Do Marginalized People Need To Be Insulting In Order To Be Empowered?

I believe that how we engage in debate with other people is an ethically serious matter. When I wrote my moderation policy for this blog this past summer, I did not just aim to lay down the rules for this blog but I also aimed to express my broader ethical judgments about the impermissibility of insulting other people generally.

The strongest defense of non-descriptive words that express hatred and contempt for someone of objectionable moral character was the following:

Objection 6: Epithets like “asshole” and “douchebag” are important words for social policing. Moral and social norms are inculcated into people by social approval and social disapproval. These words are harsh in a good way in that when used against someone whose behavior is reprehensible they signal to that person that there will be a social cost for their behavior. It is especially important for members of marginalized groups to have recourse to such words as a form of non-violent verbal and cultural self-defense.

As members of these groups are subject to all sorts of unjust social policing in the forms of slurs and the imposition of damaging norms upon them, they need recourse to strongly condemnatory language that helps them establish their own, juster, ways of feeling as normative instead. Fucked up cultural norms put tremendous amounts of unfair pressure on people. Those most affected by unfair pressure need to use equal pressure to push back.

The creators, active perpetuators, and passive beneficiaries of unjust norms all have the luxury of treating their behaviors and ideas and institutions as dispassionate matters. Members of marginalized groups need to have the right to shock and offend the complacent privileged classes with language that defiantly unsettles them and warns them that if they do not start taking the marginalized groups’ basic humanity and basic needs seriously they will start being the ones who suffer great social costs.

This is sort of an opening salvo through a language assault that effectively says “You cannot go on, privileged person, thinking that other people’s basic rights and dignity are just an academic matter while they are having harmful consequences. We are going to make this personal for you too so that you will be emotionally forced, through new social norms we are creating and policing with, to stop participating (however actively or passively) in the coercion of the marginalized and to start respecting them.”

Reply 6: The last thing I want to do is to further disempower people who are already disadvantaged by unjust social structures and cultural attitudes. There are certainly many times in which the dominant moral feelings, institutions, norms, and language are structured either explicitly or implicitly so as to systematically exclude various Othered groups.

When a system is unjust, it is easy for those who benefit from the system to say to those Othered by it that they should simply abide by its rules. Those rules are rigged against the Othered in the first place and will always work against their interests and reinforce the dominant class’s interests. It is unconscionable that in such cases the Othered be denied their moral right to protest by breaking with those very orders of morality, law, and politeness that do systematic violence to them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was quite right to prefer disobedience to orderliness when the orderly channels were imposing unjust strictures upon black Americans, particularly in the South. He made things extremely uncomfortable for the powers that be. But he did it through disobedience which was scrupulously civil and which assiduously maintained the moral high ground.

King, in keeping with a long tradition of moral thinking, reasoned that an unjust law was not a law and so that violating it was not wrong. When protestors would try to do peaceable exercises that should clearly be seen as morally approvable and would be met with violent force in return, they exposed the inherent, implicit violence of the unjustly ruling order. They baited the unjust order to make its implicit violence explicit in order to maintain and assert itself. And, thanks to television, more people than previously could see this violence clearly for what it was.

Calls for order and civility that operate within a moral, legal, or linguistic system that is inherently unjust are calls to surrender to an unjust system and should be resisted with civil disobedience or–if the oppressive regime is too physically violent–violent revolution as a last resort.

But this does not mean that legal systems that have within them just mechanisms for fairly adjudicating disputes, wherein the marginalized have legitimate forms of recourse should be met with civil disobedience or with violent revolution. In those cases, citizens should avail themselves of the peaceful means of power however they can.

And similarly, within justly and ethically carried out debates, people should feel no need to defy the rules. Ethical rules against denigrating one another in debate and discourse are not at all the linguistic equivalent of laws that make some people second class to others based on unfair considerations. Rules of discourse that call for each person to be treated respectfully and neither goaded nor insulted do not even do any linguistic violence the way that, say, use of gendered or otherwise marginalizing forms of language might. Rules of discourse that require everyone be treated with basic civility do not put any one at an inherent disadvantage and so they members of marginalized groups do not need to take recourse to incivil language to correct for any such disadvantage.

But, my opponents will protest, discourse that is outwardly neutral is internally unbalanced nonetheless. This is because the prejudices of our current language and dominant morality and dominant norms of politeness all make various forms of microaggression against marginalized groups seem much more innocuous. It is easier to goad marginalized groups in subtle, implicit, deniable ways that you can always claim you did not intend. Making offensive allusions, trading in “common sense” stereotypes, picking at fresh wounds of the marginalized in the name of “just asking questions” about whether various bigoted beliefs that stigmatized the marginalized are true, mocking marginalized groups using standard tropes or negative implications under the socially acceptable guise of “just joking”, etc., etc. All of this can be done in a “civil” way and so civility is not neutral. The marginalized, who are vulnerable to all sorts of Othering that is treated as simply humor or common sense or abstract inquiry can be repeatedly insulted and made to feel unwelcome in the most superficially polite ways.

I understand this worry and that it is founded in a lot of realities about our discourse which must be vigilantly countered. We should call people out for jokes that contribute to social marginalization. We should query people about whether they are implying harmful stereotypes are true when they casually allude to them. We should constantly be drawing attention to all the invidious assumptions that might be loaded into each others’ beliefs and practices and be asking those people to either renounce those implications, justify them as true or good, or face fair moral and social consequences if they neither renounce them nor prove them true or good.

So within the realm of civil discourse, superficially polite but actually harmful language can be spotted and queried, with no recourse to insults necessary. And there are two major reasons for this. One is that is marginalized groups already do have powerful weapons available in the forms of harsh moral condemnatory language specifically designed to stigmatize bigotry. In our culture, bigotry is considered one of the greatest evils. Even many racists, for decades now, have tried to refuse the label. In just the last twenty years I have heard some fundamentalist Christians who think sexually active gays are sinners move from denying the existence of homophobia to acknowledging its existence but denying they suffer from it. Neither do misogynists proudly accept themselves to be misogynists.

While I think ethically we should be careful not to carelessly toss around charges that others have bigoted characters (rather than that they said or did a particular thing that has racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. connotations), the threat is implicit in our discourse. When someone civilly say something that has the potential to reinforce unjust social systems and silence or otherwise Other a marginalized person or group, our standards of civility allow for that person to be called out with probing questions that have equally hostile connotations.

This is a part of why there is so much defensiveness among conservatives. The mere questioning of their words’ meanings, assumptions, hidden implications, and intended effects for their possible racist, sexist, or homophobic undertones threatens them with severe moral charges.

And it’s not just conservatives who feel this way. Most of us are in a position of privilege to at least a couple of marginalized groups and, as such, we probably all know how careful we need to be in choosing our words when coming even remotely near certain controversial topics. And we all probably know the sickened feeling after we’ve put our feet in our mouths and start to get called out or to fear we will be called out.

Charges of bigotry, while not dehumanizing as the slurs the worst bigots use are, are high stakes moral charges. They’re upsetting. They’re emotionally threatening. They come with potentially high social costs. Those costs are higher than words which are not at all descriptive but simply abusive (words like “asshole” and “douchebag”). These words are stronger weapons. And as long as normal social norms against bigoted or sexist language are operative and as long as there are acknowledgments of the ways that hostile environments can be created for marginalized groups in subtle ways, members of marginalized groups do have recourse besides insults in asserting their own dignity and pushing back against subtle digs.

Now this does not mean that in every context, marginalized people are actually able to speak up. They routinely are forced to bite their tongues when their bosses, their teachers, their parents, their clergy, or any of a number of other people with social, financial, emotional, ecclesiastical, institutional, or physical influence over them “civilly” insult them using no epithets but only demeaning implications. This is a horrible reality. I do not mean to minimize it in the least or to say that our rules of civility are perfect for as long as they are unable to root out all the fucked up parts of language or received “common sense” or received values that power structures reinforce.

But in those situations of abusive power dynamics, the problem is not that the marginalized have no recourse to the words “asshole” or “douchebag”. The problem is that they do not even have recourse to those forms of correction that are perfectly civil and which have equalizing power. The problem in those cases is not our basic rules of civility themselves, it’s that others are exploiting their positions of influence to unjustly dominate and are using minimally civil tools to do it in a deniable, passive aggressive–or micro-aggressive–way. That’s another problem, one that will not be solved by venting torrents of insults where not even the normally socially acceptable assertion of one’s viewpoint and queries of the other’s meanings are available.

When we choose not to stand up for our own dignity and for the true and the good in civil ways, we rather enter into the realm of coercion. Yes, as noted in the case of unbalanced interpersonal power situations, people with advantages can coerce even in civil ways. But that’s because of their other abuses of power. The normal sphere of civil discourse allows for power equalization insofar as it allows the rights to make moral protestations and to interrogate each other’s ideas and implications when they say potentially offensive things.

When people go beyond that, in debate forums with equalized power (i.e., ones where there are not interpersonal interconnections that enable general silencing) and start taking recourse to insults rather than sticking to arguments, and start assuming the worst of their opponents rather than trying to engage them in good faith dialogue first, they start to move into the realm of coerciveness themselves. When people set themselves up as the “social police” or the “moral police” in such a way that they stop reasoning with others and simply making moral arguments and accusations to demeaning or demonizing their opponents with epithets, they cross the line unjustifiably into bullying.

If this is a matter of occasional frustration, we can of course be sympathetic, especially when the people losing their tempers are dealing with wholly unjust pressures within the larger culture. But losing one’s temper and resorting to denigrating, dehumanizing attacks on others that call them abusive names and express hatred should never be recommended or condoned as a routine tactic.

And the downside is harsh and underestimated by many of my interlocutors on these issues. When people resort to trying to insult people into agreement or submission, those people typically respond as they would to any other acts of force–with hostility. People listen not only to each other’s reasons but each other’s wills. If you express a will to force and push people to submit where their conscience and reason are unmoving, they respond to you as someone who has no respect for their own reason or their own rights to form their own moral consciences. You start to say, “my position is so valid that I am going to make you subject to it regardless of whether your mind and conscience agree to it”. And in response to that, the authoritarian spirit you express will overwhelm the rational content of your ideas and signal you as someone they don’t want having power over them. People listen to wills, not just words. They listen to whether you argue with reason or try to force your will on others. Reasonable ideas become stigmatized as too radical when their chief proponents seem like people willing to use whatever radical means necessary to impose them.

Being civil with people who hold views we find despicable acknowledges their moral right to freedom of thought and conscience. We don’t need to be friends with people with whom we don’t share values. We don’t need to associate with people whose behaviors, values, and practices will put us in situations where our own autonomy or right to be treated according to our own values will be contravened. Insofar as we are all forced by circumstances to interact with other people, we need protections so that we are neither violated nor unfairly marginalized by people whose values are domineering and harmful to our own flourishing. We need the law to protect everyone’s ability to flourish unencumbered by others’ prejudicial values systems.

But on an interpersonal level, we cannot treat other people by a rule that says, “share my private value judgments or be subject to unrepentant, proud, self-righteous, bullying verbal abuse”.

Religious fundamentalists are so widely loathed because of such selfish cruelty so opposed to freedom of thought. They feel themselves unambiguously to be on the side of the moral right and justified in denigrating all outsiders to their values as unrepentant sinners deserving of hell and doomed to go there. They do not offer reasons (or at least not independently compelling ones) for their beliefs but try to impose them on others with threats of moral condemnation, demands that others submit to their God and their beliefs, and that others simply believe despite a lack of evidence. By sheer force of will they denigrate others’ consciences and reason and make discussion of fundamental beliefs matters of bullying and disrespect. It is these attitudes and behaviors, these expressions of tyrannical wills, that make the average Western person, who is usually otherwise quite sympathetic and tolerant to religious belief and maybe religious herself, so put off by fundamentalists and evangelicals. It is not the falseness of their beliefs that make fundamentalists so disliked and distrusted among the general populace.

Those of us who are in the business of moral argumentation should never be their analogue. We should never ourselves become so certain of the rectitude of our thinking about morality and justice that we feel entitled to treat the judgments of their consciences so bad that we can disregard their rights to them morally. We should never become so judgmental of their moral errors that we treat them as damnable sinners worthy of dismissal as subhuman and treated with no dignity, but rather only abuse.

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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.

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, Approved Straight Chorus

    Do Marginalized People Need To Be Insulting In Order To Be Empowered?

    I don’t have to, but I enjoy it immensely.
    I have a history where being angry made me wrong, to the point where I was just empty, unable to actually feel anything much, thank you for reinforcing that harmful pattern.

    • Stacy

      Gilliel, Dan isn’t enforcing that pattern.

      I too come from a background where anger was demonized. (So were many other “negative” emotions and thoughts.) It left me feeling powerless and guilty for the rage I felt.

      I had to learn to express anger. I even had to learn to be deliberately mean; that is a form of self-protection which is above some self-destructive forms that powerless and marginalized people sometimes resort to.

      But Dan is not making a blanket moral judgement to the effect that marginalized (or other) people are Bad if they use insulting words. He’s certainly not saying that they should feel guilty if they do. He’s making a nuanced argument that boils down to: 1) It’s usually better to make an argument aimed at the ideas rather than the person 2) No matter how tempting it is sometimes, we shouldn’t dehumanize others. What’s being judged isn’t the person, but the argument–on both sides.

      As someone who has neglected both #1 and #2 many times (and probably will again,) I appreciate Dan’s thoughts on the matter. He has a way of clarifying things which I find helpful, even when I disagree with him.

      And I think it’s important to remember that he’s explaining his reasons for enforcing certain policies on his blog. Since this is a philosophical blog, it makes sense to enforce a high level of civility and argumentative focus, especially since he’s vowed to keep the trolls and the hopeless bigots from stinking up the joint.

    • Ysanne

      Giliell,
      And why exactly is your personal enjoyment of expressing your anger in a way that aims to hurt and dehumanize your opponent in a discussion of ideas a good thing that needs to be cultivated?
      I disagree by the implicit assumption that anger necessarily has to harm you or the opponent, meaning that the only remaining choice is whom to hurt with it.

    • mythbri

      Giliell, I comment mainly on Pharyngula, and I’ve noticed you there, too.

      It’s relatively no-holds-barred with regard to language. People use the words that Daniel mentions in his post here.

      Not everyone, though. I typically don’t come out of the gate swinging at people who come in saying objectionable and privileged things. But you know what? My reasoned, thoughtful and civil arguments don’t get responses from from those people. They pay absolutely no attention to them whatsoever.

      They do tend to respond to the commenters that include insulting language, however.

      So the language is not empowering because it inherently equalizes, but because it’s a means of forcing those kinds of commenters to engage with people as equals, rather than remaining aloof and silent toward polite disagreement.

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

      Giliell, justified anger is not the problem. I have spelled out in detail that I affirm proper moral emotions and their effective employment in constructive persuasion and argumentation http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/08/05/i-am-not-against-emotions-i-am-against-epithets/

      But owning your anger is not the same as having a moral license to be abusive. I empathize quite a bit with the tendency to swing in the direction of full blast anger after it’s been bottled up and denied to you. I don’t mean to demonize you or anyone for your anger or your expressions of it.

      But we have to get behind a dualistic either/or where anger is all evil or all good. It’s not that simple. There are healthy ways to use anger and abusive ones. I will always encourage people in their healthy and productive uses of anger but not in their abusive ones. I can forgive people honestly working to find that balance but do not have sympathy with self-righteous attitudes that decide to never apologize for hurting other people.

    • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, Approved Straight Chorus

      Stacy
      How do you know that Daniel isn’t doing that? How on earth can you decide that what Daniel is doing at the moment isn’t exactly reinforcing the patterns that made me feel stupid and unreasonable and a bad person and guilty?
      Because you know better than me?
      Oh look, I expressed my anger (even in polite words!) and I got promptly told I’m wrong

      But Dan is not making a blanket moral judgement to the effect that marginalized (or other) people are Bad if they use insulting words. He’s certainly not saying that they should feel guilty if they do.

      Yeah, he’s only saying we dehumanize them. That’s of course something different. No reason to feel guilty about dehumanizing people, no whiff of “you became the monster you fight”

      And I think it’s important to remember that he’s explaining his reasons for enforcing certain policies on his blog.

      He’s totally OK to make whatever rules for his blog as he likes. If he makes the rule that every person has to start their comment with “Dear” and end it with “love” that’s fine by me. But he’s making a broad ethical and moral argument that should hold true outside of his blog.

      Ysanne

      Giliell,
      And why exactly is your personal enjoyment of expressing your anger in a way that aims to hurt and dehumanize your opponent in a discussion of ideas a good thing that needs to be cultivated?

      1) Sarcasm. Learn what that word means.
      2)Well, why is expressing my anger a good idea? Because it’s really, really good for my mental health.
      3) Now, the hurt and the dehumanisation. Oh dear. So, according to Daniel, people get to treat me as cattle by polietly discussing my right to bodily integrity, because, hey, it’s just a discussion of ideas and I get to polietly say “oh please, don’t you recognize that this is a bigoted idea that you’re holding?”.
      First of all, as many people have mentioned before, that gets you ignored. We’ve done that. It’s not like we haven’t tried.
      Alternatively even mentioning that somebody might hold bigoted or misogynistic ideas leads the people that are addressed such running and screaming around all hurt and up in arms as well. One of the re-occuring tropes in the whole debate is “You said I was a sexist!”
      Thirdly “dehumanizing”? By calling somebody “orrifice used to expel feces”? That’s dehumanizing? And apparently on the same level as discussing why blacks are stupid, gays spread aids and women are perfectly adapted for making babies and sandwiches.
      That’s just shutting people down, making them feel wrong and guilty again for the fact that they stood up for themselves.

      Daniel

      Giliell, justified anger is not the problem. I have spelled out in detail that I affirm proper moral emotions and their effective employment in constructive persuasion and argumentation

      Justified anger? And who gets to decide whether my anger is justified? Obviously not me. Look above, Stacy decided to be an expert on my psychological and emotional make-up already!
      Your “proper moral emotions” tell me that I’m allowed to come back and play with you big kids once I calmed myself down and then tell you nicely how you made me feel. So, if what you’re writing makes me break down and cry every time I’m trying to calm down and write something about it, I get to keep my mouth shut. The fact that somebody wrote something that makes me cry with desperation, and in this case that somebody is you is apparently OK. Because you will not get back many responses like that because people just. can’t. deal. with. it. So, yes, you’re creating your own audience of people who can deal with that nicely. Because those actually marginalized just don’t bother to give you their input anymore.

      But owning your anger is not the same as having a moral license to be abusive.

      Abusive. I don’t think that word means what you think it means. It’s a slap in the face of people who actually do get abused if you tell them that calling their abusers “A…holes” is abusive and dehumanizing their poor abusers.

      I empathize quite a bit with the tendency to swing in the direction of full blast anger after it’s been bottled up and denied to you. I don’t mean to demonize you or anyone for your anger or your expressions of it.

      Except when you tell me that I’m abusive and dehumanizing. Empathy is something different. The word you’re looking for is “chastizing”

      But we have to get behind a dualistic either/or where anger is all evil or all good. It’s not that simple. There are healthy ways to use anger and abusive ones.

      Sure, only that you’re drawing the line in a place that hurts marginalized people and shuts them up.

      I will always encourage people in their healthy and productive uses of anger but not in their abusive ones.

      Wrong. You’re shutting them up. Because you place yourself to be the arbiter of what’s abuse and what’s healthy and you don’t give a thing about what those marginalized already have to say on the matter. You draw the line of “what’s productive” solely on basis of your individual taste. You completely ignore the fact that we have already seen that polite doesn’t work, that rude indeed gets results and that there are many roads that lead to a goal. People who know me on FTB know that I’m quite capable of using different approaches in different situations, but i don’t think that there’s one gold-standard or that mine is the one most effective at the moment.

      I can forgive people honestly working to find that balance but do not have sympathy with self-righteous attitudes that decide to never apologize for hurting other people.

      You’re still hung up on the false idea that calling somebody a name is apparently the worst thing you can do to somebody.
      If I call somebody a name and that makes that person pay attention to what I’ve said and makes them actually engage in a discourse because they’re shocked why somebody would call such a nice person that bad word, the bad word has reached it’s goal and was the adequate means to use.

      You’re also completely missing the fact that the internet isn’t a dialogue, it’s something between many people and you’re completely missing out on those people who are marginalized and hurt and actually too afraid to say something. And more than one of them, often victims of rape, violence and abuse have come forward time after time again thanking all those impolite name-calling people for the fact that once in their life they saw the abusers taken to task, that they were not able to control and manipulate the discourse “polietly” but given a good solid epithet and stopped at spurting their venom and re-traumatizing people, triggering them and breaking them.
      You throw all of them under the bus in favour of sparing the ears of bigots, racists, misogynists and homophobes a few bad words.
      That’s your choice

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

      Giliell, I am very sorry I made you cry.

      Please forgive this brief note that does not address all the points you made, as I have to teach in 7 minutes.

      I am not against having abusers taken to task and no I do not think name calling is the worst thing anyone can do to anyone else. What I am saying though is that you can thoroughly take abusive people to task without crossing the line into insults and I fear that as cathartic as insults might be (and even as they may be valuable in certain contexts in ordinary life where they’re one of the only recourses of self-defense), I see them constantly escalating hostility towards women and I see the seething repressed rage of the members of dominant classes that become all the more hard headed against the causes of social justice that I care about. I want to stop that from happening. And I want our discourse about values to be one that is rational and empathetic, rather than dominated by cannon fire returned by more cannon fire.

    • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, Approved Straight Chorus

      Daniel
      You must be running a new record for not getting it.
      You see the growing hatred against women and your solution is to tell us to be nice?
      You got to be kidding me.
      The problem in this whole fight isn’t whether we’re using bad wordz. The problem is that there are people who want to shut us up and make us be quiet and you are helpig them.
      There can be no civil discourse about whether women are people and whether we have the right to live our lives without constant harassment because the question itself is already uncivil, no matter how many fine words are used.
      To quote your fellow blogger Stephanie Zwan at you (at the CFI-blog)

      Michael, if this were about clear language that articulates the problems women have experienced in the atheist movement, these problems would have been fixed years ago. Decades, even. Women have been quite articulate about these matters for a very long time indeed.

    • plutosdad

      Giliell, no he NEVER said to “be nice”, in fact, over and over, he said you do not HAVE to be nice. But your criticisms and anger should be informative rather than mere insults.

      you are criticizing him for something he did not say, and in fact has said quite the opposite. Which makes me believe you just read the first few lines of any of these recent posts.

  • http://www.axesandalleys.com Captaintripps

    Very well-put Dan and I largely agree. I still think even in debate vituperative insults can occasionally be useful, and in less structured discussions elsewhere I don’t find them ethically questionable, though often overutilized.

    • http://www.axesandalleys.com Captaintripps

      After reading the comment thread and thinking more about the piece, in particular in the context of its title, I do have to walk this back a bit. My original reading was in the context of Dan’s rules for his own blog.

      There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with marginalized people or groups expressing anger with insults; in particular insulting bigots and the intolerant.

      I think we can reasonably discuss the effects, effectiveness, and desired goals of doing so, but at its base I see no moral or ethical issue with someone calling a bigot, for instance, an asshole.

  • Beatrice

    Good job. Calling marginalized people bullies for expressing their anger in a way you don’t approve of is definitely going to help empower them.

    • John Morales

      Can you quote Dan making this claim?

      (I think you are imagining this)

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    I’m sure your next essay will involve telling the NAACP how they’ve been doing it wrong, from the expert perspective of a middle-class white academic… which is really the only valid perspective, right?

  • trinioler

    Fincke, you are officially Polonious in my eyes.

    Look, an insult without using poopy words!

    Also, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

  • http://flewellyn.livejournal.com Flewellyn

    Goodness. And you’re writing EIGHT of these, on the subject of your commenting policy?

    I feel inspired to paraphrase Churchill: “Never, in the history of human discourse, have so many words said so much about so little.”

    • Stacy

      I disagree. He’s writing this much about it because he’s taking objections seriously. And a lot of those objections are rooted in very serious considerations.

      So ultimately, these aren’t just posts about somebody’s comment policy; they’re philosophical posts about the ins and outs of civil discourse. Not “so little” at all.

  • plutosdad

    I think on one hand you are correct, but I think also, we need to be understanding and give them more latitude before calling them out or getting upset.

    I don’t expect people to be able to stay calm or listen intently on certain issues. I can only be patient, and maybe they will figure out what I meant. And if I know they are listening I have to be careful how I start out with disclaimers or explanations.

    My wife and I are currently reading this book, hold me tight… it is all about this issue. It is about recognizing our “trigger points” and how we react, and overcoming that and helping each other stop it. It is not really about not having arguments, but about de-escalating and taking a step back to figure out what you are arguing about, what you are feeling. Since often arguments are really about something else.

    But I mention it since it seems appropriate to this discussion.

    It saddened me that Natalie misinterpreted what you wrote, but even I had to read it a few times (and see the following sentences for context) before figuring it out. But it saddened me more that your response was anything but “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, I was not careful enough in how I wrote it. this is what I meant:” I think that would have been the best response.

    Because it is right, we should not react based on our triggers, we can’t control the emotions directly, but can work on not letting them dictate our reactions. But at the same time, we need to be cognizant of other people’s triggers, and if we set them off even while doing nothing wrong at all, still be understanding and try to de-escalate and help each other understand. When the other person is upset is not the time to point out to them “hey you are wrong for reacting and attacking me in this manner”, that is just more escalation. I mean, you can, but only after first de-escalating the conflict, and stepping back and figuring out what is going on.

  • http://realitybasedbrainponies.wordpress.com/ Brony

    What about the situation where the emotional tone is impossible to deal with and you try to use offense carefully? Like this short comment in the thread where Blaghag’s father had to deal with some of the offensive individuals that her daughter did?
    http://kingmccreight.blogspot.se/2012/09/learn-some-civility.html#comment-647139131

    I mean in general terms, outside of the specifics of the situation that I was posting in.

  • smrnda

    When you mention Martin Luther King Jr, don’t forget that he was not the only visible leader in the civil rights movement. Others advocated much less civil forms of disobedience, and I’m inclined to think that riots and violence, though I don’t think they are great, sometimes got the job done and are sometimes justified. I can understand you wanting to back up your own policy for your own blog, and on your blog I will try to follow your rules, but in real life there’s lots of times when non-violent or civil resistance just flat-out didn’t work. The idea that you can overcome injustice by always taking the moral highroad is just a lie – the power structures are sometimes set up so that doing something extreme is the only way to fix it.

    • Rodney Nelson

      Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael come to mind.

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

    It doesn’t matter whether we need to be insulting or not; we will inevitably be accused of being insulting regardless of how polite we are.

    Look, I don’t mind abiding by Greta Christina’s no insults policy on her blog, because she never made a Big Fucking Deal about it; she just has preferences about the tone and atmosphere she wants to cultivate on her blog. She recognizes the value of a diversity of tactics. She never made any grand claims about the superiority of one approach over another.

    • Ysanne

      Um. This is a philosophy blog. Explaining the reasoning behind one’s personal preferences wrt insults/civility is not “taking a stance of superiority”, it’s simply what philosophers do: Sharing their thought processes in detail and examining whether their reasoning is consistent by checking whether they stand up to counter-arguments.
      I don’t really see anything wrong with that, provided that
      a) the philosopher in question doesn’t want to impose their preferences on those who disagree for whatever reason,
      b) the philosopher in question possesses the intellectual honesty to admit when their reasoning is flawed and correct their stance accordingly.
      I think Dan’s good on both points.

      I know first-hand that it can be extremely uncomfortable when someone argues in excruciating detail for a position that I disagree with, and they seem to have compelling and totally rational arguments but somehow still not quite convincing, and I can’t put the finger on what exactly I’m missing that made (and still makes) me see my argument as right and theirs wrong. It feels like they’re overwhelming me with their argument, and particularly in the case of issues I feel invested in, that amounts to feeling personally attacked.
      But this feeling is really due my own fear of being wrong about an important point that I rely on for my decisions, and does not make their detailed explanations a hostile act.

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

      a) the philosopher in question doesn’t want to impose their preferences on those who disagree for whatever reason,

      Dan makes pretty strong normative claims about his preferences, so I think he in fact fails this aspect of your test.

      He is not merely expressing a personal preference, he is presenting the claim that people who disagree with and use insults are behaving immorally. That’s quite a bit stronger.

      I know first-hand that it can be extremely uncomfortable when someone argues in excruciating detail for a position that I disagree with, and they seem to have compelling and totally rational arguments but somehow still not quite convincing, and I can’t put the finger on what exactly I’m missing that made (and still makes) me see my argument as right and theirs wrong.

      This is a non sequitur. Sally Strange seems to be quite capable of expressing what she finds wrong with Dan’s argument. Read her first sentence.

      If you dispute the validity of that point, do so, but why do you feel the need to assume that those of us who disagree with Dan are incapable of expressing what we find wrong with his reasoning?

    • Ysanne

      He is not merely expressing a personal preference, he is presenting the claim that people who disagree with and use insults are behaving immorally. That’s quite a bit stronger.

      I’m not seeing any claim that people who insult others are behaving immorally. What I’m seeing is that he points out that the two moral assumptions that “attempting to hurt and dehumanise your opponent is bad” and “it’s ok to denigrate people if they hold an opinion that I consider strongly immoral” are contradictory.
      And while he himself prefers his comments insult-free and has expressed the view that a more civil style of discussion would benefit the community overall, he’s not going around policing discussions, trying to convince blog owners to adopt his comment policy, or condemning people who insult others.

      To your second point: I’m not disputing Sally’s introductory statement; I think it’s a completely unfalsifiable claim (while a completely valid expression of her frustration about unfair and widespread discussion tactics).
      What I’m aiming at is that her willingness to accept Greta’s non-insult policy without complaint shows that it’s not the policy itself that she dislikes: it is the fact that Dan explains his underlying reasoning, or in her words, makes a “Big Fucking Deal” about it.
      This is not about the content of Dan’s argument, it’s objecting to his making one at all. I can’t see any rational reason to do so, but I know a very good irrational one: the one I explained above. And since I don’t pretend to read Sally’s thoughts, I’m explaining it in the form as I experience it. Maybe she does too, maybe she does something completely different. Comparing one’s thoughts is a part of discussion.

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

      To clarify: I don’t mind abiding by Dan’s policy either. I just find Greta’s reasoning much more sound and defensible than Dan’s.

    • plutosdad

      of course they will feel insulted, but if you have read any of these recent posts, you’ll see Dan has said that is ok, you aren’t doing anything wrong if people feel insulted when you rightly call them out and criticize them for immoral behavior.

      So im not sure what you are arguing for. he is not disagreeing with your point. he is not saying to be nice.

      why is this so hard for people to grasp?

    • http://iacb.blogspot.com/ Iamcuriousblue

      Sally Strange writes:

      “It doesn’t matter whether we need to be insulting or not; we will inevitably be accused of being insulting regardless of how polite we are.”

      I call nonsense on that. I think the way that you’re responded to has everything to do with the tone that you put out there, and I think you know what that tone is. (And don’t bother with the “using tone to deflect from content” argument – comments that are high on the insult to content ratio represent low signal-to-noise communication and are justifiably responded to as the noise that they are.)

      As to “accused of being insulting, no matter how polite”, well, it’s true, you’re among several people that carry a distinct history around with them and that, for better or worse, gets people’s backs up. But if you were to actually change your tune and really engage in constructive argument, I think you’d find responses quite different. I’d certainly adjust my tone accordingly.

      “Look, I don’t mind abiding by Greta Christina’s no insults policy on her blog, because she never made a Big Fucking Deal about it”

      Well, let’s be clear on that. GC doesn’t moderate in good faith, and her “no big fucking deal” policy toward insults means that people like you who are on her side of an argument are free to be as abusive as you want, whereas those who are in the hated outgroup (such as, say, me) better just lie back and eat shit, or we get the boot. Similar policy with Stephanie Zvan and a few others. That kind of “show trial” moderation is far worse than either strict moderation or no moderation at all.

  • Evan Guiney

    Dan,
    I’ve been reading your series on your comment policy with ever growing pleasure. I’m glad that you view this as a more general treatment of the ethics of discourse, because that’s whats so interesting and important about it.

    I was moved by your argument against using the word ‘stupid’, you changed my mind on that one. And this essay, although you never say the words kindness or compassion, is a wonderful defense of those values. Its below the surface, but I think you channel the very best of Nietzsche here.

    Keep it up

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

      Its below the surface, but I think you channel the very best of Nietzsche here.

      Well I’m glad somebody sees it.

      Thank you for all the appreciation and support. It’s gratifying.

  • consciousness razor

    Those most affected by unfair pressure need to use equal pressure to push back.

    Nope, not “equal.” False. This is not the strongest defense. You want to treat these as equal, but they aren’t. You’re assuming that it’s a defense of losing the “moral high ground” by treating it as if they are equal and immorally lowering our standards “to their level.” But there’s no reason to make that assumption, and especially not to put it into your opponents’ mouths. (Indeed, why would there even be an issue, if we thought that? Do you think we’re just utterly depraved and intentionally want to do bad stuff while calling it “good”?)

    You could say insults, etc., are not a “perfectly” moral action, but there’s no need to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I wouldn’t have as much of a problem if that were the kind of claim you were making, but even then, it’s hard to tell what exactly is supposed to be justifying it.

    “You cannot go on, privileged person, thinking that other people’s basic rights and dignity are just an academic matter while they are having harmful consequences. [...]“

    The privileged certainly can go on doing just that. They shouldn’t, but they can. This is an obvious case, but I’ve noticed you switching modality a lot, which sometimes makes things very hard to follow, confusing or downright misleading.

    But in those situations of abusive power dynamics, the problem is not that the marginalized have no recourse to the words “a[**]hole” or “d[*****]bag”. [my corrections to avoid unnecessary moderation]

    But they in fact do. You’re saying they shouldn’t. That is a problem. The fact that many don’t usually have recourse to other ways to equalize their standing in society is a whole other kind of problem. It doesn’t imply, just because you say so, that that’s really and only what they ought to do to improve their situation. You could say that’s ideally what they should do, but there’s no reason to believe your claim that there are never cases in the real world, as a marginalized person who you are emphatically not, in which using words like that is acceptable.

    And we do need to deal with what is acceptable, as well as practical. As much as it would be a great and wonderful thing if everyone donated all their wealth to feed every hungry person on the planet, it is morally acceptable that they do not do that, and impractical to put them up against that kind of standard.

    When people go beyond that, in debate forums with equalized power (i.e., ones where there are not interpersonal interconnections that enable general silencing) and start taking recourse to insults rather than sticking to arguments, and start assuming the worst of their opponents rather than trying to engage them in good faith dialogue first, they start to move into the realm of coerciveness themselves.

    That does not describe every occurrence of an “insult.” It is in fact the case that sometimes what we are “assuming” about people is correct, or to be take a specific case that they are not arguing in good faith. That can be established, but you pretend as if it is always relegated to an “assumption” and that it never actually materializes. So what should happen when it does? Why aren’t you taking it seriously that this is real to people, even though it may not happen often to you?

  • daenyx

    As someone near the top said “look, I can insult you without using poopy words.”

    The moral ideals of avoiding personal attacks/insults in resisting oppression are pretty, but ultimately not very useful in this application. Permission to call someone a bigot, but not an asshole (the latter term, I’ll point out, *also* describes a pattern of antisocial behavior in most colloquial usage) doesn’t remove any actual vitriol from my response to the hypothetical malefactor in question. It just places an arbitrary restriction on the language I can use to respond to oppression.

    It doesn’t make me less angry, and it doesn’t make me want to drive that point home any less. (And in many cases creates another pool of anger directed at you, the person in a position of privilege who determines what I may and may not say.) It does not diffuse the situation, and if anything, exacerbates it.

    Those costs are higher than words which are not at all descriptive but simply abusive (words like “asshole” and “douchebag”). These words are stronger weapons.

    “Asshole” and “douchebag” *are* descriptive. They are colloquial shorthand for “person who does not treat others morally.” And I don’t think, on a practical level, that you are correct about “bigot” having a higher impact as a blanket rule. It may well have a higher impact on some! But to others, it could just as easily be a word that becomes white noise, the clamoring of the liberal whiners who are trying to Destroy The Moral Fibre Of Our Great Nation (or something like that), while they simultaneously place great importance on being perceived as a “nice,” and yes, “civil”, and will therefore respond more readily to a generalized expression of disdain. (Yes, that assertion is based on anecdata and extrapolation – just like yours about the relative impacts of the words.)

    So from a utility-oriented viewpoint, there is a possible/probable net harm from attempting to restrict language in this way, outweighing your castle-in-the-air idealized conception of moral interaction. It’s a pretty castle, but that’s not where we live.

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

    That can be established, but you pretend as if it is always relegated to an “assumption” and that it never actually materializes.

    Quoted for emphasis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000423619314 johnmoriarty

    AIUI parliamentary language was sort of invented to make it less likely weapons got drawn.

    We need an internet equivalent, at least in some internet spaces. People who think otherwise could try out various levels of civility in a different forum.

    The market could then decide the preferred mode of interaction. Theoretically I suppose everybody then gets what they desire, and gets happier thereby.

    I think I know what I prefer, but might be encouraged to experiment.

    Too simple?

    • Ysanne

      Yes. :-)
      You’re forgetting to account for people reading blogs based on their interest in the topic rather than than how well their preferred level of civility matches the comments policy, the fact that only very few can resist commenting on an issue they feel strongly about, and that emotional reactions to the post/comment can easily override one’s adherence to rules. (Nothing wrong with all that, it just means we aren’t perfectly rational robots.)

  • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

    I agree with consciousness razor. All you need for evil to win is for good men(people) to do nothing. You cannot honestly expect bullies and racist miscreants to take any notice of replies that are ‘respectful of their(bully’s) moral rights.’
    As soon as you capitulate in any manner, they will escalate their mistreatment of ‘the marginalized’ because they get off on submission, and treat them with any kind of respect is just more evidence of their right to exercise ignorance without being constrained by ‘manners’ or morality. They take any advantage to assert their unfair advantage, and if you show that you are playing by different rules that inhibit equal treatment in reverse, that is all they need to know.

    I was riding the bus across town(Edmonton) 3 months ago, and a guy had to sit next to me due to the bus being full. He looked pleasant, and I said something to put him at ease, like “lot’s of room,” or so. He started talking with me very generally at first, and he mentioned that he was in the forces when I said it must be brutal sitting in a Hummvee wearing Dragon Skin(full body armor) and loaded down with weapons and helmet and all.
    Anyways, hew started complaining about the lack of funding for F-35′s(A huge political hot button with evidence of the Conservatives outright lying and worse, trying to hide that etc) and I said “I suppose” or something to show I wasn’t interested in a political debate right then (Yes it’s true!).
    He began talking points about how everything is the Liberal’s fault and yakking on and on, so I told him that I certainly was of the opposite persuasion to him, that I’m an NDP member, so it’s useless if he thought he needed to keep talking.
    Then he gets racist and starts insulting the Libruls for lax immigration policies, and then he says in a stage voice, I mean look. How many white people are on the bus? and I was already aware that minorities around us were getting uncomfortable, but also that there were only about four Caucasians amid 40 people.
    He was using the situation to loudly insult and denigrate everyone around us,and assert his privileged status.

    I then, loudly this time, told him to STOP talking at me because I was uncomfortable, and DID NOT condone his conversation.
    He began escalating very rapidly to more ignorant insults, expressions of loathing, and all the usual good ole white boy reasons to fight for our eroding rights.

    Then, I lost it. Good thing we were approaching a stop, or I might have tried to f*** him up and got killed – his combat training skills and all.
    I yelled at him that he was a f***head, to shut the F up, and then I just yelled into his face that he was a f*ing racist, you are a f*ing racist, f*** off!

    I was taking advantage of the same situation he was trying to exploit by feigning polite conversation in public – where I couldn’t physically get by him and was forced to listen to his shit – and use me against my will, to carry on his diatribe of hate.

    You better believe I most certainly did not respect his rights to moral discourse, because there was absolutely no way he would ever respect anyone elses.

    I tried being polite, I then tried reprimanding him – (oh yeah, he had already used the ‘freedom of speech canard) – and then I told him to quit bothering me….

    There is no way I will let shit go that far ever again, and I won’t play fair, let alone respect any moral rights these miscreants are supposedly entitled to. There comes a point that you have to get it through their thick f***ing skulls that they cannot continue to act so ignorant anymore without getting a kind of very visible consequence, one that may humiliate them for indulging in socially unacceptable behavior.

    To walk away is to do nothing. I will not allow this insidious poison to slink around in the dark. If shouting or humiliating behavior is called for, I will do it.

    I know I am not vulnerable to the severity of circumstances as the marginalized are, especially when it comes to power situations like the boss at work, but there comes a point when attention must somehow be drawn to their abusive behavior – while it still can.

    I am a pacifist for the most part, and despise violence, but the disrespectful and oppressive and humiliating behavior of these thugs is violence with very real personal and physical consequences. These include fostering fear ,and destroying any sense of confidence and freedom that then leads to the inability to defend themselves from greater bullying and fear of physical harm..

    I am absolutely sick of ‘condoning’ anti-social behavior by not shining immediate and very bright light on their ‘infractions.’ If a minority section of the population cannot do anything in those situations of authority(like at work with abusive boss), then we have to do it, or it will only get worse.

    Some people ARE SO STUPID that they only comprehend force and dramatic reactions, not acquiescence to some moral code.

    Dan, I am not disagreeing with you that utmost effort must be taken to act unreproachfully and as morally as possible in as many situations that have a chance of achieving result, whether that be just allowing them to hang themselves with their own rope, or by contrasting their behavior with unflinching commitment to what you believe is right – a steadfast adherence to principals of moral decency.
    But I am saying that unacceptable behavior cannot be tolerated in any circumstance, or they take it as license to continue their aberrant course.

    The end (whew!)

    • Dairy

      “let alone respect any moral rights these miscreants are supposedly entitled to”

      You are a terrible person and with this single comment just as bad as those you fight against – worse – because some of them would respect at least some of your moral rights.

    • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

      I said: There is no way I will let shit go that far ever again, and I won’t play fair, let alone respect any moral rights these miscreants are supposedly entitled to. There comes a point that you have to get it through their thick f***ing skulls that they cannot continue to act so ignorant anymore without getting a kind of very visible consequence, one that may humiliate them for indulging in socially unacceptable behavior.

      I am a terrible person for trying to humiliate, aggressively by shouting in his face, a racist f*** that I gave every opportunity – from asking, to ignoring, commanding he respect my wishes – and I am a terrible person.
      Why don’t you go tell that to all the people on that bus. I would have gotten in your face if you had tried to defend that cruel f*** F*ace.

      Which of my rights was he respecting again? Which rights of the onlookers that he was speaking viscous and threatening shit about was he respecting?

      It is cheap and dishonest to quote out of context, and I don’t like liars. I think they are little more than back stabbing miscreants that know what they are doing is wrong. Sort of like you.

      Quote me out of context again and use that as an excuse to call me terrible, and as bad as that abusive f***, and I warn you, I will do to you what I couldn’t on that bus: ignore you. I don’t care, one way or the other, what you say because you are so transparent and feeble as to draw my pity.

  • http://www.stephentapply.com Stephen T

    Chris Kluwe’s letter to Emmett C. Burns Jr would have been soooo much more effective without the profanity. Yeah, right.

  • Jay

    Dan,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.

    I identify as a Father’s Rights Activist, and I have experience with Parental Alienation Syndrome, in having had my children alienated against me by their mother.

    I am also familiar with false accusations made intentionally against men, my ex wife intentionally made false charges of domestic violence against me in order to defraud the court (and me!) and obtain a temporary restraining order against me.

    This was sufficient to kick me out of my home and completely disrupt my life during our divorce, and keep me from my children for months, which, even though up to that time, I had been the primary care giver, was enough to bias the court and grant my ex sole physical custody (joint legal custody) of the children.

    Anyway, I’ve seen quite a bit and can talk about my travails in the legal system and my perceptions of how the system is factually biased against fathers, and how women are often incentivized to maliciously file false charges of domestic violence, maliciously file false charges that a good father is a sexual danger to their children or other children, and even maliciously file false charges of rape.

    Regardless, I have actually considered myself a feminist since early 1970s (in middle school) though I have come to believe that modern feminist theory or modern feminist advocates have gone too far and are no longer as oppressed as they would have people believe and are equally capable of bullying and oppressing others.

    When I try to discuss my views at various websites, including the top tier feminist blogs, or at free thought blogs, or at atheism plus, I have been shouted down. I have been banned. I have been very grossly insulted. I have been called a likely pedophile and rapist. I have been called an abuser.

    I have had feminists try to dox me, and I have been threatened by feminists saying they would write to the judge in my case, and write to my employers, and tell of them of my online activities (which are about on par with this note.)

    Even now, when I express in atheist one forums as at atheistplus.com or at /r/atheistplus support for fathers or for mens rights activism, I can see FRAs and MRAs willy nilly banned with hardly a skeptical thought as to whether or not there is any truth behind what anyone FRA or MRA might be saying.

    Where I think then, that you missed, in your essay, was taking on what is known in feminist circles as the “tone argument”. Rather I think you took it on, but you didn’t name it.

    In the tone argument, it is pointed out that it is a logical fallacy to ignore a group or a person and then say, “I am offended by your tone”. An examples, I can’t list to feminists, they are too shrill. Or, I cannot listen to Paul Krugman, he is too shrill.

    Well, that is a fallacy, especially when there is no real evidence that the people or person under discussion is doing anything other than trying to have a legitimate discussion.

    But, we all have the right to bodily autonomy and the choice of who we converse with.

    At feminist and atheist plus forum after another, though I write conversationally at about this level of discourse, I have just been bullied, badgered, harassed, threatened, and called names.

    Pedophile! Rapist! Abuser!

    So the fallacy of the tone argument is that while tone by itself does not mean an argument is false, we all can decide who we get to speak with. When atheist plus dismiss with no evidence mras they cannot be said to be skeptical. When feminists ban and call names on mras with a rote casualness and snark they cannot be said to be interested in truth, progress, or social justice.

    When people scream rapist at me, just because they dislike what I write, they are not people worth responding to.

    The Tone Argument as name and wielded by many feminists and atheist plus members is bogus, and used to bully, and illogically dismiss others.

    Thank you for your time, I would be happy to discuss more about how the family court system in the United States and in many locations around the world (UK, Australia, Israel) is terribly biased against men, and fathers their need all of our support.

    • Stacy

      People are having a serious discussion here, and the tone argument is off topic.

      Don’t sweep in and bring up your pet cause in an attempt to derail the discussion. That cat won’t catch any mice here.

      Kindly fuck off.

    • plutosdad

      I do not think any of the feminists here would condone lying and deceit, and recognize those problems in society. Of course, the man being the “caregiver” is the patriarchal system we have created, not women getting even. The man being dangerous is … a lot of other stuff, how we are afraid of sexual predators everywhere but where they really are.

      My wife practiced family law for a little while, and got out. Part of the issue was some lawyers were totally unscrupulous and would encourage clients to lie. One lawyer from her town was just caught setting up men by paying girls to drink with the men at bars, and paid cops off to wait outside the bar to nab them with duis. But not all lawyers, and not all women, are evil liars.

      My wife was the breadwinner in her last marriage, and she was the one taken to the cleaners. I have been lied about by an ex and been stolen from, and had a friend turned into the police by his ex over lies. So I have some idea of how women can lie and play the victim in order to get revenge.

      However, neither me nor that friend, nor my wife, think there is some conspiracy of women. There are some that do lie, some of us had the unfortunate experience of being victimized by those lies. But that is not an excuse to be bitter and blame all women, spread false statistics about pay scales, and other things MRAs do.

      There is a big leap between saying “let’s reform divorce law” and what goes on at the average MRA site, and what those people post here.

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

      People are having a serious discussion here, and the tone argument is off topic.

      Don’t sweep in and bring up your pet cause in an attempt to derail the discussion. That cat won’t catch any mice here.

      Kindly fuck off.

      Stacy please do not tell other comments to “fuck off”. If you want to challenge his assertions then by all means do so, but his remarks about tone are relevant to my discussion in the post about how people are turned off by impositions of wills that obscure even good reasons in arguments. So he is not derailing to explain his viewpoint on feminism and how he perceives it to be argued for in some cases.

    • mythbri

      Jay, I did a search for your ‘nym at the Atheism + forums, to see if I could gain more context than what you provided in your comment. To be honest, I was skeptical that you’d be banned out of hand on those forums, and I wanted to see if I could read for myself what may have unfolded.

      I saw nothing involving the ‘nym you’ve used here (indeed, there is no “Jay” listed among the forum members) that would provide me with any such context, nor did my searches turn up “FRA” or “Parental Alienation Syndrome”.

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

    Nice story, Mikmik. Reminds me of the time, right after the election, when some dude outside my local coffee shop was ranting loudly about how we now had a “mudblood” in office.

    I shouted at him, “Hey, you can think whatever you want, but if you say things like that out loud, everyone is going to know that you’re a racist asshole!”

    I know, terrible. He only said, “mudblood,” (guess he never read Harry Potter) but I said “asshole.”

    I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. Everyone in earshot was looking extremely uncomfortable, but that shifted to relief after I spoke up.

    • Ysanne

      That was brave, and I admire you for standing up to him. (100% seriously impressed, no snark or sarcasm.)

      (Hypocrisi disclaimer: The use of “asshole” in countering a poorly veiled racist insult with a largely descriptive rebuttal in a verbal confrontation is not what is or should be covered by a non-insult policy designed for rational discussion of philosophical questions in writing.)

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

      Huh. You’ve never encountered (metaphorically) loud racist ranting, or ranting in the vein of some other sort of bigotry, online?

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

    Dan -

    You have repeated many times in these pieces the claim that not only are insults and invective immoral, but they are also ineffective. Do you have any research to back this up?

    Because, to be honest, my own experience has been the opposite. People who genuinely care about not being *ss**les, in my experience (including myself), tend to react to being called that by self-examination. People who do not care about being such, to be honest, I’m not concerned about.

    Yes, obviously, different people will respond to different forms of rhetoric. But this is why we need a multiplicity of voices, including painstakingly civil ones as well as uncivil ones.

    When people go beyond that, in debate forums with equalized power

    You think such forums exist? Really?

    • John Morales

      You have repeated many times in these pieces the claim that not only are insults and invective immoral, but they are also ineffective.

      Can you quote Dan making this universal claim, thus backing up your contention?

      (Because I think you’re at best imagining things, and more likely just bullshitting)

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

      People who genuinely care about not being *ss**les, in my experience (including myself), tend to react to being called that by self-examination. People who do not care about being such, to be honest, I’m not concerned about.

      The people who are conscientious and would respond to the word “asshole” do not need to be abused with it. All sorts of more precise and less abusive descriptions of how they are hurting you will be sufficient to inspire self-examination.

      The people who really are not so conscientious, who do not care, as you note–they don’t respond to the word “asshole” either. They don’t care. But when you call them an asshole you just encourage them in their feeling that it’s just a pissing contest.

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

      You have repeated many times in these pieces the claim that not only are insults and invective immoral, but they are also ineffective. Do you have any research to back this up?

      I don’t have research at the tip of my fingers though I think I’ve seen some. I do know how my own mind works and how numerous other people I have observed behave when insulted. It ain’t pretty. I also have extensive experience persuading people of propositions they are reluctant to accept and know what works.

      But beyond that, as John noted, I am not saying they are universally ineffective. I think on the whole they are counter productive for numerous reasons spelled out in numerous posts.

      And, again to go back to the moral point, I am turned off personally by the idea of persuading people by any means necessary. I really am a rationalist–not just an atheist. I really do believe in persuading people rationally and not abusively as a matter of principle because I want people to grow in their autonomy and not just be cowed by another emotional appeal.

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

      Can you quote Dan making this universal claim, thus backing up your contention?

      While I understand how you read a universal claim into my statement, it was not intended. Please feel free to insert “generally” or “typically” into my original paragraph. If you still feel I am just “bullshitting” then I’ll be happy to provide quotes.

    • John Morales

      aleph squared,

      If you still feel I am just “bullshitting” then I’ll be happy to provide quotes.

      Please.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Speaking only for myself — a small subset, to be sure, but one which I am undeniably an expert about — if you call me that when I don’t think I am one or am being one, you only achieve two things:

      1) You make me angry, which is not the best state of mind for a reasoned discussion.

      2) You put me on the defensive, so I spend all of my time trying to prove that I’m not one instead of talking about the original issue.

      So, what’s more important to you: proving me wrong or proving me a jerk? Using that term will, for me at least, end up with me arguing against the latter and not necessarily the former.

    • trinioler

      But when you call them an asshole you just encourage them in their feeling that it’s just a pissing contest.

      Studies to back this up please?

      I see a lot of assertions in your arguments that really should be backed up by psychological studies for the rest of your argument to work.

    • plutosdad

      trinioler
      there is a ton of research on this topic
      read any John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and then read the footnotes in their books on to other researchers (my kindle is at home)
      Though Gottman is more of a researcher than Johnson is.

  • Nick the Nomad

    Welcome to Dan’s blog!

    He makes the rules, we follow. Seems simple.
    He didn’t even have to explain why he’s making the rules, but he has. Now, if this blog does not belong to you, that’s roughly the other 7 billion of us on Earth, than you can not complain about what he’s doing with HIS blog.

    I do agree that it needs to be moderated to an extent. I don’t care if I agree with that extent or not, it isn’t my blog. But the comments that I’ve seen over the past three years shows that it must be moderated.

    And remember, ad hominem most likely means that you’re losing the comment fight/debate anyway.

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

      And remember, ad hominem most likely means that you’re losing the comment fight/debate anyway.

      When did ad hominem enter this discussion? (A clue: insults are not necessarily ad hominems.)

      Also, the people criticizing Dan are not doing so because he proposed rules for his blog. It is because he is claiming that they are not just blog rules but moral rules. What would this comment section be for except for people to question (or support) his ideas?

  • ischemgeek

    I have to suggest that there is no such thing as a debate forum with equalized power. Those who have more power by nature of who they are have been raised to such power and taught that they should have power and people should defer to them by virtue of arbitrary external characteristics. Likewise, those who have less power in society have been raised to that position and had it enforced on them – sometimes brutally.

    One cannot escape such conditioning. For someone who is underprivileged to stand up to someone who is privileged is a very hard thing to do. The privileged person, by nature of their privilege, will assume that the underprivileged person is wrong. Any underprivileged person you speak to will so many stories they’ve lost count of them of situations where privileged people assumed they were wrong even about their own life experiences, such as the symptoms and impact of a chronic condition, such as whether someone making a racist joke was really marginalizing, and so on. This is how much privileged people are raised to believe they are right and better than those without such privilege. Their reaction to being challenged by someone who they were trained to think of as worse than them is typically one of denial and anger that the other person would dare to contradict them – even when the person in question expressed themselves in a very civil and uninsulting way. Consider, as a case in point, the attacks on Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglass for discussing her experiences with racism during training.

    By contrast, someone who is underprivileged is conditioned to think of themselves as wrong and worse than those with privilege. In arguments with those in privileged positions, those who are underprivileged feel not only the weight of another person’s disapproval, but also the weight of society’s disapproval. How dare they challenge someone higher in the social order? This leads to guilt and self-doubt that cannot be alleviated by saying, “Everyone is equal here.” Because the reality is that we’re not.

    Furthermore, social norms reinforce these thought patterns, so that most people will on a subconscious level act in accordance with them, implicitly associating those in privileged positions with rightness and goodness, and those in underprivileged positions with wrongness and badness (see, for example, Project Implicit, which studies such phenomena). For this reason, in conflicts between those with privilege and those without, people in general will tend to side with those with privilege. This includes those who are themselves without privilege who are taught to justify the system which oppresses them (the study of this phenomenon is, appropriately enough, called System Justification Theory, about which Ian Cromwell has an excellent series of articles).

    This colors all interactions that the privileged have with the underprivileged, even if someone declares that everyone is equal and their voices will be given equal weight. The reality of privilege and ingrained prejudice in our society is that they won’t.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    Thanks, Dan, for another great post. This is a subject of special interest because I have been making a study of how we can talk to our religious friends and neighbors, and have written about that on the Richard Dawkins site. In that case the specific marginalization is that the religious do not, generally, recognize that atheists have any morals from which to be on any kind of “high ground.” I would be interested in how you would approach this, as I see you used a moral frame to set context in many places of your post.

  • Stevarious

    I have only been following this series peripherally, mainly because my time is short these days.

    But this one struck me as wrong, in a few ways, but one specifically that hasn’t already been addressed much more eloquently than I ever could above by mikmik, consciousness razor, and Beatrice.

    When people set themselves up as the “social police” or the “moral police” in such a way that they stop reasoning with others and simply making moral arguments and accusations to demeaning or demonizing their opponents with epithets, they cross the line unjustifiably into bullying.

    I think you are misusing the term ‘bullying’ here. To put it simply, you can’t bully ‘up’. A woman cannot bully a man who is using the weight of legal and historical precedent to insist that women shouldn’t have bodily autonomy all the time. She might insult him or abuse him, but ‘bullying’ requires a position of power over the ‘victim’ and the woman in this conversation simply does not have that.

    And, quite frankly, I don’t think you can insist that when some MRA thug wanders in and says, ‘Hmm, ARE women really people? I think they are just clever animals!’ that it is ‘unjustifiable’ to treat him with anything less than perfect respect. A person does not have to use ‘abusive language’ to say something filthy and vile, and insisting that such people deserve the same respect I would give any other commenter is simply indefensible.

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

      And, quite frankly, I don’t think you can insist that when some MRA thug wanders in and says, ‘Hmm, ARE women really people? I think they are just clever animals!’ that it is ‘unjustifiable’ to treat him with anything less than perfect respect. A person does not have to use ‘abusive language’ to say something filthy and vile, and insisting that such people deserve the same respect I would give any other commenter is simply indefensible.

      Treat him with perfect respect? No. You do not have to personally respect him.

      Treat him with civility? Yes. You can denounce someone with plenty of uncompromising moral conviction without being dehumanizing. Why does everyone keep implying that to not use abusive insults is to somehow cater to people?

    • consciousness razor

      Treat him with perfect respect? No. You do not have to personally respect him.

      Will we see a series of arguments from you defending that?

      And despite this, we should still respect him as a person, in the sense that we should demand he be treated as a human being, correct? So how should you or someone else make that distinction in practice? Would you say that not every way of being disrespectful is dehumanizing?

      Treat him with civility? Yes. You can denounce someone with plenty of uncompromising moral conviction without being dehumanizing. Why does everyone keep implying that to not use abusive insults is to somehow cater to people?

      Why do you keep implying insults are all “bullying,” “abusive,” or “dehumanizing”?

    • John Morales

      Stevarious:

      And, quite frankly, I don’t think you can insist that when some MRA thug wanders in and says, ‘Hmm, ARE women really people? I think they are just clever animals!’ that it is ‘unjustifiable’ to treat him with anything less than perfect respect.

      This is (so far) purely a hypothetical claim, though I note Dan has addressed it nonetheless.

      A person does not have to use ‘abusive language’ to say something filthy and vile, and insisting that such people deserve the same respect I would give any other commenter is simply indefensible.

      But Dan has never made that claim, has he?

      What he has argued for is a baseline of respect (akin to the concept of ‘human rights’), not that one respect all commenters equally.

    • http://iacb.blogspot.com/ Iamcuriousblue

      “And, quite frankly, I don’t think you can insist that when some MRA thug wanders in and says, ‘Hmm, ARE women really people? I think they are just clever animals!’ that it is ‘unjustifiable’ to treat him with anything less than perfect respect.”

      But let’s get real here. What percentage of people who are engaging over the internet in conversations about gender from a not-perfectly-feminist perspective are “MRA thugs” who believe “women aren’t people”? I think precious few in reality. Maybe a few who you’d dig up around the fringes of A Voice for Men, but that’s about it. Yet, that seems to be the go-to assumption among many in the A+ crowd when anybody has some disagreement with some or another point of feminist ideology. So unless you can come up with a really good justification for assuming the absolute worst about people, I think you should maybe give a cautious assumption of good faith a chance, and see what your arguments look like then.

  • Bruce S. Springsteen

    Those who are bent on marginalizing another group and sustaining a position of privilege — based on some supposed superiority they possess — are in fact best put in their place and made to look foolish, and maybe look in the mirror, by someone who acts with greater intellectual integrity and rhetorical self-control. One of the tactics that those in power use to keep oppressed groups on the margins is to depict them as emotional, immature, in need of guidance, vulgar, violent, inarticulate, whiny and brittle. Pushing back agaist that tactic by conforming to the stereotype is bad strategy, even if the dubious ethics of personal abuse posing as argument doesn’t already deter you from acting out in emotional, vulgar, inarticulate ways.

    It’s like those Muslims who react to charges that their religion is violent and uncivilized by, stupidly, forming angry mobs and doing violence. That’s not how you beat an oppressor who is depicting you as an unreasonable infant. It’s how you perpetuate the impression that you are a child in need of limitation. You defeat them by being obviously more assured, restrained, articulate, aloof, witty, decent, and patient than they are. It drives them insane, and wins you the support of all the genuinely best people. MLK had power because he was cool, measured, passionate but compassionate, persistent — utterly counter to the stereotype of the negro man-child — while his supposedly superior adversaries spewed bile and blabber. He didn’t stand toe to toe with the racists calling them “honky” for every “nigger” they spat. He rose above them and carried a standard, while they sank in their own filth.

    I think Dan wants to have the sort of blog where people can practice this higher, cleverer strategy, one where they are not punished and deflected from doing so by people who prefer the lazy, hypocritical route. He wants to set the conditions and controls for a worthy experiment that’s not being tried elsewhere, one more consistent with the ethics of both skepticism and humanism. On the other hand, if a steady stream of name-calling trolls is available here, I suppose they could be regarded as sparring partners to practice this high-minded rhetorical judo on. It can be very satisfying to have someone call you a douchebag, then very deftly and politely demonstrate that the only douchebag-like person in the debate is the one who replaces arguments with epithets.

  • Jay

    “And, quite frankly, I don’t think you can insist that when some MRA thug wanders in and says, ‘Hmm, ARE women really people? I think they are just clever animals!’ that it is ‘unjustifiable’ to treat him with anything less than perfect respect. ”

    Stevarious, are you referring to something I wrote? If so, would you do me the courtesy of pointing it out?

    “A person does not have to use ‘abusive language’ to say something filthy and vile, and insisting that such people deserve the same respect I would give any other commenter is simply indefensible.”

    I agree. I believe that intentional and obvious misquotes and misrepresentations, I believe that intentionally reading bad intent into what other people write is an excellent example of such abusive language.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      Jay, it’s clearly the case that Stevarious is making a claim based on a hypothetical event rather than on your comment here, thus far.

      So, no — there is no reference to anything you have written here.

      (Why do you jump at shadows?)

      I believe that intentional and obvious misquotes and misrepresentations, I believe that intentionally reading bad intent into what other people write is an excellent example of such abusive language.

      You’re but a skerrick away from indulging in that very type of misrepresentation, with this comment.

    • Jay

      John,

      I am not sure what a skerrick is, but after Sally’s attack on me, to paraphrase Robert DeNiro “I didn’t see anyone else here, so I asked Stevarious if by MRA Thug zie was referring to me”

      Which is to say, frankly the language *MRA thug* is precisely the sort of bullying language that divides and ruins dialog, and it is not at all clearly the case *to me* that Stevarious is making a claim based on a hypothetical event.

      On further googling, thanks for “skerrick” I had never heard of it before.

      I would love to have an open honest non divisive debate with ANYONE over who Father’s Rights Activists are, who Men’s Rights Activists are, why they are generally not thugs, how feminist websites often intentionally knowingly misrepresent them, and the bullying language used to silence very legitimate complaints.

      In the language of feminism: sexism = prejudice + power and it’s not clear at all to me that either in a kyriarchy or just at any feminist website that feminist can’t be sexist, totally understand they can be sexist, and totally enjoy be sexist, and bullies.

    • John Morales

      Which is to say, frankly the language *MRA thug* is precisely the sort of bullying language that divides and ruins dialog, and it is not at all clearly the case *to me* that Stevarious is making a claim based on a hypothetical event.

      If you’re not an MRA thug, then Stevarious ain’t speaking about you; and if the claim is not about a hypothetical, then the implication is that some such MRA thug has actually claimed women are just clever animals (as opposed to non-women).

      (You sure you want to go down this road?)

      I would love to have an open honest non divisive debate with ANYONE over who Father’s Rights Activists are, who Men’s Rights Activists are, why they are generally not thugs, how feminist websites often intentionally knowingly misrepresent them, and the bullying language used to silence very legitimate complaints.

      Hm.

      Well, this post is about Dan’s comment policy, specifically about addressing certain objections to it, and in particular “Do Marginalized People Need To Be Insulting In Order To Be Empowered?” — so arguing whether (as you clearly imagine) men (and, specifically, fathers) are such a marginalised group is out of topic.

      (Do you think you can manage to stay on topic?)

    • Jay

      “If you’re not an MRA thug, then Stevarious ain’t speaking about you; and if the claim is not about a hypothetical, then the implication is that some such MRA thug has actually claimed women are just clever animals (as opposed to non-women).”

      Would it be acceptable to you if I wrote feminist thug?

      “Well, this post is about Dan’s comment policy, specifically about addressing certain objections to it, and in particular “Do Marginalized People Need To Be Insulting In Order To Be Empowered?” — so arguing whether (as you clearly imagine) men (and, specifically, fathers) are such a marginalised group is out of topic.”

      One: writing “I would love to have a conversation” is clearly not saying let’s have it in this thread,

      Two: in my view of skepticism, there is clearly room to ask, examine, explore, interrogate, question, “are mens rights groups and men marginalized? And we can discuss plenty of evidence from equity feminist theory, to medical research, to budgeting, to family court statistics, to university curricula, to law that suggests that yes, mens rights groups and men are indeed marginalized. In the language of feminism, Patriarchy Hurts Men Too. In the language of logical fallacies, women being marginalized in society does not mean that men cannot be marginalized as well in society. In the language of feminism the very derailing tactic known as “what about the menz” is a derailing tactic used to dismiss, dehumanize, delegitimize, ignore, silence, and bully threads. As such, that tactic alone seems perfectly relevant for discussion in this thread.

      Three: your language “You sure you want to go down this road?” suggests either you have a preconceived conclusion or perhaps that you are looking for a fight, and not looking for an open, honest, educational debate on the various issues.

      I am not looking for a fight.

      But I do love educational, intellectually honest, open, dialogs and discussions and conversations.

    • Ysanne

      Jay,

      Would it be acceptable to you if I wrote feminist thug?

      This is your valid comparison, the one that pertains to the topic. Because the expression “MRA thug” equates MRAs with thugs, and uses MRA as an insult. Just like “feminist” is often used as a derisive epithet in MRA fora, btw.
      And just as a hint: Lots of thugs and trolls do claim themselves to be MRAs while spewing misogynist and sexist gender-war bullshit, so in the possibly non-representative sample of people identifying as an MRA, your not-antifeminist stance seems to be a bit of an outlier.

      The point about the use of “what about teh menz” to silence and ridicule men’s issues being brought is a valid one on the face of it, but:
      1) It’s not abusive or an insulting epithet. It’s actually an example how one doesn’t have to resort to calling people insulting things to be derisive towards them.
      2) Often it’s used against actual derailing by bringing up a vaguely similar men-related issue in discussions about some women’s issue. Yes there are issues mainly concerning men’s that need to be discussed, no right way for that is not by hijacking a discussion about something that reminds one about the need for this discussion. So context needs to be considered to determine if this phrase is used in a fair or unfair way in a given situation.

      To finish off, I’d like to remark again that Dan’s policy is not about not insulting people at all, or about not writing things in a discussion that may upset other people. It’s about not using insulting epithets to label the opponent as worthless and by extension their arguments as invalid. It’s about accurately describing by what exactly one finds objectionable about the opponent and possibly also their arguments.
      Look at Dan’s blog post before this one to find some examples of the difference between these two ways of insulting someone.

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

      My attack on Jay? When did that happen?

  • John Morales

    [meta]

    One: writing “I would love to have a conversation” is clearly not saying let’s have it in this thread,

    Well, then: it’s irrelevant to this post, no?

    Two: in my view of skepticism, there is clearly room to ask, examine, explore, interrogate, question, “are mens rights groups and men marginalized?

    And that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    (Your hobby-horse is already known, but these are not its pastures)

    Three: your language “You sure you want to go down this road?” suggests either you have a preconceived conclusion or perhaps that you are looking for a fight, and not looking for an open, honest, educational debate on the various issues.

    Leaving aside that it was a parenthetical, it means what it says: do you really want to claim that someone here has actually made that claim about women, rather than it being a hypothetical?

    (You could repudiate that claim, if you (as I do) consider it false, foolish and offensive — but no, you let it lie)

    I am not looking for a fight.

    Your actions belie your words.

  • Jay

    So John,

    In a thread that ostensibly discussed thread civility, instead of being open and embracing, you put on your thread cop hat and start to issue citations of what is on topic, what is not, what is a parenthetical, and what is not, and lo, like so many self-anointed thread cops, we find your parentheticals and asides are on topic, your fighting words now, but that those of the people you disagree with are.

    Okay Thread Officer Morales, I can see where this is going, you got me nailed to as a violator of your Calvinball game.

    Nevertheless, I would love to have an open conversation or series of conversations on whether men today, or fathers today, constitute a marginalized group and whether the language used in threads discussing such issues is needlessly (or purposefully) rude, insulting, demeaning, bullying, often as a tactic to avoid having to discuss issues.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      [1] In a thread that ostensibly discussed thread civility, [2] instead of being open and embracing, [3] you put on your thread cop hat [4] and start to issue citations of what is on topic, what is not, [5] what is a parenthetical, and what is not, [6] and lo, like so many self-anointed thread cops, we find your parentheticals and asides are on topic, your fighting words now, but that those of the people you disagree with are.

      1. It was both ostensible and actual.

      2. I have been (and am) quite open and civil — embracing your idiosyncratic opinions is neither required nor expected.

      3. What? I am commenting on your comment; either I have a case or I do not. Why do you not dispute my contentions?

      (I am not policing, I am commenting)

      4. Not citations, claims — the which you apparently don’t care to dispute (for obvious reasons).

      5. What is parenthetical is in parentheses — you can ignore those without losing any of the substance of the post, since they’re either clarifications or asides.

      6. This is so incoherent that I am at a loss as how to reply, other than to note that I am bemused by it.

      Okay Thread Officer Morales, I can see where this is going, you got me nailed to as a violator of your Calvinball game.

      ?

      This is even more incoherent.

      [1] Nevertheless, I would love to have an open conversation or series of conversations on whether men today, or fathers today, constitute a marginalized group [2] and whether the language used in threads discussing such issues is needlessly (or purposefully) rude, insulting, demeaning, bullying, [3] often as a tactic to avoid having to discuss issues.

      1. You repeat yourself.

      2. Go ahead, then: this is the specific topic of this thread! :)

      3. I’m hardly avoiding discussing the issues you raise when they’re on topic, am I? :)

      (Were you more specific, so would my responses be)

      I quote: “So within the realm of civil discourse, superficially polite but actually harmful language can be spotted and queried, with no recourse to insults necessary.”

  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. “Crocoduck” Dundee

    I believe that how we engage in debate with other people is an ethically serious matter.

    I do believe I’ve finally worked out what is the problem here. I have no wish to “debate” anyone who thinks that my mere existence is a sin; or that I should be a second class citizen; or that I should be their slave or their punching-bag. I want to fight them. And I want them to shut up and go away.

    I can’t understand why anybody *would* want to debate people like that, but hey, whatever floats your boat. Enjoy!

    • John Morales

      Alethea,

      I have no wish to “debate” anyone who thinks that my mere existence is a sin; or that I should be a second class citizen; or that I should be their slave or their punching-bag. I want to fight them. And I want them to shut up and go away.

      [...]

      I can’t understand why anybody *would* want to debate people like that, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

      But the two are not dichotomous, are they?

      Look: I know you well-enough that I reckon you get that Dan ain’t saying not to fight them* nor wish they’d go away; what he’s saying is that there is a way to do this within his rules and that way encompasses the higher moral ground — the battlefield is civil (if disputatious) debate.

      I can’t understand why anybody *would* want to debate people like that, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

      Seriously?

      I think that it’s not that he expects you to want it, it’s that he holds that showing them wrong without resorting to mere dismissal or abuse is the way to go.

      (It’s the way of the philosopher)

      Enjoy!

      I can’t, and that’s a shame — it dismays me a little to know you have not the heart to do it here; alas, I’m not a good-enough person to do it for the right reasons.

      * rather the contrary!

    • Nepenthe

      Have you ever encountered a person who was reasoned out of the belief, for example, that women are like perpetual children and shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

      It seems that the fundamental mistake that the civility police are making is to assume, naturally, that discourse and the style of discourse should be catered to the privileged party in the discussion. That the discussion among feminists and sexual minorities (for example) is focused primarily on the people are not parts of those groups, as opposed to being valid discourse in itself. After all, if a dyke speaks to a dyke, does any one hear if there’s no straight person or man present?

      To say that telling a person who has just come into a discussion among feminists of rape and claimed that, if that second pink bar had shown up, that I should have been strapped down, force fed, and forced to bear a rapist’s spawn to go f*ck themselves is an immoral act is patently ridiculous. This is real to me. This is a real assault. This is not a mere theoretical exercise. When you are violated, one is morally allowed to fight back. There is no calm and rational argument that I can pull out that will convince this person that, no, it would not have been acceptable to torture me.

      This is, perhaps, very difficult to understand if you’ve never actually experienced something like this. If the greatest “dehumanization” you’ve ever experienced is to be called an a*hole, I’m sure it does seem irrational to fight back with words.

  • B-Lar

    Thanks again Dan. I am really enjoying this series. I havent commented much, largely because I am convinced that what you describe is the optimal strategy.

    However, I am starting to believe that this optimal strategy can only be used by those who have disciplined their minds to resist and control their natural responses. I am seeing you as a master who is trying to explain a difficult technique to an novice. The novice simply is not equipped to understand the mechanics let alone apply them successfully.

    Perhaps it is not possible to leap straight to your way of thinking. Perhaps we must all go through the process of discovering how different strategies compare in practice.

  • maureenbrian

    Dan,

    Martin Luther King Jr would have been among the first to tell you that if a group has been asking in civil style for its concerns to be addressed for, shall we say, one hundred years and that civility has done its cause no good at all then the game changes. It becomes gloves off and by any means necessary.

    We already knew there were ignorant and misogynist men but do you know what has been most depressing about this last year? It is the realisation that there were quite so many apparently civilised men who did even realise there was a problem.

    I refer you back to the life story of Bertrand Russell and to the writings of George Bernard Shaw. Your 100 year period of grace is exhausted and, with you or without you, we move on.

    • John Morales

      So, you are claiming that marginalized people do need to be insulting in order to be empowered on the basis that not being insulting hasn’t worked thus far?

      (It may be the case that being insulting for 100 years also won’t work, but that not being insulting for 110 years might.

      In passing, I note that there has been progress over the last 100 years — or do you dispute this?)

    • http://iacb.blogspot.com/ Iamcuriousblue

      Martin Luther King Jr would have been among the first to tell you that if a group has been asking in civil style for its concerns to be addressed for, shall we say, one hundred years and that civility has done its cause no good at all then the game changes.

      Somehow I don’t think calling somebody a “misogynist douchebag” on Pharyngula is the equivalent of a disciplined group of civil rights marchers facing down Bull Conner’s attack dogs.

      It becomes gloves off and by any means necessary.

      I think you’re confusing MLK and Malcolm X.

  • carlie

    I sat and thought awhile, trying to figure out why I “police” the use of sexist/ableist/racist/homophobic/transphobic slurs so much, but bristle so much as being policed on the use of terms like “asshole”.

    I think what it comes down to is the function of those words. Insults serve as designators of bad things; they are a label applied to people in order to shame them in front of others for something the overall society wants to tamp down. In the case of the slurs I oppose, what is being shamed is who someone is, and that’s just wrong. But in the case of behavior, there are definitely behaviors we want to discourage, and those are the behaviors that, when people use them, get labeled with the terms “jerk”, “asshole”, “douchebag”, etc.

    That does mean, I admit, that I have to agree with you on “stupid”. It does refer to what someone is, rather than how they are acting, so I’m going to try to substitute “willfully ignorant” or the like to describe the obstinate behavior rather than the lack of understanding. So you get a win there.

    HOWEVER, I think the other insults (jerk etc.) actually serve an important function in society, because those describe people displaying negative behavior, and we want people behaving in those ways to STOP, and for it to be visibly, obviously socially unacceptable to behave in those ways. Yes, the language is strong, but that’s because if it’s couched in “polite” terminology, then the chastisement might not be noticed, and would therefore not serve its function of deterrence.

  • http://windaelicker.worpress.com mikmik

    King, in keeping with a long tradition of moral thinking, reasoned that an unjust law was not a law and so that violating it was not wrong. When protestors would try to do peaceable exercises that should clearly be seen as morally approvable and would be met with violent force in return, they exposed the inherent, implicit violence of the unjustly ruling order. They baited the unjust order to make its implicit violence explicit in order to maintain and assert itself. And, thanks to television, more people than previously could see this violence clearly for what it was.

    He made things extremely uncomfortable for the powers that be. But he did it through disobedience which was scrupulously civil and which assiduously maintained the moral high ground.

    This is from your objection to six, that abused people have the right to ‘return fire’ with equal force.

    Now, television these days is a source of government propaganda through broadcasters like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and general corporate pandering to the powers that be so as not to insult them, the oppressors, and indeed, the very organizations that are supposed to protect rights to demonstrate. I give numerous and documented abuses, by police on protestors, that have local and federal sanction.

    Furthermore, even if these were effective, the abused employee, or attendee at a conference, or minority waiting at a bus stop, do not have these luxuries, even if they were ‘fair and balanced,’ and indeed, look at the treatment of whistle blowers that get blacklisted and vilified by the governments that purport to protect them.

    Calls for order and civility that operate within a moral, legal, or linguistic system that is inherently unjust are calls to surrender to an unjust system and should be resisted with civil disobedience or–if the oppressive regime is too physically violent–violent revolution as a last resort.

    But this does not mean that legal systems that have within them just mechanisms for fairly adjudicating disputes, wherein the marginalized have legitimate forms of recourse should be met with civil disobedience or with violent revolution. In those cases, citizens should avail themselves of the peaceful means of power however they can.

    We are not in a situation where violence is a recourse. How do you fight police that are armed with the latest technology in ground and aerial(drones) combat? NRA notwithstanding, the people are outgunned, and can, and will, be categorized as terrorists legally paving the way for deeply violent and uninhibited treatment.

    I will continue in 2 hours, or so – duty calls.

  • RINC

    Dan, are we talking about moderated and/or scored debates? Or are we talking about any discussion, including arguments and shitstorms?

    Whats our policy with regard to 101 spaces vs say, 401 spaces?

    Do you have a position on rape culture, patriarchal norms, religiously dominated culture and so forth?

    I don’t like the framing of the question either. Do marginalized people NEED to be insulting? No. Can getting angry and being outspoken and intense be empowering? Yes. Would it be more empowering if you could be civil and listened to as a marginalized person? Perhaps.

    Although that’s sort of a unicorn imo. Its also much more common in small personal discussions as opposed to politics.

    I prefer to use terms like bigoted or ignorant in regards to the religions for instance. But I wouldn’t be adverse to personally insulting them in certain cases and for people who are significantly more impacted by religion than I, I would personally be happy to not police them in their expression.

    I do think you have the right to moderate, in all relevant senses of the work, your personal blog in any way you see fit. I am not so sure that should be allowed in public spaces.

    I think a large problem with certain progressive groups, especially those which embrace identity politics, is that they assert that certain changes must be made which may fuck over an individual, even if they are justified policy wise. Yet they also get angry when such policies are put in place which affect them.

    Some feminists for instance, are perfectly happy to assume about an FRA like Jay, but react with intense hostility when people assume about feminists. And they insist that any attack on feminism is attacking them.

    Note that one poster told Jay that if he wasn’t a certain kind of MRA he should not assume people talking to certain kinds of MRAs were talking to him.

    Yet if one were to say certain things about feminists, I highly doubt and have never seen, a feminist who could let it go without complaining about stereotypes and how they personally aren’t like that. Indeed there is a whole category of feminists blogs and posts which can be summarized as “But Feminism isn’t actually like…”. Just try to apply the argument given to Jay to feminists and see what happens. Its not pretty.

    I can see the same issues with regards to atheism and I know that from this arises the civility argument. Being nasty to someone because you assume certain things about their ideas based on a label can indeed harm acceptance of a new idea. Yet many progressives are quick to write off a person who responds poorly to being nastily attacked for some stereotype. Ones wonders if they see the irony when the situation is vice versa.

    One other issue related to the quick to be hostile set is that many progressives are not any less rigid than a jesus freak bible thumper. If you disagree with them you are human refuse.

    I think that in some cases this is a necessary and acceptable phenomenon, excepting the part where you throw away someone’s humanity in your mind when they react poorly to your hostility.

    I’m sorry about the long post, its almost over. I think that an important issue is the tier of ideological privilege. Ideological privilege is a radical ideologist concept, the RI in RINC, which deals with the idea that knowledge of superior moral understanding, or any other kind of superior understanding, is not in the hands of the individual.

    In some cases a certain level of hostility regarding rhetoric which is on a lower tier of ideological privilege in a certain subject is warranted. Otherwise a group of people attempting to have a higher order discussion will get bogged down by 101 issues of ignorant, note that ignorant is not an insult but a descriptor of lack of knowledge, people who are just not capable of contributing substantially to the discussion.

    In this framework one is an asshole because one appropriates the spaces of people who are not interested in having a low level conversation. To be ignorant of some aspect of social justice does not make one an asshole. To be willfully uncaring of the appropriate place to discuss a certain level of understanding does make one an asshole.

    If you tell someone: “This is not the proper place to talk about that, please go to one of these other places” and they do not do it, you are totally justified in calling that person any sort of name you wish because they have already demonstrated the most critical sign of not wanting to engage.

    This includes times when any discussion is not appropriate.

    As for who decides these things, such as what level of ideas are to be discussed, the quick answer is that the marginalized person does. You cannot require someone to educate you.

  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. “Crocoduck” Dundee

    @John M: *You* might perhaps be able to show them wrong, thought I seriously doubt it, but I certainly can’t. They don’t pay any attention to me, because they think that my mere existence is a sin; or that I should be a second class citizen; or that I should be their slave or their punching-bag. They don’t see me as a debater.

    There is no room for debate. On one side, no recognition of a fellow human with an opinion worth considering. On the other side no willingness to compromise. I am not a second class citizen, slave or punching-bag, and that is 100% NOT up for debate or compromise.

    As noted on many another blog, the trolls don’t learn, it’s all about the lurkers. And so – what? The lurkers should be given the impression that my basic humanity is up for debate? Not happy, Jan!

    • John Morales

      Alethea, your humanity is no less in question than is your existence! :)

      Anyway, unless you plan to follow this blog (cf. the next post) to the pathetic place, the issue is moot.

      (There shall shortly no longer be a ‘here’, but rather a ‘there’)

  • maureenbrian

    Yes, John Morales, I accept that it is theoretically possible that 110 years of not being insulting might work some magic which a mere century has not achieved. This, though, is about fallible human-type people and being human, which assert that I am, I now announce that I have arrived at that stop on the line called “pissed off and without the patience to explain to yet another generation, etc”. I do not claim that this is noble: it is simple fact.

    Besides, most of this conversation belongs in the last couple of decades of the nineteenth century when we had only just achieved a critical mass of women with, say, a secondary education. Even then it was not gentlemanly but it was understandable to ask things like how long can we hold them back? how many extra hoops shall we make them jump through? what are the best ways of silencing women? can I cope with all this change? As I say, not gentlemanly at all but you know that already.

    I come from a place where women got the vote in 1881 and I’m getting on a bit. I get to decide how uppity I’m going to be and whether to say “I want mine now”. Much as I love you, you’re going to have to make a stronger case than it might just get better in a decade.

  • scarfbrush

    You’re ignoring the implicit insults and dehumanization in an argument for oppressive practice.

    For example, if someone says, “women should not have a right to abortion, no matter what.” They are implicitly arguing that women should be forced to give birth by any means necessary. That implies that somewhere, some rape victim should be imprisoned and strapped down, because she will be so desperate to induce a miscarriage that the only way she could be forced to give birth would be through these extreme measures. And that implies that women are not entitled to even the most basic bodily integrity, that it is morally acceptable to torture us, and that we don’t deserve basic human rights. And that implies that we are not human.

    So, just to be clear, you are arguing that people ARE allowed to say that women are not fully human, but we can’t respond by saying, “You are being kind of a jerk right now.” Just to be clear.

  • Onamission5

    My thoughts.

    In a situation where I am not being treated as a person, a calm and swear free argument is not going to be heard. Trying to take the high road is disempowering and gets me trampled. I need to be able to use my ire as a tool. I need to be able to say “Fuck that bullshit that you just said/did.” It’s not because that makes the other person or people more willing to hear my argument, although sometimes an authoritative stand does accomplish those ends, it’s because I’ve got little alternative recourse. If we were on equal footing from the start then sure, I’d be behind the idea that unabrasive conversation is more effective, but we’re not. You don’t know how many times I’ve been outight ignored because I was trying to stay calm and reasonable with my arguments that I have the right to be treated like a person. In that situation, a hearty “fuck this” gets attention more effectively than “please treat me like a person.”

    I am frustrated with a lot of this push regarding language over content. I hear your argument, and agree with parts of it, but I can’t get behind it 100%. I think that the hyperconcern over certain words distracts from the real issues. I worry that once the words douchebag and asshole are struck from the activist lexicon, our opposition is going to focus on those other words next– the ones you think are more powerful because they aren’t swears. I’m seeing it happen already, in fact, on a board where asshole and douchbag have been more or less banned, disingenuously started debates over use of misogyist, racist, and bigot are sidelining conversations on how to deal with misogyny, racism, and bigotry. There’s even arguments about the veracity of the word privilege when used to describe privileged people, FFS, and it’s keeping us from addressing the issues. People who are loathe to give any ground are not going to give ground no matter how nice I am to them, and being nice to them takes away my only tool for self defense.

    I think that the main point you’re missing is how much backlash (for example) someone like me gets for not being ladylike. Don’t be so angry. Be polite. These statements and attitudes have been used to keep disempowered people within the boundaries set up for them by the power group, the threat of not hearing our arguments unless we’re ridiculously polite, when the fact is, they aren’t going to hear our arguments andway and being poilte only makes it that much easier to ignore us. Anger is a tool, and power groups know this. Calling an angry person out on their language is just another way to shut them up and invalidate their rightful indignation.

    Forget the words that disempowered people use to describe the way being disempowered makes them feel. Stop trying to police the way they describe their own disempowerment. Focus on the content of their message. When someone’s standing on my head, asking them, “Please sir, that causes me pain, will you please get off my head?” isn’t going to be half as effective as “Get the fuck off me!” and coming out swinging. Being polite about getting my head crushed just isn’t something I am willing to do just so other people can see how bad the head crusher is.

    I will agree that if another person is making a good faith argument, cursing them out for not understanding a particular point is probably going to put them on the defensive and render then unable to accept whatever else I have to say after. There’s got to be an end point to that, though. This is my LIFE I am arguing for, not a hypothetical, not a theoretical. It directly impacts me on a personal level at every moment.

    It seems to me that the people who are most concerned about the choice of words used to combat oppression are often the people with the least to lose.

  • Stevarious

    Testing, testing, testing…

    Fie on Patheos for not having a preview button!

    • Stevarious

      Testing, testing, testing…

    • Stevarious

      Teeeeeesting…

  • http://iacb.blogspot.com/ Iamcuriousblue

    If this is a matter of occasional frustration, we can of course be sympathetic, especially when the people losing their tempers are dealing with wholly unjust pressures within the larger culture. But losing one’s temper and resorting to denigrating, dehumanizing attacks on others that call them abusive names and express hatred should never be recommended or condoned as a routine tactic.

    I think the problem with the forums that we’re talking about here is not that harsh words get used as an argument escalates, or a good “fuck you” gets told to those who are thinly disguising insult under a civilized veneer. But rather that this has become the go to argumentation style among an overzealous subset of “social justice” bloggers. A quick perusal of this comments section will show just how fast language that is downright abusive is resorted to:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/08/29/legitimate-differences-of-opinion/

    Is it really the case that everybody who was cussed out was a “privileged” individual “standing on the neck” of an oppressed person? Is there any indication that anybody’s mind actually changed by this invective, or did it leave both sides more polarized and even more hardened in their position? The only positive benefit that I can see to any party is that it made some people feel awfully validated to scream at those they perceive to be the worst kind of enemy.

    “And the downside is harsh and underestimated by many of my interlocutors on these issues. When people resort to trying to insult people into agreement or submission, those people typically respond as they would to any other acts of force–with hostility. People listen not only to each other’s reasons but each other’s wills. If you express a will to force and push people to submit where their conscience and reason are unmoving, they respond to you as someone who has no respect for their own reason or their own rights to form their own moral consciences. You start to say, “my position is so valid that I am going to make you subject to it regardless of whether your mind and conscience agree to it”. And in response to that, the authoritarian spirit you express will overwhelm the rational content of your ideas and signal you as someone they don’t want having power over them. People listen to wills, not just words. They listen to whether you argue with reason or try to force your will on others. Reasonable ideas become stigmatized as too radical when their chief proponents seem like people willing to use whatever radical means necessary to impose them.”

    This!

    • http://twopideltaij.blogspot.jp TwoPiDeltaIJ

      This might make you sad, but as one of the libertarians in ‘movement’ atheism, I agree whole heartedly with what you have said here. I do not know if anyone in the movement associated with FTB (or here at patheos) cares that they alienate libertarians habitually, but they do and this is a large reason why:
      “You start to say, “my position is so valid that I am going to make you subject to it regardless of whether your mind and conscience agree to it.”

  • given up

    I see the swearing as a different kind of policing. The “shaming” or “insulting oppressors is the only tool we have” model of profanity just seems the same to me as a refusal to engage people if they are sufficiently different in opinion from you about issues like gay rights/trans rights/women’s bodily autonomy that their views seem morally repugnant. It’s designed to make those people reassess their behavior and articulate different views publicly because their actually-held views are now unacceptable.

    Ostracizing people is fine when they’re a small enough fringe group where you can get away with it – e.g. MRAs, NAMBLA members, whatever – but it doesn’t strike me as a terribly effective strategy in achieving progress when, for example, only 25% of americans think that abortions should be freely available, 20% think the opposite, and the rest are in an incoherent mushy middle.
    (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx). Trying to speak truth to power by pointing out that the people in power act like assholes even when they don’t intend to is going to just engender more assholery from those in power, because you are placing their entire self-identity in dispute rather than a particular policy issue. Of course, for all of these identity politics issues, your identity IS in dispute if you’re on the business end of a bad electorate. Of course we all get exasperated from time to time and swear at people out of anger, especially marginalized people, but acknowledging that fact and embracing it as a strategy are pretty different things.

    I was livid when prop 8 took away my right to marry. I didn’t run up and start calling mormons assholes, though. In addition to being rude, it just lets them feel like martyrs around an incoherent angry mob of sinners. I can think of plenty of mean and critical things to say without resorting to profanity that suggests I’m unable to come up with cogent criticism. If people want to have their feelings hurt when I attack their ideas as backwards and dangerous, that’s their problem, but I don’t see how calling them a douchebag is going to further it.

    The sense I get is that people equate thoughtful polite argument with white cis men who have the luxury of discussing these issues calmly at a distance. If trying to engage people with ideas and thoughtful argument is just an expression of race/class/gender privilege and something suspect instead of something to be embraced, we’re all doomed, especially when the oppressed find themselves increasingly politically empowered as women outperform men and we have a majority-POC nation (well, as to the later, there will doubtless be an icky apartheid phase in the middle as the old order tries to cling to power; witness all of the attempts to disenfranchise the electorate this season).

    But if the new order looks more like Huey Newton or Thabo Mbeki than Nelson Mandela or Gandhi we’ll all be in for a rough time of it.

  • http://skepticink.com/skepticallyleft/ bluharmony

    I, along with most women and minorities I know, should be proof that, absent provocation, this is completely unnecessary. There is nothing to be gained from being nasty to others, especially when they’re fighting for fairness and equality alongside you, and supporting 99.99% of the same causes. That’s more agreement than you’re likely to get in this life. Ever. More than anything else, needless insults and foul language with no substance behind them show what kind of person *you* are. Integrity matters.

    I think, “I enjoy it,” says it all. I do not enjoy hurting others. Period.


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