Right, I’ve been pretty busy, offline, putting together stuff I’ll be writing about online, but this #FTBullies meme has been distracting me, as has a lot of the hyperbole surrounding the issue of codes of conduct, and sexual harassment policy at secular/’skeptic’ events.
Oh, and the other day’s joke – that was in reference to this ‘oh, nobody in particular’ post by Jean Kazez. I’ve had a few people ping me, to ask who it was about, and everyone thought it was someone else. Funny that. Passive aggression isn’t always the best way to communicate! (I’m glad everyone got it wrong, because I think it’s helped me make a point).
The purpose of this post, is to nail my colours to the mast. I haven’t really got involved in all the factionalism following ElevatorGate last year, and I was in a blogging hiatus during the most active parts of that controversy.
I’ll be leaving the comments thread closed on this post, as I intend to move on from the hubbub surrounding the substantive issues, behind me. If anyone really wants to object, they can go and write a blog post of their own, can’t they?
No, I don’t always come to people’s defence, and it’s a pet peeve of mine when I’m mistaken for someone’s knight in shining armour, when I’ve argued in a way that incidentally serves as a defence. In fact, I’ve had planned for some time, an ‘I will disappoint you’ post, on account of some of the private correspondence I’ve received over the years, assuming one way or the other, some kind of special loyalty on my part.
I’ll go after anyone. If I was actively writing online last year during the ‘ElevatorGate’ thing, I would have authored criticism of Dawkins (if only because I found a lot of the existing criticisms childish, and loosely argued).
Like I said, I’m generally supportive of these ‘sexual harassment’ policies being advanced by various groups in the US, and I’m keeping and eye on things to see if anything can be learned from afar. There are a lot of misconceptions about what’s happening in this respect, and no, I, like others supportive of such rules, don’t advocate puritanical atheist/secular/free thought conventions. Sex needs to be talked about at at least some of these gatherings, on account of what churches have done with it. (And nobody is seriously advocating the policing of bars, either, thankyou ThunderF00t).
If people haven’t read the house rules around here, perhaps they should. I’m not big on ‘cunt’ being used as a pejorative – firstly because of the misogynistic overtones, second, because I don’t tolerate abuse here, anyway, and third, because I think that using ‘cunt’, ‘dick’ and ‘fuck’ as negatives, implicitly demonizes sex.
So as you can imagine, I wasn’t happy to see Rebecca Watson abused with the term ‘Rebecca Twatson’, amongst a litany of other misogynistic terms, following her ‘ElevatorGate’ altercation with Richard Dawkins. If you want to pigeonhole me, perhaps this confession will help.
I don’t actually like Rebecca Watson, or PZ Myers. Mind you, I don’t hate them either.
I finally got sick of Watson before ‘ElevatorGate’ – I often find her dismissive to the point of both carelessness, and near anti-intellectualism. PZ on the other hand, I’ve only really got sick of more recently, since after the Global Atheist Convention earlier this year, after a slow, downward arc of my opinion of the man.
As I’ve suggested before, as my course of antidepressants progresses, my dislike for PZ Myers grows. Perhaps there’s a causation behind this correlation. But there’ve been incidents that have pushed this along as well.
There was a question, as to if during the ‘ElevatorGate’ mess, PZ had called Russell Blackford a liar in one of the more unpleasant comment threads. I remember on first reading, thinking charitably, that PZ was referring to ‘Mr DNA’ instead.
I remember that when the issue didn’t die, going back to re-read the comment, to find that at least the wording was ambiguous. A less charitable reading had it, in my mind, as 65:35, still being directed at ‘Mr DNA’.
Scroll down a little further on that B&W post, Mr DNA, to comment #105, where I point out the rhetorical game Blackford played in that comment you liked.
Claiming that it is the McGraw/Dawkins lynching that has raised hackles is simply a lie, a barefaced, dishonest revision of history. McGraw was not in any way lynched; Dawkins was raked over the coals, that’s for sure, but only after he made a painfully unaware comment. Most of the sturm and drang occurred over Watson’s youtube video, which you now desperately struggle to ignore in order to pretend her angry reaction was unjustified. I can’t fault people for telling you apologists for sexism, you hysterical serial exaggerators, you dishonest rationalizers to fuck off. You do realize that you can lie calmly and clearly, too, and it doesn’t make it any prettier?
(PZ Myers, 2011*)
An accusation of wilful deception is a serious. And even if ambiguity makes your true intentions unclear, you still don’t just abandon it as if it’s no longer your responsibility, leaving it to bounce its way around the Internet, doing damage as it goes. At least not without leaving yourself open to the topic re-emerging and biting you on the arse.
Unfortunately, PZ continued dismissive of Russell’s concerns, as if it were somehow untoward, or unduly obsessive of Russell to revisit the matter. I think it’d still be a good thing for PZ to revisit himself, and reconsider even after all this time – not that I expect he would.
(This idea, that if you raise the ‘McGraw lynching’, or any of a host of other issues, you must be doing it to enable sexists, that you’re just ‘de-railing’ the discussion of sexism, is patently stupid. It’s quite possible to loathe sexism, to want it discussed, and to support feminism, at the same time as holding a number of other concerns).
This episode marked a waypoint in the downward trajectory of my appraisal of PZ Myers. There have been episodes since, and episodes from before I’ve since reconsidered, but I’ve really only come to dislike PZ in the last few weeks. I was only light-heartedly jesting when I called PZ a bloviating wanker at the Global Atheist Convention.
Whatever we do, we can’t determine people’s guilt in any given case, from our general opinion of them (I rather doubt I’d like this Tony Ryan fellow myself). And you can’t be blithe about accusing someone of calling someone else a ‘cunt’, without risking also implying that calling someone a ‘cunt’ is something itself to be blithe about. If the practice is serious, then so is the accusation.
Despite PZ’s deflection, Tony Ryan wasn’t just some person wanting to be un-blocked; he was a person with a genuine complaint. But instead of take the matter seriously, PZ took the time to write a post that was misleading about the guy’s intents (so don’t bother telling me PZ didn’t have the time!)
I’d be interested to read what any of the authors over at SkepticLawyer would have to say about the matter.
Okay… so I came to this post, pointing out that I generally support some of the things FTB Bloggers have been know to advocate. Then I ripped into PZ Myers. I don’t like being pigeonholed, so I do hope this makes things harder for you.
At any rate, as much as I do find the mess surrounding the more sensible discussion depressing (in the clinical sense), I’ll persist.
Before someone like Jeremy Stangroom can point to this post, and my depression, and say something like ‘#bullies cost lives, see!’, I’d just like to point out that I find Jeremy Stangroom a very depressing man. Here’s a guy, who’d support an argument, any argument, seemingly no matter how bad, just to get at Ophelia Benson.
And even if he lent his name to a genuine criticism, to get at her, I think it’d only be coincidental that he’d picked a good one. Little doubt he’d exaggerate it beyond the pale as well. (Pity the cause he choses to run with).
I’d hoped for better from Paula Kirby as well, than a dubious, and ultimately self-contradictory, faux-polite rant about ‘Feminazis’ and ‘Femistasis’. It has ‘grudge’ written all over it. And yes, I know that amongst other things, someone from the FTB side of things called Paula a ‘gender-traitor’ – this kind of language does bother me quite a bit (it seems too similar to ‘race-traitor’).
Still, while I didn’t expect to necessarily agree with her, I expected better. Like Mr Stangroom more generally, specifically, I found this particular expedition into blog warfare to be depressing (in the clinical sense).
I hate to be the jerk, who recovering from mental illness, diagnoses everyone else, but I have to wonder if everything is alright with Paula Kirby. (Oddly, I don’t feel similarly concerned about The Jeremiad).
I honestly can’t empathise with how Russell Blackford can be so patient with these two – at least not while they’re acting up. (Although obviously, I’m not so dissimilarly disposed when it comes to the matter of PZ Myers, and lazily-worded accusations). But then again, I’m on meds.
You know what’s almost as depressing as hearing self-pitying, socially-inept men, whining about how hard it is to enjoy sex without the evil ‘Femistasi’ making it harder? Reading the marginally less socially-inept giving advice to the former, on how to get laid. Yuck.
I mean, in theory, I’m glad these people have found other people to look down on, but too much of this discussion has gone on down just one end of the autism spectrum, and it seems to be having a run-away effect. Specifically, I want to run away when creepy people send other creepy people, penis-birds via email (don’t ask).
It had to be mentioned.
I’ve been a union organiser before, and I’ve hung around the union movement for an even greater time. I’ve quizzed experienced people on sexual harassment policy, and how to handle it. I’ve seen professionals at the helm.
So it’s (again) a little depressing to watch some of the debate, as bloggers deign to lecture other people, and make insinuations about other people’s motives when they find something to be defensive about. And it’s crucial, that while these fledgling codes of conduct are in their early stages – evolving projects by the relevant organisations’ own admissions – that people don’t become defensive about the rules.
If things go right, there’s going to be a lot of whittling away, and re-wording. This is perfectly normal, and there’s nothing inherently sinister about it.
So I can’t get behind the sentiment of this post by Greta Christina.
It’s hard not to see the cries of “How are we supposed to hug or shake hands now?” as anything but an attempt to derail a conversation about a serious problem into squabbling about minutiae. But in case there are people who are sincerely confused by this handshaking/ hugging issue, I’m going to share my observations: both from the conference, and just from, you know, life.
(Greta Christina, 2012)
Refining rules, and codes of conduct, is a lot like de-bugging computer code – you only need a few disastrous exceptions, deviations from how things work, or how things are supposed to work in most cases, to make things crash, all-too-often. Select, anecdotal observations from ‘you know, life’, simply aren’t a valid rejoinder to this.
(So now that I’m still squabbling about minutiae, and I haven’t accepted Greta’s anecdotes as mitigating, I must be successfully ‘derailed’, right?)
Codes of conduct are not in place to interfere with ordinary social interaction. And they don’t. They are in place to protect people from invasive behavior. Invasive behavior is a real problem at conferences. And some of us would like to talk about that problem, without being met with snide trivializations of it, or being derailed into a petty micro-analysis of tangential issues. Thank you.
(Greta Christina, 2012)
No, codes of conduct, when they work properly, don’t interfere with ordinary social behaviour. But when they are poorly worded, they can. And it’s often the same over-privileged jerks who rules were drafted to deal with in the first place, that are best positioned to exploit any poor wordings.
Poor wordings may look like ‘tangential’ issues at first, but when it comes to an organisation having to choose between enabling an exploit of a poor wording, or abandoning the policy (in the ad hoc name of ‘common sense’ or any other on-the-spur-of-the-moment excuse) to protect the target of the exploit.
In practice what’s the difference between having no policy, and having a policy you can selectively abandon? Nothing. You’re simply deferring to the same notions of common sense that you were using before the policy.
(Has nobody even imagined the possibility of Rebecca Watson, or anyone else a favourite target of convention-going misogynists, being the ironic recipient of a sexual harassment complaint from one of The Menz, using poor-wording in the rules as an avenue of attack? Seriously, some people…)
Codes of conduct, and sexual harassment, as anyone who’s worked in the field professionally can tell you, need to strike a balance in the wording. Common sense, or whatever other set of values you want to act upon, need to be incorporated into the code as much as possible, rather than used as a back-up excuse when the code runs into a problem. (And all this, while keeping the code as small as possible).
I don’t see that the people who dedicate their minds to this important task can be fairly maligned as ‘derailing’, or ‘petty’, by bloggers having overly-defensive fits of bloody-mindedness.
At any rate, I hope the authors of these codes of conduct are able to proceed with refinements at a suitable level of precision.
I won’t go into my thoughts on DJ Grothe, and TAM, as I’m not interested so much in the big-S ‘Skeptic movement’, and at any rate, the issue seems to be closing. Suffice to say, I’ve been following that mess, and I do have opinions (of arguments, and of some of the people making them).
I’m sure I’ve nailed my colours to the mast by this point – my mast, not a pigeonhole. Hopefully, aside from a few observations about privilege and free thought, I’ve caught-up with enough of the ‘ElevatorGate’ politicking, to be able to mentally put it behind me, and move on to other projects, like unsettling The Menz, by gnawing at some of their cherished assumptions.
That, and poetry.
* Link goes to Freethought Kampala, as the ERV blog has been forced to remove the thread, apparently due to complaints received by Nat Geo. With some of the incredibly misogynistic content in some of the threads, that’s unsurprising.