I’m With PZ and Jane Doe

I’m on the side that openly denounces misogyny, racism, and rape culture. It disgusts me that this conflict has become necessary in the skeptical and atheist communities.

We’re supposed to be better than the dogmatists who set up the self-fulfilling inequalities in our culture. We’re supposed to strive for high moral standards, not merely settle for being slightly better than the invisible sky monsters and their idolators. We’re supposed to blame perpetrators, not victims. We’re supposed to be sympathetic to the oppressed because we’ve experienced oppression. We’re supposed to be self-aware so that we don’t become oppressors ourselves. We’re supposed to tear down pretty facades to uncover the ugly truths. We’re supposed to disrupt a bad status quo, even if it means rocking peoples’ boats. We’re supposed to judge people by their character and merits, not by their claimed affiliations and labels. We’re supposed to criticize our heroes when they make mistakes.

We’re supposed to look at the merits of an argument instead of dismiss them with convenient ad hominem appeals to popular stereotypes and absurd narratives that were invented to dismiss them. We’re supposed to exercise extra scrutiny when someone claims biology supports cultural stereotypes. We’re supposed to know that our experiences are biased, limited, and not the whole context so that we can listen to other people’s experiences, look at raw data, and examine the logic behind a position with a genuine open mind. We’re supposed to act like skeptics if we call ourselves skeptics. We’re supposed to continue improving ourselves rather than idly pat ourselves on the back just for being atheists.

10 responses to “I’m With PZ and Jane Doe

  1. Excellent post, BD, and a nice round-up of the relevant points.

    And a reminder that I need to read/comment here more often :).

  2. It seems like things are “coming to a head”, but the sad reality is this is merely yet ANOTHER example of a problem that’s been going on for a while, and everywhere. I was recently at a convention that, well, has issues, and even THEY felt the need to put up a sign saying “costume does not equal consent”. It is staggering to attempt to render in my mind how an individual could be raised to think anything else. I realize now I made the crucial mistake of assuming my childhood is “typical”. It is the same reason I am shocked to find anyone that grew up on the DARE program as I did ever took up smoking, as though they never even HEARD about the dangers.

    So along those lines, Shermer… Well, I hadn’t bought that man’s book, but at this point, I’m not going to. I’ll occasionally put someone’s crooked personal issues aside to enjoy their works of fiction (in those cases, I make an effort to buy used), but in this case there’s nothing in Shermer’s book I’m not already familiar with.

    Hmm, but I should make a point here, since so many already have. I am VERY strongly against concluding guilt without a fair trial, as a matter of principle. So yes, as a matter of principle, I won’t claim that Shermer is certainly a rapist just yet. However, I also won’t dismiss the claims coming in, because they all seem pretty solid, and in this case the claims are certifiably not supernatural in nature. The extreme skepticism being shown (by some) seems to be applying lessons about psychics and astrology to questions about whether or not someone has a pet goat. We don’t and shouldn’t use the rigor required of the former claims to the latter claim.

    So there’s a very simple solution. We don’t necessarily treat Shermer as a pariah just yet, but we DO subject him to a thorough investigation. It’s basically what our side is asking for in cases like this. Sorry Shermer, you’ll have to go through some very hard questions, but the stakes are very high here. It is no different than the hard questions family members and friends need to face when police are investigating a homicide. In fact, I’d argue we’re dealing with basically the same thing, in a lot of ways. Let us assume for example that we don’t yet know for sure a homocide took place. Someone has been missing for weeks and there’s witnesses saying they’ve seen or heard something terrible happen. Well, family and friends need to be investigated heavily because of this. It’ll be emotional. Many of them won’t be guilty of anything and on top of that have the matter of a potentially dead loved one to contend with. One of them very well will be guilty. As a result, the investigation needs to take place.

    On shows like CSI, I never understood family member’s shocked reactions when the finger of accusation starts to point their way. Concern? Certainly, as the possibility of a wrongful conviction is ALWAYS there, but shock? That’s just part of the process, and being cooperative is a fast way to exonerate yourself if innocent.

    So to be clear, I will not dismiss the possibility of innocence, or assume guilt in advance. Principals of “innocent until proven guilty” are not just pillars of justice, but pillars of how I try to live my life with people around me, and how I think most people should go about their lives (the recent Trevon Martin case is a good demonstration of what happens when the opposite happens). I’m not about to claim that false convictions are “too insignificant to really be a concern”. None of those straw men. What I AM going to claim is that the other side in this case is taking the position that it isn’t even worth an investigation, that suspicion is tantamount to concluding “guilty”. Not so. Suspicion is the only way to find out the truth of such things, and is warranted when witnesses like these come forward with such claims. This dismissal of them outright is nothing short of sickening and cowardly.

    I have kept this to myself for a long time, but I’ll share it as it is emotionally relevant. I personally have been heavily affected by a baseless claim back in high school. This was shortly after Columbine, and not 1, not 2, but 3 different students all came forward as witnesses to a supposed claim I made that I was going to do the same thing at that school. The school’s principal designed to simply expel me without any further statement. As for my side? Well, I never even knew the student’s names. I was basically a loner, keeping to myself because there wasn’t any other option. Some students approached me asking me about the Columbine incident and asking if I would ever do such a thing, and as my sense of humor is my only defense, I said “I’d never do something like that, besides I wouldn’t have the first idea where to get guns anyway.”. Funny? No, and likely in bad taste, but certainly a far cry from their claim later on. I have a hard time really hating anyone there, I was never close enough to form any sort of emotional bond, but I do recall the principle in particular seeming a rather cowardly sort who didn’t seem capable of standing up for anyone.

    This is actually the exact opposite of what happened here. It’s what happens when guilt is assumed, not what happens when innocence is assumed. One would think I would naturally take the side of those who immediately trust Shermer, but that’s not the case at all. What I learned from that instead was that making snap judgments without any further investigation (motivated very likely by self interest, in my case the fact that this rumor had apparently spread like wild fire across the school and parents were all demanding my expulsion or they’d pull their kids out) is the source of BOTH sorts of injustice. In my case, I had 3 witnesses come forward claiming I said something. It would be immature of me to say “they should have just ignored them”. Yes, I was innocent of any such claims at all, but ignoring such testimony could very well cost lives if someone else who actually had made such claims stepped forward. No, the reality is that an investigation should have taken place. You know, the whole basis of our legal system, people investigating for BOTH sides. In the end of a fair investigation, I would be found innocent and life could continue on, but more to the point, the accusers shouldn’t suffer any consequences either. I don’t wish that on them. I really do suspect they misheard me or something rather than them genuinely wishing me harm.

    There is one big difference. In my case, the entire thing was about whether or not a threat of potential violence took place. In this case, it is a claim about violence itself having already happened, so the stakes are higher, and the investigation should be more thorough. More weight should be given to the witnesses in such a case, and also a key difference, most of these witnesses are otherwise unconnected to each other, different from my case where the 3 witnesses were the best of friends, which makes the Shermer witnesses truly corroborating.

  3. Pingback: The Skeptic & Atheist Movements: A Word of Warning for Newcomers | Spirituality is No Excuse

  4. I wonder what this will all look like in 5 or 10 years. Will other social activist groups be saying to each other:

    “Look at how the skeptic movement cleaned up their harassment problem. We should use their model.”

    or saying,

    “Funny, did you ever notice how there are so many skeptics and atheists diffused through so many social movements, but they don’t really have a movement of their own, except for that crusty old men’s club nobody listens to….”

  5. I was shocked when I first discovered some of the horrible sexism in the atheist and skeptical community. I thought I would be mixing with thoughtful, intelligent people who didn’t need god to be good. Then I realised there are several roads to atheism, and some go via the “no rules for me, I’m Freeeeee” route, the Libertarian Freeway. They are not interested in how we can make a better world without religion, or freeing people from some of the cruelties of religion. No, they want to do lots of shit without going to hell. Their idea of heathen heaven is doing whatever the hell they want. Love the A+ people. Exciting and good (my favourite combination).

    Thanks for the great post.

  6. I never really went to physical gatherings, because I live in the middle of nowhere, and as such taking long trips for a weekend’s convention seems like a waste to me. There WAS a local atheist’s convention, and to be fair, I didn’t run into any of these problems there, but it was a 4 hour event in the early morning hours with very little chance for major problems too, much different than even the local nerdy conventions which DO have some problems.

    In short, I can’t speak from personal experience or as a witness at atheist events, but so what? Eye witness testimony isn’t enough for aliens, but it sure as hell should be enough for the darkness in the human heart.

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