Skepticon

I find myself of two minds about Skepticon this year. On the one hand, it was a mixed bag emotionally and full of a fair amount of stress. On the other hand, I met awesome people and it was awesome and I really want to go again.

I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings, but ultimately, they translate pretty well to a sense of, “These are my people; I have to see them again”.

It’s the little moments that add up. Getting to chat with Stephanie Zvan. Meeting Miriam of BruteReason. Talking with Jesse Galef.

More generally, I just love the language everyone uses at Skepticon. Everyone seems to care deeply about the accuracy of their words. Strong statements are couched in verbal error bars, conjectures are labeled as such, care is taken to use appropriate language, speakers remind audiences not to take them at their word. Nothing is holy, with the possible exception of citations. Phrases like “evidence-based sex” are uttered. Poly is talked about openly and skeptically. Diversity speakers are applauded when they criticize the skeptic movement.

I feel like these are my people. I feel like going back.

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Bias, Data Compression, and One Reason Why Arguing with Religious People is So Very Frustrating

I think that developing biases is really about data compression. You have a limited amount of space to store information so rather than save every single detail of why you think X is awesome and Y is terrible, you add points to a single awesome/terrible scale in your brain every time new details come up for X or Y. As a result, you have more brainspace for other things, and the same basic information in compact form. It’s efficient, but makes backtracing to the origin your biases more difficult.

This idea has implications for the frustrating arguments I have with religious people so often. If you spend a decent portion of your time arguing with religious people or watching or reading arguments with religious people, you (or at least I) tend to wonder a lot why they aren’t more often more impacted by your arguments. They’re rarely able to provide anything remotely substantial to counter the arguments against religion, yet this doesn’t seem to concern them as much as it seems like it should. I find myself at times confronted with people who will say something like, “I think you make some interesting points”, when they’ve been unable to counter any of a number of points that, to me, appear to demonstrate that their religion is both logically impossible and evidentially baseless. It’s as though I heard that someone I thought was innocent was seen leaving the scene of a crime, caught on video committing the crime, and left fingerprint and DNA evidence at the scene, and my response was, “Well, those are some fascinating points, but I still think he’s innocent.”

Conversations like this seem a lot more reasonable given the data compression model of biases:

Bias is about compressing data. Just as with data compression in computers, there is often significant data loss associated with mental data compression. The majority of the original data that contributed to a particular bias is lost with time. The information that contributed to the generation of the bias isn’t necessarily useful—if the bias itself is the important thing, the information on why the bias exists is just taking up space. If you need to escape from a predator, you need data on two things: you need to know that you should escape, and you need to know how to escape. If knowing why you need to escape is using up memory that you could be using on how to escape, then knowing why is worse than useless—it’s making it more challenging for you to actually escape.

If the above is true, then a strong bias held for a long period of time is, ideally, representative of the accumulation of an enormous amount of supporting data. However, a person may not have access to that supporting data—it may have been lost in compression. This creates a situation where it would be potentially adaptive for a person to trust that their biases are based on an enormous amount of real data even if they cannot produce any real valid data to back them up. Which is why you might find yourself unable to convince someone of your position even where facts and logic seem to be uniformly on your side.

When you’re arguing with a religious person and they keep throwing books and web sites and blogs at you and telling you to read them, they’re making an assumption based on how bias works. They make an assumption that because they have a strong bias, there was at some point solid data that led to the creation of that bias. If they cannot produce that data, it must be a failure to locate the data, rather than that the data doesn’t exist in the first place.

Food for thought.

For Those Who Don’t Understand Schrodinger’s Rapist

It continually astounds me how many people don’t seem to understand the basics of the Schrodinger’s Rapist analogy. Being that my blog has been getting some traffic from people who don’t get it, I thought I’d take a stab at elucidating the idea. If you haven’t read the original post, go there now, and I’ll wait here while you finish.

Okay, good. Now, the Not-Really-Getting-It responses to this analogy are generally along the lines of:

  • You think all men are rapists! (incorrect)
  • You think all men are potential rapists! (correct or incorrect, depending on what you actually mean)

The “all men are potential rapists” bit is not saying what many people seem to think. It’s not saying that you in particular, Dear Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, might rape someone. It’s saying that an unknown person in public that you have no information about could potentially be a rapist. That is what you, Dear Reader, are when you approach a stranger in a public place. To that stranger, you’re an unknown. You know yourself out to ten significant figures, but a random stranger can guess out to one or two at best.

Imagine a friend asks you to play a game of Russian roulette. Serious Russian roulette, with a six-shooter and a single bullet. If you say no because you don’t want to die, is it appropriate for your friend to object by arguing, “What, do you think all of the chambers are loaded?” Of course not, because that’s not the point, is it? The point is that one of them is loaded, so each turn of the game you play could potentially kill you.

In this Russian roulette scenario, you, Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, are an empty bullet chamber. But not all of the chambers are empty, and on a given turn, the people playing the game have no idea whether the chamber that’s lined up to fire is you or one with a bullet in it. Until the gun is fired, Schrodinger’s Bullet. This is analogous to the type of situation Schrodinger’s Rapist is describing.

If you still think the most reasonable response to Schrodinger’s Rapist is that it’s ridiculous because not all men are rapists, I have made a list of other arguments you ought to be comfortable making, to illustrate the point.

  1. You’re about to have sex with a new partner. That partner asks you to get tested for STIs beforehand. You respond with, “What the hell? Not everyone has an STI, you know!”
  2. You get bitten by a wild animal. Your friend suggests you get rabies shots just to be safe. You respond with, “What the fuck? Not all wild animals have rabies, you know!”
  3. Your friend advises you to wear a seatbelt. You respond with, “What the shit? It’s not like you’re going to get in a crash every time you drive, you know!”
  4. You want to have sex with a new partner, they want birth control to be used. You respond with, “Seriously, do you think women get pregnant every time they have sex?!”
  5. Your friend suggests you get a flu shot. You respond with, “Jesus, do you think everyone gets the flu every year?!”

Does it make sense now? Schrodinger’s Rapist is not an argument of personal accusation, it’s an argument of statistics and precautionary measures. It’s an argument from trying to make the safest decision while not having all of the information that would be ideal to have. Not everyone has an STI, but a new partner could potentially have an STI, which is why people get tested. Not every wild animal has rabies, but the one that bit you is potentially a carrier of rabies, and it’s better safe than dead. Not every car trip ends in a crash, but every car trip could potentially end in a crash, which is why you wear a seatbelt. Not everyone gets the flu every season, but there is a chance that you could get it, so you get inoculated.

If everyone could see a random stranger on the street and just know, “Oh, that one’s not a rapist”, then the whole analogy would break down. The same way Russian roulette wouldn’t make sense if you could look inside the gun before pulling the trigger. Obviously in the real world, though, we don’t magically know who’s who. A random stranger cannot magically tell that you, Dear Reader, are not dangerous, the same as they cannot tell which chamber has the bullet, which animals have rabies, which car trip will end in a crash, etc, etc. In short, the salient point is that just because you know you’re not a rapist doesn’t mean everyone else does*.

Now, this blogger entreats you, implores you, can we at least move on to criticisms that actually demonstrate an understanding of what they’re arguing against? They don’t even have to be good ones, I promise, I just want them to be a nonzero level of relevant.

For a discussion of the claim that Schrödinger’s Rapist doesn’t make sense because most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows,  or because rape isn’t common enough to justify this type of risk assessment, see the follow-up to this post, For Those Who Don’t Understand Schrodinger’s Rapist, Part Two.

For those who think that the racism analogy is appropriate: You should read these links (Shuffling feet: a black man’s view on Schroedinger’s Rapist, Being Cautious of Men Versus Being Cautious of Blacksrelevant Reddit conversation), and then you should acquaint yourselves with the relevant statistics: crime statistics by racesexual assault statistics by Stop Street Harassment, sexual assault research by Hollaback.


* Which we hopefully all picked up back in the concrete-operational stage, if Piaget is to be believed, yes?


Sidenote: Many comments on this page have not been approved. For the curious, there is a commenting page that explains why some comments do not get approved.

Sidenote 2:  Another excellent analogy: Consider the Bank.

I’d Rather Ten Guilty Trolls Go Unbanned

Matt Dillahunty was recently involved in an incident on the atheism plus forums. The pertinent details with respect to this post are that he posted with an account not associated with his name asking why another poster had been banned. His post was rejected by a moderator who said that they thought it was concern-trolly, off-topic, and TLDR. Matt disputes these details, but unfortunately due to the way the forum was working at the time, the post is unrecoverable, and that discussion is a nonstarter (this issue has since been fixed—unapproved posts are no longer automatically deleted). In the aftermath of the incident, Matt has been talking about the need to give new commenters the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are not trolly. I want to talk about why this reasoning is flawed, and why blanket benefit of the doubt is not possible in some situations if a movement is to be effective*.

Here are the facts we need:

  1. There is a cost to dealing with trolls. It takes time and energy. Sometimes a lot of time and energy.
  2. A movement has a finite amount of energy.
  3. It is not always trivial to distinguish trolls from the earnestly curious or concerned.
  4. More confidence that someone is or isn’t trolling can only be gained by expending more energy engaging the person, or by looking at their reputation for trollish or nontrollish behavior.
  5. There are a number of key phrases and ways of addressing issues that longtime participants of atheism plus rightly identify as red flags that increase the likelihood that someone is a troll (think how you feel when you see someone say something like, “I’m not a racist/homophobe/sexist, but…” in other contexts—are you more or less likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt after they open with that? Crommunist recently wrote a wonderful post about this type of thing that I highly recommend).
  6. The atheism plus movement is under heavy attack by trolls.

So you have a movement. It’s a movement under attack. You have a finite amount of energy, and an imperfect means of determining who is going to be costly to engage with. You have determined that there are a few red flags you can look for that correlate with trolly behavior (though they aren’t perfect). They unfortunately overlap with what some well-intentioned commenters will also say:

A troll trying to look genuinely concerned to avoid banning will say things like: “I’m just curious”, “I have some concerns”, “I just think you’re overreacting”, etc.

A person who is genuinely concerned will say things like: “I’m just curious”, “I have some concerns”, “I just think you’re overreacting”, etc.

If a forum is being constantly bombarded by trolls, there is a very real chance that the majority of people using flag phrases are trolls. Differentiating between the well-intentioned ones and the trolls is not easy. Mistakes will be made.

The default benefit of the doubt approach costs a lot of energy. It’s all well and good to say, “I’d rather ten guilty trolls go free than one honest questioner be dismissed as trolling”, if you’re not the one dealing with the constant attacks. When you are, however, you come to realize that there simply isn’t the time or energy to give everyone who throws out a few of the early warning signs of being a troll the benefit of the doubt. If this movement had to do that, there would be no one left in it.

Nearly everyone I have had an argument with about atheism plus has started out sounding reasonable. One of those, early in the /r/atheismplus subreddit’s existence, later devolved into asking us when we were going to start shoving our dissenters into ovens. You know, like Hitler did. This commenter is an extreme example, but the general pattern of going from apparently reasonable to batshit is not. This person opened the conversation in a way that was apparently innocuous. They were curious, trying to understand, had some concerns. They were given the benefit of the doubt. They did not deserve it.

Matt, you may have opened your conversations on the forums in ways that seemed innocuous to you. You were not given the benefit of the doubt, even though extending  the benefit of the doubt would have paid off in your case. That is unfortunate, but in context, it’s unavoidable. We cannot both avoid expending huge amounts of energy battling trolls and avoid ever banning (or not approving posts by) false positives.

Saying we should always give new posters the benefit of the doubt is making the perfect the enemy of the good. When the majority of trolls open conversations in characteristic ways, people who open conversations in those ways may not be given the benefit of the doubt. Good people may not be given the benefit of the doubt. That sucks, but it’s the only way to keep the movement from being driven into the ground by trolls, especially when you’re talking about posting in spaces designated as safe.

It sucks that an environment has been created where your concerns couldn’t be assumed legitimate, Matt, but your proposed solution is unworkable given the context of the situation. The problem is not atheism plussers failing to give blanket benefit of the doubt, the problem is a volume of trolls that makes giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone an impossible solution. If we literally had to give every new commenter the benefit of the doubt, the trolls would win. The way they’ve driven Jen and others off of the internet, they’d succeed with the rest of us as well.

You could, if you wanted, try to make the argument that the level of trolling is not bad enough to warrant the current balance of benefit-of-the-doubt that is given to new commenters. Making the argument that we should always extend the benefit of the doubt to new commenters, however, regardless of context, is a context-blind solution to an extremely context-dependent situation.


* There is a lot of conversation going on around this whole incident, and I want to state explicitly that this post is only intended to address the “Give new people the benefit of the doubt” part of the discussion. I have complicated opinions about other aspects of this discussion. They will be in their own post if I decide I want to weigh in on them.

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.

Why I’m Thankful That I Care About Consent

There’s been a lot of talk about consent, harassment, rape culture, and related topics in the various communities I am a part of lately. The kink community, the atheist community, and the gaming community in particular. A lot of time has been spent explaining the bad shit that happens when people aren’t careful about consent. That’s good; we need to talk about that, and I’m glad those conversations are happening. I want to take a moment to talk about the other side, though: I want to talk about the ways that being careful about consent can make life better. In particular, I want to talk about how it’s made life better for me.

First, a little history.

I think it’s fair to say I’ve always been pretty good about consent. Early in my college career, I attended a presentation about consent by the author of May I Kiss You. In his intro, he ranted for a while about how people don’t ask to kiss other people, and how great it would be if everyone did. I remember sitting in the audience grinning, my ego inflating like a balloon, because I had to that day (and still to this) never had a first kiss with anyone that I didn’t ask permission for*. There are few ego boosts more effective than someone giving a presentation that can be summed up with, “Why can’t everyone be more like this guy?” and “this guy” is you.

Early on in my dating life, it wasn’t that I was consent-minded so much as that I had absolutely no idea how to tell if someone was interested in me. The first girl I had a relationship with? I didn’t realize she liked me until about two months after our first kiss. That is how clueless I was.

I remember that kiss. I remember trying to communicate that I wanted to kiss her just with looks. I remember it not working. I remember honestly having no idea if she wanted to or not, I remember asking, and I remember the yes and what followed.

I also remember thinking that knowing when and how to make a move was something I ought to be able to do. That not intuitively knowing that was a weakness. I remember thinking about just making a move and being terrified that I would find out she wasn’t actually interested.

However, over the years I’ve more and more come to think of move-making as something that I don’t particularly want to do. I have gotten better at gauging people’s interest in me (though I still get both false positives and false negatives), and I’ve been in situations where, in retrospect, I probably could have made a move rather than asking and it would’ve been okay. However, in getting to the point where my intuition may be finely tuned enough to read when it’s okay to make a move, I’ve found I’m less and less interested in it. Because asking permission—and being careful about consent in general—has given me some of my favorite memories. I’m thankful that I’ve always been careful about consent. I’m thankful for all of the good things that have come out of it.

I’m thankful that I can be confident that the people I’ve kissed, fooled around with, had BDSM scenes with, and fucked actually wanted to do those things with me, because I gave them clear opportunities to say no.

I’m thankful for the friend of mine from college who told me that because of me she felt comfortable being assertive about her boundaries with the other men in her life.

I’m thankful that there are people that I can cuddle or** scene with or kiss or fuck even though they may not be interested in a certain subset of those things, because I asked about their boundaries in a specific enough way. Even though what I was initially interested in may have been off limits, they were comfortable enough with me to say, “but I totally am interested in doing this other thing with you.”

I’m thankful for all of the people over the years who have thanked me for being careful with their boundaries. That that has happened as often as it has makes me feel like a million dollars.

I’m thankful for the friend who, just recently, when I asked them what they found attractive about me, included the care I take with consent in the answer.

I’m thankful that because I make a habit of asking what people want and don’t want to do, I’ve learned new things about what people like and don’t like, and I’m better in bed for it.

I’m thankful that because I make a habit of asking what people want and don’t want to do, I’ve been able to add things people mentioned to my sexual repertoire. Things that wouldn’t be in it otherwise.

I’m thankful that because I make a habit of asking what people want and don’t want to do, I’ve learned that a lot of the things I like done to me are things many other people like to do, and that a lot of the things I like to do are things other people like done to them.

I’m thankful that because we were able to comfortably talk about it, I learned that two of my exes who are now in monogamous relationships are still comfortable with my being casually flirty with them. I fucking love flirting.

I’m thankful that because I’m able to respectfully take no for an answer, there are people who have felt comfortable letting me know when, sometime later, they decided they’d changed their minds to “yes” on something.

I’m thankful that I can still have comfortable, often even playfully flirty relationships with friends I’m attracted to who don’t reciprocate my interest, because I respect their boundaries.

I’m thankful that having deliberate conversations about people’s boundaries has made it easier for me to draw my own boundaries.

Perhaps most of all, I’m thankful that in being someone who cares about consent, I’ve been able to surround myself with other people who care about it, too. People who respect my boundaries, and who can articulate where their boundaries are as well. People who know how to say, “No, I don’t want that”, but also, “but maybe we could try this”, and also, “Oh God, please do that!” People who want me to be able to say all of those things as well. People who value me all the more because I’m careful about consent and who I can feel the more comfortable around because they do, too.

This is not an exhaustive list; it’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list. So if you think that being careful about consent is all boring conversations and “ruining the moment” and shit, take a good look. Those ‘Consent is sexy!’ posters are no joke. Take it from me: caring about consent often has the effect of making some very sexy things happen. Even when it doesn’t, lots of other awesome things can come from it, too.

Something to keep in mind.

Sidenote: None of this is to say that I’m perfect about consent. There are times I’ve fucked up as well. Like building good relationships, being consent-minded isn’t a destination you get to, it’s something you continuously work on. I’m just saying working on it has a lot of rewards.

*Unless they asked me, that is.

**exclusive ors

Pro-Diversity vs. Proactive About Diversity

So I guess I lied a little. Still working on those other posts. But for now, one more thing on atheism plus:

It seems like a lot of people are objecting to atheism+ on the grounds that it implies that people who are not part of atheism+ are not for diversity, etc. I’d like to clear this up. The difference that atheism+ makes isn’t about being pro-diversity, it’s about being proactive about diversity. It’s about the idea that just acknowledging that diversity is an issue isn’t enough, you have to actively work to make your movement diverse and inclusive. The point isn’t that most atheists are against diversity, it’s that most don’t seem to get that it takes conscious, deliberate effort to make it happen.

It’s the difference between, “Yeah, this mess should definitely get cleaned up”, and, “Let’s get some people together and clean this mess up”. Some people outside of atheism+ are taking, “Let’s get together and clean this up”, as us saying, “Well, obviously you don’t want this mess to be cleaned up at all!”

So here’s the thing, people saying that: I don’t think you’re against cleaning up the mess, I just don’t think most of you are doing anything about it. So we’re forming a group to do something about it. No one is saying you’re against stuff being clean, it’s just that no cleaning is actually getting done, and we’d like to start doing some.

Forming a group of people who are all interested in actually doing some cleaning is not an insult. It’s not saying you don’t think things should be cleaned up, it’s just saying we’re going to do some cleaning rather than sitting around and talking about how cleaning is good.

If someone formed an atheist knitting club would you respond with, “Why do you think I’m against knitting?!”

Then when someone forms a club to get some work done on diversity, don’t respond with, “Why do you think I’m against diversity?!”

It’s equally absurd.

Maybe this is a change in language we need, though, atheism plussers, to get the point across. What do you think? Less “pro-diversity”, more “pro-active about diversity”?

Oh, Reddit

I’ve made my bloggy-blog a Reddit account for the purpose of participating in the atheism+ discussions on there (incidentally: should atheism+ be capitalized or lowercase? I have no idea; help!), and my irony meter has been taking some serious strain.

For any theists who have spent time on reddit, you’re most likely familiar with the “/r/atheism is so annoying” posts and threads that tend to pop up. You get a lot of “For fuck’s sake, /r/atheism, not all Christians are like that!”, “Blindly following Dawkins”, “People don’t hate you because you’re an atheist, it’s because you’re an asshole”, etc, etc.

I’ve tended to side with /r/atheism when these scuffles pop up, because in most cases, when people respond to posts with, “Not all Christians are like that!” no one has actually said that they are all like that. Also because it’s patently obvious that we don’t all blindly follow Dawkins—we just happen to agree with him on a lot of the things that a lot of other people disagree with him about.

Yet, as I suppose I should’ve been able to predict, the new/r/atheismplus is getting a perfect reflection of the above types of criticisms from members of /r/atheism itself. Replace “Christians” with “atheists”, and Dawkins with PZ, or Jen, or Greta, etc, etc.

I think it may be break from the internet time for me. Actually, no, it’s not. It’s Participate In A-Plus-Scribe time. Less being frustrated, more doing awesome helpful things!

“Rude Bitch” vs. Gay Panic: A Demonstrative (and Stupefying) Contrast

Let’s play the illustrating sexual culture double-standards game, shall we?

On the one hand, we have the idea that telling a stranger that randomly hitting on women is not okay makes you a bitch. On the other, we have the gay panic defense: the idea that if a man hits on another man, the subject may attempt to defend themselves against murder charges in a court of law by arguing that the come-on induced temporary homicidal insanity.

Think about that. If it’s a woman getting hit on by a man, she shouldn’t have a problem with it. If it’s a man being hit on by a man, temporary homicidal insanity.

I imagine most people who’ve heard of the gay panic defense think it’s absurd, and that’s good. It doesn’t make the comparison irrelevant. Do you think for one second that any woman would ever even consider using a straight equivalent of the gay panic defense to defend against murder charges? Do you think for one second that any man who had sexually assaulted another man would garner sympathy by talking about how the victim was wearing a hot outfit?

Can we stop talking about how “there aren’t any double-standards” around this shit, now?

Just a Theory Plus (the requisite Atheism Plus post)

So, Atheism+. All for it.

I think everything that should need to be said about it in terms of justifying its existence and distinguishing it from straight humanism has already been said. So I’m going to do something I enjoy doing instead, and draw some analogies. If you consider yourself a good person, but don’t understand the importance of atheism+, continue reading.

You know how annoying it is when yet another person trots out the “It’s just a theory” bullshit with respect to evolution? You know how enraging it can be when people talk about irreducible complexity like it hasn’t been disproven a billion fucking times? Or shit like the banana argument, first cause, etc, etc?

The Ray Comforts, William Lane Craigs, Ken Hams, etc, of the world, by all appearances, trot those things out knowing full well that they’re bullshit. However, there are plenty of earnest, curious people, who simply don’t understand why those arguments don’t hold water. They don’t have the education necessary, or they’ve had the bad arguments relentlessly drilled into them by others, or they haven’t been able to take the time to take a truly critical look.

If you spend much time in the atheist community, you’re the opposite of those people. You get a continuous education into the principles of evolution, the arguments against deities, etc, by default. You have to know those things to explain why theist arguments don’t work. Atheist bloggers explain and re-explain the fallacious reasoning that goes into Point Refuted a Thousand Times (PRATT) arguments all the time. That’s why they’re not called Point Refuted A Couple Of Times Last Wednesday arguments. I can’t count the number of things I’ve read on the Kalaam Cosmological “Argument”, or how atheists can be moral without a deity, or why we shouldn’t just keep our atheism to ourselves. I know a number of different ways to address the problems with each. I’ve known a number of them for years.

There’s a divide. Atheists on side A, and on side B, people who buy into PRATT arguments because they genuinely don’t get it—they don’t have this constant stream of education on it that we have. I have sympathy for the earnestly questioning people who just haven’t gotten there yet.

Thing is, that doesn’t change the fact that no matter who I hear it from, the “just a theory” argument pisses me the fuck off. Because what rock have you been hiding under that you don’t realize what’s wrong with that? How can you live in a modern-day society with access to all of the world’s information at the click of a button and still be so woefully, astoundingly ignorant? Are you really so oblivious about the utter inanity of your points and the magnitude of the case against them?

There’s an inferential distance gap large enough that, very often, both sides can utterly fail to understand how the other side can possibly think what they think.

The point of all this is the following: if you’re a straight white cis male and you don’t get why the issues atheism+ brings up are worth talking about, there is a good chance you are, in this equation, on side B (with the earnestly ignorant theists). There is a good chance that you lack sufficient knowledge and experience to form a useful opinion on the subject. You may even lack sufficient contextual knowledge to realize that you lack sufficient knowledge and experience to form a useful opinion on the subject. We’ve all known religious people like this. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine that on some issues we, ourselves, might be in the same spot.

With respect to feminism (to pick the example I’m most familiar with), when you say things like, “Why do you hate men?”, “All men aren’t rapists!”, “Really, YOU’RE the one being sexist.”, “I never see discrimination!”, and, of course, “Why are you feminists so angry?”

Please, please, please take a step back, and think about how you feel when you, as an atheist, hear things like, “Why do you hate God?”, “Not all believers act like that!”, “YOU’RE the ones taking away OUR religious freedoms!”, “I never see discrimination!“, and, of course, “Why are you atheists so angry?

Think long and hard. Consider the fact that there are good, honest, curious theists who will say the above things.

Consider that you may be a good honest, curious person, and be just as hugely wrong as they are. Consider that if you’re arguing with a member of a marginalized group about the nature of their marginalization, you are the equivalent of a theist arguing with an atheist about theirs. You are the feminism equivalent of “It’s just a theory”.

Understand that when feminists get aggravated with you, it’s often for exactly the same reasons you get aggravated at people who spout, “Just a theory”, as though it’s a bulletproof takedown of the last 150 years of biology.

The solution to your problem is the same as the solution for “Just a theory” theists: educate yourself. I promise if you do, eventually you’ll be able to pick apart your own misconceptions just like so many of us have learned to do with religion.