The JT and Bria Conflict and Why I Usually Don’t Blog About Interpersonal Conflicts

The best moral judgment is not absolutist. It does not blindly apply simplistic, overly broad rules in every circumstance regardless of the consequences. When necessary, the best moral judgment in fact takes into account a whole host of relevant, situational nuances. It assesses each nuance according to any of a range of important formal moral principles. It also assesses the actual and potential consequences of the action to the happiness, suffering, well-being, harm, and overall flourishing of all people involved or effected by whatever is being judged. It weighs the consequences of various kinds of responses to the action too. What happens if we reward this action or do so it in this way rather than that? What happens if we punish it or do so it in this way rather than that?

So in practicing our moral reasoning, thought experiments about hypothetical situations are invaluable. And it is absolutely crucial that our thinking about morality be informed by our best observations and inferences into how interactions among people actually go. We must learn constantly from psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, politics, and countless everyday interactions in order to reason through what kinds of rules, and what kinds of deviations from them, are, in practice, going to be the most conducive to creating happiness, well-being, flourishing in human power, flourishing society, etc. And of course we also need to know what is detrimental to all of this and how to stop it. Only with a good grasp of the dynamics among people can our moral philosophies be true and lead to good actions and worthwhile moral codes and systems.

Now, ultimately, we can never devise an absolutely perfect set of moral rules that would replace the need for the rationally, emotionally, and morally careful judgments of particular moral agents. Situations which are extremely similar could have one difference between them that makes all the difference morally. And sensitive moral reasoners are patient and careful and work out every nuance to make sure they catch everything morally salient and weigh it all together before making important moral decisions or before making consequential judgments about other people’s moral decisions or their moral characters.

This is a big part of why interpersonally it is so bad to be a morally judgmental person. Now, I believe that in the abstract we can have a great deal of objectively defensible moral principles and priorities that it would be outright irrational for anyone who properly understood them to eschew. I will argue vigorously that there really are right answers about these things, at least in principle. And I think that we should be unabashed about vigorously arguing out our moral hypotheticals and pouring over the data from science and the trends we can informally observe in our observations of people in order to figure out more and more about what is usually best or what makes for the best rules of thumb in difficult circumstances.

But consistent with that, I think we must nonetheless recognize that every given person is enmeshed in a life that has countless variables to it. That they act on partial information and under a myriad number of personal, biological, psychological, sociological, political, and historical influences that determine what looks best to them and, in turn, determines their choices. Ascribing a morally condemnable evil will to them can be fairly tricky under such circumstances. People can go wrong for any number of reasons that we can morally have any number of sympathies for.

And, again, as much as I think we should not be shy about promulgating general moral principles as generally for the best, there can be any number of situational factors in a particular person’s life that makes their particular choices either morally recommendable, acceptable, or, at least, morally forgivable given the very particular and unusual matrix of circumstances they happen to find themselves in.

And since the consequences of public moral castigation can sometimes be excessive, I am increasingly averse to morally judging particular people with my platform as a blogger read by thousands of people. This is consistent with me also being a moral philosopher to whom it matters a lot to engage in, host, and encourage vigorous, rational, thoughtful, empirically informed, and self-critical conversation about general issues in ethics and social justice.

There are a fair number of cases where I do feel fairly comfortable making negative moral judgments. Sometimes people do things that I think are quite wrong and I can rationally and fairly show why and the likelihood of there being a relevant mitigating factor obscured from view is very small. Or sometimes I can observe a pattern of behavior and fairly well judge that there is a real character flaw at work. I can make these moral judgments in a way that does not go to unbalanced extremes. I can make these moral judgments without ignoring that these people in most cases also have understandable motivations. I can judge them to be flawed or do flawed things without thinking they mean to do evil for evil’s sake. There are some conscience-deprived sociopaths out there who are indifferent to moral standards, of course. But I can acknowledge a great deal of wrongdoing is done by ordinary, basically well-meaning people with more ordinary moral and intellectual flaws accounting for their ethical failures.

But even in these cases where I feel comfortable making a moral judgment, I rarely want to tear into people publicly. For one thing, I keep myself sensitized to the fact that that’s another real life human being I would be attacking; one with real emotions and potential threats to their social well being that could come from a public thrashing. Secondly, once I make it about that person, I fear that people–and especially the person I directly attacked by name–are going to have a far more terrible time thinking rationally and clearly about the moral issue that concerns me.

This is because there are any number of issues that you and I could sit down and abstractly think over and come to a completely obvious conclusion about, but which we would much more prejudicially assess were we or those we felt close to the interested parties. If we threw out a hypothetical, “What if A does x and B gets offended and does y? Who is right?” Completely hypothetically, knowing all relevant information about A and B, you and I in many cases could very well come to the same conclusion in the abstract. But if in real life it arose that I was A and you were B, or vice versa, we would be strongly inclined to have a judgment that assessed everything in our own favor, regardless of which side we were on.

This is extremely frustrating, because we need to make situational moral judgments all the time, in order to get our moral judgments correct. And yet in real life situations, people are notoriously prejudicial towards themselves. And, like I mentioned above, particular people in very particular judgments might indeed have a number of factors related to their own particular personal situation or their own particular ongoing conflict with a particular person which might completely complicate an otherwise straightforward judgment. In the case of feuds between individuals, families, peoples, etc., you are looking at arguments that compound weeks’, months’, years’, decades’, or even centuries’ worth of moral disagreements, built up over the course of an enormous number of particular conflicts, each with a high number of moral variables that need to get factored in to get the moral judgment right.

This is why when whole peoples or simple individuals feud both can often have a great number of reasons to feel justified in their anger and frustration with the other side. They both can read all they’ve done in the best possible light and all the other has done in the worst.

Now, that’s not to say that someone apprised of all the facts and exquisitely careful rational powers and beholden of an ability to empathize deeply with all sides and weigh everything fairly could not come to some justifiable moral conclusions. But what it means is that wandering into the middle of such a fight and trying to adjudicate it by giving your opinion on just one exchange in an ongoing war is just fraught. Because inevitably both sides will rush in and bring to your attention all the preceding context that complicates this one particular event. And they’re right to do so. So, if you can’t exhaustively treat the event, stage by stage, and with in-depth summations of all that’s going on, then inevitably what you’re going to do is going to be limited.

And what’s really the worth of even attempting this? The more people who get involved in an interpersonal feud the worse the whole conflict gets. When people have been multiplying their grievances against each other and expanding the circles of those aggrieved in the process, the problems just escalate and escalate.

Now for the people in an interpersonal feud, I can understand why it’s so important to them. But the best I can do in such circumstances is assess what sorts of moral principles, priorities, and values we need to ramp up promulgating to prevent such kinds of conflicts in the future or to prevent future conflicts of that form from being ambiguous. In other words, with better principles more widely accepted, some matters that presently are morally difficult to get agreement on can be settled far more easily and quickly. But in the meantime, while people’s values are divided, if they fight over a dicey situation that gives people incentives because of their personal investments to side the one way or the other, some really bad general ethical principles can result as people start rationalizing to protect themselves or their friends.

This is why I would rather keep my writings abstract. People can change their views much more easily when they’re not under personal attack or when the principles argued for are not in their minds obstacles to their goals or their friends winning important a conflict they’re deeply, personally staked in.

So, while in our personal lives we inevitably must make particular, fallible, situationally sensitive moral judgments the best we can despite imperfect information, and while we should constantly be nuancing our general principles in light of new discoveries about how things go all haywire in reality, nonetheless, as much as possible it is better to vigorously debate our values in ways that do not activate people’s prejudicial, team-picking brains, related to specific people in specific conflicts.

So, this sort of reasoning process, among other things, is why I avoid publicly commenting on much of the specifics of the interpersonal conflicts in the blogosphere and instead discuss many of the same ethical issues that are currently contentious in the atheist community on an abstract level. What is important is that we get figure out right from wrong, not that we go around shaming those particular people that are wrong. Focusing on particular people makes it personal, activates sympathy for the person and resistance to the principle that would condemn them, it fetishizes the shamed person as a special monster when often they’re all too ordinary, and it can do disproportionate damage to one individual who is taking the brunt of public anger for wrongs that are actually widespread with plenty of blame to go around. On an individual level, by all means, we must morally oppose the bad people we encounter and even have the criminal ones arrested. But publicly, I think our focus should be on root and branch change from the deepest philosophical levels about how we think to the most tangible systemic levels about how we routinely punish and reward in society.

Now, all this said, some people have thought that various postings on my blog and Facebook in the last couple days were me publicly adjudicating the dispute between JT Eberhard and Bria Crutchfield. I did not at all intend them to be that. But since people thought I was passive aggressively commenting on them, let me break with my general policy against taking interpersonal feuds public or risking escalating already public ones, and say a quick word about what I actually think.

For the reasons spelled out in this post, I would not have done what JT did going to the internet with this conflict. It’s unclear to me the activity on Twitter was going to force this to be a public issue. While I oppose the routinized incivility that is endemic to the blogosphere and certainly would not like to see it spread to conferences, I am deeply sympathetic to the fact that people who deal with a lot of culturally engrained prejudice are inevitably going to lose their cool and that this should not be something they are publicly shamed over. I don’t leap from that to a general principle that all marginalized people are always entitled to berate other people with impunity. I am willing to argue about principles like that. But I would need far far more evidence that Bria was a poisonously belligerent person before I would publicly make a big deal out of what she did. And I am hardly going to assume that on account of witnessing just one argument she was in.

For the record, I loathe intensely the stereotype of the mad black woman. The last 13 years I have lived and tauhgt in Manhattan and the Bronx. This means I have interacted with countless black women, including dating a few and teaching a number I couldn’t even estimate. I’m still waiting to meet my first mythical mad black woman. I haven’t even met the one who errs justifiably on the side of confrontation instead of overwhelmingly on the side of understanding in dicey, racially fraught, interpersonal issues. So the trope of the mad black woman infuriates me personally and I want to repudiate it and disassociate myself from it however I can. And so I understand crystal clear the optics of this situation where people see a paternalistic white man condescending to an angry black woman.

So, I would never have assumed Bria was somehow trying to kick off a trend of conference floor call outs that needed to be stopped. Considering Bria ended with tears especially, I would have seen this as a sincere and raw human moment very much worth affirming, regardless of any concerns about formal incivility. I would have been more cautious than JT about even broaching the subject with Bria. If I even did so, I would have done so only after genuine rapport was established and I would ask her questions about her reasoning process rather than just come out with any alternate perception of events I might have had. And I would only have done that after hearing out and learning from Bria’s anger and affirming her emotions. And even as I gave my alternate perceptions, I would have been artful about posing them as questions to see what Bria thought of them.

While I wasn’t there, I can very well imagine that the woman who asked the offensive question was clueless that it was offensive. I can’t say with any certainty, but I don’t think my automatic assumption given the context would have been that it was hostile. I have run the question by a couple of very liberal white people who seemed to vaguely grasp it might be offensive but still thought it legitimate. That’s not to say they’re right or the black people complaining about the question are wrong. It’s to say that this is probably an issue on which many more white people, even progressives trying not to be racist, need some serious remedial education. I agree with JT that to a serious extent, intent does matter morally and must be taken into account in assessing what people do and in meting out penalties, even if it is not “magic”. I have gone into many ins and outs of the moral relevance and irrelevance of intent here.

Without saying, “my friend cannot possibly be racist”–something I’d never say since I have depressingly many racist friends and family members, I would say that from all indications JT seems to me to be looking at the issue very formally as an issue of “you don’t take someone else’s Q&A to harshly chastise someone who made an honest mistake”. Had that formal scenario been hypothetically raised, in that abstract form, a week ago, everyone would say, yes, that’s a fine principle.

I think JT wants to say that’s a good principle to uphold, even for marginalized people, and I generally agree with that too, even if I can allow for exceptions when we’re dealing with something unplanned and human and sincere as Bria’s remarks sound to me like they were, from reports. I think JT is picking the wrong situation to fight for that principle. And by tying it to this particular dispute so closely he may hurt the cause of creating an ethics that prioritizes the value of civility and ending interpersonal acrimony in the community. I want civility principles and I supported privately JT’s writing to clarify that that’s all he was concerned about here. But I absolutely think it’s better to do it by not making this about this rare, specific, and idiosyncratic situation with Bria.

And I think that it’s unfair to infer that JT does not care about racial justice or women’s rights or any other cause simply because he makes arguments about civility. Yes, JT has a terrible record on civility towards believers. I think he may need to rethink that given what he’s realizing about the problems with incivility in other contexts.

My post the other day defending JT’s ability to have his own anger criticized was not to say that he was blameless in this case but that he was not being a formal hypocrite by pulling someone aside to critique how they express their otherwise justifiable anger. I just made the point that he takes such “pull asides” well when he thinks they’re coming from someone honest and someone who doesn’t invalidate his anger. So, in his mind he wasn’t doing to Bria anything he wouldn’t accept himself on that very specific level. I also wanted to stress that I think JT is admirable in being willing to be friends with people he has serious moral conflicts with.

I do this too, all the time, and so it pains me to see people disowning him as beyond the pale over their disagreement with him here. I have been supportive of him because of that concern, not because I would have done what he did. I think in his mind the question has become about civility and about how we treat those we disagree with in general, and on that, I’m philosophically closer to him.

Now, I can also qualify my remarks by noting the situations between how I criticize JT and how he criticized Bria that make the situations importantly different. I criticize JT abstractly, not when he is hot over a specific situation. While we became friends with me criticizing him regularly along the way, our first personal encounters were not as intense as his with Bria. We’re also two white guys and Bria has every right to not be as automatically open to a “talking to” from a white guy about her anger over race issues. So, all of this is complicated and I probably should have brought it up for nuance the other day. I was just trying to make a plea for not disowning people over mistakes and relay a positive observation about JT amidst an onslaught of criticism coming to him.

Finally, I don’t think JT at all wants to invalidate black anger or women’s anger. I certainly don’t. While I certainly don’t feel racial or gender-based injustice nearly as poignantly on a personal level as people directly impacted by them do, my passion for justice does create a great deal of personal investment in these issues. And it does for JT too. And it is possible for people to burn for justice and yet still have strong, rationally developed, and emotionally bolstered moral views about treating those who we think are morally and intellectually wrong with compassion and civility, at least under certain kinds of conditions.

I don’t want to go back and forth about this interpersonal issue. I sincerely hope this post does not antagonize people and escalate the whole conflict. I want to go back to sticking to my rule against weighing in on these things. But this should give you a sense of the kinds of ways I’m trying to privately balance and assess the things I don’t publicly talk about with specifics.

For much more on my views on civility, see my links here.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

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

  • Lance Finney

    I appreciate your attempt to consider the hypothetical of the situation and your recognition that we have biases that prejudice us when we know the situation in detail and not just in the abstract. I’ve been thinking about that with the other big recent controversy in the community – the PZ/Shermer incident.

    Very sharp lines have been drawn, with some people supporting PZ completely for sharing the allegations, and some saying he is completely unethical. I notice that those who support PZ in this action tend to support him in general, and those who dislike this action tend to dislike him in general.

    So, what if the situation were reversed? What if it was Shermer posting unconfirmed allegations against PZ? Or Thunderf00t against Greg Laden? Would the same people be making the same arguments? Would the Slymepit be saying that Shermer or Thunderf00t had no ethical standing for releasing allegations without proof, or would they be crowing that PZ and Laden were caught and embarrassed? Would the FTB crowd consider these allegations legitimate reason to be more wary of PZ and Laden, or would they give reasons to think the allegations were invented?

    Of course, I don’t know, but I suspect that a lot (probably not all) of the arguments and explanations would switch sides, just like they do occasionally in legal dramas when lawyers find out that a witness whose testimony was thought to be good for one side ends up being good for the other (“The Good Wife” had an extreme version of it at one point last season).

    I think that firm ethical judgments need to be true no matter who the players are, but we humans are really bad at keeping them all straight.

    • Ace_of_Sevens

      I don’t think that’s a good analogy. People’s credibility doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is based on their history. PZ has a history of understanding feminist issues. Shermer doesn’t. For PZ, this was part of a pattern of trying to mitigate assault and harassment at conferences. Since Shermer has no such history, it’s far more reasonable to assume that he was acting on some personal vendetta. That’s not to say it should be dismissed out of hand, but given far less weight.

      Similarly, if Ian Cromwell had said Bria went way overboard when chewing that lady out, people would have taken it far differently than with JT, who has little-to-no history of demonstrating understanding on racial issues.

    • Lance Finney

      Sure, the analogy doesn’t work perfectly – no analogy ever does. I think it’s useful as a thought experiment, though.

  • Melissa Lee

    I knew I liked you for a reason, Dan. You are exceptional in your thoughtfulness.

  • Bugmaster

    If I were to play the anti-civility advocate, I would respond with something like this:

    “Whenever a white person uses a term such as “black-on-black violence”, that person automatically gives up the right to have his/her feelings taken into consideration. In the presence of such blatant racism, feelings are irrelevant, and the person who is perpetrating the racism must be smacked down as hard as possible, and as publicly as possible, so that neither that person nor her/his racist friends would ever dare to utter such sentiments again.”

  • ccmclaugh

    Bria is a personal friend of mine. I’m sure you’ve learned something from your experience with her. But by dragging out your experience with her, and sharing this publicly you are not teaching us what you intend. When are you going to figure out that your persistent public examination of this topic makes you look like a bully? Like a convicted rapist who can’t shut up about how his victim was a great lay. How long is it going to take you to realize that discretion [and maybe a brief and personal apology for your unintended insults] is the best course of action in this matter? Let it go. Revisit it later, if you must, when nerves are not so raw.

    • Ace_of_Sevens

      Your post sounds like it was aimed at JT.

  • Evangeline Claire

    Many people say they don’t understand why people can’t disagree, even when it’s on something involving taking people’s lives. For some people things are not just disagreements…some things aren’t so trivial at all. People actually criticized me for not talking to people who I felt were planning on committing premeditated murder if the chance arose (not talking about abortion. This involves guns). It wasn’t just a disagreement. To me, those people are murderers. Why on earth would I be buddy-buddy with them? It’s horrible.

    Just a thought…because reading this, I’m not sure what it’s about but it seems to imply that not being friends with people even based on serious corruption or being awful is petty and that they should still be friends with them no matter what. There are some things I can’t condone.

    As for racists I’ve talked to them as an acquaintance-opposer but I’m not buddy-buddy with any…I can’t mesh well with them anyway. Their outrage and thoughts in response to certain things fascinate me. What do I have to say? Only things that would anger them more…”Uh, actually I don’t think it’s cool to say she deserves to be beaten” or “Im just going to sit here because I can’t empathize with your anger on two people having a relationship or white men somehow being exploited as if they could never want to date non-whites otherwise.”

    Awkward.

  • Evangeline Claire

    Another point…I love hypotheticals. If a hypothetical applies perfectly to a moral situation someone has views on, and they are inconsistent, it shows they may need to examine their views.

  • ahermit

    My thoughts? I think it’s an error to characterize this as simply an interpersonal
    spat, there are some serious issues involved here around the inclusivity
    of the atheist/skeptic movement

    And while I appreciate the desire to be fair to everyone involved frankly at some point the attempt to stay above the fray and keep things on a Vulcan-like theoretical plane begins to look a little like moral cowardice. It’s no good assuming everyone’s intentions are pure if their actions are poisoning the atmosphere, as JT’s insensitive reaction and his subsequent doubling down on the original error has done here.

    • mikmik

      I guess you missed the part where Dan criticized JT for acting unfairly.

      My thoughts? You are a consequentialist:

      It’s no good assuming everyone’s intentions are pure if their actions are poisoning the atmosphere
      It’s no good assuming anything, period. Yet you would assume things about JT yourself. I’m not even going to get into the difficulties of assuming motive when you cannot know the subjective reasoning behind a person’s actions. I am distressed at the incredible amount of mind reading taking place in these situations.

      I am not saying your opinion is right, or wrong, just that making assumptions without considering all possible scenarios is disingenuous.

    • ahermit

      I guess you missed the part where Dan criticized JT for acting unfairly.

      Didn’t miss it; just think that by the time he gets around to a heavily qualified, half hearted “tut-tut” the chance to make a truly meaningful contribution has been lost. Seriously, why is it so hard to just say to JT, plainly and simply, “you screwed this one up…fix it and do better next time.?”

      I don’t think I’m making any assumptions about motivation, by the way. I’m not assuming that the lady who asked the question had bad intentions, or that JT did or that Bria did. But the first two of those people need to do a better job of listening to the third. I’m sure JT had the best of intentions, in fact, but his actions have been counterproductive.

      And remember, this isn’t just an “interpersonal feud” as Dan characterized it. It’s not just about hurt feelings, it’s a manifestation of a deep rooted failure to apprehend the experience of a whole demographic who could and should be enthusiastic members of our community, but who still feel marginalized by actions like those of the un-named questioner and her defender JT.

    • Evangeline Claire

      Is it insensitive despite an opinion that who he was criticizing was in the wrong? Because if they were I wouldn’t care,,everyone needs criticism sometimes. No special pardons.

      But remembering who you are it is probably not your opinion that the criticized was in the wrong in the first place.

    • ahermit

      It was insensitive in a number of ways; first for not appreciating the depth of hurt that lies behind Bria’s “outburst”, second for presuming to take on the role of speaking for the people whose time was taken when they weren’t actually bothered by it; it was insensitive to make it public by tweeting about it before speaking to Bria, insensitive to call out Bria by name while continuing to grant anonymity to the woman who asked the racist question, insensitive to respond to criticism by doubling down on his presumptions instead of taking time to consider all of the above.

      As for whether Bria was “in the wrong” I wasn’t there so I can’t judge directly, but I have noted that most of those who were there and who have spoken up don’t think she was out of line. And even if she did poke a toe over the line of decorum its JT who took a flying leap into incivility.

    • Brian G.

      Bria wasn’t in the wrong. She spoke about what happened during someone else’s Q&A, with permission from that speaker, and it wasn’t five minutes of her “tongue lashing” the woman who asked the racist question.

  • mikmik

    Just minutes before I came across your article here, Dan Fincke, I was feeling large frustration about the dearth of critical principles in the formulation of strong opinions that I see happening, I think, more and more. More specifically, it was over a proclamation to boycott a complex internet site(coughpatheoscough) on the say so of some acquaintances/colleagues and some quotes that were selected by others.

    It powerfully struck me as antithetical to the principles of freethought and critical thinking. So I was looking up the definition of critical thinking, and I was struck by the inclusion of fairness as one of the parameters:

    fairness n.
    Synonyms: fair, just, equitable, impartial, unprejudiced, unbiased, objective, dispassionate
    These adjectives mean free from favoritism, self-interest, or preference in judgment. Fair is the most general: a fair referee; a fair deal.
    Just stresses conformity with what is legally or ethically right or proper: “a just and lasting peace” (Abraham Lincoln).

    Fairness means giving the benefit of doubt until ALL the facts are known.

    This is fantastic article you wrote, and you are one of the most fair people I know, or even know of. Thanks!

    Mike Laing

  • Ace_of_Sevens

    I think what JT isn’t getting here is that this is a situation where there is no video that’s been made available. He hasn’t built up the kind few credibility on racial issues where people are going to take his word for it, especially against conflicting accounts. He seems to have not realized this was going to be perceived as a racial issue, but he should have known better.

    There is no argument he can make that would convince people any more than that William Lane Craig could make an argument that would convince us God exists. This isn’t the sort of thing you can prove with reasoning. You need corroborating witnesses or video.

    There’s a long history of people saying black women are being too emotional and angry without good basis for saying so, especially when they complain about racism, and it takes more than one white guy with no history of talking about racial issue’s’s word to convince us that it’s a legit criticism in this particular case.

  • Liralen

    I really don’t get why your friend thought it was a good idea to play church lady. The most charitable thing I can think of is that it seems more than a bit presumptuous for a white male to chastise a black female over her reaction to a racist remark. I certainly wouldn’t so presume, and I’m a minority female myself.

    If he had simply disagreed with her opinion, that’s an entirely different matter. But he didn’t. In his blog, his first emphasis was on “angry tongue lashing” and “diatribe”.

  • smhll

    “Considering Bria ended with tears especially, I would have seen this as a sincere and raw human moment very much worth affirming, regardless of any concerns about formal incivility. I would have been more cautious than JT about even broaching the subject with Bria. If I even did so, I would have done so only after genuine rapport was established and I would ask her questions about her reasoning process rather than just come out with any alternate perception of events I might have had.”

    Thank you for saying this.

  • Laurence

    I thought this was a pretty good post for the most part, but I do have two critiques. There are issue that some people think of as completely abstract, but when others speak about them, they are not abstract at all. For instance, it is much easier for me to discuss the morality of abortion in the abstract, but for my girlfriend, who is afraid of losing her right the choose, it is never an abstract conversation for her and she usually and rightly gets emotional whenever the topic is brought up. The abstract isn’t always the abstract for many people.

    Also since I’m much more sympathetic to consequentialism, I think intent is much less important than you do. This applies as much to me as anyone else. I’ve come to the point that whenever I say something that upsets someone, my intentions matter a whole hell of a lot less than the fact that I have upset them. I could easily just say that my intentions were pure, so I am free of any moral responsibility for my actions, but I think that is a huge cop-out. I think we should take responsibility for our actions regardless of our intentions. Of course, there are a gazillion factions that influence our level of responsibility. But, in general, I think intentions matter very little. If your actions have horrible consequences, then it matters very little to the people who are affected by your actions whether you intended to or not.

  • ThePrussian

    May I note that it is not Bria, but the insufferable Greta Christina who decided to stir this up? A civilized debate, even a spirited civilized debate, has been made effectively impossible by those who are absolutely determined to think with the blood.

    There is a reason many of us hung our shingle somewhere else.

    • ahermit

      Seems to me spirited debate is exactly what’s happening here.

      Greta came to the party rather late to be accused of being the one to stir this up…especially since her only post on the matter was made in response to JT quoting her to defend himself.

      Are you sure you aren’t letting your personal animus obscure the facts?

    • ThePrussian

      The facts rather inspire my personal animus. Greta immediately on joining the argument decided to substitute physical characteristics for building a real argument, along with the crudest and most vulgar insinuations. Now back in the day we had names for this, but apparently they are not polite any more.

      I saw a great deal of this long before it ever reached JT or Camels with Hammers. That is why I decided I wanted no part of it.

    • ahermit

      Why do you accuse Greta of being the one “stirring things up” when she was simply responding to JT’s use of her own words?

      And where is she “substituting physical characteristics for … real argument?” I see her parodying JT’s comment, and correcting his misunderstanding of her earlier arguments but I’m not sure what you’re talking about there…

    • ThePrussian

      Right from the get go she drags in race, sex, orientation and so on. In short, she argues that his views are invalid, not because of his views, but because of his being the wrong sex and race to make those arguments. Having thus established him as inescapably inferior, she has also excused herself from the need to deal rationally with his rather careful arguments.

      There’s a name for this sort of thing.

    • ahermit

      I don’t think that’s a fair representation of her comments at all. His gender and race are relevant when we’re talking about him choosing to lecture a person of different gender and race about how she should react to an ignorant racist comment directed at another Black woman, not because they “established him as inferior” but because he clearly hasn’t had he same experiences and and can’t therefore presume to understand how the woman in question should feel better than she does.

      Even if you disagree with that assessment it is not the case that she is the one who chose to “stir the pot.”

      As for JT’s “rather careful arguments” I think you’ve missed the boat here again. His argument was certainly not careful, in that he left out a whole lot of relevant information (eg: that the speaker whose time was taken did not object and that that he and the others on the panel support Bria, that JT was calling Bria out on Twitter before “pulling her aside” to lecture her, that JT himself left the room and wasn’t present for most of the alleged “outburst”…)

      To me that looks more self serving than rational.

      (edited to ficks speling and; punctuation?]


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