Debate Is Not Pointless.

I am answering objections to my comments moderation policy that asks for no insulting language and for slowness to make personal attacks. Familiarity with previous posts should not be necessary for new readers to understand the discussion below.

Objection 4: It is pointless to debate with religious people and non-progressives since they never change their minds anyway. So why bother being nice to them or creating a hospitable environment for them?

Reply 4: First of all, this is a counter-productive attitude because if we want our ideas and values to be adequately effectual in the world we need to persuade those who presently do not share them. However obstinate they may be, we need to bring them over to our side. Period. While not every forum has to be committed to that purpose, we need some to be. This is one of them. I hope my writings can appeal to open-minded people across all spectrums and to help open the minds of those presently closed.

Secondly, we do not need to debate our opponents only to win them to our side. We need to debate them in order to moderate their positions. When people are isolated into non-communicating groups, their differences grow, rather than diminish. Dialogue forces concessions. If religious people or non-progressives only talk to each other, they will only ever reinforce their commonalities and their prejudices and radicalize. Same goes for us.

Therefore, while it is good for groups to have some spaces for talking amongst themselves and breaking new ground within their paradigms, it is also valuable for them to have outside influences that sharpen them through conflict and that check their excesses. We need to do that for our opponents and they need to do it for us. And this happens all the time.

We cannot underestimate how valuable it is when in the middle of an argument you say, “surely you cannot mean x” and someone who has not actually ever clarified their view on x decides that “no of course not!” whereas had they only talked to likeminded people, some day someone else would have said, “surely x is true” and they would have said “of course!” That’s how we moderate each other. In part it is by being there helping influence people as they work out distinctions they had never thought about before. They may not come away having conceded our main arguments but lots of other concessions with inestimable possible future benefits may have been achieved.

Thirdly, in public forums lots of people are watching. Debating with a hardheaded person is worth it for that reason. It allows the fence sitters to observe. It allows numerous standard objections to be refuted, maybe for the first time for some people. It is so very worth the effort to have these public debates. And staying civil during them counts for a lot of moral high ground among people in the middle and prevents people who are frustrated with your logic from gaining a legitimate excuse (your inability to act decently towards fair and sincere opponents) to write you off.

Fourthly, even where you think someone is being stubborn because they will not simply concede your point that you find obvious, you have no idea the long-term effects of any given argument. People will inevitably entrench and dig in their heels during an argument and seem closedminded and intractable. You never know what they will wind up saying in their next argument or what conversions or deconversions lay ahead. I have changed my mind so many times and about so many things, and all primarily through rational debate, that I know this happens, even (or especially!) with as tenacious a debater as I am, who holds as strong opinions as I do. In fact, it is precisely because I spare no idea the most intense scrutiny I am capable of that it has every chance of convincing me, if only it holds up. I never stop listening. I never stop debating. I never stop learning.

Fifthly, an argument that seems like it should be obvious is new to others. They are often not hearing it for the millionth time even though you are saying it for the millionth time. They are often not being just obtuse but trying to thoroughly interrogate an idea before believing it.

I get it that there are also people who don’t want to get it. But even they will inevitably be forced into more concessions if you argue with them than if you ignore them.

I get that is hard to feel like you have to individually explain the same thing to a million different people and still have to start all over again everyday. I am a professional teacher, that’s what my job is like. I also constantly deal, as an atheist, with Christians too lazy to understand even the basics of what irreligious people think before criticizing us and advocating for incoherent ideas.

I also get it that if you belong to any of a number of marginalized groups you have the frustrating task of answering ignorant questions or correcting ignorant statements as a never-ending curse in life. I also totally understand it if you don’t want the job of educator, whether online or in person, and personally abstain from these debates for a hiatus or forever. Such debates should not have to run your life or your blog if they exhaust you or make you miserable or hold you back from living positively and unfettered by others’ bigotries.

But don’t disparage the value of debate for those willing to engage. Do not be so discouraged by the seeming obtuseness of your opponents. People’s minds are changing all the time. It does work. While the relative lack of moral respect and recognition that gays (for just one example) still get is appalling, the polls tracking change of public opinion over the span of just a couple of decades is frankly staggering. The relentless efforts to counter dehumanization of gays has drastically turned the tide. There is a huge amount left to do. Any given day, any given social justice or truth cause can seem impossible and futile. It can always feel like you are talking to an unresponsive wall. But beliefs and values are changing everyday and while you cannot fix the world in a single conversation you can be part of the team tugging towards justice and rationality and making sure the only ones tugging are not the unjust and the irrational.

The other side is tugging hard as they can, don’t ever forget that. Last winter, Joe Scarborough said something that struck me and stuck with me. He said that Ronald Reagan gave the same speech for thirty years. In its essentials it was the same speech from the beginning to the end of his political career. He just drummed his message in until now we live in a world where his platitudes are unquestionable dogmas to a sizable, closed-minded, religiously regressive portion of the country that is a huge drag on the country as it makes the gutting of the government and the raiding of the treasury by oligarchs matters of dogmatic, unshakeable principle.

We need to be as resolute in repeating ourselves as Reagan was if we are to counter that influence. Every week, countless churches commit to tirelessly miseducating children and to telling the adult parishioners the same false stories and inculcating all of them with the same dubious values. Over and over, week after week, they are relentless about getting their ideas out. They use every psychological means at their disposal to make their influence over as many people as possible as resilient as it can be. They will travel the world over for converts, they will give up their time, their money, and their interpersonal comfort zones for a single soul. They also outnumber us by quite a margin–in places like America at least.

So, we need to find the energy and the doggedness to keep fighting as best we can and the openness to engage as many educable people on as many fronts, including rigorously abstract philosophical ones, as we can.

Camels With Hammers is a blog for those indefatiguable idealists willing to keep debating even those who others write off as lost causes, as long as they will be civil and heed warnings against creating a hostile environment for others. If that does not sound fun or healthy for you to be involved with personally, I get that. Take care of yourself. But when you’re here, just don’t lose your temper when a constructive debate is possible and might educate (or at least moderate) someone who is now an enemy but need not be in the future.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Kim

    The argument that debate is pointless is so bogus it amazes me that anyone who considers him/herself rational would even touch it. Most people who are atheists now used to be religious. They are no longer religious because someone or something convinced them that their beliefs were false.

    • http://www.championcitycomics.com/ bob

      and many who are atheists used to be religious-what’s your point?

  • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

    Yeah, this is the one objection from your “objections” post that I saw no validity in.

    • Matt

      I agree that there’s not much to recommend this position, but there are a few progressive-types who think that rational persuasion is pointless for human cognitive reasons (I’ve heard George Lakoff makes approximately that argument). Personally I think it’s counter-productive to treat discourse as an exercise in game theory, but there are people who think that it’s more important to win progressive battles than to win them using an ideal method.

  • Jennifer

    I think this particular objection borders on frivolous. Nonetheless, I’ve learned a lot from all of your responses, and from the comments criticizing your policy, about the burden marginalized groups bear of having to respond to ignorant comments or questions. I was ignorant of that before and have a new appreciation of how frustrating and infuriating that can be.

  • baal

    Excellent post on all points!

    I especially find value in #2 “Secondly, we do not need to debate our opponents only to win them to our side. We need to debate them in order to moderate their positions.”

    I don’t expect folks to join me in my particular world view after debating some point. I do hope that they’ll listen to what I have to say, reconsider their views and take a step in my direction. It’s about all I think is reasonable of them to expect of me.

  • smhll

    I also get it that if you belong to any of a number of marginalized groups you have the frustrating task of answering ignorant questions or correcting ignorant statements as a never-ending curse in life. I also totally understand it if you don’t want the job of educator… and personally abstain from these debates…

    Let’s talk about how to partially lift the response-ability “curse” from people in marginalized groups to combat ignorance single-handed. Every informed person can pitch in and respond when ignorant things are said about minorities or when fallacies are wielded or when the interrogator gets obnoxious. The internet is highly suitable for crowd-sourcing education, even education about bigotry.

    If marginalized people have explained things over and over, “millions” of times in Dan’s words, then surely some “out group” people have learned something by now that they can write and post. It is my personal (anecdotal and biased) opinion after reading skeptical blogs for a year that this isn’t happening nearly as often as it should.

    One thing that would help a great deal is if skeptical blog readers and posters who are not in marginalized groups spoke up more when distortions, incomplete truths, non factual arguments are presented in skeptical spaces. Most of the talking back to anti-feminist arguments that I have seen on FtB and Skepchick (and at major posts linked to from there) has been from an ideological feminist position, not from neutral parties saying “dude, your fallacy is showing”. Why are people with well developed fallacy detectors and good b-llsh-t detectors, good memories and strong googling skills so often being bystanders when dreadful arguments are presented by trolls and by the ignorant?

    (I realize I haven’t provided much evidence, but ask everyone to review their own posting record. How often do you point out weaknesses in argument of people you agree with?)

    In closing, I want to add this quote from Matt Dillahunty’s article Speaking Out Against Hate, etc. He mostly directs his remarks to threats and hate speech, but he also makes the point I am trying to make about the tolerance of poor arguments in our community. (He says “cartoonish”.)

    I’ve tried to discuss the subjects of sexism… in a way that is reasonable… I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned, phrase it in a way that is accessible and share it. It has proven to be a very frustrating mission, with mixed results. There’s a lot of misinformation and miscommunication but I think it’s something we can and must fix, because there are a lot of good people who are simply confused.

    Unfortunately, there’s also a vocal contingent of extremely hateful people who aren’t willing to honestly engage in the discussion… When there’s an expressed concern, or a proposed solution… they frequently respond with cartoonish arguments loaded with fallacies but the more disturbing responses simply include hateful threats of rape and violence.[emphasis mine]

    Standing up against sloppy argumentation is everyone’s job. Let’s all work on it.

    • Pen

      There is also a school of thought that says anyone who is not a member of a given group had better keep quiet, because they can’t really represent the group. You find it in posts on whether men can really be feminists or whether someone from one culture can comment on or on behalf of another. Any thoughts on that?

    • karmakin

      The problem is if you try and point out problems and mistakes in the way that allies are thinking/talking/acting they suddenly start seeing you as an enemy.

      One of the big problems is that for movements that are in a war stance (which I would argue that feminism has…with good reason but there are still problems that stem from it) is that you get that effect. And instead of neutral people acting like well…neutral observers they stay far away from it.

      There’s also the concept that the orthodoxy and what are the conventional wisdoms of the movement need to be protected, if they’re thought of as being partially wrong, then that’s a vulnerability that can be exploited by the “other side”. That we see credibility as being always correct and not on the right path…well that’s a big problem.

      But unfortunately, for these reasons expecting more neutral people to put themselves on the firing line isn’t exactly reasonable.

    • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

      I very much agree here and I have commented about some of the hysterics, or belligerent defensiveness. Another problem I have extreme difficulty with is scapegoating and ganging up.
      That said, I mostly hang on Phryngula and I find (biased and anecdotal) that it is hardly like this – it gets heated and insulting at times, but I’ve been given more great links and ideas through feedback than I can remember. I have been insulted and reacted to very negatively, as I have quite often myself, but this has often initiated some very important change in my perspective and understanding.

      The biggest problem I find is that is there isn’t enough relating on an open personal level directly between antagonists. I have been one to point out that I feel hurt or whatever, and I have taken responsibility for what I have said, and this has almost always led to respect and very productive exchanges and arguments/debates.

      I also try, now – after a lot of ignorant behavior in the past and recently, to listen and challenge very clearly and directly, in as objective a manner as possible, to others. I find this is quite regular with others as well.

      I, and others, point out fallacies – although maybe not enough at times – which is something I’m equipped enough to be able to participate in subjects that I’m not very knowledgeable in to begin with.

      My point, I suppose, is that, for me anyways, very often aggression towards ME has induced me to lower my anger(after I have been quite belligerent to begin with) and take a hard look at what I am saying to illicit so much anger and derision.

      For some people, this works, and is part of the process of learning.

      But, whether this is productive overall is probably highly unlikely, and only through being diligent with our own behaviors and approach can we lead by example, and hopefully inspire others. Demonstrating a thick skin and yet being open and willing to admit error is the only way to personally foster a better attitude in others.

      Thanks for the interesting discussion, everyone, and feedbacks.

    • http://heartheretic.blogspot.com/ Lance Armstrong

      I agree with this, and I think this criticism applies directly to me. However, blogging on issues of social justice that I’ve just turned a corner on myself seems daunting to me. If my privilege kept me from seeing a particular issue at all until recently, then it’s still probably distorting my view of it. What can I say of any substance without fear of screwing up? Not a lot. I’ve been mulling this in my head for a few weeks now, and I know those blog entries are coming, but I’m still too intimidated by the topics to start writing.

      It hurts my heart to see intelligent, knowledgeable, articulate speakers disdain having to do “the 101″, because when you’re dealing with people who don’t accept the basic premises of your movement, it’s the 101 that needs to be disseminated. Many of them (the privileged and ignorant) are not trying to be assholes, they literally just can’t see past their existing worldview, which, however incorrect, has served them well enough to seem true.

      I do think that what is really missing from these movements are people who have privilege in an area speaking out against that privilege (exactly what you suggest.) As a white, cis, able, male, etc., privileged in every sense but religion person, this is a lot to learn about and undertake, a lot that I have no direct experience with or knowledge of. My chosen starting point is racism, partially because Ian Cromwell has done the heavy 101 lifting for me, made the topic accessible, and given me starting points for answering the standard objections that I know will come because I’ve been hearing them my whole life from people who do not even consider their views to be racist. Ian titled the thing “I can’t believe I actually have to answer this question”, but from the perspective of a person of privilege who is willing to question old assumptions when presented with good arguments, this kind of 101 work from people who know what they’re talking about is desperately needed.

      No one is required or responsible or obligated to do that of course; I just think we need more of it. I’m asking for more of it. Please, help people like me escape the intellectual shackles of their racist, sexist, everything-phobic upbringing. I’ll strap on my sandals and do the personal legwork for my personal journey, but the more road signs, the better.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/08/02/i-cant-believe-i-actually-have-to-answer-this-question/

      Also, “indefatigable idealists”. Love it. Sign me up.

    • Smhll

      @ Lance -

      I love Ian’s writing, so we have somethinh in common to start with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.richardsfink Patrick RichardsFink

    Audience: for every person p that comments, some number n will read silently. It’s difficult to estimate p, but it is certain that n>p — and in the case of something like FTB, it’s probably measurable by orders of magnitude.

    Blogging seems like an exercise for the blogger and the commenters, but really? It’s all about the lurkers.

    • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

      Absolutely!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    One thing I’ve realized is that just because I may have membership in a marginalized groups doesn’t mean I’m not angering some other marginalized group. I’m still processing some issues that have only relatively recently come into view for me, like transgender issues

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I was one over by people I was arguing with on the Internet. I’ve seen plenty of progress made with other people. I always hated this talking point as it seems so cynical as to make further action hard to justify.

  • smhll

    Blogging seems like an exercise for the blogger and the commenters, but really? It’s all about the lurkers.

    You are correct. Sometimes my husband hears the sound of me headdesking on the other side of the room and tells me that engaging with trolls is pointless. I tell him “I’m not writing for them.”

    • Kat in AZ

      I shall remember this the next time my husband complains about me “riffing” about this, that or the other…
      Thank you.
      Kat

  • Ariel

    Hello, Daniel

    I comment very rarely on ftb now – holidays + a lot of work (yes, it sometimes goes together). For this reason I wasn’t really able to follow all that recent discussion about the rules of conduct (not to mention participating in it!). It still won’t be possible for some time. So again it’s going to be just a single comment.

    From what I see, I appreciate very much what you are trying to do. Just a small, very subjective and biased addition to what you said:

    Thirdly, in public forums lots of people are watching. Debating with a hardheaded person is worth it for that reason. It allows the fence sitters to observe.

    Here is my personal perspective on this. As a matter of fact, I function here to a large degree as a fence sitter (if not an outright opponent). I must admit that life in Eastern Europe produced in me an instinctive distrust in the left side of the political scene (try to think of your own emotional associations with the expression “right wing”, and reverse the accents :-)) Looking (with such a bias) at various leftist groups, the question naturally leaps to my mind: how will they behave, when given power? One of the clues I use in practice is how they actually behave in situations when it is their group that becomes dominant. And indeed, on a small scale such situations are not very difficult to find. Ftb provides an example. This is your world, you are the rulers here. The question is then how you deal with it. Are you able to form an attractive, free community? Or perhaps what you offer to the outsiders is just your own, small, ‘progressive’ version of hell? That’s the biased fence sitter’s question.

    The answer … well. On the one hand, I’m still here, so perhaps it’s not that bad :-) But on the other – you know, it’s just the internet, with me being anonymous, which serves as a safety net. I must say however that in real life I would be quite scared by the groups using programmatic “naming and shaming”: not the spontaneous, emotional reactions (I could live with that!), but “naming and shaming” consciously turned into strategy, with the guiding idea like “our goals are splendid, and we want results now, so let’s do it and history will forgive us the casualties”. Nice idea, isn’t it? What’s the problem with public humiliation, if it works? What’s the problem with parading the class enemy with a paper bag on his head, if it works for the greater good? A trifle, really! But somehow … in real life I would prefer to have a safe physical distance (one thousand miles could be enough) between me and such a group. And if it was up to me, I wouldn’t dare giving them real political power for all the gold in Fort Knox.

    It seems to me that in fact there is a lot of this sort of programmatic approach here, on ftb. Don’t get me wrong, on internet ftb is still fun and I love it! But if ftb was a real place in physical world, then I would say to myself: oh boy, don’t be stupid, just steer away!

    I think one of Daniel’s point was that his proposed rules may change the perspective of even such biased fence sitters as me. So that in the future we may even … hmmm … face you in real world without fear? Vote for you? I’m not exactly sure what Daniel’s devious plan is, but yeah, it might work!

    Have a nice holidays, all of you!

  • Q.E.D

    I thought it was beyond cavil that debate with religious and/or conservative people was generally a good thing.

    I do not agree that there is a continuing duty to remain being polite, civil and making them feel comfortable if, after having been provided with logical arguments and evidence they demonstrate they are not acting in good faith and keep repeating bigoted, un-evidenced, stupid shit.

    Sometimes you can convince people by being nice and engaging in rational conversation, others need to be told. The latter category contains a lot of people with privilege and power.

    “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” – Frederick Douglass

  • F

    Perhaps if you stopped using the word “debate”, as in “a debate”, unless this is what you mean, in which case I disagree. Debate is not a dialogue. Debate is not a form that exposes truth. It’s a sporting contest, with little focus on merit. No type of debate I’ve seen listed anywhere, and no type I’ve seen or heard of being practiced, has anything to do with bringing forth the better or correct position.

    Sure, you might get secondary or tertiary effects of exposing someone to ideas, but there are far better and more direct methods.

    If you mean “debate” in the common sense, not referring to an organized form of contest, please clarify.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      Pretty clearly, Dan uses the term debate in the sense of formal argument — that is, argumentation constrained by certain rules of discourse.

      (Probably deliberately, since using ‘argument’ might connote Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch to some)

    • F

      Well, that didn’t help much. :D Formal argument in the sense of “two people going head to head in a setting with an audience and other trappings of Debate Club” or not?

      Yes, I originally took it to mean well-reasoned (and probably more formal, as you point out) argumentation which behaves as analysis and exploration, not a contest.

      My thought was to make that perfectly clear to an audience which is quite accustomed to hearing “debate” used as in “W.L. Craig refuses to debate John Loftus”. It may be that some take it in this second sense.

      If debate were not useful, I suspect that argumentation would be half of what it is in just the comments at this site.

    • John Morales

      [OT]

      Formal argument in the sense of “two people going head to head in a setting with an audience and other trappings of Debate Club” or not?

      Not — multiple participants and free-form except for certain specific restrictions which Dan has clearly specified in the original post: “Don’t Bully People With Insulting Names” and “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”.

      (By convention, that which is not forbidden is permitted)

    • F

      Well, if no one takes “debate” to be colored in the manner about which I asked, I can’t grok the objection.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    I think this subject is particularly important, and I like to take it from cyberspace back to real life. I am interested in how we talk to our religious neighbors. There have to be lessons that we have learned from years of debating online that we can apply. In order to get some feedback on that I started a discussion thread at RichardDawkins.net a few months ago (and a bit more in a blog entry).

    We really can’t measure the impact we are having by the immediate replies we get because a part of human nature is to defend our pride in being right, even when we know, deep down, that we are completely wrong. Also, the part of the brain that forms a loyalty bond with some creed, is often at odds with the part of our brains that do the rational thinking. Advertising companies study this kind of psychology in order to build brand loyalty, but it can be reversed if you know that frequent and repeated support to the rational part wears away at that bond, over time.

    Cumulative exposure time is important for reasonable arguments just as it is for religious indoctrination on the other side. Churches do better if they make going to church fun with singing and live entertainers and group hugs. The longer you spend “doing church” the better it works. However, many people do not want to spend any time going through rational thought about it. First off, there is the common public image that “thinkn’s hard” and in the process you are going to have some internal bad feelings as you explore long held, and loved “truths.” Second, if you are going to be debating a servant of Satan don’t expect an enjoyable use of time as you are going to hear plenty of cussing and disrespect.

    So, I have found that you have to find something in the religious person that you can respect, and refrain from using language that is going to be counterproductive. No, that does not mean you have to suck up to them like some used car salesman, but many basic principles of sales and marketing will get you a longer exposure to their attention with shields down so you get some new ideas in and cooking.

    Vocabulary is important. Don’t use words that just put their shields up, if you have alternate phrasing available. In real life I don’t tell people I am an ‘atheist’ until I find out what they think that means. I tell strangers that I am “not a person of faith” which is more accurate than any single word label that I know. I also don’t let them play vocabulary tricks on me. I don’t use the big-’G’ god or even the generic ‘god’ in speech or writing, but sick to “deity” or “deities” or the specific deity names. This is because so much of what the religious claim is linked to an assumed deity with nebulous attributes that “everybody knows.” You instantiate this every time you use the big-’G’ and let them get away with a tacit agreement that what they believe in has more status than mythology.

    Discussions with your religious friends and neighbors do matter. If you treat them with respect as persons you can, over time, get some ideas to take root. At least in most cases you can set them straight on scientific fact. If that is all you do, it is still a big help to us all.

  • Horace

    Another point is that you talk of non-progressives which I take to mean as right wingers. I don’t think that there are any coherent differences anymore between the left and the right.

    I cannot see a common thread in the left and right wing position on abortion, gun control, climate change, the death penalty and nationalization of industry.

    Some issues such as immigration and population control have gone from being left wing concerns to right wing concerns. Another question, electoral fraud is a right wing concern in the US and a left wing concern in Canada.

    So no matter how sure you are that you are left or right wing, you may be wrong on any one issue and have something to learn from your opponent.

  • elbruce

    I never debate people who tell me that debate is pointless. At most I question why they would bother trying to convince anybody of that.

  • Susan

    I’ve only become familiar with your blog in the last few weeks but I’d like to say that I agree with the direction you’re taking.

    You’ve thought this through carefully and your points are relevant to any discussion.

    Thank you.

  • MroyalT

    I am in 100% agreement with you, and this has been my position ever since I started posting on the interwebs. With that said, let me look at this argument through a different angle – maybe this will be of some soft use for you or others. Again, I will concentrate on social issues with this, and specifically when someone who is effected by certain discriminatory actions or ideas by society is talking to someone who is not, who has the privilege of not dealing with it directly.

    There are times where where the emotional burdens coming from the under-privileged, in a conversation where they are trying to convey their positions to a person of privilege, is not personally worth the investment anymore. If such and such persons have given hints that they are not really here to engage in a discussion but rather berate you their their ignorant misinformed opinions – which hurt you emotionally – than I think it is OK for that person to just call it a quits and end that conversation abruptly. There are times where such and such persons are not ready to come at this with an open mind, and because of the state they are in.. the small change in position that the conversation might spark is not worth the emotional cost the minority in question has to put out.

    Now each person will define where that line is – it is a personal decisions. So I think it is perfectly fine to just give up when the cost is that high for you as an individual. I don’t expect rape victims to come to me and deal with any ignorant misunderstandings I have and not lose their patience.. at the same time, we should not expect this of minorities either. I think we need to understand that some of them may blow out at questions we deem benign.. and that is OK. We need to respect that. We need to respect these boundaries which are sometimes drawn in what we see as an arbitrary or ineffectual manner. We do not get to determine when the conversation has stopped when talking to someone who is not privileged.. they get to. That is it really.

    I just think it is OK to say that… “This conversation is not worth it for me at the moment anymore. Goodbye.” That should really be it.

    I think you will agree with this anyhow, but I write it anyway!!!

    Peace.

  • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

    Dan, I wonder where our impulse to be so belittling and scornful comes from. Our arrogance and need to condescend.
    Not everyone, of course, but enough that it almost seems to be an innate tendency. More than just ego protection or other pop psychology explanations, everyone, it would almost seem, succumbs to the impulse to deride and insult others when pushed far enough.
    Me, I am a pushover, so to speak.

    • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

      It’s probably just a territorial thing!

  • trinioler

    Hey Dan,

    I know you’ve been pretty vociferous towards Natalie for what she’s said on here. Personally, I think you’re wrong and misguided, but we are all entitled to our opinions, neh?

    Anyways, I wonder if we could get a comment from you about the whole Thunderf00t mess? I don’t know if you’ve done any ethics work in your philosophy studies, but I think a post on the ethics of what TF has done, and could possibly do would be very interesting!

    It would also make you a decent person. ;)

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      Check his Facebook. Short version: he doesn’t approve.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Hey Dan,

      I know you’ve been pretty vociferous towards Natalie for what she’s said on here. Personally, I think you’re wrong and misguided, but we are all entitled to our opinions, neh?

      I was not vociferous towards Natalie at all. I calmly told her to treat me respectfully and invited her to a dialogue which she refused.

      Anyways, I wonder if we could get a comment from you about the whole Thunderf00t mess? I don’t know if you’ve done any ethics work in your philosophy studies, but I think a post on the ethics of what TF has done, and could possibly do would be very interesting!

      It would also make you a decent person.

      This is very passive aggressive of you. I don’t appreciate it. If you are simply here to antagonize me, please either change that or stop posting here. You will be in moderation in the meantime.

  • minniel

    You wrote, “They use every psychological means at their disposal to make their influence over as many people as possible as resilient as it can be.”

    You said this about churches. But isn’t this exactly what your article is? A user guide for atheists to use “every psychological means to make your influence over as many people as possible as resilient as it can be”?

    Atheists are hypocritical. The above is just one double standard of many double standards.

    The lack of tolerance of a different point of view is sheer hypocrisy. The demand that everyone think the atheist way is in total opposition to intelligent “free thinking”.

    Intelligent thinking tolerates other points of view. We do not all have the same intellectual or emotional needs. Evolution proves that. Evolution doesn’t follow a path toward sameness. Diversity is foundational to the natural world.

    I believe in diversity of thought and acceptance of religious or non religious belief. Plus the right for people to choose whatever seems right to them. Why? Because that diversity is what the entire universe projects.

    But this is not what you believe. What you believe is that homeostasis will not be achieved until everyone thinks like you do. It seems your entire movement is built around conflict with those who are not atheists.

    What if everyone suddenly became atheists? Do you expect utopia? Do you expect a world population of anti religious thinkers will magically rule with “reason” alone? Will the lack of religion solve societal ills? Feed the world? Prevent despots from arising? That is delusional. You don’t have any magic bullet.

    What you have carefully crafted here is a manifesto on the best way to ambush freedom of choice, or at least segue it to your point. And that through contrived appearances instead of natural discourse. It is aimed particularly toward readers who are less certain of their convictions. Probably a younger audience. By design, not chance. Your plans are on par with another good propagandist; Joseph Goebbels.

    • Matt

      1. I think you’re confusing psychologically effective norms of reasoning for the laws of correct inference. Dan doesn’t seem interested in the empirical question of what causes people to become atheists but whether good epistemic norms should cause one to become atheists. This whole series has been a reaction to precisely that attitude, that creating a good community by unjust norms is wrong.

      (I’m understanding the distinction from Robert Brandom’s summary of Frege on psychologism. Hopefully I’m not misstaing anything)

      2. Diversity of thought is integral to any good movement, but I disagree that it’s good without qualification. Many beliefs (such as creationism or global warming denial) can’t be positively affirmed without rejecting beliefs produced by good norms. While they do deserve tolerance in the minimal sense, I see no reason to hold beliefs praiseworthy without considering how they were produced.

      3. It would be ridiculous to see religious belief as contributing exclusively or even primarily to the world’s problems. It’s far less of a stretch to say that insufficient epistemic rigor contributes to poor reasoning in vast reaches of human life (from ethics to science). Religion’s a (comparatively) small but prominent part of that, and deserves to be challenged the same way. Atheists aren’t excused either; just to cite a recent issue, Sam Harris’ opinion on torture is highly contentious within the movement. A cliche frequently applied to it is comparing organized atheism to herding cats. So the concerns of atheists are (or should be) way bigger than just convincing people to be atheists.

      4. Given that Dan has repeatedly criticized people for exploiting psychological sore spots, and seems strongly committed to only ethical means of persuasion, comparing him to a Nazi propagandist strikes me as discourteous. Moreso even when the recent project is to promote civil, content-based discourse. Moreover, such a comparison is far more like coercive, psychologically damaging persuasion than anything he’s done.

    • Matt

      (This is WRT a different threaded comment, but I’m not sure where the best place to post a response is, or how to properly quote it)
      Quine:

      I can’t give you that, simply because of the large number of religious people involved.

      That’s fair. I didn’t mean to downplay the scale of religion and the considerable harm much of it perpetuates. I was trying to say that a good rationalist movement should be critical of more than religion; it should be intersectional, and acknowledge the other forces that promote injustice.

      BTW, Sorry about the sloppiness and poor grammar in my above comment. In hindsight I made too many sweeping claims for any to be well-argued, which again, I apologize for.

    • B-Lar

      I wouldn’t expect Utopia if everyone suddenly became atheists. If everyone simply gave up the idea of god, the problems of the world would remain exactly as before (with the exception of those problems which are directly caused by erroneous belief in a non-existent deity, such as religiously fuelled: bigotry, sexual abuse, perversion of education programs, female subservience etc) and people would still find political reasons for conflict.

      We would be a step further however, toward a world that makes its decisions based on honest debate and reason. There will always be conflict, but our ability to resolve it is hamstrung by the religious on (to those not infected, or affected if you prefer) spurious grounds by the insistence that faith and revelation is superior to evidence and reason. That there is evidence to the contrary is of course irrelevant to the faithful, because unquestioning faith is a virtue to them! It makes me sad for my species…

      As for freedom of thought and choice. Anyone may believe as they wish. In fact, no-one can dispute that everyone has a right to believe what they like. They do not however, have a right to have their beliefs taken seriously. We have come a long way in our ability to determine when someone is spouting complete nonsense since the age of bronze/iron age superstition when most of these religions were formed. We can show that their prevalence is not due to their inherent truth, but due to their effectiveness as tools for soliciting obedience and quashing honest enquiry. If this threatens you and makes you think that you are under attack then you have two choices. You can examine your worldview or not. Be aware, that the latter choice will leave you unprepared when the call for you to justify your beliefs comes as it rightly should.

      I submit this. The truth is the most important thing that there is. It is what reality is made out of. We must make decisions every day, and to have any hope of consistently good outcomes we must base those decisions in reality. Pointing out and showing that you are making your decisions based on something other than truth is offering you the highest dignity one human can offer another. If you refuse it that is your business, but do not dress that refusal up as subjugation.

  • Kat in AZ

    Mention was made about people who don’t speak up of outside of their own demographic.

    There are too few exceptions, like myself, who speak out for marginalized groups that are not within my demographic, but are within my family and close friends’ demographics. I am a middle-aged, Atheist, straight, white female who is extremely vocal on LGBT right, minority rights, and even the rights of non-Christian religions in this country (as long as that religion is not inflicted upon others, they can think/believe whatever helps them sleep better at night.)

    I get why so many people are unwilling to give up their soft, comfortable security blanket of theology. They want so much to believe the mythology of their religion so they can sleep at night knowing that whatever that mythology has told them was a “sin” will be pardoned, if they say the right words, believe in the right deity/savior, or do enough penance, donate enough of their money, it will be forgiven. I’m fortunate to have never been told as a child to rely on that security blanket, have a mother who is a deep skeptic, deep-thinker, who always reminded me that the beautiful mission churches in the Southwest, and even in MT where I grew up, were all built with the blood & sweat of slaves. I’ll never look at an ornate church the way others do. I see slavery, violence, blood, and death.

    I see virtually the same thing in the megachurches, only with them, I see people who can barely survive paycheck to paycheck giving 10% of their money hoping to end their poverty in this life, or maybe in a next life. I see people who are dying from lack of affordable healthcare sending money they should be spending on living expenses, hoping to have a second chance or a healthy body if they pray hard enough, and failing that, will at least have a fresh, healthy body in their afterlife.

    I cannot steal that safety blanket away from them when they cling to it so desperately in fear, but I can hope to offer them comfort in this life, in the here & now so that they can possibly see that the here and now is where they should focus their minds on. The here and now is all we truly have and focusing on what may or may not exist after death is not helping get a person through the here and now reality they are living. It is only with this compassion for these people who are weak with their fears that they can consider relaxing their steel-tight grip on that security blanket.

    The ones who push these security blankets on weakened people such as these are some of the most horrific predators on the planet, and they must be exposed as predators, and shut down. Removing their tax haven is a first step to reining in and slowing down the predators. Removing their ability to remain above the laws the rest of us must follow is another.

    But, trying to remove a predator that has warped their victims minds with the promise of their everlasting security blanket, is a task that must be handled carefully, with civil debate, proper lobbying, removal of theocrat legislators, and decorum, which was the primary point of this wonderful blog post.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

      Matt:

      Religion’s a (comparatively) small but prominent part of that, …

      I can’t give you that, simply because of the large number of religious people involved.

  • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

    Dan, you said:

    Fifthly, an argument that seems like it should be obvious is new to others. They are often not hearing it for the millionth time even though you are saying it for the millionth time. They are often not being just obtuse but trying to thoroughly interrogate an idea before believing it.

    This is of paramount importance to consider, I think. I am living in a Christian recovery(substance abuse program) environment, and it seems to me that very many people have heard only arguments and instruction from the Christian perspective. Not only is it considered inerrant truth, it is presented in a pseudo scientific and/or logical manner.

    These people seem to be often not capable of understanding that there are valid criticisms of their beliefs, and are under the impression, as I/we are, that our position is the highly logical one.

    I know I am pointing out the obvious, but I think this area of understanding needs to be accepted and understood much, much, more thoroughly by most of us, and that the ‘closed mindedness’ we perceive, and validly see, is not necessarily a personal trait of stubbornness.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I used to be a “died in the wool” fundamentalist creationist christian faith head.

    I didn’t switch for “purely emotional” reasons, unless the feeling of internal cognitive dissonance being unpleasant counts as an emotion. To me, it always did. I’ll say up front that fortunately the christian school I went to had nothing to say on matters of race or gender, but it DID have a few things to say “off the record” about homosexuality. They were probably a bit more progressive than many christian schools I’ve read about (not saying much, they were still biblical literalists). (On a side note, they weren’t affiliated with Bob Jones or the other schools in Oklahoma, and generally had a similar attitude of “Oklahoma shame” regarding the native americans and their treatment, which likely shaped their policy on denouncing “manifest destiny” as ridiculous, the notion of America as “chosen by god” as egotistical (they still thought Israel was chosen by god though), and considering Oklahoma wasn’t even a state during the civil war, no problem denouncing any defense of the confederacy or of slavery (though they still considered affirmative action as “unfair” simply due to not understanding the lingering affects of said slavery and today’s continuing presence of racism).

    I say all that to make where I’m coming from as honest as possible. I still was taught as a fundamentalist in most ways even if a few of the more reprehensible stuff got filtered out. Anyway, the homosexuality thing never sat well with me, but unfortunately moral discomfort over that wasn’t enough to get me to change my mind (instead I did eventually just redefine god’s morality to allow it, after leaving church of course). Rather, it was logical problems in the Bible as well as reading the truth about evolution that converted me. It wasn’t over night, but I deconverted myself based on a deep desire to make sure I was being as honest and truthful with myself as possible (for example, I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible person). I read talk.origins and such initially because I wanted to “test” my faith, convinced it wasn’t “real” faith unless I was willing to challenge it with everything that could be mustered. In the end, faith evaporated in the face of true light (electromagnetism is my favorite fundamental force). I also actually started reading the bible as well as noted “contradictions”. Little things I kept pushing out of my mind, namely god forcing pharaoh to disobey god so god could punish him for disobeying. Stuff like that.

    So yes, fundamentalists CAN change. From my personal experience and the experiences of friends and family I’ve ever so slowly converted since then (I’m taking too much credit, they did it mostly themselves after I just kinda set the stage). Teach someone to critically think and drop in a few “concerns” about the faith here and there, they tend to ever so slowly go through the same thing I did. So far 2 family members and 2 friends have “come out” to me after a few years of exposure to basic critical thinking concepts. Yes, this can be thought of as “weaselly”, but afterwards they don’t ever seem to be mad at me, and there’s only any real trickery as to what my own positions are at first. I’ve found some rather dubious “iffy” ways to deceive them without “actually” lying about my atheism. Though on self reflection, it’s still kinda intellectually dishonest…

    Point is, the most died in the wool fundamentalist, if they make it clear they enjoy a good debate and actually care about the truth, CAN change. Heck I made a fool out of myself in the early 2000′s on various forums, and those stand as a testament to my past silliness.

    And do be aware, while there are a number of repeat offenders who literally don’t ever seem to read counter arguments, it’s worthwhile to treat NEW posters, ones who haven’t proven this of themselves, as though they have NEVER heard the arguments you’ve been making. If someone says “there’s never been a transitional fossil found that wasn’t fake”, don’t call them a liar. They’re wrong, but they actually believe what they’re saying. Correct them. Be frustrated this is the 100th person you’ve had to point to that talk.origins post about transitional fossils, but don’t just scream “liar” and be done with it. They likely never HEARD the argument before. Further, saying “you should have researched that yourself” is not helping. In THEIR minds, they think they DID research it, because no one ever taught them how to do proper research. They think the creationist books, teachers, web sites, and so on ARE definitive sources and it’s likely all they’ve ever known was out there.

    What’s common knowledge to us converted atheists is completely alien to the fooled. Never forget that. I was converted though a slow and careful period of self examination started by learning critical thinking skills from James Randi and even, at first, Snopes.com (where it likely all started for me, way back in 1999 after hearing about some “urban legends” site). I know if I was constantly belittled, my fragile little heart couldn’t take the pressure and it would have collapsed, sending me spiraling back into the darkness for comfort. Yes, call me weak, I know I am, but this is a reality that must be accepted. It’s the human condition. Don’t blame a plate for not being strong enough to take a shotgun blast.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I love PZ Myers and think that Dawkins is like a kitten in many ways in how he treats religion, highly misjudged. However, the POSTERS PZ Myers has… That’s a crowd I don’t think I could get along with. I don’t enjoy cruelty, deserved or otherwise. It’s odd to find a group who I agree with in just about every way, who are fighting for a lot of causes that directly aid me and those I care about, and yes who I find personally offensive just as interpersonal beings. Tell someone their ideas are stupid and explain why, as PZ Myers does, but don’t simply say “You, as a human being, are absolute garbage, are an idiot, but I don’t feel like wasting my time explaining why because you’re too dumb to ever learn”. There are a LOT of spiteful hateful people showing up to post in the PZ Myers threads (which is the other half of why I rarely ever bother to read them), but I often see people posting questions out of innocent ignorance instead of that malice who seem to accidentally trigger a collective filter and get torn apart with the true jerks. It’s heart breaking because I see myself in that position, as someone going there out of honest inquiry and just being told “you aren’t honest, you’re a liar and a fool, and someone such as you doesn’t deserve an explanation of my judgement of you”.

    Let’s all face up to simple realities of systemic massive problems in society, from scientific and mathematic ignorance to religion to misogyny to racism to jingoism, militarism and upper class elitism that all need to be addressed and denounced as patently foolish, harmful, and worthless. Let’s not forget though that the INDIVIDUAL people within each of these large constructs are still individual people, by and large not responsible for the overall flow but just a drop in the bucker. True, “no raindrop blames itself for the flood”, but as individuals, barely any of them represent ALL the problems the overall systemic issues contain. Most people furthering racism today are doing so not out of malice but ignorance. Treat them as such, which I think is more honest, and I think it can be more effective.

    Again, vitriol has it’s place in the many tactics we can use. The recent development of the past year though has been to actually go so far as to say that it’s the ONLY method that will work (I would like to see evidence for ALL currently used methods, but that’s for another time) and all other methods are cowardly. Once that was set, people stopped using what I call “honest vitriol” and started just plain insulting people without actually taking the time to educate them about why they were wrong. This post is exactly why, they don’t think there’s a point in debate because they “won’t change their minds”.

    Well, they can, they will, and a number of people I already know did. It just won’t happen that fast.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      However, the POSTERS PZ Myers has… That’s a crowd I don’t think I could get along with.

      I am one of those people.

      There are a LOT of spiteful hateful people showing up to post in the PZ Myers threads (which is the other half of why I rarely ever bother to read them), but I often see people posting questions out of innocent ignorance instead of that malice who seem to accidentally trigger a collective filter and get torn apart with the true jerks.

      I see. You rarely bother to read “PZ Myers threads”, but you often see people posting questions out of innocent ignorance who are treated just like the true jerks.

      This seems to be implying that it’s fine by you if true jerks are torn apart — is that your intent, or am I misreading you?

      The recent development of the past year though has been to actually go so far as to say that it’s the ONLY method that will work (I would like to see evidence for ALL currently used methods, but that’s for another time) and all other methods are cowardly.

      Can you cite a source for this, um, interesting claim?

      It’s not one I’ve seen, even in “PZ Myers threads”.

  • DJMankiwictz

    I confess it’s more or less a “first impression” I get and it may be poor luck on my part to have seen that sort of thing. I apologize for grouping up every last individual there as “those people”. I will say that’s actually part of the very point I’m trying to make, but again, I failed in it while making it, so I will say that. I CAN at least say it’s an overall social trend in that particular group. While it’s unfortunate that most of the people I might charitably describe as “also trying to make that point” are themselves completely deluded about some point on misogyny or atheism and tend to use terms like “echo chamber”, it’s still a point worth making. EVERY insular group no matter what is subject to the effects of that isolation. This one too. So, even if the one making the charge happens to be an antisocial bigot, the group as a whole stands to benefit from constantly and unceasingly checking themselves to make sure they’re never JUST accepting group doctrine. Well, self doubt is my current philosophy anyway. I can accept that depending on whatever “out group” one may be part of, self doubt about THAT particular part is an inevitable harmful consequence of being an “out group” and thus should not be reinforced constantly.

    I also realize that depending on my example, I may well reveal myself to not be seeing certain biases that are obvious to you and thus they aren’t as innocent as I claim.

    PZ Myers himself has never actually said “only the harsh method works”, but I’ve seen certain posters here and there saying essentially that. I’m afraid I can’t offer a source, and doubting me based on that is legitimate to be sure. It’s a matter of how the nature of blogs making it almost impossible to dig up an old thread. All I have to go on are “tags” instead of a more detailed table of contents page. “Searching” through the built in search system is also very awkward and turns up either utter failure or far too many false positives. It’s possible I’m actually saying I’m too lazy or stupid to figure it out, I won’t deny that, but there it is.

    So I’m forced to paraphrase. One example would be someone talking about how often they’ve attempted to carefully guide people to a conclusion, how often they’ve taken the time to point out where their reasoning fails, and how often it always fails for them. Their conclusion is to junk the attempt and to simply lay into people with backwards beliefs and not bother with anything further since it doesn’t work. The extrapolation they reach is that it’s a waste for ANYONE to bother. I understand where they are coming from. I just disagree that it’s pointless in all cases or worthless to ever try. I also don’t really care much for arguments like “it’s the only thing such thinking deserves”. I understand the emotions behind that sentiment, but it’s similar to a sentiment that all a murderer deserves is death. I’m not interested in meting out justice to offenders when I debate, I’m interested in convincing them of something. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but I feel the attempt is worth it.

    Oh, I should add that in the cases of a “true jerk”, as ambiguously as I’ve not defined it, what I mean to say is close to that, but basically that the group should honestly point out what a jerk they are being, exactly HOW they are being a jerk, and stating their behavior won’t be tolerated. That’s it. PZ Myers has had to bring the hammer down on “jail rape” pseudo threats and “jokes” on more than a few occasions himself with those who go further.

    The thing that disturbs me recently, reading a few threads, is the small but vocal minority starting to openly state that “our” political policy should be to, essentially, abandon all morals with “victory” being the sole guiding factor in how we achieve things. It doesn’t matter if someone is being honest about claims on the opposition, because it’s “about time they got as good as they give” and “it works”. This disturbs me not because I think that it’ll end in bombing houses, but that aside from that I have to wonder just where they draw the line and if they’ve defined what victory conditions are, that is, when it’s okay to STOP using dishonest tactics. That’s the problem with deciding that it’s okay to ditch your moral highground so long as the enemy does. You undermine your cause. Check history.

    So yes, there’s problems I see in that particular crowd, and that preferred treatment of people as just “the enemy” not worthy of any consideration as a human, even a monstrous human, just makes me realize even the best movement with only the highest goals is still subject to human failings if there isn’t some sort of self awareness and not just a “bullet point” style support important causes.

    I love PZ Myer’s screeds and love reading about biology, but the combination of an invasion of backwards hate groups derailing those threads, and then there’s the way they deal with someone saying something just a little too similar to the bigot they just had to deal with setting them off. I understand it, but it makes it very hard to get clarification on points they may feel I should already know about. I’ve seen people who come off as genuinely ignorant of “elevator gate”, who only got one side of the story and say “based on what I heard” get torn to shreds just as badly as someone who’s only there to say how great men are and how women “should be flattered”. I say kindly inform the former and be understanding of their position of genuine ignorance (my experience paints this, as most of the time when I do this they tend to react with surprise that that’s what actually happened and suddenly get the nature of the issue), and put the latter in their place as the misogynist they are.

    Unfortunately, this requires a certain level of patience and nuance with every post. That can be hard to muster, but I think it’s worth it to not accidentally target someone who may well be an ally with the right time taken to explain things.

    Even if not, basic civility is important as an end in itself to me. By “civility”, I just mean trying not to hurt people emotionally, not anything about tea parties or how to dress.

    • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

      See, you said basic civility is important to you, but both make a false claim, and then act sanctimonious – “check history” is what you said.

      This is fallacious, because you try to introduce a red herring on top of your initial BS (lie), among other fallacies. I’m suspecting very strongly that you are trolling – just trying to be ‘sophisticated’ or cunning about it.

      Calling people amoral is not civility. Make no mistake about that.

      Perhaps you are correct about missing stuff. What you perceive as cutthroat is actually or insight into BS slingers, and furthermore, some of these people have a history and have earned their disdain and contempt.

    • John Morales

      [OT]

      Well, thanks for taking the time to clarify your position and how you justify it in response to my enquiry.

      What you describe is not the place I know — indeed, much of it is antithetical to the reality.

      You might perhaps consider that it can be problematic for occasional readers such as you to know who are the regulars and who are the agents provocateurs; it’s clear to me that you’ve misapprehended the consensual norms there (in particular, this was evinced by your reference to prison rape).

      (And I’ll leave it at that, since this is not on-topic)

    • smhll

      I love PZ Myer’s screeds and love reading about biology, but the combination of an invasion of backwards hate groups derailing those threads, and then there’s the way they deal with someone saying something just a little too similar to the bigot they just had to deal with setting them off. I understand it, but it makes it very hard to get clarification on points they may feel I should already know about.

      I’m fairly new to Pharyngula. I appreciate the precision of the above part of your comment. “… someone saying something just a little too similar to the bigot…” I think that’s accurate. (I am much newer to Pharyngula that John M, so I suspect he has a better informed perspective than I do fwiw.)

      I’m not really sure what kind of brain shortcut or short circuit it is, but sometimes I get to the second or third sentence of moderate length comment and I start rolling my eyes and growling a little and the thought balloon over my head says “not this annoying argument again”. I would guess it’s some kind of pattern recognition and over generalizing problem. (I think I personally am more riled by cruddy assertions than by crud-implying questions, but I can’t speak for other people who engage in discussion on PZ Myers’ blog.)

      I’ve seen people who come off as genuinely ignorant of “elevator gate”, who only got one side of the story and say “based on what I heard” get torn to shreds just as badly as …

      It gets frustrating that people who read a confrontation on Pharyngula or elsewhere on FtB that they don’t like, rarely give a date stamp so that it is possible to actually read what happened. You referenced how hard it is to search there, and as a curious person who wonders (sometimes) what people are talking about, it affects me like an itch I can’t scratch.

      Re: not knowing the story in Elevatorgate. I read extensively about this topic last July. The threads Rebecca herself posted at Skepchick seemed to be plagued by people who had merely read someone else’s summary that linked to her blog. A sizable percentage of these people who posted negatively at her blog appeared not to have bothered to read her post before dropping a comment. This got pretty aggravating. Everyone I have seen writing about Elevatorgate on FtB has put helpful links to prior discussions in their new posts that re-address that topic.

  • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

    The thing that disturbs me recently, reading a few threads, is the small but vocal minority starting to openly state that “our” political policy should be to, essentially, abandon all morals with “victory” being the sole guiding factor in how we achieve things. It doesn’t matter if someone is being honest about claims on the opposition, because it’s “about time they got as good as they give” and “it works”. This disturbs me not because I think that it’ll end in bombing houses, but that aside from that I have to wonder just where they draw the line and if they’ve defined what victory conditions are, that is, when it’s okay to STOP using dishonest tactics. That’s the problem with deciding that it’s okay to ditch your moral highground so long as the enemy does. You undermine your cause. Check history.

    [citation needed]
    [data needed]

    I’m calling BS right now. I have never seen anyone say that, not in sceptical community, not around FTb, not at pharyngula, not at any atheist site or magazine, or anywhere.

    That is utter trash, a talking point, almost always claimed by religious fundamentals (lol).

    That is the sort of BS that if you don’t back it up, then you get ripped to shreds, because that is a serious insult to everyone that is fed up with society’s lack of morals regarding human rights.

    How dare you, mister. I’m not kidding.

    This is the sort of veiled insult that points to disingenuous games.

    If this was pharyngula, I would rip you a knew one if you came back with excuses, and rightly so. This is exactly the situation that calls for ridicule and disgust, so let’s have some examples showing this subset of the sceptical community.

    • AKAHorace

      Hi mikmik,

      as an example of the sort of debating that I find unhelpful on Pharyngula please see the link below:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/12/12/michael-mann-explains-the-evidence-for-anthropogenic-climate-change/

      Your response seems so over the top though I am not sure if you are kidding or not. Apologies if I have missed the leg pull.

    • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

      AKAHorace, that type of thing happens – the piling on, and I agree that refusing to believe jh0008 because they seem to have written him off already and just tried to poke holes in his statements. I don’t have time to read it very closely, but I’m sure I got the flavor and tactics right.

      If that is what you had actually said, I would have agreed with you, for I have been one to stand in opposition to ‘the others’ and given a guy named joey, scifi-something, even danielhaven, encouragement and attention to the points they make that are right. I have even called joey very smart and logical while, it seemed, all others – that addressed him – were calling him stupid. That was a bit tough to do, go against the peer pressure because what was happening WAS scapegoating and ganging up.

      So, I agree with you wholeheartedly, and have spoken out or tried to lead by example.

      But that is not what you said, ore what I address in your comments.
      This is, again, why I doubt your veracity. You said

      The thing that disturbs me recently, reading a few threads, is the small but vocal minority starting to openly state that “our” political policy should be to, essentially, abandon all morals with “victory” being the sole guiding factor in how we achieve things.

      That statement does not say “rude” or “belligerent” and in effect abandoning all manners, which I would agree with. It says abandon all morals.

      You sure look like, to me, you are claiming that there are virtually no boundaries constraining their behavior whatsoever.

      This brings me to another point I omitted regarding having more experience or long time reading of these blogs and comment threads, and that is that as soon as someone, that is being vilified, displays honest pain about feeling hurt, or having major shite in their lives to deal with, right away that person gets supported and concern and compassion is given for them.

      So, most of us do indeed try to be considerate excepting that all the signs of them being simply contrary in their behavior. Then, yes, anything goes, so to speak, because it is an issue of respect, and claiming and accusing us of very nasty immorality or treating us condescendingly using ‘mind reading’ and ad-hominum attacks, that is extremely insulting, no matter how much honey it is dripping with.

      Anyhooo, I do think I misunderstood what you meant, and I think you expressed yourself too strongly – by saying the vocal but tiny minority claiming outright that we should abandon all morals. It also sounded, to me, like you meant ‘in general,’ or ‘always,’ not in more specific circumstances like forums and blogs.

      I hope I’m getting it straight, and if you meant it the way I now understand what you said in that paragraph, you make a valid point, and I agree with you!

      I try not to bring to much baggage into responses to individual comments, and would rather err by giving the benefit of the doubt, than being overly vicious.

      But, I’ve only learned this over the last few months, for I was a no holds barred guy, just not at the same time or way as others. Ganging up.

      So, I think I understand what you said now? Correct me if I am wrong, okay? :)

    • AKAHorace

      Mikmak,

      my answer is at the end of the thread, sorry for the screw up. Have to get away, will write more later.

  • revjimbob

    “We cannot underestimate how valuable it is”
    Overestimate, surely?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The “cannot” here is an imperative meaning “must not”.

  • blotonthelandscape

    This is why I like your blog, and the commenters over at Unreasonable Faith on Patheos. There are always a few who are willing to rehash the old arguments, to feed the trolls, and to turn obstinate pigheadedness into fruitful discussion. I get annoyed at the “I’m tired of this argument so I’m just going to insult you” attitude of some bloggers. I’d rather they just ignored it.

    • AKAHorace

      mikmik,

      you have confused me with and earlier poster smhll.

      and I have not read the debate between smhll and you carefully enough. I thought you wanted a brief example of what was wrong with pharyngulate debaters.I am sorry if I misunderstood your position.

      Brief statement of my position.

      On politics-see my earlier post on this thread, around # 11.

      On internet debate.

      I used to post on Pharyngula but got sick of it because of the kind of behaviour that I linked to above.

      The defining event occurred about a year ago when they piled onto a guy who seemed extremely lonely and may have had mental problems. It was nothing to do with politics really. They had become so used to abusing their enemies that they did it partly out of force of habit, partly because they enjoy piling onto people. Posted a couple more times after that, but eventually got thrown out.

      I post at the slime pit these days.

      Look forward to debating with you here.

  • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

    blotonthelandscape says: “I get annoyed at the “I’m tired of this argument so I’m just going to insult you” attitude of some bloggers. I’d rather they just ignored it.”

    Looks like we are all on the same page here, lol. Regarding the ‘let’s see how many times, and ways, I can insult this freak‘ attitude, this is just as monotonous and repetitive as the obstinate troll, but with one addition; that of cruelty.

    There is something I mentioned earlier. I actually like participating in these threads of ill repute! Man, I never learn so much as on those battle threads. There are many, many new and creative ways to try to get the point across, and many new analyses and facts presented that I didn’t know about. Many side discussions will happen when we correct each other as well, so, as a resource, I find them invaluable. This is where some of us really shine; thinking of new ways and/or arguments to present.

    But, if it gets too destructive over-all, time for me to take a break.


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