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No, a blog should not be like Wikipedia

2012/04/12

So Taslima Nasrin has written a couple more pieces to follow-up on the one I linked a couple of days ago. One is responding to the criticisms of the first article. The other is about porn. Sadly, they’re pretty similar to the last one.

I hope we all Free-thought bloggers believe in freedom of expression. My opinion on prostitution  is nothing new. Most feminists believe prostitution or sexual slavery  must end. I do not want to be misunderstood. But  it looks like a war started against me on  FTB because I said something politically incorrect.  I feel suffocated because I am opposed by a group I proudly belong to, a group of atheists, secularists, humanists, rationalists.

So in this short paragraph, besides casually conflating sex slavery and prostitution again, she insinuates that people who question anything she says don’t believe in freedom of expression and support sexual slavery and positions herself a radical free-thinkers being opposed by “politically correct” dogmatists. This is more well-poisoning. It’s worth noting here that she’s combining several tactics well-known to anyone who follows the behavior of trolls elsewhere on the site.

Political correctness is basically a right-wing boogeyman used to shut down criticism. If someone accuses you of being a bully, you can say that they’re just upset because you challenged their worldview. “That’s offensive” really does get used to shut down inquiry sometimes, mainly by conservatives, but occasionally by the  left as well. It’s important to call this out when it happens. It’s an appeal to emotion. Things aren’t true because we want them to be, nor are they false because they don’t fit into our worldview.

However, this isn’t what happened. For one, I should mention that legalizing prostitution is hardly a “politically correct” idea. More importantly, look at Natalie and Greta‘s articles. Neither can be summarized as “You can’t say that. It’s hurts feelings!” The basic complaints were that she had made a bunch of claims without backing them up, at least some were factually wrong, and that she was causing real-world harm by doing so. This actually closely resembles most situations where someone claims they are being oppressed for being politically incorrect. Ian Cromwell wrote about this on Freethought Blogs a while back, and he isn’t the only one. On her network, proclaiming yourself “politically incorrect” is about the same as declaring yourself an asshole who doesn’t really care about the substance of criticisms leveled at you and with good reason.

The porn article open with a different set of fallacies.  She gives Diana Russell’s definitions:

Pornography: Material that combines sex and/or the exposure of genitals with abuse or degradation in a manner that appears to endorse, condone, or encourage such behavior.

Erotica: Sexually suggestive or arousing material that is free of sexism, racism, and homophobia, and respectful of all human beings and animals portrayed.

This is really blatant equivocation. No one defines pornography this way except for anti-porn crusaders. It’s a bait-and-switch. First you show that according to your own definition, pornography is bad. Then, you show that according to the common definition, pornography is everywhere. It’s about as valid as saying, “God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles is blind. Therefore, Ray Charles is God.” When challenged on this definition, she produced several links to porn sites that bragged about their extreme content. I’m guessing she found them with a Google search for “extreme porn.” This clearly implies they are different from regular porn. Greta actually wrote about this a couple of months ago. Her conclusion was that the porn/erotica distinction was largely artificial, but if anything, erotica had political and literary aims and porn just exists to get people off. This is how the terms are actually used by the public. Russell’s distinction doesn’t even make sense as lots of things wouldn’t qualify for either category. I’m wondering why she included the bit about animals. Perhaps Russell doesn’t find bestial porn (I’m sorry, bestial erotica) inherently degrading.

I also had a problem with Nasrin’s own claims about pornography.

I am against  pornography because it  has  many  harmful effects,  encouragement of  sex trafficking, desensitization, pedophilia, dehumanization, sexual exploitation, sexual dysfunction,  inability to maintain healthy sexual relationships. Pornography is exclusively for men’s pleasure. Women  are used as sex objects. I know some women will   say, ‘we love to be sex objects’. Millions of misogynists are out there to  support the idea of the objectification of women.  I do not have to support this.

On harmful effects, she makes the same error as many other porn opponents. She conflates harms to society from the production of pornography and harms from the consumption of pornography for reason other than it encouraging production. While they are related in a practical sense in that porn has to exist for anyone to watch it and most of it wouldn’t be made if people didn’t want to see it, they take place in different social contexts and involve different issues. The production issues are largely the same as prostitution. There’s no point going into at length as it has the same basic problems as her arguments on that subject: she demonstrated that exploitation happens, but not that it’s inherent to the process. As with that exchange, the existence of sex workers who enjoy their job disproves that on its face. There’s no sense repeating my previous post. I think there is something to be said about what the ethics of pornography production should be and how to make sure you don’t support enterprises that don’t follow ethical standards, but an absolutist position precludes doing anything that might actually do any concrete good.

As for consumption, she gives a couple unsourced quotes about people who watched pornography dehumanzing women, and links to a few other people making similar bald assertions or knocking down straw men. Besides the fact that this isn’t good evidence, it’s a category error. Even if it’s true, it doesn’t mean that all pornography has this effect. Her definition was essentially custom-made to make it sound like it did, but even if it were valid, it takes more than this to argue a causal relationship. She also included a magazine article which basically said that porn distracts people from their jobs and family, which makes it sound like every interesting this ever. No one writes articles about the horrors of Sudoku.

This part where she says that pornography is exclusively for men’s pleasure irks me. Many women enjoy watching pornography, including pornography where women are degraded. I’ve known several women who wanted to become bondage models and one who actually did so. Some women direct porn, including stuff specifically aimed at female customers. Submissives are real and not even rare. If my abnormal psych professor knew what she was talking about, they are far more common than doms and mostly from a middle-or-upper-class background. The gay erasure is probably worse. Gay men like pornography as much as any other men. Trying to define pornography exclusively in terms of how it depicts women is blatant heterosexism. As far as her support, no one is saying that good feminists have to march in the kink pride parade, but they do have to support people’s right to their sexuality.

Both articles contain multiple paragraphs that begin “researchers say,” with no indication which researchers or the nature of the research. When challenged on this she responded, “Well. I did not think blog post should be like Wikipedia. You can always google them.” When her other sources were challenged, she said “My blog posts are not  new science theories. I do not need to provide evidence for my every little opinion. I am a free thinker,  I think freely, and  it is Freethought blog.”

She’s correct in her first claim. A blog shouldn’t be like Wikipedia. Blogs are supposed to offer personal insight or original information or analysis, whereas Wikipedia is supposed to just collect and summarize existing sources. She has done the latter, only she didn’t say what her sources were and definitely did not write from a neutral point of view. I took her up on her suggestion that I Google the quotes. Ironically, the first quote in the porn article was lifted from Wikipedia. One was from Catherine MacKinnon, who engages in the usual cherry-picking and assertions and one I couldn’t find. In other words, they were about as good as the few sources she did reference.

As for the latter quote, she isn’t just giving her opinion about some subjective topic, like whether a book was any good. She is making factual claims. When you do that about something non-trivial, you need to give readers a reason to believe you if they are to give whatever conclusions you draw based on it any credence. She’s also making policy recommendations. That requires that you clearly define the goal and give people a reason to believe the policy will accomplish the goal. For non-trivial goals, you also need to show that the goal is worthy. Free thought doesn’t mean against the grain. It means based on logic and evidence instead of tradition and authority. When you’re trying to help people it means, among other things, listening to what help they say that they want. If she think sex-workers are being disrespected, I suggest this article from Ms. about how to respect them.

From → meta, politics

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