Therefore, Tim Minchin – Should We Be ‘Actual Humans’ As Atheists/Skeptics Too?

Never fear! I saved this post before the work was being done at FtB! Reposted!

From Ophelia Benson’s post:

Just don’t be cruel to ANYONE, ever. On the internet, or in your life.

Just imagine, as you sharpen your pen, that every man is your uncle or your brother, and that every woman is your mother or your sister. Just don’t spread vitriol. It’s not clever, it’s not funny, it doesn’t improve anything, it fails to educate, elucidate or encourage debate. It’s lazy. It’d be boring if it wasn’t so awful.

Just stop. Breathe. Don’t be defensive. Think hard about what you think. Clarify your point of view in your head. Try to find a way to articulate it – if you still feel you must articulate it – in a manner that assumes the person you are addressing is an actual human.” – Tim Minchin.

…How are the sentiments in that so different from this?

In my opinion society is best served with open and vigorous debate about important topics of the day. Such debates are most effective, however, when proponents of opposing views are actually engaging directly with the claims and beliefs of the other side. This requires effort – to understand what the other side believes and why they believe it. This should be taught as a basic intellectual skill in school. Whenever confronted with a controversy, make a sincere effort to understand the best case that each side is putting forward.

Guess who wrote that?

Or how different is Minchin’s sentiments to this?

 And so, I pass the question to you. What are the ethics of skepticism? It’s a question that can’t be answered in a day, or on a single thread; but skeptics should, I think, confront that question on a continual basis. To do that, we need to solve a problem revealed by the “don’t be a dick” controversy and the resulting war over nice. Somehow, skeptics need to find ways to talk seriously about skeptical practices — good and bad, effective and ineffective, right and wrong — without tearing the field apart in the process.

Who wrote that?

Then – who wrote this? And why does it again sound so similar to Tim Minchin?

…Yet as I found myself amongst new friends and role models, my values adjusted accordingly. My ethical palette diversified. I became as critical of my own standards, ideas, morals and beliefs as of others. Then, even more so. I found those beliefs that were loose in their sockets and replaced them.

Some remain entrenched in a scaffold built around a firm belief in the right for all individuals to choose their own beliefs, regardless of how ludicrous they sound. This contrasts against a value in harm minimisation — a distaste for any behaviour that puts one’s physical, mental or emotional wellbeing at risk. No matter how I cut and trim and prune the words that define my morals, they don’t all fit neatly.

Still, I can’t not try.

Why would I do such torturous things to myself? Quite simply, it was because in my travels I’d met people who had done the same. These were strong people. Confident people. Intelligent. Respectful. I liked them. I wanted to be like them. So I learned to be skeptical of my beliefs, and gradually became the person I wanted to be.

It’s been a slow process. And it continues yet. A gradual erosion of who I was. You might use another analogy, of course. Corrosion. Corruption. After all, we don’t share the same beliefs, you and I.

Finally, who wrote this too?

Of course, skeptics always have tackled testable claims that happen to have important implications for religion, politics, or human nature, but Greta Christina’s point nonetheless bears repeating: traditional skepticism can do its traditional work within its traditional scope, and still contribute useful assistance to our friends in other movements. If we look for places to do that, we’re bound to find new opportunities and new allies.

I believe, more than ever, that good fences make good neighbors. Repairing some of the fences that have fallen into neglect would help distinct rationalist movements get along better. But a neighborhood takes more than fences. A neighborhood takes helping hands, cups of sugar, BBQs on summer days. Our rationalist neighborhood is home to many movements, and many of those movements share some common cause.

In short, Ophelia Benson – I know at least one reason why some people haven’t noticed it being called out before. They probably weren’t listening to those who have been speaking for some time.

But yes. There’s voices. Let’s start talking about more being heard, and encouraging them as fellow human beings. Let alone rationalists, skeptics, atheists… and feminists.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • CC
    • Kylie Sturgess

      Take it to them, not here.

  • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

    Try to find a way to articulate it – if you still feel you must articulate it – in a manner that assumes the person you are addressing is an actual human.

    I often wonder if commenting on the Internet is like driving a car so that sometimes we forget in our rage (SIWOTI-someone is wrong on the Internet) that we are dealing with other humans. It’s like road rage. The very real consequences to ourselves, to the people riding in the vehicle with us, to the people in the vehicle you are raging against, and to the people in vehicles that happen to be in the general vicinity–the consequences of our behavior for everyone involved are forgotten. All that matters is winning or retribution.

    I see Minchin as saying that, as when dealing with road rage, we need to think of the person who upset us so as a person sitting next to us, or we need to imagine ourselves as sitting next to the other person, or do whatever we need to do to return to a point of civility.

    And civility is not necessarily not swearing, not being angry, etc. It doesn’t even necessarily entail doing our best to understand the best case of the other person’s position. Civility means treating the other person as a person and not a sack you can kick the stuffing out of verbally or through other means.

    So, I disagree that Minchin is only saying what has been said by those you quoted. I don’t think he was. I think he was addressing the way people like Metzger have been treating Watson as if she is something to be kicked around instead of a person.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Hi Arantia! I had a response before and I think the blog-updates ate it. :(

      Essentially, I said in return: “If it’s wrong to kick someone around on the basis that it’s treating them in a inhumane fashion – why shouldn’t it apply to other skeptics, atheists or non-skeptics or non-atheists – or is this only a feminist claim being made? And if so – what if the non-skeptic happens to be a woman?”

      • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

        Hi Arantia! I had a response before and I think the blog-updates ate it.

        Essentially, I said in return: “If it’s wrong to kick someone around on the basis that it’s treating them in a inhumane fashion – why shouldn’t it apply to other skeptics, atheists or non-skeptics or non-atheists – or is this only a feminist claim being made? And if so – what if the non-skeptic happens to be a woman?” –Kyle Sturgess

        Hi! Sorry I just got back to this after that insane period where posts and comments were being misplaced and dropped.

        You’re right that this should apply to other skeptics, non-skeptics, atheists, and theists. I guess I might see it as a feminist claim in the sense that it was made regarding the fallout of an incident in which one woman in particular (though surely not the only one) is being defamed through misogynistic epithets which usually are impotent when employed against men.

        My disagreement I tacked on at the end was too narrow, so I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned it. I just thought Minchin was giving people (perhaps on both sides of Elevatorgate?) food for thought regarding Elevatorgate. (And he was doing so as diplomatically as possible, I think, which is hard to do since there are people who are just trolling and not at all interested in having an intellectual debate about feminism and sexism against women at atheist conferences.) That is, he was saying something new and different from the other people you quote and something that pertains to this specific schism, though what he says is entirely compatible with those quotes.

      • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

        OT: I just noticed that smileys that are copied from within a comment don’t paste into the comment box with the rest of the quoted text. :(

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Sorry – appears comments (and occasionally the site! Argh!) is still being worked on. :(

  • Kylie Sturgess

    ” I think he was addressing the way people like Metzger have been treating Watson as if she is something to be kicked around instead of a person.”

    So – how does that differ from treating other skeptics with respect? Or non-skeptics? Or non-atheists? Aren’t they deserving of the same treatment as a person? Note that Minchin is asking for civility.

    Why can’t it be extended to other atheists and skeptics – or those who are not? Or is there a line we’re drawing because it’s feminism? And what if the non-skeptic happens to be another woman?

  • Kylie Sturgess

    Hi anyone who comments here on it – the site is STILL having issues.

    Save your comment for another few hours, otherwise it most likely will be lost. :( Type it out or write it and save it somewhere and return when things aren’t going wrong?

  • http://skepticismandethics.com Matt

    Here’s a recent example of decent behavior being praised. Rare enough to see a disagreement not turning into a flame war, even rarer to see it recognized.

    All good citations you mention here, Kylie. I like this one also. There are other articles and links over at the Skepticism and Ethics blog (click my name for the link) that folks may find relevant to this topic as well.

  • Stacy

    Kylie, I think you’re veering into false equivalence territory here. There’s a big difference between engaging someone in a substantive argument, in the course of which people swear or mock, and obsessively verbally abusing or harassing someone over a period of time. And when the harassment is based on bigotry rather than a defensible difference of opinion–that’s a whole ‘nother level of awful.

    • Wendy

      The “abuse isn’t abusive the way we do it” argument doesn’t gel with me.
      It’s not happening when fellow skeptics and atheists call other skeptics ‘shitting all over the work of other skeptics’ or silencing non-skepchicks in skepticism, all the while touting that they are the predominant female skeptic site online.

      I’ve got every sympathy for women being attacked online but it doesn’t mean skeptics can’t start working on changing the thinking they’re such paragons of civility when they’re NOT.

      • Kylie Sturgess

        Do you have any suggestions on how to improve things or are you just complaining?

      • Stacy

        Well, I think that Pandagon piece is within bounds. She’s arguing ideas, not calling Loxton names. If a whole bunch of people started piling on Loxton, that would be something else.

        I’ve been trying to formulate my own ethic around this. FWIW, here’s where I am right now:

        It’s OK to savage ideas. Ideas are not people, and though we do all identify with ideas we hold, it behooves each of us to learn the difference.

        It’s usually not OK to savage people. Exception: Powerful people, especially powerful people who use nonsense to oppress others.

        Mockery (a term which includes satire) is fine, when it’s 1) accompanied by substance, and 2)directed upwards. Think Swift and The Daily Show. It can be OK directed horizontally too, if it’s not just being cruel for the sake of being cruel–but there’s plenty of room for argument there.

        My rule of thumb is the one we all should’ve learned in kindergarten: Don’t pick on anyone weaker than you are.

        • http://freethoughtblogs.com/tokenskeptic Kylie Sturgess

          “My rule of thumb is the one we all should’ve learned in kindergarten: Don’t pick on anyone weaker than you are.”

          Here’s my questions – are you weaker if you are just one person and there is a large, united group who are actively devoted to silencing you and your contributions (even if they are positive and share some of the same goals as you)?

          Are you weaker if there is a person who has a massively popular website who denounces you as being only worthy of ignoring?

  • Me
    • Kylie Sturgess

      This article has inspired me to start looking into the psychology further, so thank you, “Me”.

  • Kylie Sturgess

    Announcement – one interview has been done for a forthcoming TS podcast episode on this very topic. I have one more to go and then I’ll release it. :)

  • Pingback: How to Handle an Argument: Tim Minchin | TRiG's links


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