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04 August, 2012

Some Thoughts on The Skeptic Movement

I don't post here often. When I do, it's usually from a smartphone and full of errors and typos. My four subscribers, thank you for hitting that button on the sidebar and sticking around, (especially you, Mom, being that you're a theist).

But things have been bothering me lately about the sexual harassment issue in the skeptical community. I find the entire thing disgusting, with one side never being satisfied with adults being able to handle themselves without a laundry list of things like, "Ask before hugging, watch what you make jokes about," another side being a group of trolls shouting "You're too sensitive, go get raped!" and the rest of us caught in the middle, trying to find some way we don't rip our movement apart trying to find a way to make the other side wrong.

I'm going to assume here that my reader knows something about Elevatorgate and Dawkins, TAM and DJ Grothe, American Atheist's policy, Freethought Blog, Thunderf00t, and a number of other things that have been going on in our community. If you don't, please ask in the comments.

My husband and our friends often laugh at off-color humor. Last night, we were conversing and someone said something in a way that could have been interpreted as much more perverted than he meant it. Pretty soon we were all laughing at a subject that is very serious. We weren't making light of it, because in a serious conversation, we'd all agree it needs to be addressed.

What was funny was that we were being absurd and outlandish in our jokes. We wouldn't make these jokes with kids or people we don't know, but we're all adults and we know the difference between comedy and reality.

Our brains are fascinating and can parse these things without walking out later in the day thinking, "Wow. That joke really made me thing that subject X isn't a real problem. In fact, sometimes when done right, humor can make a person think more about that problem.

The other thing that bothers me is that if you take the position that the "watch your hugs and jokes" crowd, you get lumped in with the people who are trolling back with, "Go get raped, you vagina slut."

Why on earth would anyone do that in the skeptical community? Perhaps because blogs aren't held to a standard that encourages discussion. Blogs tend to be internet soap-boxes where people can shout out their opinions whether anyone asked or not (such as I admittedly do here), and the ones that get attention are the ones that cause the biggest stir.

Maybe it's the celebrity factor. They get to imagine themselves important if they have enough followers or get the attention of big name authors and activists (such as Richard Dawkins).

Maybe they honestly have their intentions in the right place, but refuse to admit that anything they say about the subject might be wrong, so they back themselves into a corner until they're endorsing harassment policies that regulate common human interactions, such as hugging, as if we can't rely on these adults to be aware of body language, cultural markers or even the ability of a person to say, "I'm uncomfortable with hugs."

I imagine it's a little of both. Even though Rebecca Watson was completely rude to me unnecessarily and PZ Meyers blogs more about insulting people than science anymore, I like to think that most of the motivation is the latter. These are people who already have bad personalities and awkward social skills who have found a voice on the internet where they can be respected and revered. The problem is, once they say something, they have to back it up. Humans are less likely to change positions when their opinions and beliefs are stated publicly.

That being said, I have had a few vitriolic posts in the past about these two people in particular. Anyone following my twitter feed has seen my shock turn into insults when they start pulling their antics on people. Getting so frustrated with them, I suddenly realized I was doing exactly what I disliked about them and their friends. For that, I apologize. I really mean that. Here I am publicly changing my tone so I'm not stuck in the "Us vs. Them" battle anymore.

I hereby solemnly swear I will try to gear this blog toward discussion of differences, avoid insults and work toward solutions. Anyone is welcome to comment, but please don't feed the trolls.


  1. I think you may be on to something. I hadn't thought about it before, but one of the ways this whole "freethought bullies" meme has affected the atheist community is that many of us are now trying to elevate our tone above those who peddle in juvenile insults.

  2. I also don't think some subjects should be off-limit humor-wise. Especially when it's among people who are very comfortable with each other. Almost anything CAN be made humorous, it can be social commentary and it can be therapeutic to laugh to keep from crying.

    It's just that sometimes people just AREN'T funny when they joke about certain topics. And maybe they're offensive or insulting instead. It's more about the way a person goes about it.