Notes and Comment Blog

Reputation management instructions

Feb 28th, 2013 11:34 am | By

Justin Vacula has a typically clueless video responding to Stephanie’s post on his “advice” to feminists being harassed on the internet. Stephanie and athcyo combined to produce a transcript. I started emitting steam before I was halfway through the transcript. I want to say why.

My recommendations here, for people who face criticism and hate to reduce the criticism and hate, are very reasonable things people can do. It’s what Karla Porter refers to–and I’m sure many others–as reputation management. The way people present themselves [image of a tweet by Amanda Marcotte] has something to do with their perception, with the criticism they receive.

After all, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions, there are many women on the internet–there are many feminists on the internet, some of them including men, who write about feminism, who write about women’s issues, who write about anything given in the world, and they don’t receive the level of criticism, negative feedback, what Stephanie Zvan calls harassment and cyberstalking. [image of a Twitter exchange with EllenBeth Wachs] They don’t receive this.

So the situation is that some people negative criticism and pushback on the internet while other don’t. So there has to be some kind of reason why this is the case. Magical harassment fairies, magical cyberstalking fairies, magical negative dissenters–whatever you want to call them–don’t just appear out of thin air and criticize people on the internet. It doesn’t happen that way.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with that, and the commenters on Stephanie’s post do a good job of spelling it out. But one thing that particularly generated steam in my locality is the fact that the harassment we get is not remotely in proportion to anything we do. Not even close. Yet Vacula never even approaches an admission of that fact. He does the opposite. He claims there “has to be some kind of reason” that we get epic levels of harassment while others – nameless others, nonspecified others, conveniently vague and general others – don’t. Then he claims that harassment and cyberstalking fairies don’t just appear out of thin air and criticize people on the internet.

Oh yes they fucking do.

They do appear out of thin air and join an existing swarm of bullies harassing people – not “criticizing” them as Vacula yet again translates it, harassing them – on the internet. That swarm did form out of thin air when a few thugs who like to call women cunts and twats found each other on Abbie Smith’s blog. Yes it was out of thin air in the sense that what they claimed or pretended to be enraged about was always way too small and minor to warrant their rage and obsession.

There is no logic to it. It is not a product of reason, and there is no genuine “reason” for it. There’s just a large bunch of people having themselves a good time harassing a small number of other people. That’s it. They’re not “critics,” they’re not thoughtful, they don’t have good ideas, they don’t have anything.

But there has to be some reason behind it, right? These people aren’t just going to randomly pop up. So I give some advice for people. [image of a tweet from EllenBeth Wachs] And I really think that if you’re going to be on the internet, you’re going to be talking a big game, you’re going to be saying really nasty things about people–calling people “sexist”, calling people “misogynsist”–instead of approaching the situation in a different manner and being charitable and saying, “Well, maybe what you have to say there could have been reframed differently.” Instead of engaging in a call-out culture in which you’re going to talk about how your ideological opponents or whomever said this nasty thing–this alleged nasty thing–you can use the moment as an instructional tool [image of Vacula's advice] and say something like, “Well, here’s how I would have said it. Here’s the message I think that’s being conveyed by this piece.” Not making it nasty; not saying nasty things about the people.

But Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, PZ Myers—they don’t do that. They’re very often very uncharitable, and they reach the worst conclusions possible. And I believe (and this is just my hypothesis) that the reason they receive the negative pushback is because of the way they present themselves on the internet.

And the reason that puny ugly little kid gets all the “negative pushback” is because she’s so puny and ugly. The reason that faggot gets all the “negative pushback” is because he’s a faggot. The reason that abortion doctor got all the “negative pushback” is because he was an abortion doctor. These people aren’t just going to randomly pop up. They’re going to pop up because you wrote something that they don’t like, and that entitles them to pursue you and harass you until the end of time. It happens that way.



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

Reading University is disappoint

Feb 28th, 2013 10:48 am | By

Reading University issued a statement on the cancellation of the talk by Thahabi, that is, a joint statement from Reading University Muslim Society, Reading University Students Union (RUSU) and the University of Reading.

Reading University Muslim Society, Reading University Students Union (RUSU) and the University of Reading are in agreement that the laudable aims of the Muslim Society’s Discover Islam Week are undermined by the increasing threat of violent protest from extremist groups outside the University community.

A careful assessment of the threat to the events on Wednesday and Thursday evening have led all three organisations to reluctantly agree to the cancelation of these talks. Our priority is to the safety of all those who had planned to attend or to peacefully protest outside the talk and we are very disappointed that we have had to take this course of action. However, the safety of our students, members, staff and visitors is of paramount importance.

Notice the complete absence of any mention of what was problematic about the talks. Note the complete absence of any substance, any particulars, anything one can grasp in order to understand wtf the issue may be. Note the hollow at the center. On the one hand threat of violence from outside extremist groups (extremist in exactly what sense? Extreme left-wing? Extreme feminist? Extreme what?), on the other hand concern for safety of our people. No particulars about who the outside groups are and what it is they would be protesting, no particulars about what the talks were supposed to be about and what in them was worth protesting.

Both the University and RUSU are committed to supporting the Muslim Society in its aims of raising awareness of Islam and building mutual understanding. We are delighted that other events in the week’s programme will be going ahead as planned.

As part of the review of these events, the University has agreed to work with RUSU to ensure its policies reflect the need to protect the principles of freedom of speech in balance with the rights of all constituent parts of the student community. The University is committed to upholding both the right to free speech and the right to lawful protest within an environment that guarantees the safety of all users of our campuses.

Once again, as so often with these things, the University wants to do the impossible. It wants to combine the principles of freedom of speech with the rights of all constituent parts of the student community, when the problem is that Thahabi, at least, is on record as being inimical to the rights of some constituent parts of the student community. He has said they should be thrown off a mountain.

You can’t have everything. Sad but true.



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

More news from Reading University

Feb 28th, 2013 9:54 am | By

I found an interesting update from Adam Goodkin of the Reading University student atheist humanist secularist society on Facebook this morning: an event they were protesting has been called off. I bet you can guess what kind of event it was before I quote from Pink News on the subject.

Homophobic cleric Abu Usamah at-Thahabi will no longer be visiting the University of Reading tomorrow after the event he was due to attend was cancelled because of fears of violent protests.

The cleric has advocated that gay men should be thrown off a “mountain” and previously referred to gay people as “perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered”.

Thahabi was due to attend Reading University’s Muslim Society on Thursday as part of a series of talks designed to raise awareness of Islam as a faith.

So the question becomes, why was Thahabi due to attend Reading University’s Muslim Society on Thursday as part of a series of talks designed to raise awareness of Islam as a faith? Why doesn’t Reading University’s Muslim Society have a filter that excludes clerics who say that gay men should be thrown off a mountain and that gay people are “perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered”? Why don’t they want clerics who respect human rights as opposed to clerics who don’t?

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

Audible gasps in the Supreme Court’s lawyers’ lounge

Feb 27th, 2013 6:00 pm | By

Scalia thinks protection of the right to vote is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” at least he does when the right being protected is the one being protected by the Voting Rights Act.

There were audible gasps in the Supreme Court’s lawyers’ lounge, where audio of the oral argument is pumped in for members of the Supreme Court bar, when Justice Antonin Scalia offered his assessment of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. He called it a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Yeah we don’t want that. We want more rugged independence and pulling self up by own bootstraps around here, not this pesky Nanny State coddling of people by making it illegal to keep them from voting. Why if this goes on pretty soon voters of That Other Color will become downright Professional Victims. It’s got to stop. Having to overcome obstacles in order to vote builds character. It was dangerous and sometimes fatal for black people to register to vote in Mississippi in 1964, so why should black people in Mississippi have it easy now? It was difficult for them then so it should be difficult for their grandchildren now, because.

From the transcript:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, maybe it was making that judgment, Mr. Verrilli. But that’s — that’s a problem that I have. This Court doesn’t like to get involved in — in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be left — left to Congress.

The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.

Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it. And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

Racial entitlements. Like public schools, and admission to law school, and being able to vote. Those Other Races are being spoiled! Scalia never got any special help to vote, so why should anyone have it? Buncha princesses.

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

The experimenter said “you should make some effort”

Feb 27th, 2013 4:48 pm | By

Jadehawk has a useful post about what psychology considers harassment. Just imagine: there is research. It’s possible to find out what harassment does to people.

Because certain entities on the web feel like redefining all forms of internet harassment and threat as “trolling” just because it happens online or via unusual media, I decided to look at what actually qualifies as harassment in psychology (rather than in law, since we’re talking about whether it affects people, not whether it’s illegal).

Wait, let me guess first – it doesn’t affect people at all unless they’re Professional Victims or Drama Queens or Special Snowflakes. Right?


For subjects in the Harassment condition, the procedure for the first four TAT cards was identical to that just described for subjects in the Nonharassment condition. Before the fifth card, however, the experimenter said that the last four stories had been “somewhat boring,” and that the subject should try harder to make the next few stories interesting. After the fifth card, the experimenter said “you still do not have it right.” After the sixth and seventh cards, the experimenter again indicated that the stories were inadequate, and said “I cannot see what the problem is,” and that “you should make some effort” to improve them. During the eighth story, the experimenter interrupted the subject with a critical comment.

Result? Physical effects. Read Jadehawk’s post to see what effects.

Conclusion: Even mild interruption, ridicule, and criticism elicits stress responses, and all these mild stress-response-elicitors count as harassment in psychology. That doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing people, and it doesn’t mean that people who want to be skeptics, scientists and/or activists don’t need to learn to deal with a certain degree of both criticism and “trolling”. However, as with microaggressions, a constant barrage of aggression (some low-grade some decidedly less so) is typically more wearying/damaging than the occasional blatant, massive outburst. Consequently, telling a person who’s subjected for months to non-stop criticism, “satire”, parody, “trolling”, and plain old “as defined by every college campus everywhere” harassment* on multiple fronts that they aren’t being harassed is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Even the thickest skin will eventually be worn down** my months, or even years, of this sort of thing.
What this means in effect is that even harassment that doesn’t quite live up to persecutable legal standards*** still causes harm to people. Real, measurable harm.

Is interesting. Thanks to TL for the link.

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

Throw the rock overhand, like this

Feb 27th, 2013 4:06 pm | By

There’s an Islamist Facebook page that posted a set of graphics showing how to stone someone to death. The graphics were originally published by the National Post on November 20 2010.

The Facebook graphics are below the fold. Trigger warning, obviously.

The National Post article was illustrating the horror. The Facebook page is apparently giving instructions.

People (including me) have been reporting it, but it’s still there.


Update: Facebook reported on their response to my report: they said this doesn’t violate their community standards so they’re not removing it.

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

What you see

Feb 27th, 2013 11:40 am | By

Reading Michael Kimmel’s The Gendered Society. His argument is that the genders aren’t unequal because different, but different because unequal. The inequality is always justified on the basis of difference, but the inequality itself makes the genders different.

What’s different over the past thirty years – now forty: the book was published in 2000 – is making gender visible.

We now know that gender is one of the central organizing principles around which social life revolves. Until the 1970s, social scientists would have listed only class and race as the master statuses that defined and proscribed social life. [p 5]

Gender became visible because women became visible. That was the “radical” in the radical feminism of the 70s. In that sense I am a radical feminist and always have been. But are the women who oppose “radical feminism” really opposed to that? The visible ones, I mean? It’s hard to believe they are, given how visible they are themselves. It’s rather like Schlafly, out there speaking up in public and being intellectually active about it and all that – all in the name of keeping women subordinate to men. Hmm.

In a seminar on feminism in the 80s, Kimmel observed a black woman and a white woman talking about what they did or didn’t have in common.

The white woman asserted that the fact that they were both women bonded them, in spite of racial differences. The black woman disagreed.

“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?” she asked.

“I see a woman,” replied the white woman.

“That’s precisely the problem,” responded the black woman. “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am not privileged in our culture. Race is invisible to you, because it’s how you are privileged. It’s why there will always be differences in our experience.” [p 6]

Privilege or its absence determines what is visible.

Mind you, so do other things. Strangeness, for instance – being a foreigner in some way. It’s possible to be privileged as a foreigner while still being foreign – an outsider – not the norm. But still the idea seems like a useful heuristic.


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


Feb 27th, 2013 9:49 am | By

There was a pretty good documentary on the recent history of the women’s movement in the US on PBS last night. It featured Pat Schroeder a lot, which was fun, because she was at Moving Secularism Forward last year (and I got her name tag as a souvenir).

The last hour, on the most recent history, spent too much time on pop culture figures as opposed to political ones, but the first two hours were good. We got the anti-feminist views of Phyllis Schlafly. You know what she said? That feminism teaches women to be victims. Oh, so that’s where Paula Kirby gets her lines! She channels Phyllis Schlafly! I knew that was a familiar, and indeed stale, line of bullshit, but I didn’t know it went back to Schlafly. Now there’s a proud heritage.


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

People didn’t properly listen

Feb 27th, 2013 9:04 am | By

There is no such thing as sexual harassment. That’s all a creepy clown narrative dreamed up by crazyass feminists. It does not ever happen.

Or does it. Maybe this Lord Rennard fella did some sexual harassing after all?

Clegg defended his failure to launch a full investigation in 2008, saying his office was told the women making the claims did not wish to take the matter forward but “just wanted the inappropriate behaviour from Lord Rennard to stop, and that is why he was confronted and a few months later he left”.

He said: “You can only launch investigations into allegations when they’ve been made … That is not something that happened as far as I am concerned until last Thursday [when Channel 4 ran the story].”

He added: “We acted … as we could with what we were told at the time. The women have been let down, there have been some very serious mistakes.”

There always are.

“But clearly something went seriously wrong in the organisation as a whole, that people were not talking to each other in the way that they should, and most importantly the people who matter the most are these women who, I can only imagine the anguish, that you’ve been intimidated and bullied and threatened in the way that they say they were and that you then feel that no one, who should be looking after you, should be looking after your interests, should be protecting your dignity and respect, that people didn’t properly listen.”

They never do. They throw the women under the bus for the sake of their relationship with that important dude, because that’s what matters.

The Guardian has more background on neanderthal leering and unwanted advances at Westminster.

One cabinet minister in the last Labour government chased a woman round a sofa in his office in an unsuccessful attempt to kiss her. A married peer has a habit of chatting to young women in the hotel bar during his party’s annual conference. He will then announce that he is going up to his room and will invite the woman to join him after a suitable interlude.

Another parliamentarian opens lunches with women by commenting in some detail on their clothing. He has a habit of leering at his lunch guests as he comments on their clothes. One MP asked a young woman whether she was working at Westminster to get a sexual thrill.

One woman who has experienced sexism at Westminster said that men who behave inappropriately were not guilty of innocent mistakes. “It is power. They know they have embarrassed you when they make a sordid lurch and try to kiss you. Women journalists can scream at these dreadful men. But it is much more difficult for women hoping to become MPs who work for the parties.”

Strident shrill radical feminist with her creepy clown narrative. Of course it’s not power. It’s the man’s penis getting the better of him, which he totally can’t help.

As the allegations about the Lib Dem Lord Rennard focused attention on sexism at Westminster, the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights, accused parliament of failing to act on a groundbreaking report into increasing representation at Westminster among women and minority groups.

“For too long, parliament has operated according to antiquated rules that go against the grain of modern life,” the Fawcett Society chief executive, Ceri Goddard, said, adding that MPs should implement the “seminal” Speaker’s conference report of 2010.

Goddard added:  “It’s 2013, parliament urgently needs to get up to date. That means a House of Commons that looks a lot more like the rest of the country, and a political culture where parents and others with responsibilities outside of Westminster don’t find themselves excluded from the political system.

“The seminal Speaker’s Conference Report 2010…had cross party support and looked at why British politics isn’t more reflective of wider society, and called on parties to clarify their policies on parental leave; do far more to encourage those outside of the ‘usual suspects’ to get involved, and generally work together to ensure parliament is more in tune with modern, 21st century working practices – and attitudes.”

Or, they could just tell each other that being an MP is more of a guy thing, and keep on encouraging the usual suspects.


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

Something happened

Feb 26th, 2013 11:42 am | By

Someone pointed out a very surprising thing to me. Only a little more than a year ago, Reap Paden did a post about sexist men. He sounded like a human being – that is, a mensch, that is, someone who gives a shit.

It has an ability to become almost invisible. Be assured…it’s almost always present, usually hiding just out of sight. You can even catch it peeking out between sentences, or as a dim shadow behind an innocent hand gesture. It can even disguise itself as a considerate comment or action.
While raising my daughter it was something I warned her to watch out for as she grew up. I warned her to keep an eye out because sooner or later she was going to come face to face with it, and she would need to know what to do because it would confront her throughout her life.
What is it I am talking about? What could be so common yet unknown to so many? Why hasn’t it been stopped? It can’t be stopped, not completely. The best we can do is confront it and make it hide as much as possible.

The thing I’m talking about can be summed up with one sentence.
Men are assholes.

Assholes how? Assholes because sexist. Yes really.

Now let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the assholes who honk their horn if you take more than 2 seconds to move when the light turns green. I’m not talking about the assholes who think you are a pussy because you football jersey has the wrong colors or mascot on it, there is no hope for those people.
I’m talking about the assholes who think women are just on the planet as objects. The guys who think every woman was born so they could listen to men tell them what they wanted done for him, to him, or by him. They think women like it when a man screams across the street at her “Hey, nice ass!” or “Come over here, I got somethin’ for you baby”. These guys are convinced when she posts her picture on the internet it is for one reason…so guys can tell her whether or not they would have sex with her and how often.
I could give you a million examples of this type of behavior. I will limit myself to one more example that stands out from my experiences.

And he tells a story of a friend of the guy who was about to get married to his (Reap’s) sister, who insisted on having a stripper at the bachelor party.

He was talking about how Ted didn’t want a stripper but he was getting one anyways. “What kind of pussy doesn’t want a stripper at his bachelor party?” Dickface asked. I suggested maybe we respect Ted’s wishes. He obviously was a bit shy and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. Needless to say Dickface now had the opinion I was a pussy too. Since Dickface was wrong I didn’t remain a part of the planning committee because Dickface didn’t like it when pussies hit him in the face. (see first description of asshole above)
I was however still invited to the bachelor party because I was the bride’s brother and I guess there is an unwritten law somewhere addressing that too. I sat drinking beers at the party waiting for what I knew was coming. Sure enough Dickface had followed through with his plan. And I was correct, my future brother-in-law was not really pleased with the planning committee’s decision, in fact he was extremely displeased. I could see he knew there was no choice for him, he was in front of all his guy friends at an event that has been one of the staples of manhood since before we realized everyone masturbates.
The stripper wasn’t ugly, what was ugly was the turn the crowd took when she burst onto the scene. Maybe it was because I was sitting watching from a certain perspective, I don’t know, but the behavior of the men at this party was pathetic. I watched as guys I had talked to earlier in the night, normal mature guys, acted like third grade boys who had found a copy of playboy in their school lunchbox and the centerfold had come to life. I have nothing against naked women, in fact I have a great respect for the female form. It has an appeal and a strength that men can never hope to equal. maybe that’s why men tend to treat it the way they do, when something intimidates people they try to beat it down any way they can. They try to break it and keep it from realizing it’s own abilities.
I think the claims of men ‘objectifying’ women have been used too often in circumstances where it doesn’t really apply. This has caused the term to lose any credibility. This is unfortunate because men are assholes who treat women like objects.If a woman points it out she is an uptight bitch, all she does is complain and hate on men, she must be a lesbian.

That does not sound like the Reap Paden we know. Something has happened to him. I’m very sorry it happened to him, but I’m even more glad he hasn’t always been the way he is now.

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

Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters

Feb 26th, 2013 11:03 am | By

Stephanie discusses the “advice” Justin Vacula gives on how to deal with being harassed. I put “advice” in scare quotes because it’s not really advice in the ordinary understanding of the word; it’s more of a bullies’ formula than advice. “I’ll stop harassing you if you stop doing all the things that motivate me to harass you” is about the size of it.

Then Justin Vacula showed up, still trying to peddle the idea that the harassment is just the little price that some of us have to pay in order to have an opinion. Novella pointed out that he was both minimizing and mischaracterizing the situation. So Vacula (in a comment that included a couple of quotes for which he both seems to be the source and is demanding citations) tried again.

Here are some tips, anyway, for Rebecca and anyone who faces criticism/hate to reduce the criticism/hate:

Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.

Avoid commenting on websites of your ideological opponents.

Refrain from attacking individuals; stick to criticism of ideas rather than persons.

Consider how people might respond to what you write. Can something be reframed so as to not lead to undesirable criticism?

Avoid sharing content when experiencing heightened emotions (great anger, disgust, stress, etc)

Consider sharing something with friends before it becomes public. A second (or third) set of eyes might suggest helpful edits which would avoid negative feedback.

You see what sweeping advice that is. Don’t indirectly engage with dissenters – so, don’t say anything that might get “dissenters” (by which he means harassers) riled up…

But wait a minute. Wait a minute. Everything gets the “dissenters” i.e. harassers riled up. Literally everything. There are a few core harassers – I hope it’s a few but in truth I don’t know how many it is, and it’s probably more than a few – who monitor every single thing I say in public online, in order to post it at the mildew pit and tweet about it and discuss it on blogs and Facebook. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s just that I say it. It’s typed by Pruney (as they call me) so it has to be reposted for jeering and smearing and lying.

So the only way to follow that first item of advice is to stop writing. Period.

And all the rest is just more of the same. Stop writing, stop talking.

And then what? The “dissenters” and “ideological opponents” will stop slandering us? No. No, nothing is said about that, naturally. No, it’s all a matter of “you shut up and then see what happens.”

Stephanie does a brilliant job of asking “how was I/Ophelia/Melody/EEB/Amy/Jen supposed to expect that” saying or doing this one small thing would lead to such ridiculously excessive reactions.

  • How was Melody to know that choosing when and where to deal with “critics” on Twitter would lead to Vacula making a YouTube video calling her a “professional victim”? Is there a way to reframe limiting your exposure to constant negativity that can’t have the nonsense label du jour slapped on it?
  • How were the Skepchicks to know that offering a workshop at CSICon would lead to Vacula saying they produce “everyday nonsense” on the conference hashtag? Is there a way to reframe teaching skepticism that keeps people from using hashtags for their own purposes, whatever they may be?
  • How was EEB to know that leaving a comment on Ophelia’s blog would lead to Vacula doing a “dramatic reading” of that comment on YouTube then posting it at the slime pit? Is there a way to reframe being tired and upset that would keep him from giggling through her distress?

How indeed. We don’t know, we can’t know. We know there will be bullshit of some kind, usually several variants of it by several different people in several media, but we can’t know exactly what kind of bullshit it will be, and we are often surprised. I was surprised by Vacula’s malicious sniggering delight at EEB’s comment. I’m often surprised at the ways people are willing to expose themselves.

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

We are told we are respected, and yet

Feb 26th, 2013 10:08 am | By

Feminism is resurging, says Ellie Mae O’Hagan at Comment is Free. It’s resurging because there is still so god damn much sexist shit going on. In that sense it would be nice if feminism could drop dead because it’s no longer needed.

O’Hagan recently read The Feminine Mystique for the first time.

To my mind, the most amazing and miserable aspect of The Feminine Mystique is how relevant it still is. Women of my generation are still being sold lies to keep us obedient. We are told that we are valued, until we accuse a revered man of rape. We are told we are equal, and yet we still do most of the low-paid and unpaid work. We are told we are respected, and yet we are harassed in the street, objectified and ridiculed in the media, and haunted by words like nag, harridan and hysteric in our personal relationships.

And not just those. Also bitch, cunt, twat, pussy, slut, whore, ho…

And then there’s the new, more friendly, more accommodating kind of feminism.

For every campaign against objectification, we have the Sex and the City brand of feminism, as personified by a burgeoning movement in America calling itself “sexy feminists“, which reassures us that one can believe in gender equality and still pay hefty sums of money to have pubic hair ripped out at the root.

In my mind, if being sexy and funny are the two cornerstones of a new feminist movement, we may as well all pack up and go home now. At its core, feminism should be angry. It should be angry because women are still being taken for a ride. Like the women in The Feminine Mystique, we are being sold a lie of equality in a society where the odds are politically, socially and economically stacked against us.

Feminism’s most basic function should be to emphasise that sexism is not an accident, but an inevitable consequence of a society structured to favour men. Jokes about vaginas and reassurances that we won’t have to give up lipstick are not enough. To put it bluntly, a new feminism should not be afraid to piss people off.

Yes but you see the thing is…feminism is about equal rights for women, and women are women. The first duty of women, because they are women, is to be sexy and funny. That’s because they’re women, you see. Women have to be pleasing in some way. They just do. I’m sorry, I know it seems unfair, but they just do. Because they’re women. Men don’t have to be pleasing in some way, because they’re men, and they can do other things. They have other things to offer – success, or strength, or talent. Men can give us things like Microsoft, or coal, so we don’t care so much if they’re sexy and funny. Women can’t give us anything like that, so they have to make up for it by being pleasing. That’s why we hate older women so much: they can’t be pleasing, so they’re violating this important rule that they have to be pleasing. We wish they would just fuck off and die already.

So if feminism is angry, we’re all going to hate it and attack it, because if there’s anything we don’t want, it’s unpleasing angry women all over the place, telling us not to call them cunts.

Sexy, funny feminism is inspired by the fear that feminism will never get anywhere unless it is likeable. For a long time now, feminists have been told that their message will never spread to the masses if the messenger appears to be an angry man-hating lesbian shouting the odds from a gender studies seminar room. But we need to realise that popular, non-threatening feminism is destined for failure as well. In a patriarchy – and if you are a feminist, you accept that we are living in one – what is popular and non-threatening is what men deem to be acceptable.

Can’t be helped. It’s be pleasing or get out.

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

Everyone else seems afraid to say it

Feb 25th, 2013 10:19 am | By

Meanwhile the Onion shows how it’s done, while live-tweeting the Oscars, by calling a nine-year-old girl a cunt. Well why not after all? She’s a girl. Hey if you object to that you must be a PROFESSIONAL VICTIM. Quit SCOURING THE INTERNET TO FIND SOMETHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT.

Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?

And then of course the reporting misses the point quite thoroughly, as perhaps we should have expected. (By “we” I mean “I.”)

On the one hand, it’s a joke on playing on how utterly sweet, adorable and not-at-all C-word-like Wallis was at the Oscars. On the other hand, she’s 9, and words don’t come any worse than that one.

Uh, right, because there is such a thing as being cunt-like, and some people are like that, and they of course should be called cunts, because being cunt-like is so self-evidently terrible and awful.


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

Pax skepticana

Feb 25th, 2013 9:37 am | By

So what do you know – Amy and Harriet Hall have made peace and gone back to being friends.

 But as the months went past since TAM I had noticed that people dedicated to cyber stalking and harassing me and my peers were continuing to use the shirt and its message to attack us unfairly, but Harriet was not. She responded when it was brought to her attention, but she was not the one constantly bringing it up. I realized at this point that Harriet Hall’s intentions may not have been to attack me or this blog but instead she was indeed trying to send a message that spoke from her own experiences as a feminist.

I decided to do what I could to help end this controversy and to hopefully stop some of misinformation surrounding the incident. I realized that there was a lot of emotion involved, particularly on my side because that shirt has been waved like a flag in an attempt to belittle and drive a wedge between Skepchick and some other members of organized skepticism and of course the harassers displayed it like a prize. As you can imagine, that was upsetting to me. I realized Harriet had been constantly questioned about her actions as well. She may not want to to talk to me. I knew Harriet identified as a feminist and odds were we had more in common than not ideologically and so there was hope to find common ground. Steve assured us we could start a dialog.

And so they did, and you can read their email exchange on Amy’s post.

Steve Novella also posted about it.

I have not been a direct participant in the recent drama over sexism in the movement, but I have had a front row seat. It has struck me throughout that many of the people involved, steeped in critical thinking, firmly believe they are correct and are being reasonable and yet are in such heated conflict with other critical thinkers who also believe they are correct and being reasonable.

There are, it seems to me, three general sources of this conflict. One is sincere and real ideological differences. If you read the recent exchange between Harriet Hall on SBM and Will on Skepchick, and a sample of the comments to each, these differences become apparent. Where exactly to draw the line between free speech and the avoidance of offense is one recurrent theme. Still, this by itself should not be enough to cause such a rift, for our common ground dwarfs these differences.

A second source of conflict are those who have chosen cyberstalking and daily harassment as their chosen mechanism of activism. Rape threats, threats of violence, sexually charged and grossly offensive language have no place in this discussion, but have infiltrated our community. The result has been to raise the level of emotion and defensiveness and pushing all sides toward the more radical extreme. This is, unfortunately, part of the new social media world we have created. We have to find ways to marginalize and ignore these elements, and not confuse them for those who have reasonable and friendly disagreements.

That is very, very, very true. (That’s not good skeptic of me. True is like unique; intensifiers are silly. If it’s true it’s true, there is no “very.” But I don’t care.) I can’t begin to tell you how true it is. The cyberstalking daily harassers have scraped our nerves raw, those of us who are their targets, and raw nerves are an obstacle to cool reason. Raw nerves get in the way of slow thinking. Steve Novella (and Harriet Hall) probably saw that happen when Hall’s threads filled with comments by the cyberstalking daily harassers.

So huge props to Amy and Harriet for working it out and leaving the cyberstalking daily harassers coughing in their dust.

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

Secularist of the year

Feb 25th, 2013 9:19 am | By

The NSS has a short list of candidates for secularist of the year.

Jacques Berlinerblau – for his book How to be secular: A call to arms for religious freedom and for broadening the appeal of secularism by dispelling the misconception that it synonymous with atheism.

British Muslims for a Secular Democracy – for raising awareness within British Muslims and the wider public, of democracy – particularly ‘secular democracy’, helping to contribute to a shared vision of citizenship.

Carlos Celdran – Performance artist and political/cultural activist in the Philippines, for his tireless challenges to the privileged Catholic Church there, particularly in his advocacy for gay health and freedom, and for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 which guarantees universal access to methods of contraception, fertility control, sexual education, and maternal care – long opposed by the Catholic church.

The Dalai Lama – for his promotion of secular ethics beyond religion and respect for nonbelievers globally.

Oliver Kamm – Leader writer and columnist for The Times, for his regular and excellent defence of the separation of Church and State.

Malala Yousafzai – for campaigning for girls’ education in the face of violent and brutal Islamist opposition.

The Dalai Lama? Seriously? He’s done some dissing of nonbelievers. So has Berlinerblau, for that matter.

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

The bishops are devouring all the hospitals

Feb 24th, 2013 6:01 pm | By

PZ warns of Catholic takeovers of hospitals, and links to an article in The Stranger, so I’m reading that article, and oh what do you know, what happened to Savita Halappanavar could happen right here in Seattle, too. I knew that, I knew it could happen all over the US, but The Stranger gives particulars.

But cases like Halappanavar’s exist in Washington State. In fact, they’ve happened right here in Seattle. “I was past 24 weeks when doctors at Swedish told me I was miscarrying,” explains the woman sitting across from me at the coffee shop. We’ll call her Mary. She’s asked to remain anonymous to maintain her privacy, but like Halappanavar, Mary is a thirtysomething professional who was eager to start a family with her husband. So they got pregnant the old-fashioned, church- approved way: missionary style, after marriage. Life was swell, and the ultrasounds looked good. And then Mary awoke in pain last year; there was blood. She was checked into Swedish Medical Center, Seattle’s largest nonprofit health-care provider. But unbeknownst to Mary, last year the hospital formed an alliance with Providence, a Washington-based Catholic institution that operates 32 hospitals in Alaska, California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Per their new relationship, Swedish agreed to stop performing abortions except in emergency situations—you know, like when a woman’s life is at risk…

During Mary’s Swedish visit last year, “They said that they couldn’t save the fetus but it still had a heartbeat, so there was nothing they could do. They had to wait for the heartbeat to stop.”

Mary says she demanded an abortion but was basically told her options were to “wait for nature to take its course” or unhook herself, crawl out of bed, and find another hospital. “It was a nightmare,” she says. “It still is.”

At Swedish hospital!! That’s a big name around here, a big respected name. I certainly don’t think of it as a Catholic hospital, where abortions are denied even during a miscarriage. And it’s not a Catholic hospital, but that doesn’t matter, because for some fuck unknown reason it agreed to follow Catholic rules.

When Swedish entered into its new partnership with Providence and agreed to stop providing abortion services except in emergency instances, the administration took a proactive and somewhat admirable step: They pushed Planned Parenthood to open a clinic in an adjoining medical tower. That clinic, which is accessible by a breezeway, functions like any other Planned Parenthood clinic, offering everything from STD testing, abortion services, and sexual education to in-office female sterilization and vasectomies. “It was important to us that women continue to have the same access to services and not feel ostracized,” Charbonneau says. “But we wouldn’t enter into any deal with Swedish that would leave women coming into the ER in any kind of trouble. They have a commitment to me, in writing, that there will be no women getting hurt and no women dying.”

Charbonneau says that Swedish has kept its word and has performed emergency abortions in its hospital.

Well isn’t that just enormously big of them, but what the hell are they doing agreeing to stop providing abortion services in the first place?! What are they doing letting Providence – a Catholic hospital-mafia – set the rules?

Catholic institutions across the nation are merging with secular hospitals, clinics, and even small private practices at an unprecedented rate. Optimists explain that the consolidation and shared infrastructure help reduce costs. Pessimists point out that the aggressive mergers come at a time when Catholic bishops are exerting and expanding their authority. “I see it as a conscious effort to achieve through the private market what they failed to achieve through the courts or at the ballot box,” says Monica Harrington, a San Juan Island resident who’s spent the last year fighting a Catholic hospital in her town.

And not just the private market, but the private market that gets to stick its claws in whether you live or die. This is a fucking outrage.

And they deny choice in dying, too, and in some counties in Western Washington they already control the whole ballgame.

It is an outrage.

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

A photo, taken from an up-skirt angle

Feb 24th, 2013 4:52 pm | By

Michael Nugent has a post about a joke posted on Facebook and illustrated with a sexist photo of a woman.

It’s an old joke that I first heard decades ago, although then it was about a drunk husband trying to avoid waking his wife. So why were the genders in this old joke reversed?

It might have been to enable the poster to illustrate the joke with a random photo, taken from an up-skirt angle, of an unconscious woman lying face down on the floor wearing a very short skirt.

The joke with the photo is a lot more popular than the joke without the photo. It also attracted a good many skeevy comments, which Nugent includes. A very few of them:

  • I would of kicked the crap out of her
  • I would of hit it!
  • She made it home with her panties on
  • She’s a hoe. I’d dump her!!! Plain and simple
  • I’d love to wake up with her on my living room floor…
  • Looks like its one of them” hunny I’m help yourself poses haaahaaa
  • An found a used codom in side of her

Yet the men posting the comments seem to be not specially chosen from a warehouse labeled Sexist Men Supply.

I assume that most of these men do not consider themselves to be sexist. I assume that they would not talk in this way to their own children about this photograph. I assume that they would dislike the comments of others if the photograph was of their mother, partner, wife or daughter.

So why do they feel comfortable publishing these comments on a forum which their own mothers, partners, wives and daughters might read, and which other women are certainly reading?

Why indeed? This is something I wonder a lot. Why are so many people – including some women – so cheerful about this kind of thing? Why doesn’t it bother them? Why are they so happy to talk about women in ways that are degrading and boiling with contempt and disgust?

Because most men do not face the same kind of sexual abuse as most women do, most men have no idea how harmful comments like this can be, and how much more harmful is the cumulative impact of constantly reading comments like this on multiple websites.

And, Nugent goes on to say, it is necessary to resist, to speak out, to make it stop.

The more of us that publicly challenge these sexist comments, the more likely they are to subside. We may not in the short term influence hardcore sexists, but we can immediately help people who do not even think about the sexism of their comments to reconsider what they are saying and its impact on others.

Michelle and Erik and Kenneth and Gaylene and Dan’s comments above are great examples of how to do this. We don’t have to get into an angry exchange. We can just point out that the comment is harmful, and explain why. And the more frequently that more of us do this, the more comfortable other people will feel doing so also.

I do it very frequently indeed, to the point of boredom or nausea for everyone who reads me, but we have to do something.



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

Libel reform? What libel reform?

Feb 24th, 2013 4:23 pm | By

From Nick Cohen I learn that Labour has shafted the libel reform bill.

The results of the cross-party consensus were not as liberal as I and my friends in the free speech movement wanted. But politics is compromise. The parties agreed on legislation that would have stopped London being “a town called sue” – the global capital of libel tourism – and would have made the British a little bit freer to speak and write. That was good enough for me.

But it went wrong.

Earlier this month and at the last minute, Labour peers in the House of Lords, led by David Puttnam and Charles Falconer, a barrister who has rarely exerted himself to defend our freedoms, spatchcocked proposals from a Leveson inquiry, which did not even consider libel reform, into the libel reform bill. They knew Cameron would drop the bill rather than accept their wholesale rewrites. It’s not just that he did not want to implement all of Leveson. Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had a deal on libel reform and Labour had broken it.

No matter. Labour carried on. It wanted judges to award punitive damages if a writer or publisher had “not first sought advice from a recognised independent regulatory board before publication”.

In other words, writers must submit their work to a quango of censors or face enormous fines. This is pre-publication censorship, the favoured tool of dictators the world over. John Milton argued against it in Areopagitica, the first great defence of free speech in the English language. By the end of last week, Labour was scrambling to abandon its position. I doubt shame at breaking with the best values of the English radical tradition forced it to retreat. Someone must have told Falconer and Puttnam that the European Court of Human Rights had specifically ruled against prior restraint in 2011 and what the peers were proposing was, on the face of it, unlawful.

Are you kidding? Punitive damages unless writers and publishers got permssion from a regulatory board first? Are they out of their minds?

However, Labour is still insisting on a clause that says a newspaper outside its quango will face punitive damages in court “even if it had been successful” in fighting and winning a case. This strikes many legal authorities as a breach of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act that protects free speech and Article 6 that protects a fair trial. The detail, horrendous though it is, matters less to me than Labour’s willingness to destroy libel reform. Be in no doubt that it exists. Lord Falconer and Harriet Harman’s “people” told me they would rather see reform die than back down.

If it dies, the bill’s proposed ban on corporations, following the example of McDonald’s, suing individual activists will die with it. If it dies, the proposed limits on the libel tourism racket that have allowed Russian, Ukrainian and Saudi billionaires, Icelandic bankers and African dictators to punish their critics in London will die with it. If it dies, the new public interest defence for contested speech, which is essential for bloggers and small publishers as well as investigative journalists, will die with it. If it dies, the planned defence of “honest opinion” that would have allowed the Simon Singhs of the future to criticise alternative health quacks without risking a £500,000 bill will die with it.

It’s horrifying.


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

Guest post: on the value in philosophical training

Feb 24th, 2013 11:36 am | By

Guest post by Landon from the Churchland on morality and science thread.

@alqpr: I share the concerns of those who object to the weight you seem to attach to the authority of so-called “experts” in moral philosophy rather than just looking at the quality of the arguments.

To quote Ophelia, “Those? Who?”

In any case, I cannot find a single instance of Ophelia (or myself, for that matter) leaning on the expertise of an individual as a surety that the conclusions are good, rather than as a heuristic device for finding better arguments. In short, do not mistake “Experts are more likely to have good arguments” for “this is a good argument (solely) because it was forwarded by an expert.” Ophelia and I have both said something like the former, but neither of us have said anything like the latter.

But wrt the training issue, I have to add that in my opinion Harris appears even more naive than Shermer, and Harris does at least have a BA in philosophy and according to Wikipedia he IS a “philosopher”

A BA doesn’t make you a philosopher. It indicates that you might be qualified to train as one. See my post at #11 – this has been dealt with already.

If I am proposing a “new” solution for an old problem I would be well advised to ask a philosopher to assess its novelty and point out any weaknesses. But If I see an error in someone else’s argument I don’t need an expert to tell me whether it’s really an error.

I am glad, at least, that you see the value in philosophical training. Likewise, I don’t dispute that you NEED not be a philosopher to see an obvious error in an argument. However, many arguments offered by philosophers have been cleansed of OBVIOUS errors, so if the argument is at all competently formed, it’s going to take someone who has a good degree of philosophical competence to spot what errors persist. And, in my experience in teaching, undergrads frequently misunderstand the force of certain objections and misconstrue the consequences of various errors they detect. They also, usually due to lack of understanding of the nuances of certain terms of art, believe they see objections where none actually exist, which they would know if they had a greater familiarity with the supporting literature and thus a better understanding of the significance of the author’s use of THIS term or THAT term, rather than some other, in the context of the argument. So it’s not always true that you don’t need an expert to tell you if the error you (think you) see is really an error.


I would be most grateful if either Ophelia or Landon (or anyone else!) could point me to even one example of an interesting (philosophical) problem that has been solved by an “expert” and explained in terms that Richard Feynman would find simple enough to justify a claim of real “expert” understanding.

I won’t address Feynman’s criteria except to note that Feynman, while a brilliant scientist, had a only very shaky grasp of what philosophy was about and repeatedly displayed ignorance regarding the methods, aims, and value of philosophy. In any case, the question is poorly formed. Philosophy does not “solve” problems in the scientific sense because philosophical problems are, by definition, beyond the realm of empirical investigation – that is, we can never “point to” some set of evidence that “proves” some particular answer is the correct one. Indeed, to the extent that a problem is amenable to such solutions, it migrates OUT of philosophy’s domain.

Philosophy problems are only ever more or less “settled,” because, lacking the ability to investigate the issues empirically, we (philosophers) try to define terms very clearly and then make the best arguments we can for various possible answers to the problems. We critique these arguments, and take the most plausible, least ontologically-promiscuous valid argument to be the best one. As “most plausible” is somewhat subjective, there will never be perfect agreement on any proposed solution, but that’s to be expected when we cannot appeal to the stern, austere realm of physical evidence for a final ruling. That said, there is a large degree of consensus on a number of issues, all of which are philosophical problems that have been at various points throughout history hotly contested by professional philosophers, and all of which were largely settled through the work of people who were essentially, for their respective eras, professional philosophers. A small sampling of these issues includes:

1) Materialism is the proper paradigm for understanding the operation of the mind (a refutation of dualism).

2) Religious belief is not rationally required (and there is only a rear-guard action maintaining that it is rationally permissible).

3) The correct paradigm for analyzing ethical problems is some variant of consequentialism that includes a concept of rights.

4) Democracy with universal adult suffrage is not only rational and ethically justifiable, it is probably the only rational and ethically justifiable form of government.

This doesn’t even mention the important work in logic that has made modern computer science possible.

The problem you may be running into, which trips up a lot of people, is that by the time a non-philosopher runs into a philosophical issue that has reached consensus, it has already seeped into the culture and looks a lot like “common sense.” It can be hard to remember that there was a time that universal suffrage was not taken for granted as the “right” way to do things, when democracy itself was a mad, experimental proposal. Non-philosophers tend to point to the people who campaigned to bring those ideas to realization in the social and political systems, but those people were almost always persuaded of the rightness of their cause by reading the philosophers who championed those ideas in the first place. The founders of the United States brought forth constitutional democracy into this world, but they did so after becoming convinced by Locke and Rousseau of the correctness of such an enterprise. If you’re having trouble figuring out what effect philosophy has had on the world, look at a map depicting the number of governments founded on the principle of constitutional democracy throughout history.

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

Moral decisions

Feb 24th, 2013 10:43 am | By

Eric has a post about what various things he writes about have to do with assisted dying.

Well, to put it briefly, as I say in the blog’s banner, I argue for the right-to-die, and against the religious obstruction of that right, so anything which impinges on the issue, even indirectly, is of importance to me. That’s why disputing scientism seems to me to be important, because it implicitly defines away all other forms of inquiry which do not satisfy the canonical rules of scientific inquiry and decision. And that includes morality.

Jon Jermey raises an interesting question in response to Eric.

Eric, once again I think the ball is in your court: what, exactly, is the difference between a moral decision and a plain old ordinary decision? I’ve been asking this of various people for several years now, and I still haven’t got a plausible answer. Here are some of the suggestions that have been put up, and why they don’t work:

“A moral decision is one that affects other people.” — but all my decisions affect other people in some way. “A moral decision potentially has great consequences for many people.” — so does the decision to build a sewerage works or an opera house, but these are not normally regarded as moral decisions. And this definition would rule out pretty much all of my decisions straight away. “A moral decision is when you do what I want you to against your own inclinations” — comment superfluous, surely. “A moral decision is when you do what God says.” — ditto.

My personal favourite at the moment is — “A moral decision is one that makes you feel guilty, no matter what you choose.” — but I don’t think it has the rigour to stand up in debate.

So again, just as you need to define ‘science’ in order to explain what you’re objecting to about it, I think you have to tell us what a ‘moral decision’ is in order to explain how these differ from the plain old everyday decisions we can make effectively with reason and logic.

I think J.J. dismisses the first answer much too quickly. I think it’s basically right. He too is right that all our decisions affect other people in some way, but many of those decisions affect other people (and/or animals and/or the environment as a whole) in ways too tiny to measure or take into consideration. If I decide to turn north instead of south while taking a walk, the ways that decision affects people or the environment are too small to detect. If on the other hand I decide not to walk to the grocery store but to drive [never mind for the moment that I don't have a car], that makes a detectable difference, and is worth taking into consideration.

Morality is about taking externals into account – other people; animals; the ecosystem we all depend on. It rests on the awareness that the self is not all there is. It’s a corrective to pure selfishness. Many purely “selfish” decisions don’t count as morally selfish because they aren’t zero sum. If I go out for a walk to admire the sunset, nobody is worse off because I do, even though I’m the only one who enjoys that particular walk. If I build a viewing tower that blocks other people’s view of the sunset, those people are worse off. (And the decision to build a sewerage works or an opera house should of course be normally regarded as moral as well as other things. Of course it should.)

Yes? No?


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