I Am Not Against Emotions. I Am Against Insulting Epithets.

I recently unveiled a comments moderation policy that outlawed epithets and personal attacks. In response I received both a lot of support and a number of objections. I summarized 8 of those objections in my own words and now I am publishing replies to them.

Objection 2: My policy underestimates the value of passion in emotions and is calling for unrealistic Vulcanism. Worse, it is unfair because some subjects that may come up for debate are not merely academic. They affect people’s lives. Those affected are entitled to their emotions. I am a privileged white male heterosexual cisgendered neurotypical American college professor with a PhD and no physical disabilities. I have never been sexually or physically assaulted, meaningfully impoverished, physically debilitated, or substantively marginalized based on either my immutable characteristics or morally defensible life choices. It may be easy for me and others similarly situated in any of the above characteristics related to any topic under discussion to write with philosophical detachment but this is an unfair demand to make of those for whom the results of a given debate are not merely academic but vitally consequential.

Reply 2: Let me be unambiguously clear about the following points:

First of all, I am indeed privileged in all the respects listed above and that is why I greedily read and listen to people from important perspectives I lack that I may vicariously inhabit and learn from them. As a Nietzschean, if nothing else, I  reject all attempts to make an absolute dichotomy between reason and emotion as deeply false and counter-productive. I agree with Nietzsche that the best rationality accepts that we are always perspective bound. We can never abstract ourselves from all limitations of perspective and, even if we could, detachment would obscure as much of reality as it would show us.

So my interpretation of objectivity is not that it is an exercise of removing oneself from perspectives and emotions but rather of constant varying them. What I think we need to do is to see and to feel from as many perspectives as we can, both personally and vicariously through others, that we may then understand issues most fully when we take the critical perspective of cohering the data gleaned from each perspective. That is why I ask a lot of questions of a wide range of people and why I take very seriously people’s experiences which are different from mine. (See my post On Zealously, Tentatively, and Perspectivally Holding Viewpoints.)

Ultimately, I have to think for myself and assess what anyone tells me rationally. But the experiences and emotions of other people are crucial data for me to incorporate into any reasoning process, even when I ultimately come to different conclusions about the meaning or moral relevance of what someone has to offer me that I could not have learned without them. So, I am grateful to the innumerable ways that members of all groups, including marginalized ones, have vastly improved and nuanced my own thinking, even if I will not wind up agreeing with any other person down to every detail.

As much as I am very philosophical by nature and by discipline, I am also a deeply passionate person, and the two traits are inextricable in my personality and inextricable from my personality. I often argue with emotionally informed urgency and rhetorical flourish and am proud to do so. Of course I do not do this all the time. Sometimes cool detachment of presentation is much more effective and clarifying. But it is my passion for rigorous, detached clarity that is driving me even in those cases. But sometimes, excellent communicators use emotions to help their audience feel the way they rationally should given the goodness or the badness of the thing under discussion.

And in a great deal of my writing, I am constantly varying perspectives. I am constantly getting into the way of thinking and feeling that opposing viewpoints entail to try to put them into dialectical tension and generate new insights through that process. When I read other people, I let myself enter into their attitudes vicariously and try to incorporate them into my own thought that I may find what is true in them and correct what is false with the input of competing attitudes I have also picked up from others or found within myself. I am always reasoning not only as informed by emotions but by whole perspectives I am shifting between.

Emotional appeals can also mislead. But so can dispassionate, calm, and merely abstract ones. You are perfectly free to be passionate here or dispassionate. Emotion should never be a substitute for good reasoning and people should never be swayed by an emotional appeal that is irrational but it is up to readers and not me to decide whether an emotionally enhanced argument is rationally persuasive and likely to be true or whether it is subverting reason emotionally. The only kind of emotional appeal that I will rule out of bounds is the one that explicitly attacks the hearer as a person and tries to use emotions to interpersonally bully them rather than persuade them. (For more on this, see Force and Reason.)

Since my primary philosophical interest is in moral philosophy, we talk here about both abstract moral theory and practical ethical topics quite a bit. While I do not think emotions are the final word in ethics, quite often they are a helpful tool for guiding us to important, ethically relevant aspects of situations. The emotions help guide us to prima facie judgments of right and wrong, which we can then either refine or reassess, using critical reasoning. Sometimes emotions alert us to the seriousness of a problem even if they do not give us a clear feeling about the right solution. So in moral philosophy (and of course in matters of social justice) arguments which incorporate appeals to emotions are very important as a practical matter and sometimes even as a theoretical one.

Also, describing one’s emotions is perfectly valid and permissible in almost any context, as long as they do not amount to unnecessarily hostile interpersonal behavior. Bring up your emotions explicitly when they are relevant to a debating point or if someone is mistreating you and you need to assert yourself. Describe how rude commenters make you feel, preferably dispassionately if you can manage, and I will take it seriously.

When we both describe and appeal to our emotions and experiences this can be vital to a number of topics. If you come from a group with an unusual life experience of any kind that gives you a vantage point on the way that a philosophical, moral, social, or political issue affects people from your background, then it is crucial for the rest of us that you contribute what you have to offer. And part of what you have to offer is both reports on how things affect you emotionally and also constructive expressions of your emotional investment in the issues. There is not only nothing wrong, but often something vitally valuable about conveying your feelings in order to stress the importance of what impacts you or those you live with and love.

The last thing I want is to further marginalize those who come from less privileged situations than I do in any particular area. I earnestly want your input. I want your emotions to have a fair hearing. I just don’t want you to displace your anger on other commenters. I will do my best to make sure that even when we get into areas that hit close to home and people ask questions with the possibility to offend any marginalized groups, that your fellow commenters address the related issues as civilly and sensitively as possible, and do not dismissively treat your accounts of your emotional experiences or try to invalidate your points by simply noting the emotion with which you make your arguments.

Also, in keeping with my rules’ emphasis on interpersonal respect, I won’t allow language choices, whether direct slurs or implicitly insulting phraseology, that creates a hostile environment with the power to stealthily demean, goad, or threaten vulnerable groups.

I just want you to passionately convey your ideas and your experiences through stories, ideas, and arguments, rather than through venting at other people here, or even at whole groups of people you disagree with that others reading may belong to. You may morally condemn harmful or otherwise bad words, behaviors, attitudes, institutions, systemic effects, political groups, etc. with specific moral, intellectual, or otherwise critical kinds of charges that are open to substantiation.

You can explain that a social group or a public person has created or perpetuates ideas, attitudes, behaviors, institutions, systemic effects, etc., that are reprehensible, cowardly, cruel, dishonest, callous, malicious, vindictive, unfair, authoritarian, careless, bigoted, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, inegalitarian, sexist, privileged, merciless, disgusting, irresponsible, hateful, damaging, counter-productive, irrational, poorly reasoned, false, insensitive, illogical, prejudicial, etc.

There are plenty of harsh words which carry significant emotional weight that you may use. I am only against personal attacks against your discussion partners here when they have not yet behaved uncivilly to you and I am against epithets in nearly all cases on the blog. When you encounter what you take to be sexist ideas, you can charge them with being sexist. When someone’s ideas, attitudes, and reported behaviors prove persistently sexist, you may complain that they are coming off as a sexist. So you do not need to call them “douchebags”. You do not need to call someone an “asshole” when calling them a “bigot” is more accurate, defensible, capable of substantiation, and even carries greater emotional charge and social consequences.

So, epithets are, to my judgment superfluous. And since they are also intrinsically abusive and consequentially harmful to the atmosphere of collegiality, there is already prima facie reason to discourage such unproductive, counter-productive and hateful words altogether. This is entirely consistent with a wholehearted appreciation of the value of emotions in good reasoning.

I am trying to rein in the human tendency to turn our disputes over the true and the good into interpersonal fights. I am not at all trying to suppress righteous anger aimed at bad ideas or harmful effects. I am not here to invalidate your feelings or to repress your anger. I am only asking you to channel it into productive outlets for the purposes of this blog. Please respect the ways that personal attacks put your opponents on the defensive, cause them to keep to themselves what they honestly think instead of subjecting it to rational scrutiny, and corrode the atmosphere of good will and shared inquiry.

If we cannot treat each other as mutually concerned with the projects of discovering truth and creating justice then we will not trust each other and this will not be a space where people dig for truth as deep as they can but instead one where they dig in their heels on what they already think as deep as they can. If the latter happens, this will only be a place where people either agree with each other or attack each other’s points of view without any interest or ability to learn from each other. I want this place to be one where everyone is so comfortable to think and write honestly that they can be honest about their confusions, have their misconceptions debunked, and take fruitful open-ended intellectual risks.

I am only going to get worried about your anger if you personalize disputes prematurely. So as soon as you feel like you are being treated dismissively in a marginalizing or objectifying way by another poster, report it to me (preferably privately) and I will work to nip it in the bud if I have not spotted it already. I want us to host difficult moral and political and social difficult debates here. I want us to be as rigorous as possible consistent with being as inclusive as possible. This means trying to create an atmosphere where the ideas can, if necessary, conflict the most possible while the people interpersonally conflict the least possible given that circumstance.

If you are not up for difficult debates where what you have at stake will be interrogated in a vigorous way by others, then that’s fine. Not every blog is for everybody. But some blogs and some other forums need to have these debates if we are going to have values that are grounded in reason, subjected to rational scrutiny, and defended to others rationally and fairly. When you contribute your experience, including your emotions, to that process, it is a net benefit for everyone else. So I want you to be here if you can and I am only asking that you not use epithets or hastily personalize intellectual disputes with your fellow commenters. You do not have to hold back anything else in terms of your passions to participate here. You have to be as patient and generous as you can when your views are attacked. That is just an inevitable part of honest, constructive debate and dialogue.

I perfectly understand if you personally do not want to educate strangers online who are going to ask relentless questions and otherwise skeptically examine issues that are settled matters of core values or basic existence for you. I will address that complaint over the course of future posts. For now, let me just make clear that I think that it is good that there are blogs where people of shared values can assume their common ground and work from there to support each other, reason within their shared framework, get refuge from oppressive social forces and opposing philosophical viewpoints, and/or coordinate political action.

While those four goods have always been a big part of this blog’s role, when philosophical disagreements break out those are given precedence over nurturing members of our in-group here. The reason for that is not at all because I am uncommitted to social justice but rather because I am a philosopher and this is a philosophy blog. And on such a blog, philosophical debates that clarify theoretical issues of crucial eventual relevance to how we understand the good, live our lives, and structure a just society are paramount.

In order to do that, many values and beliefs which are fine to take as shared assumptions at other blogs are opened up for vigorous refinement and reassessment. This sort of clarification project is vital to the advance of good thinking and good thinking is vital good actions and good institutions. Good thinking requires taking intellectual challenges as seriously as possible so that we have a better understanding of whatever truth they may contain that we have not yet incorporated into our own thinking.

By all means stay when the topics turn to matters of first order inquiry. By all means argue passionately in such cases and bring all your knowledge and unique experiences, perspectives, and needs to bear. Just don’t sabotage the discussions by abusively attacking those who disagree with you.

Your Thoughts and Emotions?

For much more detail on how emotions play a positive role in reason and on how to curb their potential to undermine rationality and fairness, see the following posts:

On Zealously, Tentatively, and Perspectivally Holding Viewpoints

Force and Reason

Rational Passional Persuasion

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.

  • StevoR

    Your blog. Your comments policy. That simple.

    I’ll try to remember and make sure I stick by it.

    Please don’t be too harsh if I (or others here) get confused & think I’m (we’re) on Pharngyula instead by honest mistake tho’!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.david.engler Brian Engler

    The fact that a commenter can be impassioned and can express that passion rationally and without vulgarity, epithets, and personal attacks should go without saying. That it cannot is indicative of the depths to which some discourse in our skeptical and atheist communities has fallen. I applaud your policy and hope other bloggers consider adopting something similar.

    • fastlane

      I disagree. This kind of policy is parallel to religious thinking in that the words themselves have some kind of ‘magic’ power. The ideas behind them are what’s important. Sometimes, swearing is a good way to be emphatic, sometimes it’s not.

      Blanket rules like this will, in general, keep me from posting at this blog. It says that certain types of communication is verboten, and that’s fine, it’s his blog, his rules. Several other blogs here have similar policies and I rarely so much as skim them, and generally refrain from commenting even when I do.

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

      I disagree. This kind of policy is parallel to religious thinking in that the words themselves have some kind of ‘magic’ power. The ideas behind them are what’s important. Sometimes, swearing is a good way to be emphatic, sometimes it’s not.

      It’s not swearing that is the issue. You may do that. There is no “magic power” being evoked. Words simply have meanings. Some of them, given their standard usages, are words for expressing degrading hostility. That’s their meaning. There’s no magic, it’s how words work. We have certain words for saying, “I fundamentally disrespect you”. Use one of those and you have invited fundamental disrespect into the conversation. I don’t want fundamental disrespect poisoning the atmosphere here.

    • fastlane

      With all due respect, the variance in what words mean “I fundamentally disrespect you”., varies so greatly from culture to culture makes your attempt at controlling them an exercise in futility that will wind up with a horribly inconsistent approach and irritating a lot of people.

      If you were British, you would see what I did there.

      Now, it may seem worth it to you, in order to set your comfort level, but it will discourage a lot of discussion here, simply because a lot of people (like me) won’t participate.

      Also, you’re begging for a system to be gamed by passive aggressive (instead of outright aggressive) assholes who will toe the proverbial line, but get their digs in anyway. I’ve been a member of many forums like that, and I’d rather have someone just outright call me an asshole than the typical P-A shit that flies under the radar. But again, that’s just me (and a lot of other people who won’t otherwise be commenting here.)

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

      fastlane, I am aware of passive aggressive bullshit and will not indulge it either. I have explained all this in my first reply to objections. I am not interested in indulging people who argue in bad faith or poison the atmosphere by explicitly or implicitly personalizing things.

      If the only condition under which you can comment here is if you can personally insult and attack your fellow commenters, then as I have already said, I do not need your comments. I am not interested in maximum participation possible. I am interested in maximum participation by people who can get as deep into intellectual constructive, illuminating intellectual conflict as possible because they know how to keep the interpersonal conflict to a minimum.

  • smhll

    I agree with Nietzsche that the best rationality accepts that we are always perspective bound. We can never abstract ourselves from all limitations of perspective…

    I agree that this is very important. I noticed from your most recent video that philosophers comprehend the notion that everyone has a personal bias or starts with a personal bias. (You guys alluded to it near the beginning of the discussion.) It seems to me to be human nature not to see one’s own bias at first. The notion that fish don’t notice water or water pressure roughly illustrates this idea.

    I can illustrated the idea that I myself have inherent biases with the example of “over-protectiveness” in child raising. My bias, or my initial judgement inside my head, is that people who take the same precautions that I do are just right, while people who take more precautions than I are over-protective and people who take fewer are under-protective or just “careless”. I’m like a 9 out of 10 on the overprotectiveness scale. It wasn’t until I met a 10, who cut seedless grapes into 1/8ths before feeding them to her three year old that I actually got to think. “Over-protective much?” The over- and under- prefixes are generally used relative to where the speaker stands, and are often based on opinion. (Said opinion may not have visible means of support.)

    One thing excellent thing that philosophy professors can contribute to the goal of better internet discussion, is just getting the idea across that no one person starts out with a POV that is fully neutral and absolutely correct.

  • Makoto

    This is the biggest point, at least for me. Passion and emotion are great, tempered with logic and reason. Sometimes you can use more emotion, sometimes more logic, but epithets are never a good argument.

    Maybe there’s a point to be made about which epithets are included in the list. I can see a discussion there, since not everyone realizes what is a hurtful comment towards their group – I’ve unintentionally hurt people in the past by the words I used, and I tried to learn from that. I’m sure I still do it now, and hope to continue that learning, because I’m not trying to hurt people when I talk or write.

  • Beth

    First of all, let me support you in your quest to build a more civil blog. Such an environment is definitely an attraction for me.

    Second of all, let me observe that I think the objections and replies you are dealing with here are an important part of setting social norms. I have a philosophical question regarding social norms that are perceived as ‘harmful’ in various ways: What boundaries are reasonable for a larger society to impose on a social subgroup within it?
    For example, this http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/08/to-more-public-calls-for-change/

    and this
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/08/salope/

    Should men who wish to keep their community and culture the way it is be allowed to do so in some places? To what extent do we have the right to impose our preferences on them? I am thinking of this question being akin to allowing the KKK to continue. Also on my mind is the issue of male infant circumcision which you recently wrote about.

    What boundaries are appropriate for allowing people of the same mindset to collectively behave the way they wish within a larger society? How harmful does a cultural practice need to be in order to justify the larger society imposing it’s behavior standards upon the subgroup?

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

      I try to distinguish the need to regulate speech informally from the group’s ability to do so legally. Legally, I am close to a free speech absolutist whereas in private groups, I think order and other values should be allowed to be determined on a group by group basis. I tend to think that it is only where and to the extent that a subgroup’s speech becomes too hostile and disruptive to members of other groups’ abilities to function freely and constructively that the government should be stepping in. The rest of the norms I hope will be set up and enforced through private initiatives in setting up guidelines for their groups and by applying social costs for hateful people’s words and actions, etc.

    • beth

      Fair enough. Those are just questions that occur me after reading many different discussions here. If they are not of interest to you, that’s fine. I think that exploring such questions from a more abstract and general perspective can lead to more consistency across different situations and help to distinguish what are the key differences that result in different approaches being considered appropriate.

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

      Yes, they are great questions. I apologize for giving short shrift with a brief summary position for now. To answer in-depth would be an exercise in case study, I think, since the general principles are not the problem but their application in numerous knotty particular situations are. I have raised some such current events stories before and hope to in the future.

  • woo_monster

    Your Thoughts and Emotions?

    Off-topic, but I am curious as to why “Thoughts” and “Emotions” are capitalized.

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

      It is my standard tagline to close posts with the capitalized invitation “Your Thoughts?” In this case, I appended “Emotions” in keeping with the spirit of the post.

    • woo_monster

      It is my standard tagline to close posts with the capitalized invitation “Your Thoughts?”

      Yeah, I figured that out, I was just wondering if there was some reason behind it, other than tradition. Just idle curiosity.

  • Michael Kingsford Gray

    Are you also against positive epithets?
    If not, why not?
    And who gets to judge?

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

      I meant negative epithets. I missed that the word has a larger meaning than a synonym for insults.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray

      And who gets to judge?

    • John Morales

      Seems to me that (obviously) Dan does. He says it himself (my emphases):

      Ultimately, I have to think for myself and assess what anyone tells me rationally. But the experiences and emotions of other people are crucial data for me to incorporate into any reasoning process, even when I ultimately come to different conclusions about the meaning or moral relevance of what someone has to offer me that I could not have learned without them. So, I am grateful to the innumerable ways that members of all groups, including marginalized ones, have vastly improved and nuanced my own thinking, even if I will not wind up agreeing with any other person down to every detail.

      Perhaps until proven guilty the charitable thing is to trust to his good will, his acumen and his honesty?

      (Yes, I know many have questioned his acumen)

  • MroyalT

    So.. I utterly agree with the way you presented how emotion plays a very good role in the way we reason – most of the times it is because we are trapped in our own perspectives and on many moral issues we need to learn to sympathize with others outside our individual perspectives. I don’t disagree with the stance.. but I think you utterly missed the point of the objection.

    Let me bear my soul – well there is still a filter, but it is as clear as I can make it at this point.

    The point is that it is a trivial matter for you to argue with a cool head on many social issues because you are not effected to a detrimental degree on social issues. It is not a trivial matter for minorities to do the same.. in fact it is a skill that we need to acquire by talking about these issues and making mistakes along the way – like just blowing up and loosing our cool. We need to be allowed to make these mistakes… if we are not, then we can’t develop that skill of calm apathy when talking to ignorant people that mean well but say horrible hurtful things. Venting is necessary to this process.. it really really is – without that, we can not numb ourselves to the degree necessary to talk calmly. We acquire tougher skins through this process, a process which you just kind of cut off. I could not talk to you the way I am talking to you now if I did not put myself through considerable pain in the first place.

    What you are doing here, by limiting the language and asking for everyone to remain calm and collected without making the mistake of insulting the other person personally.. is you are placing a greater burden on minorities when we talk about social issues. We have so many burdens to bear as it is, and you are tacking on another one. When you have a forum that places more burdens, heavier burdens on one group of people rather than another.. the ones who have the least amount of burden will become the most vocal, the ones who have the most will suffer in silence. The cumulative effect is that you won’t get as many perspectives as you want on social issues because it is too difficult to talk about by the very people that are effected most, and arguably the most valuable assets you have on social issues.

    The argument is not that we think you are going to limit us to “pure reason” of sorts… emotions are allowed as you painstakenly laid out. It is that the limit you put on the emotions allowed puts a greater burden on a certain sect of people, and when you have more burdens to bear, you will tend to decide just not to bear those burdens whenever possible. This will make this forum less active, when it comes to highly emotional subjects that effect and damage certain people. Those people, on one end, in particular, might not be able to handle such extra burdens, and that also means that the ones who can and do end up posting.. are under that much more pressure to persuade, and this adds more burdens to them as well. The cumulative effect is very bad for a select group of people who have highly valuable opinions to share – precisely because it is a difficult issue for them and that they can not always remain civil.

    Sometimes… I can not be civil when talking about racism. Sometimes… I deliberately chose not to be civil when talking to someone who has racist ideas regardless of their intent. Why? Cause I get angry! I get very angry. Very angry. Racism kills.. there is blood on these streets everyday and it is due to racism. Bigotry of all kinds kill other people, and when you have seen it, or felt it, or witnessed it kill for a lifetime… you won’t want to be civil anymore. (As I proof read this line, it cuts so deep that I get knots in my throat). Sometimes we need to throw civility away. We need to scream, and beg, and cry, and bang our hands on every surface just to be heard – to make people understand that this… this is serious stuff and sometimes civil discussions don’t do the job.

    In fact, it is because society is inherently bigoted that what most call civil discussions are really just discussions made to be apathetic to the kind of harsh realities bigotry in this world gives into. I don’t want to be told to calm down, or not hurl insults when someone says something that is genuinely harmful, an idea that routinely causes my brothers and sisters harm.. and to not insult them when they spread hate and fear and evil in the strongest secular sense.. seems… seems to fall flat.

    Sometimes.. even I, I can’t hold back.. and no one… no one has ever given me a just reason to hold back. Not when the negatives of bigotry are that brutal of a reality to me. The ugliness of bigotry is harsher than any insult I can ever bring to the table. Yet, many sit here and tell me not to hurl insults? They dare come to me and say not to make this personal? Bigoted ideas are personal! They are personal to every one who has ever felt it and never want to ever feel it again.. ever.. never again. There are certain ideas, regardless if the are couched in non-inflammatory language non -personal language, that just do damage.

    Yet I see that this behavior is likely to be not tolerated at this blog.. and that puts me at unease. I can never know when I lose myself. I never know when I will get triggered… and if the punishment is shame to such an extent where I get banned, then I may never engage in the first place, or I may never be be able to come back when I make a mistake. It is a risk I may not be able to bear unfortunately. No matter how well placed or well intentioned your ideas may be – no matter how beneficial I may seem them as. There is still something missing, something that I need to express sometimes, but will likely be moderated into oblivion with this policy. It is a cruel and harsh reality about these kinds of talks… Bigotry is something that is always uncensored in my mind, and I can not always censor my response – it does not due that bigotry justice, I do myself an injustice to censor my response. I don’t want to do myself that injustice.

    I am torn on this policy.. I can see the benefits clearly… but I can not bring myself to accept the cost. A cast which you seems think, is a cost that is almost trivial to avoid. It really is not, many times.. it is not.

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

      Thank you again, MRoyalT, for another important comment. Forgive me for only focusing on this one part for now:

      The point is that it is a trivial matter for you to argue with a cool head on many social issues because you are not effected to a detrimental degree on social issues. It is not a trivial matter for minorities to do the same.. in fact it is a skill that we need to acquire by talking about these issues and making mistakes along the way – like just blowing up and loosing our cool. We need to be allowed to make these mistakes… if we are not, then we can’t develop that skill of calm apathy when talking to ignorant people that mean well but say horrible hurtful things. Venting is necessary to this process.. it really really is – without that, we can not numb ourselves to the degree necessary to talk calmly. We acquire tougher skins through this process, a process which you just kind of cut off. I could not talk to you the way I am talking to you now if I did not put myself through considerable pain in the first place.

      What you are doing here, by limiting the language and asking for everyone to remain calm and collected without making the mistake of insulting the other person personally.. is you are placing a greater burden on minorities when we talk about social issues. We have so many burdens to bear as it is, and you are tacking on another one. When you have a forum that places more burdens, heavier burdens on one group of people rather than another.. the ones who have the least amount of burden will become the most vocal, the ones who have the most will suffer in silence. The cumulative effect is that you won’t get as many perspectives as you want on social issues because it is too difficult to talk about by the very people that are effected most, and arguably the most valuable assets you have on social issues.

      I get that there is a stage of working through the anger and having room to vent it and work towards being able to express it constructively. This is common with newly deconverted atheists, for a much less consequential example than those who are victims of racism. I am unclear though whether you are saying in this quoted section that it is a good thing that members of marginalized groups make it to the point where they can argue without personalizing or is it not? A lot of the complaints with my policy have been that it is just okay for members of marginalized groups to abuse their interlocutors for the reasons above. Is it okay, or is it just something to be understanding of but on the long run not encourage?

    • MroyalT

      @ Daniel Fincke,

      Yeah, see.. it is not about whether this is good or bad way to proceed, it is not about whether to talk out of such anger and fury has an effect or does not, it is not about whether we should encourage this behavior or not… it is about something else. That this, the way certain minorities talk about issues, is just simply what we do – it can not be avoided, it is a natural part of the overall dialogue. It is something you can not moderate out of the discussion while keeping the discussions firm place in reality. I detailed this to you because you are basically interfering with this natural emotional evolution of the overall dialogue – this interference has negative effects such as limiting the amount of minorities that can share within that evolution. Again, what it does, is it gives an unfair advantage to the privileged (They can proceed and we are stuck), and we probably should not do that.

      With that said, I will give you my point of view as an answer to your questions. I just want to give forewarning.. my point of view is in fact not popular. However, I think it is the best point of view or I would not have it – even if this point of view is appalling to certain circles of people.

      The idea is this… we are raised in a culture and society that is fundamentally bigoted. This bigotry spills into all of our life experiences, and this causes things like hidden racial bias, hidden gender bias, stereotypes, micro aggressions, and in the end, bigotry in all forms – from black people not being able to catch a cab as easily as white people, to the republican voter ID laws, to economic inequalities, to the KKK. This type of culture also weeds its way into our language, and our national dialogues.

      What a lot of people who do not talk about bigotry much fail to realize is that minorities are constantly bombarded by micro aggressions. Many of them come in the form of “Calm down,” “Do not talk that way,” “You anger is misplaced,” “If you want to talk to the privileged with any force than you need to listen to the privileged instructions on how to proceed with civility”…. etc..etc.. So unfortunately, you are pretty much falling into this kind of pattern. Though, your position is a lot, a lot more respectable than any I have ever seen so far, it is still ultimately lacking in the same fundamental way. At least, that is the way I see it.

      The idea is this… when we talk about bigotry society already condones a certain way to discuss things. Society already emphasizes a certain way to proceed and this pattern is remarkable only because it actually disgusts me. You have no doubt seen symptoms of this pattern before… claims of reverse racism, claims of racism is not so bad, things like racism is bad but no one ever knows someone who is actually racist, claims to the effect that we should be color blind and just not talk about racism, effects that belittle minorities when they speak out of anger, things were the privileged want to talk about anything other than their privilege, and yes… unfortunately the things you say here.

      You know, when you talked to crommunist for a bit, he told you that he understands your position, but he thinks it will not work. He told you that you are not the first to try this. He was not trying to be ominous, he was telling you the truth. In that, even though your position is a lot more nuanced, it still has that same error we have seen time and time again. You have placed yourself in a position in which you are actually pushing along with society against certain sects of minorities.

      See society already tells us to not get to angry about racism and other types of bigotries. It already relays the message that our anger can not persuade anyone, and that our anger will just shut more doors than it opens. As such, society tells us that we need to act a certain way, talk a certain way, filter our frustrations a certain way before society finds any value in what we say. When minorities grow weary of such messages and do not obey such arbitrary rules… society tells us that we are no longer valuable to the conversation. To just go away, handle our feelings, and “come back when we are ready” to discuss things within the confines of certain rules under the guise of civil discussions. Well, what if I don’t want to be civil? What if I want to engage with the morally emotive language in which this subject deserves… well then… society will try to silence you. People will try and make you look like a radical.. even though what you say is true, it is so rotten with anger that people will concentrate on that anger instead of the substance of what you say. The conversation will subtly shift away from the main topic of discussion, bigotry and how wrong it is, to behavior modification – and this is almost always targeted at the minority, for some odd reason.

      This is why some minorities get angry, they break the rules of engagement, and they strike out with the force they deem necessary. We already are told how to act, told how to function, and made to do certain things to avoid conflict… and when we are talking about our personal plights we don’t want to be told to act one way or another. In this instance, at least we want to be true to ourselves and our feelings. Yet even then… we can’t be. We can’t talk to the public without a filter… oh no that is disastrous, I have tried it before! As such, we already filter our words, then, on some special occasions, we remove that filter to.. just see what happens. If someone tells me that even on special occasions I have to keep that filter on…. I feel like they have violated the little power, the freedom I had in the discussion. The privileged can whisper… but minorities have to scream to be heard. Then when we scream.. we are told not to scream! We are asked why we are shouting… and then we are stuck with contradictory messages. Each minority will react differently to such pressures, and I don’t think we should limit the way some people act because we happen to think it is inappropriate.

      At least this is my soft view – it is way more complex than that, and I will be letting it leak out in your future posts, but for now those are the basics. I know what the flaws and objections are in this point of view, but we can get to that another time. All I want to do here is emphasize this perspective for a bit – let it seep into the dialogue and let it muster before we go on.

      Let me be more direct in an answer to your questions though… Whatever was said above, has more depth to it, so if the answers do not reflect the sentiments above… my apologies, I am really not a good writer.

      Is it a good thing that I am as apathetic – though it may not seem that way by the things I post – as I am now? Should others follow in that same way?

      I don’t know. I really do not know. I can see the benefits of such apathetic takes, but I also see the negatives. The problem with apathy is this causes non-activity – it makes us immobile. You can’t have apathy if you want to spark action. If you want to spark action, you need to fill your speech with emotive language.. the problem with that is, that this emotive language has just as much force on you as it does on the people you are trying to reach! I said we take heavy emotional damage when we speak.. and it is true. When I reach down for something special, something emotive.. it comes from a place where it just plain hurts to talk about. Yet if I do not do that… what I will get is “Racism is bad.. ok. Now let me just continue to support republican voter ID laws.” In that they agree, but they do nothing afterwords. I am sure you know this already.

      My feeling is that there is a proper place for both. For the person who loses their patience and for someone who keeps their cool. Sometimes someone losing their patience and flaming out can in fact reach people – because they just witnessed the damage that these ideas have caused. There is a proper place for calm rational reasoned dialogue with slight moral overlays.. and there is a place for strong impassioned debate that leaves both sides of the issues shaken. You said it yourself, you are a strong proponent of sharing perspectives.. which is why I am confused to why you chose to limit a certain perspective that is so valuable to so many other people.

      You say that a lot of the complaints have been that it is just okay for the marginalized to abuse the privileged. I think you have very much misjudged what these people were saying. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they were unable to express themselves properly because they felt attacked by this policy. No one should think abuse is a good thing, especially if they are subject to abuse themselves.

      Then you ask.. if I think if the occasional abuse of the privileged is OK, or if it is just something to understand of but not condone…

      I don’t have a simple answer for this. I don’t think there is proper answer to this one. Should we abuse people that have perhaps unknowingly violated and abused us with their words? My answer has to be no, but my answer also has to be “look, it happens, and we have to allow that to happen.” Should we encourage someone who has been abused by society to target a specific individual that is part of the privileged class? I think the answer is no, but I have seen it happen on occasion and frankly I have seen it wield positive results.

      Honestly, I don’t think my answer matters as much to this discussion, as getting others to understand my point of view does. People will come to conclusions all on their own, conclusions that will likely not match my own… but I think the most important part of this conversation is empathy. We need more empathy, even for views that might disgust us. I have empathy for the other side of things, I really really do. I have a lot of empathy for what you are doing here… but there is so much hand-shaking and self-congratulations going on in this thread… that I felt I needed to at least force a different perspective – no matter where my actual stance was.

      My stance aligns more with your own these days – about how we should proceed to discuss things properly – but a few years ago this would have been a conversation with a much different tone and I don’t even think I would be wrong to take the conversation that way. My stance reflects my present state of mind, and I can not try to devalue the previous state of mind I had. I have to, on occasions, reach down deep and bring my former self into discussions like these because, upon reflection, my former self did a lot of good – despite the negative things that this anger caused. I would not be here today, with you, trying to reach across the computer screen and pull you into my world…. if I was not allowed to do the things I did in the past. I am asking you to have the empathy to allow others to do the same.

      The bottom line is, that I don’t like this policy… and frankly, I don’t think you need it either. I don’t like it, not because I disagree with your motives behind it, I actually very much agree these days about how to carry a discussion… but because you are not allowing others to get to that point of view by choice, I can’t endorse this policy. You are forcing it on them, and forcing it on others that are simply not ready means that you are just going to shut them down, not allow them to learn. You have a lot of power and social influence on this forum, you can use this to argue others to your position.. you don’t need to moderate them into your position to this extent. Yes moderation is needed on special occasions, but this moderation treats too many topics discussions as equals and that is fundamentally untrue.

      See you later – I hope this long rant was of some kind of use to you.

    • A ‘Nym Too

      Your comments are amazing, and sum up everything I’m feeling, but to emotional to articulate.

      +1,000,000 to you.

    • Smhlle

      @MRoyalT,

      My internal truth judges also award you +1,000,000. Every word made sense to me on a deep, visceral level.

    • J. J. Ramsey

      MroyalT:

      Venting is necessary to this process.. it really really is – without that, we can not numb ourselves to the degree necessary to talk calmly.

      The only way I see that making sense is if you are talking about catharsis, but so-called “venting” isn’t actually cathartic. As the blog You Are Not So Smart pointed out:

      If you think catharsis is good, you are more likely to seek it out when you get pissed. When you vent, you stay angry and are more likely to keep doing aggressive things so you can keep venting.

      It’s drug-like, because there are brain chemicals and other behavioral reinforcements at work. If you get accustomed to blowing off steam, you become dependent on it.

      The more effective approach is to just stop. Take your anger off of the stove. Let it go from a boil to a simmer to a lukewarm state where you no longer want to sink your teeth into the side of buffalo.

    • MroyalT

      @ J. J. Ramsey,

      Aye, I am aware of such things, I figured this would be common knowledge by now. I guess that bit was poorly phrased – or just plain wrong with the way I phrased it. Let me put it in better light. What I mean to say is that emotional outbursts are a part of the game. Learning through these types of mistakes is a part of how you learn to communicated better. So, I think you should be a bit more lenient about personal outbursts considering the context of the situation. To outright ban or place on strict moderation, will likely run the person away rather than allow them to learn from their mistakes and learn how to handle their feelings.

      @ A ‘Nym Too, and Smhlle,

      Aye, just don’t place your views on me too much. You should trust me as far as you can throw me, and I am a 200 pound man. As Dan continues to unleash his thoughts upon us – you might find yourselves in deep disagreement with me! In the end, Dan’s policies if they are what I think they are, just need small adjustments, no need to abandon them completely. I merely press in this certain direction because I don’t see enough people pressing this perspective – and I want Dan to see these perspectives before he proceeds. In the end, I tend to agree more with Dan then I may lead on – I just want to emphasize the important parts where our views diverge.

    • DavidM

      “That this, the way certain minorities talk about issues, is just simply what we do – it can not be avoided, it is a natural part of the overall dialogue. It is something you can not moderate out of the discussion while keeping the discussions firm place in reality.” – That’s complete bullshit. There are no such monolithic minorities. There’s just people, all kinds of people, who may or may not have trouble controlling their anger and expressing their anger in appropriate ways. And they may or may not have trouble thinking clearly. There are plenty of minority-’allies’ who get just as angry and self-righteous as members of the minorities themselves. And there are plenty of members of minority communities who are able to express themselves graciously and rationally (even when they’re angry). The reality is, your talk of the inevitability of racial minorities being ruled by anger when facing racism is defeatist and false. You can work to perpetuate this kind of cultural stereotype if you want, but why? Don’t project your personal struggles onto the whole minority group which you happen to belong to. That’s NOT true to reality.

    • DavidM

      I think what I really object to is just the tendency of some to identify themselves primarily as part of a minority. I’m not saying this is explicit, but the tendency is to think first of all “I’m black or gay or a woman” (or a black gay woman – yippee!) and therefore *these* are my issues/beliefs/entitlements (while ignoring the existence of non-conformists within my minority community). But those identities are all secondary things. First of all you are a human being, first of all you’re the same as every other human being, and first of all you are bound by the same moral and rational standards as every other human being. Go ahead and take pride in your other particular identities, but that doesn’t exempt you from being a human being, just like everyone else. Your minority identity is subordinate to your human identity.

    • MroyalT

      @ DavidM

      1) I am not talking as if minorities are monolithic entities. In fact, throughout that entire essay I made clear remarks saying that these are my views, and that some, not all, minorities share this view. I said that so many times, that I am surprised that someone actually missed it. Fact is, I don’t put my struggles on other people, but I do know that some people share similar experiences and react similar ways. I am not the emperor of minority thoughts, and I never put myself in that position. I took great pains to try and make that clear in what I write. Don’t call what I write about racism, a subject that is difficult to write about for me, some kind of bullsht… you just crossed the fcking line while you also misrepresented me. You are not off to a good start.

      2) Yes there are non-minorities that get just as angry at racism… but this is not the norm. They are typically able to talk about this subject with a much cooler head – and there are basic fundamental reasons why this is. These reasons have already been laid out.

      3) Yes there are minorities that can handle a discussion without popping a top. In fact, I said that many times in my thoughts. I said that however, this policy will likely push away the minorities who can’t control or express their anger to the extent they would like to. (Now that may or may not be for the better… but that is the central disagreement that I think me and Dan might have – that is also worthy of discussion.)

      4) Don’t accuse me of perpetuating a stereotype. The stereotype of the “angry minority” is used to dismiss real concerns. What I am saying is that there are good reasons for certain minorities to be angry, and we should not be so quick to dismiss them when they get angry. What this is, is actually standing up against a stereotype not propagating it.

      5) In your next response… did you.. did you just really say that? Are you serious? You might as well just come at me and ask that we all be color blind too… because that position is just as lofty as the one you just brought out there. No one is talking about being exempt from being a human being.. I mean.. that line is about to make me blow my top right now. It is such a simplistic view of everything I just wrote that I have to believe you did not read what I just wrote. Yet, let me chalk that nonsense up to a misunderstanding… let me be more clear in what I mean – so that you don’t jump to odd conclusions and throw in these odd “words of wisdom” at me as if this is something I never considered.

      In fact, the way you just responded… is typically all the reason I would need to get real aggressive right now, to get real angry right now, and to get real assertive and accusatory right now…. cause Zues be damned, if I drew a line on the sand.. you would be right up on it – dancing. However, I am going to just take a deep breath, control my anger, no matter how just I might think it might be, and take the advice of my philosopher friend Dan. Let me be more charitable, even if feel as if you just violated me with your lack of charity when you read my thoughts – considering just how difficult those thoughts were to bear.

      *deep breath*

      Ok. I understand your concerns. I did not mean to suggest that there does not exists people with privilege that are deeply concerned with the rights and feelings of the ones who lack privilege. If anything Dan is a clear cut example of someone who fundamentally cares. In fact, for all I know, you may be someone too. There are a lot of people who do care deeply about issues like these, and they are my allies.. they are my emotional crutches. In fact the privileged have power when they talk about the plights of the under-privileged. In many instances it is their thoughts, their aid, their support that help people change their minds. I have a deep fundamental respect for anyone who does this – it takes the burdens off minorities a bit. In fact I have seen privileged people get even more angry at the injustice because they are fed up with an unfair unjust world.. and this is a good thing. I never, never meant to undermine any of this. In fact, if this is how I came off, I am deeply apologetic – mainly because there are many privileged people that share my concerns and I could not get along with out their aid sometimes.

      I also understand that many minorities have the vocabulary and the knowledge, and the experience, and the patience, to deal with racism issues with justice and furry without ever becoming self righteous – it is a skill that I still lack. It is a skill that is sorely needed. I never meant to paint a picture of all minorities here, and I made that clear several times in that post. I can only speak for myself, and I also know that there are some out there who think like me, and others who do not. We don’t want to alienate one group more than another. We don’t want to alienate any minorities who get angry, anymore than we alienate the minorities who are calm, cool, and collected. In particular because we can all learn from each other – no need to cast anyone aside, which is what I am fighting against here.

      Finally… this whole “we are human beings thing”… I mean it just resembles “can’t we all just get along?”… I mean sure, kind of, but we need to be realistic.

      I was listening to a Godless Bitches podcast, from the ACA here on FTB, and they made a point that I am going to steal and pretend it was my own fancy shmancy idea. They were talking about how horrible the idea of “abstinence only” type of arguments were in regards to mitigating STD’s. What one of them said was this…

      Imagine a scenario where people were talking about the real world problem of STD’s and how to mitigate them from spreading. We have all these smart people around the table throwing around ideas on how to solve this deadly problem. Then you get one person who says:

      “I have an idea! Let us just make sure that no one has sex before they are married. That no one, no one engage in any sexual intercourse until they are married, and when they are married they only have that one partner for the rest of their life. No cheating! When that person dies.. they can find another sex partner. This would work and stop a lot, if not most STD’s!”

      Then, after everyone at that table has finally stopped laughing at this individual, they actually try and come up with real solutions to real problems. The problem with the idea is that it is simply not based on reality. The reality is that people are going to have sex.. now we need to work around that and promote ideas like safe sex and such.. We should not go around promoting ideas that have no real basis in reality. It is a very silly thing to do.

      At the same time.. that rational is analogous to what you just said to me. You tell me that I am a human being first, and that my skin color or ethnicity, or sexual orientation is not a prime directive, that my humanity is. As we are all human and….

      Well that is nice… but the fact is that in this society, in this culture, on this earth… it is not that simple. Sexuality, gender, ethnicity all matter to a great degree.. they are often put first by culture. Racism, sexism, homophobia is all dehumanizing. It is in fact a primary indicator to how you are going to be treated unjustly in this society – and there is ample evidence for this. The idea that you have of “we are all human” is a nice trademark and stuff, and to some degree it is right.. but to another degree it is exactly like saying a way to stop STD’s is abstinence. It is an idea that really is divorced from the reality that.. look.. people are going to have sex, and look.. people are going to discriminate and act prejudice, and have hidden bias issues if you are a minority of gender, race, or sexual orientation.

      We need to find solutions and ways to work around that.. we don’t need to say “we are all human” and be done. There is a whole lot more to it than that. Now, yes saying we are human is a part of the whole, just like abstinence is a part of the whole, but there are other issues to address and that is what I am doing here. I am trying to do it in a realistic fashion.. telling people why minorities get angry and why some of them have difficulty controlling it. We need to take that into deep consideration, and I just felt that not enough consideration was thrown that way.

  • qbsmd

    I’m amazed anyone associated with the skeptics community would use the terms “Vulcan” or “hyperskeptic” to describe anyone. I would’ve thought taking a vacation from all the normal people in our lives that call us stuff like that would be one of the big advantages of having a skeptics’ community.

    • Wowbagger, Titillated Victorian Gentleman

      The term ‘hyperskeptic’ has its place, even amongst skeptics; I’ve used it myself on more than a few occasions recently to describe people who are demanding extraordinary evidence for ordinary claims – specifically as a dishonest tactic to obstruct any real discussion of the issue of harassment at conventions.

    • qbsmd

      Some of the most useful skepticism is directed at things everyone considers obvious. The biggest example I can think of is the idea that time proceeds at the same rate for all observers. Lots of wrong information gets repeated often enough to become “common knowledge”.

      That said, what you’re describing sounds like either the Socratic method or denialism. People could be asking questions as a method of determining what you do or do not know or leading you to a conclusion, which was apparently annoying enough to get the original practitioner killed. People also deny the reality of things like global warming or the Holocaust despite large amounts of evidence.

      I’m not sure how you determine which is which; I’m sure all the deniers consider themselves skeptics and don’t think there is sufficient evidence for whatever they’re denying. And I have no idea how you determine that someone is being dishonest while they’re asking questions.

  • Pen

    It isn’t difficult to express emotions according to Dan’s rules and without calling anyone anything. Look below, for your comfort and convenience, I’ve even expressed the strength of my emotions on a scale of 1 to 10:

    * When I see abusive language being bandied around I feel afraid in case some contribution I make will prove unacceptable and I will be subjected to the same thing. (7/10)

    * I have failed to defend people who were under attack for ideas I thought were defensible, and I feel guilty about that. (2/10)

    * Topics do come up that place major demands on my tolerance levels or which threaten my existence in meatspace. I feel resentful when I see people not bothering to extend the same level of courtesy and self-control to others that I sincerely believe I should be extending. I also feel disapproval for people I see doing something I think they shouldn’t be doing. (5/10)

    * I believe abusive language turns conflicts into a mere power struggle in which truth and justice are cast to the winds. I feel sad that the conflicts are less likely to be resolved at all, and fearful that ‘peace’ will be obtained by social pressure at the cost of the wrong solution – with all that means for us, not just on the Internet but in real life. (9/10)

    * It’s frankly more embarrassing admitting to all that than telling someone they’re being a … , but there you go. (3/10)

    • Stacy

      It’s frankly more embarrassing admitting to all that than telling someone they’re being a … , but there you go.

      No reason to be embarrassed, that was helpful and well said.

  • A ‘Nym Too

    I perfectly understand if you personally do not want to educate strangers online who are going to ask relentless questions and otherwise skeptically examine issues that are settled matters of core values or basic existence for you.

    The problem is that many of those “asking questions” are not doing so for educational purposes, or to engage in “skeptical examin[ation]“.

    They do it to inflict microaggressions on members of certain minority groups, and do soin a manner that appears plausibly like simple curiousity to a majority-group bystander who is not attuned to certain specific dogwhistles.

    For example:

    “Why are black people so angry? I’ve never had a slave”

    or

    “But why do gay people need special rights?”

    and

    “What have you got to lose by accepting Christ?”.

    On the face of it they appear simple enough, but “just asking questions” is far to easily hijacked in order to hurt people.

    It’s not that I don’t want to educate the genuinely curious or confused, it’s that it isn’t the job of
    minority-group members to freely give of their time and resources to people who are ‘JAQing off’ as a way of stopping debate.

    This tactic was used to great effect on another FT blog, quite recently. The blogger actually made a post that used the same tactic, although it was said to be accidental. The green light was effectively given to a horde of trolls who, under cover of questioning and skepticism, caused a great deal of harm. Some asked the same question dozens of times in a row, others advanced what appeared to be simple, skeptical questions to those not in the affected minority group. This made the ultimate anger from the minority group members look like pettiness. They were accused of bullying, bigotry, and expecting people to understand the issues without providing education.

    The trolls only targeted those who said “I’m an X”, and not those who said “I’m not an X, but…”. The people in group X, now targets of the blogger and their commenters, were banned altogether, and named and shamed in a follow-up post.

    How will that be avoided here? Would you take advisement from [minority] that [troll]‘s comment/question is disingenuous and/or designed to trigger a raw nerve?

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

      There are ways to ask questions which are sincere and respect the sensitivities of those around you and there are ways to be transparently micro-aggressing. I am not going to tolerate goading. I am interested in people who want to ask rigorous questions, not lazy ones. I wrote my previous reply post about how to deal with possible trolls.

      Let me just give five bits of advice. 1. Turn the tables and ask questions which point out the potential for the question to be microaggression and pointedly force the other person to own or reject a range of implications of what they are saying before just assuming the worst of them. 2. Point out that since these various phrases have these connotations, if this person wants to be seen as a person of good will they should have no problem calibrating their questions to be more sensitively phrased and thought out. 3. If they get hostile about being asked to be minimally respectful of harmful groups then you know they are someone who was arguing in bad faith to begin with. 4. Point out the traps in complex questions and explain why you are under no obligation to respond to what look like bad faith questions. 5. Come to me and tell me that this person is making you uncomfortable and let me handle them on your behalf.

      You can turn the tables by focusing on discussing the nature of their question itself without leaping to call them a bigot right away or to ever need to call them epithets. You can just start examining what is going on in their questions rather than answering them. You can focus them on the implied assumptions in their questions and teach them all about how those questions are usually microaggressions and demand they explain other things they think first before you trust them. These are strategies to not just accept their terms of discussion, i.e., the superficial and lazy questions they bring to the table, but to put them in the position of answering for themselves. This can be done without personal attacks.

      And when they say bigoted things, you can point out that there are “bigoted connotations” to what you are saying and query them about what they ultimately want to get at.

      Point is that there are ways to effectively deal with potentially insincere debaters that don’t have them getting you to lose your temper.

      Finally, once I am convinced someone is not arguing in good faith but is looking to antagonize others here (whether individuals or groups), they won’t be posting here anymore. I am not going to be feeling guilty pangs over banning people who do not help, but rather impede, constructive philosophical discussions.

  • John Morales

    What emotionally flusters me are personal charges that I cannot dispute and which bear negative connotations.

    That works on me — insults are irrelevant, attitude is irrelevant, but truth is inescapable.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    I am glad to see you addressed my major objection to your comments policy at least:

    Also, in keeping with my rules’ emphasis on interpersonal respect, I won’t allow language choices, whether direct slurs or implicitly insulting phraseology, that creates a hostile environment with the power to stealthily demean, goad, or threaten vulnerable groups.

    One of the cruellest things someone’s ever said to me, that’s caused me to fly off the handle and angrily respond to them (while also sobbing quietly behind that anger) was “you’re a man who thinks he’s a woman.”

    Absolutely no epithet there. He didn’t call me a “tranny” or “he-she” or “shemale” or anything of that sort. His words were completely civil, and yet it was horridly demeaning to me. As long as you address the fact that one’s language can be insulting without using epithets, then that’s fine.

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

      As long as you address the fact that one’s language can be insulting without using epithets, then that’s fine.

      Absolutely. I am not at all going to be a legalist about this. Even in the original post I didn’t just talk about insult words but also mentioned insinuations meant to be insulting. And the post on how I will deal with trolls that I wrote Friday talks a lot about other trolling behavior and how I will approach it.

      Thank you for hearing me out.

    • DavidM

      >One of the cruellest things someone’s ever said to me, that’s caused me to fly off the handle and angrily respond to them (while also sobbing quietly behind that anger) was “you’re a man who thinks he’s a woman.”

      …Absolutely? Well not too absolutely, I hope. *Why* did someone tell Katherine “you’re a man who thinks he’s a woman”? Maybe Katherine gave that impression. Just because Katherine felt ‘horribly demeaned’ does not mean that she was within her rights to feel that way, or that her perfectly civil interlocutor had no right to hold and express his opinion.

    • http://strangesally.wordpress.com/ SallyStrange: Elite Femi-Fascist Genius

      Just because Katherine felt ‘horribly demeaned’ does not mean that she was within her rights to feel that way

      Of course Katherine was “within her rights” to feel demeaned, or any other emotion, in any given situation.

      Since when have we started passing laws and making rules about what people are allowed to feel?

      You might think, “I wouldn’t feel that way,” but that’s because you’re not Katherine and you don’t have Katherine’s experiences.

      You know what else is horribly demeaning? Having people tell you that you’re not allowed to feel the emotions that come bubbling up spontaneously. It’s also unhealthy and inhumane. Emotions are what they are. You can’t control them. You can control how you respond to them, you can control what you do with them, but you can’t make them just go away by denying them. That way lies madness.

      I hope you stop doing that someday. It’s a really terrible thing to do or say to someone.

    • http://strangesally.wordpress.com/ SallyStrange: Elite Femi-Fascist Genius

      Mr. Fincke, don’t you think it ought to be beyond the bounds of your no-insults, no-dehumanizing policy to call into question whether a person has the right to feel a particular emotion? Shouldn’t you be telling this person to shape up or ship out?

    • http://strangesally.wordpress.com/ SallyStrange: Elite Femi-Fascist Genius

      Sorry, Dr. Fincke.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      I have to agree with SallyStrange; I find the speculative hyperskepticism DavidM exhibits provocative and unwarranted.

      More to the point, Dan did address the substance of Katherine’s comment: that, regardless of phraseology or ostensible civility, the contention which is made can be the problem itself.

      (To speculate that there is possible merit to the denial of a woman’s professed femininity because it’s not necessarily apparent is certainly less than charitable)

      [disclaimer: I have read Katherine's comments for some time and have a good opinion of her; I don't deny that this may colour my judgement, but I honestly believe I'd have written the same for any other woman]

    • DavidM

      You are all within your rights to question my claim about Katherine’s emotional reaction, but I am of course within *my* rights to reject your claims as unreasonable, which I do, for the simple reason that having a right to do something implies that I have some control over the doing of that thing. I do not have a *right* to digest the food I ingest – that just happens, it’s organic. Same goes – with qualifications – for emotional reactions. So of course Sally is correct when she says the following:

      “Emotions are what they are. You can’t control them.”

      Right; but:

      “You can control how you respond to them, you can control what you do with them, but you can’t make them just go away by denying them. That way lies madness.”

      She just fails to notice that she is misrepresenting what I said and missing my point, which was never that Katherine has a duty to control what she cannot, in point of fact, control, but that she should not jump from the *fact* that she reacted to what someone said by feeling a certain way, to the *claim* that that person had no right to say what he said.

      “Mr. Fincke, don’t you think it ought to be beyond the bounds of your no-insults, no-dehumanizing policy to call into question whether a person has the right to feel a particular emotion?” – This claim is nonsense and is based on a profound misunderstanding of the basic conditions governing the existence of rights, as I explained above. Someone can *be* right (or wrong) to feel a particular emotion, but you can’t have a right to feel an emotion, any more than you can have a right to be a human being, or to have indigestion.

      John, I am aware of what specific content Dan ‘absolutely’ affirmed. I just think that the ‘absoluteness’ of his affirmation needs to diluted given the broader context in which the principle – sound in itself – was expressed.

    • DavidM

      The basic issue here is the following: If you want to create ‘safe space’ for expression of minority points of view, fine. But if that entails viewpoint discrimination (i.e., censorship) against ‘majority’ views, then there is no use in claiming that you are taking part in a rational dialogue any more. The distinction between majority and minority is anything but principled so all you are doing is refusing to listen to ideas you disagree with. If for psychological reasons you simply can’t listen to those who disagree with you and you need to stop up your ears, fine; but then you can’t pretend that your doing so is simply part of having a rigorous free debate about the actual truth.

    • DavidM

      Sorry, one more point: In other posts, Dan has attempted to argue that minorities have a privileged access to the truth. In general I think his argument is bullshit, but even if there is some very limited truth to it, that gives them no right to censor ‘majority’ viewpoints (any more than the majority has a right to censor the minority).

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

      In other posts, Dan has attempted to argue that minorities have a privileged access to the truth.

      That’s a misrepresentation of my position. What I argued was that there are some truths minorities have access to and can teach to others by dint of their particular experience that others do not have. Here is what I wrote to you on this point:

      On some issues they DO have privileged epistemic status, at least before what they know is properly and adequately learned from them (if such is even possible).

      Sometimes having a different vantage point affects what information you have access to.

      The general epistemic points about having an open mind are not sufficient to cover the specific ways that listening to certain kinds of minority experiences is important, the ways it involves certain acknowledgments of the limitations of one’s own experiences, etc.

      One other thing about minorities’ privileged epistemic status: not only do they understand their own experience in ways the majority does not have access to, as I pointed out throughout the post, they know the majority’s way of thinking too because (a) they’re been socialized into it, (b) they have to know the majority well in order to survive the majority, and (c) the majority is constantly telling them what they think whenever they say anything to contest it.

      All of this means that to treat the minority like they’re just clueless and need a good ‘splaining is to underestimate the minority, not learn from the minority, and to turn the minority off to you.

      This point is worth making explicit. The point is not that the minority has nothing to learn. It’s that first the majority must really really listen to the minority to figure out what it has to learn. And only then might the majority figure out something the minority has not already heard and which might actually benefit it.

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

      Sally, John, Katherine, please believe me when I say that I did not see DavidM’s comment to Katherine yesterday. He posted a number of times in a row and so when going back and forth between the site and my e-mail (both of which places I inspect comments), I didn’t realize that there were as many as there were and this one slipped under the radar.

      Let me clarify my position on DavidM’s comment.

      I think that if transgendered people are ever going to be respected and understood, in public forums like this education has to happen and closed-minded viewpoints like David’s need to be addressed rather than just run out of town without a refutation. So I am inclined to allow skeptics of transgenderism to speak–not at all because I agree with them. I unequivocally do not. But because I think they need to be educated and that will only happen by answering their challenges and their concerns.

      But, David, what you need to understand is the following: While this is an abstract question to you, this is a matter of a very costly fundamental identity issue to transgendered people. In the real world, transgendered people who are denied their identity are disowned by family members, and wind up among the most likely people to be homeless, victims of murder, or committers of suicide. Their views, their psychology, and their ways of life are demeaned, invalidated, and turned into a punchline constantly, throughout the culture.

      If you are going to raise abstract and philosophical doubts about transgenderism, do so while respecting the tremendous pressures that self-identifying transgendered people are under and the denial of their identities they endure. Do not just dogmatically insist they are not the gender they say they are. Do not tell them how they should feel about having their self-identification called into question. For the purposes of civility and respect for them as autonomous agents and equal disputants, if nothing else, don’t make their personal choices or identification the issue. You can raise abstract questions or explain your alternative position, but telling someone individually what they are or are not is unnecessary. I am not going to say, “Well you identify as a Christian but since a Christian would be someone saved by Jesus Christ’s blood sacrifice and yet there was no blood sacrifice there can be no such thing as a Christian, so stop calling yourself a Christian.”

      Keep questions abstract and pay people the kindness of accepting their identities at least on an interpersonal level, even as you want to raise philosophical issues. Say, “Here are my reasons for thinking x or here are my reasons for thinking y. What do you think I am missing? Do you have a better account of problem z that I think is raised if we do not say x or y?” Such questions establish that you are not interested in personally violating her personal identity but in being philosophically, psychologically, and morally consistent, etc.

      Be sensitive to the ways members of certain groups are imposed upon against their wills and are made socially powerless. In arguments if you engage in behavior that imposes on them you risk shutting them down from participating. If you do that, we cannot have rational debates. If you do that instead we will just have yet another forum where their voices are stomped out.

      It’s not civil. If you want to raise philosophical debates with members of minority groups you disagree with, then do so in as inclusive and sensitive a way as possible so that they will be willing to participate. Willfully and confrontationally try to impose social and moral standards on them that cut against their conscience and identity and you create a hostile environment that risks silencing them. And I can’t have that.

      So, you’ve been warned, keep your challenges conscientiously abstract as a courtesy that welcomes full participation of those who disagree with you.

    • DavidM

      Well I disagree. The whole rhetorical tenor of what you wrote is just what I said: that minorities have a privileged access to the truth. You can claim that that doesn’t fully express the details of your position, but how is it a *misrepresentation*? And obviously I still disagree with your detailed version of the basic claim about minority epistemic privilege. I think it is based on armchair theorizing and has nothing to do with the actual influence of one’s minority/majority status on one’s ability to listen to and understand others and to be rational.

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

      The whole rhetorical tenor of what you wrote is just what I said: that minorities have a privileged access to the truth. You can claim that that doesn’t fully express the details of your position, but how is it a *misrepresentation*?

      Because the omitted details make a big difference. Saying minorities have a privileged access to truth simpliciter distorts my position. It makes it sound like being a minority just makes you more tuned into all of reality, which is not what I am saying.

      Saying minorities have a privileged access when it comes to discovering certain truths (that others can learn from minorities or possibly figure out without them through a harder process) is much different (and I think should be obviously true).

      Also minorities, as all of us do, have privileged access to their own mental states and the truths that relate to those.

    • DavidM

      “I am not going to say, “Well you identify as a Christian but since a Christian would be someone saved by Jesus Christ’s blood sacrifice and yet there was no blood sacrifice there can be no such thing as a Christian, so stop calling yourself a Christian.””

      And why not? Presumably you think that this is ‘personal’ and would be offensive to me, so that’s why you wouldn’t say it? I think it’s a stupid argument, but I can see that the point of it has nothing to do with me personally. It’s an attempt to make a general point and anyone who cannot see this kind of thing has basic problems with being rational. It’s nice that you want to be sensitive to the thin-skinned, those who take offense too easily (at least when it suits you), but I think you go too far. (I’m not expecting you to agree with me, just sharing my thoughts.)

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

      “I am not going to say, “Well you identify as a Christian but since a Christian would be someone saved by Jesus Christ’s blood sacrifice and yet there was no blood sacrifice there can be no such thing as a Christian, so stop calling yourself a Christian.””

      And why not? Presumably you think that this is ‘personal’ and would be offensive to me, so that’s why you wouldn’t say it? I think it’s a stupid argument, but I can see that the point of it has nothing to do with me personally. It’s an attempt to make a general point and anyone who cannot see this kind of thing has basic problems with being rational. It’s nice that you want to be sensitive to the thin-skinned, those who take offense too easily (at least when it suits you), but I think you go too far. (I’m not expecting you to agree with me, just sharing my thoughts.)

      My point is just to try to draw a close analogy (maybe it cannot even be done) to the ways someone could try to personally (rather than philosophically) attack someone’s religious identity. There are certain courtesies of acknowledgment of other people’s self-presentation and their personal investments at issue that are necessary if you are to treat someone respectfully and not personalize disputes.

      If we are to discuss the truth or falsity of religion, the issue should be our religious beliefs or lack thereof and not attacks on our personal religiosity or lackthereof. That’s basic civility. Demanding that same minimal willingness to acknowledge (or at least not overtly deny) transgendered people’s identities is not “oversensitivity”, it is a necessary civility they deserve as much as you don’t deserve your private religiosity to be the main issue in a debate about the truth of your religious beliefs or your religion’s general practices, attitudes, institutions, etc. insofar as they are abstractable from you as an individual and are more general subjects for inquiry and assessment.

    • DavidM

      BTW, Dan, your dripping condescension towards my point of view is duly noted and dismissed as substanceless bullshit.

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

      BTW, Dan, your dripping condescension towards my point of view is duly noted and dismissed as substanceless bullshit.

      I am entitled to my views and my value judgments. I am happy to defend them in the abstract. Here I am just explaining to those who do not understand why I tolerate you despite my sharing the view of others that what you are saying and thinking is wrong and harmful.

    • Sally Strange

      So, Katherine says, “I am a transgender woman,” and in response, DavidM says, “Aren’t you just a man who likes to pretend he is a woman transgender women just men who like to pretend they are women?”

      That’s abstract.

      It’s still insulting and dehumanizing.

      Yeah, this is gonna go well.

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

      So, Katherine says, “I am a transgender woman,” and in response, DavidM says, “Aren’t you just a man who likes to pretend he is a woman transgender women just men who like to pretend they are women?”

      That’s abstract.

      It’s still insulting and dehumanizing.

      Yeah, this is gonna go well.

      If the question can never be asked in good faith, it can never be answered for countless people. If you silence them from ever even asking with bullying and censorship, rather than with consciousness raising explanations and arguments then they will consider you dogmatic defenders of something you cannot prove.

      Education and refutation needs to happen. If it does not, people will not rationally progress but only become entrenched in their harmful beliefs and values.

      I understand if in your life or online you don’t want to be an educator or if you are already totally taxed with this burden just having to try to live your life in an unjust and cruel society. But in philosophical forums it is necessary that someone do it, even if it will not be you.

    • Sally Strange

      You can raise abstract questions or explain your alternative position, but telling someone individually what they are or are not is unnecessary.

      You are severely understating the problem here. It’s more than unnecessary, it’s actively hostile. It’s silencing, and it’s part of the cultural patterns that contribute to the violent oppression of trans* people.

      Hey, Dan. Your privilege is showing.

      Personally, I don’t want to have to “educate” someone about how I am a human being. That’s just not a discussion that is worth having. It is too costly to me.

      You may want to have that conversation, but don’t expect me to participate. (I’m not trans, but I can relate to this because it’s similar to the conversations that happen about feminism, and anti-racism, and every other social justice issue there is.)

      Don’t be surprised if trans* folks fade from the bandwidth here.

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

      You are severely understating the problem here. It’s more than unnecessary, it’s actively hostile. It’s silencing, and it’s part of the cultural patterns that contribute to the violent oppression of trans* people.

      Hey, Dan. Your privilege is showing.

      Personally, I don’t want to have to “educate” someone about how I am a human being. That’s just not a discussion that is worth having. It is too costly to me.

      You may want to have that conversation, but don’t expect me to participate. (I’m not trans, but I can relate to this because it’s similar to the conversations that happen about feminism, and anti-racism, and every other social justice issue there is.)

      Don’t be surprised if trans* folks fade from the bandwidth here.

      What you are saying is that there cannot be any philosophical spaces for debate not governed by an a priori acceptance of your (and my) progressive values. There can be no questioning of these values under any circumstances by anyone. They are to be accepted by fiat without discussion permitted and all who do not agree with them must be called to unconditional repentance or driven out.

      That may be legitimate if you are trying to create certain kinds of safe spaces, but it would be the end of all rational demonstration of the validity of values and all room for sincere, rational disputes about contested values. I believe my progressive values both must and do stand up to rational scrutiny. I think it is too morally authoritarian and stifling of speech to try to shut down rational debates about fundamental values and identities in this way. It would mean that religious people could judge it too costly to tolerate atheist challenges about religious instruction being child abuse. It would mean Jews shutting down every philosophical criticism of their values and beliefs on charges that reduced them to anti-semitism. It would mean any number of attempts to squelch discourses about truth and values.

      For further discussion of these issues, see my post “We Need Both Safe Spaces and Philosophically Open Ones.”

    • Sally Strange

      What you are saying is that there cannot be any philosophical spaces for debate not governed by an a priori acceptance of your (and my) progressive values.

      If by “progressive values,” you mean “recognition of the basic humanity of all people,” then yeah. I guess I don’t think it’s worth having a discussion with a person who isn’t ready to accept that I’m a human being just like him, with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with that.

      I don’t really believe in the power of education as much as you do–at least, not with people like DavidM here, who wilfully distort the information you tried to give him and mistake calm explanations for “dripping condescension,” just because you demonstrated that he’s wrong.

      (Hey, DavidM, your continued refusal to deal with the fact that you misrepresented Dan’s epistemic claim about minority status is noted.)

      It’s my personal view, based on my particular experiences and education, that social opprobrium of the older generation, combined with vigorous outreach and education of the younger ones, will be the most fruitful application of our efforts and energy.

      People like DavidM can be useful as object lessons, but I’m skeptical that conversing with them at great length can serve any purpose but that. And of course there is the cost to the rest of us, who end up being alienated from so-called “philosophically open” spaces.

      Some ideas are beyond the pale and not worth addressing. It should be self-evident that it’s hurtful and dehumanizing to tell an individual that your perception and judgment of them should be prioritized over how they perceive and define themselves. THAT is bullying, and I don’t see that it’s worth having “philosophically open” conversations with bullies. If you want to, go ahead. I guess that means I won’t be reading your blog, though–not that I ever really did. This series is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done, mostly because of how fascinating it is to watch someone be both wonderfully right and terribly wrong at the same time.

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

      Sally, I will address your fatalism about attempts to dissuade others soon, in my next (already written) post. It’s the next objection up. I hope you stick around to read and respond to that post.

      For now I will just say that this is loaded:

      If by “progressive values,” you mean “recognition of the basic humanity of all people,” then yeah. I guess I don’t think it’s worth having a discussion with a person who isn’t ready to accept that I’m a human being just like him, with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with that.

      DavidM would also certainly claim that he supports “recognition of the basic humanity of all people”. What is in contention is what such recognition requires. As long as people disagree (whether or not they should disagree) about what this means in practice, debates have to happen.

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

      Some ideas are beyond the pale and not worth addressing.

      Yes. But some ideas are also the majority of opinion and so must be addressed regardless of how horrible they are.

      It should be self-evident that it’s hurtful and dehumanizing to tell an individual that your perception and judgment of them should be prioritized over how they perceive and define themselves.

      But it’s far from self-evident to everyone and it will not become self-evident if you just shout out and shut out those who need to come to see this.

      Even what you said needs qualification. There are people who perceive and judge that their religious identity is inextricable from who they are and any challenges to it are inherently offensive and that all atheists who criticize their views are hurting their religious feelings in such a way that they deserve protection in law from atheistic speech. That’s how things work in a lot of Muslim countries. Some may call it self-evident there.

      This is why we need to protect other people’s rights to disagree with other people’s self-understandings without moral sanctions, even as we protect people’s rights to express their own self-understanding without abuse and harassment.

      This is why we need debates about fundamental values and not just dogmatic posits of self-evidence imposed on those who disagree with no right of dissent offered to them.

      THAT is bullying, and I don’t see that it’s worth having “philosophically open” conversations with bullies.

      It is bullying if it is done in a way that threatens someone’s safety in feeling like they can have their identity without interference to their life. It is not bullying when it is being discussed in a non-threatening and philosophically openminded way where both sides listen to each other’s concerns and answer them patiently.

      If you want to, go ahead. I guess that means I won’t be reading your blog, though–not that I ever really did. This series is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done,

      Which maybe is the point, you don’t like philosophy so you already weren’t reading and contributing here.

      mostly because of how fascinating it is to watch someone be both wonderfully right and terribly wrong at the same time.

      I take that as a legitimate compliment.

  • edenmack

    I would agree that personal attacks are not appropriate for this forum, but I would go further. While separating ourselves from emotion is neither practical nor desirable, I feel that emotional arguments should be avoided altogether. Emotions are a powerful tool — an indication that the discussion should take place, not an indication of truth. Emotional arguments amount to propaganda. No one here should be focused on winning an argument, but rather on self-evaluation and discovery of truth. Emotions are learned behavior, which is why we all vary so much. They are habits. Some good, some bad, others indifferent. We needn’t all be robots eschewing emotion, or clones exhibiting identical feelings. However we should all be willing to evaluate whether our habits are good or bad.

  • mythbri

    If you come from a group with an unusual life experience of any kind that gives you a vantage point on the way that a philosophical, moral, social, or political issue affects people from your background, then it is crucial for the rest of us that you contribute what you have to offer.

    Emphasis mine. I’m curious as to how you define “unusual” in this context, Mr. Fincke. There are a lot of experiences that are not unusual, just not as widely discussed as other kinds of experiences. Are you taking “usual” to be your own experiences as a member of several privileged groups, and “unusual” to be anything other than that? Because if so, I believe that this highlights one of the concerns that you attempted to address in your reply: that the experiences of the privileged are somehow “normal”, and the experiences of the less-privileged are deviations from normal. This gives weight to the experiences of the privileged, and creates a power imbalance between how those experiences are viewed when compared with the experiences of the less-privileged. And when you say that one is “normal” or “usual”, you are implicitly making that comparison. What are your thoughts on this?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke
      If you come from a group with an unusual life experience of any kind that gives you a vantage point on the way that a philosophical, moral, social, or political issue affects people from your background, then it is crucial for the rest of us that you contribute what you have to offer.

      Emphasis mine. I’m curious as to how you define “unusual” in this context, Mr. Fincke. There are a lot of experiences that are not unusual, just not as widely discussed as other kinds of experiences. Are you taking “usual” to be your own experiences as a member of several privileged groups, and “unusual” to be anything other than that? Because if so, I believe that this highlights one of the concerns that you attempted to address in your reply: that the experiences of the privileged are somehow “normal”, and the experiences of the less-privileged are deviations from normal. This gives weight to the experiences of the privileged, and creates a power imbalance between how those experiences are viewed when compared with the experiences of the less-privileged. And when you say that one is “normal” or “usual”, you are implicitly making that comparison. What are your thoughts on this?

      Usual is just a numbers word in this context, not a normative one. Minorities are outnumbered and so their experience in any number of respects is unusual to the majority of members of the speech discourse. That does not make the perspective of the majority members superior but it means that majority member assumptions are implicitly standardized. That is the entire reason we are having this discussion of how to adequately accommodate marginalized viewpoints and destabilize the tyranny of the majority in discourses by making sure those who can unsettle their assumptions are present and encouraged to speak freely, is it not?

    • mythbri

      Unusual used as a numbers word holds up when it’s in reference to minority groups, yes – but in broadly defined categories, such as men and women, it does not.

      The assumptions and experiences of men are implicitly standardized, yet they are not a majority. In terms of general populations, the numbers of men and women are roughly equal, and yet the experiences of women are treated as “unusual” as it is used in the context of your OP. That cannot be explained away by numbers, but it can be explained by privilege.

      The intent of my original comment was meant to question whether you were assuming categories of “usual” and “unusual”, or whether you were acknowledging the reality of that perception.

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

      No, I was not thinking women had an “unusual” experience (even though they are appallingly marginalized in a number of astonishingly bald ways considering they make up roughly half the population.)

    • Sally Strange

      Numerically, white straight heterosexual men are a distinct minority, so “unusual” is definitely the wrong word.

  • consciousness razor

    Please respect the ways that personal attacks put your opponents on the defensive, cause them to keep to themselves what they honestly think instead of subjecting it to rational scrutiny, and corrode the atmosphere of good will and shared inquiry.

    Some need to be put on the defensive. Some need to be so embarrassed to hold certain ideas that no one would bother pretending for them that it needs to be subjected to any more “rational scrutiny” (which in this case I think is supposed to involve a calm, polite, neverending dialogue without insulting others). Some people don’t have good will or want any legitimate part in any philosophical inquiry, because they just want to tear other people down.

    There’s no need for them or their “arguments” to be “protected” on this blog or any other from insults. Since we can’t legally silence them, we have to make it very clear how unacceptable it is, making it hit them on a personal level, hoping they can learn to be silent long enough for their horrible ideas to die with them (or preferably, before them). If you want to characterize all of that as “bullying” or “abuse,” then I don’t think you’ve shown why that’s even remotely accurate.

    I want your emotions to have a fair hearing. I just don’t want you to displace your anger on other commenters.

    In other words, emotions like anger, when expressed about other people, is not going to be given a fair hearing, or much of any hearing.

    And what’s this about “displacement”? Do you expect anger, if it is given a fair hearing, to remain bottled up inside people, or to be expressed about some abstraction rather than the person who’s making you angry? Which expressions of anger about people will you allow, if any?

    You say that you’ll try to carry out the spirit rather the letter of the law; but is it okay if it’s obscured with certain kinds of words, or is it that you don’t want people to express anger about people or make an argument personal at all? If the latter, how could you possibly do anything about that? Will you warn people any time you detect that they’re taking something too personally or making it too personal, since that supposedly hinders rational dialogue? (What are you detecting from me right now?) If so, how are they supposed to respond to that? What if they should be, or is that impossible?

    • B-Lar

      I bet you could agree though that its possible to be angry and express your anger without resorting to insults. If I am angry I recognise that I am more likely to say something unkind that I regret, but that anger has a cause and truth demands that cause be known. If I cannot restrain myself then I walk away until I can.

      No special rights are conferred to me when I am angry. Anger only makes my social responsibilities harder to carry out.

      If someone needs to be held to account for shameful actions, then the first thing to do is show them what those actions look lke (No insults are required).

      If they dont respond to reason and empathy they I would tend to write them off as a terrible human being. The banhammer will probably fall whether I insult them
      I think that there are some people who are s used to havibg justified anger

    • B-Lar

      Bloody phone. I thought they were meant to be smart!

      So there are some with justified anger who use insults to defend themselves. In the real world that might seem fine but doesnt it actually betray lazy thinking? Its more easy and more satisfying to insult somone cleverly than to show that they are wrong cleverly. It is about investment. If the person is susceptible to reason then it is worth being thorough. If not, call them a spadingleberry. However this could make you lazy and you could easily make the mistake of believing that someone deserved it when they did not. Im fairly certain I have seen it argued on another blog that collateral damage is acceptable with regard to attacking JAQers which I find staggering.

      Anyway. I think that Dan is pretty well equipped to deal with his house, and in an ethics discssion there isnt much room for rationalisation for insults. There is a commenter above who is the only one I have seen to have come close but you can see zie wasnt pushing for the right to insult. Only that is hard sometimes not to insult

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    This topic fits with some thinking I have been doing about how disagreement can be directed to increase the value of discussions. Some emotion is often necessary to get up and say what some group does not want to hear, but does need to hear. To the extent that name calling and personal attacks can keep such disagreement from becoming constructive, it serves all to limit those. There is a very good TED presentation on this subject that just went up, today.

  • consciousness razor

    I bet you could agree though that its possible to be angry and express your anger without resorting to insults.

    Of course it’s possible, at least in certain cases, but that doesn’t imply it’s what everyone ought to do in every situation (and that Fincke knows where the line ought to be drawn and how to deal with it). If insults should generally be a last resort, then they should be an option if it comes to that. Because in case you didn’t know, it is also possible to express your anger by resorting to insults.

    There is a commenter above who is the only one I have seen to have come close but you can see zie wasnt pushing for the right to insult.

    There is no right to insult people, and I’m not pushing for one either. It’s just not always wrong.

    • consciousness razor

      Sorry, that was supposed to be a reply to B-Lar’s comments here.

    • B-Lar

      I want to argue that discourse without needing to insult should be possible in all but the most extreme cases, but I suppose that the issue is really whether both sides are equipped for it. Is that the key? Maybe I dont resort to insults because I have been not resorting to them all my life…

      I had always assumed it was a counterproductive strategy that implies weakness of argument, and is only likely to result in the insult-trading. It reduces your partner to a concept and stops you from engaging with them as a person, stops you from considering that their opinion might have a sliver of merit, and to boot, makes you more likely to use that strategy again in the future.

      Although, maybe I have been doing it wrong. Is it possible to insult someone without fundamentally demeaning them? If so, is there an example?

    • consciousness razor

      I want to argue that discourse without needing to insult should be possible in all but the most extreme cases

      What difference does it make whether it “should be possible”? What does that mean? It’s either possible or it isn’t.

      It reduces your partner to a concept and stops you from engaging with them as a person, stops you from considering that their opinion might have a sliver of merit, and to boot, makes you more likely to use that strategy again in the future.

      As I tried to say above, I think Fincke is instead the one who wants us to always express emotions about abstractions rather than people. Sometimes it’s appropriate to engage with someone as person rather than a concept (or more like a chatbot) by making it personal. That doesn’t just mean insults, but those are included.

      How else would you say you’re treating a person when you try to remain detached from an emotional subject, and try to make the discussion “impersonal” (or at least when you pretend you’re doing that)? That can quite obviously remove the other person from your view, unlike if you try to engage them honestly, without holding back how you feel about them (rather than only how you feel about the subject).

      And no, it doesn’t stop me from considering the merit of their ideas, any more than any kind of criticism I give stops me from considering anything else. Insults are a response: they come after, not before. It would make no sense to insult someone and then find out what hateful/irrational things they have to say, which turned out not to have a sliver of merit after all (though it would be a neat trick).

      Is it possible to insult someone without fundamentally demeaning them?

      What would demean someone in a “fundamental” way? Do you mean dehumanizing them? If so, then an example would be any insult which doesn’t disrespect their humanity. (To clarify, you can be disrespectful toward someone, while still respecting them as a person and treating them humanely and with some basic decency.) Taken literally, some insults like “you wretched dog” would fail that test, but obviously it’s pretty absurd to interpret it literally. That doesn’t preclude you from treating them fairly and equally as another human being.

      On the other hand, saying a woman doesn’t have a right to bodily autonomy (and thus shouldn’t be able to have an abortion) isn’t respecting them as another full-fledged human being. That is demeaning and dehumanizing; but it can be dressed up as a “rational argument” without any expletives or nasty language, so some won’t recognize it for the dehumanizing insult that it is and think what women do with their bodies is a topic which is open for them to “debate,” ad nauseum. Others will recognize it, and they’ll argue alongside well-intentioned people (like Fincke and maybe you) for “civility” and “respectful language” so they can get away with spewing their hateful nonsense without a lot of push-back. If I were free to say whatever I want here, whether or not it’s civil, you can be sure I wouldn’t be dehumanizing bigots in return, but certainly I’d be insulting them. And if I did stoop to their level, then of course insulting me would be appropriate just as would be if anyone else did it.

    • John Morales

      CR:

      As I tried to say above, I think Fincke is instead the one who wants us to always express emotions about abstractions rather than people. Sometimes it’s appropriate to engage with someone as person rather than a concept (or more like a chatbot) by making it personal. That doesn’t just mean insults, but those are included.

      You read the OP differently to me, then:

      There are plenty of harsh words which carry significant emotional weight that you may use. I am only against personal attacks against your discussion partners here when they have not yet behaved uncivilly to you and I am against epithets in nearly all cases on the blog. When you encounter what you take to be sexist ideas, you can charge them with being sexist. When someone’s ideas, attitudes, and reported behaviors prove persistently sexist, you may complain that they are coming off as a sexist. So you do not need to call them “douchebags”. You do not need to call someone an “asshole” when calling them a “bigot” is more accurate, defensible, capable of substantiation, and even carries greater emotional charge and social consequences.

    • B-Lar

      CR – Sorry for the delay

      It’s either possible or it isn’t.

      Sorry. I should have been less wishy washy. It is possible (except in the most extreme circumstances, which I imagine to be those where the arguer is literally incapable of not using insults due to actual mental retardation)

      Sometimes it’s appropriate to engage with someone as person rather than a concept (or more like a chatbot) by making it personal. That doesn’t just mean insults, but those are included.

      Why should insults be included? Can you demonstrate any situation where insulting epithets help engagement? I am in favour of the anti-hypothesis ie. that insults damage engagement and make it harder for real progress in our goals of puzzling out what the truth of a matter is.

      I dont think that we should become emotionally detached (I think emotions have a practical use in that they give us a human point of reference when reasoning) but there is a difference in being emotionally invested in something and being aggressive at the other person. You can engage with them honestly and passionately without resorting to insults, and if that is the case, then why use insults at all?

      What I am trying to get accross, is that by insulting someone you are reducing them to a concept. This is a kind of violence. Furthermore an insult will only be effective if it hurts the target, and so either you are successfully insulting someone to injure them mentally or you are unsuccessful and therefore weakening your position by needing to resort to a strategy that ultimately failed. The “win” in that scenario erodes your own humanity and that of the other. A scenario with insults being the deciding factor is the philosophical equivalent of selling your soul.

      Clearly you feel that you are capable of engaging with someone while simultaneously insulting them. I cannot get in that car with you. You are right that insults are a response, but I think that they are an uneccesarily negative response. If someone has hateful or irrational ideas, then point that out to them. I can confirm that I have never had my mind changed by being insulted (in fact, it has a polarising effect with me), but passionate reason is incredibly effective. Perhaps we will not be able to agree on this matter

      “You wretched dog” is an uneccesary turn of phrase, empty of any constructive connotations. it is clearly an insult (although I would not be offended. Perhaps if I were from the middle east I would take great offence?)

      Saying that a woman doesnt have a right to bodily autonomy is insulting (not just to women, but to everyone! if a woman doesnt have that right, then what stops it from being extended to men? see? I showed one way that it is a worthless and potentially harmful statement!), but it is not an epithet. It can be countered by reason and explored as a concept which will be shown to be as baseless as so many other statements which have religion as a foundation are shown to be. You are not giving much credit to the forces of reason here. People with bad ideas often start with the respectful language, but then fall foul of reason when they discover that they cannot defend their ideas due to their baseless nature. They quickly resort to “Shut up! Thats why!”.

      In short, I hold the opinion, that using insults doesnt just surrender the moral highground (by reducing your partner to a concept) but the intellectual highground also (by abandoning reason).

  • Horace

    Daniel, this is getting a bit ridiculous.

    I do not like abusive language on internet discussion groups and regularly get told to take my comments elsewhere when I complain about it.

    You have a very simple, straightforward policy about commenting that amounts to “don’t be rude !” and you have to justify yourself at such length ?

    You can continue defending your position indefinitely, why not just try it out and see what happens.

    Looking forward to civil disagreement with you and others on this site.

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

      I am replying because much larger, distinct interesting philosophical, moral, and practical issues are at stake and I would like to both work out and advocate for my positions on each of them.

  • smhll

    Rhetorical question: “How easy is it to keep cool?”

    I’m going to go with a metaphor.

    It’s mid-morning, about 75 degrees F here.

    If someone who lives in a less pleasant area of the country wants to complain about their weather conditions or the cost of their air conditioning, I could reply “It’s easy to keep cool. You just keep your windows and some doors open during the night and shut the house up in the morning, it will stay cool in the day. It’s so simple.”

    My observation about the temperature, about how things are, is likely not valid for people living in different conditions. We could even say I have a weather privilege or a weather advantage that I am taking for granted.

    To adjust for differences in our experiences, let me take note of some of the things that make it pleasanter for me than for many people. 1. The latest weird weather made it cooler where I live last summer and most of this summer. 2. I live fairly close to an ocean. 3. This is an ocean that has it’s temperature influenced by currents coming down from Alaska. 4. Due to 2+3, the temperature reliably cools down 20+ degrees at night. 5. There’s a strong breeze nearly every evening where I live. 6. Humidity is low where I live. 7. I really can and do open the screens to cool the house faster because the bug population is low. 8. It’s pretty safe to leave the front windows and the back doors open over night where I live.

    That’s a lot of climate advantages! Some of you probably are pissed off that the situation is so unfair. And if you don’t hate me yet, let’s see what happens later today when you are really hot and steamed and I start telling you, in my experience, it is easy to keep cool.

    If I was completely disregarding your experience, that would not be cool.

    • B-Lar

      In some climates it takes more energy to keep cool, but each person must ask themselves “is it worth being cool?”.

      The question is one of whether coolness is worthwhile and why, and I think it is understood that it is sometimes difficult.

      Your metaphor was cool(!) though. I will reemember eet.

  • Horace

    I am replying because much larger, distinct interesting philosophical, moral, and practical issues are at stake and I would like to both work out and advocate for my positions on each of them.

    Philosophers !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • DavidM

      Horace: plenty of philosophers would agree with you that this discussion is strikingly uninteresting and most of those who think it is interesting are almost certainly not philosophers.

  • John Morales

    xjustos, perhaps you could you motivate me to click on the link by clarifying what it has to do with the topical discussion, and how it is relevant.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Judging from what I saw at the link, xjustos looks like Dennis Markuze.

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

    We think that post was from Mabus. It’s been removed.


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