Monday, 28 July 2014

Punching Up and Down

A little maxim I seem to be reading more and more frequently goes something along the lines that "It is a fine and proper thing to punch up but one ought never to punch down"

Clearly this is not intended as helpful advice to budding pugilists; indeed, it is not referring to punching in the literal sense at all. In actual fact, the punching involved is very much of the verbal type, with the advice intended to refer to who we can legitimately target with our criticisms and our condemnation (and our humour, though that is not so much under critique here) with the thrust being that we must never take aim at those less privileged than ourselves but can freely take pot shots at those more privileged.

The metaphor is not one I like at all. Whether viewed directly or by way of analogy back to the business of actually physically striking another person I find little to love in this idea.

Surely, in either case, it is not the size of the target but the justification behind the blow we intend to land.

I would certainly hope (to reverse the metaphor back) that no-one would suggest that the acceptability of delivering a real physical punch depends critically upon the physical mass of the person you are punching. That kind of mentality reminds me of my adolescence and the oft-repeated mantra "it is ok to punch a man but it is never ok to strike a woman". No! It is NOT ok to strike ANYONE, regardless of gender and regardless of your relative body masses, UNLESS there is sufficient justification (self defence, perhaps?)!

So surely it also goes, in just the same way, with a metaphorical punching? It is simply NOT acceptable to "punch up" unless there is something objectionable that warrants it. Yet if the same objectionable behaviour or attitude is exhibited by someone deemed less privileged why on earth should we give it a free pass? Moreover, is it not somewhat insulting to grant those a free pass? As if somewhat condescendingly we somehow do not feel that they can be held to the same standards.

The real issue I have with this idea is that it smacks of politically gerrymandering exchanges and yet another tool to adopt to stifle debate and response. After all, what is being appealed to here is a deliberate manipulation of dialogue to allow one side a chance to strike a blow (punch up) against a target we will, at best, allow only to passively defend themselves and certainly never take aim in return.

It is not about whether the target is bigger than you, it is about whether they deserve to be punched in the first place.

Thanks for reading


PS: Whilst this venting was not related to "don't punch down, punch up" in relation to criticisms of jokes I must make comment on a blog piece I read relating it to rape jokes ( The blogger claims that rape jokes are funny when the butt of the joke is the rapist but not when the butt of the joke is the violated party and this is because of punching up (good) vs punching down (bad). I think the blogger misses the point here. Regardless of your views on rape jokes, the difference between these two categories is not the level of privilege of a perpetrator vs a victim it is the very fact that one party has committing a terrible wrong and the other party has been wronged against.

If you are "punching" someone, rich or poor, meek or mighty, UP OR DOWN on the grounds that they have been wronged against then your punching is out of order regardless of what angle it subtends from the horizontal.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Rape Culture, Or Just Culture?

Over recent months, I have not been particularly shy in chiming in on those aspects of gender political discourse that have caused me the deepest concerns. One such concern, one which I don't think I have given my views on directly, is the notion that we live in a rape culture. I would assume by now that most readers would have a fair idea of what normally falls under the umbrella, though I think a quick couple of definitions and a little reflection may not hurt.

"Rape culture is a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape."

The definitional entry on finallyfeminism101
from the web article  Transforming a Rape Culture:
A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.

In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.

The one bone of contention I have with this second definition is the line  "a society where violence is seen as sexy". It may well be so that society sees violence as sexy (in fact I shall make the case myself below) but we must be clear of what is meant here. By following that line with "sexuality as violent" can erroneously give the impression that violence is seen as some kind of precursor to sex. Bear this in mind: the kind of violence that is seen as sexy is typically of the powerful male who intimidates other males, asserts his alpha male status over his rivals and always comes out on top in a fistfight. Outside of people's sexual fantasies (and I assume we are all grown-up enough to see the distinction between fantasies we wish to remain as fantasies and the actualities of our lives) the man who physically assaults and intimidates women is not generally held to be sexy, in fact the exact opposite is usually the case.

What I do not intend to do here is dispute the many and varied evidences given to support the notion we live in a rape culture. What I intend to do is the following:

1) Look at some of the categories we can place those pieces of evidence in.
2) Propose that this model ought to be applied more widely.
3) Look at some other categories of crime, particularly against the person, and see if the same arguments can be made
4) Reach a tentative conclusion.

To reiterate what I said above, what I specifically aim to avoid doing is to argue against the evidences cited for rape culture. If at any point my discussion of other categories of crime and their potential associated culture appears at odds with that cited for rape culture then that is merely an evidential spandrel arising out of this approach, it isn't my goal nor pertinent to the argument in any way.
I also want to avoid making this response in any way about teh menz, as much as is humanly possible, knowing how aggravating it is to some when issues that disproportionately affect men are dragged into conversations. That said, it is difficult to entirely exclude 50% of the population and my own experiences, as a man, obviously involve disproportionately encountering the crime issues faced by men.
Anyway, let's get cracking!

1 - Categories of evidence

Looking both at the definitions and thinking on the many many examples I have seen given as evidencing the theory that we live in a rape culture I want to put forward the following four categories, with no claim whatsoever that this is an exhaustive list:

i) Positive attitudes towards male sexual aggression

ii) A downplaying of the seriousness of the offence, perhaps in video games or films, or in seeing rape as a suitable subject for humour.

iii) A passive acceptance that rape is part and parcel of life (for women, at least), both from society at large and an acceptance amongst potential victims of a high likelihood of future victimhood.

iv) Victim Blaming

2 - Applying the model more widely

The case I wish to make here is that the model and the evidences proposed regarding rape culture are actually only manifestations of viewing sexual violence in isolation and, in doing so, misidentifies what is going on.
Suppose one made the case, given our western predilection for pig meat to say we live in a pork culture. Clearly we can imagine the evidences we could provide to help back up the claim. However, even if we just widen the context a little bit and consider beef and chicken consumption we may well see that those things we were attributing as special to pork are actually simply part of a greater whole we have somehow managed to look beyond: we live in a culture that likes to eat a lot of meat generally.

So in a similar way to those blind Indian gents who all correctly describe part of an elephant but misunderstand entirely the elephant as a whole, so I am suggesting here. The claim of rape culture arises from only viewing part of the edifice; from only looking for pork and so only finding pork.

Believe me, I make these analogies knowing the depressingly high likelihood that this blog will be warped beyond recognition into something along the lines of 'Noelplum said that raping someone is no different to eating pork', that my analogy trivialises rape (yet it could be applied with equal veracity to any crime you like) or some such lies.
Be at it. If misrepresentation is the best tool you have available you have my sympathies.

3 - Considering other categories of crime

So moving on, what I intend to do here is to make the case that analogs of beef and chicken actually exist here. In other words, the categories of evidence listed above apply in equally convincing ways to other types of crime against the person. So to consider two categories, firstly non-sexual violence and murder and then fraud.

Non-sexual Violence (and Killing)

Right off the bat, I will be honest and say that the picture here is not entirely clear cut.

General attitudes, in the UK at least, are not universally generous or positive towards acts of indiscriminate aggression. An overriding principle of "you should never hit a woman"(1) still seems to hold sway, in all probability a patriarchal remnant regarding the way in which women ought to be treated, by men at least.

However, such a large proportion of violence is committed by men and given that men themselves are so often on the receiving end of that violence, I think it is legitimate to consider such perceptions as important attitudes(2). In terms of everyday attitudes there still seems to be some kudos attached, amongst men especially, to being seen as the tough guy, the hard man. That kind of respect comes but one way: heavy duty acts of physical violence against other men. The 'hardest man in town'  may not attract our respect but he will attract the respect of many and the savageness of his assaults on other males will be the making of his reputation in local pubs and clubs. This situation appears to only be amplified in prisons, whereby a demonstrated ability to beat another man within an inch of his life is treated with respect. Contrast this, if you will, with the moral pontificating (which I often find slightly breathtaking given the crimes they HAVE committed) that these same 'hard men' do with regard to other categories of criminal such as child molesters and rapists. Clearly, in prison at least, it is violence of the non-sexual sort that is afforded status and respect.

Then we have expectation. The expectation I grew up with was that a damned good kicking was just one of the occupational hazards of being a young man(3). That the possibility of getting to old age without experiencing a beating, from some random assailant, somewhere along the way, was practically inconceivable. Don't get me wrong, there was no expectation that any given outing would likely result in such an outcome (if it did I would have stayed in, believe me!) but there was an accepted inevitability that sooner or later your luck will run out. Expectation: without a shadow of a doubt, it was my expectation and that of all my friends.

Victim blaming is another illuminating category here. We see a murder or a beating in the paper and inevitably someone will question whether the victim was up to no good, provoking the trouble or involved in drugs or crime or something else that we deem increases the likelihood of such a thing occurring. Friends who got assaulted, in my late teens and twenties, would be grilled as to the circumstances and any admittance that they had walked home alone or strayed from the main areas (when they need not have done so) always -without fail- attracted responses of the 'fucking idiot, what do you expect' variety.

As an aside, I still feel that way about myself. My parents taught me to stay with friends, keep to busy areas and get a taxi home. To do otherwise was to be irresponsible; to take a risk with my personal safety. To do otherwise would have potentially led to outcomes involving victim blaming, with myself as the victim and myself taking blame. 
I still stick to these rules.

What about the media? Seemingly you could fill a small library with biographies and autobiographies of celebrated criminals and 'hard men', all waving their credentials under our noses in terms of how many people they have beaten up: the greater the head count the higher they rank. Make no mistake though, there will be no bragging tales about how many children they have molested or women they have raped, instead the bragging here takes the form of (in your best cockney accent) "I neva laid a fackin finga on a woman in anga and anyone who did is a fackin cant", or words to that effect!

Yet in all of this books are of nothing as compared to films(4), yet let us put films to one side entirely as they are, in turn, as nothing compared to what we see in video games. Video games, that strange leisure activity where, more often than not, the whole aim of the game is to brutalise and murder, male and female alike; where you get awarded points, sometimes even 'honour', for endless dispassionate killing.

-From competitive 'first person shooters' where success is measured by number of kills
-Fighting games, pioneered by the likes of Mortal Kombat, that award particularly clever control combinations with finishing fatalities.
-The endless killing seen in World of WarCraft, often justified via a quest for the most trivial reasoning imaginable and equally as often involving other player characters whose back story and claim on continued existence is as justifiable as ones own.
-To the game I play presently, Skyrim, where the player can train and gain respect as a thief or mercenary, slaughter innocents in their hundreds and, in scenes reminiscent of the fighting game genre, witness savage death blows where ones hapless opponent meets a particularly grisly end.

Yet amongst all of that, for all the noted sexualisation of characters in series such as SNK's King of Fighters and Tecmo's Dead or Alive, the glory always lies in beating the opponent to within an inch of their life or beyond - the violence itself is always non-sexual and resolutely so.
Sexual violence, on the other hand, is notable only by its (almost) total absence5. Indeed, the up and coming Tomb Raider game has already been hit by a scandal that the back story may have involved Lara Croft (the central protagonist) having been raped or sexually assaulted. Things such as they are the publishers are backtracking on the suggestion. One thing we can be sure of, killing and heavy duty non-sexual violence will make up an unavoidable part of the game and will attract the bare minimum of criticism.

So I have to say, in summary, that if video games DO glorify crime (and you can throw in films here also) it is hard to imagine non-sexual violence could feature any higher up the list. (nor sexual violence feature any lower down)

Have I not made the case here that we live in a non-sexual violence culture and a killing culture? If you think not then I can only ask: if all the situations given here applied to sexual violence in the same way, then how would you view it?

Fraud, Scams and their Ilk

Fraud may seem an interesting choice. Perhaps seemingly smaller in terms of scope and less of a hot topic than violence, of either a sexual or non-sexual nature, fraud is of interest, I propose, because I can think of no other sphere of life where victim blaming is more prevalent.

Of course it needs to be said right from the outset that victim blaming, far from being the sole preserve of the sexual victim, is pretty much ubiquitous across the whole gamut of criminal offences. Indeed, the political left(6), who complain most regularly and vociferously about the practice of victim blaming, are generally amongst the first to do exactly the very same when it comes to terrorist threats and atrocities committed against Western democracies. However, my aim here is not to discuss the issues surrounding victim blaming but to consider the level of victim blaming that goes on with victims of fraud and scam-artists.

So I ask you to consider the friend who gets scammed on ebay; or whose data is lost through unwittingly downloading a virus; or who actually hired the man knocking on the door offering to resurface the drive or chop down the unwanted tree. 

Immediately we hear of their misfortune we want to know whether ebay feedback was checked; whether virus scanners were installed; whether other quotes were taken and references sought?

After all, you buy on ebay without checking feedback you deserve all you get; leave your pc underprotected and only have yourself to blame; and everyone knows you don't buy services offered unsolicited on your doorstep, right?

If victim blaming signifies cultural approval of a crime then there can be no doubt we live in a fraud culture. The only surprise is that noone seems to be making this connection: noone is pointing out that we ought not be telling people how to protect their personal data from viruses and trojans we should be telling the hackers "don't  hack!"

Now in terms of how we view fraud and fraudsters it is a mixed bag.
I suggest that generally we have a pretty low opinion of the crooked tradesperson or used-car dealer, yet the computer hacker is sometimes seen as some sort of modern day frontiersman or freedom fighter, bravely refusing to be constrained by the constraints of society. This as they infect, destroy and defraud.
-Then we have the tax frauds - why shouldn't one who works hard allow a little bit of slippage on their returns? 
-The benefits frauds - why should you lose those benefits just because you've found a job, right?
-The insurance frauds - you've paid all those premiums over the years, why shouldn't you add a couple of items onto that claim?

The list of types of fraud is quite long but nowhere near as long as the list of justifications and apologies we have for fraudulent activity. It isn't that bad right?...... but isn't this prima facie evidence of some degree of cultural acceptance of crimes of this type, just as it is when it is claimed rape apologists play down the significance of rape in some way as evidence of rape culture?

Our expectations are also high here. Sky high. We accept rogue tradespeople, as we accept viruses, ebay scams and phishing facebook apps as somehow part and parcel of modern existence. Our intolerance has been blunted and our sense of outrage extirpated, so used have we become to these criminal attempts to benefit at both our financial and psychological expense.

I offer the proposal here that if we accept the same criteria offered for rape culture and apply it to both on- and offline frauds and scams then the conclusion that we live in a fraud culture is inescapable.

4 - Tentative Conclusion

So I chose two broad categories of crime as examples, I could have chosen others. I chose the two I did because they were the two I was motivated to write about, though I contend that I can barely think of an example that you couldn't make a similar case for.

So my intention here is not to dispute the case put forward for rape culture but perhaps to dispute the conclusion. Going back to our Indian gentlemen, it seems to me that the case for rape culture, described as is, depends on only seeing a part of the whole. You see but one section of our societies variously ambivalent, hypocritical, black-humoured, self-serving and, ultimately, contradictory attitudes to crimes against the person (as well as against society) and it is easy to remark that the elephant is rather like a wall, or a snake, or a fan. Then you step back and see the violence culture, the killing culture, the fraud culture.......... so is it not a crime culture we are seeing here, really? Are we not just describing an aspect of that?

Yet I suggest a further step. Does it make sense to label our culture a crime culture when rates of crime are comparatively so low? We are lucky. Western societies are seriously safe places to live compared to most of the rest of the world; western citizens have high expectations of protection from crime and punishment for those convicted; western police forces do actually take reported crimes seriously, they do not simply smile and shrug their shoulders.

So aren't these attitudes just part of the normal human cultural experience and not something that has earnt itself a special label on account of being in any way out of the ordinary? In other words, isn't what we could label crime culture really just............. culture?

To end I would just like to add, as I know it is necessary for the particularly mean-spirited amongst you, that suggesting that something is part of the normal human cultural expereince, or even better than the normal experience, does not preclude us from striving for better, for striving for the best.

We should do that, I think.

Jim (np99)

1 (p27, p34 table 2.26 cf to table 2.27 also and)
2 (p24 table 2.17)
3 (table 3.01 figures for stranger and mugging crimes)
4 Films and television also portray violence, often the most severe forms, as something amusing and trivial. We can happily laugh as Tom is skinned alive or struck so hard over the head with a pan he is left dazed and with a pan-shaped face. Yet it is only because the violence stays resolutely non-sexual that such laughter is deemed morally acceptable. So if this is trivialisation and normalisation of violence (and as such evidence of contribution to a cultural climate of acceptance) then, again, it is of the non-sexual kind.
6 Which in terms of American politics would include myself. The centre of gravity is somewhat different in Europe and I have a hard time locating myself in terms of left and right wing.

Friday, 15 February 2013

I Fincke I like It!

Firstly, apologies for the pun-laden tabloid style title - the kind of thing you would read in 'the Super Soaraway Sun'. Perhaps a more serious apology now also needs to be made for linking The Sun? Ok, Ok, I will stop now.

So Dan Fincke has posted "The Camels With Hammers Civility Pledge" over on his blog. I invite you to go and read the pledge, not least as he includes a preamble detailing the reasons which have led him to regard such a pledge as a worthwhile venture.

As for myself, I am happy to sign up to the pledge but with a few amendments (something Dan encourages us to consider and make as necessary). Taken as a whole I can only appreciate the spirit in which it is intended and the clearly balanced approach that Dan has taken in formulating it.
That isn't to say that it is without problems. Russel Blackford has added to what many others have said, which is that, perhaps, brevity is not the pledges strongest suit. Chris Hallquist shares some of the concerns I have over language (more on that later). Then we have Chris Clarke and the Pharyngula 'house trolls' predictably apopleptic with rage that anyone other than themselves should try and lay down what is acceptable and what is not in online exchanges. Note that Clarke will happily maintain civility if the blog is by some screwed-up hate-monger, who thinks women should never perform fellatio on their partners due to it being a patriarchy supporting act (go here and here for astonishing blogs and comments alongside Chris Clarke civility).

All I plan to do here is simply go through the pledges sections and comment on each. So here are MY COMMENTS on the pledge:

1. I commit that I will engage in all public arguments with a sincere aim of mutual understanding, rather than only persuasion.
 In total agreement with this. It should be noted that this stands aside from PZ Myers recent complaint, with regard to myself, that I didn't "change my tune", with many commenters that followed seemingly seeing the only alterntaive as lecturing. There is, back on planet reality, a world of difference between posting in a bid to increase mutual understanding (by firmly advocating your own position and listening to what the other side has to say) and some expectation that with understanding must come agreement and compliance.

2. I commit that I will tolerate the existence of people with dissenting ethical, religious, or political views.
Not just tolerate here but welcome. If you disagree with me on an issue then you are the kind of person I want to talk to and engage with.
Where I really appreciate Dan's pledge here is that he goes on to mention that we need also to think of what peoples objectives are, rather than just seeing different methods. It is often that people have broadly similar goals but only ever see the differences in opinion over how to reach those goals.

3. I commit that I will always focus first on the merits of other people’s arguments and not disparage them personally for asking unpleasant questions, taking unpleasant positions, or simply disagreeing with me.
I have on occasion fallen short of this and need to redouble my efforts here. One of the problems is that the 'unpleasant positions' other people take are not always of the ideological bent but also of the personally abusive variety and of deliberate and wilful misrepresentation.
Dan goes on to say, again which I absolutely agree with, that we need to be minded to not always assume the worst possible interpretation of what someone has said. A perfect example of this occurs in the comments left to Dan's pledge itself.
As part of an exchange with Dan I had written the following:
I can understand your perspective on the word ‘slut’ in that it is almost always used in a mean-spirited sense in these contexts.
I personally am not quite so keen to totally consign it to the dustbin because it is one of those words whereby much of what it has traditionally described, on the grounds that those characteristics are universal negatives, many of us nowadays see those same characteristics as (in appropriate circumstances) positives. However, in terms of the conversations that have been problematic in recent months, I can’t see such reclamatory usage being of much relevance.
Personally i didn't think there was much ambiguity in there. The word 'slut' has become such a damaging slur because things such as female sexual promiscuity and desire, which lie behind it, were regarded as negatives. For those, such as myself, that regard them as anything other than negatives, and in appropriate circumstances (such as the bedroom or the porn movie) the word 'slut' can actually be a very exciting word, a positive word, a word of respect because it refers to aspects we hold to be positives. However, Sally Strange was depressingly true to form, as a Pharyngula regular, when she replied:
Evil sentiments, expressed civilly.
and followed on saying:
 So, to translate, Noelplum is not eager to stop using the word slut, because what it “traditionally describes,” which I take to mean sexual promiscuity, is in fact shameful and people ought to be shamed for it.
Sally then criticised Dan for engaging with me at all (and suggested by doing so people like her must not be welcome on his blog), labelling me a misogynist in the process which was rather ironic given the conversation I was having with Dan in that thread.

To go back to Dans point. For SS to manage to get what I said exactly 180° wrong I think has to involve a certain mean-spiritedness and determination to prejudge and see the very worst interpretation in what the other person is saying

4. When I feel it necessary to call out what I perceive to be the immoral behaviors or harmful attitudes of my interlocutors, I commit that I will do so only using specific charges, capable of substantiation, which they can contest with evidence and argumentation, at least in principle. I will not resort to merely abusive epithets and insult words (like “asshole” or “douchebag”) that hatefully convey fundamental disrespect, rather than criticize with moral precision.
 I don't really agree with Dan on this and  my exchange with him was on this topic. Whilst I agree that such abusive language is over-used and that the better part of me tries to steer clear of it, I really don't see that being as hardline over language as this helps. As I said in the comments, sometimes in a pledge or similar, the more you include the more you exclude. As is shown by the comments left around the blogosphere, including this part in the pledge has led to many excluding themselves from the pledge entirely, which is a shame. 
This part of the pledge links strongly with part 6 (I think they ought both have been amalgamated into one part tbh) so i will conclude my comments here under my comments for that part.

 5. I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.
This is probably my favourite section of the pledge and shows the even-handedness of it. Firstly, I take on board and agree with the headline above. Absolutely.
Dan then goes on to add two very important additional points:
Of course none of this means I should feel compelled to surrender my own rational right and need to independently and rigorously assess what anyone says for its truth or goodness. I should not feel compelled to always and unconditionally agree with someone who has an experience or life situation different from my own
On the other side, I will also be sensitive to preempt counter-productively defensive feelings and reactions of people in traditionally advantaged groups by carefully avoiding even the appearance of prejudicially disparaging them all as malicious oppressors.
I have to add that most people are happy to champion one or two of these sentiments but all too few actively seem to champion them all. Some of the comments on Dan's article talking about 'punching up' fall into this category. If we are to have an exchange then starting from a position that different rules can apply to one group than another (ie, I am allowed to insult you but don't you DARE insult me back) is simply a recipe for creating ill will and resentment.

6. I commit that I will not use any language that I know is offensive to either a subset of a marginalized group or to members of that group at large, for whatever reason.
One of the supposed 'harms' of such language are claims that it leads to splash damage. I don't entirely take issue with the claim, but it seems to be applied in a very unnuanced way by people who are seemingly unable to see the difference between what the words are actually referring to. On that score i invite you to have a look at my latest thoughts on just this issue in the peurile titled video Do Cocks Cause Splash Damage: Gendered Slurs #2 


I think many of us also have grave doubts that claims of offence are always entirely genuine. Of course that can be a reason TO follows Dan's pledge here because to not do so can play into the hands of those who would sooner make the discussion about the tone of your argument - the fact you used word 'x' - rather than more substantive issues pertaining to the arguments. However, many of us have our own online spaces, such as I do here on this blog, and object to the idea that we, along with everybody else, must kowtow to the standards of the most worlds most easily offended person.

7. I commit that I will not use any ableist language that disparages people over physical or mental limitations or illnesses.
Again this is another of Dan's lists of unacceptable terms. I do agree that many of us tend to result to such words a little too easily. I also hate to see people's arguments sidelined through such language, even when I don't like the argument (or even the person making it).
On a recent video of mine asking PZ Myers a question a commentor made the following remark:
Not very bright to put it mildly.
Has anyone seriously considered the possibility -I am not joking in the least- that Meyers has suffered some sort of brain damage? (A malignant tumor, a series of micro-strokes, any of a number of neurodegenerative diseases...)
The is seems to me quite a strong possibility.
this was my interjection which I give as it is just such a perfect example of what I am trying to say here:
I just want to add here that I would sooner assume Myers opinions and positions are ones he genuinely holds and that he is fully compos mentis. I get a bit uneasy when we start to genuinely question people's sanity because then we are getting close to the kinds of ad hominem tactics we rail against.
However, I think we need to distinguish between off-handed comments that someone is 'an idiot' and attempts to either rely on those comments in lieu of a substantive response or dismiss the individual on account of their proposed idiocy.

8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.
You only have to go back and read my previous blog entry to not only see how difficult it is to define 'trolling' but that individuals themselves play fast and loose with the definitions.
I do commit to this though. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I have never gone onto any online space and represented views that I do not genuinely and earnestly hold (objection via reductio ad absurdum notwithstanding) and accept that sites which indentify as 'safe spaces' or that require a certain ideology to take part (however abhorrent we may find them) ought to be allowed their isolation from other opinions.

9. I commit that I will apologize when I hurt others’ feelings, even when I do so unintentionally and even when I do not think their hurt feelings are justified.
Much as I understand the sentiments behind this it is just too much a tool in the hands of those who would gladly stifle debate.
Several times I have made the point that to worship - not to simply believe in but to worship - an entity that you truly believe has condemned my grandparents (good folks) to eternal suffering and torment, as some Christians do (not all, by any stretch of the imagination), then I place you no higher than those who idolise serial killers and murderers. Is this offensive to some? Yes, certainly it is and I have recieved many comments and messages to that effect. Make no mistake: if when I see something that offends me, if by calling it out I offend that person in return, then so be it. the alternative is to not speak out and to let such beliefs go uncommented on; acts go unchecked.

10. I commit that I will hold my allies and myself to the highest standards of civil, good-willed, compassionate, and reason-based argumentation and ethical conduct, regardless of whether our enemies do the same, and regardless of the rectitude of our cause.
 I certainly am happy to pledge that I will not hold my opponents to higher standards than those I hold my allies to (as people who advocate 'punching up' sometimes seem to not only do but are quite self-righteous about). However, given that I don't hold my opponents to the highest standard (nor even to the standard I hope to maintain myself; nor even to the standard I manage to maintain myself) I am hardly likely to hold my allies to such a standard.
I think there are times we need to call out our allies and times when we have to accept that our allies calling us out is not akin to a knife in the back. Maybe this was a difficult part of the pledge for Dan to put into words but, as it stands, I think it is a bridge too far.

11. I commit that I will not make accusations of guilt by association. 
- I will judge people on their interactions with those they associate with.
- I will point out the associations of those who themselves play the 'guilt by association' card.
What I will not do is judge people on the beliefs and actions of others. 

12. I commit that I will not use mockery and sarcasm in ways that try to belittle other people.
 This is something of which I am, at times, guilty. I certainly do not wish to do so in lieu of offering an argument and rarely do so with any malice. As a light-hearted individual who finds things funny in the darkest of circumstances I cannot help but at times respond to people with sarcasm and mockery. At the same time, I have never had any issue with receiving such mockery myself, a recent comment had me laughing so hard I was nearly off my chair, the fact I was the brunt of it diminished the humour not one jot!
When Dan goes on to say:
I will draw the line at using humor to personally attack, harass, or silence individuals with whom I am engaged. 
I can but nod in agreement. If your humour is realistically likely to amount to harassment or silencing then it has gone too far.

13. I commit that I will empathetically, impartially, and with reasonable mercy enforce the standards of civility and compassion laid out in this pledge in any venues (including but not limited to: blogs, Facebook pages, subreddits, and discussion forums) where I have moderation powers with sufficient latitude to set and enforce standards. 
In the space that I have managed, over on YouTube I cannot claim to have enforced the same standards of civility that I aim to maintain myself. To do so would not only be impractical but would stifle a lot of otherwise very enjoyable and reasonable debate. What I have always strived to do, what I aim to do going forwards, is to manage that space in such a way that anyone can have their say and represent their opinions. This has involved providing a little bit more support to outsiders (with whom I am generally in disagreement) than to regulars, who are generally well attended to anyway through weight of numbers. The end result is that most people who try and take part seemingly feel enabled to continue doing so and conversations rarely descend away from the issues entirely, even if exchanges are of the form 'argument + barbed comment'

The length of this response is such that I will not copy and paste Dan's civility pledge directly here. I urge you to go and read it and make your own mind up.

Thanks for reading and bye for now,
Jim (np99)

Monday, 11 February 2013

A Response to PZ Myers

Let us start on a positive note. It may not last long.

Despite many nay-sayers and doom-mongers, PZ Myers has proven many of his detractors wrong and responded to my video asking him, if he only blocks genuine trolls and unreasonable dissenters from his blog as he claims, where are all the residual non-trollish regular dissenters?
Seemed a reasonable question I think!
Of course my praise for him is somewhat qualified on the grounds of there being an unsubtle difference between claiming to address someones argument, including titling your response as if you have done so and,....well - actually doing so!

So I would like to address the grounds he DOES cover in his blog. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin:

So he asks in a video, where all the dissenters are (why in a video, I don’t understand; isn’t this a case where his written paragraphs are simpler, shorter, and easier to get through then 2+ minutes of yelling at a camera?)

So PZ responds on his Pharyngula blog, where absolutely none of his dissenters are because he has banned them all! (why on a blog I don't understand, isn't it the case that, unless you are a speed typist, you can commit your thoughts to video far quicker than tappety tapping them out on a keyboard?)

So having conducted the kind of simple rational analysis in 10 seconds that PZ Myers, despite his purported pretensions in the fields of skepticism and freethought, seems incapable of doing, I have concluded the following:

1) PZ Myers is most comfortable on his written blog as I am video blogging, therefore this is the default approach we take to responding, all other things being equal.
2) PZ Myers most established outlet with the greatest reach is his written blog as mine (with a substantially smaller reach than his, admittedly) is my video channel. If you want to be heard it makes sense to use your primary means of communication.

Please hold on here folks. If any of you are feeling talked down to on the grounds that this is clearly shit-blindingly obvious then please take note: to PZ Myers it is apparently not.

So what I have decided to do is, in the name of accommodating PZ in every way I can (other than anally), to commit this reply to my written blog. I very much hope that if PZ chooses to respond that he does within the spirit of the exchange (a general kind of mean-spiritedness with the hum of reciprocated dislike) and commits to video!

A lot of what followed in PZ's reply in no way addressed my question at all. A common complaint PZ and his bevy of house trolls have had is that my involvement on Pharyngula involves making threads all about me. However, PZ seems intent, in his reply, in making much of it all about me which is very much the way of things on Pharyngula: you make a dissenting argument; the responses you get are vitriolic and personal; and if you tackle any of them it is you who are making the thread about yourself. Forgive me for not falling in to that trap again!
Let's look at the bits which attempt to actually tackle my question:
Why aren’t 50% of my commenters creationists, just like the American population? Why aren’t 90% of them Christians? Why aren’t a third of them Republicans? We can apply this to every site on the internet: why aren’t the comment threads at AVoiceForMen full of people aghast at the misogyny on display? Why aren’t 10% of the comments at RaptureReady people belittling the inanity of Bible prophecy? Perhaps NoelPlum99 ought to think it through a little bit, and wonder why he assumes that the internet ought to be a great gray panmictic uniformity.
I suggest that Prof Myers would be well served to actually watch my video. It was 2.5 minutes long. I am being generous here. Were I to be less charitable, cynical even, I may suggest instead that PZ has actually watched my video, knows my argument and perchance has some secret investments on the commodities markets and is scared the price of straw is about to plummet? Who knows?
What is absolutely clear is that I was AT PAINS to point out that internet blogs, vlogs and the like are notoriously unrepresentative and in no way would I expect the strength of dissent on his blog to statistically match, or even approach, the strength of feeling. What I actually said (which can be an uncomfy thing to tackle when your arguments are built on sand) is that, given the large numbers of dissenters, surely some non-trollish dissenters would have set up shop on his blog and avoided his banhammer - but hey, why address the actual question when there is an easier one of your own you can address instead?

But let me say a little more here, because there is so much more that could be said:
Why aren’t 50% of my commenters creationists, just like the American population?
Or how about, why aren't ANY of your regular dissenters creationists on the anti-creationism blogs you make? When I regularly made anti-creationism videos I had regular creationist commentors. I welcomed their involvement, it made the comments a discussion rather than an endless list of self-affirmatory chirping.
Why aren’t 90% of them Christians?
Why aren't ANY of them Christians?
Why aren’t a third of them Republicans?
What aren't ANY of them Republicans?

If my tiny weeny channel manages to attract regular dissenters when I make a series of videos on a subject how does his behemoth of a blog manage to somehow avoid them all (other than those that either don't stay or require blocking as trolls)? Sorry, and all that, but I am just not buying PZ's argument here.

Then we get this:
Why aren’t the comment threads at AVoiceForMen full of people aghast at the misogyny on display? Why aren’t 10% of the comments at RaptureReady people belittling the inanity of Bible prophecy?
Maybe they adopt the same blocking strategy as the one you actually adopt, rather than the one you claim in google hangouts? I tried myself, a few years back, to join a Christian forum. I explained on the application that I was an atheist but wanted to engage in good faith and to accept any and all questions the regulars may have for me: I never heard back. Perhaps that is your answer?

You say that perhaps I ought to think it through. I have. You set up a straw argument and then STILL managed to answer it badly. 

What followed is PZ Myers kindly explaining to me why we would expect dissenters to be significantly statistically underrepresented on Pharyngula. It is all rivetting stuff and I only wish I had had access to it prior to my video question because then I could have used it to detail exactly why we would expect dissenters to be significantly statistically underrepresented on Pharyngula, having made the exact same point myself. (you know, the bit of the video where PZ's doorbell must have rang or perhaps his sausages were burning under the grill?)
If only PZ!
If only this had actually been the question I had asked rather than inconventiently (for which I apologise) being simply a misrepresentation to a degree which left me breathless. Shame that.
So why aren’t there a bunch of reasonable people here disagreeing with the major premises of the blog (there is, of course, a great deal of disagreeing going on in the comments — NoelPlum99 has to have his blinders on to fail to see that — but it’s just not over fundamentals, like the value of science)?
Hang on, so is this all about the 'value of science' now? When did this suddenly become the bone of contention driving the recent fractious disputes? Have I suddenly dematerialised only to reappear in a parallel universe identical in every way other than the well documented issues of dispute in the atheistic and skeptical circles are about totally different things? As it stands the only argument I have seen approaching the value of science, was the ludicrous claim you made to Steve Novella that skepticism is of no use (or at least 'fuck skepticism') unless empiricism grants objectivity to normative moral claims.
.........Because they can’t disagree reasonably.
None of them? Seriously? So of all the thousands of people who actively disagree with you on the real issues (hint: the ones that everyone seems to be talking about, not the 'value of science') none of them EVER come onto your blog and start regularly giving their objections? Except, of course, the dozens upon dozens of people you have labelled trolls and banned! One presumes the myriad reasons you gave in your reply, as to why dissenters would not step foot within a thousand internet miles of your blog, we have to suspend from our considerations - for reasons beyond our ken - when it comes to the myriad varieties of troll? Again sorry, still not quite buying PZ's argument: is anyone's mileage varying from mine here?
If you’re a dissenter, holding a minority view, there’s an expectation that you’re actually here because you’re looking to learn about a different point of view.
Which is distinctly NOT the same as adopting that point of view. I am reading William Lane Craig's 'Reasonable Faith' at the moment. Previously I read Alvin Plantinga's latest, not far behind was Jonathan Sack's take on the friction between science and religion. Does learning and exploring their points of view necessitate me agreeing or adopting their views by the end of these books? This is what you go on to say:
NoelPlum99 was notorious for that. He hung around for 4 months and never changed his tune, never addressed any sensible arguments, and never acknowledged any points that might represent serious concerns by commenters here.
Apologies for making it 'all about me' for a few moment: 
I have to ask how many of his commenters changed their tunes to mine? How many of them addressed my arguments? How many of them told me to fuck off and informed me just how much they despised me? Ok, I'll grant him that one!
Perhaps you should have a look at what I think was about the first exchange I had on Pharyngula:
 Here is the blog entry. The relevant posts are from my first comment at #355 through to the #390's.
I have to ask: who was the party addressing arguments here and who were the parties simply slinging as much shit as didn't run through their crooked fingers?

However, let's leave this to one side. My question, let us not forget, was a general one. By all means, just assume I am a troll of the most egregious and nauseating kind. The question was where are all the reasonable dissenters who do not fall into the categories PZ claims justify a block? Well, the startling truth is revealed right at the end of his response to me:
But otherwise, there are views that I find insufferably stupid, that only idiots would hold, and I’m happy to make this environment as hostile as possible to them. There are no rational grounds, no context for reasonable dissent, for being anti-feminist, for instance, or denying that our culture is deeply patriarchal and sexist. I can see reasonable argument about how we ought to deal with this fact of life, but denial (or worse, the kind of inane argument so many make that “why, calling someone a ‘cunt’ is not a reflection of de facto sexism!”)
So to PZ I say this. I would agree wholeheartedly that as much as feminism is about righting the real inequalities that women still DO really suffer there is no context for reasonable dissent. I suppose you could say the same about MRAs, whereby as much as they are about the real inequalities men DO suffer (of which there could be nothing greater for anyone with children than being held as a second-class parent purely on the grounds of your sex - and fuck you PZ if you belittle that issue) there is no context for reasonable dissent. However, you and I know that in practice MRA groups are about a whole lot more than that, just as the brand of feminism promoted by the likes of some on your blog network - including your good self - is about a whole lot more than  "the view that women are people" which you trot out at the end of your response. Similarly, perhaps you need to become a little bit more sophisticated than assume cum hoc ergo propter hoc that because sexism and patriarchy are realities that every inequality we see is as a result of them and that any argument to the contrary is no context for reasonable dissent. Perhaps you have to become a little bit more tolerant of the breadth of human opinion? After all, your fellow blogger on Pharyngula, Chris Clarke, is a one-time regular poster on the ultra-radfem hate blog iblamethepatriarchy so perhaps he ought to feel the banhammer..... quickly now, before he logs on and changes the password!
Simply put: what you have demonstrated in this paragraph is that you have no objection to reasonable dissent but that any position other than one which exactly chimes with your own you regard as wholly unreasonable.  Brilliant: you could teach me so much.

Let me give you the last word PZ, on why NOT ONE SINGLE REGULAR DISSENTER HAS MANAGED TO SURVIVE ON YOUR WIDELY READ BLOG, and let the crimson colour of your herrings make my point better than I have managed throughout this entire response :
And then they get banhammered.
 Because really, how do you express “reasonable dissent” from the view that women are people, and that our society institutionalizes discrimination of all sorts?
Jim (np99)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Redefining Misogyny: A Lesson in Smearing and Why it Hurts

One of the real bones of contention in recent times has been the extension in definition of the term misogyny. What I hope to achieve here is to try and outline the position of both sides.

-Perhaps a good place to start will be to look at the traditional definition of the word and then look at how the definition has been broadened, so as to apply to a substantially larger number of individuals, their actions and (perceived) motives.
-Subsequently I will attempt, to the best of my abilities, to refine and lay out the defence for this, on the basis of the arguments that I have heard.
-Finally, I aim to give my own thoughts on why I hold that such redefining of terms amounts to political smearing. No more, no less.

The Definition
So right off the bat let us examine the dictionary definition of the word. Here are a selection of dictionary definitions quickly found online: - hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women - a hatred of women - a hatred of women
                                    an extreme dislike of females, frequently based upon unhappy experience or upbringing

It must also be pointed out that after the Australian Prime Minister had labelled her opposite number a misogynist back in October the Australian Macquarie dictionary said that it was expanding its definition to include "entrenched prejudice against women" as misogyny had taken on wider meaning, particularly in feminist discourse and that with changed usage should come a changed definition.
This is only to be expected. Dictionaries have, in modern times, become entirely descriptive and so are compelled to mirror (and inevitably lag behind) changes in usage across society.

The Expanded Definition: The Issue

However, the discourse that has taken place online, in recent times (especially amongst a number of blogs and their commenters at Freethought Blogs and Skepchick), seem to have taken a definition of misogyny that is far more free ranging and liberally applied than even the expanded entry in the Australian dictionary.
 Whilst it is difficult to exactly state the scope of how it is being applied, here are some examples of things which could potentially earn you the label:
1) Equity Feminism - for some this simply does not go far enough and is misogynistic because it doesn't take accounts of womens special requirements.
2) Positive discrimination/ Affirmative action - an opposition to measures that fall into these categories such as quotas or all-women shortlists, seemingly on whatever grounds, are signs of misogynistic thinking for some.
3) Evolutionary Psychology - with evo psych comes the possibility that not all (statistical) behavioural or preference differences between males and females are entirely cultural in origin which leads to the truly terrifying and misogynistic idea that men and women might actually have some tiny residual statistical differences, cognitively speaking, aside from the influence of culture.
4) Patriarchy theory/ Rape culture - question any aspect of either of these two mantras and, in the eyes of some, your status as a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist is set.
5) Disagreements/ Attacks on female bloggers - Seemingly, taking issue with female bloggers can be construed as misogynistic even if you have demonstrably been at least as tough with their male counterparts either at the time or in the past.
6) Equality of opportunity - A subset of thinkers seemingly exist who assume equality of outcome as a given, thus any outcome other than an outcome that exactly matches demographics is necessarily a result of discrimination, in some form. Therefore, advocates of equality of opportunity are assumed to be misogynistic (I can only assume myself) because if they were not up to some mischief they would obviously be advocating equality of outcome instead.
7) Being male - Whilst not a sufficient condition in itself it is largely a necessary one. Even those who throw around the misogyny label most liberally clearly realise how magnificently wrong-headed it sounds to apply the label to women. Consequently, many things that attract the misogyny accusation only do so when perpetrated or espoused by men.
8) Sexism - As often as not it seems misogyny is simply being used as a synonym for sexism.

The Expanded Definition: The Defence

Before considering exactly why this expanded definition is so problematic it may be worth first outlining the line of defence of those who are using these expanded definitions of misogyny.
The first thing they point out, absolutely correctly, is that definitions change. This is a doubly reasonable point, on its face, because allied to it is this idea that dictionaries reflect usage and so simply retorting what the precise dictionary definition is, at any given moment in time, ignores the descriptive nature of modern dictionaries and the inevitable lag, with respect to rapidly changing definitions, mentioned earlier in this blog entry.
The second point they make is that we (and I say we having been labelled a misogynist, in the last six months, on more occasions than I care to remember - that after 40 years of never having attracted the label) are making much too much of a fuss over the term. Their point is that what counts is what THEY mean by the word, not what WE understand by it. Thus, as their usage of the term is of something substantially less than a blanket hatred or dislike of womankind generally, we ought not get too het up or worried by its usage and application.

There are some real problems with this and I suspect that they are all too aware of them. What is happening is what you could call smearing via equivocation by proxy.

Where The Problem Lies

So whilst it is true that definitions change, the majority of the time this is not as the result of a determined effort but simply societal creep in usage patterns. Some of that may be at work here but there seems a more determined effort to apply this term as far and wide as possible.
So one question that must be asked is that if the definition is being expanded in a conscious way - that is, if the definition of a really nasty derogatory label that no reasonable minded person would wish to have associated with them is being expanded to include as many people as possible - what reasons could lie behind this?*

I freely admit, as it stands, I fail to envisage any reasons that are not wholly objectionable and/or mean-spirited.

To explain why this is all just such an issue let us consider the second point of defence, that we really do not need to show quite such consternation.
Recall: the line is that the definition of misogyny that counts is their definitions, as they are the ones applying the label, and NOT dictionary definitions of hatred or dislike of women. But here is the issue. It is all well and good to redefine words and phrases to meet new sets of circumstances but you have to tread very carefully when you are talking about terms which are actually slurs, or the equivalent of slurs, when applied to individuals.

Imagine, by way of example, I asked you if you loved children.
You tell me that you do and, in fact, have had several children of your own which you truly cherish.
What would you feel like if I then announced you were a paedophile?
I suggest you would not be best pleased....... to put it mildly!
But then I tell you that my usage of the term merely refers to affection for children generally, nothing whatsoever to imply anything sexual or improper: so there, you have nothing whatsoever to worry about!

Can you see the issue here? Whilst strictly within my definition there is no issue to warrant your concern, what we both know is that the rest of the world operates to another definition. Further, when I boldly announce that you are a paedophile, to all who will listen, the specifics of my redefinition will be stripped away: all the world will see, as a result of this equivocation of the term by proxy, is a smearing accusation that you are sexually attracted to children! Do we have an issue now? You bet we fucking do!

So this seems a pretty shit trick to play. When we throw around smears like misogynist, regardless of what we would like the word to mean, what really counts, in terms of the smearing potential of the word, is what the wider world understands the term to mean. Many of the individuals who are using this word so much more loosely and then proclaiming - innocent and doe-eyed to the last - that words change meanings and not to worry, know full well what they are doing here.
It also makes misogynist a much meaner and two-faced slur than words like feminazi that get thrown back in their direction. Whilst feminazi is a word I neither use nor approve of, it is at least an up-front slur. Any third party overhearing an accusation that someone is a feminazi is not likely to suspect anything much different to what is being claimed. Consequently, their feelings towards the accused party will likely depend more on their feelings towards outspoken feminists generally, whether positive or negative, than anything above and beyond that.

So anyone over at Freethought Blogs tells you that they are the side playing by the rules, that it is all the other side, that is not quite the true picture. What IS the picture is that they are the side boxing clever here, using tried and tested underhand political techniques to forward an agenda that appears to involve more than is claimed. I give them credit for that, it impresses me, but I am also not fooled by it for one moment.
-No mistake: smearing in this way is a shit political trick.
-Attempting to conflate atheism itself with their own personal socio-political ideology with the ambiguously and misleadingly titled atheism+ (which sounds for all the world to any third party, again not in the know, as some kind of new term for strident atheists or strong atheism) is a shit political trick.
-Legitimately campaigning for an harassment policy but then telling others who campaign against one (not me in this case, on balance my view was to have such a policy and be done with it) to 'run their own conventions if they don't like the rules' is a really really shit and entitled trick.
-Spinning the amount of incidents and danger at conventions until any sound-minded person would sooner take a job as a pork-chop salesman in Kabul marketplace when the mosques kick out rather than attend - yes madam, we have another shit trick!

It is to the eternal discredit of some, ashamedly largely from the side I represent, that some really nasty missives have been sent across the divide. Whether fuelled by anger or genuine prejudice it is ugly and unacceptable and benefits noone. But be in no doubt: both sides have their little games. Here I have presented a sly little game, the misogyny game: smearing via equivocation by proxy.

Thank you for reading, bye for now.
Jim (np99)

* An aside: I think this is a question we should ask generally whenever such redefinitions come up. 
For example, in the last six months I have learnt that the feminist definition of sexism is prejudice plus power. The end result is that, under this redefinition, any conversation that takes place is immediately shaped in advance. So they have made it impossible here, by dint of definition, for half the population to ever be recognised as victims of sexism no matter what treatment they encounter (especially coupled with the simultaneous failure to recognise that societies are a complex patchwork and 'male power' really only represents a summation of the peaks and troughs throughout society). Indeed, we end up with the grotesque asymmetry of a man and woman both pronouncing that the other sex are all universally a bunch of assholes but only one of them would be branded a sexist as a result. 
So when we see a redefinition such as this, I think it behooves us to consider the motives of those who are championing the redefinition. Just as one would if I announced that, from now on, high intelligence was to be redefined as high levels of mental acuity in a man, thus precluding any woman, by definition, from claiming to be intelligent! I suggest that most people would have some concern over my motives were I to attempt such a stunt and that we should likewise be sceptical of peoples motives when they engage in such conversationally manipulative jiggery-pokery!