Kicking People Out: It Isn’t About Punishment, It’s About Pragmatism

Imagine you’re a scientist. You work in a lab with some dangerous chemical shit. Shit that will eat your face. It’s generally a safe environment, though. Protocols are followed, the people who work there know what they’re dealing with and how to contain it safely. They know what will react badly with it and what won’t. Chemical A is dangerous to mix with Chemical B, to expose to ultraviolet light, whatever.

One day, walking through the lab, you see a fellow lab worker deliberately mixing Chemicals A and B right under an ultraviolet light.

You sound an alarm, get everyone out of the room, and turn to them.

“Why the fuck are you trying to get us all killed?”

“I wasn’t trying to get anyone killed, I was running an experiment!”

“You never mix those! Ever! ALL OF OUR FACES COULD HAVE BEEN EATEN!”

“Dude, calm down. Just tell me why I shouldn’t mix them. I’m sure I’ll get it. Won’t happen again.”

“No. If you don’t know that stuff already, you’re a danger to yourself and to everyone in this lab. You’re fired. Get out.”

Labmate didn’t mean to put everyone’s faces at risk, but if a situation like that happened, I still wouldn’t let them back in the lab. It wouldn’t matter if the cause of the mistake was malice or ignorance, because no matter which one it was, there would be no reason to think something similar wouldn’t happen again. It wouldn’t matter if Labmate’s feelings were hurt. It wouldn’t matter if all of their friends worked there. It wouldn’t matter if they thought I was overreacting. What would matter is that if they stayed, people’s safety would be at risk.

Kicking this person out isn’t about punishing them, it’s about pragmatism. It’s about harm reduction. Functionally, when the concern is safety, it doesn’t matter whether that safety is put at risk because of malice or ignorance. Whether a person meant to hurt people or just didn’t know how to act in a way that wouldn’t hurt people, the end result is the same: that person’s presence put others at risk. Labmate intentionally mixed dangerous chemicals: people get hurt. Labmate mixed the chemicals because he didn’t know any better: people get hurt.

Functionally, the impact of sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from malice (in this example, horrible chemical face-eating), and as such, functionally, it should be treated the same way. Functionally, in many cases, both malice and ignorance are signs that you cannot be relied on not to hurt people. Sometimes the end result is so similar that it’s difficult to tell which one it is in the first place. It doesn’t matter, though, because the outcome is just as destructive in either case.

This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone who sexually assaulted someone else meant to or not, I still want them kicked out of the scene.

This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone has poor social skills or not, if they regularly sexually harass people, unknowingly or not, I don’t want them at my conferences.

This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone is really a good person and doesn’t mean to be racist, sexist, classist, etc, I still want them kicked out of safe spaces.

If you lack the knowledge or skills to recognize when you’re crossing a line, you have my sympathy and empathy. That lack of perception can be difficult to deal with. If you think the fact that it’s not intentional makes the harm you do irrelevant, though, reread the beginning of this post, and tell me you think Labmate should be allowed to continue handling dangerous substances. Tell me the fact that their feelings are hurt is more important than the safety of the people around them.

If someone doesn’t realize that they are making other people uncomfortable, acting inappropriately, insulting, minimizing, degrading others, violating boundaries, etc—that doesn’t mean they aren’t still doing real damage. It may not be intentional, it may be that they’re a product of an environment that failed to prepare them for the environment they find themselves in. That sucks. Be that as it may, the damage done is no less real on account of it. It is no less real and it is no less destructive.

Sexual assault hurts people and it hurts communities. Sexual harassment hurts people and it hurts communities. Discrimination and unchecked privilege hurt people and hurt communities. That damage matters. Full stop.

If people tell you to leave a public space, online or offline, because your presence is causing harm, and you don’t understand why, the correct move is to leave, educate yourself, and come back when you understand what happened well enough to reliably not cause harm in the future. If your presence presents a danger to your community, and they tell you to leave, and you make the conversation about how they shouldn’t kick you out because of your hurt feelings, then you are using emotional blackmail to justify putting people in your community at risk. You are demonstrating how right they are to kick you out in the first place. Full stop.

This post dedicated to everyone who has ever knowingly or unknowingly abused, harassed, discriminated against, minimized the problems of, or otherwise done damage to the communities they participate in and then, when called on it, tried to make the resulting conversation about them and their hurt feelings.

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4 comments on “Kicking People Out: It Isn’t About Punishment, It’s About Pragmatism

  1. This comment illustrates the point of the post reasonably well, so I figured I’d actually approve it and take a stab at it. We’re going to go through to all of the statements that look wrong or based on false premises or too ambiguous to allow them to be addressed or indistinguishable from trolling in general.

    “a place that claims to be about discussion and education on social issues.”

    There are designated places for discussion and designated places for debate. These are different. Discussion is “How can we work on these issues?”, debate is “Are these issues important/do these issues even warrant a movement?” If you were in a place for the former but engaging in the latter, you were justifiably kicked out.

    “I literally was curious as to why we needed an Atheism +. It wasn’t a rhetorical question meant to attack, it’s just that the evidence so far provided in blogs had been articles to feminist conjecture, and angry assaults from internet users.”

    This is good if it’s true, but you have to realize that saying this does literally nothing to distinguish you from a troll. Every troll I have debated with on this topic has started out representing themselves as “just curious” or similar. For a while I tended to assume they were all being truthful, but the overwhelming majority of the people who started out “just curious” devolved very quickly into obvious trolling. It was from one of these “just curious” people that I first saw someone break out the lovely “when are you going to start burning dissenters in ovens?” comment.

    “I hadn’t seen a convention embracing sexism at the administrative level, or any evidence of it.”

    Point me to anyone saying this. There is a monumental difference between explicitly embracing sexism (which no one has been accused of), and acting in ways that enable sexism to continue (which some people have been accused of). This part of your comment is indistinguishable from deliberate misrepresentation of the reality of the situation (i.e. it’s either due to malice, ignorance, or, I suppose, terribly bad wording).

    “Yes there is a problem on the internet of idiots who can make 100 accounts saying sexist things to women who speak their mind. Is that reflective of the atheist population and is it harmful? I say no, because the evidence is not there that an Atheist convention harbors sexual harassment.”

    You say, “there is a problem”, and then “is it harmful? I say no”. This seems inherently contradictory, though it’s possible you just worded it badly. The bit about “harboring” sexual harassment—it’s impossible to know what you actually mean there, and leaves it to me to wonder if you understand the distinction I made in my response to the previous bit.

    ” the evidence is not there that an Atheist convention harbors sexual harassment.”

    Straw man. See above about the difference between actively supporting sexism and acting or talking in ways that enable it. If you don’t understand this difference, or you don’t understand why the latter is actively harmful, then you are EXACTLY the type of person I was talking about in this post (i.e. sufficiently ignorant to be potentially harmful).

    “I have yet to have been presented with a significant study that proves “male privilege” exists, or that the patriarchal society has led to “Schroedinger’s Rapist” to being an actuality in all women.”

    The way you phrase this makes it incredibly difficult to understand what, specifically, you’re asking for in terms of evidence. That’s either because it’s badly worded or because you don’t understand the concepts you’re talking about well enough to form a coherent question about them, or because it’s tactically ambiguous (again we have bad wording, ignorance, or malice). Either way, you are asking 101-level questions, and “101’ing” should be considered a fair characterization of your behavior. You do not belong in discussions that are being had above a 101 level. If I wanted to learn Physics, I wouldn’t go to a 400-level class and ask what the evidence was for Newtonian mechanics (which is a 101-level concept). It’s not the place for it, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

    “My objection is solely that anyone who doesn’t agree with Atheism+ is seen as an “outsider” and grouped along with all the others as enemies in their cause.”

    Being as there are people who have explicitly decided not to identify with the atheism plus label who haven’t gotten any flak for it at all, even people who have explicitly said they have issues with it (see Natalie Reed), I’m going to go with “uh, no” on this one (again, can be chalked up to either malice or ignorance).

    “That same kind of banning was put upon many others who came in good faith looking for some answers. “

    If they’re asking 101-level questions in a non-101-level space, asking in good faith isn’t good enough. Also, given the discussions I’ve seen, I’m highly skeptical of your claim to know that others were arguing in good faith. This is significantly harder to tell online than your statement implies.

    “If what you believe is true, why should you be afraid to deal with dissent? This is a common argument us Atheists have brought upon the religious I am sure many times, each of us. Why can’t you use that same argument on yourself and grow?”

    We aren’t afraid to deal with dissent. There are spaces setup to deal with actual debate. There are other spaces that have NOT been setup for debate. If you attempt to debate in the spaces setup for other things, you’ll be justifiably banned.

    Here’s one of the comments I left on this topic in the subreddit, to further explain it:

    “There are places for basic science education. Science labs are not among them, and shouldn’t be. Science lab workers should not be required to justify their work to anyone who asks because no science will get done if that is the case and because there are other places specifically dedicated to answering those questions.
    There are places for 101 atheism plus education (see the atheism plus educational forum), but this subreddit is an environment for DOING activism, not justifying it, and activism can’t get done if it’s getting interrupted every five seconds because we have to explain to another newbie why it’s important.
    There have been places deliberately setup to have the discussions you are talking about, and this isn’t one of them.”

    I’m not sure if this analogy will help, as I’m not sure you understand the concept, but at present, you are essentially Schrodinger’s Troll. I can’t be sure you’re a troll, I can’t be sure you’re not a troll, but the low level of comprehension demonstrated in your comment and the fact that you present your position in a way almost identical to most of the people I’ve argued with that later demonstrated they were definitely trolls puts you on thin ice with respect to being blocked on this blog. It also illustrates the point of the post very well: I have no idea if all of the bits cited above are so off-base because you genuinely don’t understand (ignorance), or because you’re deliberately misrepresenting the facts (malice). Either way, though, the end result is the same: it’s an exhausting conversation that includes a number of accusations that I don’t agree with, that I’ve seen many times before, and that I and many other people who choose to identify with the label of atheism plus are tired of addressing as though they’re new, interesting, special snowflake additions to the discussion, instead of as evidence that the questioner hasn’t done their homework.

    I highly recommend, if you are genuinely interested in learning about why this stuff is important, to go to one of the spaces designated for such questions. The education section of the atheism plus subreddit, for example. The Pharyngula wiki link roundup is also a good place to read up on it in general.

    Fair warning: If you post another comment with as many off-base characterizations of the issues under discussion as this one, I probably won’t approve it, as illustrating the principles discussed in this post by approving a comment that demonstrates them is something that’s only really going to be useful once.

  2. Your analogy of the scenario is laughably fallacious. You are comparing a place of employment with dangerous chemicals, and a place that claims to be about discussion and education on social issues. When I was banned, I was labelled “JAQ’ing off”, “concern troll”, and “101’ing”.

    I literally was curious as to why we needed an Atheism +. It wasn’t a rhetorical question meant to attack, it’s just that the evidence so far provided in blogs had been articles to feminist conjecture, and angry assaults from internet users. I hadn’t seen a convention embracing sexism at the administrative level, or any evidence of it. I hadn’t seen any prominent atheist embracing sexism convincedly. I even admitted that I have my own biases, but that I am an Evidentialist, and I hold the evidence above all else when deciding ethics and morals.

    Yes there is a problem on the internet of idiots who can make 100 accounts saying sexist things to women who speak their mind. Is that reflective of the atheist population and is it harmful? I say no, because the evidence is not there that an Atheist convention harbors sexual harassment. If it was, we could only criticize that SPECIFIC administration. This idea that the culture of atheism is wrought with sexual harassment is absolving the burden on the individual to be corrected of their wrongs, and blaming it on group think. I do believe human beings to be individuals, with all sorts of rational and irrational thoughts, and each one should be separately weeded out with the use of debate using the evidence for your claims, not vacuous philosophical conjecture written by a supposed feminist authority figure.

    I hope you can see my point as an individual, and not start labeling me as this or that. The thing that “concerns” me about A+ is not that they are feminists. I have had large arguments with individuals about gender equality in sports, using evidence, and have completely destroyed another individual’s argument that women don’t get discriminated against in the work place (he was obviously wrong). I defend this stuff all the time. But the only reason why, is there is evidence. For the former I talked about the anthropological study on supposed matriarchal societies and the potential of female physical competitiveness in those societies. For the latter, there are a wealth of studies that show bias against gender in regards to hiring and pay. That is why I hold those opinions.

    I have yet to have been presented with a significant study that proves “male privilege” exists, or that the patriarchal society has led to “Schroedinger’s Rapist” to being an actuality in all women. If it only demonstrably effects some, then maybe another factor is influencing it. Maybe the news media culture of fear. We don’t know what it could be.

    My objection is solely that anyone who doesn’t agree with Atheism+ is seen as an “outsider” and grouped along with all the others as enemies in their cause. I don’t necessarily disagree, and was still banned on a premonition of my motives that could not be conclusively linked. That same kind of banning was put upon many others who came in good faith looking for some answers. Labels applied without significant reason, etc… From both forums (the official and the subreddit). If what you believe is true, why should you be afraid to deal with dissent? This is a common argument us Atheists have brought upon the religious I am sure many times, each of us. Why can’t you use that same argument on yourself and grow?

  3. Yay you posted it!

    I of course found a missing word, so to speak. I’ll all-caps where I think something’s missing: “If you think the fact that it’s not intentional MEANS THAT it makes the harm you do irrelevant, though, reread the beginning of this post, and tell me you think Idiot Labmate should be allowed to continue handling dangerous substances.”

    Love,
    your faithful proofreader, who didn’t see the just-before-posting version. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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