Thoughts on “Cosmos”

I just finished watching the first episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s revival of the classic Carl Sagan series. Now, on one hand, I’m a fan of the classic “Cosmos.” I’ve liked everything I’ve seen from it. It has a unique way of blending together the big with the small, the old with the new, and the abstract with the concrete. On the other hand, I’ve never actually seen the whole series. While I’ve had it on DVD for years, I’ve only watched maybe half the episodes.

So I came into the new “Cosmos” as an interested party, a fan of the old series, but not an expert. I have a preexisting love for Sagan and Tyson, and less fond feelings for producer Seth MacFarlane and the Fox network in general. But I talked up the show before it aired and made sure to watch it right when it aired.

There was a lot to like about the show. The effects were gorgeous, light years beyond the simple animations and computer effects of the original series. Tyson made complex ideas accessible, and gave a lot of little tastes and hints about huge, mind-blowing ideas, which people could easily find out more about on their own. There’s a lot about the methodology of science, and how our knowledge builds up over time. The “cosmic calendar” metaphor works better than the 24-hour clock metaphor Tyson employed in “Origins.” There’s no sense of apology or embarrassment or uncertainty about basic (but nonetheless controversial) science, like evolution or anthropogenic climate change or the age of the universe or the big bang.

There was a lot to dislike, too. I worried a bit, given Seth MacFarlane’s involvement and the way he’s used “Family Guy” as an unsubtle way to beat viewers over the head with his personal atheism, that “Cosmos” would be similarly blunt on the topic of religion. There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing, but “Cosmos” shouldn’t be it. More time should be spent kindling that ‘religious’ awe for the natural world than explicitly attacking believers. The new “Cosmos” managed to disappoint me in both ways in this regard; on one hand, it had a lengthy (and at least somewhat ahistorical) animated digression on Giordano Bruno, characterizing him as a lone heliocentrist scientist against the oppressive church. I was skimming along with the Wikipedia article on Bruno during the segment, noting places where the storytelling glossed over or twisted facts for the sake of narrative. On one hand, it painted Bruno as a man whose religious ideas drove him toward scientific truth, and whose idea of God was more expansive and awesome than the contemporary orthodoxy; on the other, it made him into a scientific martyr, right down to showing him ascending into the heavens in multiple visions, arms outstretched and knees bent in a crucifixion pose. Later, as Tyson went through the history of human history, specific mention was made of the “births” of Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed, at least two of whom were likely never “born” at any point in history. Somehow the show managed both to bend over to accommodate religion, and to attack the church and give science its own Christ figure.

I realize that the show was limited in scope, and couldn’t go into detail on everything, but I really wish there were even a couple more lines to indicate why some scientists believe in a multiverse or what current research has shown about the origins of life. I hope the latter question will still be addressed in a future installment, but this episode’s brief treatment of it made it sound like it’s still a complete mystery.

To get to the nitpicks, I’ve always thought the Ship of the Imagination was the cheesiest part of the original “Cosmos,” and while the effects here are better, the idea still feels kind of out of place. Tyson has a history of picking at science mistakes in movies like “Titanic” and “Gravity,” so it’s weird to see him helming a show that depicts the asteroid belt and Kuiper belt as such densely-populated regions of space. The amount of commercial interruption was ludicrous, but more ludicrous was the commercial for “Noah” right in the middle, showing off similarly expensive and pretty special effects in service of a much less evidence-based story. The animated segment, in addition to its other flaws, looked like a cross between a five-year-old Flash animation and ten-year-old cel-shaded cartoons, very out of place in the otherwise space-age show.

Overall, I have high hopes that future episodes will have tighter foci and greater depth, but this first installment was a pretty mixed bag.

Biology is always more complicated than you want to believe

I watched a little bit of a kerfuffle today as self-described “science groupie” Gia Milinovich decided to pontificate1 once again on the subject of sex and gender.

I follow a lot of feminists and trans* activists on Twitter, so I see people arguing against transphobic misunderstandings of biology pretty regularly. There are good responses to this line of argument; I always think back to Natalie Reed’s post on bilaterally gynandromorphic chickens and Skepchick Will’s response to the last time Gia pulled this out.

This time I foolishly decided to slip in a couple of remarks. In particular, I responded to this comment:

Which was so wrong it hurt. I pointed out what’s obvious to anyone who’s done ten minutes of reading on complications of gender, or who’s watched fucking “House,” would have:

Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is a condition where cells don’t respond to androgen hormones, causing 46,XY individuals to present phenotypically as female, down to a (frequently shallow or undeveloped) vagina, breasts, and in rare cases, a fully-developed uterus and other “usual female mammalian reproductive parts.” Swyer syndrome is even more to the point, as those 46,XY individuals, due to undeveloped streak gonads, will develop into women capable even of pregnancy (through fertilized egg implantation) with only an administration of hormones. No “mutilative” surgeries necessary for XY females in either of those cases.

Unless, of course, this argument is circular, and you define female as “people without XY genotypes.” In which case you’d have to do a genetic test before referring to anyone by their gender, because of the sheer number of conditions (chimerism, mosaicism, Turner syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Perrault syndrome, Triple X syndrome, etc.) that exist in humans which make it difficult to judge someone’s sex chromosome makeup by looking at their phenotype alone. Which is the point I hinted at in that second tweet.

The appropriately-named “Dirt” replied to that second tweet with a link to their blog o’ transphobia, presumably as a way of rebutting my points. I glanced over it, and two things became apparent:

  1. This has little if anything to do with what I was talking about.
  2. SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET.

So an old-school fisking was in order! Oh, was it ever.

  • No one is born transgendered.

Note the complete lack of any support for this bald assertion. Watch it become a theme.

  • Transition is a medical invention of the 20th century created to “cure” homosexuality
  • Transgenderism can ONLY occur via medical intervention.
  • Lots of things can ONLY occur via medical intervention, such as the normal development of people with Swyer syndrome. So what? Medicine is great!

    Oh, here’s a fun game: any time they talk about “transgenderism” in a medical context, swap in “abortion,” just to see where these talking points are coming from.

  • Hormones used for transition can and do change personality AND sexual attraction. 
  • Hormones used for transition are the same hormones made by gonads. “Used for transition” is an unnecessary phrase here. We’ve all experienced the changes to personality and sexual attraction caused by hormones thanks to something called “puberty.”

  • ALL transition surgeries are UNNECESSARY.
  • Except to the people who need them.

  • ALL transition surgeries are barbaric, permanently mutilating once healthy body parts.
  • So are gauged ears and split tongues and tattoos. If it’s not your body, then why do you care?

  • Havelock Ellis, Magnus Hirschfeld  and Richard von Krafft-Ebing first linked homosexuality with inversion, in the early 20th century.
  • Inverts were males and females who were perceived as being inverted, such as female inverts having a “masculine soul, heaving in the female bosom“. In other words those who didnt subscribe to the Gender Straight Jacket.
  • “Old white male researchers lumped a bunch of superficially-similar groups together as a single pathology.” Not exactly breaking news.

  • It was during this time (1931) that Lili Elbe received and died from the first sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was most likely intersexed, as medical evidence at the time indicated. 
  • Hey, acknowledgement of an intersex condition! Surely this will lead the writer to recognize that sex is more complicated than a binary option completely determined by two chromosomes, right?

    Also, this story of Lili Elbe ignores the earlier case of “Dora R.” and fails to note that Lili Elbe died after her fifth SRS operation likely due to rejecting a transplanted uterus. Hey, doctors in the ’30s couldn’t do something that doctors today still can’t do. Guess there aren’t any trans people.

  • Harry Benjamin who was a friend of and highly influenced by Magnus Hirshfeld, was heavily interested in gay male drag shows where according to HB, “many of the customers appeared in the clothing of the other sex“.
  • Harry Benjamin is the father of transsexualism/transgenderism.
  • Even according to that Wikipedia article, Benjamin’s research on transgender issues largely began when Alfred Kinsey asked him to see/treat a male child who wanted to be female. Kind of pokes some holes in those “no one is born transgendered” and transgender being an invention notions. Moreover, it only takes about five minutes of looking into transgender history to learn about overlaps between the transgender and transvestite communities. When cross-dressing was illegal, it’s no surprise that people with similarly interested in it for different reasons would band together.

  • Viewing psychiatry through a Gender Straight Jacketed lens, Benjamin ignorantly assumed transvestites and gay men to be one and the same. 
  • HB believed gay men to all be effeminate.
  •  Most of Benjamin’s patients were female fetishizers he mistook for homosexuals.
  • No citations are given for these assertions. I like the term “female fetishizers” though, because its attempt to be specific and skewering really make it look like an indictment of objectification and the male gaze.

  • Within the first decade of SRS, female fetishizers created an underground snail mail communication system whereby female fetishizers knew beforehand what to say to HB and later SRS doctors that would enable them to be approved for SRS.
  • Marginalized groups found ways around a system that pathologized and marginalized them. So what?

    Also, try playing the abortion game with that one.

  • The main criteria for early SRS (and today still) is homosexuality or behaviour considered to be homosexual.
  • Our sexist, homophobic society doesn’t exactly spoon-feed people the terms or opportunities to sort out their sexualities and gender identities. There’s a lot of messiness as everyone who doesn’t conform to the socially-accepted standard susses things out, largely on their own. The existence of the Internet has certainly made it easier for people to find resources and vocabularies and support networks, but kids and teens who are uncomfortable with themselves and how their desires and bodies and mental images are changing still need to seek out that information. It’s not surprising that some would try to fit their particular issues into familiar terms or contexts, and the contexts for homosexuality are a lot more prevalent than the ones for transgender.

    Also, what “criteria”? Legal? Medical? “Regulatory organizations are slow to adapt to changing cultural and scientific understanding about marginalized groups” is the breaking news headline right under “White Dudes Oversimplify Minorities.”

  • The majority of transitions remain straight white males who have a twisted cock response to clothing labeled “girls” or “womens“. Males known as Autogynephiles or as I call them, Female Fetishizers. Males who fetishize the patriarchal Male Gaze constructed IDEA “woman/femininity”.
  • Again, no citations. And the sign of a solid scientific paper, “terms I just made up myself.” It’s worth linking to the criticisms section of that article, but it’s also worth looking at Blanchard’s approach as discussed in the opening paragraph. It’s all about sex, and specifically, all about attracting a particular kind of partner or achieving some sexual fantasy. That’s not just insultingly reductive (and characteristic of all manner of other homophobic and misogynist ideas about people–see also: any time a right-winger talks about gay sex or slutty clothes), it erases or eroticizes the experiences of transgender children–you know, like the one that introduced the previous cited researcher to the issue.

    It’d be way easier for Dirt if their cited sources weren’t so contradictory to their attempted points.

  • Female Fetishizers carry out transvestism to the Nth degree in search for greater and greater sexual highs.
  • Sure seems like a lot of money and pain and effort to expend just for pursuit of a sexual fetish. I mean, I know people go to extremes, but really? All transgender people?

    Take furries, for instance. There are those who indulge their fetish mostly online. There are those who dress up in animal suits and get together for sexual purposes. There are those who go out in the fursuits in public, trying to live as furries full-time. There are those who get body modification, altering their faces and tongues, getting tattoos, having eyebrow or horn or whisker implants, and otherwise “mutilating once healthy body parts.” You know what there isn’t? A disproportionately high rate of violence against furries compared to other populations. Or if there is, it’s neither studied nor publicized as far as I can tell. It seems that being a furry is a lot less dangerous than being transgender. Despite that, I think you’ll find a lot smaller percentage of furries trying to live full-time or undergo medical interventions than transgender people. Why is that?

    It gets back to the notion that sexuality is a choice: if it were, who would choose discrimination and violence and marginalization? Similarly, if transgender identity is just about some kind of sexual gratification, how many people are really going to weigh the options and decide that getting some jollies off is worth the cost and the pain and the threats of violence and murder?

  • The medical community didnt invest in sex changes until the Kinsey Reports of (1948) and (1953) which concluded at least 10% of the population was homosexual and 37% of males had had a homosexual experience.
  • It’s totally a coincidence that this is also when transgender individuals (pre-surgery!) were achieving some measure of media coverage and were forming organizations. I’m sure Dirt would point the causal arrow in a different direction than I would; Dirt would also neglect to read anything before that linked section of the article, and would handwave away the 30 years of SRS prior to the ’50s as “not investing.”

  • In the early seventies pro consensual pedophilia doctor John Money (notorious for experimenting on the intersexed) coined the term Gender Identity/Gender Roles.  
  • Gender Identity/Gender Roles are socially constructed via patriarchy, NOT organically created in the womb.
  • Money is (in)famous for being the doctor at the center of the case of David Reimer, who was raised as a girl after a botched circumcision, under Money’s direction. But Reimer’s case would really seem to be a blow to Dirt’s hypotheses here. See, Money believed, as Dirt does, that gender identity was an entirely social construct. It therefore followed that if Reimer were raised female, with an apparently female body and female hormones and the like, that Reimer would form a female gender identity. Money reported for years that the case was a successful validation of his belief in the social construction of gender.

    But it wasn’t. According to sexologist Milton Diamond, who worked with Reimer as an adult, the socialization didn’t take, and Reimer stopped identifying as female somewhere around the ages of 9 to 11, and began living as male at 14. As a teen, he was driven into suicidal depression.

    Hm…suicidal depression because your outward gender presentation doesn’t match your self-identification…where have I heard that kind of thing happening before?

    See, if Dirt and Money were right, Reimer should have grown up female with no real trouble2, since that’s how he was socialized, that’s what hormonal instructions his body was receiving. Unless there’s something more inborn or innate about gender, something distinct from hormones and patriarchy. Either gender is social or it’s biological (or, as is more likely the case, it’s a combination of both), but Dirt’s trying to pretend that there’s a sharp divide while trying to have it both ways. In neither way does the case of David Reimer help Dirt’s case.

  • Just as homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, Gender Identity Disorder was slipped in.
  • If you read the abstract Dirt links here, it actually makes the opposite point:

    Another point of controversy is the claim that the diagnosis of GIDC was introduced into the DSM-III in 1980 as a kind of “backdoor maneuver” to replace homosexuality, which was deleted from the DSM-II in 1973. In this article, we challenge this historical interpretation and provide an alternative account of how the GIDC diagnosis (and transsexualism) became part of psychiatric nosology in the DSM-III. We argue that GIDC was included as a psychiatric diagnosis because it met the generally accepted criteria used by the framers of DSM-III for inclusion (for example, clinical utility, acceptability to clinicians of various theoretical persuasions, and an empirical database to propose explicit diagnostic criteria that could be tested for reliability and validity).

    What is it with pseudoscientists and the inability to read?

  • The Trans Politic was created by straight white males-female fetishizers-using politics to further their pornographic urgers, not so dissimilar to NAMBLA’s political pedophilia via the Gay and Lesbian platform. 
  • Wow, ad hominem much?

  • Transition DOES NOT and CANNOT EVER change a person’s sex.
  • Define “change” and “sex.”

  • Transition is purely a cosmetic and legal “sex change“.
  • Even if it were, so what?

  • Gay males who transition do so out of internalized homophobia, usually within a hyper masculine minority culture amid the larger white culture.
  • Yes, because if there’s one thing we know about the larger homophobic white culture, it’s how non-misogynist and trans-friendly it is.

  • Since gay white male popularity and large media visibility, gay white male transitions have drastically decreased to near nonexistence. 
  • Citation please. Seriously, I spent some time looking for even just a breakdown of transgender prevalence by race, and couldn’t find it. The best I found was an overall summary of LGBT population and an estimate by Los Angeles county of their transgender stats. If these statistics exist, I’d love to see them.

  • In quantity, lesbian transition was largely unheard of until the backlash against feminism rode its Trojan horse-Queer Theory-into academia and then the Lesbian community.
  • Yeah, we’ll ignore the women who lived as men and married women dating back to the early 19th century.

  • A huge phase of feminist backlash is hyper-femininity.
  •  Not until hyper-femininity began reaching new undreamed of heights did dykes begin transitioning in numbers. 
  • As hyper femininity began being hammered upon younger and younger women/girls, Trans Trending among lesbian youth took off.
  • I do not see the thread. Wasn’t there hyper-femininity before feminism? Why isn’t this also due to internalized homophobia?

  • Transitioning children has been rare due to the lack of legal medical grounds to do so.
  • Since the recent publication of the DSM5 which includes transitioning children, the trans kid phenomena has skyrocketed. 
  • “Now that doctors think this treatment might be acceptable, more people are doing it!” What a newspaper this person runs.

  • Trans kids are considered children who do not sport the Gender Straight Jacket.
  • You strung some words together there but it’s a real shame they don’t actually make sense in that arrangement.

  • Trans kids if left alone will grow up in most cases to be healthy gay and lesbian adults.
  • Oh I see, the point of that previous point was to define “trans kids” broadly enough so it encompasses all gender-nonconforming individuals, from homosexual all the way out to trans and genderqueer and whatnot. That way, you can bootstrap this claim, since you’ve already defined “trans kids” to include “kids who never actually identify as trans and are actually gay or bi, but have a non-gender-conforming interest in musicals or softball.”

    Also, note “in most cases.”

  • Homophobic parents are transitioning their children rather than have a gay son or lesbian daughter.
  • Because homophobes are so much more accepting of transgender people. And hormones and surgeries are way less expensive than kicking the kid out or shoving them in the closet.

  • Transitioning children IS an overt attempt to eradicate gays and lesbians in their youth.
  • It’s not doing a very good job.

  • Hormone blockers used to “treat” GI-gender in-congruence in children are dangerous and life threatening.
  • Can I just note the hilarity of that link? It links to another post on Dirt’s blog. Can’t bother to even link an independent article about the drugs. From a cursory look, Lupron’s side effects don’t seem very sinister, and pages for trans youth make the counterpoint that they reduce the need for future surgery and reduce the depression and anxiety associated with gender dysphoria. Of course, that requires you to view transgender people as actual people who can make their own decisions and honestly report their experiences and intentions and motivations, and not as men driven by lust to mutilate their bodies for sexual purposes.

    Ugh, I just realized how that rooted that attitude is in seeing women only as objects of sexual pleasure and not as people.

  • Transition is the ONLY treatment for modern MENTAL illness that barbarically removes or rearranges healthy body parts for its cure.
  • I’d like to see the citation for this one.

  • The GID/GI diagnoses requires the patient be suffering from dysphoria (severe uncomfortableness with the body or how the body is viewed by society).
  • Female fetishizers who make up most transitions NEVER suffer from dysphoria.
  • Well, that omits most of the trans* people I follow online then, because I see them discussing feelings of dysphoria fairly frequently.

  • ALL females suffer from varying degrees of dysphoria.
  • Oh, I see. You’ve broadly redefined “dysphoria” too–or, more accurately, equivocated between “dysphoria” (the opposite of euphoria) and “gender dysphoria,” which is the component of GID diagnosis. Note that Dirt doesn’t link to the Wikipedia page on gender dysphoria, despite liberally linking to Wikipedia in other points. This may be because the opening paragraph states:

    Evidence suggests that people who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth may do so not just due to psychological or behavioral causes, but also biological ones related to their genetics, the makeup of their brains, or prenatal exposure to hormones.

    Complete with a little superscripted link to an actual peer-reviewed medical journal article on the subject. Curse that evidence, always getting in the way of bigotry and pseudoscience.

  • Yet lesbians remain the prime females receiving transition as a cure for their dysphoria.
  • Children do not suffer from dysphoria, yet those suspected of being gay or lesbian are being labeled trans and transitioned.
  • We’ll ignore all those children cited in your links who experienced gender dysphoria. Also, this.

  • Transition has NEVER cured anyone of their dysphoria.
  • Dysphoria relief from transition is temporary.
  • Dysphoria increases over time post transition.
  • These seem like testable hypotheses. Perhaps it would be good to find and link to studies which evaluated them.

  • Outside of transition, no therapy has been used to ease dysphoria or attempt to cure it.
  • From that Wikipedia article on Gender Identity Disorder again: “Until the 1970s, psychotherapy was the primary treatment for GID. Psychotherapy is any therapeutic interaction that aims to treat a psychological problem. Though some clinicians still use only psychotherapy to treat GID, it is now typically used in addition to biological interventions as treatment for GID.”

    Man, if only Dirt had read that article, they wouldn’t have looked quite so silly.

  • Transition drugs have no serious long term studies and have caused cancer and other complications in trans persons.
  • Considering that “transition drugs” are basically the same hormones prescribed for other types of hormone therapy, this claim is flat-out ludicrous. Yes, there are links between certain hormones and certain kinds of cancer, but not just in trans people (for instance, breast cancer in postmenopausal women undergoing HRT). Some links of note: 1, 2.

  • Once the trans person passes as the opposite sex, there is a perpetual mental fear and stress of being found out.
  • All the troubles that lead the trans person to transition do not magically go away post transition, in fact many more new troubles arise.
  • Certainly none of that is impacted by people believing that transition is done purely for sexual gratification and that trans* organizations are just like NAMBLA.

  • Cis is an organic chemistry term trans persons use misogynistically to attack primarily feminist and separate themselves from non transitioners.
  • “Cis” is a term from chemistry, meaning the opposite of trans (similar to “straight” as the opposite of “queer”). How it’s “misogynistic” is an exercise best left for the reader to decide.

  • Because the trans identity is self created, i.e weak, trans persons cannot fathom critical analysis of any kind.
  • Maybe because the critical analysis is all transphobic pseudoscientific bullshit like what you’ve spewed?

  • No one labeling themselves trans is a feminist.
  • Define “feminist.”

  • The foundation for transition is misogyny, and misogyny is the foundation for homophobia.
  • There’s some truth to the last half of that. But there’s a lot more misogyny in boiling women down to objects of sex and a pair of chromosomes or a particular anatomy than there is in transitioning.

  • Transphobia does not exist.
  • Maybe if you repeat that enough times, it’ll come true.

  • Trans persons attacked or murdered are done so because of homophobia and the foundation of homophobia-misogyny. 
  • I suspect there’s a lot of truth to that, too. But here you are, attacking trans people. Which are you, a homophobe or a misogynist?

  • Transition flourished because female fetishizers for decades have used the gay and lesbian political platform to advance their fetishes and inline with the leaders of the straight white homophobic medical community, hampered and out right destroyed gay and lesbian advancement and lives.
  • Now might be a good time to note the central roles that transwomen like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson played in the Stonewall Riots and otherwise agitating for LGBT rights. Yep, those “female fetishizers” right there, holding back the gay community.

  • Transition never ends, high dosing of hormones must continue the life of the trans person.
  • This is also true of many non-trans people. Again, talk to a postmenopausal woman or man with low testosterone sometime.

    To feminist reading this, if there is something you feel needs to be added, email or comment me.

    You really ought to add some facts, and remove all the rank bullshit.


    1. Even if we ignore all the complications of biological sex, this leaves a lot of women out of Gia’s category of women: the childless, the infertile, the prepubescent, the post-menopausal, women who have had hysterectomies or infibulations or oophorectomies, or whose sex organs incompletely developed. Gia’s womanhood is an exclusive , essentialist womanhood even before you discuss intersex or trans* conditions.

    2. Of course, given Reimer’s allegations about Money’s abusive treatments, he was probably going to develop complexes regardless. It’s just interesting to watch Dirt try to smear the trans community with Money’s unethical practices when his opinion of gender is the same as Dirt’s. If anyone’s smeared, it’s the “just a social construct” folks.

    The Moral High Ground

    I promise, I’ll be done with Atheismpluscrap after this, but they’re just such a bottomless pit of ignorance and cognitive dissonance that it’s hard to resist the urge to document it for posterity.

    Anyway, while I think most folks who sling around gendered slurs like they’re the height of discourse has already ceded the moral high ground, it’s not often that I get to see such a stunning display of blatant hypocrisy (or possibly incompetence; Atheismpluscrap is a bit like an ELIZA bot built to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect) in action. To whit:

    @atheismplusdogma: @Doubting_Tom it's duplicitous to call this movement atheism+

    (Screencap)

    I disagreed, but the point is that Atheismplusdogma appears to recognize that duplicity is bad. Later, I said this, in a candid moment:

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap I'm not particularly interested in atheism anymore, I can't speak for the movement. I barely participate.

    It’s true. I have an account on the Atheism+ forums, but I haven’t visited in quite some time, and got bored and disinterested pretty quickly after it started. I think it’s important to promote secular community and dismantle religious privilege, but “no gods exist” is one small, relatively insignificant, completely impractical thing I’ve learned about our vast universe. It has little more bearing on my life than the fact that unicorns and leprechauns don’t exist. I’ve grown far more concerned with the people and systems that do exist, and how we can make them better.

    Not to mention I’m tired of dealing with the puffed-up pseudointellectual bigot dudebros who have rallied around the term “atheist” and think that adopting it confers magical reason-powers on everything they do or say. People who think “gods don’t exist” is somehow the pinnacle of human knowledge are people who I have no interest in or respect for.

    Anyway, somehow that tweet got twisted by Atheismpluscrap into this:

    (Screencap)

    @atheismpluscrap: #AtheismPlus insider admits “they’re not interested in atheism”

    Now, Atheismpluscrap has had some difficulty understanding symbols and words, so maybe they just didn’t know that when you use those double quotation marks, especially after saying “X says,” you’re supposed to be quoting what another person has said verbatim. Deviating from that means you’re falsifying the quotation, and omitting relevant context is quote-mining. You know, of the sort that religious creationists do.

    It wasn’t the only time Atheismpluscrap used that tactic:

    @Doubting_Tom: Yep, one tweet is really all you need. "Gods don't exist" – and that takes care of atheism. What next?

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom all human beings should be treated equally. What next?

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap Well, next we determine the source of inequalities, and how to correct them. What are the logical conclusions of atheism?

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom if you're not a deceptive liar, explain why A+ tweet about feminism, based on your "what next" logic. Tripped up.

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap A+ tweet about feminism to draw attention to ways in which people (in this case, women) aren't treated equally. See, "all people should be treated equally" is prescriptive & suggests action. "Gods don't exist" is a conclusion. And as we say all the time to theists, you can't get from "gods don't exist" to any other action without other premises.

    Became…

    (Screencap)

    @atheismpluscrap: #AtheismPlus insider admits “it’s all about feminism, we tell theists there’s no god, end of”

    It’s silly, because Atheismpluscrap is a thoroughly unpleasant twit, but it’s enlightening to see such stark proof of the uselessness of “atheism.” As I said a couple of posts ago, there’s nothing about atheism that requires its adherents to be reasonable or consistent people, and here we have proof: a Twitterer who assigns phrenological meanings to Tweet/follower/following ratios, shifts goalposts with all the skill of a creationist, and openly flouts his hypocrisy:

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap Yes, I'm the one ho [sic] should be embarrassed, because you make accusations of duplicity then make up quotations.

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom that's what #AtheismPlus cunts are doing every day. Your cults tactics. Do you want the last word? Is it di important.

    There was a time when I thought being an atheist meant that someone had applied skepticism and good reasoning skills to the question of god’s existence. There was a time when I thought being an atheist meant rejecting the unreasonable, fallacious tactics of religion, and the reprehensible moral systems they promoted.

    I know better now.

    The Shocking Truth SHE Doesn’t Want You To Know About!!!1!

    Yesterday, I introduced you to the kinds of laughable conspiracy theories that can result when, like Twitterer Atheismpluscrap, you choose comforting delusions over unpleasant realities.

    But man, if you’re going to believe ridiculous things, you might as well go all-in, right? “Atheism plus is a covert religious group trying to discredit atheism by promoting fascist feminism” barely registers on the conspiracy theory wackyometer. Chart of conspiracy theories where craziness is on the x-axis going from less to more crazy as you go left to right, and where importance is on the y-axis, going from less to more important from bottom to top.It’s on the very bottom of this chart, and only slightly toward the right-hand side. So let’s help Atheismpluscrap out a bit by punching up their conspiracy.

    It all starts in Atlantis, a perfect society built on MRA principles, where the social recognition of women as inferior emotional sperm-vampires led to the development of a technologically-advanced continent the likes of which have not been seen since. When men are not distracted by the needs of and endless competition for women, there is no need for war or hierarchy. There was no need for stifling government in Atlantis, for the perfect free market directed all things, unsullied by feminine influence.

    This is not to say that women were mistreated in Atlantis; quite the contrary. They were well provided-for, never needing to work beyond mating. The lack of a system of marriage or paternity ensured that children would be raised by he community as a whole, without distracting men with the unnatural demands of monogamy and the so-called “nuclear family”–nuclear because it’s radioactive, causing a slow wasting-away death of both individual and society.

    Of course this hyper-rational, enlightened culture was atheistic. The concept of gods never even occurred to a society without the feminine invention of “faith,” or knowledge derived from womanly “feelings” and “intuition.”

    But then there were the Amazons, a warlike, man-hating, petty matriarchy living on the mainland. The influence of the Amazons on other cultures was what led to the development of most violence and disease in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and they pillaged technological advances from the men of those lands. They spread their philosophies of religion and feminism to indoctrinate women and enslave men to a system of faith-based “tradition,” installing an unachievable male ideal as the head of a system of gods which emphasized the notion that males and females could be equals.

    Atlantis had the oceans and its technology to protect it from the toxic influence of fascist feminism, but eventually those barriers were breached, the Amazons wearing away at their defenses until they could no longer stand the assault. Once the women of Atlantis began to believe the comforting myths of the Amazons, they rose up and demanded male enslavement, or male extermination. Some enlightened men escaped, but the knowledge and technology of Atlantis was scattered to the winds, and the island itself was lost forever.

    The Amazonian system of religion spread, changing here and there, but always holding men in an emasculating position subordinate to some greater man. This, along with the inventions of sex competition and marriage and paternity, created competition and hierarchy between men, and led to all wars and conflicts, all class stratification and government.

    There have been men who stood up to this system, but the system endures, striking them down whenever possible. Abraham Lincoln was a strong red-pill man, who recognized that all men were equal, superior to women, and so the feminazi woman supremacists had him killed by an effeminate thespian. John F. Kennedy was a virile red-pill man, openly flaunting the oppression of marriage and selecting multiple mates as any alpha deserves, so the gynotalitarian femifascists had him killed by a simpering beta who bought into the feminine collectivist lie of Communism. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were fearless red-pill men who openly spoke about putting women in their rightful places, so with the help of manginas like George Harrison and Eric Clapton, they emasculated John with a forced feminazi marriage and killed and replaced Paul with a beta-male double. When John still wouldn’t cooperate, openly promoting the rational standards of world peace and atheism, compelling people to throw off the government shackles and make a new society, they had him killed by a beta who was infatuated with a book about a frustrated, emasculated mangina.

    Whenever men have banded together to fight hysteroppresion, women have subverted their organizations. The Illuminati began as an enlightened male attempt to get back to the roots of rationalist male primacy, but was subverted from within by false doctrines about gender equality. Now, it’s another arm of the gynocracy, secretly manipulating subservient beta-males (e.g., Obama) into positions of world power, and opposing the alphas who make it there through sheer force of manliness (e.g., Putin, Clinton). Freemasonry was much the same, beginning as a masculine attempt to exalt manly physical labor and building things, but subverted by female-controlled betas into being obsessed with girly secrets and fashion accessories and hierarchies.

    And now atheism has risen up to battle the evils of feminist religion, and it’s strengthened through alliances with Men’s Rights Advocates and libertarianism. Each of the three groups has a pillar of Atlantean social perfection, which is why feminists are so afraid of them. If they aren’t stopped, then Atlantis may rise again, and this time thanks to globalization and the Internet, the whole world would be part of the glorious Atlantean perfection.

    With the control of the FemIlluminati, it’s easy to marginalize libertarians, because the few red-pill elected men like Ron Paul can’t get a foothold in the woman-defined system. With the power of Pussy Control over emasculated beta-men, it’s easy to marginalize MRAs as “misognynist” and “sexist” and creep shame them. But atheism isn’t so easy to marginalize, because it’s so obviously correct with its foundations in masculine science and reason. The enlightened red-pill men who reject feminine religion are too rational and intellectual to fall for the other lies of the hegematriachy. So feminists must resort to other methods to strangle the nascent Atlantean perfection before it leaves its crib.

    And that method is Atheism Plus, atheism tainted with the lies of feminism and run by subservient lickspittle beta-males like P.Z. Mayers who are controlled by female supremacists and their fanatic religious adherence to feminist dogma. By insinuating themselves into atheism, they plan to subvert it just like 18th-century radfems subverted the Illuminati, by diverting its efforts and energy to hopeless, unrelated causes, and causing internecine strife by imposing a hysterical hierarchy and forcing inter-male competition for atheist female mates. If they succeed, the rational power of atheism will be scuttled, and the resources that remain will be redirected toward supporting the gynocratic rule of the shadow matriarchy, setting back the rebirth of the perfect Atlantean system, perhaps beyond reclamation.

    This is why the alliance between atheists, MRAs, and libertarians is so vital, and why the feminarchist powers are so keen to silence liberated red-pill alpha-males like Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette and The Amazing Atheist. Their natural male power and charisma can’t help but convince people, even semi-rational women, and drive them toward the natural state of humanity, which is the restoration of the Atlantean standard. We need only protect, amplify, and follow these voices, and we can defeat hysteriarchical gynofascist tittytalitarianism forever!

    There we go. That’s a ludicrous conspiracy theory. If you’re going to be so unrealistic and unreasonable as to believe in a comforting conspiracy theory, that’s a respectable theory to buy into. Anything else just makes it look like you’re sacrificing reason and evidence and skepticism for nothing.

    Projection

    I run a pretty small blog here, so I’m always excited to see the little counter dealie up on the WordPress toolbar showing big lines to represent how many hits I’m getting. It’s a nice change of pace from the vast flatness I usually see. So, being curious, I sometimes check out where my hits are coming from. One recent source of visits has been a thread on the JREF forums, linking specifically because of my spat with Tim Farley. Here’s the relevant post:
    Poster "Humes fork" saying "Tim Farley in a kerfuffle [links to my "Unskeptical Complaints" post] about Block Bot. Not surprisingly, what makes them angry is disagreement with them."
    I’m not going to engage with that tired bit of mythology. I’ve dealt with variations before, and it’s repeated there without basis or substance. It’s an empty phrase, and you can judge for yourself whether or not what made me angry was “disagreement.”

    But I found myself thinking about this post today, because of a Facebook post by JREF president D.J. Grothe:

    There is an impressive distemper these days on the internets.
    Many smart, good people that I know personally seem to fear this “call-out culture” online that is going on right now in many communities online. Folks are immobilized by a moral scare or panic that they think they are watching unfold presently. As for me, I think it all seems increasingly like some surreal science fiction imagining of some bizarre future dystopia. And so, I say:
    Consensual sex — between any mature adult male or female etc. — is a human good. It is something that should be prized and promoted (would there be world peace if people just had more and better sex, ha?).
    But instead I think unduly-moralistic scolds end up actively diminishing human flourishing by their sex-negativity.
    And I curse the unholy alliance of the quack far-left so-called feminists: a different kind of ardent feminist than I am — and the authoritarian anti-sex rightist religionists whom I used to run with decades ago. (How the heck is it that these two equal opposites agree on so very much these days, and the two last decades, too?).
    I have a disturbing answer, but it doesn’t work for a social networking or FB comment..

    More accurately, my thoughts were spurred by D.J.’s response to some critical comments on that Facebook post. First, feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte posted this:

    “I love consensual sex! It’s awesome. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why it’s super critical that consent exists, because when consent isn’t there, sex—and sexual behavior ranging from flirting to intercourse—stops being great and even really “sex” and starts being harassment, assault, and rape. So yea, feminists! By making consent a front and center issue, we can make sex better, more pleasurable, and more frequent—after all, nothing makes people less willing to have sex than being afraid that their right to say no won’t be respected. One question, though: Can you name some of these “feminists” that you’re talking about that oppose consensual sex? I’m pretty well-versed in feminism and don’t know any of the ones you’re talking about.”

    Look at that! Not a nasty word, not an intemperate statement. It’s positively cheerful, with a genuine question at the end, looking for that thing that skeptics love above all, evidence in support of some claim. It got a whole bunch of likes, apparently more than anything else on the thread!

    D.J. deleted the comment.

    In response, Lance Finney posted this:

    DJ,
    I’m curious what your commenting policy is on your wall. Earlier, I saw a comment from Amanda Marcotte that praised consent and asked you for examples of feminists that matched the description you gave in your first comment in this thread.
    Did you delete her comment?
    If so, why? As I recall it, there wasn’t anything abusive about her comment. If you have a policy of deleting contrary comments, what is the trigger?

    Look at that, perfectly polite! A question of clarification! If there’s one thing skeptics love as much as evidence, it’s clarity and good questions!

    D.J. deleted the comment and blocked Lance Finney.

    So, um…who is it, again, who can’t handle disagreement? I eagerly await an answer from the JREF boards.

    The Tendency to See Only What We Want to See

    I’m white, straight, male, able-bodied and cisgendered. While I’ve been in debt (still am, and probably always will be), I’ve never been poor. I have a college education and an underpaying but still middle-class, professional-level job. I live in the United States. I have never known oppression or poverty. I have never been subjected to discrimination on the basis of my race or gender or sexual orientation. The closest I’ve come is a couple of times when I was a teenager, where I was followed around a store by an employee, and in one instance, forced to talk to a manager because of a baseless accusation of vaguely-defined wrongdoing.

    The fact that I was a white teenager meant that such treatment was rare enough that I still remember both instances; the fact that I was a white teenager means that such treatment stopped when I grew older.

    Being a part of the majority means that I can turn it off. All the injustice and discrimination, all the mistreatment and institutionalized bigotry, I can tune it out. It never affects me, at least, not directly. I’m insulated–so insulated that even now, when I try to force myself to see it all, I can only get glimpses and best guesses.

    We talk about imagining what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It’s a neat metaphor, and one of the most memorable bits of one of my favorite novels, but it’s still just a metaphor. I can try on someone else’s shoes and walk around for a bit, but they’ll never fit me right, and I have the luxury of taking them off and wearing something more comfortable. For minorities? I imagine it’s a bit like having Barbie feet:

    barbie_feet2

    Destined only for heels and wedges.

    Or, perhaps more accurately, bound feet.

    There is only one axis I know of where I fall out of the majority, and that’s religion. I’m an atheist, and I have been for some time now. And since I’ve adopted that label and outlook, I’ve noticed all the little things. All the times I’ve had to bite my tongue at work or at family gatherings or at my own wedding. I’ve panicked about people finding out, and wondered what effects that would have on my life. I’ve noticed all the little ways that my culture legitimizes and benefits religious ideas and people. I’ve seen the assumptions that people blithely make about the religious and nonreligious, the stereotypes and myths they repeat and spread–“you don’t have the right to push your atheism into government and schools” or “if I were an atheist, I’d just rape and murder people” or “aren’t you sad that your life has no meaning” or “what’s the big deal about the Pledge of Allegiance? It’s just tradition.” And I’ve let those slide rather than potentially ending up in arguments or revealing too much about myself. Mostly I’ve seen how blind most people are to all of it, never considering that the Pledge of Allegiance or tax-free churches or “teach the controversy” might be a problem.

    I couldn’t turn that off. It affected me, even if it was mostly because of minor annoyances stacking up over time. And noticing that, noticing that society was structured in ways that inherently privileged religions and the religious, was what got me to start noticing that other groups are privileged in similar ways. And that I belonged to most of those groups. And just as I know how hard it is to get religious people to consider things from my perspective when they’ve absorbed all manner of misinformation from society, I can see how hard it would be for a person of color or woman or trans* person or disabled person or non-heterosexual person to explain to me what it’s like and how it sucks for those little annoyances and injustices to stack up on each other. I know they hear the same kinds of myths and questions–“Black History Month? How come there’s no white history month?” or “what if I go into the girls’ bathroom or locker room and just say I felt trans* for the moment?” or “if I were on welfare, I’d just sit around and have kids too–who wants to work?” or “how can you change the definition of marriage? It’s tradition!”–and I know that those come along with a lot more discrimination and disenfranchisement and danger than I’ve ever felt for being a nonbeliever.

    Which is one of many reasons why it’s so weird to be accused of seeing only what I want to see. Because as a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered, educated middle-class man, I have the luxury of being able to do just that, if I want. I can tune out the bigotry and the discrimination and believe that the world is a just place. I can believe that equality under the law means that social equality has been achieved, that minorities are just looking for extra rights above and beyond equal treatment, and that the worst injustice one might face now is a single-gender gym or hearing a prayer at a high school football game. I can go about my life assuming that I got where I am because of my own skills and talents, and that affirmative action and social safety nets are just ways of lowering the bar for the inferior and promoting generations of lazy drains on society and criminals. I can trust in the powers that be, secure in my knowledge that even the smallest crime which victimizes me will be treated seriously by the police, and that regulations are burdens on businesses that force them to do things which aren’t popular or profitable–because if they were, the businesses would do them already. I can watch TV and movies and never worry that I’ll be unable to identify with the characters, never worry that every straight white guy on TV will fall into the same stereotypical mold. I can walk home alone at night, or go out drinking and know that the worst consequences I’ll face are a hangover and maybe some crude drawings in Sharpie on my face, and that I’d hardly be blamed for either one happening. If I tuned out all the stuff I’ve begun noticing and reading about over the last several years, the oversimplified, black-and-white, “just world” that in some ways I’m programmed to see.

    But that’s not the world that actually exists. And as a skeptic, I’d rather face a harsh reality than a comforting truth. I don’t want to see people I admired doing terrible things. I don’t want to see people in power abusing that power at the expense of the less powerful. I don’t want to see my bookshelf increasingly clogged with tomes by people I no longer respect. I don’t want to see the ways that I’ve contributed to and benefited from a system that harms people who aren’t like me. I see those those things not out of some perverse wishful thinking, but because they’re real.

    And I wonder about the people who reject complex, ugly reality for facile faith in an oversimplified perception of a just social order, who still call themselves “skeptics.”

    Following the Block Bot

    Happily for some, there won’t be much in the way of fisking today. There’s only a few things I wanted to really comment on, though I suspect it’ll still make for a ridiculously long post.

    First, holy crap. I realize that not everyone who watches Virtual Skeptics is up to speed on all the internecine skeptical blog drama, so a recap may be necessary. That’s part of why a video is a poor choice of medium to respond to blog posts1: if you need to spend an extended time summing things up, down to the details of the programs involved2, maybe it’s better to find a venue where most of your audience will already be up to speed, or one where you can accomplish the recap with a link.

    That aside, I suspect he would have gotten fewer people upset at his lack of immediate response if he hadn’t kept popping up on Twitter and Facebook to talk about it, make excuses, and leave multiple comments bemoaning his lack of time to respond. I sympathize with being too busy to blog; you can see how long my posts tend to be. But I don’t go around in a huff posting on social media about how I don’t have time to blog and besides everyone’s ignoring most of what I wrote anyway. That takes time too.

    So, the first specific part of the video response that rubbed me the wrong way was “people were mad because it wasn’t easy enough to get rid of them [harassers] on Twitter.” It’s true that blocking only does so much, and shutting down the accounts only leads to the creation of new accounts. But one of the big problems, and one that’s glossed over here and later when Farley talks about Twitter changing their policies, is that Twitter often wasn’t enforcing their own existing rules regarding abuse, harassment, and threats of violence. Adding a “report abuse” button is all well and good, but if Twitter continues to handle it like they’ve handled some threats (1, 2, 3) to Anita Sarkeesian (just as a prominent example), then it’s not worth a whole lot.

    The next bit:

    So a BBC reporter on BBC Newsnight got interested and did a report on it, and got the guy who wrote Block Bot on there, and did a report. And people have argued with me that I am ignoring the commun—who the Block Bot is written for, and that the report covered that, and I have gone back diligently and watched the report several times, and they’re wrong, okay? You honestly watch that report, it does not explain that the Bot is for a specific community, you only see the name of that community briefly on screen, it says “Atheism+ Block Bot,” nowhere do they explain what that means, they don’t explain what Atheism+ is, and they don’t explain—and I’m not gonna get into all the details, you can go read my blog post if you’re interested in all the details—but there’s three levels of blocking, and they never explain the other two levels, they just, they barely reference them in the report.

    He’s right, the report is very brief on the subject of the Block Bot. The relevant section is about 2 1/2 minutes long, just enough for some basics. I can certainly understand why they didn’t go into what levels 2 & 3 meant, because that’s on the website. I can also understand why they didn’t go into what Atheism+ was, because that’s mostly irrelevant to the point they’re making in the interview. I would think that someone who wasn’t a part of “atheism” plus or otherwise, would recognize the name “Atheism+” at the start of the Block Bot’s name meant “hey, this probably isn’t for me,” kind of like when I see an ad for Christian Mingle or women’s vitamins.

    But the kicker is that while the report doesn’t outline in specific detail the intended audience of the Atheism+ Block Bot (aside from talking about how it was made by supporters of Rebecca Watson and displaying the name), it also doesn’t support the absurd conclusion that Farley leapt to, which is this notion that the Atheism+ Block Bot is meant to be a solution for everyone, effectively making Ool0n and Aratina Cage the moderators for all of Twitter.

    As I noted before, what Ool0n actually promotes in the video is Twitter making it possible for people to create shared block lists, using the same technology as the shared follow lists. Mason asks him why Twitter doesn’t implement what Ool0n’s done themselves; if the intent were the one Farley took away, why wouldn’t Ool0n say “well, they don’t need to, I’ve already gone and done it for them” or something along those lines?

    Ool0n has consistently been promoting the shared block list as a strategy. He’s been open about this, and that’s the impression I took away from the interview (and from the accompanying article, which is a bit clearer). The video is not explicit about who the Block Bot is for, but there’s nothing to support the conclusion that Farley drew, “that this was a good tool that everyone on Twitter should use.” He says later that he “really didn’t even want to write” the post. And if he’d maybe thought for a moment, “hold up, does Ool0n really think he ought to be in control of who gets blocked on Twitter? Isn’t that a bit megalomaniacal?” and then thought “maybe I’ll send the guy a tweet to make sure that’s what he meant,” he could have avoided the whole thing.

    I do think this implies a practical suggestion for the Block Bot, which is to put the link to the source code on the front page, with a clear statement like “Specific harassment problems in your Twitter community? Build your own block bot!” And maybe add to the FAQ a “who is this for?” question, largely unnecessary back when the people it was for, and the people it intended to block, were the only ones who knew about it.

    This bit tickled me:

    I pointed out a lot of things about how the Block Bot works that were unclear to everyone. They, maybe they were clear to the people who run it, and the people who are using it, but other people were very confused

    So, the people actually making use of the Block Bot were clear on how it works, but other people, perhaps people who’d never bothered to look at the website or the FAQ, perhaps people who only got their information about it after it passed through the filter of harassers and trolls whining about their freeze peach, were unclear.

    Farley talks repeatedly about people being rude to him. I’m sure I’m in that group, though I don’t think I displayed any “rudeness” until he came into my comment thread with tired myths (“They are simply people that (some, all?) Atheism+ people disagree with on some topics”) and deflections. But then, Farley’s idea of rudeness seems to be that peculiar one that prevails in parts of skepticism, where it only ever works one way, and mostly appears to mean “using swear words” or “not being sufficiently deferential to your betters.” Jumping to an absurd conclusion and writing 4,300 words about it without bothering to check with the people involved? Not rude. Buying into a malicious myth that certain groups just can’t brook disagreement when you can’t find immediate evidence that they acted reasonably? Not rude.

    I’m tired of that nonsense. I think it’s far worse to argue in bad faith than to use naughty words. I don’t think anyone in this movement has earned exemption from criticism or has shown that they are incapable of bad behavior. I think being dismissive can be far ruder than being aggressive. And I think yet another outsider thinking they can wander into a conflict that’s been raging for years, do a casual scan of the environment, and make authoritative pronouncements about what people’s motivations are, is pretty damn disrespectful. It’s like walking into the LHC having read a Wikipedia page on the Standard Model and saying “you guys must not really want to find the Higgs Boson, or you’d just look harder for it.”

    Getting to the meat of people’s disagreements with the post, Farley says:

    And I knew that I did not want to get into, and we said this in the comments of this post, of this YouTube, I did not want to get into who’s on the Block Bot, who’s not on the Block Bot, why is this person blocked, because that is a rat hole. I just wanted to talk about how it works, how is it administrated, are there bugs in the code, does it do what it’s supposed to do.
    And I needed a way to bring up the issue of, “hey look, this guy’s on here, and this woman’s on here, why are they on here?”

    Emphasis mine. So here, I think (being charitable), is a limitation of speech-vs.-writing. Someone who wrote those two bolded phrases so close together would, I hope, notice the obvious contradiction between them, but that’s harder to do with off-the-cuff speech. As someone who does a lot of off-the-cuff speech for a living, I understand how that can happen.

    Farley goes on to obliquely reference one of Stephanie Zvan’s posts about people on Farley’s list, saying she “made my point,” which is (allegedly) that there’s no evidence logged on the Block Bot site for why each individual account made the list.

    And you know what? I agree with that. It would be a great resource in these discussions if we could easily call up a screenshot of relevant or representative examples of tweets that got someone added to the block list. There may even be an easy way to implement that; I don’t know. All of my knowledge of computer code is limited to HTML tags. But I know that just stripping the URL from offensive tweets wouldn’t be particularly useful, since tweets get deleted and accounts get deleted and whatnot. A screenshot would be better, but it still takes a bit of time even to just “print screen” and copy and crop it into a decent image file, let alone uploading all those image files to be linked from the block list. I don’t know how much of that could be automated, but I do suspect that the handful of people running the Block Bot have day jobs and social lives too.

    Keeping records on that sort of thing would be great, and I’m glad some people have been independently cataloging the abuse. But it’s a step beyond the general goal of the Block Bot, which is to protect people in this community from at least some of that abuse, and not something that is necessary to its function.

    The only reason this would present a problem, again, is if you assume Ool0n and his friends want to be the moderators of all Twitter. If you don’t make that assumption, then you can opt-in to the system whether or not you know the specific offending tweets for any specific one of the six hundred-odd people on the list, trusting Ool0n and the administrators to make their decisions based on good reasons, or you can refrain from using the system, or you can make one that suits the needs of your particular community.

    Back to the list of credentials (I’m tackling these next few bits slightly out of order):

    And I did not intend to say that any of those people on that list shouldn’t be blocked. What I intended to say was, I, and I think others, look at the list, and see some of the names, and if you happen to know who those people are, and even if you click through and see their current feed, you sit there and go “well, the current feed looks pretty good,” scroll scroll scroll, “why is this person blocked?” So they should be listing the evidence. First of all, they should be recording the evidence, and there’s no evidence that they actually are. And, they need to, um, they need to have a way to look through it, and a lot of people are into the concept of “name and shame,” and I think that’s perfectly compatible with that. If you believe that it’s important to name and shame people, and it’s important to block these people, well, put the evidence of why they’re annoying there, and let people judge.
    Um, and that was my point.

    And later:

    I knew it was an argument from authority. My choice was, this authority [points at himself], or some other authority, it was the only way I could think of to make that argument. And it was a wrong choice, I admit it now. And I have marked it with strikeout.

    Emphasis mine. So, the only way Farley could think to make this point was with an argument from authority. That should have set off alarm bells in the mind of any skeptic, that maybe this point was a bad one, or maybe there was a better way to do this, but he barreled through anyway, and it’s nice to see that he’s recognized, at least to some degree, how problematic it was.

    The issue is this point he’s saying he wanted to make. You can go back and read his article to find where he says that the Block Bot administrators should be tracking why each person gets blocked, and making that information available to the users. You won’t find it. It’s not there. The closest you get is in the conclusion section, where one of the bullet points reads “Require administrators to supply a reason or piece of evidence (e.g. a tweet) for any add,” which still says nothing about making that information publicly available so people can judge for themselves. Farley has been framing the lead-up and the response as though people “misunderstood” his point, but it the only way to have gotten that point from what he actually wrote would have been through telepathy.

    So how could Farley have written this section without the argument from authority? Here’s an option (note that this is paraphrasing/rewriting, using as much of Farley’s actual language as possible, but is not altogether a direct quote):

    A casual scan down the list of Level 2 and Level 3 blocks reveals people, many of whom I know personally, who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world. From the publicly available block list, you can click the names to go directly to their Twitter feeds, and in many cases, you’d see little evidence that these people are attacking, threatening or spamming anyone. It’s possible that these accounts have tweeted malicious, harassing, or just annoying things in the past, but that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent to anyone just looking at their recent feed. The administrators should supply a reason or piece of evidence (e.g. a tweet) for each person on the list, at least at Levels 2 and 3, so newcomers can see why those names made the list, and judge whether or not they want to block those levels.

    That’s one possibility; there are others. None of them required listing credentials as if they were relevant, or going off on how the levels aren’t clearly distinguished (outside of the sign-up page, where they are), how the people on these lists are just there because of “disagreements” with members of Atheism+, and how some poor confused soul might miss out on valuable tweets by blocking all three levels of offenders without knowing why those people were blocked.

    Note how none of those claims serves to make the ‘administrators should keep evidence and make it available’ point that Farley says he was trying to make, and I have a suspicion as to why that is: it wasn’t actually the point he was trying to make. Now, that’s a rude accusation I’m sure, but I can’t imagine any other reason for this comment he left on my response to the post:

    You are missing my point. I was not saying “these authorities are on the list therefore it is bad”, I was saying that if you actually look at what those people do on Twitter they are demonstrably not abusers/harassers/whatever. They are simply people that (some, all?) Atheism+ people disagree with on some topics. I repeated several times that I do not begrudge them the right to use the block bot in this way, but I think it reflects poorly upon them as skeptics that they are so unwilling to be questioned.

    Emphasis mine. Strange how on August 2nd, this was his point, while five days later, it was the far more reasonable ‘put the evidence of why they’re annoying there, and let people judge.’

    I commend Farley for not taking the logical next step and editing that point into the original post.

    I’m not going to speculate on why Farley has so dramatically changed what he says his point was. What he said was his point in the comment here is much closer to what’s actually written in the article than what he said was his point in the video. And in that comment, it looks like he’s bought (in part or in whole) into the “FtBullies/Atheism+ can’t stand disagreement” myth that has taken various forms over the last year or so, but bears little resemblance to reality. The article’s argument hinges on this ‘they blocked these people just because they disagreed’ notion to make the ‘what if they block someone you want to hear from because of a disagreement you’re not involved with’ point that closed out the section, and that wasn’t later struck out.

    I’ll leave the reader to decide if “if you actually look at what those people do on Twitter they are demonstrably not abusers/harassers/whatever” jives with the point Farley says Stephanie Zvan made for him.

    Moving on, one thing Farley says a lot is that a community should be able to block whoever they want for whatever reason. Which is why quotes like “you don’t have to look very far to see people going ‘why am I on this thing? What did I do?’ And, um, that shouldn’t, that shouldn’t be happening” are so mystifying. Even if we ignore all the people who are out there spreading active misinformation, even if we ignore that people who say the most racist, misogynistic, and otherwise bigoted things often think of themselves as progressive non-bigots (does the phrase “I’m not racist, but” ring any bells?), I really don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that we’d ever be at a point where anyone on the list says “yes, I completely understand why they blocked me.” Because even when there are well-documented reasons for blocking a person, we still see examples of them saying they were blocked for no reason. It doesn’t matter what level of harassment a person is engaged in; once blocked, they’ll still say it was just because they “disagreed” with “feminist dogma” or whatever. This thing that Farley says “shouldn’t be happening” is going to happen no matter what, because of disingenuous people.

    Well, and because of dog-whistles and subtweets and subtle digs. Assholes of all stripes, from the highest echelons of politics and religion on down to the high school halls and online Twitter feeds, have learned the time-honored art of using coded language to say apparently innocuous things that actually aren’t. It’s why Republicans can claim that they’re not being racist when they talk about “terrorists” or “Muslims” or “foreign influence” or “illegals,” and it’s why certain assholes can claim innocence when they talk about “the real bullies” and “know-nothing bloggers” and “professional victims” and whatnot. Displaying those tweets as evidence of annoyance leads to the same thing that Farley says “shouldn’t be happening”–“what did I do? how is that ‘annoying’? doesn’t everyone hate ‘professional victims’?”

    But I do agree, it’d be beneficial for those tweets to be cataloged. I just don’t know that there’s a feasible way of doing it on the Block Bot’s scale.

    Farley spends a bit of time toward the end of the video going after Ool0n’s character:

    But, last week, independent of this whole thing, Ool0n decided to block one of the accounts of Anonymous, the giant hacker collective. And he decided to start taunting them about it. And as a result of, right when my blog post went up, and through Friday and Saturday, the Block Bot was actually being Denial of Service attacked by Anonymous. Um, and he continued to taunt them, including calling the Block Bot “unblockable.” And, y’know, Ool0n, you, like I said, you’ve been nice to me, but that shows really poor judgment. Taunting Anonymous publicly on the Internet is about the dumbest online thing I can think to do. Um, and that’s the person who’s running the Block Bot for you.

    Part of me sees this as the same kind of fallacious nonsense Farley pulled with the whole “credentials” section, just as ad hominem instead of pro hominem. ‘Here’s one thing that’s true about this person, so you can judge from that how fit they are to do a largely unrelated thing.’ “Taunting hackers online” is a bit more related to “administering an online service that targets trolls” than “research fellow for a think-tank” is to “harassing people on the Internet,” so it’s not quite as bad.

    Now, I only saw bits and pieces of what Farley’s describing as it unfolded, so I asked Ool0n if he thought it was an accurate description. He didn’t think so (1, 2, 3, 4), and said he’d post about it when he gets home. (Edit: here’s that post.)

    But from my perspective, as someone who’s sympathetic with the aims of the Block Bot but doesn’t actually use it, would I want someone like Ool0n, who ‘taunts Anonymous,’ running it? Well, yes, absolutely. Ool0n echoed my opinion in that fourth linked tweet there, but if I’m someone who’s getting harassed by trolls online, I’d like the person who’s running the service protecting me from that harassment to be someone who’s not cowed by prestige, power, or online shows of force. I like and agree with a lot of what gets done under the Anonymous umbrella–their campaign against Scientology, their truly heroic actions in the Steubenville case–but that doesn’t mean that any hacker who adopts the label “Anonymous” is necessarily acting in anyone’s best interest, or even on behalf of Anonymous as a larger group. And I’d want the Block Bot to be administered by someone willing to stand up to anybody.

    The last thing I want to address is this bit of insufferably smug hypocrisy:

    Uh, frankly, I was very insulted that a lot of the kind of, y’know there’s, I won’t get into who’s who, but there was kind of a very “gotcha” attitude toward my blog post, of “aha! We’ve discovered that Krelnik is a bad skeptic,” and they all focused on that one section where I listed credentials, and talked about how it was an argument for authority.

    Well, yes, I’d say knowingly making arguments from authority is unskeptical. It’s a leap, I know. But boy, there’s that “focused on that one section” thing, as if it weren’t obvious deflection again. It reminds me of the cranks who say “read my book” or the conspiracy nutters who dodge criticisms and questions by sending you on YouTube scavenger hunts. The only way “you took that out of context” is a defense against criticism is if the context answers the criticism or renders it invalid. That’s not the case with the list o’ credentials section of Farley’s post, which only looks worse in context.

    But as long as we’re looking at context, I have a hard time taking that “‘gotcha’ attitude” complaint seriously when one considers this:

    But I know that some people didn’t read my blog post because I put a booby trap in the blog post about four paragraphs up from the bottom. I hid a sentence in the middle of a paragraph that said you were supposed to use a certain word when you commented.

    Paris in the the spring You have got to be fucking kidding me. ‘I’m very insulted at the ‘gotcha’ attitude that people have only focusing on one small part of my post, and I know they didn’t read the whole thing because I put a ‘gotcha’ in one small part of my post, nyah!’

    It’s true, I skimmed over that part of the post. Part of that is because it came after the conclusion. Part of it was because the “long-term prospects” for the Block Bot were irrelevant to any part of my critique, and indeed, to any of the critiques I’ve seen elsewhere online. Part of it is that a paragraph whose thesis was “A second looming problem for The Block Bot is it may become a victim of its own success,” made it even more clearly irrelevant, even to the points Farley made above. I skimmed that portion of the post and judged it to be not germane to my problems with the rest of the post.

    Now I’ve gone back and read that section in grand detail, and it turns out that my initial judgment was right. Nothing in that section, including the ‘booby trap’ paragraph, has any bearing on any of the problems I had with Farley’s article. And unless the gotcha had been “Psst, problem 6 is clearly a fallacious argument that I’m just including to see who’s paying attention,” I don’t see how it could have. ‘You didn’t read this clearly unrelated section’ is not a response to the critiques of the rest of the post. It’s a juvenile exercise that insults Farley when he thinks others are doing it to him. And it’s not something he would ever fall for, because he’s certainly not the kind of person who would look at something quickly to decide whether or not it was worth his time and attention…

    And I did read all of your posts. There are a number of red flags that I’ve learned about online commentary and you hit 2 of them: Fisking, and replies that are more than 4x longer than the post they are replying to.

    Long experience has told me that discussions in that state go nowhere.
    (Source)

    …oh. Nevermind.


    1. Farley’s comments here implied that it was his official or only response to the matter. If I’d known he was still planning to take the time to respond in a written medium, I could have saved quite a lot of time yesterday. And today, for that matter.

    2. When he launched into the explanation of how apps work on Twitter, with multiple examples, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a workshop I went to recently to learn some new software for work, which included a lengthy description of how to use the red “x” button to close a window.