I’m going to apologize in advance: I’m too lazy to spell out a lot of the background details that would make greater sense of this post, and am counting on anyone either following the links within and/or having some familiarity with the culture, and even then, it may sound like a personal rant. That’s okay; skip it if you like.
I don’t read half as many blogs as I used to. In part, this is because my reading habits have changed, and in part, it’s because I find a topic and write my own take on it (which doesn’t always appear here.) But mostly, it’s because many bloggers just started annoying the piss out of me and I thus found better things to do.
Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True has encountered one such blogger, one that I used to read and comment on in the past, then abandoned after the quality plummeted drastically: Adam Lee, sometimes known as ‘ebonmuse,’ from Daylight Atheism (another was PZ Myers over at Pharyngula.) Coyne made an atypically short post on the subject, largely leaving it up to the reader to evaluate on their own – which was handled pretty damn well, I have to admit. Lee (posting as ebonmuse) actually appeared in the comments and, at least at the last reading which was several hours ago – the comments now number well over four hundred – got badly hammered.
A few days ago, I commented on the curious trait of assuming others are incredibly, incompetently stupid – that post had actually sat in draft form for many months, sparked by seeing several examples and then lying dormant for a while as I switched focus to other ideas, before being resurrected when I saw yet another instance. I was speaking as broadly as possible in there and not listing direct examples (or accusations,) but one of the things that provoked it originally was a post of Lee’s on the sexism of comic books – that was the one that convinced me to dump him from the blogroll. I just think it’s amusing that, not long after I reminded myself of this long-past disappointment in the blogger, Coyne has his own encounter. And yes, it’s coincidence – I’m not suggesting either Coyne or Lee is even aware of my existence.
Closely related is another post, sparked by a ridiculous trend that swept through the genre of skeptical blogging: the feminism bandwagon. And yes, it’s a bandwagon; the epidemic of sexism and female exploitation isn’t really supported by scientific studies, and the few real examples held up as evidence are usually completely misunderstood – that’s when anecdotes and incredibly inept pop psychology aren’t being used as a foundation instead, which is, as near as I can see, most of the time. This should not be taken to mean that I think sexism does not exist – yes, there are people who really would derive this conclusion from the above statement, quite a few of them actually – but to say instead that no one has even come close to supporting the idea that it is as pervasive as it is usually claimed. Many cannot even differentiate between a sexist individual and something that runs throughout a culture.
And this is, of course, if the sexism of a single person has even been established; referring to a medium that entails, not a word or a time limit, but a character limit, is not exactly what I would recommend using to evaluate an entire personality, as crazy as that seems. But of course, if you’re only after something that confirms your pre-existing viewpoint – if all that’s important is running with the crowd, rather than understanding good science or, heaven forbid, actually trying to find solutions – then whatever comes to hand is obviously sufficient. Applying a label or pronouncing someone inferior to one’s own exalted status does not require any kind of rigorous testing, any knowledge whatsoever of psychology, and no ethical reasons to try to determine accuracy.
None of this bears any resemblance to skepticism or critical thinking in any way, of course. It actually has far more in common with a religion: intractable positions, inability to remain objective, demonization of opposing views, and even the opportunistic selection of ambiguous events as “evidence.” Just like religious folk can find a miracle in a tortilla that vaguely resembles someone whose likeness has never been recorded (yeah, figure that one out,) rabid feminists can find support for their viewpoint in virtually anything that has a gender reference, regardless. I had my own fun a few years ago when I tried to make the point that Lee was grasping at straws, blissfully unaware of how scientific studies worked (you will have to load a lot of comments before finding my contributions, since several sub-threads ran away, but if you possess the fortitude to read through the whole mess, you’ll see what I’m talking about.) If you’ve never heard the term, “mansplaining” before, that’s because it’s a jargon term that exists only among feminist bloggers – see that demonization point above. If you’re male and make an arrogant or condescending comment, you’re mansplaining – this from a culture that feels the use of the term, “feminazi” is evidence of sexism in itself. Did I forget to mention double-standards?
Now, let me posit a hypothetical situation for you. Let’s assume that anyone on Twitter has been firmly established as sexist, somehow. What, exactly, is going to be their impact on culture? I mean, is it even possible to find someone so weak-willed and impressionable that they would model their behavior on a Tweet, or on anything that even a major celebrity does, much less a lot of people, enough that a culture is somehow affected? Let me know, because I’m obviously wasting my time attempting to make cogent arguments when offhand comments in a fatuous social media outlet are enough to shape minds and impact society. Unless, of course, such a thing is not only utterly unsupported by any study of human behavior, it doesn’t even make sense from a casual evaluation. But no, that simply can’t be true, because that would mean that Lee and others like him are crusading over purely imaginary dangers. And that people are wasting millions of dollars on psychotherapy to correct damaging behavioral issues when they could just ‘follow’ the right celebrities…
It’s extremely easy to cater to our desires for social cohesion and believe that whatever in-group we’ve discovered is correct, effective, and able to make a difference, largely from the number of people who ‘agree.’ But large numbers of people in agreement do not, in any way, indicate any solid conclusion or value to their viewpoint – think of any political party other than your own, or religion other than your own, or country, or whatever. If we never stop to think, “Hey, is this really a solid line of reasoning?” then we’re not really thinking at all, are we? I can’t imagine that being of any value.
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A small aside: I’m almost positive this whole affair with accusations of Richard Dawkins’ sexism came about from one particular incident a few years ago, yes on Twitter (it’s named appropriately,) when he made a disparaging comment about Elevatorgate, one of the key events in the whole online feminist brouhaha, revolving around a prominent blogger getting propositioned while alone in an elevator. For someone like Dawkins, who routinely deals with news such as women being beaten, disfigured by acid, mutilated, and on and on, all in the name of fundamental religion, I can imagine that this issue could be seen as a ‘First World Problem,’ akin to whining about cellphone reception – that is, at least, how I see it, but don’t let me assign motivations to Dawkins, because I honestly don’t know and aren’t abjectly stupid enough to judge based on an offhand comment. However, if my exposure to the online response is any indication, it was enough to create this Enemy At The Gates for the online feminists. It might not be true, and I hope not, because it’s particularly pathetic.