7/7/12

Bullying

I've been on the road a lot in the last month, so away from a full-size computer. For rest and relaxation, I've been on Twitter quite a bit. Hey, it's fun compressing messages! Except some things are too complicated to talk about in tiny bursts. Like Bullying.  Someone started a Twitter hashtag, #FTBullies, meant to call attention to bullying at Free Thought Blogs. If you don't define your terms carefully, the accusation seems absurd.  If you do define your terms, then...well, yes, it certainly goes on at some of these blogs (not all) and of course at many other blogs as well.

So, definition time. I think bullying in this context is not aimed primarily at inflicting suffering. The point of it is not really personal, but to quickly excise certain claims that are deemed "beyond the pale." To accelerate the excision, the usual methods of persuasion--argumentation, evidence, reasoning--are set aside, and new methods are employed.  To bully a claim off the table, you do things like:  deleting comments, editing comments, mocking, straw-manning, piling on, insulting, and generally making life unpleasant for the person who made the claim.  They then withdraw, and the claim vanishes. Wonderful.

Now, it's kind of bad calling this "bullying" because bullying is always bad, by definition.  Non-rationally driving a claim off the table is occasionally just fine.  I don't think we need to spend time talking people out of just anything they might say. Sometimes speed is of the essence. Sometimes we don't want to dignify a claim, or the person making the claim, by putting a lot of time and energy into a rational refutation.  Back when I was blogging at Talking Philosophy, I once deleted the comments of some Holocaust deniers who dropped by for "rational debate." No thanks.  I've closed threads here when I thought people were saying things not worth discussing.  But it takes a lot for me to do that.  The last time I did so someone was challenging the idea that women are raped more than men. Not. Worth. My. Time.

There's a problem, though, if a blog community sets the parameters so that the permitted claims fall within a relatively narrow range, and a very wide range of claims are subject to being bullied off the table. That's my problem with some Free Thought Blogs, some of the time, but also with lots of other blogs. That's the thing about blogs--they tend to be micro-communities in which everyone agrees about the vast majority of what's up for discussion. They do tend to try to preserve ideological conformity by using bullying techniques a lot.  I've noticed that in many different blog communities--not just atheist blogs, but also blogs dealing with animal rights and also blogs about feminism.  This is observed, documented, and made much of in Cass Sunstein's book Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide.

The only reason it's worth observing that this sometimes goes on at some Free Thought Blogs and at other atheist blogs is that it's especially ironic, given that these blogs aspire to open, reasoned debate.  When a debate topic is within the narrow parameters of permitted disagreement people are plenty open and reasonable, but otherwise ... often not.

Will I be giving examples? No. I'm not naming names either. That's a fool's errand and a waste of time.  Please keep comments on a general level. What is blog-bullying? Is it always bad? Is it just a way of quickly excising "horrid" claims, or is there more to the psychodynamics?  That's the kind of thing I'm trying to talk about here.

85 comments:

Timid Atheist said...

I usually disapprove of conversations that devolve into insulting and name calling because then the one being insulted focuses on the names and insults instead of the claims that may or may not be there to refute.

There are ways to bully on a blog that have nothing to do with deleting or editing comments and everything to do with allowing other commenters to intimidate, insult and generally demean other commenters they don't agree with. Simply by not moderating comments at all.

There are, I think, good reasons to shut down unproductive conversations. For example: Conversations that start with talking about harassment and devolve into whether there actually is a need to address go no where fast. If a commenter can't even agree that harassment is worth dealing with then there's no reason for them to comment at all.

A lot of times that's the kind of attitude that derails productive conversation. Just like with your example of someone disputing the fact that more women are raped than men. Of course men are raped. It's something everyone should be aware of and should be fighting against because all rape is terrible. But to bring it up when the conversation isn't about that derails and pulls focus from the original conversation. And adds nothing but strife and arguments that are best left argued elsewhere.

Eli Horowitz said...

"To bully a claim off the table, you do things like: deleting comments..."

Pot/kettle much...

Jean Kazez said...

Read the whole thing. I said it was sometimes justified and gave examples.

Maria Maltseva said...

When they threaten to hurt your career and then attempt to do so via Google (to link things you never said with your real life name), that goes beyond the phenomenon you described and falls into the parameters of real bullying. This has happened to me, Abbie, and even some of the other FTB bloggers. This *is* bullying, and it's bullying of the most egregious sort, because it threatens to harm your reputation and your career. Editing comments with your real name on them is shameful as well. Moreover this even happens long after you've left the blog in question. Granted, one of blogs that was the greatest offender in this regard is now gone, and the lies in the Pharyngula Wikia have been amended from one page per person with many lies, to a general blacklist to links to quote-mined quotes.

SallyStrange said...

So, it seems like since "bullying" has become a bit of a buzzword, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, it's having the effect of diluting the word, thereby doing injustice to the victims of actual bullying.

As I said in my "tiresome" twitter comments, I think the word you're looking for here is marginalization. Some views, such as Holocaust denial and rank sexism, don't deserve a fair hearing. They're already off the table; those promoting them don't get to expect a rational debate. Instead various non-debate tactics are used to "accelerate the excision," as you put it.

Some of these tactics, such as blocking, banning, and deleting comments, are passive and impersonal, and as such come nowhere close to deserving the label "bullying". I think it is a big mistake to include that sort of thing under your definition, and indeed it is exactly that sort of claim that was being mocked when the #FTBullies tag was taken over by the ridiculous.

Then there are the tactics that are aggressive and sometimes personal: you list "mocking, straw-manning, piling on, insulting, and generally making life unpleasant for the person who made the claim." I will note that "strawmanning" is simple dishonesty and really IS bullying. However, "mocking, insulting, piling on, and making life unpleasant" may or may not be bullying, depending on the context. All of those things aren't very NICE, per se, but if they stop once the person making the claim leaves the forum, I don't think it's really fair to call it bullying.

To use an example from my own experience with the anti-FTB cadre who originally coined #FTBullies: I'm a regular commenter on Pharyngula. Regular enough that I've had some pretty nasty stuff said about me. Whatever. They're nasty people; it's par for the course. The fact that they talk about me in fora where I'm not involved or commenting is kind of creepy. But then they started spreading a specific lie about me: that I approve of rape jokes. I even have an entry in the "Phawrongula" wiki to this effect: http://phawrongula.wikia.com/wiki/Strange_Sally_Strange

The full context is that there were two jokes involving rape I have found funny; both jokes mocked the attitudes of rapists and rape apologists. So, not inconsistent, but the context is elided in order to defame my character.

THAT is bullying. It's not even that severe, compared to what happened to Anita Sarkeesian.

Still, I resent having THAT sort of malicious attack on my personal character conflated with what are really attacks on toxic and harmful ideas, with the ultimate goal being to marginalize the ideas themselves, not to defame anyone's character.

So. That's why I think your article missed the mark.

And that's not even getting into your odd definition of "narrow."

SallyStrange said...

Oh yeah, I should add that I find editing comments to be dishonest also, unless the editing it noted by the blog owner and explained. The only person I know of at FTB who edited comments without making it clear is Greg Laden, who has since been booted.

Ophelia Benson said...

Back when I was blogging at Talking Philosophy, I once deleted the comments of some Holocaust deniers who dropped by for "rational debate." No thanks.

Actually no, you deleted all the comments, including mine, which had taken some time and effort and contained useful material about Richard Evans and the Irving trial and so on. (I hadn't saved copies.) I found it pretty frustrating, not to say high-handed.

Baker said...

Ophelia: complaining about the "high handed" editing/deleting comments is quite beyond the pale coming from you I'm afraid to say. Your blog is infamous for having comments that are referencing other comments that no longer exist, swathes of conversation rendered literally one-sided.
As is SallyStrange's complaint about the watering-down of the word "bullying", when terms such as rape-apologist and misogynist are hurled with abandon at anyone that dare disagree with you.

A little introspection and humility would go a long way.

Maria Maltseva said...

First, the errata in my last comment:

*one of the blogs*
*to links with quote-mined quotes*

As an addendum, I'd like to say that PZ Myers argued in favor of leaving the Wikia page about me with shameful lies intact, but some of his bloggers talked him out of it. The rules for regular Pharyngula bloggers are different -- they can change their own Wikia pages at whim. Again, this is bullying. It's threatening commenters for saying the wrong things like, in my case, maybe we should attempt reconciliation. The response to that was that I'm not really a human being, and why would they want to have anything to do with me?

As for harassment? I've yet to see one person argue for harassment, or against anti-harassment policies, except to say that they're likely to cause potential legal ramifications for conference organizers (which is true) and/or be ineffective.

Finally, why don't more women go to these conferences? Well, speaking for myself only, it's because they're afraid of meeting someone like Greg Laden or Sally Strange, above, offline. Feminism is more complex than what you read in Internet Blog 101 and discussing that is hardly the same as eliminating Holocaust deniers from the conversation.

Credible email threats like I've received ("I'll blog about you if you say such-and-such.")? Bullying. Public shaming across multiple blogs and platforms? Bullying. Calling up Abbie's university for letting free speech occur on her blog? Bullying. Attaching your name to things you never said? Defamation and bullying.

That's all I have to say.

Ophelia Benson said...

No, you're not afraid to say; no, it's not "infamous"; no, you're not "Baker" - you're some refugee from ERV-land. The only reason I have to delete a lot of comments is that a small, obsessed group of misogynists make a point of posting trolling comments on my blog overnight so that I have to delete them in a bunch in the morning.

The comments I delete do not resemble the ones I mentioned above.

Anonymous said...

Alright, let's take this one at a time:

"deleting comments,"
No. Deleting comments is not bullying, unless the deleting of the comments alters the apparent context to the degree that someone will be construed as saying something they did not. No person is entitled to speak on another person's personal forum. Being denied access to someone's personal forum is not bullying.

"editing comments,"
This may count, but only if it is not clear what is the edit and what is the original post.

"mocking,"
No. If mocking is bullying, then everyone who made fun of Grilled Cheese Sandwich Mary is a bully. Do you want to go down that road? I think not.

"straw-manning,"
Maybe. Regardless, it is a fallacy.

"piling on,"
Are you saying that if Jim says something on a blog, many people disagree with Jim, and each voices their dissenting opinion, this is bullying? This creates a situation where any unpopular position is subject to bullying simply by virtue of being unpopular. Thus, creationists would be correct when they say they are bullied by scientists as many scientists may criticize a creationist's claim. Once again, I don't think you want to go there.

"insulting,"
Maybe. However, it isn't always. For example, anti-gay activists have taken to declaring that anyone who says they are "homophobic" or "bigoted" is a bully because said individual is insulting the anti-gay activist. And it's true; "bigot" IS an insult, but it's also a descriptive term. You'd need to flesh this out.

"and generally making life unpleasant for the person who made the claim."
No. It is perfectly acceptable for me to make life unpleasant for people who make bad claims. I don't have to accept Grilled Cheese Mary, sexism, racism, or creationism because someone finds my reaction to them "unpleasant."

In short, your definition is too broad to actually apply. It catches everything, not just want you want.

Baker said...

I think your comment is indicative of the problem Ophelia: anyone who disagrees is "one of them" and grouped together for easy dismissal. (labelled misogynist etc).
Actual bullying of course, whether Laden's examples, or trying to lose people like DJ Grothe and others their jobs because of disagreement, I suppose it is useful for those bullies to corral all dissenters into a pen marked "the worst possible people" in order justify their behaviour.

Maria Maltseva said...

I hate to say this, Ophelia, but yes you're an infamous "historical revisionist." Worse than Myers or Laden have every been. The talk about your tactics goes way beyond the confines of the the ERV blog which I haven't visited for many, many months, and, moreover, I've experienced plenty of it myself. You don't get to say what you're infamous for. It's up to others to decide.

Jean Kazez said...

Sally Strange,

I think it probably makes sense to acknowledge many kinds of bullying--

Intellectual bullying--the goal is to stop X from making certain claims that are considered anathema.

Emotional bullying--the goal is to cause X to emotionally suffer

Physical bullying--the goal is to cause physical suffering

I take it we use the term "bullying" when the harm is not huge, and add other terms when it's greater. If a bully hits too hard it becomes more than bullying--it becomes assault or murder. Etc. etc.

Perhaps you don't think of intellectual bullying as real bullying just because you think emotional and physical bullying are worse. I don't that make sense, but will certainly grant that it's a worse case of bullying when what goes on is both intellectual and emotional, or both emotional and physical, or all three.

Some of what goes on at blogs is actually emotional bullying, not just intellectual bullying. The ERV-ers are emotional bullies. Greg Laden intellectually and emotionally bullied Justin Griffith.

Y'know, it's crazy that there are so many examples of bullying in the secular community. What gives?

I should add--there are other kinds of injuries that can be caused by bullies, but they tend to come under other categories. If a bully spread false rumors that's libel, if they get someone fired without good reason, it's something else again....etc.

Now I will look up the etymology of "bully" as I'm getting curious about the word itself.

Jean Kazez said...

Anonymous, Your strategy of taking the problems one at a time makes no sense. The intellectual bully (see my response to Sally Strange) uses all those strategies together to stop the victim from making a claim. It's the cumulative effort that makes it bullying. Someone who accidentally straw-man's an opponent is obviously not therefore a bully.

eristae said...

Jean Kazez said...
"Intellectual bullying--the goal is to stop X from making certain claims that are considered anathema."
Again, too broad. Scientists try all the time to get creationists to stop claiming things like "evolution is false" or "the world is 6000 years old."

Maria Maltseva said... "As for harassment? I've yet to see one person argue for harassment, or against anti-harassment policies, except to say that they're likely to cause potential legal ramifications for conference organizers (which is true) and/or be ineffective."

Thunderf00t argued against any kind of anti-harassment policy on the basis of their supposedly being unnecessary and fun killers. But that was on FTB, and I don't know if a copy of that post still exists in a place that can be found.

Ophelia Benson said...

What Maria Maltseva said about me is not true.

eristae said...

Alright, Jean Kazez, you say that any one of of those things alone is not bullying. Then how many of them are necessary for bullying? Do they all need to come from the same person, or can they come from multiple people?

We'll try this as a one person thing.

Let's say Gary is gay, and is in fact in a committed relationship. Jim declares that Gary should be arrested and thrown in jail for sodomy. Whenever he makes this comment, his comments may be deleted, edited without making it unclear what he said and what the editor said, mocked, subject to many people disagreeing with him, insulted and in general made to feel unpleasant.

Is Jim being bullied?

SallyStrange said...

I think attacking persons can sometimes be bullying, depending on the context.

I think attacking ideas is fair game. Thus, I don't believe that "intellectual bullying," as you have carelessly defined it, isn't really a thing.

Note that there are certain ideas which inherently attack persons: racism, sexism, anti-semitism, Holocaust denial. That's what puts those ideas outside the realm of rational debate.

SallyStrange said...

As is SallyStrange's complaint about the watering-down of the word "bullying", when terms such as rape-apologist and misogynist are hurled with abandon at anyone that dare disagree with you.

"Misogynist" and "rape apologist" are not epithets, they are descriptive labels. They describe behavior and attitudes. One can argue that they are incorrectly applied, but to describe them as "epithets" is a transparent attempt to deflect the power of the analysis behind them.

An "epithet" is a slur that rides on contempt and hostility towards the intrinsic characteristics of a group of people.

SallyStrange said...

Y'know, it's crazy that there are so many examples of bullying in the secular community. What gives?

What gives is that we're human and fallible. I don't find it crazy at all. I don't even find this whole discussion discouraging or depressing (well, you know, not any more than quotidian life). On the contrary, I view it as a collective attempt to hold ourselves to the standards we claim to hold.

Maria Maltseva said...

TF argued for the exercise of "soft power," such as used at most social gatherings for adults; in other words, reserving the right to eject someone for any reason and without refund. Though he didn't argue his position well, I admit, I agree with him in substance. TAM had an anti-bullying policy in place last year -- that means DJ took the additional responsibility on behalf of TAM -- and look at what happened to him. Aside from that, the one person who was allegedly harassed at TAM didn't report to conference staff and didn't even bother to fill out the harassment questionnaire at the end of the conference (which could be done anonymously). Also, I'm dubious about the CFI provision doing away with the presumption of innocence. There's ample reason why that provision is wise, especially when we're in the throes of online hysteria.

So it comes down to this: adopt a policy and cross someone with power (namely Watson and PZ), you lose; or don't adopt a policy and cross someone with power (namely Watson and PZ), you lose.

As for the #FTBullies hashtag, it was a place for bullied, harassed, and threatened people to express themselves, which was quickly overrun with the Pharyngulite mob of spouting nonsense to drown out any legitimate concerns. Point being, wherever you go, the bullies will come after you for saying or even thinking things they don't like.

This is the reason the feminist movement hasn't made progress in decades, and I think it's utterly and despicably irresponsible to break apart the atheist/skeptic movement because of the political agenda of a few, backed by Myers' non-thinking mob.

As for emotional bullying, being a rape survivor myself, I spent nights crying about how I was treated an Benson's blog. And none of my substantive arguments was ever addressed. The same can be said about another blog, but I don't discuss it in public because of threats of retribution.

SallyStrange said...

Self-correction: accidental double negative

Thus, I don't believe that "intellectual bullying," as you have carelessly defined it, IS really a thing.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous, I think you're missing the forest for the trees somewhat when you write, "Alright, let's take this one at a time" and then look at whether individual acts like deleting comments, mockery, etc. constitute bullying. The sorts of things that our blog host describes (deleting and editing comments, mocking, etc.) are tools that happen to be in a bully's toolbox, but may be used for other reasons. A police officer isn't bullying when using a tazer on a wild meth-head who's going on a rampage and endangering others. A police officer who uses the same tazer to shut up a peaceful protester, now that's a different story altogether. Deleting the comments of someone engaging in libel isn't bullying, but (as you rightfully implied) deleting the comments of someone defending against being libeled is another matter.

julian said...

While I think spending tomuch time on details of specific harassment claims is self defeating (practically, anyway), eristae highlights one of my biggest problems with Jean Kazez' definition of blog bullying. Whatever else bullying might be injustice is its core. Policing, correcting, condemning all carry the potential to become bullying but without there being a victim being unjustly harassed it isn't bullying.

Not to say the bullied needs to be a saint or somehow disadvantaged, but they do need to somehow be in the right. A homophobe may experience depression at being ostracized or intense rage at being so universally dismissed but while the responses are direct responses to their bigotry I can't call it bullying.

If it went beyond that, to physical violence or constant harassment across any forum they visited then yes I can see it become bullying. At that point there would be nothing to respond to and it would just be someone minding their own business being harassed without provocation.

((Typing on phone. Hope that made sense and was legible.))

eristae said...

Maria Maltseva, I'm not sure if you're speaking out of ignorance, or if something else going on, but what you're saying is just false.

For example, Ashley Miller most certainly did report her harassment to the conference heads; she reported it to DJ himself. Furthermore, DJ got into trouble because he claimed no harassment reports had taken place, despite the fact that there were multiple witnesses and documentation from the time about how DJ himself was made aware of it. If there was some other report she was supposed to make, if she was supposed to report it multiple times, then it was DJ's responsibility to make her aware of that.

I don't know what you're talking about in relation to Benson's blog, so I won't comment.

Furthermore, twitter is a public forum; the people who made the #FTBullies no more owned than the people at FTB. The people at FTB saw it as ridiculous and treated it accordingly. Furthermore, what astonishes me is that people who insist that FTB is somehow trying to silence them by not allowing them to post whatever they want wherever they want and/or calling them names are SIMULTANEOUSLY calling people names and insisting that the people from FTB have no right to post on the hashtag.

I also disagree vehemently with your description of TF's blog post, but if you're already aware of it, then it's unlikely that anything I say will sway you.

Baker said...

Sallystrange,
Not sure if you thought I'd mentioned the word 'epithet'? I didn't. Think you got a bit confused there as we were talking about 'bully' and 'rape-apologist etc'.
Nevermind.

eristae said...

J. J. Ramsey, I believe I addressed your point down a bit farther if you're willing to read. It's the point about Gary and Jim.

julian said...

Ashley Miller did report and as it was Grothe who ejected this man, she was entirely right in thinking the incident recorded. The failure is on Grothe for not documenting what goes on at his event. That is his responsibility. If he isn't able to do it (for whatever reason) he should find someone who can or make fewer sweaping statments.

Anyway that's off topic.

eristae said...

Oh, and in regards to the #FTBullies hashtag.

Let's say that someone (ok Paula Kirby) has just called the people at FTB feminazis and femistasis, defending how this is accurate labeling, and started up a hashtag where you declare that (paraphrasing) "You don't need to be afraid of those terrible bully feminazis/femistasis at FTB! We can all come together to defeat them!"

Just how the hell do you expect them to respond? With cookies?

I'm sorry, but I think that as long as a person is taking a group that is NOT committing genocide and other mass murders and comparing them to Nazis, said person has lost the right to be taken seriously. There comes a point when I don't have to solemnly try to explain (yet again) why I'm not like a group that tried to wipe out the Jewish people, gypsies, the mentally handicapped, political dissidents, homosexuals, and more. Somewhere along the line, I get to start treating people who hold that standpoint as being absurd.

julian said...

Thought this was supposed to be a general discussion...

eristae said...

Oh, and in my previous post, "you" was meant as a plural thing, as in "the group is meant to," not an indicator of Maria's words.

I have an issue with using the plural "you" ambiguously, and I apologize for it.

Maria Maltseva said...

Eristae -- please review the facts before making false claims. Ashely reported the bullying to a person in proximity, who then reported it to DJ, without any statement that what he saw or heard was "sexual" harassment. DJ then had the man thrown out, since he wasn't permitted to be there in the first place, which is the most anyone could be expected to do in that situation.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, it's supposed to be a general discussion. That's why I'm ignoring all the rehashing of who did what to whom. It would be wonderful if people would drop all that stuff.

***

It bothers me that my definition has the upshot that bullying isn't always bad. It certainly is a pejorative term. Maybe I can fix that and say an intellectual bully makes an unwarranted use of various coercive methods to stop X from making certain claims. Sometimes we are warranted in using those methods, as when we shut-up a holocaust denier.

It would be a bad idea to say that we are warranted in using coercive methods on X just because we think X's claim is wrong. That would mean we're never obligated to try to use rational persuasion on people we disagree with, instead of coercive methods. I think people ought to have a pretty capacious notion of the range of "possibly reasonable"opinion, and use rational persuasion with anyone within that range.

It's bad to over-use coercive methods because it just basically takes certain ideas out of circulation, and we shouldn't do that too quickly. It's also disrespectful and unkind to people to stop them from making claims--the ability to speak out being something most of us value very highly.

Anonymous said...

Jean Kazez

How is what Paula Kirby did not bullying according to your understanding of the term?
She's called an ill-defined group of people bully, feminazi, femistasi, not real women, not real feminists, hysterical, over-emotional, over-subjective, irrational and over-delicate in a document published in such a way that it's hard for people to reply directly, then called on people to gang up on this ill-defined group, and all this apparently without ever raising the issue with a subgroup of the people she's discussing.

eristae said...

"Maybe I can fix that and say an intellectual bully makes an unwarranted use of various coercive methods to stop X from making certain claims."

The problem with this that those using the coercive methods will declare the use is warranted, and those who the methods are being used on will declare it is not.

It's the same problem we're having right now: The supporters of the #FTBullies hashtag insist that the people at FTB are bullies, those who oppose it insist that they are not.

To be honest, I think people are flinging around this word in a manner that just means, "They are saying things I don't like." People who like what FTB says insist there is no bullying, people who don't like what FTB says declare just as emphatically that FTB is made up of bullies. And I don't know how to fix this; if I was able to find a good definition to put in place, I would. But I don't.

Anonymous said...

Jean Kazez

How is what Paula Kirby did not bullying according to your understanding of the term?
She's called an ill-defined group of people bully, feminazi, femistasi, not real women, not real feminists, hysterical, over-emotional, over-subjective, irrational and over-delicate in a document published in such a way that it's hard for people to reply directly, then called on people to gang up on this ill-defined group, and all this apparently without ever raising the issue with a subgroup of the people she's discussing.

Sven (sorry, can't seem to post using a name, the problem's probably on my end)

julian said...

I think it goes beyond considering X wrong or even considering X a dangerous position. A community could form around any number of interests but unless they're specifically there for education dissuading others from incorrect positions is not a responsibility. (And it certainly shouldn't be an expectation.) The community has other interests and (especially with activism and politically oriented communities) likely dealt with these questions before. It isn't anything new. It's something they've heard countless times that year.

And this may very well lead to unjustified reinforcement of opinions. It may lead to an acho chamber with very little variation of opinion. It would certainly lead to contrary or unpopular opinions being phased out.

But that would not be bullying. Something to criticize? Possibly. To be apprehensive about? Definitely. But bullying? No.

We're still missing the unjustly harassed party. If I walked into a religious forum and was mocked and derided until I left I would feel frustrated, sure, but could it be said I'd been bullied? Not unless the derision was particularly malevolent or it continued onto my private space.

I am, after all, intruding onto their space. I may be right and they may be closed minded but there's no expectation of an exchange of ideas or guarantee anyone would be participating in good faith.

Anyway those are the few thoughts I've come up with. Not really convinced on most of it. Bullying isn't something I can model with an equation so I keep feeling as if I'm arguing with the intent to exclude damaging behavior I approve of.

J. J. Ramsey said...

eristae: "J. J. Ramsey, I believe I addressed your point down a bit farther if you're willing to read. It's the point about Gary and Jim."

I think we both made similar points, though I think I also addressed situations analogous to the one where Gary and Jim's roles would be reversed. One thing I will add, though, is that while denying a forum for Jim's homophobic comments and mocking him for the content of his claims would generally not be bullying, Gary's supporters could lose the moral high ground by, say, mock threats of anal rape with a rusty pipe, or by finding his Facebook page and spamming him with images from shock sites. Then it would become bullying even if there was initially a valid grievance.

Maria Maltseva said...

"Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person"

Do threatening qualify? Yes.
Does coercive behavior qualify? Yes.
Do repeated "gang" attacks calling me a "bitch," a "whore," making fun of my FB photos, calling "fuckface," calling me a liar, and so on qualify? Yes.

Hence the hashtag. It's more that appropriate, as defamation (harmful published lies) and criminal behavior (threats) are against the law.

And that's why everyone who doesn't have a stake in "freethought" blogs is against them

julian said...

@eristae

What is and what isn't warranted is a whole other discussion. It's enough that we agree such a thing as warranted exists. People's biases will always be in play but hopefully if we can agree on a few basics we can workout from there who's mostly right and who's mostly wrong.

eristae said...

J. J. Ramsey, I wouldn't call mock threats of rape or spamming of someone's Facebook page shock images "bullying," I'd call it "harassment" and maybe "terroristic threats*" for the rape one.

To me, this is an important distinction, partly because I think harassment is better defined than bullying, although even harassment can be ill defined, depending.

*Sorry, legal jargon.

Jean Kazez said...

JJ, That's a good an important point. I'm fine with marginalizing someone with beyond-the-pale views, but think it's another matter to resort to emotional or physical bullying, or other sorts of abuse.

Re: "bullying" terminology. Intellectual bullying is basically coercive content-control. Maybe it's metaphor-ish to call it bullying, but if so, not a bad metaphor. I'm not sure.

Jean Kazez said...

Maria, Please stop ranting and raving. This just isn't the place for it. I said I don't want to discuss incidents. Next "incident" comment you leave is going to be deleted.

Eristae said...

Eh, I'm just not down with the "intellectual bullying" thing. While there might be some merit to it, I'm just too used to seeing people abuse it (example: A creationist saying it isn't fair that they can't teach that evolution is false in their biology class because it's "coercive content-control").

I guess, for me, that maybe this is about the fact that recently people have been using the term "bullying" as a way to try to get away with bad behavior. Suddenly any criticism or backlash becomes "bullying" that must be silenced.

Jean Kazez said...

Need to preserve what's left of the weekend for family time, so I'll let Eristae have the last word. I do see her/his point.

Thanks for the discussion, folks.

Russell Blackford said...

What goes on at the relevant blogs certainly is bullying. I can't think of a better word. People are mocked, blocked, insulted, vilified, piled on, misrepresented (on very popiular blogs,so large numbers of people will be led to false understandings of their actual views), told they are "disgusting", attacked with tactics that dismiss their views as simply illegitimate, rather than addressing them on their merits ("check your privilege", "mansplaining"), subjected to violent, angry language (go fuck yourself with a porcupine), etc., etc., for putting rational views in more-or-less civil ways, or for things they have said in obscure places.

To add to the last point about obscure places, people are held up to shame or subjected to anger for what they have said elsewhere (and in circumstances where the "elsewhere" can be something as obscure as someone's Facebook profile - and certainly the "elsewhere" has a much smaller audience than the blog post). I call this witch hunting. What I might say on my someone's Facebook page is not answered in the thread, but becomes the subject of an attack by multiple people on a very popular blog with thousands of readers. At best, it's massively disproportionate.

Attempts have been made to humiliate or even harm people in their real lives. Threats of physical violence have been made in at least one case.

Sometimes people are attacked not for the content of what they have actually said but merely for making points in too dispassionate and analytical a manner for the taste of commenters - this has happened to me more than once.

I have been a victim of the bullying and witch hunting, mainly for objecting to the bullying of others. But others have had it much worse than me.

The environment at the blogs we are talking about is very unhealthy and intimidating, and it's currently a huge problem for the atheist/skeptic movement. It does merit calling out, and "bullying" is a pretty accurate term by which to do so. I'm going to go on calling it bullying.

Merely closing threads that have descended into vituperation is something quite different.

I'm not going to name the blogs, either, but the above is the sort of thing I and others are objecting to.

Finally, this sort of thing does go on elsewhere on the internet. I'm not saying that the atheist blogosphere is particularly bad. It may not be. But it needs to be a lot better.

Maria Maltseva said...

Excellent comment, Russell, and far more civil and well-written than mine. But I have to add this, people who have been on the receiving end of bullying that has spilled over into their professional lives aren't going to respond with a cool head, obviously. Nor is this some type of "intellectual or emotional bullying," whatever that means. It's real bullying, and in at least one case, criminal.

faust said...

The heart of your post Jean, strikes me as being contained in these two paragraphs:

Non-rationally driving a claim off the table is occasionally just fine. I don't think we need to spend time talking people out of just anything they might say. Sometimes speed is of the essence. Sometimes we don't want to dignify a claim, or the person making the claim, by putting a lot of time and energy into a rational refutation.

There's a problem, though, if a blog community sets the parameters so that the permitted claims fall within a relatively narrow range, and a very wide range of claims are subject to being bullied off the table. That's my problem with some Free Thought Blogs, some of the time, but also with lots of other blogs. That's the thing about blogs--they tend to be micro-communities in which everyone agrees about the vast majority of what's up for discussion. They do tend to try to preserve ideological conformity by using bullying techniques a lot.

Let me offer a single diagram that you may find useful in this context:

http://bit.ly/NeuSTC

“Non-rationally driving a claim off the table is…just fine” when a idea is clearly deviant. It’s OK to “non-rationally” (meaning to use non rational means) drive the idea off the table because all the rational work has already been done. By definition the idea is already beyond the “sphere of legitimate controversy,” i.e. the sphere of ideas where “reasonable people might disagree.” You don’t use reason to deal with the unreasonable. It’s a category error.

The issue of course is that there is no consensus about where to draw these lines for many problems. Holocaust and Nazi’s? Yes. No problem. LOADS of consensus here. This is how we get curiosities like Godwin’s Law. Nazi’s are where the abyss definitely begins. That’s CLEAR deviance beyond the “sphere of legitimate controversy.”

But for any number of other issues there will be some who think that position X on issue Y is deviant and thus that “non-rational means” can legitimately be deployed to deal with the deviants. By any means necessary! And so on.

As you note “That's the thing about blogs--they tend to be micro-communities in which everyone agrees about the vast majority of what's up for discussion.”

Indeed. Blogs are frequently places where there is substantial consensus, some “sphere of legitimate disagreement” and then come the troooolololols! The deviants, the sinners, the idiots, the _________ bad guys. I could list here some binary opposites that have nothing to do with FTB: Red State vs. Daily Kos. Tech Dirt vs. MusicTechPolicy. Pick your topic and I’ll show you different blogs with very different ideas about who is deviant yet remarkably similar ideas about exactly what those !#$%@#$% deserve.

If there is something of special interest about this very common and very general internet behavior occurring at “free thinking” blogs it is this: that these blogs tend to cluster around ideas of having a proper epistemology with a concomitant proper methodology; of being “strong rationalists;” of having a keen sense about what qualifies as “fashionable nonsense (secret deviance cloaked with legitimacy).” Equipped with their justified true beliefs, they may feel especially entitled to draw (or re-draw) the lines around what is properly LEGITIMATE controversy, and thus particularly JUSTIFIED in meting out “non-rational” methods of “driving claims off the table.” Whether or not that should be called “bullying” or not will vary with the context.

It is tempting to think that “bullying” only applies if it is done to non-deviants (assuming the deviants have been PROPERLY classified [Nazis]).

Wowbagger said...

Russell Blackford:'Sometimes people are attacked not for the content of what they have actually said but merely for making points in too dispassionate and analytical a manner for the taste of commenters - this has happened to me more than once.'

Why do you think that's unreasonable? I know for you - as it is for me as a straight white guy in Australia - that these issues are in some ways merely abstract concepts, and when you step away from the keyboard you can forget all about them if you choose to - but others don't have that luxury; of course they're going to be passionate about it - it's their mental health, happiness and well-being they're fighting for.

Is accusing someone of being overly emotional over something that doesn't affect you in the slightest considered bullying?

Tristan said...

It's not simply misrepresentation that's the problem. It's the complete lack of calling out of same by regulars when perpetrated by another one of the in-group. The typical path of things is that one will say, "Hey, if you look at {statement from outsider} in {wholly contrived and skewed fashion} then they're a {MRA/sexist/misogynist/homophobe/other out-group label}. Fair game time, guys!"

From that point on it's inevitably a downward spiral, with the "enemy" eventually giving up and leaving in the disgust. Far from complaining about the dishonest tactics used, the in- group then indulges in a round of mutual back-patting, complete with the awarding of sniny new Internets.

The really sad thing is that in doing so they progressively alienate huge swathes of people who actually share their goals in almost every respect.

Eristae said...

Maria, I've seen a lot of this from the sexual harassment side, and a lot of people on that side are also really invested in this whole thing due to real life events. On the sexual harassment side, there are a lot of people who are very used to being shamed, ignored, minimized, degraded, blamed, threatened, and more, all for the simple crime of being sexually harassed and daring to object to it. To these people, being told that sexual harassment is not an issue, that it's not important, that it's not real, that they're being "bitches" (or some other word) for ruining everyone else's fun by being upset, or being given another plate of the above, this is going to be a hot button issue.

To be honest, if you'd told me two years ago that there would be this kind of flaming out, I would have rolled my eyes. But clearly I was wrong about the state of the skeptic/atheist movement. Something is wrong at the foundation, and I'm not sure how to fix it other than to keep talking and hoping that we can figure out a way to make things better.

Wowbagger said...

Tristan wrote: 'The really sad thing is that in doing so they progressively alienate huge swathes of people who actually share their goals in almost every respect.'

As gets pointed out on Pharyngula from time to time, if you're only fighting for social justice because you want people to be nice to you - and if you stop bothering if they aren't - you're actually part of the problem; you should want to change things because they need to be changed, not because you want praise.

The FTBers aren't getting 'fuck you, we don't like you so we'll fight for justice our own way'; they're getting 'fuck you, we don't like you, so we're not fighting for justice anymore.'

That, to me, is a much bigger problem.

Eristae said...

Anyway, after pondering what I wrote in this thread, I think I've come to realize that the word "bullying" is a hot button issue for me.

You see, it used to be a word that was applied by someone who was being oppressed to their oppressor. Some gay child is called "faggot" pushed into lockers, told they are going to hell, beat up, spat on, and we said they were being "bullied."*

But now it's going the other fucking direction. Someone tries to pass a law to enact penalties for treating gay kids like the above, the homophobes flip out because they are being "bullied" by not being allowed to express their religious beliefs. It's become a term that is now being used AGAINST the oppressed group when they try to stick up for themselves. Call someone a "homophobe" for trying to keep same sex relationships illegal, and all of a sudden you're a "bully" for "calling them names."

To make this even worse, the oppressed group is the group that can't walk away from this to recuperate. They don't get down time from being oppressed. So they get madder and madder and madder, and then they're screaming curses and other angry words while they demand their rights because they don't have anything left anymore. But then powerful group gets upset with the oppressed group. "Why are you so angry? You're behavior is unacceptable! You're bullying me" they shout, while continuing to grind the oppressed group into the ground. Once "bully" is tossed into the fray, then no one has to actually talk about how the oppressed group is being harmed; now the focus is on the oppressed group supposedly "bullying" the powerful.

And so I've come to hate this word, this word that has become a weapon by the powerful to silence the oppressed.

*although I always felt that was too kind of a word for it; I would have preferred terms along the line of "assault" and "harassment."

Tristan said...

Wowbagger: I'm not talking about niceness. I'm talking about honesty. It's really quite depressing to me that you seem to conflate the two.

My response (and, I would wager, that of most others) is somewhat more nuanced than your version. Something along the lines of " Fuck you. Until you can learn to argue with honesty and self-police same within your group, you're going to continue attacking individuals that are more and more off-target. You're turning into a laughing-stock and are detrimental to the cause you're trying to represent."

On another note, as I pointed out on Twitter asking for evidence of pitchforks and physical harm to justify claims of "witch-hunts" is analogous to Alistair McGrath (witnessed in person) asking for electron micrographs of viral particles to justify Richard Dawkins' description of religion as "like a mind virus". It deliberately ignores all the clear similarities to focus on one difference, and then pretend that therefore the analogy fails. It's been decades since describing something as a witch hunt meant that there was necessarily physical violence involved. The term refers to the mentality of choosing a scapegoat, then twisting all evidence to support a conviction. This goes on in spades.

Wowbagger said...

'Fuck you. Until you can learn to argue with honesty and self-police same within your group, you're going to continue attacking individuals that are more and more off-target. You're turning into a laughing-stock and are detrimental to the cause you're trying to represent.'

When the 'detriment' is to expose people who only want to fight for social justice when it's easy and/or rewarding for them (via praise), then it's not really much of a detriment as far as I'm concerned.

Y'all have revealed that you're not interested in doing what's right unless you get something out of it, and are prepared to throw a cause under the bus when you don't get it.

I know which side I'd rather be on.

Jean Kazez said...

Faust (if you're still reading), Think you must have deleted a comment you left here, but not before I looked at the great diagram. It was perfect for capturing the point I was trying to make about the narrowness of what's deemed discussible.

SallyStrange said...

Russell Blackford, you dispassionately compared feminists championing the cause of greater participation by women in professional and public life, with anti-harassment policies as one of their tools, to the Taliban.

The Tabiban murder and maim women and girls for daring to get an education.

As one of those feminists, I'd like to know why it is you think it's acceptable discourse--not bullying--to compare me to people who murder and maim women and girls who try to get an education or a job.

Only a fool would complain about receiving an angrily emotional response to such a comparison. An intelligent bigot would make the comparison in full expectation that the response would be angry.

Really, what were you thinking?

SallyStrange said...

Also, I find it ludicrous that Maria Maltseva would fear meeting me in real life. Greg Laden, okay, he has engaged in bullying, but I have not.

Maria Maltseva said...

Here's a better word for you: Cyberbullying -- the use of the Internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.[1] As it has become more common in society, particularly among young people, legislation and awareness campaigns have arisen to combat it.

Of course, some of what we've seen from FTB goes far beyond that, since their attacks have slowly crept into real life via threats, attacks from the podium, phone calls to supervisors, posting of home addresses, and defamation. So bullying is indeed the most appropriate term.

Moreover, while the FTBers use bad words, even gendered insults themselves, as soon as the other side uses them, it's time for the fainting couch. While I don't necessarily approve of vulgar language, I don't think it's inherently harmful, but merely immature and unprofessional.

Also, to those complaining about being oppressed (because of being a woman), it seems odd that there are so many women who don't feel oppressed, at least not by the male "threats" that have been identified. Correction -- no male threats have been identified.

Then there's the issue of hypocrisy. While name-calling and even gendered insults are OK for one side, they are crimes of the highest order when used by the other, which is what my "ranting and raving" post was all about.

Finally, if you've been away and haven't been keeping up with what's being on, perhaps you're not the best person to write about it, as fair and calm as you obviously want yourself to be. Sometimes there's a side that's right and a side that's wrong, even if the side that's right uses bad words in a sexist way. Notably, they don't use that kind of language anywhere else that I've seen. They are quite capable of following the tone set by the blog host or facebook page owner. And the reason for using those words, at least in the past, was to get a reaction, since all reasonable arguments had been ignored. I hope they stop using them from now on.

Eristae said...

"Also, to those complaining about being oppressed (because of being a woman), it seems odd that there are so many women who don't feel oppressed, at least not by the male "threats" that have been identified. Correction -- no male threats have been identified."

In the interest of not saying something I will regret, I will restrict myself to saying this:

There are women who do not feel oppressed by not having the right to vote.

There are women who do not feel oppressed by needing to have a male guardian, even as an adult.

There are women who do not feel oppressed by being denied the ability to find work outside the home.

There are women who do not feel oppressed by being required to wear burkas.

There are women who are flattered when men grab their butts without warning.

There are women who insist that the declaration that wives are to obey their husbands as the church obeys God is not oppressive.

There are women who believe that men should be allowed to go to college, but women should not.

There are women who think it is just and right and good that women be systematically denied entry into the upper (or even middle) levels of the hierarchy of their church.

There are women who think it is best of a woman’s father chooses her husband.

Oppression is not merely a matter of feeling. We, as atheist women who live in a predominantly Christian culture, should be well aware that majority opinion does not dictate whether something is oppressive or not. If it did, then we could never say anything in the Bible is oppressive to women, for Christian women outnumber us by a great margin.

Now, I should be asleep. Goodnight.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the problems with this particular issue is that means have been confused with the ends. Two people on this matter can completely agree with the end goal, but disagree over the means to get there. And that's enough to cause vicious disagreement and 'bullying'. Often times the disagreement over the means may be justified, as the correct path is not obvious.

Quotas are an example. Some people object to quotas on principle, because if you have to resort to quotas the underlying problems have not been solved and its a superficial covering. Others support quotas because it may have the effect of changing the underlying problems in the long run. I think that is the kind of problem where humans are too complex to say which direction is 'right' here. It is probably the case that for some people, quotas will encourage them more and be overall helpful, while for others it makes them think that presentation is more important than substance, and therefore call the whole process into question.

Indeed, that there are people on all 'sides' who have been raped, stalked, abused, or harassed seems to point to this here. It isn't so much a question of which side is 'right', but that human reaction to terrible things can take many forms and trying to proscribe that only one of these responses to it is the 'correct' one is the root of this schism.

All that is assuming that the end goals are even the same. With something that is as big a tent as 'feminism', that may only be true on a very superficial level. What the end goals of feminism are for Sheila Jeffreys are very different from those of Natalie Reed, or Greta Christina and Taslima Nasreen.

Anonymous said...

This article does cover part of the accusation of Bullying. I do believe you can identify real bullying amongst the FTBs and their associates at Skepchick.

What I see as real bullying, is where an influential person abuses his/her power to attack an individual who has no platform to respond; Childish activities, such as crashing a hashtag or sending all of ones minions to attack an individual; standing on a podium and calling out a member of the audience; multiple bloggers all ganging up on a fellow blogger.

These activities constitute bullying and we've seen a hell of a lot of it over the past 12 months. It's about time someone started doing something to opose it.

I'd even go as far as to suggest that at atheist and skeptical conferences, we should have anti-bullying policies in place. It seems we can't trust the kids to play nice in the sand bucket.

julian said...

"What I see as real bullying, is where an influential person abuses his/her power to attack an individual who has no platform to respond; Childish activities, such as crashing a hashtag or sending all of ones minions to attack an individual; standing on a podium and calling out a member of the audience; multiple bloggers all ganging up on a fellow blogger."

So basically anything and everything that happens during a community wide debate or argument.

Thank you for the totally useful definition of bullying.

Think I'm done with this thread.

Jean Kazez said...

Eristae, I can't think of any party to this debate who doesn't take serious oppression (like the things you list) seriously. Who doesn't take all that stuff seriously? An example, please.

Iamcuriousblue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iamcuriousblue said...

Russell - Nail - hammer - head!

The current atmosphere in much of atheist blogging is decidedly polarized and unhealthy. I'm not going to name one "side" as entirely responsible, but Jean is right to point out that this is quite endemic on Freethoughtblogs. Being such a focal point and highly populated blogging community, what goes on there carries a big echo in the larger secularist community.

No coincidence that the vitriol has come up over gender. The "feminist blogosphere" has developed an utterly toxic "callout" culture over the last few years, and inarticulate anti-feminism revolving around 4chan has brought a similarly toxic climate of harassment in time and again. It's no wonder the "rationalist" internet community caught these viruses when it stumbled into already-polarized gender politics rather blindly.

Iamcuriousblue said...

Wowbagger writes:

"The FTBers aren't getting 'fuck you, we don't like you so we'll fight for justice our own way'; they're getting 'fuck you, we don't like you, so we're not fighting for justice anymore.'"

Um, no. Point 2 is the strawman FTBers put out there, and perhaps what they mistakenly THINK they're getting. Point 1 is the actual position I and many others who have been disagreeing with the FTBers actually take.

Maria Maltseva said...

"What I see as real bullying, is where an influential person abuses his/her power to attack an individual who has no platform to respond; Childish activities, such as crashing a hashtag or sending all of ones minions to attack an individual; standing on a podium and calling out a member of the audience; multiple bloggers all ganging up on a fellow blogger."

Yes, and it's so childish I can't believe my eyes. Given that they have the largest blogging platform in secularism, did they, for example, really need to crash a silly and harmless hashtag? All they managed to do, in any case, is prove our point.

"Eristae, I can't think of any party to this debate who doesn't take serious oppression (like the things you list) seriously. Who doesn't take all that stuff seriously? An example, please."

There is no one. Some may be opposed to quotas I guess, but I support them. We're all different. But having lived in an oppressive country as both a woman and a hated minority, women in secularism are certainly not oppressed in the West, though it appears that some of them don't like the way they're being asked out to "coffee" or complimented on their looks and equate that with oppression. Aside from the title of her statement, which may be over the top, she is right in every way. And when I was talking to Dawkins about this, he was clear that what he hoped to do is give the drowned out minority voices a platform to stand on.

"No coincidence that the vitriol has come up over gender. The 'feminist blogosphere' has developed an utterly toxic 'callout' culture over the last few years, and inarticulate anti-feminism revolving around 4chan has brought a similarly toxic climate of harassment in time and again. It's no wonder the 'rationalist' internet community caught these viruses when it stumbled into already-polarized gender politics rather blindly."

Yes again. First of all, this is one of the reasons feminism and skepticism don't fit. The second is that certain feminist schools of thought are not evidence-based, and don't embrace skeptical principles. Finally, feminism is widely divided and their blogs are, frankly, embarrassing, since they don't even bother to take feminist history into account and don't seem to be aware of many valid and important distinctions. As Laden said about FTB, "These blogs are primarily about feminism." And thus, FTB is following in feminist blog-culture footsteps at the expense of all the goals of secularism, skepticism, and atheism.

"I think one of the problems with this particular issue is that means have been confused with the ends. Two people on this matter can completely agree with the end goal, but disagree over the means to get there. And that's enough to cause vicious disagreement and 'bullying'. Often times the disagreement over the means may be justified, as the correct path is not obvious."

Yes again, there's been no one seriously involved in this discussion who doesn't support women's rights, or even in some cases (like me), affirmative action programs. But I don't only focus on women, I focus on all groups that are disadvantaged in our society. To turn a blind eye to those who are far worse off is narcissistic and wrong.

"The FTBers aren't getting 'fuck you, we don't like you so we'll fight for justice our own way'; they're getting 'fuck you, we don't like you, so we're not fighting for justice anymore.'"

No, many of us are joining together to form our own blog networks, where freethought and discussion will be welcome, even if someone has an idea that goes against the grain of majority views.
___________________________

Those with power attacking those without and trying to get them to conform via various coercive means that reach outside the blogosphere is the essence of bullying. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Maria Maltseva said...

Errata:

*I meant to say: Aside from the title of Kirby's statement, in fact, not even the title but the Feminazi reference; she's right in every way. Though she's not that far off with the Feminazi allusion, either. Of course, after her well-written and intelligent piece, she was predictably made fun of and demonized on the usual blogs.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"this is one of the reasons feminism and skepticism don't fit"

I can't agree with this. Yes, if you're talking about the sort of feminism that leads to the SCUM Manifesto, then sure, skepticism doesn't fit very well with that. However, that's largely not what we're dealing with. For the most part, we're dealing with the down-to-earth sort of feminism that's in favor of equal rights, equal pay, enthusiastic consent, and so on. There's no more contradiction between skepticism and feminism than there is between skepticism and civil rights.

Feminism in and of itself is not the problem. Bullying is the problem.

Jean Kazez said...

Do skepticism and feminism fit? I think that's an interesting question. Yes and no.

Yes. Skepticism is a question of freeing yourself from tradition, religion, bias, etc., and looking beneath appearances. Many tools in the feminist toolbox are essentially skeptical. For example: tthinking about situations in terms of epistemic privilege and in terms of adaptive preferences.

No. To the extent that feminists can be doctrinaire, skepticism is antithetical. For just one example, when feminists are bound and determined to recognize no innate gender differences, they're not approaching the issue like so-called skeptics. Also, there's a certain sort of "victimology" that feminists and other social activists can engage in, where any complaint is treated as sacrosanct, and accepted on faith. Nobody's allowed to ask "did it really happen? was it that bad? how often do things like that occur?" That's the counterpart of "believing in belief" a la Dennett--only it's "believing in complaint".

Jim Lippard said...

Eristae: "For example, Ashley Miller most certainly did report her harassment to the conference heads; she reported it to DJ himself."

That is not true. She reported it (perhaps indirectly) to Phil Ferguson, who reported it to D.J.; the details about sexual harassment were not communicated.

"Furthermore, DJ got into trouble because he claimed no harassment reports had taken place, despite the fact that there were multiple witnesses and documentation from the time about how DJ himself was made aware of it. If there was some other report she was supposed to make, if she was supposed to report it multiple times, then it was DJ's responsibility to make her aware of that."

D.J. didn't know that sexual harassment was part of the problem or even that Ashley Miller was involved until after the fact. He knows now.

See: http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/tam9-harassment-new-information/

Eli Horowitz said...

"Read the whole thing. I said it was sometimes justified and gave examples."

No kidding? So my comment on your post about trees was on the same level as Holocaust denial? Sorry, but I'm sticking with the pot/kettle thing.

Also, this shows a distinct lack of careful thought:

"there's a certain sort of 'victimology' that feminists and other social activists can engage in, where any complaint is treated as sacrosanct, and accepted on faith. Nobody's allowed to ask 'did it really happen? was it that bad? how often do things like that occur?'"

"How often" is the sort of question that it doesn't make sense to ask after you've identified which sort of thing you're talking about, and the first two questions make it seem an awful lot like the person is trying to twist the facts of the event (and so preemptively twist the answer to "how often"); furthermore, in many circumstances the "how often" question is simply irrelevant.

As to "how bad" and "was it real," you have to distinguish between the third-person perspective and the perspective of the individual who felt put upon. For the latter, yes it really happened and it was really that bad - and anybody who questions that is, frankly, a bit insane. If you can manage to acknowledge that it really happened and it was really that bad for the individual and then go on to have a constructive conversation about how - to put it charitably - to reconcile your third-person view with their first-person view, great. But a lot of people get totally caught up on step one, and most of the ones who make it to step two tend to struggle there. If you have that experience over and over again, it becomes less and less "Worth. [Your]. Time." to continue trying to get someone to complete step two successfully. Declining to continue having those conversations is not bullying. It's not optimally rational truth-seeking discourse, obviously, but it's not bullying - but it very well might be bullying to tell people that they have to continue having emotionally trying conversations that are guaranteed to not go anywhere.

Dave Ricks said...

I support Jean's post atop this thread for clearly and carefully describing bullying a claim off the table.  Some people balk at the word "bully" but that balking misses what she described.

My favorite example of bullying a claim off the table is this Pharyngula thread from 2006.  After PZ "was done laughing" at the word "bitches" to insult his opponents, a lone dissenter objected:

IHateFundies wrote: Personally, I am sick of hearing the word bitches used in this fashion. The version where it is spelled beotch is less offensive, but only slightly. Too bad you can't find humor without insulting women indirectly.

Then the Pharyngula Horde piled on - supporting PZ - to bully that claim off the table:

bitchin' wrote: oh come on… can't use the word bitch without insulting women… pah. that's just whiney-ass troll bait.  bitch is well beyond a gender specific insult these days.

Tlazolteotl wrote: No offense, but really, I would think that someone who signs as "IHateFundies" would see the irony in complaining about the use of a derogatory word or phrase.

Buffalo Gal wrote: We've been taking back "bitch" for 30 years. Even the mildest-mannered of us in the early 70s had "Bitch" stickers under our names on the mailbox. Outspoken women, women who take no shit, have been bitches forever. Today, we say, "yeah, I'm a bitch – whatcha gonna do about it?" We gotta thank those who were bitches before it became popu7lar.

Graculus wrote: Quit yer bitching, bitch, or I'll bitch-slap you into next week.

And IHateFundies never replied, which makes that Pharyngula thread a perfect example of Jean's 2nd paragraph: The point of it is not really personal, but to quickly excise certain claims that are deemed "beyond the pale." To accelerate the excision, the usual methods of persuasion--argumentation, evidence, reasoning--are set aside, and new methods are employed.  To bully a claim off the table, you do things like: ... mocking, straw-manning, piling on, insulting, and generally making life unpleasant for the person who made the claim.  They then withdraw, and the claim vanishes. Wonderful.

Ironically, at Pharyngula today, the Horde will pile on - supporting PZ again - but now against "bitch" as an insult.  I take this to mean PZ's Horde piling on - as an intellectual method - is equally bogus in 2006 and 2012.

Jean Kazez said...

Eli, re: your tree comment. I don't know what you're talking about. As you can see on the comment form, all comments are moderated for posts over 7 days old to avoid spam. Occasionally I don't notice something that's in moderation, and it doesn't get published. If you wrote something "reasonable, respectful, and relevant" then it would not have been deliberately excluded.

Jean Kazez said...

Just realized spam detector was holding a couple of comments--all published now.

Eristae said...

"Eristae, I can't think of any party to this debate who doesn't take serious oppression (like the things you list) seriously. Who doesn't take all that stuff seriously? An example, please."

I deliberately picked examples that I thought none of you would disagree with to prove the point I made at the end: that "Well, I/we don't feel okay when that is done to me, so it's not bad" is not valid. I could have picked more ambiguous examples, but then I risked turning this into a "Well, that is/isn't bad" debate, which was not my goal.

Eristae said...

You know, I just looked at the errors I made in my last post (i.e. should have been "Well, I/we don't feel bad when that is done to me, so it's not bad") and the reactions I'm having to a lot of this, and I realized I'm just not up to this kind of interaction. It started out fun and enjoyable, and now it's really hurting me. So people can respond to or not respond to my posts as they see fit, but I need to stop for my own well being.

This "fun-ruining/uptight/hysterical/over reacting/infantile feminazi/femistazi/bully" can't take it anymore.

faust said...

Glad you liked that diagram. I find it very useful in understanding blog phenomena in general. And of course it has even wider applicability, but in the case of blogs the delineation of those spheres is even more "acute."

Maria Maltseva said...

Kudos to whoever brought up the usage of "bitch" by PZ Myers, and the way his horde unthinkingly followed his lead. This sort of thing is a huge problem, and now it's infected Freethought blogs as a whole. People are kept from expressing what they think, and even those who have held different views previously are suddenly forced to conform in order to remain and receive the financial benefits FTB offers. This is not the way to encourage freethought. Cristina Rad is a great example of someone who stood against victimization feminism, but as soon as she joined Freethought her position changed, even though she was smart enough to approach the issue carefully.

"No. To the extent that feminists can be doctrinaire, skepticism is antithetical. For just one example, when feminists are bound and determined to recognize no innate gender differences, they're not approaching the issue like so-called skeptics. Also, there's a certain sort of "victimology" that feminists and other social activists can engage in, where any complaint is treated as sacrosanct, and accepted on faith. Nobody's allowed to ask "did it really happen? was it that bad? how often do things like that occur?" That's the counterpart of "believing in belief" a la Dennett--only it's "believing in complaint"."

This is exactly the feminist ideology promoted by FTB and PZ. And it's why it was heresy to question all the major inconsistencies in RW's coffee anecdote. Is it a wonder that so many of us are opposed? In fact, while I was commenting at Abbie's, this is what most of the discussions were about, gendered insults or not. Now, for refusing to be a victim (outside the times that I'm actually being victimized), I am forever tainted, even though I'm sure I've experienced no less harassment than the rest of the people complaining about it. I just happen to view minor harassment as an annoyance compared to the serious problems in my life and in the lives of others around me. Nor is harassment a problem that's somehow limited to the freethought community. As Kirby wisely said, it's a feature of life, and if you don't like being picked up on, avoid bars at 4AM. This applies to men and women alike.

I also believe anti-harassment policies will be largely ineffective since harassers will continue to harass, even though event organizers will now be liable for the actions of third parties. DJ did everything right at the last TAM, and, indeed, everything that was asked for, yet he was still burned at the stake by FTB (notably, only after RW withdrew and complained and the Skepchicks started calling women reminding them of "harassment" events that they didn't remember. And by harassment, I mean failed pick-up attempts). -- See Rad's first blog entry.

As for gendered insults, who am I supposed to consult as to what's appropriate? PZ? That doesn't seem particularly prudent, since he has no standards on this issue that are grounded in reason. A photo of a female politician "sucking" on a corn dog? Fine. Using the word "bitch"? You're evil and not even worthy of breathing the same air as PZ. (By that logic, he's not worthy of breathing his own air, as he's never apologized for either incident. Apologies seem to be completely beyond his grasp.)

Liberal feminism is consistent with freethought, but I'm not allowed to bring up what happened to me for suggesting that, so I won't.

Anyway, for saying what she thought, Brayton is now calling for Kirby to be shunned while insulting her for her contributions to the atheist movement. Which boils down to this: Unless you think exactly like FTB on all issues that we've declared sacred, you're not welcome.

Steve Williamson said...

Anyone got a link to where Ed Brayton has said this? I have seen it mentioned in a couple of places but not ever managed to find it anywhere where it was stated.

Maria Maltseva said...

It's in the comments to Watson's most recent post, not very far down -- the one where she makes fun of ThunderfOOt's writing and also mocks Tony Ryan for being upset because she publicly lied about him. Sorry I don't have the link handy, but just go to the Skepchick site and it should be one of the first posts you see.

Steve Williamson said...

Cheers. Although it appear that skepchick is currently not available...

Jean Kazez said...

I don't have time to keep track of this thread much longer and I really think enough has been said, so (warning!) I'll be closing comments at the end of the day.