Monday, July 02, 2012

Same Mistake, Different Context

I'm going to share one of my favorite quotes regarding Creationism. It's from this book I reviewed back in 2007.

Yes, the proponents of intelligent design understand the eye . . . but as only one example, not as the basis of a general principle. ‘Oh yes, we know all about the eye,’ they say (we paraphrase). ‘We’re not going to ask you what use half an eye is. That’s simple-minded nonsense.’ So instead, they ask what use half a bacterial flagellum is, and thereby repeat the identical error in a different context.

I love the quote because it so accurately sums up the problem with Creationists: They'll accept one thing, but completely reject another situation that's painfully similar and insist there's no relation.

Oddly enough, that's exactly how the skeptic movement is feeling right about now. The entire situation with feminism and harassment that's been going on for the past year has shown that, while skeptics may understand how systems of oppression have been used against them by theists, they fail to realize themselves using the exact same techniques "thereby repeating the identical error in a different context."

The biggest way I've seen this done lately is the trivializing of the entire issue. I already touched on this once, and the "Great Penis Debate" had another great example in which Emery tried to write off the harassment Rebecca and other women have received for their position as "what the internet is. It is where the idiots come out to play and say hateful things. It’s not about sex, it’s not about power, it’s not about skeptics. It’s just about what happens when you’re a public figure on the internet."

While it's true that the internet does tend to bring out the jerk in people (mildly NSFW due to language), and simply being a public person does attract internet trolls, that's not the whole story. While it's easy to write off an instance here or there as an isolated instance of internet trolls, he fails to look at the big picture where the trolling takes on a whole new level and different dimension when it comes to women. For example, look at what happened recently with Anita Sarkeesian when she made a kickstarter to study gender tropes in video games.

And there's been another major example of it that's led to a firestorm lately.

Namely, thunderf00t, well known for his "Why People Laugh At Creationists" youtube series was recently given a spot on Freethought Blogs. He promptly declared that "sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue" and went on a tirade trying to justify this by stating that he has more followers on youtube than there are at such conferences. This is about like me stating that I have more followers on G+ than Dr. Who does so that TV show must not matter. It's an idiotic argument, but TF uses it to try to state that harassment isn't a big enough issue to care about.

This smacks of the sort of trivializing that non-theists routinely receive. The routinely refuse to even acknowledge there's any sort of issue and ask why we're angry, which has obviously prompted an entire book explaining this. But in both cases, these very real issues are trivialized and ignored.

Certainly the examples of religious wrongdoings in Greta's book are far more damaging than a case of harassment at a convention, but what those trying to trivialize this topic fail to acknowledge is that, while harassment is "small" it's also prevalent in society and as such, it adds up very quickly and fosters the climate of "big" dangers that women disproportionately face in relation to men.

Which highlights yet another example of how these skeptics fail to recognize the similarities. They'll go after religion in every respect, because they recognize that it fosters a culture of fuzzy thinking leading to the big issues Greta cites. It's the soil for these twisted trees. But where general, low-key sexism is the soil that nurtures the "big" issues of assault, they refuse to go after that fertile soil, even as it sprouts young saplings of harassment.

Calling out this fertile soil is nothing new. It's been around since the 1970's when studies first started labeling it as "rape culture". Since then, it's been an entire field of study, but one that these detractors seem ready to blithely ignore. Which brings me to my next example for now of how this crowd of trivializers are making the same transgressions as their theist counterparts.

In this post, the anonymous blogger accuses PZ and other Freethought Bloggers of "an unthinking adoption of academic feminist theory." This obviously implies that there's something wrong with "academic feminist theory" although the writer doesn't deign to even link to anything critical of an entire discipline that's had nearly fifty years of in depth research. This reeks of Don McLeroy's declaration that "somebody's gotta stand up to experts".

The last example of how the skeptic movement is failing to see how their same points apply in different contexts is on the burden they place on the group that is the subject of this harassment. Repeatedly, I have seen demands that women that are the targets of harassment report it. They never admit the fact that reporting doesn't happen in a vacuum, and there are many reasons a woman wouldn't want to report something, not the least of which, is the additional harassment she'll open herself up to. The logic is that by not coming forward, you're condoning the behavior. And there's some truth to this: It becomes much harder to victimize someone, or a group of people, when someone you know is a member of that group. As long as that group remains anonymous, it's easy to continue the power differential (which all goes back to my first point about silencing people through trivialization).

The parallel in the skeptic movement would be saying that if you're an atheist and you don't come out of the atheistic closet when a theist trashes atheism or coming out of the closet as a homosexual when someone trashes gays. In these cases, we acknowledge the extra baggage that comes with such things. But when it's women and harassment, there's a group of dedicated people that refuse to do so. It's mind boggling how these parallels exist, and yet they continue to make the same errors in a different context.