what it’s supposed to do. There’s not a trace of an attempt at an argument in it, no reasons, just a lot of limp saying. It doesn’t even keep track of its own stance.

At a recent forum exploring educational options for the future of Northern Ireland, several influential public figures – including Baroness May Blood – made it clear that the best way forward is for schools to be religion-free zones.

But that, of course, is the thing it’s going to disagree with – duh – so how funny to say “made it clear that.”

Yet around the world there are many others who see that now, more than ever, is a time to engage our young people with issues of faith, belief and values in an educational environment.

She made it clear that P but others see that not-P. This dude is confused.

And why now more than ever? Why not now less than ever? And note the solid wall of ready-made phrases – “engage our young people” “issues of faith, belief and values” “an educational environment.” Dear god can you imagine having to write like that?

This worldwide inter-faith organisation runs a schools programme called Face to Faith. The programme facilitates inter-faith dialogue through video-conferencing and online collaboration with the aim of providing young people with the knowledge and skills needed for meaningful inter- and intra-faith dialogue across a range of cultures.

Why? Why not just give them the knowledge and skills and leave the faith part out? Why not refrain from teaching them to make “faith” central to everything; why not let them just do dialogue and talk about whatever comes up as opposed to making it about “faith”?

I don’t know. James Nelson never says. He just talks a lot more of the same kind of interchangeable styrofoam hackspeak until he gets to the end of the page. The only concrete thing accomplished was that people learned to use the video-conferencing machine, or at least they were shown how to use it, which they will have forgotten by the time anyone actually gets down to doing anything. But don’t fret: it ended on a cheerful note.

The teachers left, keen to explore ways in which they might engage their pupils in constructive dialogue about faith and beliefs.

I left with the strong impression that a culture of sharing is emerging as an integral aspect of our education system. In both cases I look forward to seeing what the future brings.

That’s the stuff! A few more of those and we’ll really be getting somewhere. I’m almost sure of it.


Equality and human rights through the looking-glass

Jul 13th, 2011 2:20 pm | By

Rights? Pshaw. The clerics will tell you what rights you can have, thank you. And the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission will help them out. Yes, you read that correctly.

After supporting several gay equality cases, the EHRC now believes the rights of religious people are not being upheld…

To rectify this supposed shortfall in religious protection, the EHRC will now push for a new legal principle of “reasonable accommodations” so that believers can negotiate the boundaries of their contract with employers.

Which means…? That believers can refuse to do their jobs if their religious beliefs tell them to.

There is the case of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who refused to perform civil partnerships and so was disciplined. And that of Gary McFarlane, the Christian relationship counsellor who was sacked for refusing to counsel gay couples. The EHRC has decided to back these people in the name of “reasonable” compromise.

“Compromise” as in allowing people to refuse to do their jobs if doing them involves providing a service to people they think are oooooooky on religious grounds. That’s not compromise. Would the EHRC back Hindu people who refused to provide a service to dalits? Would they back doctors and dentists who refused to provide a service to menstruating women?

Maybe they would.

When one group refuses to fulfil its job description because it disapproves of another group, there is no middle ground, no give and take. Those responsible for judging the behaviour have to back one or the other. This is the roulette of human rights. You can’t put your chips on the black and the red.The EHRC is not even trying to do so – it has switched colours, and what an extraordinary switch that is. To refuse to work with gay people is ipso facto discrimination, however you attempt to justify it. Yet now the commission will champion the discriminators.

He’s not making it up, either – you can read it for yourself.

How’s it going?

Jul 12th, 2011 11:05 am | By

This isn’t going well. It’s going badly. It could and should have been a minor thing that lasted about ten minutes and then ended. Instead it’s still going, and the way it’s going is badly.

Alerted by a comment by someone at Abbie’s post, I listened to about 20 minutes of something called Citizen Radio yesterday because it had a talk with Rebecca Watson about All That. I gave up before they got to the talk because I was bored beyond endurance by the hosts’ dialogue, but at the very beginning one of them (Kilkenny or Kilstein, I don’t know which) gave a quick summary of All That, which included casually calling Richard Dawkins “a rich white man” or possibly “a rich old white man.” a dumb rich guy.

Ok, I’m off this train, I thought.

And I am. I’ve soaked up more background since I got on the train, so I was already wondering where I would be if I got off at the next stop, and then that stupid vulgar throwaway line sealed the deal. A rich white man, for christ’s sake. Watson is white too; so what? Is she sort of honorary not-white because…well just because? And as for rich – he got rich by writing brilliant science education books that sold millions and then writing an atheist best seller! Would we rather he hadn’t?

And, unfortunately, that line came from Rebecca’s post about the whole thing.

And then…Chris Mooney said he is interviewing her for the next Point of Inquiry.

She’s a fast rising star in the skeptic movement, and one who–as many already know–has recently been at the center of a huge controversy involving how some in the skeptic/atheist movement treat the concerns of women.You can read about it here, and Phil Plait has the full back story: Suffice it to say that it involves not only what one skeptic man (now infamously) said to Watson in an elevator at 4 in the morning, but how Richard Dawkins then dove in and minimized the incident.

We’ll be discussing this and the lessons to be taken from it–as well as Watson’s important work to spread skepticism and, especially, to make the skeptic movement a more welcoming place for women.

Yes no doubt we will, and thus we find ourselves right back where we were two years ago when Unscientific America came out and several people said it spent far too much time (that is, any) on blog quarrels. This is that all over again, and it’s even the same damn blog.

It looks to me as if a lot of people are forgetting exactly what Dawkins did – he made a handful of short comments on a blog. Is this seriously so newsworthy that it merits whole podcasts and interviews? What next, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, The Daily Show? We’re talking about three comments on a fucking blog.

It’s trivial. Ok? Trivial. I say that in cold blood, as one who writes a blog herself. Nothing I write at my place is worth Serious Media Attention, and neither is anything anyone else says there. The same goes for PZ’s blog, except for the fact that he has so many readers that his does kind of count in some way. But not this way (and I think he’d agree with me).

I still think what Dawkins said was too brusque and also mostly wrong – but I also think it was insignificant in the great scheme of things.

And it’s not going well.

Everybody is exactly the same

Jul 11th, 2011 3:41 pm | By

More precision needed. There should be a stamp for that. MPN should be like LOL or TMI.

It is essential, therefore, that those wishing to criticise the excesses of Islam avoid making generalisations about the two million Muslims living in the UK. “I don’t have any problem with people critiquing some of the things that are done in the name of Islam,” says Tarry. “Some horrific crimes against humanity are committed in the name of religion, but that doesn’t mean every Muslim walking down the streets of Britain thinks that way.”

Of course it doesn’t, but it also doesn’t mean, for instance, that only a tiny minority of Muslims think that way. It doesn’t actually tell you anything about every Muslim walking down the streets of Britain. For that you would have to find things out.

“They’re just going to work and living a normal life. Muslims are as diverse as any other group of people living in the UK, yet the attitude towards them is very much as if they are a monolithic block.”

But there again – that’s a matter of fact, not something that can just be declared from the armchair as if it were self-evident. Are Muslims as “diverse” as any other group of people living in the UK? Are all groups living in the UK exactly as diverse as each other, neither more nor less? I don’t see why that would be the case. It’s certainly not impossible that there is something about Islam and/or the history of people who emigrate from majority-Muslim countries that makes Muslims as a group tend to be different from other people as groups, including being less “diverse.” That’s something to find out, not just to announce as a necessary truth. Or a sacred cow…

The one thing needful

Jul 10th, 2011 12:39 pm | By

“David” (in quotation marks because we have lots of Davids, so it might be confusing if I just said David, as if you would know which one) asked in a comment the other day

Ever wonder what your “sacred cow” is? I have no idea what mine is.

I replied

No idea? Really? I can think of several at least semi-sacred cows of mine. Egalitarianism for one; separateness of persons for another; human rights for another.

He said that wasn’t quite what he meant, and did I mean just irrational and personal and impossible to articulate. I said no but

I know they are basic commitments that are at least somewhat immune to disagreement, and that the reasons I can give for them are well short of knock-down arguments.

I didn’t say, but will say now:

I am committed to them, I don’t want to give them up, I would resist giving them up.

What are yours? It might be interesting to make a list of core sacred cows. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is probably a good source for many of them.

Another of mine is that the idea of a “god” we have a duty to worship and obey, despite some good aspects (inspiration, aspiration, motivation), is more bad than good. It makes people slavish and it distorts their views of morality and other people and this life.

On the other hand, what if it’s something better than that? And not a person? What if in fact it’s one or more of my sacred cows? What if it’s equality, or justice, or peace?

That’s different. It’s probably what humanists are getting at when they say (with varying degrees of exasperation) that atheism is not enough, and we need something “positive.” True enough. Freedom from the totem god is not enough.

What should it be? Justice? Equality? Kindness? Peace? Siblingity? Solidarity?

Maybe solidarity – which perhaps presupposes all the others.

In which case I’ve arrived back at Richard Rorty, which seems ironic.

Why innuendo

Jul 9th, 2011 4:33 pm | By

Via Jean Kazez via a commenter with a squiggly name, Steven Pinker explains how “do you want to come to my room for coffee?” keeps knowledge individual rather than mutual and thus saves face.

Faith leaders

Jul 9th, 2011 12:11 pm | By

BBC BBC BBC – get it right, will you? You don’t ever get it right. You need to learn to get it right.

(No not how to pronounce “Houston,” the one in Texas. They need to learn that too, but this is not that.)

They don’t get it right yet again.

Religious education in schools is under threat, faith leaders have warned.

Leaders representing Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists said
they were “gravely concerned” about the “negative impact” that current
government policies were having.

There are no such peoples. There is no such thing as “faith leaders.” They don’t “represent” anyone. “Representing” people requires some kind of process by which the people represented appoint or elect or consent to the people supposed to be doing the representing. Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists have not ever done that. They have not ever named or appointed a Leader. There is no “leader” anywhere who “represents” all Christians or all Sikhs or all Hindus or all Muslims or all Buddhists.

What the BBC means, of course, is clerics. Maybe it would sound too obviously self-interested to say clerics are upset because students might do less religion in state schools.

Nevertheless, the BBC must get it right.

Almost over

Jul 8th, 2011 10:47 am | By

I was going to move briskly on, but…well there’s just this one last thing, or this one last pair of things.

One is that I think I may have figured out what Richard was trying to get at, or at least what he was irritated about. My friend Maryam Namazie was at the Dublin conference, and as always gave a stem-winder of a talk. Maryam works right at the coal face of women’s rights issues. I think Richard may have thought (or felt) there should have been more of that kind of thing and less of the kind of thing Rebecca talked about. That’s not crazy, it seems to me. One doesn’t have to agree with it, but it’s not crazy.

The trouble is, he didn’t say that. He said

I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

The problem is obvious. He’s implying that that’s what Rebecca thinks – that an invitation for coffee (as Richard mischaracterizes it) is worse than a total absence of rights. That’s a rude thing to imply.

And his later explanation was also flawed:

The man in the elevator didn’t physically touch her, didn’t attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn’t even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics’ privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn’t physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer…

Bad analogy. Different kinds of being “offended.” Elevator guy did what he did (however you characterize it) to a particular person; to Rebecca. PZ did what he did to no person at all – he did it to a cracker. People really do get to be “offended” about things done to them personally, though there is still always plenty of room to disagree over how offended and all the rest of it.

And given that…well I think it’s pretty understandable that Rebecca is pissed. I hope she’ll reconsider the permanence of the being pissed, but I certainly see how she got there.

I really don’t share the widely-expressed view that Richard is totally clueless about feminism. That hasn’t been my experience – he backed me up once when I was infuriated about people calling women “bitch” at RDF and then when I objected going into shouty bully mode for about ten pages. He did the Marshall McLuhan thing: the shouty boyz had been saying he totally agreed with them and he came out from behind the sign and said the hell I do. But I think he put his case badly this time.


Now I’ll move briskly on.


Jul 7th, 2011 11:52 am | By

Russell “begged” me yesterday to focus on something other than what I had been focusing on, so here is a slightly different focus. To put it another way, here is how to get everyone either shouting at me or deleting me from their list of ok people, instead of just a select few.

I partly sort of up to a point agree with Miranda about the Skepchick campaign. (I was only vaguely aware that there was one, because I haven’t kept up.) (You know, I tend to think I’m a terrible nerd, but at the moment I think maybe I’m not enough of a nerd. A real nerd would be ignoring all of this. I envy that nerd. Maybe I’ll set my alarm for 4 a.m. so that I can find that nerd and invite it to my place for coffee and conversation.)

I said at Miranda’s place, so I’ll paste it in here to save time:

I think Richard was wrong about this, but not insanely outrageously save the beer and the cats wrong. He’s the one who published Lisa Bauer’s account of her life as a Muslim convert and then apostate. He’s a fan of Maryam Namazie’s. Maryam was also at the Dublin conference…I suspect he may have been chafed by the contrast between what Maryam talked about and what Rebecca talked about. It’s true that there is a vast difference. I think he’s wrong to conclude that therefore what Rebecca talked about doesn’t matter, but I think I get why he felt that way. (Yes “get”; yes “felt” – these things aren’t fully rational. Such is life.)

La la la la la la

Jul 6th, 2011 3:24 pm | By

It’s a lovely day out. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The birds are singing.

That’s all I’m going to talk about from here on out.

Why expectations matter

Jul 6th, 2011 10:38 am | By

Now, in one way, it is always possible just to ignore the whole thing. Attitudes, expectations, stereotypes, different rules, biases – it’s all so woolly, and subjective, and impossible to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt, so the hell with it; let’s just get on with it and sexism will wither away on its own.

But the trouble with that is, all those things have effects in the real world, that are not a bit woolly and subjective. If women are seen as

  • just there for sex
  • either there for sex or totally superfluous and in the way
  • second best
  • stupid and inept but tolerable to have around because of sex
  • an afterthought
  • peripheral
  • the exception to the rule

then they are less likely to be hired, promoted, commissioned, published, broadcast, cast in movies, invited to speak at conferences.

And behold – in the world we live in, that is indeed how things are. Maybe some of that or a lot of that is because women just don’t want to be hired or promoted or the rest of it, but maybe some of it or a lot of it is because of attitudes, expectations, stereotypes, different rules, biases.

Women can’t really afford to shrug off attitudes and expectations, unless we’re content to settle for smaller more limited opportunities and lives than men have.

Getting and not getting

Jul 5th, 2011 4:39 pm | By

Phil Plait is another who disagrees with Richard Dawkins about the zero badness of asking a stranger for sex on an elevator at 4 a.m.

An important point that came up multiple times is that many men do not truly understand what women go through in such situations.This point was driven home when Richard Dawkins spoke up about it. Through his own words, he proved quite clearly that a lot of men just don’t get it.

And lots of other men on various other sites have been demonstrating the same thing. They don’t get that it matters, they don’t get that women aren’t a public commodity, they don’t get that it’s not all about them, they don’t get that they don’t know better. It’s a depressing spectacle. (Lots of men do get it though. Lots. No need to tell me that. Not that you were going to, but…but some of you probably were.)

This is a societal issue; sexism (conscious or otherwise) is still a strong force in our society, and a lot of men will dismiss claims of sexism from women. As has been made very clear here, we all need to make sure that all men understand the woman’s point of view, or else this type of thing will continue to happen… and people will continue to dismiss it as no big deal.It is a big deal. If Dawkins — a leader in the critical thinking movement and a man known for defending women against religious oppression — can take such a dismissive stance, it’s clear that we have a long way to go. I don’t know if it was sexism on Dawkins’ part or just plain obtuseness, but this attitude is shared by far too many men. It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view, and that’s just plain wrong.

It’s not actually primarily about fear, for me (which perhaps puts me right back in “it’s no big deal” territory – except that I don’t think so). It’s primarily about not wanting things to be divided up as: men do thinking and talking and women do looks and sex.

There are the usual many comments saying things like

Men are not allowed to speak to or even make eye contact with women without express written permission, signed in triplicate, notarized with at least two witnesses. Because all men are potential sexual predators and all women are delicate potential victims. Sexism, much?

That’s only six comments in, and it’s not even the first one saying “wull how are we supposed to ask women for sex then?”

Miranda raises an interesting issue about this idea of “getting it.”

Attempting to silence and/or shout down those who dissent or disagree is rude, immature, irrational, and counterproductive.

And engaging in that attempted silencing and/or shouting down of dissent or disagreement by telling someone that they “just don’t get it” is gallingly condescending, patronizing, presumptuous, childish, arrogant, and rude.

Yes but…there also really is something to the idea that we don’t “get” everything, and that our circumstances can prevent us from “getting” what things are like for people in different circumstances. Privilege can get in the way of comprehension. It’s always possible to exaggerate that, or to see it when it’s not there, but it doesn’t follow that there’s no truth to it at all. I think I have been seeing a lot of not getting over the past couple of days.

A priest and a rabbi go into an elevator and…

Jul 4th, 2011 12:16 pm | By

Where were we. Rebecca Watson said about elevator guy, a student said about Watson about elevator guy, Watson said about the student at her CFI talk, lots of people said about Watson saying about the student at her talk, while, meanwhile, Dawkins said about Watson about elevator guy. Dawkins said something sarcastic the point of which was that women living under Islamic laws have things worse than Watson. This did not go down well. Lots of people pointed out, with some heat, that the fact that X is bad is not a reason to be quiet about less-bad Y, and that Dawkins was being clueless about Y, and that he shouldn’t do that because he was never going to be subject to Y.

Still with me?

There was some doubt that it was actually Dawkins who had said that, but then PZ got home from wherever all the atheists were this weekend and confirmed that it was Dawkins, and then Dawkins said.

Many people seem to think it obvious that my post was wrong and I should apologise. Very few people have bothered to explain exactly why. The nearest approach I have heard goes something like this.

I sarcastically compared Rebecca’s plight with that of women in Muslim countries or families dominated by Muslim men. Somebody made the worthwhile point (reiterated here by PZ) that it is no defence of something slightly bad to point to something worse. We should fight all bad things, the slightly bad as well as the very bad. Fair enough. But my point is that the ‘slightly bad thing’ suffered by Rebecca was not even slightly bad, it was zero bad. A man asked her back to his room for coffee. She said no. End of story.

End of story, yes. End of discussion, no. Should be end of discussion, no. Zero bad, no, which is why should be end of discussion, no.

It’s too boring and wearying to go into, why not, and 7 million people have already done so anyway. I’ll just give the tiniest flick at why not, and move on. Because it wasn’t really “for coffee,” for a start – why the fuck would she want some coffee at 4 a.m. when she had said she was tired and she was on her way to crash and there was coffee at the bar they had both just left anyway? “For coffee” was just a euphemism for sex. He asked her back to his room for sex. That’s not zero bad. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not zero bad, either. It sounds like more of a treat to at least some men than it does to most women, but surely Richard is not completely unaware of that. Would he think it ok to go up to a stranger in Waitrose and say “want to come back to my house and have sex?” I doubt it. If I’m wrong, then this part of my case falls apart, but if I’m right…he should be able to see that it’s not zero bad, especially not at 4 a.m. in an elevator.

And because of all that, it’s a way of treating women as if they’re fundamentally there to be sexual prey. That’s not zero bad.

There was one last bit that as many people have pointed out is quite funny and quite ironic for multiple reasons:

No, I obviously don’t get it. I will gladly apologise if somebody will calmly and politely, without using the word fuck in every sentence, explain to me what it is that I am not getting.

Tone troll! Hahahahahahahahaha.

So anyway, they’ll all be at TAM in a few days so they’ll either work it out or make it worse. The Atheist Movement sways back and forth in the wind – will it totter, will it crumble, will it fall?

I dunno. I have all I can do not to get into fistfights with the neighbors.


Jul 3rd, 2011 4:13 pm | By

There’s been some back and forth about the term “passive-aggressive” and what its exact meaning is. I’ve been using it loosely in what I took to be the vernacular sense, not in what I took to be any kind of technical sense. On being questioned about this, I looked it up; I hadn’t realized it was technical in quite that way, included in the DSM and all. It’s a personality disorder, by gum. I thought it was just a bit of outdated descriptive psychology of the kind that Woody Allen likes to throw around – a bit of pseudo-Freudianism.

What, exactly, is the difference? What’s the difference between an official personality disorder that appears in the DSM and an outdated bit of quasi-Freudian vocabulary? I, frankly, have no idea. The DSM also includes Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which always makes me laugh like a drain, because it’s me all over and because I don’t think of it as a disorder, I just think of it as an approach.

So anyway. I’ve been using it informally, not formally or technically, and I’m going to go on doing that, because people (most people) seem to know exactly what I mean by it, and because it describes something real, that we keep seeing. So what have I been meaning by it when using it informally?

I’ve been meaning (and I have in fact spelled this out a few times) being aggressive while trying to hang onto the credit for being non-aggressive. Having it both ways. Being bossy and censorious while pretending to be gentle and sweet.

I’ve never gotten along well with people like that. Never. I suppose that’s my Oppositional Defiant Disorder playing up again. I get all oppositional and defiant about them. I want to kick them until they drop the goody-goody act and admit they’re just being hostile and quarrelsome like the rest of us.

My view is, if you’re going to be bossy and censorious, then be it. Don’t pretend you’re being Little Saint Lovely of the Blossoms, just get on with it.

I also mean, sometimes, people who praise themselves without admitting that they’re doing it, at least when they are people who also do the bossy-censorious thing. People who say things like “oh my goodness I’m so amazed that everybody loves me so much.” That kind of thing makes my oppositional defiant demon laugh a coarse laugh and scratch its bum. Come on, sweety, you’re not amazed at all, you’re gloating and boasting. Don’t try to fool us – just say “excuse me for a minute while I gloat and boast.” And don’t combine “oh my goodness I’m so amazed that everybody loves me so much” with “if only all of you could be as loving and compassionate as I am everybody would love you so much too.” That’s fatal, darling, we see right through it.

That’s what I mean by passive-aggressive. How about you?


Jul 2nd, 2011 4:09 pm | By

So there are various atheist and skeptical conferences, and Rebecca Watson talks at them and says things about sexism, and at the Dublin one she talks to people afterwards until 4 a.m. at which point she says she’s exhausted and going to bed, and she gets in the hotel elevator to do that and a guy joins her in the elevator (just the two of them, how romantic) and says

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, would you like to come to my room for coffee?

And she says, mildly, “Guys, don’t do that.”

Quite right. Nobody should do that, really. In the afternoon, fine; in the evening, well, it depends, use your judgement; at 4 in the morning, unless you’ve both been making googly-eyes already, it’s just obnoxious, even if it’s not a pass. But maybe that’s just me. I can’t imagine doing something like that, because it would feel so incredibly intrusive and presumptuous – “Hey it’s four a.m. and you said you’re exhausted but hey wouldn’t you rather spend time with me than go to sleep?” I’m frankly not conceited enough for that, and don’t want to be.

There’s been a lot of drama and disagreement about all this over the last whatever, few days or a week or whatever it is, to which I’ve been oblivious. (I’m out of the loop.) But PZ did a post on it this morning, mentioning my eccentric neighbor along with Elevator Guy, and along came lots of men’s rights idiots to say lots of idiot things.

It’s not just about sexism, it is (as some commenters said) also about just plain manners. No, it isn’t manners to accost a stranger in an isolated place and ask for sex. (Ok for men that works, which is why there are cruisey parks. Fine. But for straights and lesbians, it isn’t manners.) (Maybe from men’s point of view it would be manners if only women would oblige. But to us it doesn’t feel like manners [sex workers excepted, obviously] so we mostly don’t oblige. You’ll see women doing that in movies and things, but it’s a male fantasy.)

PZ made a different point about manners: when you disagree with someone, name names. It’s passive-aggressive not to.

As Watson says, she loathes passive-aggressive behavior. So do I, and this is a fine example of it. Name names, always name names, and always do your best to be specific. It is right and proper as good skeptics to confront and provoke and challenge, and you have to be direct about it…

The skeptics movement has a surfeit of that passive aggressive attitude right now. As exhibit #1, I’ll mention the infamous “Don’t be a dick” speech by Phil Plait, which, while representing a good goal of asking for more tolerance, was turned into a flopping issue of disagreement specifically because it was all about tone, not substance, and because Phil could not found any of his arguments in specifics, keeping everything vague, and often cartoonish.

I too loathe passive-aggression. (I don’t know that neighbor’s name though, and I don’t want to.)