Wednesday wackiness

Jul 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So it's the middle of the week (a short week here in the US) and it looks like it's time for a little chat.  First, go read Sister Isis on the Dawkins's idiocy.  In case you weren't keeping up, the basic story is that Skepchick Rebecca Watson (of whose work  I am a bit of a fan) openly wrote about an uncomfortable incident in the greater context of sexism in the skeptical community.  Famed biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins responded to her in a horridly sexist, belittling, "get back to the kitchen and STFU" manner.  And now there seems to be a bit of an imbroglio in the skeptical movement.  Thank God; it's about time.

We all may suffer from the incredulity of privilege.  Just as we don't often notice the air we breathe until it's taken from us, we don't often notice the "isms" that we swim in.  Patriarchy, like racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, undergirds everything in our society (some would argue that patriarchy is actually the basis for all other -isms).  It is so much a part of our society that even outrageous acts can seem normal.  When you step back and look objectively (skeptically, if you will) at gender and society, you can see that ours is a culture that views women as sex objects first and people last, in which sexual violence is a normative cultural tool used to control women.  To you who are unfamiliar with this view, it helps to read a bit from those who are more familiar with it.

Feminism is both radical and obvious.  It overturns many of our basic assumptions, assumptions that are so much a part of our society that we see them as fundamental truths.  But it's really, really obvious once the veil is lifted.  And for those of us who benefit from cultural assumptions such as patriarchy and homophobia, we may have little occasion to notice something is wrong.  But we are drunk on it, deceived into complacency.  Those who value justice because it is right, who value human rights for all humans because it is simply right, we must all speak out whenever we can.

In my work I am confronted daily by sexual violence, financial entrapment in relationships, and other horrors, horrors people are easily blinded to and blinded by.  We blame the victim either because it may benefit us to eschew change, or because we are relieved it wasn't us---this time.

One of my hesitations about being labelled a fervent skeptic is that the community is often skeptical of everything except its own beliefs.  It houses the same sexism, racism, and other societal norms as any other community---skepticism, which at its best can help to remedy these, is simply not immune to human foibles.  It is not enough to promote skeptical thinking, a value of empiricism over faith.  We must use these tools to root out some of the most irrational "memes" we encounter.  Which is more harmful, Creationism or racism?  Which is less rational?  Why must we fight one and not the other?

Brava, Rebecca.  Hopefully, the skeptical community isn't dominated by porn-surfing nerds ignorant of the real world.  We all should apply our thinking skills to everyday problems, not just our pet inconveniences.

35 responses so far

  • The first thing I thought about when reading Dawkins's comment was the reaction you got to the book burning post; this argument is "Don't You Have More Important Issues To Think About?" at Derailing for Dummies.

  • WhizBANG says:

    And yet, if elevator d00d had followed her back to her room and raped her, it would somehow be her fault.

  • Dianne says:

    Thank you for this post. I always come away from incidents like this feeling that even the most "open-minded", "rational" of people will never accept me as a full person because of my gender. Counter examples, of men truly willing to think about their privilege and deal with the consequences of privilege are extremely welcome.

  • History Punk says:

    I suspect this "Elevator Guy" is off somewhere trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong (again) as he self-medicates to cope with the stress and anxiety induced by manifestations of his undiagnosed ADHD-I or ADHD-Combined type striking again, leaving him bewildered, confused, and humiliated, this time on a global stage. I suspect he's reliving particularly poignant prior incidents of humiliation while simultaneously recalling years, possibly decades, of being taunted for being "stupid," "dumb," "weird" (just to list a few of the more common insults) due to actions brought on by a lack of social cues and the informal and formal instruction that teaches most people how to behave in public.

    Hopefully, whatever he self-medicates on is legal because the dead-end job he works due to his untreated condition drug tests regularity. If he's lucky, his self-medication routine will also distract him from the fact he will never afford insurance and thus will never get diagnosed, treated, or even learn he's disabled not stupid.

  • A. Marina Fournier says:

    Darn you, PALMD! I spent too many hours wandering through Rebecca Watson's, Dr. Isis's, and a few quick steps into some other tangential folks' blogsites!

    Darned good reading though.

  • Thanks Pal.

    History Punk: it's not just Elevator Guy, or even dozens of Elevator Guys, it's a subculture that implicitly and often explicitly marginalizes women. Elevator Guy/Dawkins is just one more example in an exhausting list of wealthy, famous, well-employed prominent skeptical men telling women to STFU.

  • Thank you, Pal. I think doctors, especially family and emergency room doctors, are probably more exposed to the fall-out from the toxic gender relations in our supposedly liberated society than anyone else. Maybe Richard Dawkins would benefit from a clinical rotation - even a weekend - in a North London ICU.

  • Marvin says:

    I am kind of glad that I am skipping TAM this year. The tension would be thick. Dawkins was there last year too as the key note speaker, but hardly spoke and was a bit stuffy when asked questions. Everyone gave him the pass and lined up for a book signing. Different atmosphere this year. I will be interested in hearing the stories.

    Changed my handle. I just don't want to hold onto "The Blind Watchmaker" for now. A silly alien trying to understand humans seems more appropriate.

    • PalMD says:

      Aren't you being a little bit paranoid?

    • Peter E Dant says:

      Marvin isn't an alien - he's a robot.

    • Chris says:

      Nah, it is going to be fun!

      I was actually planning on skipping Dawkin's presentation already, I am just not that interested in his latest book. There are just so many other speakers and activities that are not even related who will be there. I am thinking of going to a thrift store and getting a doll and toy hammer to do Tong Ren therapy.

      There is also a group of us who have been rolling our eyes the whole time: women who have been doing skepticism longer than some of the skepchicks have been alive. It is going to be great meeting all of them.

  • Peter E Dant says:

    In act, as PalMD implies, a paranoid android!

  • GregFromCanada says:

    I paid some attention to this little row and found that most of the sexism and misogyny was in the responses too, rather than the actions of either Skepchick or Elevator Guy. I think that whatever amount of those -isms occurred in the actual event EG was likely unaware of his abuse of privilege. I'm pretty sure he will not be as unaware in the future. We should all in fact be grateful in a way that the issue, regardless of what side people fell on, has given us the opportunity to examine ourselves and how we act in the future.

    I am a bit disappointed however, to read you're (PalMD's) use of misnomer "Islamophobia", which I and probably others find to be quite offensive. The irony that one would use this irrational word while discussing the inherent privilege of males in our society would be funny if it wasn't so misguided and dangerous.

    No one says: "Repulicophobia" when describing a persons distaste and opposition to the vision, values, and actions of the Republican Party. So why do we say "Islamophobia" for the same type of thing?
    Islam is a religion, an idea, a set of values and edicts that can be judged on the basis of those ideas, values, and acts. To find the religion of Islam to be abhorrent and counter to the enlightened values of Western civilization is not a "phobia". To despise the inherent violence, misogyny, and intolerance of Islam is not an irrational fear. To be fearful of the loss of freedoms and the constant threats of violence such as we see in Europe and the rest of the world, and have experienced the States is not a phobia, but a rational fear of the growing influence and demands of special privilege of Islam in the West.

    I do not doubt that there are many people who despise Islam and are also bigoted SOBs that hate Muslims, or more accurately anyone who they think is a Muslim (whatever they might think that might be) but these are separate things and the use of the word "Islamophobia" is used to silence rational opposition to the values of and actions taken in the name of Islam. The offensiveness of this label, whether intended or not by those who use it, is the accusation of bigotry because some abhor, fear, and speak against the growing influence of and institutionalized violence, misogyny, and intolerance of the religion Islam.

    I urge you to reconsider the use of this word Islamophobia which paints those who would rather not live in a world ruled by Sharia and stand by while millions continue to be oppressed by Islam; and hateful, irrational bigots with the same brush. It does all of us a disservice.

    • PalMD says:

      I urge you to reconsider the use of this word Islamophobia which paints those who would rather not live in a world ruled by Sharia and stand by while millions continue to be oppressed by Islam; and hateful, irrational bigots with the same brush. It does all of us a disservice.

      This would be which logical fallacy? False dichotomy? Yeah, that's it. Islamophobia generally refers to an irrational hatred and fear of people who are Muslim. It is possible to abhor various precepts of various religions without being a hate-filled ass who paints innocents with a too-broad brush.

      Any time someone uses the phrase "special privileges" my prick radar pricks up.

    • GregFromCanada says:

      I took some time to read up on the No True Scotsman fallacy and I'm sorry but I do not see where it applies to my argument. I may have missed something though and I would be grateful if you would show me how it applies so that I can rectify it.

      Thank you.

  • Seasoned with Personal Incredulity.

    • GregFromCanada says:

      As I did with No True Scotsman I re-read the Personal Incredulity fallacy and do not see where it applies. In fact I don't think it's even possible until you reach the rebuttal stage of an argument. Again if you could point out where this fallacy applies I would appreciate it.

      Thank you.

  • GregFromCanada says:

    Fair enough, I can see the fallacy you point out. It was not intentional in the sense that I was trying to argue deceptively, I just missed it and without reservation retract that bit.

    "Islamophobia generally refers to an irrational hatred and fear of people who are Muslim."

    If the word was Muslimophobia then I would agree that it is appropriate, but Islamophobia means something else. It says an irrational fear of Islam. You can say this is merely a semantic argument but I disagree because each whatever-a-phobia means something specific and that you cannot have a phobia against an idea like a religion or political view, at least not by any definition I've seen. The argument that because people accept the wrong definition makes it okay isn't compelling, because when the distinction is lost then you can say the word means practically anything. It's also important because the word is often used by Imams, political leaders, and those that promote or accept extremism to misrepresent those that speak out against the religion but are not the hate-filled asses you're referring too. It's used to end discussion and criticism by equating bigotry with rational argument.

    As far as the comment "Special Privileges", I understand your aversion to it. To clarify what I meant by it are things like blasphemy laws, attacks on free expression while demanding free expression, accusations of intolerance while defending the right to be intolerant to the point of murder, and the demands that Sharia be used rather than the law of the land, which has been a running battle in the UK and was briefly suggested and soundly rejected here in Canada.

    I don't see the No True Scotsman or the Personal Incredulity, but if you point it out I will attempt to rectify it.

  • GregFromCanada says:

    Sorry, just one more thing. I really do not mind having my arguments refuted, I do believe that my argument is sound, but I accept the possibility that it is not and know where it is weak is invaluable.

    Thanks for taking the the time.

  • Just got this email from one of my fellow She Thought writers. Apparently it's continuing to be a major issue leading up to TAM:

    "So, does anyone know if the JREF is taking any action regarding the guy who made the sexual assault joke threat on twitter toward Rebecca Watson?" SIGH.....

    You know, skeptics should be the one group of people who is most equipped to self-evaluate and self-correct. Isn't that the first tenant of critical thinking?

  • Greg, what it looked like to me was you said, "I'm not a true Islamophobe, because I'm not bigoted against all swarthy people." Then you went on to make a bunch of unsupported assertions that read to me like bigotry against Islam. I was (perhaps mis-) applying personal incredulity to what appeared to be your lack of understanding that Islam can be anything other than as you describe. All of which derails from the OP...

    • GregFromCanada says:

      Thank you for your response. It was not my intention to go this far OT, it is obvious that my initial argument was lacking, but like many conversations digression is inevitable, my apologies.

      In a way what you have just said is what I was trying to point out happens when one uses the word Islamophobia. To be clear there is no other definition of Islam, and this is not incredulity to say so. Islam is the religion, Muslims are the people who follow Islam. Christianity is the religion, Christians are followers of Christianity.

      Islam is not a person it is an idea, a claim, a set of values and edicts, and you cannot be bigoted of an idea. There are without a doubt many people who are bigoted of Muslims, which is reprehensible, but there are no bigots of Islam. If you disagree with this assertion then please explain why.

      I do not hate Muslims as a people, though I do have strong disagreements with individuals who are Muslim. I despise Islam, I despise most of it's values and edicts and how it is used to justify the oppression of women, incite violence against unbelievers and apostates, and the danger that it poses to nearly all of the social advances like equality and freedom of expression that we often take for granted. This is not bigotry, I am not Islamophobic. Yet because some people cannot discern or intentionally obfuscate the difference between despising an idea and hating a people you were ready to label me as a bigot. This is in part because the word Islamophobia does not make this distinction. This is the argument I am trying to make against the use of this word.

      You are correct that I am making assertions as to the values and edicts of Islam, I think that this is unavoidable in the context of a forum discussion. There just isn't the space or the time to go into each individual claim in depth and still have a conversation, however I can point you in right direction to lend weight to those claims I've made. Read the Quran and the Hadith, especially the surahs about wives and women, but also about unbelievers, apostates and Jehad. Search for articles on the UN and the OIC on blasphemy laws and freedom of expression. Do a search on stoning. There are more things but this is a good start.

      I feel strongly about this because words have value and can be used to hurt, misrepresent and demonize people unfairly, Islamophobia is one of those words. In the end I am only asking you to reconsider the use of the word, and trying to give reasons why it's inappropriate.

      • PalMD says:

        That all sounds a bit pedantic. I will tell you as a minority, I don't really see a difference between someone who hates Jews and someone who only hates our Jewiness.

        • GregFromCanada says:

          You may be right, it would not be the first time I was described as such. I appreciate your forum and that you've taken the time to read my argument, and I hope consider what I've said. I don't think I can expand much on what I've already written, so I'll leave you with this little gem:


          Take care

      • Dianne says:

        Read the Quran and the Hadith, especially the surahs about wives and women, but also about unbelievers, apostates and Jehad.

        I've read parts of the Quran (though not, I must admit, either the whole thing or in the original language). It's got some pretty foul bits in it. I've also read parts of the Christian Bible and the Torah (same caveats as above for both). They've got their foul bits too. But all of the above also have passages that can lead people to do good. I'm convinced that there are no good or bad religions, that any religion, including atheism, can be used as a tool of oppression and any can be used as a tool for good. I trust no religion with power over people and, IMHO, the main problem with modern day Islam is that it has too much political power.

        Five hundred or so years ago, two of my ancestors fled Spain because one of them was Islamic*, the other Christian and the Christian church was not cool with them being married to each other. They ran to the Americas-a continent that Europeans had only found out about a few decades earlier and was being described as full of savages and mosquitoes- because their fear of being killed by Christians was so great. Others were not lucky enough to get out in time and many people died because of Christian fanaticism. Does that make Christianity an innately horrible religion?

        And if it does, what does that mean for the way one should treat individual Christians? How does the oppression of women in many Islamic countries** relate to how one should treat individual Muslims? Because I'm quite sure you'll never confront "Islam" but only people who are of the Islamic faith in your life.

        In the end, it's easy for me to feel cynical when "western" men talk about their great concern for Islamic women. Because that concern always seems to come up when they want to start a war with Iraq or justify the bad behavior of a non-Islamic man as being "not so bad". Of course, this is not to say that non-Islamic men shouldn't protest mistreatment of women in Islamic countries, but be aware of the context and the impression you may be making. And don't proposition women in elevators, at 4 am or any other time.

        *Actually, it's not totally clear whether she was Islamic or Jewish: in the time and place, those in power, i.e. Christians, didn't bother with those subtle distinctions much. The exact date of migration is less than certain as well.

        **Though I believe that several predominantly Islamic countries have had women heads of state, something that the "enlightened" US has so far failed to do.

        • GregFromCanada says:

          Thank you Diane, if you know which city(s) in Spain your ancestors fled it may give you further clues a to their religion. Sevilla for example was the largest center of Jews in Spain, and I believe still is. If you have not travelled there I recommend it

          I do not give a pass on the evils of the New Testament or the Torah, only that in this context we do not have words such as Christianityaphobia or Judaismaphobia that are used in the ways Islamaphobia is. There is quite the litany of of misogyny, homophobia, and such as well as political extremism in these religions (I was raised Jewish but am no longer a believer), it has been tempered though by the Enlightenment, the rise of secularism and freedom of expression, and the equal rights gains of the last 3-400 years. There is still a ways to go though as the OT of this thread shows, but we are in a stage of less obvious inequalities such as unconscious male privilege and the dogged persistence of gender rolls, plus we are also dealing with a resurgence of religious fundamentalism and it's political gains. The difference is one of scale and depth. In the West near equality and freedom of expression is the baseline and it is seen that these fundamentalist are attempting to take away rights, where as in the Islamic world these are rights yet to be gained.

          How does one fight an idea without fighting a people? This is an excellent question that is difficult to answer. There will always be moments where we may blur the line, I don't know that it is possible to not do so. But we do have tools that limit that potential blur, we can express our distaste of those idea without personal attacks, we can support change in laws where it will increase equality and free expression and protect against changes that reduce it without vilifying individuals. To fight the little battles such as seeming pedantic rants on the use of words, to increase clarity of position and argument. Most of all we can exercise the freedoms we have consistently and boldly in the face of criticism or even danger. This is a long fight, one of degrees and tiny gains that will eventually add up.

          I can also understand your feelings of cynicism of "Western" men and their talk about their great concern for Islamic women. It's not without some foundation, but can you see the cynicism in your own comment? The fight is not for Islamic women, but for equality across the board. Islam and other religions and cultural practices are the obstacles, the goal is equality and freedom of expression. If you find that some men are expressing their support for women in a way that you find cynical, then add your voice and encourage others to do the same to shift the balance.

          I do not know why some Islamic countries have had women heads of state. I suspect that it's a verity of reasons, some cultural some pragmatic.

          And yes I agree, if you're going to make a proposition, do it before she reaches the elevator. Then, if she says no, politely wait for the next one.

          • GregFromCanada says:

            But all of the above also have passages that can lead people to do good. I'm convinced that there are no good or bad religions, that any religion, including atheism, can be used as a tool of oppression and any can be used as a tool for good.

            Sorry I forgot to address this bit, but I will be brief. In fact I will just give you this quote by Steven Weinberg as it sums up my feeling on the matter:

            “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

          • Dianne says:

            Greg, thanks for replying. You've made a lot of interesting points, but I wanted to address just one at the moment: The question isn't really so much why some Islamic countries have had female leaders as why the US (and, as far as I know, Canada) have not had one. The US came close in the last election and not to detract from Obama's charisma and ability, but I find it hard to believe that sexism had nothing to do with the final outcome. For similar reasons, I'm not really all that concerned about Bachmann: I think the Republicans will use her obvious flakiness as an excuse for not nominating her, but the reason will be sexism. But enough local politics.

            in this context we do not have words such as Christianityaphobia or Judaismaphobia that are used in the ways Islamaphobia is

            What about "antisemitism"? And even if we don't, so what? We don't have a word "heterophobia" to go with "homophobia" but few people would argue that the reason for this is that heterosexual people are so innately enlightened that we don't need the word. Or do I misunderstand your argument?

          • GregFromCanada says:

            What about "antisemitism"? And even if we don't, so what? We don't have a word "heterophobia" to go with "homophobia" but few people would argue that the reason for this is that heterosexual people are so innately enlightened that we don't need the word. Or do I misunderstand your argument?

            There is a Judeophobia an irrational fear of Jews and a Heterophobia, which is a fear of the opposite sex. Separate words Antisemitism and Misandry are the hatred. Neither Judeophobia or Antisemitism are defined as a fear or hatred of the religion, just of the people or race. Only Islamophobia has been given the definition of hatred and fear of both Islam and Muslims. You will not find this definition listed on any medical sites I've checked. It does show up on Wikipedia and islamophobia(dot)org and similar sites (this site is an enlightening read BTW, where the condemnation of both rational criticism and actual bigotry is intentionally blurred).

            Again this is the core of the issue. The word Islamophobia and it's especially broad definition seems to have been created purposely to silence rational criticism of Islam by equating it with racism.

            There is a claim that it was coined by the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) with the intention to silence rational criticism of Islam and equate it with racism. But there is not a lot of corroboration and the claim is being made by someone on the far right, though it has also been picked up by quite a few left leaning blogs. Whither this claim is true or not, the word is being used this way.

          • Igor says:

            "Neither Judeophobia or Antisemitism are defined as a fear or hatred of the religion, just of the people or race."

            Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines anti-semetism as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group." If one were to claim that he or she hates Judaism rather than Jews is a meaningless distinction since that hate is inevitably directed towards the practitioners of that particular religion regardless of the extent of their religious views. As such, while constructive criticism of the Hassidim in Israel as a group that adopted an absolutist manifest destiny position while at the same time claiming a religious exemption from mandatory military service (required in part because of the additional strife caused by Hassidim and their influence) is not necessarily antisemitic, hate of all observant Jews without regard for the diversity of their beliefs is.

            Islamophobia does not, yet, have an accepted definition reported by major dictionaries. Unofficially, it is defined as hatred or fear of Muslims or Islam. Another, more detailed definition, from the 1997 document 'Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All' is widely accepted, including by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, as socio-political world view adhering to the following 8 components:

            1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
            2. Islam is seen as separate and 'other'. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
            3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
            4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'.
            5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
            6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
            7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
            8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

            Notice the 7th factor, which states that hate of Islam, which you claim is separate and distinct from hate of Muslims, is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims. In light of this, and in accord with the idea that hate of Judaism inevitably becomes hate of Jews, i.e. antisemitism, the artificial distinction between hate of Islam and hate of Muslims (perhaps to give anti-Muslim sentiment some thinly veiled legitimacy) is of little consequence in terms of affording well meaning, hard working, terrorism-rejecting Muslims protection from unnecessary harassment and discrimination.

            "Whither this claim is true or not, the word is being used this way."

            If the term is used as a knee-jerk reaction to a legitimate and sincere (rather than a pretextual) criticism of Islam then the fault lies with the people who misuse it, whether intentionally or not, and not with the the attempts to describe a real and pernicious problem of rise in discriminatory attitudes and practices against Muslims.

            Incidentally, s similar claim is often made by the critics of Israel, who allege that accusations of antisemitism are often made as a knee-jerk reaction to silence any constructive criticism of Israel's military and territorial policies. This is a complex issue borne in part out of historically justified paranoia that any superficially valid criticism of Israel and Jewish people is a pretext and an initial step towards inciting hate against Jews as a group.

  • Daniel J. Andrews says:

    From Rebecca's post--

    "Maybe they could wait for her to make the first move, just in case."

    On a lighter note, if men wait for woman to make the first move, men are going to be single for a decade or two or three. I tried that approach, and as I approached the 40-year old virgin territory, I figured I'd better change my strategy*. Within a year my strategy of making the first move paid off, and 12 years later, we're still happily ever after.

    *actually it wasn't a preplanned approach to change strategy. I was just very shy so never asked women out for coffee, but I gained confidence (and a giant ego) somewhere along the way, and so started asking women out for coffee once I realized I no longer had a reason to sit around waiting for them to ask me out.

  • Daniel J. Andrews says:

    p.s. And last survey I saw, it showed that shy men are likely not to have a girlfriend/get married while there was no statistically significant difference between shy women and outgoing women and their odds of pairing up with a partner (indicating, of course, who is still doing most of the first moves).

    --I should mention though that in that year I was being more outgoing, I was finally hit upon (twice!) by women, something that had never happened before. Guess exuding confidence makes you a more attractive target. Maybe all shy guys have to do, aside from dressing well, is just act confident even if they don't feel it???

    Re: Dawkins response. I noticed the flawed logical response to Rebecca is the same flawed response that crops up a few times in his God Delusion book, and in earlier interviews. I thought that was interesting.

  • Another Halocene Human says:

    In my work I am confronted daily by sexual violence, financial entrapment in relationships, and other horrors, horrors people are easily blinded to and blinded by. We blame the victim either because it may benefit us to eschew change, or because we are relieved it wasn't us---this time.


    The latter I see especially in people who lack the status or education to be radicalized and demand better treatment and conditions. They blame the victim while (metaphorically) crossing themselves and thanking the Lard it wasn't them this time.