On Jason Thibeault, homophobia, tone, and trolls

I’ve put off writing about this for too long. But first of all: no, I don’t think Jason Thibeault is a homophobe. Not exactly. Second of all: I agree with him that you don’t have to always be nice. I think it’s important to be able to back up your claims when you’re harsh on someone, but when you can back them up, have at it!

In spite of those two things, I was deeply embarrassed by this blog comment of his and his subsequent “apology” for it. First the blog comment:

Unfrocked is right, I made a fallacious argument. DJ Grothe is not LITERALLY a douchebag, as he does not store vinegar or other potentially harmful chemicals in his person for the purposes of “cleansing” a woman’s vagina. In fact, I hear he wants little to do with women’s vaginas.

Jason has since explained this as a “rather oblique suggestion that DJ Grothe’s bringing up his homosexuality as a shield might actually be a tell that he thinks he can’t possibly be a bad ally to women.” And, um, while I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt on these things (see: imporance of being able to back up your claims), I have a very hard time seeing how the comment can be read in the way Jason insists it was intended.

Rather, the comment seems to follow the rhetorical form of “Okay, bad thing A isn’t literally true of him/her. But bad thing B is! Zing!” And the “bad thing B” slot is being filled by “DJ is gay.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Jason thinks there’s anything wrong with being gay, though. What I suspect happened is that he was so mad at DJ that he let the blind-mad part of his brain go searching for any rhetorical weapon he could use, it went “Hey! Lots of people think being gay is a bad thing! Let’s use that!” and Jason was too blind-mad for the saner part of him to think, “but there isn’t anything wrong with being gay.” I sure as hell don’t think anger is always bad, but sometimes it makes people stupid.

It’s embarrassing to see a fellow FTBer apparently engaging in that kind of rhetoric, even if he’d know better in calmer moments. But Jason’s “apology” was, if anything, even more embarrassing. Background: Justin Vacula, a leader in the NEPA (Northeastern Pennsylvania) Freethought Society, had been arguing with Jason about Jason’s use of the word “douchebag” and Jason’s alleged “incredibly poor conversational habits.” Justin was also apparently one of the first people (the first person?) to point out the apparent homophobia of the comment quoted above.

So in his “apology,” what does Jason do? Say he may have unintentionally spread an anti-gay meme, but at the same time complain that a “vacuous shitbag troll is running around telling everyone that I’m a homophobe based on a reading of my comment” and announce that “the troll is still a vacuous shitbag, and is still banned here.” I can see three things wrong with this.

First of all, as Russell Blackford has argued (not in the context of this flap, but in the context of the previous Gnu Atheist/accomodationist flap), tone matters. Now normally, I don’t think it matters very much. It’s not the main thing, and people too often complain about tone when it’s the content they don’t like. So I actually tend to disagree with most of what Justin was saying in the thread in question, and don’t give a shit about Jason calling DJ a “douchebag.”

But you know one situation where tone really, really matters? When you’re apologizing. When you’re apologizing, it’s really important you use a tone that suggests you’re actually sorry, and referring to the person who called you out on your mistake as a “vacuous shitbag troll” fails to do that.

Astonishingly, in his post on not being nice Jason linked to his “apology” with the text, “Here’s what an apology looks like, for reference.” Really Jason? If DJ Grothe wrote an “apology” where he called the person who called him out on whatever he was apologizing for as a “vacuous shitbag troll,” that would do the slightest thing to improve the situation? That Jason would not only “apologize” this way, but refer to his apology as a model for other people’s apologies, suggests a remarkable cluelessness.

Another issue is the use of the word “troll.” As was suggested in an actually pretty good thread at Almost Diamonds, there seems to be a widespread understanding of “troll” as “someone who is consistently disingenuous” (e.g. saying something they don’t really believe just to start a fight). But too often, “troll” seems to mean “anyone who disagrees with me too much.” In a previous thread, I had challeged Jason to explain what he means by “troll” and he responded:

I mean a coordinated attack by a set of sockpuppet accounts at a number of sites who morph as they’re banned to say ridiculous bullshit about people like Ophelia and Greta and Jen and Stephanie as though somehow they’re endorsing Taliban-like behaviour. That’s what I mean by “troll”. What do you take it to mean?

By this definition, Justin Vacula pretty clearly wasn’t a troll. After getting banned by Jason, he posted some comments signed “VacuousShitbagTroll” and “‘disengenuous asshole’”, but that’s not sock puppetry because his identity was completely obvious (and while I’m generally in favor of respecting people’s right to moderate their blogs however the hell they want, Justin’s wanting to respond is understandable in this case). Furthermore, I see no evidence that Justin was being disingenuous; the fact that he signed his real name to his comments argues in favor of his meaning what he said.

Like, I really don’t care for Alvin Plantinga, but if he inexplicably showed up in my comments to argue with me about my tone, I might call him a lot of things (including “hypocrite,” which I call him in the linked post), but it wouldn’t occur to me for a moment to call him a troll. Now… if people want to degrade “troll” into a general-purpose epithet, whatevs. But in that case I’ll know that when they call someone a “troll,” it gives me very little information about the “troll.”

Finally, Jason’s “apology” post did contain a tiny bit of actual self-awareness:

When people who have shown every intention of manufacturing controversy just happen to be right about something, I have this tendency to not believe them because of all the dross they’ve spat out before. I sometimes trust my pattern recognition all too much. The fact that this troll is presently spamming both DJ and all my compatriots, and has been for two days, is galling, but must not blind me to the fact that some people could find that offensive. (Bolding mine. The last “that” here refers to the “wants little to do with women’s vaginas” comment.)

The fact that he said what I bolded, I think, makes for a third reason the “vacuous shitbag troll” comment is unfortunate. It suggests Jason is unlikely to actually apply the lesson about being cautious about pattern-matching to “bad guy” in the future. When you realize you have a problem like that, it’s probably time to take a break from calling people “vacuous shitbags.” Not that you should never do that, just that this situation would’ve been a good time to take a break from it.

I highlight this aspect of the “apology,” because I really hope Jason does apply that lesson more in the future. I think Jason has some real issues here, but things like this give me a tiny sliver of hope that he’ll eventually become genuinely aware of them and fix them. I can think of a couple other examples of things that have given me hope here, such as Jason’s post “Vilifying Dissent” (he was against it), even though he later inexplicably walked back from it (I’ve read entire comment thread on that post, and I still have no idea what arguments there might have changed his mind).

In fact, my sliver of hope was actually enough to make me consider writing Jason about this privately. But… I eventually decided it needed to be addressed publicly. Because I’m embarrassed by it, more so than in my previous disagreements with other Freethought Bloggers (none of which involved calling anyone a “vacuous shitbag”). And also because quite a few people outside of Freethought Blogs, including Russell Blackford, whose writing I greatly respect, have expressed concerns about it.

Not that I agree with everything that’s been said about Freethought Blogs in this area. Jeremy Stangroom, for example, has complained about Freethought Bloggers having “attacked and ostracized” Chris Mooney, whereas I think Mooney largely deserved what he got. But that’s no reason to ignore genuinely ugly behavior when it happens… especially when it comes from someone you share a domain name with.

Note: Since I suspect the comments on this post may get heated, let me direct your attention towards the comment policy. I err on the side of not moderating people, but don’t be a total uh, douche.

Note #2: A previous version of this post said, “Jeremy Stangroom, for example, has complained about Freethought Bloggers having ‘bullied’ Chris Mooney.” On Twitter, Stangroom emphasized that he actually said “attacked and ostracized,” though I’d point out that one of the tweets in question had the tag #bullies.

How selfish are voters?
Analogies for animal rights: civil rights vs. the antiwar movement
Notes on Robert Fogel’s Without Consent or Contract
Don’t make excuses for homophobia that you wouldn’t make for racism
  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I agree. I’ve seen plenty of accusing people of trolling as if it were an argument in itself rather than a conclusion after someone has spent a couple rounds straw-manning you, and moving goal posts and being concerned. Not picking your position while carefully avoiding taking any of their own and getting greatly offended if anyone tries to make inferences as to their position is another classic sign. A troll is someone who wants to bait the person they are talking to rather than having a productive conversation. Arguing in itself, even if accompanied by jerkishness, is not trolling.

  • Emburii

    This didn’t even really ping my radar compared to how he treated Josh; I don’t think Jason’s a homophobe, but he’s got a lot of straight privilege that he could be working harder on.

  • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

    I agree with you, but (‘Yes, but’!) I didn’t see that comment by Jason as expressing any sort of homophobia. He’s clearly not that type of person. I just saw it as a bad joke that only appeared homophobic.

    I found it slightly contradictory to call someone ‘vacuous’ while it was their comments that provoked the apology you’re making!

    I disagree with you on one other point: I didn’t like ‘douchebag’. I just don’t think there’s any point to calling someone names like that. They add nothing to the argument, and only succeed in getting people riled up and emotional. This causes distractions, ad hominem-style argumentation and further name-calling. I doubt it’ll make D.J. take you seriously either (if you write like that), and isn’t that the point?

    Both ‘sides’ are guilty of this, I’m sorry to say.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

    Well thanks for “trying”, Chris. Now your new buddies from ERV’s have a new place to slander me.

    And you’ve still gotten a very important fact wrong — I explained in my very next comment exactly what I was referring to, the fact that DJ has preemptively brought up his sexuality THREE TIMES prior to my making that post, as a shield against the thought that he might be insensitive to women because he exhibits male privilege. DJ thought his being gay means he understands what women go through, and yet he’s still characterized the harassment that women reported as “regret” about their “sexual exploits”, and as “locker room talk”. Do you know what any of that rhetoric means? Do you know how dismissive of women’s actual experiences and how insensitive that makes him? And do you understand why his bringing up his being gay was actually out of line on his part?

    Three times.

    Then I mention his gayness as a way to explain that I don’t “literally think he’s a douchebag”. Then I walk that back, because people I know and trust, people like Natalie Reed, are more concerned about the idea that I’m saying that all gays are misogynists — because that’s apparently the actual damaging meme I stepped on.

    So I write the apology to any homosexuals who either took the comment devoid of context as an attack on them (who notably were largely silent on this — many of whom have even said things like Emburii’s “this didn’t even ping my radar”, though I don’t know if Emburii’s gay hirself). I make it explicit that my apology does not cover DJ who still hasn’t walked back his “they’re just making locker room talk” nonsense, or Justin Vacula, who at that point had been spamming people throughout the community for two and a half days (and who thought my explanation that DJ brought it up as a shield made it WORSE). And that Vacula, despite being put in moderation, went on to morph to avoid the ban to tell me how horrible I am, and continued to spam us all with the same questions over and over to “clarify” exactly how homophobic I was.

    And despite the fact that DJ had brought it up as a shield three times, I still said “I’m coming from a privileged position and have no right to make this argument myself”. And yet, because people like you keep bringing it up, I still have to defend my comments in that context, despite being in the privileged position that I am, where I can’t make those arguments myself.

    You should have damn well talked to me privately first, Chris. If you weren’t willing to take my explanation at face value, I’m sure I could have shown you the places where DJ made those exact comments in previous fights.

    Not that it would have mattered, because you’d still project more animosity onto my words than was there. Because TOOOOONE.

    Meanwhile, where’s your disapprobation of Blackford’s “Talibanesque”? Or DJ’s extraordinarily polite wordings that still mean “women were lying about harassment because they decided after the fact that they regretted having sex with people”?

    In short, thanks for reaching for the water to put out a long-burning fire but actually throwing gasoline on instead. I look forward to the shit slung my way in this thread.

    • real horrorshow

      I look forward to the shit slung my way in this thread.

      And you will deserve every turd of it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

        Please mind the “try to say something of substance” rule.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

      Other half of the “either/or” construction in paragraph 5: “or who felt that I was slandering gays in general as misogynist.”

      “real horrorshow”: now where have I seen that name before. HMM.

      • real horrorshow

        Well, you might have read “Clockwork Orange” recently.

        Or it might have been when you deleted/altered my posts on your blog while letting abusive replies to them stand, and then banned me so that I couldn’t point this out, you gutless, censorious little creep.

        Which is it, do you think?

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

          A) false dichotomy — I saw you at Ophelia’s.
          B) Your current IP/email/name has never posted on my blog.
          C) The only person’s comments I have ever edited was Chris Hever’s, after he made legal threats. And I edited them by replacing them with [REMOVED AFTER LEGAL THREATS].

          So if you believe I’ve moderated you, under what name?

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Then I mention his gayness as a way to explain that I don’t “literally think he’s a douchebag”.

      I’m sure the fact that you did not literally think DJ was a douchebag was obvious to everyone, and there was no need to bring up his “gayness” to explain it.

      Russell’s comment was hyperbole, and obviously so. Probably would’ve been better to be careful to avoid that in a situation that obviously has the potential to explode into a flamewar at any moment, but it was clear what he meant and I stand by the last things I’ve said about the details of particular policies (namely rule about booth staff clothing –> probably harmless but not a great idea, rule against sexualized language –> pretty stinky idea).

      And I think your claims about what DJ really meant, even though he never said it, are unworthy of comment.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

        I strongly advise you get primed on the order of events here. Including when DJ himself clarified his comments and yet still doubled down on the most offensive ones. Don’t trust my synopses either, since I’m the one telling you you’re wrong. Click through to the events in question. DJ does not come off all roses and sunshine — he literally does not take any of the people reporting seriously. Not until there’s sufficient community backlash against him does he walk any of it back, and he literally only apologizes to Rebecca Watson while making everything else he’s said about everyone else worse.

        And yes, go look at the arguments Blackford made, because what you described is not what Blackford was arguing about.

        I’m sure your lack of being informed won’t keep you from fanning these flames though. You’ve assiduously ignored every time someone’s told you you’ve failed to read for comprehension thus far.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

        Additionally, I’m amazed that you defend Blackford’s “tone” arguments while claiming that his poor tone was “hyperbole”.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          My feelings about tone are complicated. Here’s what I wrote in response to Russell’s post on tone at the time it was written.

    • Emburii

      I am primarily attracted to my own gender, though I am married to someone of the opposite sex and thus am given some straight privilege. One of my only two issues with you is the way you treated Josh after he reacted to someone putting his relationships (and what could have been mine, too) to state’s rights, like voting districts or tax levies instead of basic human rights. I realize it’s not a personal, visceral matter to you and thus his anger felt off-base, but he was right and you were wrong and the ‘talking past’ flailing afterwards made no more sense there than it did when Justin Griffith invoked it.

      Despite that, though, I didn’t consider this comment a big deal, partly because I’ve heard Dan Savage, a gay sex columnist, make comments in the same vein both serious and joking. As well, minority status does not automatically equate to lack of bias and DJ’s using his sexuality in the discussion to that end felt irrelevant at best. Your comment didn’t feel malicious, just an unfortunate observation given your privilege. Nor did your apology feel insincere; awkward, yes, and you probably should have just excised the paragraph rather than tried to restate, but not deliberately hateful. Certainly not as hateful as some ERVite talk, as you rightly point out.

      Christ Hallquist, while I do agree with you that ‘troll’ is an overused term and I’ve seen it used to dismiss honest question, you should also be aware many of the people using it are more sensitive (and rightly so) because they have to deal with ‘questions’ and ‘concerns’ every day of their life and they may not have the energy to break down an argument. A rape victim may not have the energy to deal with ‘well why did you get drunk with with the abuser’ for the hundredth time. A woman who’s dealing with harassment at the office may not want to get into a knock-down drag-out about whether it fits the dictionary definition. To be able to dismiss those feelings, to be able to look at an argument dispassionately, is a form of privilege all its own that you as well need to take a good long look at.

      • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

        To be able to dismiss those feelings, to be able to look at an argument dispassionately, is a form of privilege all its own that you as well need to take a good long look at.

        You call it ‘privilege’ – I call it ‘skill’. I’m finishing up a Philosophy MA and we’re taught that one must always dismiss feelings and look at arguments dispassionately. Yes – be aware that other people might be influenced by society in various ways, but that’s a good reason why one should always examine the arguments as they are, rather than whether or not we like the conclusions they lead to.

        • Emburii

          It is the nature of privilege that you wouldn’t be able to see the flaws in your attitude, though, or may ignore more abstract concerns. There is no way to get rid of emotion, one way or the other, and trying to act as though it doesn’t exist or invalidates an entire side of the argument is a mistake.

          Now, I do agree that in a formal environment your point about being able to make decisions dispassionately has some validity. In a more casual environment, such as everyday discussion or blog talk, it’s less ‘skill’ and more tone-deafness. People are not always policy, and to treat every discussion as ‘start from zero independently triple-verified facts only’ is going to do more damage than good for those people who actually want to get something done.

        • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

          There is no way to get rid of emotion, one way or the other

          Of course – I’m not saying that we always do it perfectly, just that we need to always try to do so, as best we can.

          • Emburii

            Agreed, but one of the things that I think you sometimes miss is that emotion can actually help a position. Not always, defensiveness is universally terrible, but someone being incredibly upset at a remark is an indication that this is an issue that needs to be discussed in depth.

            I have to leave for a little while, but I expect this will still be here when I get back. I’ll elaborate more then.

          • Emburii

            Elaborating, as promised:

            When I heard about the entire Elevatorgate bit, what really struck me was how defensive people got over Rebecca Watson’s simple ‘Guy’s don’t do that’. There are a number of ways to read that, including the meaning she seems to have meant, ‘I am offering this as advice for people who might be in that situation and are curious to think what the person they’re asking is thinking’. Instead, several people took it as ‘Never hit on a woman ever and I feel authorized to act as thought police on this matter’. That overreaction and its subsequent distortion, though, that emotion, says less bad things about Rebecca Watson and a lot more about some of her detractors, including that maybe they’d initiated a similarly awkward situation and didn’t like to feel guilty or thoughtful over it. Instead, though, many of the claims have been that the other side, that her supporters, are the ones being emotional and pointless.

            And maybe we are, but it doesn’t mean our point is worthless. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t this misogynistic culture that shapes people’s responses, but some of the loudest voices on ERV are also the nastiest on this point. And then people get defensive, and then sides get drawn, and it’s all nasty and ugly on both sides as you point out. But the irrational emotional response did not start with Rebecca Watson herself, and yet the call for ‘dispassionate argument’ always seems to focus on her instead of the reaction and what could be wrong with it.

            When DJ Grothe called comments by harassed people ‘locker room exploits’…that’s a loaded phrase, one he has not yet apologized for. Emotion at that, anger at wrongs not being taken seriously and motives being mischaracterized, is not inappropriate. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, and it doesn’t invalidate the point that such bad faith on his part does way more harm than good and should be amended.

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


            Although it might be best not to bring up Elevatorgate again, I think you aren’t fairly representing it. Most people weren’t that upset with “Guys, don’t do that.” What they WERE upset about was Watson saying that she hated it when guys “sexualized” her like EG did. It was that statement specifically that Stef McGraw called her out on — I still have the quote on the summary of it on my blog, even though the original post doesn’t like up anymore — and it was that comment by McGraw that pushed Watson to claim that McGraw was supporting misogynistic attitudes in a forum that both denied McGraw a way to easily respond AND linked her with extreme misogynistic views. Some people then called Watson out for both the sexualization comment and her calling out of McGraw, Dawkins wandered in, all hell broke loose.

            So, to say that the irrational emotional response didn’t start with Watson might be misrepresenting things a bit. McGraw didn’t seem all that irrational or emotional to me, and Watson was clearly angry at McGraw and McGraw’s comments.

          • Emburii

            Responding to Verbose Stoic here, since there’s no way of nesting past this post.

            Is she not allowed to dislike being sexualized, then? To ‘call her out on it’ DOES seem wrong, it’s basically saying that people’s right to see her as a sexual being and let it show in their behavior or choices supersedes her feelings on the matter. That’s a particularly selfish and well, hateful position to take, though I would like to see Stef McGraw’s actual post on it.

            Nor do I particularly see Rebecca Watson as being out of line in addressing one of her critics; perhaps keeping it to Internet comments might have made it less of a problem, but to my mind that’s the only caveat. As skeptics it’s our duty to disagree with people when we think they’e wrong, and Rebecca Watson chose to publicly disagree with what Stef McGraw publicly said about her. Again, though, I wouldn’t mind a link to Stef McGraw’s content to double-check.

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


            McGraw’s challenge was over whether that counted as sexualization at all.

            Anyway, here’s my copy of McGraw’s quote from my post on it, but the post it refers to doesn’t come up anymore:

            “Watson is upset that this man is sexualizing her just after she gave a talk relating to feminism, but my question is this: Since when are respecting women as equals and showing sexual interest mutually exclusive? Is it not possible to view to take interest in a woman AND see her as an intelligent person?”

            So, there’s clearly a disagreement here, but McGraw’s position is indeed one that has been advanced by feminists in the past.

            Anyway, my summary post is here.

          • Emburii

            Ah, I remember why I disagreed with her on that part now!

            Said individual had been in the bar when Rebecca announced she was going to sleep. Now, it’s possible he didn’t hear that, but she had no way of knowing and as part of the broader context she pointed out that, if he had heard it, he was making a sexual situation out of an instance where she’d specifically aid she wasn’t interested, thus prioritizing his needs over her stated desires. McGraw did not adequately counter that point, and I can understand a certain exasperation in the responses from her lack of contextualizing the situation.

        • F

          You call it ‘privilege’ – I call it ‘skill’.

          Wait for it…

          I’m finishing up a Philosophy MA

          Nope. No privilege to see here. Move along now.

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

            Yeah, really, all that book learnin’ is an outrageous privilege. What do you think this is, one of those elitist rationalist blogs?

            Hey, I did graduate work in biology – does this mean I should be 86′d from the new, improved “social justice” version of the “skeptics” movement for my “privilege”? That’s an awfully strange version of a “skeptical” movement if so.

            All kidding aside, unless somebody’s going the academic elitist or “I’m an expert on your oppression” route, that kind of argument comes across as just straight-up anti-intellectual.

          • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

            When did I say that my ability to afford an MA wasn’t a result of some sort of privilege? I’ll feed you further – my parents paid for it and it is my 4th degree (although I paid for the other courses and my other expenses through part-time work). Not everyone is in this hugely privileged situation, and it’s unjust that they don’t have the same opportunities I do.

            I don’t see how that contradicts anything I said before.

  • ischemgeek

    I think you miss one fact, Chris: Jason wasn’t apologizing to DJ, he was apologizing to people who were insulted by his comment. There’s a difference.

    I think Jason’s apology was clumsy but sincere. He spent a bit too much time trying to explain his intent, but he accepted his fault. DJ’s notpology was an exercise in blame-shifting and weasel words.

    I think there’s a big difference in saying, “I hit people I didn’t mean to hit with this insult, and it came off in a bad way I didn’t intend. I didn’t intend to hurt you, but I did, and I’m sorry.” and saying, “I’m sorry if you feel that my words may have possibly been offensive or painted you with a bad brush, but if your friends would stop talking about the problems you’re talkign about in public, I wouldn’t have to say these things. I think that I am sensitive to your issues, so you can’t criticize me on my handling of them.”

    Jason made a sincere-if-clumsy acceptance of fault (with, IMO, a bit too much emphasis on the unintentional nature of the insult), while DJ did not accept his fault (in fact, he tried to place the fault on others). Jason accepted that people were hurt by his actions, while DJ tried to make it seem as if those who were hurt were exaggerating it by saying, “I’m sorry if anyone was hurt…” (emphasis mine). Jason made a promise to try to learn from his mistake and not repeat it. DJ made no such promise. Jason’s had a tone of, “I was wrong to do this, even if I didn’t anticipate how it’d be received.” DJ’s had a tone of “I’m sorry if you think I was wrong to do this.”

    Those aren’t the same species of apology.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

      I’ve been taught that an apology has to explain exactly what went wrong where or else it’s a notpology. It’s a balance that’s hard to strike though — some people still think I didn’t show any self-awareness of what was wrong with what I said at all.

      • ischemgeek

        I was taught that by all means, explain your intent, but don’t dwell on it.

        However, my point was this: You came off as sincere. DJ came off as disingenuous. Big difference there.

    • charles

      The problem with your analysis is that DJ Grothe does not owe anyone an apology.

      • A nym too

        Not even for saying that sexually harassed women were recounting their “sexual exploits”?

        Not for implying that ‘sexual assault’ and ‘harassment’ are nothing more than women regretting said “exploits”

        And not for implying that his status as a gay man means he understands what women go through?

        Not for lying about whether any harassment occurred, or minimising the experiences of women who had been harassed?

        You sure?

        • ischemgeek

          And what about describing women talking about sexual harrassment as engaging in “locker room banter”?

          What about continuing to misrepresent Ashley Mills’ experience even after she cleared it up with him personally?

          What about saying that Ashley didn’t care enough about her harrassment to report it, even after she had told him that she was under the impression it had already been reported?

          We can go on. He definitely owed several people apologies, and he’s given them out to two people (Rebecca and Ashley), and has yet to really apologize for his continued misrepresentation of Ashley’s case after she cleared it up with him personally.

  • Atheara

    Chris, I’m very disappointed in the approach you’ve taken to this controversy. One institution acts in ways that alienate significant numbers of women in the secular community. Some critics of that pattern of behavior make comments at the margins that are rude or even a bit overheated. Of these two issues, the one that worries you is rudeness? Over the last few weeks I’ve come to worry that you are deaf to gender issues…

    • baal

      @#6 Atheara (I’m not sure Reply is working right (probably my user error) so I thought I’d add this addressing)

      Some critics of that pattern of behavior make comments at the margins that are rude or even a bit overheated. Of these two issues, the one that worries you is rudeness?

      Having been on the ‘wrong’ side of “a bit overheated” let me tell you that it’s a very unpleasant experience and in my mind could only be described as bullying. The problem with the word ‘bullying’ is that it’s too soft a description of the violence involved.

      Worse, it’s coming from folks who you otherwise agree with 99.999% of the time – including on the elevator gate and other flaps.

      Even worser (bad grammar is intentional), more than a few individuals have pointed out that the bullying is rarely proportional to whatever is being discussed. Anyone foolish enough to even get close to this suggestion is laughed out of the building while being pelted with rotten fruit.

      And so to your point, in the greater scheme of things, the amount of abusive and insane language (poison) from the patriarchy (the dominant culture? misogynist trolls? I’m not sure about word choice here) is quantitatively an ocean to the single drop of water here @ FTB (and then not even all the blogs). Even so, to extend the metaphor, a drop of poison is still a drop of poison.

      It’s entirely possible to not be poisonous and still strongly stand for what believe. The argument, “It’s being done to me in spades so I get to do it to you” is not an ethical position. At the end of the day, those without power are making an appeal to equity.

      It’s really hard to pull off arguments for more fairness while promoting -isms and being an -ist rather than taking cases and points for their merits. Or at least not dropping the bomb on the least deviance from orthodoxy.

      • Atheara

        baal, I have no idea what happened to you or how you were treated. As a general rule I prefer for people to be civil to each other on the internet, and to the extent that you experienced incivility of whatever degree, I sincerely sympathize. My comment was about something different, though: Hallquist’s disappointing decision to pay attention to acts of incivility by random bloggers with little power and few resources, and none at all to a pattern of behavior by a leader with power and resources that creates an environment that a meaningful number of women unquestionably find to create a hostile environment.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Some days I think the best thing that ever happened to FTB is ERV. It gives Jason et al the perfect enemy. For example, Notung’s comment. He says he didn’t see Jason’s comment as being homophobic, because he doesn’t see *Jason* as being homophobic. He just saw it as a joke that fell flat.

    So what’s Jason’s reaction?

    1) See comment from someone who might be of ERV
    2) Perform lookup, MATCH
    3) Respond with usual Anti-ERV ad hom that DOESN’T MAKE A LICK OF SENSE –

    Well thanks for “trying”, Chris. Now your new buddies from ERV’s have a new place to slander me.

    Okay, I’ll fucking bite. Show me where Notung’s comment is “slander”. Especially this part –

    I agree with you, but (‘Yes, but’!) I didn’t see that comment by Jason as expressing any sort of homophobia. He’s clearly not that type of person. I just saw it as a bad joke that only appeared homophobic.

    If that’s slander, by ANY definition, or if anything else in Notung’s comment is slander, I’ll eat a deep-fried sock.

    RHS’s comment is rude, but seriously, not slander.

    But it gives Jason and the others the ultimate easy out. If a commenter’s name appears on the LIST OF THOSE WHO ARE ALWAYS EEEEEVIL then it’s “company” approved ad-hom time. “You’re of ERV, therefore you’re wrong, and you slandered me.”

    No thinking required. Which now gives you some insight in to why many call this place FreedomFromThought Blogs.

    Seriously Chris, just do the “right” thing. Get a copy of the blacklist from jason, ban all the names on the list, announce you’ve done so, and avoid the inevitable HOW DARE YOU ALLOW ANYONE FROM ERV to comment here. Really, it’s not a big deal anymore.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

      Oh, is Notung from ERV’s? I thought I was making a prediction based on the turnout on Chris’ last thread where he supported DJ unequivocally, ignoring all the context of the fight (that he didn’t care to discover).

      I’ll tell you a secret Welch: I don’t care about the slimepit until they link to me or hit my moderation trap en force. I don’t think Notung has ever.

      • real horrorshow

        So you, like Ophelia are trolling for the hits. I’ll say one thing in defence of ‘the slimepit’; none of us are whoring for ad revenue, book sales or conference freebies.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        Oh bless your heart, that’s even better. You’re so deep into your MUST HATE ALL OF ERV NO MATTER WHAT that you’re issuing prefatory ad-homs. No thinking. No “well, let’s see what actually happens and respond to that.” Nope. You see a possibility that someone from THE SLIIIIMMMMMMEPIIIIIIT might respond, and bang: HOW DARE YOU ALLOW THEM A PLACE TO SLANDER ME.

        How inconvenient that the first response was supportive. But I’m sure your cognitive dissonance filter will kick in, and notung will have slandered you somehow. Way to go, oh great fan of skepticism and critical thought. Way to go.

        Better make sure to upgrade your ban/mod traps.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        Jason, on your “oh, Notung’s from erv?” thing?

        I’ll just leave this here.

        • Emburii

          …you mean a link where Jason addresses Notung with respect? Why yes, do that. It doesn’t help you much, considering you’re foaming at the mouth about how badly people are treated here for posting on ERV at all, but it’s definitely a useful link.

      • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

        In Jason’s defence (again), he may not have known I was a regular(ish) – he may have thought I only went there that one time.

        Also – I don’t think he saw my comment before he wrote his one, and I just assumed that he was predicting what would happen rather than saying that I had already done it.

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

          Thank you Notung, right on both counts.

          We may disagree about a number of things (as that link-back to my blog reminded me), which makes it difficult for me to like you (as I said in that comment on the linkback), but you’ve at least not blatantly lied about me like some of the people on the ERV thread who’ve shown up around here. I appreciate that.

    • Emburii

      Uhh…I’ve read through the rest of the thread and checked Notung’s comment three times, and I don’t see Jason blasting him underneath it or anything. O_o Where is this abuse you’re so upset about, John C Welch? On this thread? Then maybe it’s relevant. If not, it looks like you’re just as eager to keep this feud going and that you shouldn’t claim innocent victim status.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        Um…the “you left a place for ERVites to slander me”? that would be the one.

        • Emburii

          He didn’t name Notung in that at all, though. You dragged that in, from what I can tell, so getting on your high horse about the mean things Jason says looks a little weird.

      • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

        It’s because Jason said that the ERVites would slander him. I’m an ‘ERVite’, and before he had clicked Submit, an ERVite (i.e. me) had come along to defend him (at least on the most important issue).

        Jason wasn’t responding to me – it was just amusing that the exact opposite of what he said would happen happened. It should also go to show that people’s view of ‘ERVites’ as a whole isn’t always the correct one.

        • Emburii

          I guess, though from an outside perspective it doesn’t help Welch’s case. He likes to cry poor oppressed victim when instead it looks like a feud on both sides and neither group’s brimming over with charity. (Though at least the FTBers aren’t lying about Rebecca Watson like the ERVite wiki does). It’s this entire Hatfields and McCoys dynamic (I DON’T CARE WHICH CLAN STARTED IT OR WHO YOU IDENTIFY AS OR WHATEVER), rather than the FTB Gestapo.

          • johngreg

            Emburii said:

            “He likes to cry poor oppressed victim….”

            Except, that’s not really what he’s doing. Rather, he’s pointing out Jason’s profound hypocrisy and mendaciousness. That is one of many ongoing misrepresentations presented by many bloggers and commenters at FfTB: the concept that ERV commenters are complaining, always dismissively stated by FfTBers as crying or whining, about being insulted by FfTB people and are therefore hypocrites because we, in turn, insult FfTB people.

            The truth of the matter is that most of the ERV commenters don’t give a flying donut about being insulted by FfTB people, don’t care about teh bad werds, and so forth. What we are up in arms about, though usually laughingly or in open mouth awe, and what we try to do is expose and ridicule the profound hypocrisy expressed daily by most of the FfTB bloggers and commenters.

            I mean seriously, a network of blogs held under the nominal umbrella of “Freethought” that daily edit, moderate, and delete posts that do not in any way whatsoever break the often unstated commenting policies of the blog, and then ban people from the blog for the simple crime of disagreeing with either the blog host, or the favoured commenters. That is most expressly not Freethought, however much someone like Jason may like to provide room 101 rationalisations for it.

            I think this is perhaps best expressed by Jason’s recent post wherein he comments that because no “MRA trolls” have disagreed with him in the comments, that means he must have struck a chord and has got them thinking, when the fact of the matter is that in his goal to create false consensus he has banned so many people that might disagree with him that almost no one is left to do so.

            And that’s honesty at play? That’s integrity? That represents Freethought?

            “… when instead it looks like a feud on both sides and neither group’s brimming over with charity.”

            That’s true enough as it stands, but it is at the same time something of an oversimplification of a complex issue that primarily involves two different approaches to integrity and intellectual honesty.

            “Though at least the FTBers aren’t lying about Rebecca Watson like the ERVite wiki does.”

            Yes, the FfTB bloggers and commenters regularily lie about Watson, in that they frequently obfuscate and cover up her mis-steps as though they didn’t happen; they fabricate nonsense to misrepresent and excuse her deceptions and to misrepresent her opponents, and they paint her deeply dismissive and demeaning hostility to anyone who disagrees with her as some kind of heroic feminist action.

            Also, in my opinion, the Phawrongula wiki does not lie at all about Watson. Would you care to back that claim up with some evidence?

            Perhaps the biggest ongoing lie about Watson is perpetrated by her supporters both at FfTB and on Skepchick.org, and that lie is the claim that the whole Elevatorgate brouhaha began over Watson’s “Guys, don’t so that” statement. And that is a lie. There is far, far too much evidence showing that the Elevatorgate explosion began over Watson’s mistreatment of Stef McGraw combined with Dawkins “Dear Muslima” post on Pharyngula.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/ Stephanie Zvan

    The consensus on the troll thread was that a troll was someone who disrupts the conversation for their own purposes. There was a good bit of disagreement over whether the behavior had to be disingenuous.

    Either way, someone who morphs their way around a ban to continue to heckle about the importance of tone–and then goes to hang out in the slimepit with no mention of the concept–can comfortably be considered disingenuous. For the record, that’s exactly what Justin did.

    • real horrorshow

      So anyone who posts on ERV ‘can comfortably be considered’ pre-convicted. Is that it? There just might be more important things at stake than your comfort. Have you considered that?

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        Dude, really, you’re arguing with a made-up mind. All men at ERV are (barely) unconvicted rapists and all women at erv are gender traitors.

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/ Stephanie Zvan

        Do learn to read. Someone who is just fine with the “tone” of the slimepit is being, at best, highly selective in whom he applies his standards to.

    • http://www.facebook.com/reapsow1 reappaden

      Sorry I’m late, I prefer to address things as they happen but I’ve been busy. Hey stephanie, what would you say if I told you I know Justin Vacula. I’ve known him for a while now. I’ve met him and I’ve talked with him about these grade-school games you are playing.
      I can tell you one thing for sure Justin is in no way, shape, or form a troll. He is dedicated to having respectful dialog with people. His biggest fault is most likely thinking that certain people would have the same interest in having a reasonable discussion as he. Instead you start screaming “TROLL!” Why don’t you take a look at his blog, better yet. try reading. Any one with even the mildest comprehension skills can tell from his posts and from his actions he has no interest in trolling he is trying to make sure people do the right thing. You are completely wrong. You are making a fool of yourself everytime you attempt to convince people you are in Justin Vacula’s head and know what his motives are/were. Your paranoid perceptions are not reality, accept it, let some air out of your over inflated ego and apologize for trashing someone’s reputation without good reason. For some reason unknown to me there might actually be people who consider your opinion to be valid. Now they will see him as a troll. Think about how that would make you feel cause one day it is bound to happen if you keep up your behavior.

  • mnb0

    While I basically agree I think it, as a complete outsider, quite pathetic that other atheists, ie supposed allies, quarrel like this. I don’t take sides because I have no interest and am not interested, but man, is this ugly.

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

      Actually, I think it shows some very basic divides in atheism. We may have atheism in common, but that’s a pretty narrow point of commonality, and a lot of things, most notably differing politics, that deeply divide us. It would be nice if we could simply agree to disagree on our differing political ideologies, but unfortunately, when you’ve got people who’s entire idea of identity, social justice, and so on tied up in a particular political perspective, it makes it kind of hard to play nice with others.

  • Interrobang

    Grothe should know that whipping out the “I’m gay, therefore feminist ally” card is a pretty ridiculous thing to do which gains him about zero credibility with a lot of us out here, for the simple reason that if I had a nickel for every time I’ve met a misogynistic gay man, I wouldn’t be goldbricking right now, because I wouldn’t need to work. The ally ones, like our very own Official SpokesGay Josh, are the exceptions, IME, not the rule.

    In some ways, the gay men who are misogynist are worse than the straight male misogynists, because the gay ones aren’t even inclined to pretend they like us women for the purposes of getting in our pants. On the other hand, at least they’re honest about it.

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


      I think we can all agree that gay misogyny is definitely not a good thing. But what about feminist homophobia, which this comment really does cross the line into.

      • Emburii

        …why? It calls out gay men who are homophobic, but it does not say all gay men are homophobic. Dan Savage has said pretty much the same thing.

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

          There’s more than a slight implication that gay men hate women more than other men. Read that last paragraph again, in particular.

          It reminds me more than a bit of the female half of this dialog from David Mamet’s “Edmond”:


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

            Didn’t mean to embed that. I meant to link to the part starting at 2:29, which I think is the relevant part.

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay

      It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs; Interrobang is right. Gay men by and large are full of epic, catastrophic fail on issues of sexism and misogyny. Yes, yes I know dears. That’s hard to swallow. You want to fight back and proclaim how wrong I am.

      I know. I felt that way too a few years ago when it struck me in the face (ya know, that big obvious thing I was too fucking dumb to see all those years). But it is true.

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

    Thanks for calling this out. I want to point out that one of the main charges by Jason against his bête noir, ERV* is that they used “gendered slurs” (bitch, cunt, etc) and that this is unpardonably sexist language. Then he turns around and makes excuses for his use of analogous language.

    Now I can be down with everything from well-moderated, high-minded discussion to a full-bore “fuck you” airing of grievances, but what should be obvious is that in any such debate, all sides and all individuals are held to the same standard. That’s just basic fairness and reciprocity.

    *And can anybody who’s a bit more removed from this tell me whether the open ERV threads are really the huge threat Jason (among others) makes them out to be? Yes, the ERV thread is pretty uncivil – not arguing that point, but they seem to cause an upset all out of proportion to their actual size.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      The latest reason appears to be “Schroedinger’s Threat”.

      Followed by “Schroedinger’s Flaming Bag of Dog Poop”.

      With “Schroedinger’s Very Stern Mouse” bringing up the rear.

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

        Well, yes, that goes back to the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” post of a year ago, meaning that a woman can’t necessarily tell if a given male stranger who approaches her is a threat or not. OK as far as that goes. However, I think the “Schrodinger’s Threat” post is used to justify a deep and self-feeding kind of paranoia among some at FTB that they really are some kind of righteous fighters for social justice who are being persecuted by a shadowy “old guard” of the skeptic movement. So much of the rhetoric is just nuts.

        • Emburii

          You’re a funny one to talk about paranoia and tone. I love how over at Justin Griffith’s you had to concede my point about how you were much more personal and insulting than I was, but you have not yet tendered an apology for your personal rhetoric or admitted that maybe you’re not the perfect paragon of civility and conversation. People do not dump on you because they’ll all paranoid and reactive and you’re this perfect gentlebeing they can’t stand. You just aren’t willing to admit when you’re being an ass.

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

            Emburii – Get over yourself already! And your seeming need to be apologized to, for what wrongs you’ve think you’ve suffered at my words, I’m not sure. If you have anything to discuss civilly *moving forward*, great! Otherwise, I have nothing to say to you.

        • Emburii

          Ah, yes. That marvelous rationality and civility where you can’t process an explanation you were offered three different times on where you might have been needlessly unpleasant. Or that part where you assume the worst possible reading of a comment every time and then posture about paranoia.

          No wonder even the ERVites won’t claim you.

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

            Actually, I’m the one not claiming ERV, for my own reasons. It would be nice to think all of your bete noirs are just part of one orchestrated block against you and yours, but life is more complicated that that.

    • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

      is that they used “gendered slurs”

      I’d say less than half of the people on there do that – they don’t do it that much, and there are some there that disapprove of name-calling (like me, for instance).

      However, I agree with you in general. (‘Yes, but!’)

      • Emburii

        …’Rebbc*** Twatson’. That loses me right there. I’ve never seen anything approaching that level of immaturity from FTBers; they’re not perfect, but they’re not…that.

        • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

          Both of those words are used here in Britain in a very different way to the way they are (apparently) used in America. They’re still ‘bad’ swear words, but to be honest over here you hear them all the time in non-sexist contexts, and I’ve been completely de-sensitised to them. I’m not saying that others don’t have the right to be offended, but they don’t sound sexist to me. Hence why I don’t recoil in horror when I hear them.

          However, inserting them into RW’s name doesn’t get us anywhere – hence why I disapprove. I’d rather everyone just stuck to the arguments (I’ve never actually seen the name you quote though, but that’s not to say it never happened).

          • Emburii

            I understand that, but I don’t agree with it. And continuing to use it when it serves no descriptive purpose and the lady herself doesn’t approve of it seems counterproductive. I’m glad we can agree on it, though, and discussing the point further is probably too far afield from Mr. Hallquist’s original post.

          • julian

            Abbie Smith is an American. However cunt and twat may be used elsewhere, it’s irrelevant when the speaker does not hail from that social context and is using it exactly as the word is intended and because the words are known to cause harm to another.

            Would it be appropriate to use a pun off kike when describing a Jewish person you disagree with? Knowing they are someone who considers kike to be a racial slur (indeed counting on that usage of the word to cause more hurt)?

          • http://notungblog.wordpress.com/ Notung

            julian – with Americans I cannot judge what these words mean since I don’t have a good grasp of the cultural context. I can only speak from my own experience. I didn’t even know these words even could be construed as misogynistic until the last year or so – and only from what some people say about ERV (and an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I’m not sure what to make of).

            As far as racial terms go: I think the same would apply, only I’m pretty sure that they’re perceived as every bit as racist in the UK as they are in America, which is where I think the disanalogy lies.

            Still, I don’t want to come across as defending name-calling. When I was young my dad taught me that swearing and name-calling are vapid, and I’ve seen no reason to doubt that ever since.

        • josh

          This, to me, is tone trolling. It scans exactly like the religious people who complain at PZs that he uses the word ‘fuck’ while ignoring the content of his positions. It’s one thing to argue that you don’t like those words and think others shouldn’t use them, but the idea that ERV and co. can thereby be dismissed as ‘immature’ in comparison to the FtB anti-ERV crowd is ludicrous. I’ve seen so many terrible arguments, misrepresentations and mud-slinging on the FtB side it makes me think half these people only get the atheim part right by coincidence. (Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some ridiculous memes on the ‘ERV’ side.)

          • Emburii

            Why tone trolling? I didn’t say it to get a reaction, I said it because it is relevant. As a phrase it doesn’t add any information to the debate on what Rebecca Watson thinks or, for that matter, why her critics disagree with her. The impression it gives is that they dislike her because she’s a woman, why else would they replace her name with (etymologically) female terms? It’s not about tone, it’s about utility and that phrase has none.

            As for half-truths, I don’t keep up with all the arguments. But I didn’t make a decision until I read the Phawrongula wiki, where I found…lies, half-truths, name-calling, and distortions. I’m not ignoring the content of their position, either, I just flat-out don’t agree with most of it (positions on Rebecca Watson and DJ Grothe, for instance). Not all disagreement or negative observation is trolling.

          • josh

            The ‘trolling’ part of tone-trolling is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t think you’re being insincere, which to me is the essence of trolling. But the point is, it isn’t very relevant, at least not to the point of dismissing people out of hand. Dirty words don’t add any information and that is irrelevant, it’s not like anyone writing on the internet is being graded on pith and brevity. They dislike Watson because they dislike her based on what she’s said and done and it’s a huge leap to conclude that they dislike her because of some generalized misogyny.

            They use cunt and twat because to them those are words of insult that you apply to someone you dislike if they happen to be a woman, the same way you would use dick, prick, asshole, bastard, etc. for a man. They use them more because Watson and co. try to decree that they can’t be used. It’s a sort of protest/demonstration that the other side can’t control everyone’s speech of dictate meaning to the speaker. In my view it’s counterproductive at this point because there are more important things to settle, but I understand why they do it.

            “…I just flat-out don’t agree with most of it…”

            So address the substance you disagree with and let’s not bring the conversation to a screaming halt because they have a mean name for Watson.

            “Not all disagreement or negative observation is trolling.”

            Amen to that! I wish some of the bloggers around here could get that through there skulls.

          • Emburii

            And responding here to Josh since we keep running out of nesting options, whee.

            it’s relevent in the sense that gendered slurs were brought up; it was noted that not everyone at ERV does it, but I commented that I feel the ones who do are missing the point to where I’m not sure how far I can trust the motives that underlie their behaviors and choices.

            No, we aren’t being graded on brevity and pith but we are being judged on what we write, and when you focus on someone’s genitalia as if it’s a bad point…well, at that point misogyny is not the only answer, but it’s not impossible as a motivation. Now, I feel that particular word is a bit strong in most cases and puts people too much on the defensive, but the concept of privilege certainly does seem to apply.

            (For the record, I don’t like and don’t use male-gendered terms like ‘prick’ or ‘dick’ either, and I’m not particularly happy with some of the people who use them here. Ohmigosh, dissent in the echo chamber!)

            Furthermore, the idea of using that kind of language as some sort of free speech rallying point is…weird. Even, dare I say it, immature? Criticising someone’s speech is not the same as saying they shouldn’t be allowed to say it and there oughta be a law or whatever. It’s…criticism. We do that. You’re doing that. To define it as ‘control’ is shutting down the discussion and trying to own it on far more disingenuous terms. I understand why they do it, too, but it doesn’t mean I have to accept or excuse it.

          • josh

            Yeah, nesting… what can you do?

            …”when you focus on someone’s genitalia as if it’s a bad point”

            Except that’s not what is usually happening. If someone calls me a dick I don’t think that implies that they have some major issue with penises per se. It’s a dirty word because it has long been taboo to talk about reproduction in polite society and we use dirty words as insults. It makes a blatantly obvious sort of sense that we often use typically male genitalia slang as a stand in for male and mutatis mutandis for female. For the record, you can call me whatever you want and I might not like it that you’re insulting me, but I’m not going to extrapolate all your biases and ‘real’ feelings from the use of a common insult.

            To me, it’s immature to use a dirty word as a point of derailment. Adults can handle bad language, and even if they dissaprove, they can deal with people who have different standards. I didn’t say anything about laws, but that kind of complaint is an issue of control exactly because it tries to shut down discussion: ‘You said the bad word, that’s proof you’re bad. No, there’s no point in talking to you, the bad word has revealed your true evil. No you can’t defend it, it means exactly what I think it means, now and forever.’

            To be clear, I’m not saying we can never discuss appropriate words and tone, but we need to have a rational view of those who disagree and we shouldn’t let those disagreements stop all other conversation.

          • Emburii

            I didn’t say I’d extrapolate all biases and ‘real’ feelings, but it can tell me something. There is a difference between ‘your behavior is’ and ‘you are’; to bring this back to the tangent Notung and I were discussing, the particular trick of distoring Rebecca Watson’s name takes it from objecting to her behavior to she IS a dirty word, she IS a dirty concept. (Admittedly Abbie Smith has been equal opportunity on that in the past, given her renaming of Mooney at one point, but that was a while ago.

            It’s not derailing to point out that such treatment is ugly, unnecessarily so, and that it may indicate deeper problems and unexamined attitudes on the part of the speaker that I don’t agree with or condone. There is a difference between ‘you used a bad word, you lose!’ and ‘why are so so insistent on using that kind of language when it’s not at all germane?’ It comes off as pointlessly defiant and offensive and not, well, rational on ‘your’ side either.

            Also, the idea that only the people objecting to such useless language is derailing is part of the problem. Both sides overestimate their ‘rationality’ and how they’re coming across. Because they’re the ‘rational’ one. But I end up seeing that from the ERVite side more often than from the FTBers, that of course the ERVites only disagree because they’re ‘rational’ and of course totally without biases and it just doesn’t ring true.

          • josh

            Emburii, I’m not even sure where you’re disagreeing with me at this point. Please be aware that my comments here aren’t meant to single you out, as I have no idea of your history on the topic. I initially commented because of your post that “Rebeccunt Twatson” ‘just loses you’, which seemed to dismiss everything that might be said on the ERVite side because of an insulting name. I’ve seen a lot of that from the FtBers, who frankly just lose their shit at the drop of a hat when any designated enemy shows up, and have very hypocritical standards for honesty, paraphrasing, derailment, commenting policy, name-calling, etc. etc. But I don’t mean that to apply to you in particular, since I think we are much closer to having a productive conversation than the exchanges I have in mind.

            It’s derailing to obsess over the bad words and ignore the substance, and if you don’t do that, great. ‘They’ see it as ‘pointfully’ defiant, if you will. I’m ambivalent. I’m not a regular at ERV, but I remember seeing Abbie (I think) coin the nickname ‘twatson’ and thinking ‘Well, that’ll go over well…shit.’ So I don’t think it’s helpful or necessary, but it’s not rational to let it dominate the discussion or make it a blanket dismissal of the ERVites. Someone has to be the bigger man, so to speak.

            I’m sure it depends on who you’re reading at the moment, but I see a lot of masturbatory, ‘that’s how you do skepticism’ and ‘that’s the only rational conclusion’ following egregious leaps of villification here on FtBlogs. (Where I do much of my reading.) I don’t know how to get through to people that, even if the other guy fucks up, it’s not okay to get sloppy with your side of the argument.

    • Ysanne

      “Bit more removed” here:
      I used to like to read both place, FtB and ERV. For the interesting blog content, and because of the refreshingly intelligent (well, mostly) commentariat.
      I used roll my eyes regularly at some commenters whose typical posts would fall on the idiot-MRA or professional-victim-of-everything extremes of the spectrum, and snicker at how people claiming to promote rational thought regularly seem to think that insults, name-calling, telling people to shut up/fuck off, or going the “you’re not entitled to an answer since you’re wrong and stupid” is the way to have a rational discussion.

      Now most blog posts include a snide and totally uncalled-for remark about how evil the others are. Including the occasional gross misstatement, remarks that were totally out of line, and the kind of notpology that is rightly criticised when religious bigots issue them. Comment threads are mostly variations of “us vs. them”.

      It’s getting old and boring. And of course there’s no point in asking for everybody to calm the fuck down.

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

    When I read the apology and the retranslation, I assumed that Jason had originally meant to refer to Grothe’s disrespect for women with the “… I hear he wants little to do with women’s vaginas.” line, and so thought that trying to apologize for implying that gay people in general were misogynistic was missing the point … which was that he basically used an insulting term that could refer to Grothe’s sexual orientation when that wasn’t what he meant. My problems in that thread started when Stephanie Zvan and Jason basically seemed to be saying that, no, Jason really DID mean to make a derisive and insulting reference around Grothe’s sexuality. My demand for a clear answer was, in fact, more out of shock than out of anything else, since having read the blog a bit here and there I wouldn’t have thought that Jason would have deliberately done that, let alone still defend it and not apologize for it.

    Essentially, to me refering derisively to Grothe’s sexuality was actually the bad thing that Jason needed to apologize for, and that seemed to be something that he, at least, didn’t feel sorry for. If what he really wanted was to attack the idea that being gay is in and of itself proof against misogynism, then he really, really, really missed the mark … and not because he might have accidentally propogated a meme about gay people, but because for some reason he thought that taking what is pretty much a clear shot at someone’s sexuality is an acceptable comment, even if it was in service to a genuine point.

  • Gabby

    I agree with nearly every word of your post and can’t tell you how happy I am to have read it. Thank you.

  • citpeks

    I have been trying to keep up with all these various conversations, but somewhere along the way people started tossing out acronyms I have missed. What does ERV stand for in this context?

    • Emburii

      There is a woman named Abbie Smith over at scienceblogs.com who runs a website about and titled after Endogenous RetroViruses, thus ERV.

      In terms of why it’s come up in this thread: she and others vehemently and in some cases crudely disagree with some shared philosophical points in the skeptic/atheist movement and more specifically here at FTB, like social justice issues and how to approach them.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

    Just to get the obvious out of the way- I’m sure that everyone who knows me or takes the time to look me up will be less than surprised that I’m commenting in defense of Jason. I figure we can get the requisite calls of “tribalism” out of the way early in this conversation.
    I’m also more than aware that my established relationship with Jason is surely going to season my opinion on this matter. I can acknowledge my bias. That said, I’m willing to make an effort to try and see things as you see them here- and I want to be as charitable as possible to your interpretation.

    I understand that “troll” has come to take on a new meaning over the last few years- but I think the gist is pretty much the same. A troll, to me, is someone whose comments (either through design or ineptitude- I never liked the projection of intent in the original definition) are parsed in such a way as to derail on-topic conversation and distract from the subject at hand. A “tone troll” is someone who either by design or ineptitude comments on the tone of a post or thread without any attempt to address the topic or arguments. Neither of these definitions have anything in particular to do with “disagreeing with somebody”. In point of fact, many people labelled as trolls- and this includes your specific example of one above- can’t be pinned down to any specific opinion on the subject matter, because they never actually put forward an opinion on the topic. Some do, sure- but many just go out of their way to move the discussion to tone, or feigned concern, or trivial minutiae, or ad hom, or whatever else.
    I point this out because you seem to be trying to take Jason’s very specific explanation of very specific trollish behavior and present it as a concise explanation of his definition of all trolls. Your argument comes across as entirely disingenuous and designed to mislead.

    You seem to be trying to create a false dichotomy where if Jason’s very specific clarification of trolling behavior is not entirely applicable to Justin- then people are “trolls” to Jason merely for disagreeing. I don’t think that conclusion is even remotely apparent even under the least charitable of interpretations.

    Justin was called a Vacuous Shitbag Troll, sure. You might be embarrassed to be associated with that description of him, but I’m not convinced that this makes the description unfair. I am willing to argue that Justin was being a troll in his manner of engagement, that although the addition of “vacuous” seems redundant(since vacuousness is almost definitional to trolling)-it is apt, and that several of his related behaviors justify the addition of the descriptor “shitbag”- including contacting friends of Jason on Twitter in an attempt to turn his friends against him.

    You may think that this particular person was undeserving of being treated that way, but in Justin’s case- after a while, what you are fails to compensate for what you do.

  • C Rowan

    I’ve been following a couple of the bloggers in FTB for a year or so & I’ve started reading others here in recent months. I’ve looked in on ERV. I am sure there are some cool, thoughtful people over there but I can’t abide terms like “Rebitchca Twatkins”. The “that’s not sexist to me, so meh,” attitude is offensive, also. I’m sorry, but I find the climate of ERV very mean & sexist.

    That said, I do think we at FTB can be resistant to dissent. When the dissent gets close to topics such as sexism, the roof is blown easily. I totally understand why. Harassment policies & the enforcement of them is a good idea, yet there is a lot of pushback. Dismissing victims is WRONG, yet saying so is met with deep hostility. People are cranky & sensitive & frustrated. No wonder some FTBers finally resort to name calling. No wonder some FTBers react strongly to disagreement.

    I think Chris Hallquist & Justin Griffith have been sort of asking FTBers to consider intent/tone/etc, not because ERV is flawless & has it it goin’ on but because we’re trying to MAKE THINGS BETTER. We want to create environments that nurture respect & discourse w/o dehumanizing, w/o bullying. We SHOULD point out harassment, misrepresentation, misogyny but we should also check ourselves & our behavior, too. We should think critically. We should self-correct.

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

      Well, yes, there’s a fair amount of sexism at ERV, and there’s also a fair amount of extreme political correctness and ideological policing at FTB. Neither is healthy and both are a huge turnoff to reasonable people who don’t have a whole lot of investment in one side or the other.

      Of course, I’ll also point out that FTB and ERV are pretty far from only skeptical/atheist spaces on the internets, though the former is a disproportionately large one. Frankly, I’d hope somebody new to skepticism or scientific thinking would stumble across Jerry Coyne’s blog or Point of Inquiry well before they come across the mess on FTB, or at least it’s louder subset. (Not much danger of them accidentally encountering ERV – you really have to go looking for that hidey-hole.)

      • C Rowan

        Well, I found this place via Greta Christina & Blag Hag. I am a feminist. I am big on LGBTQ equality & the separation of church & state. I am not utterly new to skepticism or scientific thinking but I arrived here because of my social justice interests.

        Complaints about being overly PC often (though not always) come from people who are not generally the target of racism/sexism/classism/ableism/etc. The “isms” are pervasive & damaging. While I think it’s possible to “go there” w/ irony/satire/etc, most people don’t have the skills to do so. And most people who use sexist language or roll their eyes at objections to sexist language are actually sexist. That has been my experience, anyway.

        It is precisely because FTB has this social justice bent that I think it is fair for people to ask, “Are we assuming the worst when we shouldn’t?” ” Are we resorting to the same tactics we claim to despise?” “Are we the pot calling the kettle black?” The answers may all be, “No.” But it’s good to ask.

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

          So to your way of thinking, any critique of political correctness or failure to fall in line with that ideology is simply bigotry, full stop? If that’s what you believe, well, then, I guess we have a case, as I referred to under #9, of politics being an insurmountable divide between us. I will simply not make a wholesale conversion to your ideology or agree with something that I cannot in good conscience, and I do not think I should be required to do so to be part of the atheist/skeptic movement.

          • C Rowan

            I don’t think agreement or adherence to a specific ideology is required, no. I do think complaints about being PC tend to reveal an attitude of, “but I like using ‘gay’ as an insult/turning people’s names into gendered slurs/etc”. Zeroing in on being “too” PC is often a strategy used to shut down discussion of the real issues.

            Anyway, I like that Chris Hallquist & Justin Griffith brought this stuff up regarding intent/language/tone of apologies. I don’t have to agree with their assessments to see value in their input.

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

            And I think insisting on “political correctness”, for lack of a better word, betrays a derisive attitude toward the very concept of individual rights, and that’s been *my* experience. And the misuse of the concept of “privilege” as a kind of guilt trip to emotionally manipulate somebody into support of positions they would not otherwise follow of their own concience.

            That said, I certainly do not think highly of the use of “gay” as a synonym for bad, would be among those who make an effort to use gender pronouns of the individuals choosing (albeit, not incorporated “zie” as a gender neutral into my general language – sorry), etc. That much is common courtesy, and how I would want to be treated if I were in that person’s shoes.

            But things like what my opinions should be, what I am turned on and turned off by sexually, what I find funny, what kinds of media I watch, etc is certainly not the kind of thing I will have dictated to me, and if the idea of being a “freethinker” means *anything* at all, it is that. And it is the kind of things that compromise those kinds of basic forms of freedom of conscience, speech, and expression that I refer to as “extreme” political correctness. I think it should be obvious why I would part company with those who think that PC is such a wonderful thing that it simply trumps other ethical considerations.

  • smhll

    Regarding the usage of douchebag and the apology – I think what Jason was saying as he tried to walk back the word douchebag is (approximately) “DJ isn’t literally a douchebag because he isn’t filled with vinegar, and wouldn’t go near a vagina.” It could have been an acknowledgement of gayness or a swipe at it. But I don’t think it was a lot more complex than that.

  • beerijuana

    I sure as hell don’t think anger is always bad, but sometimes it makes people stupid.

    There are very few involved in this mess who can claim immunity from this…

  • xtog

    Wow,…johngreg really nails it here,….

    “I mean seriously, a network of blogs held under the nominal umbrella of “Freethought” that daily edit, moderate, and delete posts that do not in any way whatsoever break the often unstated commenting policies of the blog, and then ban people from the blog for the simple crime of disagreeing with either the blog host, or the favoured commenters. That is most expressly not Freethought, however much someone like Jason may like to provide room 101 rationalisations for it.”

    This was precisely my experience.

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

      Not only that, but the very idea of wanting to be free of an ideological precondition or litmus test is utterly derided if you read comments by the usual suspects. They attack the very idea of being a “freethinker” when it comes to political decision making.