META discussion of Pharyngula and it’s “horde”

Reposting a comment I made on Noelplum’s blog, then expanding those ideas.

(Pharyngula discussion)

The commenters there do not behave like individuals, but rather like a collective. There are the few “heavy issue” posters who are more likely to quote you and, miracle of miracles, actually interpret about 50% of what you say accurately. Then there are the orbiters, who haul things out of context, misunderstand your argument, and cast everything you say in the worst possible light. Both types regularly degenerate into a combination of personal attacks and back-slapping, and any internal policing (eg “hey X, that’s not what he said”) is offered cynically if at all, with copious “he’s a fuckwad anyways, but” caveats lest any expressions of charity cause alienation from the hive.

What they’ve created is a place where dissent is certainly possible, but in an extremely narrow range, on a small number of issues**. Stretch the politics or social position too far, and nothing short of a mewling display of obsequience will exonerate you from an endless barrage of vitriol.

In addition, while very real, very relevant disagreements occur in the hivemind’s responses to you(amongst themselves), these disagreements are simply utilized to further do-down Big Dissent. When half of them agree on issue X, and half disagree, arguing against X is perceived as arguing against a position no one is espousing. When supporting X(and thus not arguing against it), it is perceived as “ignoring” the commenters who argue against it, not responding the argument destroyer that is X for cowardly reasons.

They don’t have regular dissenters because most normal people aren’t going to put up with that kind of abuse, whether or not they get banned. He doesn’t need to ban, all you have to do is read responses to something you might agree with to realize that your thoughts and attention is best applied elsewhere. I imagine that, while the dungeon is not very populous, one can go back through the history of contentious posts on PZs blog and find unique, single or double post individual dissenters who, when realizing the extent of groupthink and personal vitriol, just left and never came back.


Another interesting paradox is the stated position of PZ in contrast to my continued existence as one of his commenters. Clearly, I’m no “regular”, but riddle me this: If dissent on feminism is by definition unreasonable, and PZ bans unreasonable people, why am I permitted to retain commenting privileges?  Is it:

1. I’m not disagreeing with feminism.

2. I’m disagreeing with feminism, but doing to reasonably.

3. I’m unreasonable, but PZ hasn’t noticed me yet.

4. I’m unreasonable, but PZ has changed his tune on banning people.

Now it theoretically could be the first option, since I reject his definition of feminism, and I’m certainly not claiming women aren’t people.  However, I am disagreeing with some of the core dogmas and methods of feminism, esp. the PC paradigm.  While there is disparity in privilege in society, this exists in all society, and it’s not clear that the line between “privileged” and “underprivileged” can be drawn along gender/race lines.  It’s perfectly true to say that men have advantages in society, but it’s also true to say that women likewise have advantages.  Framing privilege in terms of the GDP of a particular gender or race ignores other measures of social privilege.  Indeed, defining privilege as something possessed by one gender necessarily entails that the positive aspects of that gender’s experiences are the only aspects of anyone’s experiences worth measuring.

Perhaps it’s the second option out of the four listed above, though that would render PZ’s position on reasonable vs. unreasonable dissent simply false.  If there is a way to reasonably be an anti-feminist, and I persist in affirming so, then PZ is wrong.  Allowing me to comment for so long would be a tacit concession of that fact.

The third option strikes me as implausible, given the sheer length of the thread and, judging by the number of lurkers, the volume of page hits accrued.  Of course, this possibility, that he really hasn’t/doesn’t care, opens up some interesting questions.

Since Noelplum can reasonably cite instances where he and others have commented honestly and genuinely, and been banned for being unreasonable or narcissistic, is PZ’s failure to moderate my contributions evidence that he is relaxing his grip on the discussion?  I think it’s entirely possible, and that brings us to option four.

This seems to me to be the most plausible, and least self-aggrandizing, proposed hypothesis.  First, it doesn’t assume out the gate that I’m being reasonable.  Second, it suggests that PZ is listening and taking seriously the people who are criticizing his blog policies, a compliment for any skeptic.  Third, the style of change that this hypothesis posits is consistent with what Crommunist adopted on his blog on the same network.  He regularly modified comments from other people, behavior that was mean-spirited, proves absolutely nothing about the commenter, and deprives anyone else from hearing what that person might have said.  Hitchens speaks passionately about the right of every person to hear every form of heresy, and decide for themselves whether it’s right or wrong; else, who might you choose and trust to filter your ears?  After repeated criticisms that manually editing other people’s posts to say horrific or silly things is nothing more than abusing power, he appears to have ceased doing so without any fanfare.  Perhaps PZ has likewise changed while maintaining a positive image among his “horde” and the wider community.

Finally, on that fourth point, there exists a less complimentary reason that PZ is relaxing his grip on the discussion, and this is something I point out in the fourth paragraph of this post.  He has cultivated a garden of sycophants and attack dogs, more or less homogeneous in their political and social views, who create such a hostile environment for 99% of those who might otherwise voice their opinions that the tiny minority willing to let such hatred wash over them and persist in disagreeing doesn’t present a problem worth risking FREEZE PEACH criticism from his peers.

As long as there are 20 people telling some new person he’s wrong, and no one supporting him, the appearance of said person’s abnormality, and by contrast the normality of the majority, is sustained; what we might call a “reality space” all their own.  This phenomenology can be experienced by simply referring family and friends to the discussion for feedback, and realizing that your self-doubt in failing to make any headway is due mostly to the “horde” being unable or unwilling to transcend the vagaries of semantics.

Alternatively, it might just be self-defense; put a group of rats* in a barrel and they don’t start eating one another until you stop feeding them.


* Given all of the disgusting personal attacks directed at me throughout that discussion, I don’t feel even the slightest qualms about referring to them as a group of rats in a barrel.

** All well and good if you’re Radfem hub or Conservipedia, but highly objectionable under the banner of “Freethought”.



Hello again, Patrick. Lets start with this:

If mandating percentages is a poor solution, how do we ensure and verify that recruitment is being done blindly? For example, in the U.S., would labor laws be rewritten? Would the government refuse to contract with companies that don’t adhere to such rules? Would non-blind recruiting be made a civil offsense? Or is this something addressed by the private sector? If so, how? Trade association rules? Union oversight? Decertification of companies who don’t adhere? How do we handle companies operating internationally?

There are three ways to approach such a problem. The first is on the back end, either by quotas or blind recruiting (however that can be done, if it can). The second is to find the root of the problem, and just keep hacking until it’s dead. The third is to do nothing.

On the first, you must recognize that you are objecting to a bias that blocks certain groups from being hired and rising up in the private sector, based on attributes that have nothing to do with performance. To turn around and say that we’ll now block another group, which has traditionally succeeded in the private sector, is to act in the precise objectionable manner you’re attempting to correct. Some might call it fighting fire with fire, others an eye for an eye.

Tokenism is a result of the type of thinking that casts minority X as a monolith/inanimate object, rather than seeing them as a diverse group of people.

Indeed, white males are a diverse group as well, many of whom are leaders of nothing, failures by most financial measures. They haven’t succeeded, <i>often they aren’t interested or don’t care to partake</i> in that culture. They won’t be helped or harmed by these measures, though, and are largely invisible. The harm, if it manifests, is to those who are interested, and who do possess the secondary characteristics (ambition, competitiveness, aggression, insight, etc..) in spades that would make them an asset, but who would be excluded for their skin color or gender.

Those characteristics are present in some portion of all groups. So what about blinding recruiters? I did posit this as a potential solution, but I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that this method is only marginally effective on recruiting. It is unsustainable on performance reports, as how would you evaluate someone blindly?

Alright, so lets examine the third option next: nothing. This can work iff companies that actively diversify are measurably more successful in their given field. If having 40% women, as some companies do voluntarily, has all of these benefits, then they will surpass their competition and the market will select for such practices. The market is highly competitive, and well-organized firms monitor these shifts for positive and negative causal factors. The study was probably financed by a business group or corporate group, frankly, curious about whether to adopt the same practices.

However, this isn’t very fair. After all, why should the inclusion of a certain group have to improve performance before we open or encourage their participation? Shouldn’t the measure be equivalent performance? Absolutely, but that’s not going to convince any company, so doing nothing only works if there is an improvement due to diversity.

To me, that leaves the final option: tackle the root of the problem. This is…a vast issue, and humanists of all stripes have made strides on these problems for years. Improve access to education, get qualified candidates out in the world, do what can be done without mandates (blind recruiting where possible), and continue making arguments against, well, people like me 🙂


Original article here


Apparently, John makes good points. I disagree, but OK.

Re: John;

“The “father” of a zygote experiences no sacrifice of bodily autonomy, while the “mother” does. It makes sense, then, that the mother has more options regarding the position she is in.”

I have agreed with this, ad nauseum. I disagree in saying this is equal treatment under the law, but I see it as a case of justified (due to the “situation”) inequality. Calling it equal is just a misuse of the term; men and women aren’t treated equally, they are treated differently based on the different biological facts in play. Your subsequent analogy makes no sense in this context.

My thought experiment about, as Eric dismissively termed it, “children in jars“, isn’t some sophists pipe dream; we have the technology now. We obviously can’t do this for everyone, but I’m not talking about time-warps or wormholes. This is a nascent science, it provides a relevant perspective on equal treatment of mother and father, and it’s an obvious counter-example to the claim that differences in gender do not justify differences in treatment under the law. That’s not to say one instance justifies all possible instances, as in most of Sharia Law(which I have repeatedly derided here and elsewhere), but it does mean you can’t rest your case on the principle of “equality” alone. Thus, to simply moralize against unequal treatment is inconsistent with your own position regards many aspects of western society. This is in response to your “original point…which was to question the claim…that it makes sense to have separate restrictions on women that do not apply to men just because women are different.”

“As for it is women’s fault they are in the situation they are in, I doubt you apply such logic to all your own misfortunes. What a convenient trick.”

Gratuitous, and baseless, character slander in lieu of an intelligent response.

“My rights as a potential father are subverted by an unfair gender system, but their problems are of their own making.”

I don’t choose to be male; they choose(more often than men) to put quality of life before career, even choosing lower-paying careers, and that has been well-documented. Indeed, there’s even a push to make businesses more family friendly in order to stop-gap the “opt-out revolution”. I think this is potentially disastrous unless we can enforce such a change across the globe; just as unionizing only local labor contributed to employing millions of Chinese and Indians rather than Americans with the advent of globalization, forcing a change in the business model that hurts an American-staffed business’ capacity to compete on the global stage could do the same(offshoring).

Will it? y’know, I don’t know, there’s even some research to suggest that it won’t, but the vanishing labor market due to outsourcing at the low end should be a lesson not soon forgotten or ignored. And even if we institutionalize this change, there will still be more men than women who simply ignore their family(or don’t start one), which will allow them to pull ahead of their competition, and as a result will still have a better shot at those top slots.

re: Eric;

“women are different and don’t really belong in the fields dominated by men”

I never said women can’t hack it, they clearly can. They just choose not to, in much greater numbers than men. Women do as well or better in many managerial positions, but they either choose a low-impact field (eg 85% of schoolteachers are women) for the time off and fulfilling work, or leave that high-impact rat-race before they reach the top in order to settle down and raise a child or three before their biological clock shuts off. These are choices <i>they</i> make, freely and happily, so yeah, I’m not all that keen on fixing a problem like “women make less on average” or “too few women CEOs” when the real cause is the better quality of life that women enjoy over men. Call that woman-bashing if you wish, but there is little, if any, evidence of discrimination or “second-listing” of women.

You call the disparity a problem; I call it a question, and it has an answer.

You said high-risk jobs aren’t high-status and high-paying, and you’re half right(many are  high-paying for the skill-set required). Women just don’t choose high-risk as often as men, and this accounts for some of the disparity between wages when you correct for skill-sets. You want low-risk, high-status, high-pay, you get long hours, frequent travel, and little-no family life. Ask a high-powered woman, they’ll line up and tell you that these are the sacrifices you have to make, and most women(and almost as many men) just don’t. Hell, they’re better for it; look at the male CEOs, they’re all type-a workaholics with bad ulcers, broken families, and little more than a fat paycheck to nurse their miserable egos into an early grave. This level of competition isn’t going away just because it doesn’t equally cater to women’s choices.

We’ve got a couple hundred-thousand years of evolutionary history in which men wrecked their bodies in protecting and providing for women, yet somehow this is all just forgotten in the course of historical revisionism, and it’s <i>society</i> or <i>patriarchy</i> that’s enabling men to continue this and subordinating women to the same lifestyle choices their ancestors were selected for. Women put home and hearth above career, not because(according to the evidence) they’ve been doing it for umpteen generations, but because(according to the narrative) modern western society has codified gender rules created by men. This is precisely the sort of short-sighted, narrow-minded, factually unsupported, and logically fallacious dogmatism that we object to in the religious mindset. I fully agree that women should have the choice one way or the other, but lets not now pretend that they aren’t exercising that freedom in ways that appear consistent with their biology and priorities.

The problem with approaching real world problems with fantasy ideologies is easily recognized when we talk about religion, but completely ignored when the topic turns to gender. This can be seen in the rising disparity between primary and undergrad performance between boys and girls, in the rising disparity between unemployment of men and women, and in fantastically stupid public policy decisions.

The more effort we put into fighting a non-existent problem, the more we violate the very equality that underpins our efforts. We need to approach these questions practically, not politically, or we risk moralizing our economy even further into the crapper and disenfranchising an entire generation of citizens.


EDIT:  Having read through the AAUW report “Behind the Pay Gap” that I linked to above, you notice that even once you correct for all of the factors one might apply, including life choices, there remains a 5% disparity in wages between men and women.  That’s the all important difference, but what causes it?  I’m certainly open to the idea that I’m wrong, that there is real, systemic discrimination against women, but we need to dig into that 5% and analyze it.  How do we eliminate it?  CAN we eliminate it?  The closing lines of the consad report suggest that this may not be possible:

As a result, it is not possible now, and doubtless will never be possible, to determine reliably whether any portion of the observed gender wage gap is not attributable to factors that compensate women and men differently on socially acceptable bases, and hence can confidently be attributed to overt discrimination against women. In addition, at a practical level, the complex combination of factors that collectively determine the wages paid to different individuals makes the formulation of policy that will reliably redress any overt discrimination that does exist a task that is, at least, daunting and, more likely, unachievable.

What can I say to that?

The Pious Have Bills To Pay, Too

Colorado shooting: tragic. I don’t know why it occurred, where “blame” should properly lie outside of the lone gunman, or how any of the victims might feel. I tend not to spend much time reveling in the gory details, but Facebook has once again delivered a religious proclamation that makes me despise the religious mindset all over again.

The article that cropped up in my timeline is here, where a local pastor relates the story of a woman whose brain had a “defect” which allowed a piece of a shotgun blast pass through her grey matter, seemingly without any permanent cognitive damage. Said pastor calls this “miraculous” when they hear the tale from the operating doctor. He claims it was an instance of “God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future.”

He has received some mild pushback from the skeptical, to which he has constructed a forked approach, first saying, “If we are honest, we must admit we cannot explain everything.” Later, he justifies God’s non-intervention in the case of the shooter, saying, “We are free to act for good or evil.” Why? Because “Choice and freedom are removed if I[God] jury-rig the consequences.” He goes on to completely contradict himself when he says, “God interacts in the normal course of events in such a way that outcomes are changed from the normal workings of the universe.” This, in and of itself, represents a stark example of self-refutation that (nearly) renders any effort of mine superfluous. However, it’s actually even worse.

I will presently argue three basic points:

A) There is no more reason to suppose that God created the miraculous channel in Petra’s brain than that he failed to create those same channels in the bodies and heads of the other victims.

B) The very idea of contravening the natural course of events violates the Christian claim that God cannot prevent any of the evil presently in the world.

C) Even if this special case was the work of God, the adulation of God is utterly misplaced in the aftermath of this event.

In defense of A, I would simply point out that to claim we have discerned the “beneficence” of God through sparing one woman’s life while dozens fell around her, is to say that good fortune suddenly grants us some special insight that misery denies us. If God’s ways truly are mysterious, we are in no position to attribute the outcomes we prefer to God’s actions and the outcomes we do not prefer to some void of confusion. If we can, for a moment, admit that we do not know the mind of God, we immediately see that the 6-year-old whose body did not have special bullet channels, for example, is the failure of God’s non-intervention. Where was he when this child was formed, and his internal organs were placed directly into the future path of destruction. Busy carving the virgin mary into a tree in New Jersey, apparently.

In defense of B, I will point out an example used by Christian apologist William Lane Craig in support of the consistency between God’s existence and the existence of evil. It has been suggested, by his opponents, that God could turn some bullets to rubber, or butterflies, before they hit their target. In this way, choices might retain their moral content, while no innocent has to suffer for this moral freedom. Dr. Craig responds that this would turn the world into a playground, where no bad choices have bad consequences, and thus bad choices would not retain their moral content. If you fire at someone in this playground world, no one would be hurt, so why would firing in such a way, in that world, be a “bad” thing? This pastor’s miracle is but one example, but the principle is the same. If he can create one mind with special bullet-channels without stripping us of our freedom or moral responsibility, why can he not create all minds, and bodies, similarly? By Craig’s argument, he cannot even do this once without violating creaturely freedom, and so if God modified Petra’s brain in such a way, then the concept of creaturely freedom in the Christian context is rendered false. Since said freedom is a necessary component in the Christian religion (i.e. it cannot be false while Christianity is true), this event is either not miraculous, or the Christian God is a fiction.

In defense of C, let’s consider what it means for an action to be morally praiseworthy. If a man’s actions provide some benefit to someone else, at no cost to himself, we intuitively view this as mildly praiseworthy. Yes, he did something good, but it isn’t as though he went out of his way to do anything. The recipient may be thankful, but should anyone else view this as all that morally praiseworthy? I don’t think so. Now consider another man whose actions provide some benefit to someone else, and significant cost to himself. We immediately recognize the difference in how much praise each man deserves. The first may give $100 to a charity, yet possesses millions that he does not donate. The second may give the same $100 to a charity, and have to walk to work for a week because that was his gas money. Obviously the cost of an action to the actor is directly proportional to the level of praise we might visit on the actor.

In the wake of this tragedy, we have received (at least)two claims of praiseworthy behavior. In the first, a “good” God who fiddled with some woman’s biology in order that she might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. God has sacrificed nothing to do this, his powers, such as they are, remain unaffected, and his person unmolested. In the second, we have a man who shielded his friends from gunfire so that they might be spared death at the hands of a gunman. The second man sacrificed everything that he has and could possibly give in order to save his friends. Now I submit, on C, that while we may, perhaps, lend light praise to God, we might also wonder why he did not do more. In contrast, on C, the men and women who gave their very lives have so far outstripped the pathetic effort of an all-powerful deity in moral terms that to spare even that light praise on God is a complete waste of time.

Of course, if you read the article, you’ll notice that the lion’s share of the pastor’s time is spent extolling the virtues of God, likewise his supportive commenters. True courage, true sacrifice, truly morally praiseworthy action is readily available, and what does this pastor focus on? God. It’s almost as if he has a stake in keeping God in the picture; as if, perhaps, he might benefit from highlighting a supposed “miracle” from God rather than the actions of some brave men and women.

This sort of blatant opportunism makes me sick. A church is a business, and this is an instance of capitalizing on tragedy. It is the (socially acceptable) equivalent of slapping a gun advert over a still shot of the carnage.