More on being a dick

Don’t be a random, arbitrary dick. Be meaningful and relevant in your dickosity:

If your dickishness is going to help you communicate the values of skepticism, it has to relate, directly and immediately, to the circumstances that warrant anger.

Read the rest here

And then, if you want to know everything else about this topic, click here. Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen. Just. Click. It. Trust me.

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36 thoughts on “More on being a dick

  1. I wish there were a more conscious distinction made between

    (1) religious persons claiming that someone is being a dick when that someone is merely criticizing religion in a forthright and civil manner;

    (2) atheists claiming that someone is being a dick because (1) says so;

    (3) someone actually being a dick.

    Now (2) is what seems to be the source of confusion. The people in (2) have swallowed the nonsense from (1) that criticism of religion is inherently uncivil. If astrology were accepted by 80% of the population then we can be sure that criticizing astrology would be considered dickish. Would it be?

    As Greg knows, “Tom Johnson” went to a Christian college. He undoubtedly often heard from his peers and educators about how uncouth it is to criticize religion. Even if TJ is an atheist as he says, he still received a second-hand indoctrination which he incorporated wholeheartedly and passionately into his worldview: Don’t criticize religion!

    Another example is Coyne’s article in New Republic. Strangely, some called it uncivil. It wasn’t.

    The odd mindset of (2) can come from upbringing, peer pressure, or just a motivation to appear fair. But being fair doesn’t mean accepting criticism uncritically. We aren’t fair about astrology.

    So if you are in (2), would you please explain the special difference between astrology and virgin births?

  2. I tried to comment there but I think either IE or my school filters prevented that. I don’t understand Stephanies anger at David (one of the posters), but we have to remember that Phil has a tv show in the works and he has to be nice if he wants to keep viewers, most of whom will be religious. I wouldn’t say Phil was ever a hero, but I used to respect him more, even if he did seem pretty spineless and tame (except for his pet peeves).

    I teach high school, and I have to be really careful about what I say and how I say it, and there are times when I have been a dick to get my point across. Whatever works for the situation. I don’t know where she gets the “anger” part, though. Sometimes merely saying the obvious truth or some fact can be perceived as being a dick. No anger on my part at all.

    I have, however, had to bite my tongue around some of my coworkers when the give me some bafflegab about their god or favorite woo – I have to keep the work environment at least neutral. The adults have been worse than the kids – at least the kids seem more open to reason and evidence, and most of them are interested when I discuss something. It helps that I work in a computer lab and I can give them ideas of where to look for information.

    Anyway, long post but I basically agree, with the reservations above.

  3. Badger3k, I was pissed at David for a reason very similar to the reason I’m pissed at you right now. Where do you find the gall to decide that Phil is being disingenuous just because you disagree with him? “…has to be nice if he wants to keep viewers, most of whom will be religious” my ass. Phil meant what he said. If you don’t like the idea, disagree with it, but don’t make it about Phil personally. Isn’t that the plan–attack the idea not the person?

  4. Sorry for another post, Greg, but I figured I needed to respond here, even though I might be able to post there now that I am home.

    Where do I find the gall? Hmm, I guess by being a human being with my own thoughts and opinions – probably the same place you get the gall to question or assume why I said that. I have no plan, and while I disagree with some of what I have heard, my comment was not about that. All this year he’s been bragging about his secret project (with ABC, IIRC from a recent Skeptic Zone podcast) and he has to keep that in mind (or even in the back of his head). Being concerned for your life – your income, your future prospects, your standing and reputation with non-skeptics – is not mutually exclusive with really feeling what he said. I have respected Phil in the past for what he has done, lost respect for him with things he has also done, and hold him to the same standards I hold everyone else. Honestly, every time I have seen or heard him, he sounds like, well, a wuss. He comes off as a touchy-feely kind of guy, rather than someone willing to have confrontations. Except when you get his pet peeves. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not. Who cares other than myself? It’s called personal opinion. It’s a magical thing. See, I was a dick with no anger whatsoever on my part.

    I personally haven’t listened to his speech for a couple of reasons – number one, I don’t waste my time watching internet videos. I even hate the 20-second clips on Failblog and never click on them. If someone puts out an mp3 of the speech so I can listen to it while I drive to and from work, then I might give it a go. But then I get to reason 2 – from all the posts people have put up on this, he says nothing new. I’m 43 years old, done a lot of things in my life, and teach high school right now. If he thinks that not being a dick will change peoples minds more often than being a dick, then…hello Captain Obvious. As I said, I have changed peoples minds in both ways – the situation, the participants, and the desired results determine the method. Teachers have known this for centuries, I would hazard a guess. So have a lot of good Instructors in many professional fields. Did Phil really just think of this or did he run out of things to say? No, I’d wager that there has to be a reason why he brought this up at this time. What could it be?

    As for the atheism angle, I would venture it came up because it is a big hot button issue, especially at TAM 7 & 8 (IIRC). The snit fit that Pamela Gay had, and Phil’s response to “defend” his friend, was fairly recent, and his story about her and his other friend who cried, seem to indicate that it was at least in his mind. His failure to provide examples for us to judge also leaves it open to many interpretations. His response to Matt D at the Atheist Experience blog also lends credence to that – perhaps – it could be the other way around. He still punts on the issue of why we should be non-skeptical of religious beliefs, why we should privilege them with a lack of questioning while we question everything else. Can you be a skeptic and still be religious – sure – call yourself whatever you want, who cares. I’d question why you do not carry your skepticism to the logical conclusion, though, and if you bring up any belief we should be skeptical about, expect to be questioned or challenged. Simple, really. Nobody is ostracized, nobody kicked out of anything, just healthy, honest skepticism. If you carry such cognitive dissonance, though, I will definitely have less respect for you. I’ve ripped myself apart, and still do reflect on everything, and forced myself to face up to things and look at the evidence, and decided that I cannot believe something without sufficient evidence. Period. If you don’t do this, then I respect you less. Also period. Also, big whoop unless my opinion matters to you.

    He never provides evidence that any of this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, as repeated attempts by commenters and other posters have brought up to him – from what I have read.

    As for the anger part, I think that was related to what Greg quoted, which is a bit asinine as you can be a dick without any anger at all, and if you are angry that is precisely the time when you should not be a dick – anger leads to mistakes and can get you killed. Phil’s comment you quoted about anger being a weapon tells me Phil has never been in the military, taken martial arts, or studied any military history or philosophy. Anger is motivation, anger can be a tool, but use anger as a weapon and you’ll likely be dead or defeated by the one who can control himself. Tried to find a Sun Tzu quote, but failed – would Seneca suffice “Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

    Actually, I like Ingersoll better “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.” (from here: if anyone wants others).

    Other than those comments, I basically agree with what you wrote (after going back for a quick skim).

    Again, apologies for such a long response.

  5. Pamela’s snit fit? Have you even read any of what happened there, or are you just taking that on second-hand “evidence” as well?

    Here’s the funny thing. Pamela is a friend of mine. As such, we’ve had an opportunity to talk about belief and religion. I’m an atheist (who certainly doesn’t believe in privileging religion), and she and I are as close in our opinions as two such people can be. There comes a point in discussions of gods at which we just don’t know (way, way out there on the deist scale). I consider those questions irrelevant to my life. She finds she can’t disbelieve without more certainty. That’s it. That’s the sum total of our differences.

    For that, Pamela gets letters(!) from people telling her that she can’t be a real skeptic. People tell her that everything that she’s done to promote science and skepticism (do you even know what that consist of?) is irrelevant because she has this one tiny corner of belief–that she acknowledges is not based in rationality. People ignore all of that and harp and harp on one thing she said months ago whenever her name is brought up.

    That stopped being attacking the idea an awfully long time ago. Nor is it uncommon in skeptic circles to decide that someone can’t be a good skeptic because of one thing wrong–and to focus on the one wrong thing to the exclusion of everything else. Or to attack the person making a claim you don’t like as “not being skeptical” instead of going after the claim itself. If you haven’t seen in happen to Greg in the falsehood posts, I don’t think you’re paying attention.

    So what Phil said is trivially true–to you. Yippee for you, although given your preference for secondary sources and filtered materials, I’m dubious. That doesn’t mean that even trivially true things shouldn’t be said every once in a while, particularly since there are people saying, “Right, that gets away from me sometimes. Thanks, Phil.”

  6. These threads on dickishness reminded me of some of the points that Randy Olson made in _Dont be SUCH a Scientist_, which I read a while back. In some ways, Olson was equating being a scientist with being a dick, and as a scientist, I resented that a little bit. However, after reading his book I had to concede a lot of his points to him. Scientists are often poor communicators with the general public, for whatever reason. Scientists are often very oinionated about their areas of expertise, and much of our professional identity rests at least partially on our ability to argue for our ideas. These arguments are often very heated, but in most instances are not personal. However, when you add these two things together and expose them to a lay audience, the results often end up looking like dickishness. I have to admit that listening to the Olsons and Plaits of the world has motivated me to reign in my communication style a little bit, and try to talk with people, not at them. I think this was the message in Plait’s talk, at least for me. Having said that, the reality to is that there is conflict between ‘skeptics’ and ‘non-skeptics’ (I don’t like those terms but can’t think of anything better) and sometimes those on the ‘other’ side can be dicks. Under these circumstances, I have no problem with response in kind. Under these circumstances, maintaining meaning and relevance is very good advice.

  7. Doug, one of the things that bothers me about the “scientists are bad communicators” trope is that it’s not true. They do communicate differently, and those differences are important to consider when communicating with lay audiences, but that’s no reason to privilege one style as good and label one as bad. And you’d think people who want to teach others to communicate would understand that this differential privileging is going to be a barrier to learning.

  8. There comes a point in discussions of gods at which we just don’t know (way, way out there on the deist scale).

    Dr. Gay says she is a Christian, not simply a deist. I see no problem with the latter with regard to skepticism. However the former entails claims which cannot honestly stand up to critical inquiry. It’s not way out on the deist scale unless we are talking about way-out liberal Christianity, which begs the question of what can be called Christianity.

    Does Dr. Gay believe in the virgin birth, for instance? Those who are educated with regard to the origins of the New Testament (non-fundamentalist seminarians, biblical scholars) confidently view the virgin birth as debunked.

    Or is Dr. Gay more like John Shelby Spong in this regard, retaining the self-label of Christian while not believing in those things which are conventionally part of being a Christian such as the virgin birth and the resurrection?

  9. “one of the things that bothers me about the “scientists are bad communicators” trope is that it’s not true.”

    Fair enough. Maybe a better way to put it would be “many scientists are ineffectual communicators with the general public.” I know that I have not always been good at talking to lay audiences, and sometimes it’s because what I have had to say has not always set well with them, and they’ve made that very clear. I teach climatology and have been involved in applied meteorological research, with direct consequences to agriculture and air quality. All of these things are controversial tend to get people emotionally aroused. As I noted earlier in another thread (and thatnls for the compliment, but the way!) my own reaction to this has been to try not to make dickishness my default response to these challenges. IN a related thread, someone noted that the real target audience in exchanges between ‘skeptics’ (for want of a better term) and lay ‘non-skeptics’ is actually the undecided on-looker. My personal experience has been that if I can maintain my politeness and composure in these confrontations, that generally wins me points with those who might be sizing up the arguments. Sometimes, though, there is no choice but to handle them a little more roughly. Either way, I’m a pragmatist — my goal is to win the argument.

  10. Stephanie, I am not standing in judgment of Dr. Gay. I am prepared to rip apart the virgin birth, however. We all understand the distinction between addressing the person and addressing the beliefs.

    My comment stands on its own, regardless of who said it. It doesn’t matter a wit whether was it made by me, Richard Dawkins, or Bozo the Clown. We all understand the fallacy of argument from authority.

    I realize this response may sound patronizing, but throwing out this obvious stuff is all I can do since your comment doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

  11. Stephanie, to answer your first question, it matters because virgin births are akin to astrology, not to deism.

    I would be fine with an astrologer who calls himself a skeptic and attends meetings on skepticism, provided he does not say that his astrology is a private, personal matter. I should be free to ask him why he does not apply the tools of skepticism to his astrological beliefs. The situation would be weird, but I would accept him. That some would not is inevitable, though.

    Unless someone can tell me the substantive difference between the virgin birth of Jesus (which has been thoroughly debunked) and astrology (which has been thoroughly debunked), the previous paragraph also applies with “Christian” substituted for “astrologer”. It does not apply to deism, which gets a free ride since it’s undebunkable.

    If we are talking about an uber-liberal Christian who rejects the virgin birth based on the preponderance of the evidence (like a moderate Christian who rejects creationism), then that is another conversation about the label of Christian.

  12. Oedipus, “What does it fucking matter” means what relevance does it have for the work that Pamela’s done? What difference does it make to Astronomy Cast, Galaxy Zoo, the Voorwerp project or any of the other things that Pamela’s done to promote science and critical thinking?

    If you want to promote skepticism, get your ass behind people like Pamela who are doing the work, even as they say, “Yes, not 100.00000% of my life is based in rationalism.” If, on the other hand, your only interest is in policing that fifth decimal point of rationality in others based on information you don’t even have, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.

  13. Stephanie, the only reason I said something is because you totally misrepresented the issue by saying “way, way out there on the deist scale”. That’s not true, as I explained. We all like Pamela, but making misleading statements is self-defeating no matter what the motivation.

    My comments here are directed at you, not Pamela. I’m not speaking out against Pamela, nor have I done so in the past. Your allegation of “keep doing what you’re doing” is offensive and ridiculous. It looks like you’re attacking me because I’m calling attention to your misleading statement.

  14. Oedipus, you’re making assumptions that aren’t warranted. Christian is every bit as much a self-identification as it is a set of beliefs. Good luck finding even one belief to which all Christians subscribe, including on matters of Christ. When you do, get back to me. Until then, learn a little humility.

  15. Stephanie, what part of this is unclear: “I’m not speaking out against Pamela, nor have I done so in the past.” Despite that and other comments, you’re still attacking me, still painting me as a member of the dark anti-Pamela cabal. Therefore I need to be more direct:

    Stop lying for Pamela. She doesn’t need you to run interference for her. Stop demonizing me for pointing this out to you.

    It’s a terrible strategy to argue that Pamela is “way, way out there on the deist scale”. Based on her online comments and interviews, that’s an inaccurate portrayal. It’s also disrespectful because you’re essentially rejecting the category she has chosen for herself. Go ahead and ask her. If she agrees that she’s “way, way out there on the deist scale”–effectively saying that she’s not Christian (for any definition thereof)–then I’ll retract this whole conversation. It will certainly be big news to the skeptic community.

    I understand your motivation, though: you want people to stop complaining and support Pamela. I agree. However the aforementioned strategy is not the way to do it. I once saw a bumper sticker that said “ESCHEW OBFUSCATION”. I implore you to take that advice.

  16. Jesus is our savior. It is fair to state that a Christian that does not believe that Jesus did not exist is not really a Christian, and if there are any Christians that believe he did exist but is not our savior, they are not really an important part of the Christian world by being very few.

  17. Oedipus, would you care to back up that “lying” accusation with any kind of evidence? Similarly, would you like to go claim Randi’s $1M, since you can read my mind to find out what my motivation is?

    I’m not painting you as any kind of villain or member of any conspiracy. I’m pointing out that you’re making assumptions and assertions that you’re not backing up with evidence and that don’t follow from the evidence you have presented. You’re being a lousy skeptic.

    And yes, I could go into more detail on my discussions with Pamela. I haven’t for two reasons. First, if Pamela doesn’t want to get specific in public, I don’t see any reason to breach her privacy. Second, you haven’t presented any good reason why her specific beliefs impact you or any of the rest of the world. It’s still none of your fucking business.

  18. Stephanie, c’mon stop playing around. In no way do Pamela’s beliefs differ only “way, way out there on the deist scale” compared to those of an atheist. That’s a dishonest claim, and it’s disrespectful to her. You are well-intentioned but that’s no excuse.

    Now if you insist on playing the “nyah nyah show me” game, just look at an example from the first link of that google search,

    I am a Christian. I donâ??t believe in the literal truth of the entire Bible, especially the early chapters of the Old Testament, but I believe in the theological framework that it outlines….

    …The book of Genesis is an excellent picture that leaves out the math and still can be loosely fit on the story of science.

    The Bible is not taken literally, but God still intervened in the world to give it to us. That’s not deism. Or if you’re not satisfied with this example then just pick another of the many non-deist statements there.

    Pamela is not a mere deist. Stop promoting that idea so that skeptics will accept her. They should accept her–she’s awesome–but not for that lie.

    Stop attacking me for pointing this out to you.

  19. Sorry, Oedipus, you’re still reading in. God had to intervene in a world in which people reach (an undefined) salvation because there are truths that are self-evident? Try again. (For those who don’t want to follow Oedipus’s dickish link:

    Is “deist” a perfect word? Nope, but all the perfect words are taken. I’m still using it, even with the “way, way” modifier, because Pamela is more than capable of describing what she understands about this world without reference to any deity. That she chooses to describe what she doesn’t understand but believes nonetheless about something beyond this world using the language of Christianity doesn’t change that at all. That she understands and can explain the difference between the two makes her one of the better skeptics I’ve met.

    And knock off the bullshit about Pamela needing to be a deist to be defended. If she spent an hour every day (and six on Sundays) swaying on her knees, lighting candles in an incense-filled church, she’d still be Pamela. She’d still be doing the work she’s doing and still be one of the most lovable people I know. That has nothing to do with whether you’re wrong.

  20. Stephanie, based on the dickish link, Pamela cannot be appropriately characterized as holding deist-like beliefs. Any reasonable person would conclude that, and it can’t be rationalized away. If, based on your private conversations with her, she can indeed be characterized as such then the skeptical community has really gone off the rails because nobody should give a fuck about deism. Either everyone has been mislead or you’re wrong.

    I contend that Pamela calls herself Christian for a reason, and it’s not for the social perks, the symbolic language, or other peripheral reasons. I also contend that it’s being disrespectful of her to suggest otherwise. That is where the publicly available evidence leads me. If Pamela wants to come out and say that I’m wrong then I would welcome the rebuke.

    Stephanie, I apologize for using the term “lying”. I just couldn’t believe you went on to attack me again even after I said that I wasn’t speaking out against Pamela, and even after I said that I would be accepting of even an astrologer-skeptic. Your comments indicated that you didn’t care to absorb this point. I resolved to be “more direct” in order to get your attention, but that was a poor way to do it. It’s obviously possible for you to say something I consider clearly wrong without devious intention.

    I’m sorry for that. Conversation without empathy is masturbation. You mentioned humility–this is what I’ve said on that topic:

    I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do….I contend that we are both deluded. I just have one less delusion than you. And I could be deluded about that.

    Ergo, my humility is better than your humility. (The previous sentence is satire.)

  21. Oedipus, you’ve explained your position. I’ve explained my basis for rejecting it. Now you’ve simply asserted it as the only reasonable interpretation. I don’t think there’s much more to say here. That’s not an attack, just recognition, I think, that we lack the common ground to be productive here.

    Thanks for retracting the assertion of lying.

  22. Stephanie, you went off the script I envisioned. In that scenario, after my apology you were supposed to apologize. You wrongly judged me, even after having received unequivocal evidence opposing your view. That’s what depleted my empathy allowance for you in the first place. Someone who would accept an astrologer-skeptic does not care about “policing that fifth decimal point of rationality”. You were infected with an Oedipus-opposes-Pamela meme. Rational argumentation failed to produce an inoculation, but being a dick worked.

  23. There are a couple important principles here so I want to make this addendum, if only for reference.

    Stephanie #16: “What have you done for skepticism, science and critical thinking to stand in judgment?”

    This is the belief that you formed and tightly held: that I am attacking Pamela for not being skeptical enough.

    Oedipus #17: “I am not standing in judgment of Dr. Gay”

    Oedipus #18: “I would be fine with an astrologer who calls himself a skeptic”

    Stephanie #19: “If, on the other hand, your only interest is in policing that fifth decimal point of rationality in others based on information you don’t even have, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.”

    Your belief persists, despite #17 and #18 which contradict it. Since I would be fine with an astrologer-skeptic, I am clearly not interested in policing the fifth decimal point of rationality. You’re not paying attention.

    Oedipus #20: “I’m not speaking out against Pamela, nor have I done so in the past.”

    Stephanie #21: “…Until then, learn a little humility.”

    You’re still riffing off your belief, ignoring #17, #18, and #20 which contradict it.

    When someone is that solidified in a position despite repeated evidence to the contrary, then it is time to stop the conversation. I should have recognized that instead of trying to shock you into correction. You deserved my abuse for persisting to vilify me, but that doesn’t mean I should have applied it.

    Now you’ve simply asserted it as the only reasonable interpretation.

    Stephanie, we can’t presume to know what people believe apart from what they say. We have to take them at their word. Nobody has a right to interpret what someone else really believes. “Christian” means something momentously distinct from deism or deism-like beliefs. Pamela says she is a Christian. Therefore she is a Christian, not a kind of deist. That is the only reasonable interpretation.

    You’ve responded by saying that I don’t really know what her beliefs are, and that you know better than I do. That’s irrelevant because nobody really knows except for Pamela. Her beliefs are what she says they are. The idea that I should accept your interpretation of her beliefs is absurd. If Pamela wants to say she is more like a way, way out deist then let her say it.

    The important point is that people should accept Pamela as she is. The people who don’t accept Pamela should fuck off. We don’t care about them. But by arguing for Pamela’s deist-like tendencies, you are implying that if Pamela The Christian is unpalatable then there is the option of accepting Pamela The Person Who Claims To Be a Christian But Is More Like a Deist. I find the latter patronizing, and it only serves to appease the assholes.

  24. Actually, Oedipus, what I’m saying you’re doing is trying to reduce Pamela to just one thing with regard to her worldviews, despite her words saying that she is more than one thing, whether other people find them contradictory or not. And you keep suggesting that your opinion of her beliefs is somehow relevant to anything, or that your opinion of how she uses “Christian” is relevant. Why would I be sorry for calling that arrogant bullshit?

    Now, would you care to explain why I should be lectured about being precisely concerned with someone’s words when you’re more concerned with my “implications” than what I’ve actually said in comment 28?

  25. Stephanie, as I said, the question of who better understands Pamela’s beliefs is irrelevant. “The important point is that people should accept Pamela as she is.” I reiterate that I would even accept an astrologer-skeptic. Have you considered the implications of that?

    You still appear to be going off your initial misperception. Until you acknowledge that clear mistake (see #32) … well, you know.

  26. I reiterate that I would even accept an astrologer-skeptic. Have you considered the implications of that?

    …. that you are not very picky about who you call a skeptic?

  27. …. that you are not very picky about who you call a skeptic?

    Right. But amazingly someone took it to mean that I was interested in “policing that fifth decimal point of rationality”.

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