Something that’s been bugging me: Those of you who follow the skepticisphere know that a few weeks ago, Pz posted a report from an undisclosed source that Michael Shermer got her drunk at a conference a few years ago and raped her.This isn’t an anonymous source. He knows her well, so his judgment that this accusation is probably true isn’t just statistical. I’d link to it, but the post was taken down after Shermer threatened to sue.
A lot of people don’t want to believe this accusation. That’s understandable. There are a lot of good reasons to like Shermer. I used to like him quite a bit. He’s written some good books. Denying History is a big part of what got me into skepticism and a history major in the first place. It’s difficult to believe that someone could you like could do something horrible, like rape. It means you are a bad judge of character and it means you may have inadvertently enabled his behavior.
However, even if you can’t believe Shermer is actually guilty, it makes no sense to think PZ made the whole thing up. He’s risking a hell of a lot for something that, at best, will lead to a slight reduction in Shermer’s fan base. Surely if he were the type of person who makes up malicious allegations (which is not in evidence), there are people he liked far less than Shermer. What the hell would the motive be? All possible motives make no sense and if you think that PZ is a guy who’s irrational would throw away a good deal of his social standing and risk a difficult lawsuit over petty revenge that was unlikely to be very effective, you’ve been reading a different column than I have for the past six years.
Yes he’s sometimes angry and occasionally will go overboard in an argument because he’s emotionally invested, but that’s everybody except Spock, and maybe even him. It’s certainly not the same thing as a reckless, malicious liar.
I’m not saying that the idea that the accuser made the whole thing up and bamboozled PZ, who acted in good faith, is particularly plausible either, because it isn’t, especially when you factor in that large parts of the story were corroborated by third parties. My point is the fact that people who don’t believe the story go straight to blaming PZ is fairly strong evidence that they are either evaluating the situation irrationally because they like Shermer and dislike PZ or are arguing in bad faith and are jumping on this story because it looks like convenient ammo to discredit PZ, not because they give a damn about the accusations. EIther way, it’s a bullshit argument.
A few weeks ago, my former pastor’s daughter posted on Facebook about how some of her best memories were made at Camp Hickory. She tagged pretty much everyone she was in youth group with. A lot of other people chimed in in agreement. I didn’t get it. For me, camp combined the worst aspects of camping (bug bites, sunburn and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements), church (lots of lecturing, little chance to ask questions) and gym class (being judged on your athletic abilities, constant rick of injuring people if you play too hard). Camp was about the most miserable experience in my life and eventually I had to be forced to go.
Most of us grew up in heavily Christian cultures and are vaguely familiar with what the camp experience entails. Imagine, instead if you grew up around a few Christians and heard plenty of rumors about them at temple, but they were rarely featured on TV and the only books you could find on them in your language were the Bible, histories of the church that focused on doctrine and politics and books aimed at believers about how great it is to walk with Jesus. This would tell you nothing about camp, or what church services were like or the role of potlucks in community-building. Knowing all about the history of Christmas and the traditional ways of marking it tells you very little about how most Christians feel about Christmas and the Bible tells you even less.
Unless you live in a handful of heavily-Islamic communities, that’s how things are with respect to Islam in the English-speaking world. My friend Heina is trying to rectify this in a book she’s writing, tentatively titled The Skeptic’s Guide to Islam. She will cover what you do at the mosque, the way people obey all the rules you’ve heard about and so on. I encourage you to go help push her the last few hundred dollars over her stretch goal on Kickstarter to make the book extra awesome.
I’ve been milling a piece about in my head where I criticize Anita Sarkeesian. If you’ve been paying attention to the Internets, you know that’s she been the target of a misogynistic backlash because of her announced intentions and fundraising for a project talking about sexism in video games. I had already been thinking about doing a piece on her, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I had also been thinking about a piece about how the Internet gamesphere is full of assholes and my general burnout on fandoms in general. Sexism was one of many factors. This is just the latest example of horse asshat behavior.
However, my piece on Anita Sarkeesian wasn’t planned to be particularly positive. While she does a lot of good work, it tends to be mixed in with a lot of sloppy work. Then, I got thinking about whether it was advisable for me as a man to criticize a fairly prominent voice of feminism for being a bad feminist. It sounds kind of mansplainy. I thought about it some more and realized that I wasn’t so much wanting to criticize her for being a bad feminist (though she is that, too) as a bad movie critic.
She has a strong tendency to come up with interpretations based on her personal views and pet theories rather than the text, then impose them on the text, then criticize the text because she finds her interpretation offensive when her interpretation was something she brought from outside and not the fault of the work she was evaluating at all. On a closely related note, she seems to have little sense of nuance, despite explicit claims to the contrary, and takes everything terribly literally and interprets most material on a shallow level. In practice, this means she can’t tell the difference between straight uses of a trope and subversions or parodies. She also seems to confuse her personal tastes with moral value.
Criticizing her for her frequent use of out-of-context examples that don’t fit her thesis and cherry-picking is going to look like criticizing her feminism, though, especially since there’s currently an anti-feminist dogpile on her based on the idea that she goes around looking for shit to be be offended by (a common stereotype of feminists). Plus, I want to make direct criticisms of her feminism since she’s anti-sex-worker and, if I’m interpreting her correctly, a gender essentialist.
My concern is that anything I write critical of Sarkeesian will come off as the dreaded “yes, but” argument. It hardly seems fair to lay off legit criticism just because a bunch of people are combining illegitimate criticism with asshattery. Is there any good way to handle this?
There are a good number of people out there who like to promote the idea that atheists are rational. I think this is a terrible oversimplification and leads to problems when you apply it to the real world. Atheism is a rational position, but there are as many reasons to not believe in a God as to believe in one and some of the reasons are far more supportable than others. Common reasons to believe include being raised that way and not thinking about it much, liking the social institution of church (and not necessarily even paying attention to doctrine), a need to feel a sense of greater purpose, a smug sense of superiority to non-believers, not being able to imagine where the world came from, and not being able to imagine morality without a supreme moral authority.
Common reasons for disbelief include being raised that way and not really thinking about it, dislike of the social institution of church, a lack of a need to feel a greater purpose, a smug sense of superiority to believers, lack of any solid evidence for religious claims and moral objections to religious teachings. Only those last two are rational, and not necessarily even then. There’s also a great deal of diversity of belief among atheists. I’m a materialist who believes in the scientific method and reasoning to the most like explanation, as are most of prominent speakers on the atheist lecture circuit, but plenty of people don’t believe in God but do believe in karma, mind/body dualism, chakras, choprawoo, conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific versions of racial and gender essentialism. I started thinking about this again because of this recent story, ably covered by Dan Fincke over at Camels with Hammers. Short version: a minor atheist blogger Leah Libresco has converted to Catholicism. Read more…