Notes and Comment Blog

The cavalry has arrived

Sep 15th, 2014 4:35 pm | By

Shoulder to shoulder the Thought Leaders stand, resisting the barbarian hordes of witch-hunting thought-police feministas.


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 17m
I wonder, is it best, @SamHarrisOrg, to just ignore the Outrage Junkies & Offence Junkies? Don’t feed their craving? …

Sam Harris, witch of the week, talks sense as ever. Probably won’t satisfy the Thought Police. …


Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Steve Zara @sjzara · 14m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg I agree Richard, that it’s best to ignore. Engagement is seen by them as a victory.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Daniel Sidnell @DanielSidnell · 14m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Indeed. Being “offended” makes them feel all warm and fuzzy. Loved Sam’s blog though.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Jeremy Stangroom @PhilosophyExp · 16m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Yes! There’s absolutely no point in directly engaging. It just gives them credibility. (Same as creationists!)


Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Finch @AlinaFinch · 46m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg no point in engaging. It makes them feels like their point is worth arguing about

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
David Galiel @davidgaliel · 47m
@richarddawkins YES! Don’t give them the oxygen they crave. @samharrisorg

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Chloe Newsom @ChloesThinking · 47m
@DanielSidnell @RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Stephen Fry’s go-to response to the phrase “I’m offended” is, “Well. So fucking what?”


Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Almonds @spartannik · 44m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Definetely ignore, these people don’t want equality they simply want attention.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Michael Noone @MichaelNoone4 · 44m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg engagement=vindication. Ignoring them leaves them sat there boiling

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Sean Aitken @SeanAAitken · 45m
@ChloesThinking @RichardDawkins @DanielSidnell @SamHarrisOrg Or Hitchens’ “I’m still waiting to hear what your point is”


Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 38m
.@joshuapaling @SamHarrisOrg Yes, that’s the opposite argument I often put myself (eg whether to debate creationists). I can’t decide.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Musycks @Musycks · 42m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg Pointless engagement. You and Sam are genuinely inquiring, seeking answers, they are seeking conflict.

Retweeted by Richard Dawkins
Jonathan Anatrella @The_Uchi_Mata · 44m
@RichardDawkins @SamHarrisOrg They’re outraged nobody listens to their opinions, and rightfully so- they’re looking for excuses to be angry.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

More than one factor

Sep 15th, 2014 2:24 pm | By

A couple of more notes on Harris’s pig piece, for thoroughness, just because they’re nagging at me. I was short on time when I did the first post so I rushed it.

I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women.

Nobody said they were. It was Harris who tried to answer the question about why so few women in your audiences as if innate differences were the only factors. It was Harris who gave the simplistic one-factor explanation, not the pesky PC feminists.

For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families?

Good grief – can he really think those two are mutually exclusive? The fact that women have to make disproportionate sacrifices to have families is partly due to sexism.

Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

But hardly anyone does think that. It’s Harris who’s not thinking very deeply here. (Go away and learn how to think, is it?)

[H]aving been raised by a single mother since the age of two, I have always had a very visceral sense that men have a responsibility not to be evil jerks. And when they are, they should be sorted out—physically, if need be—by good men. Call me old-fashioned.

Well no, I’m afraid I’m just going to call you sexist again. When the sorting out doesn’t need to be physical, then why on earth can’t women (also) do it? Why specify men? Women and men both need to be able to teach men who are being evil jerks to stop being that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Not the sexist pig

Sep 15th, 2014 10:57 am | By

Sam Harris has posted his response to objections to his claims about women in atheism.

He doesn’t start well. The title is not propitious.

I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For

Not good. Why assume we’re “looking for” sexism? Why dismiss our objections from the outset by assuming that we wanted to find them, for some evil purpose? And then the pig part is outdated, and dismissive. He’ll be complaining about political correctness next.

Also? He illustrated it.


But onward. What did he say? He recaps what he said and then comments.

“I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.

Oh look, he actually does talk about political correctness! I thought I was kidding.

He says the reporter pretty much set him up, which may be true. Allowances for that.

Let me be clear about what I was trying to say (and actually do believe):
1. I started by claiming that my readership seems more male than female. And when I shifted to speaking about atheists as a group, I was referring to active atheists—that is, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity. I was not talking about everyone on Earth who doesn’t believe in God.

Oh. Right. Exactly what Michael Shermer said, then – he’s not saying the kind of atheists who just passively sit in chairs and listen are mostly men, no no, he’s saying the active ones, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity, are mostly men. So that’s way less insulting and patronizing.

2. Although I share the common perception that there is a gender imbalance among active atheists, I don’t actually know whether this is the case. I used to joke that my average “groupie” was a 75-year-old man. Happily, my audiences are now filled with young people, but I still encounter many more men than women. I wouldn’t be surprised if the split were 70/30. I would be very surprised if it were 50/50. Again, I am talking about active atheists. I have no idea whether there are more male unbelievers than female.

You know, I can think of an explanation for that that’s nothing to do with Our Essential Womanly Natures. It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.

Then he goes on to repeat what he said, at more length, as if we hadn’t understood. Men in the aggregate like pugnacious commentary, and women in the aggregate don’t. Yes, we got that; we understood that that’s what he was saying.

And then he quotes an exchange he had with a woman after the interview.

She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.

Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.

She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.
Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.
She: No. You’re just totally unaware of how sexist you are.

Me: Listen, I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.

Etc etc etc.

I remain unconvinced that he’s not at all sexist.


Oh zing.


Retweeted by D.J. Grothe
Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 30m
.@OpheliaBenson The problem, Ophelia, is that you seem not to know the difference between being critical and being unfair.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Sowing strife

Sep 15th, 2014 10:11 am | By

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti doesn’t like Islamic State and al Qaeda. He thinks they’re just big ol’ heretic factional cultist splitter types.

But Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly a paradise of liberal tolerance itself, as you may have noticed.

The arch conservatives Abdulrahman al-Barrak and Nasser al-Omar, who has more than a million followers on Twitter, have accused Shi’ites of sowing “strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims”.

Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan was sacked as judiciary head in 2008 for saying owners of media that broadcast depravity have forsaken their faith, a crime punishable in Sharia law by death, but he remains a member of the kingdom’s top Muslim council.

Abdulaziz al-Fawzan, a professor of Islamic law and frequent guest on the popular al-Majd religious television channel, has accused the West of being behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, saying “these criminals want to take control over the world”.

Such opinions, which echo the views of militants in Iraq, are not unusual in Saudi Arabia, which applies Sharia Muslim law, has beheaded 20 people in the past month, and where clerics oversee a lavish state-funded religious infrastructure.

The problem with IS isn’t so much all the killing and enslaving; it’s the attempting to move in on the territory.

Saudi authorities point to the influence of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in developing modern jihadi thinking, but play down Riyadh’s decades of support for Islamists around the world as a counterweight to anti-royal leftist ideology.

The government’s inability or reluctance to crack down on expressions of intolerance towards non-Sunnis has led some Saudi liberals and foreign analysts to ask if the kingdom is committed to tackling radicalism’s roots, or only its symptoms.

“It’s their definition of extremism we may not agree with. It is still very mainstream to call Shi’ites infidels. That’s not seen as extremist,” said Stephane Lacroix, author of Awakening Islam, a book about Islamism in Saudi Arabia.

Whereas in secular democracies, “infidel” isn’t even a category.

I like our way better.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Always under

Sep 15th, 2014 9:38 am | By

Finally, says Patricia Miller at Religion Dispatches, an unvarnished pro-patriarchy argument in all its glory.

Republican State legislator Paul Wieland filed suit requesting that he and his wife be allowed to opt out of the requirement under his coverage in the state health plan because it “violates their religious beliefs as Catholics and parents of three daughters,” says the National Catholic Reporter.

Wieland’s lawyer argues that if a closely held corporation like Hobby Lobby is allowed to opt out of the mandate, so too should individuals with objections to contraception. “If the corporations don’t have to do this for their employees, certainly Mom and Dad don’t have to do it for their daughters,” said Timothy Belz of the Thomas More Society.

Because Daddy is paying for it, you know! Gummint can’t make him pay for contraception for his daughters because he’s Daddy.

These groups simply don’t want any woman who works for them to get contraception through any kind of scheme linked to their insurance—even if they have nothing to do with it—because it undercuts their moral authority as men to regulate the reproductive behavior of women under their purview.

Women who can do that for themselves are made into sluts. Good women are always under the control and protection of a man. They’re too feeble and too slutty to manage without it.

According to social anthologist Jack Goody in his book The Development of Marriage and Family, the church’s insistence on policing the sexual morality of everyone in the society around it goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. From its founding as a sect within Judaism until well into the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church imposed it rules regarding sex and marriage on society in order to weaken pagan practices and t0 capture inheritances (that would have otherwise gone to family members) in order to strengthen the church. “By insinuating itself into the very fabric of domestic life, of heirship and marriage, the Church gained great control over the grass roots of society itself,” he argues.

Well of course it did. So would I, if I could do that, but I’m not a church, so I can’t.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Change always inspires reactionary backlash

Sep 14th, 2014 5:59 pm | By

Originally a comment by thephilosophicalprimate on I’d love to agree, but…

Change always inspires reactionary backlash. Indirectly, the increasingly crude, loud, shouty open misogyny is evidence that feminism is winning. Actually dominant social views don’t need to resort to such open methods: Their very omnipresence makes them subtle and hard to focus on, like the air. What we’re seeing is the flailing, spastic death throes of dying attitudes, lashing out in desperate hope of fighting off the forces of change that are killing them — but it’s ineffective thrashing, and it’s only deepening the wounds. As Penny argues, their antics aren’t winning them friends and influence, but rather the opposite.

The open racism of the Tea Party — which is ultimately indistinguishable from the Republican “base” that the Southern Strategy worked on for years, even in the North — has much the same character. Racist attitudes are also mortally afflicted by cultural change and brute demographic facts, but by Gawd they’re going to go down screaming and flailing for all they’re worth!

In the end, though, I suspect that reactionary sexist and racist backlash is mostly sound and fury, signifying much less than it may appear. It’s an inevitable response to real change, but it doesn’t have any real potency to STOP the change. If anything, exposing its poisonous ugliness to the light of day only accelerates the pace of change.

Or at least, that’s what I think on my more optimistic days.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

I’d love to agree, but…

Sep 14th, 2014 4:34 pm | By

Laurie Penny says we’re winning.

There’s a culture war happening right now. It’s happening in games, in film, in journalism, in television, in fiction, in fandom. It’s happening online, everywhere. And everywhere, sexists, recreational misogynists and bigots are losing.

They are losing, and they don’t know why.

I don’t think they are losing – unless by “losing” she means “failing to drive all the women, especially the feminist women, out.”

I don’t think they’re going to drive all of us out, but I don’t think they’re going to admit defeat and stop trying, either. I think we’re stuck with this mess. Too many people are having too much fun being shitty.

The routine, the arguments, have become far too familiar. A woman or a handful of women are selected for destruction; our ‘credibility’ and ‘professionalism’ are attacked in the same breath as we are called ugly, slut-shamed for dismissed either as stupid little girls or bitter old women or, in some cases, both. The medium is modern, but the logic is Victorian, and make no mistake, the problem is not what we do and say and build and create.

The problem is that women are doing it. That’s why the naked selfies, the slut-shaming, is not just incidental to the argument – it is the argument. Underneath it all, you’re just a woman, just a body. You can be reduced to flesh. You are less. You are an object. You are other. LOL, boobs.

Or LOL, no boobs. One of those. But either way it’s something a lot of people enjoy doing – just like gaming! – and I don’t see any reason to think they’ll stop.

They can’t understand why their arguments aren’t working. They can’t understand why game designers, industry leaders, writers, public figures are lining up to disown their ideas and pledge to do better by women and girls in the future. They can’t understand why, just for example, when my friend, the games critic and consultant Leigh Alexander, was abused and ‘called out’ as an unprofessional slut, a lying cunt, morally and personally corrupt, just for speaking truthfully and beautifully about all of this, it was Alexander who was invited to write her first piece for Time magazine, Alexander who got to define the agenda for the mainstream, who received praise and recognition, whilst her abusers’ words will be lost in a howling vortex of comment threads and subreddits and, eventually, forgotten.

But that doesn’t happen to every woman who is ‘called out’ as an unprofessional slut, a lying cunt, morally and personally corrupt, and blah blah blah – most of us get neither an invitation to write a piece for Time nor any other kind of prize or win. And for every public figure lining up to pledge to do better by women and girls in the future, there’s a Dawkins shouting his incredulity at claims that a friend of his is a harasser and praising the “feminism” of Christina Hoff Sommers as opposed to that pesky other kind that takes sexual harassment seriously.

They can’t understand why the new reaction to nude selfie leaks isn’t ‘you asked for it, you whore’, but ‘everyone does it, stop slut shaming.’ They can’t understand the logic of a world where ‘Social Justice Warrior’ just doesn’t work as an insult, because a great many people care quite a lot about social justice and are proud to fight for it.

They can’t understand why they look ridiculous.

This is a culture war. The right side is winning, at great cost. At great personal costs to people like Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn and even Jennifer Lawrence, and countless others who are on the frontlines of creating new worlds for women, for girls, for everyone who believes that stories matter and there are too many still untold. We are winning. We are winning because we are more resourceful, more compassionate, more culturally aware. We’re winning because we know what it’s like to fight through adversity, through shame and pain and constant reminders of our own worthlessness, and come up punching. We know we’re winning because the terrified rage of a million mouthbreathing manchild misogynists is thick as nerve gas in the air right now.

Yes but we thought that 40 years ago, too. We thought all that then. And we were right, up to a point, but…sexism and misogyny are in some ways worse than ever. No, I don’t think we’re winning.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

I’m right, you’re wrong, and she’s a feminist detractor

Sep 14th, 2014 12:28 pm | By

Good news – Sam Harris is ready to rock & roll.


Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 21m
I have a draft of my response to my feminist detractors. Just going to run it by my wife, my mother, and Martha, my copy editor.

Fabulous start. We’re not colleagues, we’re not people with reasoned disagreements – no, we’re his “feminist detractors.” I guess he’s so important and correct that there’s no such thing as reasoned disagreement with him, there’s only detraction.

But at least he knows lots of women, so that’s reassuring. He has a wife, a mother, and a copy editor.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Blowy Jesus

Sep 14th, 2014 11:22 am | By

A Pennsylvania kid age 14 poses for a photo in which a statue of Jesus appears to be giving him a blow job, and posts the photo on Facebook (as one does).

Not the best fake blow job photo ever taken – but apparently that’s not why he’s been charged with a crime.

According to The Smoking Gun, police have invoked a rarely enforced Pennsylvania law that makes “Desecration of a Venerated Object” criminal. Violation of this law could land the teen in juvenile detention for two years.

Two years is a harsh sentence for juvenile shenanigans. Especially, when upon closer inspection, the teen’s actions don’t really fit the definition of the law. The formal charge is classified as a second degree misdemeanor. The violation is defined as “…desecration, theft or sale of a venerated object.” Pennsylvania law defines desecration as, “defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities” of people who learn of or discover the action.

Except he didn’t do any of those things – unless “otherwise physically mistreating” covers “taking a picture with.” He did touch the statue, but it looks durable enough that he probably didn’t chip the hairdo. (It’s one hell of an ugly statue, I must say. Donatello it’s not.)

But they seriously want to throw him in jail for two years for this.

Bill Higgins, Bedford County District Attorney, who said of the teen, “He bragged about it — he was proud of it. He put it on his Facebook page and now he’s going to be held accountable for it.”

Jail. Two years. He’s fourteen.

This country is terrible sometimes.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A shoddy and dishonest claim

Sep 13th, 2014 6:45 pm | By

Christina Hoff Sommers is bragging about being at the top of Amanda Marcotte’s list of seven anti-feminist women in Salon.

Christina H. Sommers @CHSommers · 10h
Cathy Young & I at top of SALON enemy list. We are both pro-choice, pro-LGBT,libertarian-leaning feminists. Our crime? We check feminist facts.

No, that’s not it. If she just did that I’d be all for it. Fact-checking is good. She does much more than that. Amanda summarizes a little of it:

A lot of people assume the term “female misogynist” is an oxymoron. How can a woman be opposed to the fight to help women achieve equality? The sad fact of the matter is, as long as there has been feminism, there have been women who find it personally advantageous to reject feminism and instead argue for continuing social systems that perpetuate women’s inequality, male dominance, and even violence against women. (There were even plenty of women who were willing to argue against women’s suffrage back in the day.) Here is a list of nine* women who have made a career out of opposing women’s struggle for social, political and economic equality.

1. Christina Hoff Sommers. Sommers is a pioneer in the art of arguing that it’s men who are actually the oppressed class in modern society. Her 2000 book The War Against Boys tried to argue, falsely, that feminists are ruining young men’s lives by oppressing them through the educational system. (Somehow those distressed young men continue to graduate and go on to have better job opportunities and make more money than their female peers.) She was most recently spotted offering her support to an organized online campaign to harass a young video game developer over her sex life.

That link? It goes here. [whistles casually]

2. Cathy Young. While Christina Hoff Sommers specializes in facetious claims about imaginary feminist oppressors, Young focuses on minimizing the problems of sexual abuse and harassment of women. Recently, she made a shoddy and dishonest claim that men get harassed more than women online, a claim that necessarily leads to the conclusion that women’s greater stress over harassment must be the result of their inferior constitution. Young also objects to the new movement to pass laws requiring men only to have sex with women who want the sex, on the grounds that men can’t be expected to handle something as simple as reciprocity.

That first link? It goes to Stephanie’s blog. [jazz hands]

I didn’t know all of this about Janet Bloomfield:

5. Janet Bloomfield. Bloomfield is supposedly the PR representative for the anti-feminist website A Voice For Men, but her take on public relations is much different than the way most people understand the term, as she spends most of her time harassing and abusing other women online. Indeed, her Twitter harassment got so bad Twitter actually banned her account, though she immediately started a new one and began her harassment anew. Bloomfield’s hatred of feminists has also led to her making up fake quotes she attributes to feminists in order to make it look like feminists hate men. Despite this unhinged behavior, she has a lot of status in the misogynist movement, because she provides cover for men who want to deny they hate women.

Definitely not just fact-checking. In fact, check your facts, Christina Hoff Sommers.

*It’s actually seven.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Sep 13th, 2014 6:05 pm | By

It’s good that Sam Harris isn’t at all smug or condescending.


Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 5h
Alright, fans of pointless controversy, you win. My next blog post will address my alleged sexism and misogyny. #EstrogenVibe

God forbid he should just look at what he’s quoted as saying, and think about it, and realize the implications of it for half of all human beings, and do something other than sneering at people who object. Hell no. Listen up, peons: he had a best-seller, so he is better than you. End of story.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Epistemology 101

Sep 13th, 2014 5:35 pm | By

Here’s an explanation for the hard of thinking.

There’s a difference between taking a claim seriously and asserting that it’s true.

There’s a difference between not expressing incredulity about a claim and asserting that it’s true.

There’s a difference between finding claims credible and asserting that they’re true.

There’s a difference between doubting the denials of claims and asserting that the claims are true.

There’s a difference between finding it more likely that a claim is true than it is that a denial of the claim is true, and asserting that the claim is true.

In short there are many possible views about a particular claim that are well short of 1. assuming that they’re true, let alone 2. asserting that they’re true.

I don’t know that the claims about Michael Shermer are true. I know that I don’t know they’re true. I’m not under any illusion that I know they’re true. I know that I can’t know that they’re true, because I’m not in a position to know.

But that doesn’t mean that I know they’re false. I don’t know that. I know that I don’t know that. I know that I can’t know that, because I’m not in a position to know.

But I think it’s more likely that they’re true than it is that they’re false. There are too many of them to think otherwise. James Randi said as much himself, in Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

Randi is no longer involved in his foundation’s daily operations, but he remains its chair, and he is a legend of the movement, famously not fooled by anybody. He seems not to be naïve about Shermer — although he’s not so troubled by him, either.

“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.

“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Never mind for the moment the multi-layered horribleness of that passage; here I’m just talking about it as a reason to find the claims about Shermer more likely to be true than Shermer’s denials of them. There are reasons to think the claims are true, and fewer reasons to think they’re not.

Another reason is that the women making the claims have nothing to gain from making them, and in fact were very reluctant. Shermer of course has a lot to gain from making his denials. That doesn’t demonstrate that his denials are false, obviously, but it does mean it’s pretty silly for people to say “Shermer says he didn’t!” As Mandy Rice-Davies said, well he would say that, wouldn’t he.

I hope that clears that up. I’ve never said I know, and I’ve never asserted that the claims are true. That’s a bullshit accusation.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Lots of it

Sep 13th, 2014 4:45 pm | By

This is the kind of thing (and maybe the actual thing) Jessica Meier must have been seeing, to think there’s ” too much money to be made playing the victim”:


Barbara A. Drescher As far as wanting it to stop, the attention and money (yes, there is money involved in appearing to be a victim–lots of it) must be pretty attractive, not to mention the addictive sense of outrage.

Isn’t she supposed to be some kind of skeptic? I know she used to work for the JREF until she…stopped working there. What on earth would make a skeptic credulous enough to think there is lots of money in “appearing to be a victim”? What money?

It’s just batshit, that kind of thing. No, there is not Lots of Money in talking about sexual harassment and the assholes who defend it. There really really isn’t.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Yale’s turn

Sep 13th, 2014 12:49 pm | By

There’s the new chapter of the long-running serial “University invites Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak and then…Tune in next Thursday to find out what happens.” This time it’s Yale, and its William F. Buckley, Jr. Program.

Hemant brings us up to speed.

Her speech is titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West”

Sigh. That’s not a good start.

It’s a jumble of categories. “Islam” is not a “civilization” and neither is “the West.” Both categories are too big and sloppy to mean very much. If you’re going to be provocative, it helps to be careful with your terminology.

But the point is that there’s the usual fuss, only more so.

More than 35 groups — including, to my disappointment, the Yale Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics — have signed on to an open letter expressing their disappointment in the invitation. It goes beyond just a harmless scolding, though. The Buckley Foundation said a representative from the Muslim Students Association specifically called for them to rescind her invitation.

In doing that, they start by saying they totally sympathize with what nasty experiences she had with Islam, but hey, all that was just misunderstanding of Islam, which itself is limpidly perfect and without flaw.

Our concern is that Ms. Hirsi Ali is being invited to speak as an authority on Islam despite the fact that she does not hold the credentials to do so.

Now that is ridiculous. You don’t need “credentials” to say what your experience was under an oppressive system that oppressed you. Arguably in fact she does have “credentials,” in the same sort of way Maajid Nawaz does: like him, she was herself an Islamist for awhile, so she in fact does know what it’s like to believe in the most reactionary version of Islam.

The comments Ms. Hirsi Ali has made on Islam have been classified as hate speech and have been considered unprotected libel and slander.

By whom? By people who dislike what she has to say, no doubt. That tells us nothing. We know that Islamists love nothing better than to “classify” all criticism of Islam as hate speech, and to tell anyone who will listen that they “consider” such criticism unprotected libel and slander. That’s a very clueless and ignorant thing to say, by the way, since comments on Islam can’t possibly be any kind of libel and slander (and it’s one or the other, not both). There’s no such thing as libel of a religion in the US.

Now about the Yale AHA – I suppose its decision to join in that open letter is not unrelated to the fact that Chris Stedman is its chaplain. I’ve learned to see his point about a lot of things lately, but – if that is the case – I disagree with him on this one.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Sep 13th, 2014 10:45 am | By

So the approach is going to be to pretend that talking about sexual harassment is exactly the same thing as making a formal, criminal accusation of rape – is that it?

That seems to be Dawkins’s approach as of today at least.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 10h
Raping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.”

One, that isn’t the sole prosecution evidence. But two, who is talking about jailing anyway? What people are talking about, as far as I know, is in-house, organizational stuff – better harassment policies, better enforcement, and above all less secrecy protecting serial harassers. But jailing? Not that I’ve seen.

Dawkins seems really convinced by his story though.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins · 11h
.@faufcb Yes. And there’s also a presumption of innocence till proved guilty. Too drunk to REMEMBER is evidence to put someone in JAIL?

What do you mean JAIL, Richard? Who said anything about JAIL?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A critical point for many people

Sep 12th, 2014 6:57 pm | By

This is great. It starts with a powerful, inspirational talk by Dawkins in 2006, that changed a lot of minds about religion and related subjects.

That speech was a critical point for a great many people, spurring them to read TGD and other atheist books, to reevaluate their beliefs and to ask questions they’d not asked before – to seek answers they mightn’t have even known were possible to find. Perspectives were changed, as was the social landscape of the internet, not to mention many “real” communities: homes, towns, perhaps countries.

Now, the blogger says, Dawkins needs that kind of experience himself.

First, he needs to talk to educated people about what comprises “real” feminism and stop assaulting this invented (or at least overblown) “radical” kind other people (chiefly anti-feminists, oddly enough – hardly unbiased sources) appear to be telling him is dominated by shrieking anti-sex harpies (I say “other people are telling him” because he certainly doesn’t seem to be applying his own intellect or investigative skills to the issue). Dawkins is well-acquainted with hysterical accusations of militancy and stridency just for having the audacity to be publicly critical of religion and its effects; he should try to empathise with feminists who receive precisely the same type of mistreatment from his ostensible brothers and sisters in atheist advocacy.

That would be nice. That would be such an excellent change.

Second, Dawkins needs to ask himself “What if I’m wrong?”. What if he’s wrong about feminism, about rape culture, about the at-least very creepy behaviour of skeptic luminary Michael Shermer, about poster-child for misogynist fear and loathing, Rebecca Watson (her “page-o-hate” hasn’t been updated since May ’13 but rest assured the loathing hasn’t stopped; just check her twitter mentions) and about pretty much everything he’s tweeted about regarding feminism since “Dear Muslima” (which he did apologise for)? And he needs to ask properly, the same way he would if he was investigating some scientific phenomenon he didn’t understand – because it’s very likely he does not understand either feminism or the nature of the complaints against atheist/skeptic culture’s obvious woman problem right now.

Dawkins is already on public record with Ophelia Benson decrying threatening and abusive language and behaviour between atheists and secularists. This is of course a good (and long overdue) thing, but it’s not only a no-brainer to oppose that kind of incandescent hatred, it’s addressing the very pointiest and most extreme example of the sexist and misogynist treatment that feminist atheists and skeptics experience every day, online and in person, in many forms and at varying intensities. Dawkins should converse further with Ophelia and other atheist feminists about the real nature of the sexism problem within organised skepticism (not to mention the further problem of delayed, insufficient, flippant, insulting, rank-closing organisational and leadership responses to it).

That would, indeed, be good. I don’t see it happening now, because he seems way too dug in, but it would be good.

Basically I guess I just think the whole project is broken, permanently. The feminists hate the anti-feminists and vice versa, and we’re stuck with it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

That critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male

Sep 12th, 2014 4:53 pm | By

Well I’ve thought of Sam Harris as both sexist and smug right from the beginning, i.e. when The End of Faith came out. But one can think of people that way and still be startled when they demonstrate it with underlining and italics and asterisks and ALL CAPS.

Michelle Boorstein interviewed him for a CFI-DC event the other day. At the end she asks him a question we’re well familiar with.

I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists — and many of those who buy his books — are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative.

It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.

If only he’d left it at that.

“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

In other words, it’s more of a guy thing.

By which I mean –

No. And fuck you. You know what that amounts to saying? It amounts to saying what Michael Shermer did say – that “it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.” It’s saying that women can’t do sophisticated thinking of any kind, because they’re too estrogen-y and nurturing. If taking a critical posture and being very critical of bad ideas is “instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women” then women are fucked; we’re consigned to domestic work and nurturing work and nothing else.

As I said about Shermer’s version – imagine saying that with “guys” replaced with “whites” and “women” replaced with “blacks” – imagine Sam Harris blurting out that stupid shit then.

I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically white and more attractive to whites than to blacks,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many blacks as whites.

Doesn’t sound good, does it. Sounds so bad that it seems pretty obvious he would censor it before it got anywhere near his mouth. But to say it about women? Oh that’s just fine. Women are soppy slushy sentimental fools who can’t stand to be critical of bad ideas, and guys are the clever rational critical people who do the intellectual heavy lifting.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Are all reports of sexual predation false?

Sep 12th, 2014 4:04 pm | By

Another ploy is to say it’s all just smears. Never mind the several people reporting their own experiences, never mind the fact that Randi corroborated that there have been several reports, never mind that sexual predation isn’t actually as rare or astonishing as Bigfoot or Nessie – never mind all that, just say it’s smears.


EllenBeth Wachs ‏@BlameEllenBeth
@sjzara @michaelshermer I am so disgusted and fed up with smear campaigns. The only people that should be shunned are them.

@SIN_Notung @toxicpath @sjzara They just want MS shunned, period. I pick him over the #FTBullies

So the same applies to all those people – a lot more men than women, I believe – who have reported they were raped or groped or otherwise sexually abused as children by Catholic priests? That’s just a smear campaign, is it? The bishops would certainly like to think so, and some of them sometimes claim that it is. Are they right? Is it just automatically the case that reports of sexually predatory behavior are untrue, and are just smear campaigns? That would save a lot of trouble and money.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The REAL Rape Culture

Sep 12th, 2014 1:14 pm | By

Stephanie has a screen grab of another helpful Dawkins tweet, this time one that he deleted. Too far even for him?

View image on Twitter

It’s just great having our putative Leader of Atheism making sneery jokes about rape, isn’t it. It’s like having Fred Phelps as our spokesdude.

It’s also great having him decide what kind of feminism is the good kind and what is the other thing. He helps out that way in reply to a concerned fan warning him of feminist outrage.

With a certain kind of feminist, of course. Not with feminists who truly respect women instead of patronising them as victims.

So the right kind of feminist is one who does not think there is any kind of disadvantage that goes with being a woman, and so does not point out such disadvantages and try to get them eradicated. The right kind of feminist “respects” women by insisting that everything is already perfect for women. The way to “respect” women is to deny that there is such a thing as sexism or sexist behavior or sexist stereotypes.

PZ has a post urging Dawkins to get a clue about what feminism actually is and why it’s needed instead of just listening to the anti-feminist crowd.

Who are these mysterious patronizing feminists? They don’t actually exist. You are echoing a strategy of denial: you approve of feminists, but not the ones who actually point out sexist problems in our culture, or fight against discrimination, or point out that they’ve been raped, or abused, or cheated in the workplace, or any of the other realities of a sexist culture. This is what anti-feminists say: be quiet about the problems. If you mention the problems, you are perpetuating the sisterhood of oppression, you are playing the martyr, you are being a pathetic victim who must be treated with contempt.

But if no woman speaks out about the problems, how will we ever know to correct them? If we shame every victim for being a victim and daring to reveal her victimhood, it becomes very easy to pretend that there is no oppression.



And “radical” in this context means what, exactly?

PZ comments:

Just a suggestion: read Amanda Marcotte’s take on “radical feminism”.

There is no such thing as a “radical feminist” anymore.

Don’t get me wrong! There was. In the 60s and 70s, there were radical feminists who were distinguishing themselves from liberal feminists. Radical feminists agreed with liberal feminists that we should change the laws to recognize women’s equality, but they also believed that we needed to change the culture. It was not enough to pass the ERA or legalize abortion, they believed, but we should also talk about cultural issues, such as misogyny, objectification, rape, and domestic violence.

In other words, what was once “radical” feminism is now mainstream feminism.

Read that second paragraph carefully. Is there anything you disagree with in that? If not, then welcome, you’re a radical feminist, too. And could you please stop supporting reactionary anti-feminists? Thanks.

What does the “radical” part mean? It means wanting to change attitudes and stereotypes as well as laws and contracts. That’s what it means. It goes back well before the 60s and 70s – John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women is very much about wanting to change attitudes and stereotypes, much more so than it is about wanting to change laws and contracts. Of course it’s mainstream feminism, and always has been.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Annals of dismissive contempt

Sep 12th, 2014 11:46 am | By

Oh, god, here we go. Again.

Richard Dawkins subtweets about the Oppenheimer article:

“Officer, it’s not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk.”

Let’s see, now, what was published a few hours before that tweet? Oh yes…Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

…one of the biggest draws [at TAM] was Michael Shermer, a swaggering historian of science who, after an earlier career as an ultra-long-distance bicyclist, founded Skeptic magazine.

He now contributes columns to Scientific American, speaks all over the world, and writes popular books like Why People Believe Weird Things, which are just what you should give to a friend who needs to be deprogrammed from a belief in fundamentalist Christianity, alien abduction, or bogus homeopathic remedies. He is a freethought celebrity, an exciting person for a young activist like Alison Smith to bump up against — which she did, at an after-party on the first night.

“I ran into Shermer in the hallway,” Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. “He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.” At the party, they began downing drinks. “At some point,” Smith said, “I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me.”

On their way from Caesars to the Flamingo, where they were both staying, she chatted briefly with a friend on her mobile phone, she told me. They got to the Flamingo. “He offered to walk me back to my room, but walked me to his instead. I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. I know we had sex.” She remembers calling a friend from an elevator after leaving his room. “I was in the elevator, but didn’t know what hotel.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)