Making sense of our fights on the Internet

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After the Big Bang, more or less evenly distributed stuff and energy somehow became slightly unevenly distributed, which caused a kind of Universal Angular Momentum to set in which gave early heterogeneity and structure to everything that existed. The lightest elements formed more or less spontaneously, but in order for heavier elements to form matter had to get sufficiently clumped in stars that massive gravitational forces changed light elements into heavy ones. Perhaps if the initial clumping and spinning of stuff in the very early universe was a little bit different, the whole universe would have come out differently, in detail if not in other more profound ways. Or at least, I’d be wearing a blue tee shirt instead of a black one right now and I’d be using vim instead of emacs to type this blog post.

When Elevatorgate happened, the ensuing Universe Known as Rebeccapocalypse was shaped and determined by a number of early events that have caused the final result … well, not the “final” result, but the result that we are stuck with as of this writing … but had those first few days of Internet activity been a little different things might have come out a different way.

Here I would like to do two things.

One is to suggest that the horrid stinking gaggle of frothing winged monkeys that get their marching orders from Franc Hoggle and a few others have a point … actually two or three points. The other is to explore five issues (including these points) that came up in the early days of the Rebeccapocalyptic Universe and that could have become nice, interesting little galaxies of conversation but instead became stinking useless black holes orbited by the aforementioned frothing gaggling winged monkeys.

Before I take a step further into this mess I want to be very clear about something: This is in no way an effort to reach a hand across any sort of chasm or to build any sort of bridge, and in no way should any of the things I say in this regard be interpreted as either a) even an iota of respect for the Hoggle gang and what they stand for and/or step in and/or eat for their stinking trollish breakfast; or b) even a tiny withdraw of allegiance to my esteemed and wonderful colleagues in the blogosphere (you’all know who you are) who are almost always right when everyone else is almost always wrong. This is not a reconciliation. This is, rather, an exploration of missed opportunities to have some important conversations, opportunities that were ruined by the middle-school level sniping and backbiting that ensued early on. This is not an attempt to invite the winged monkeys to the conversation. They are not welcome. If you are a winged monkey reading this now, please go away.

The issues I’d like to bring up are a little complicated, and while there is overlap, they are also fairly distinct. For this reason I want to address each one in a separate blog post in what I hope is not a futile effort to keep the conversations that might ensue each on their own track.

First, I’ll touch on the question of power and relative power (on the Internet, mainly) vis-a-vis the question of whether or not Rebecca Watson should have commented about Stef McGraw‘s comments. I don’t want to speak about that event so much as the overall question of how differential levels of fame, infamy, or exposure shape our conversations. Then I want to talk about the question of spectra. Dawkins berated Rebecca for addressing something other than female genital mutilation. People have berated Ana Miller and me for addressing something other than Carnage on the Highways in our Fukushima Updates. And, most interesting, Rebecca got into trouble for actually addressing things like female genital mutilation while at the same time addressing lesser crimes against humanity while at the same time addressing annoyances. It is as though we expect the peas to get into the mashed potatoes and at the same time know that if they do the dinner is ruined!

Third, I want to talk about calibrating and recalibrating things. Years ago, on the Internet, I used the word “bitch” (in reference to myself … I was feeling bitchy about something). I was taken to task for using a sexist word. Now, we have men using the words “cunt” and “twat” to insult and threaten women, and screaming about how the use of these words makes them feminists. Calibration? Probably not. More relevant to the present discussion is calibration of sex positiveness. Should there have been a skeptical nude calendar? What if that was attempted in, say, 1880 to support getting the women’s vote? What if women went into the street today and burned their bras? Would only the EPA notice? This is a touchy subject because I will actually be suggesting that people change over time, in part because of experience and in part because society changes. I would hope the Skeptics Movement has at least some degree of fluidity and evolvability and that skeptics can recognize and understand this.

Another issue I’d like to touch on is the ways people tell other people to shut up. For example, there is the method whereby you sigh and go “Oh, I’ve had enough. So everyone else must shut up now,” or some version of that. Or one can issue a call to not feed the trolls. I’ll probably talk about a few different ways to tell people to shut up or to otherwise hijack the conversation, and tie up a few other loose ends as well. Like for example, if it really was Richard Dawkins who used the term “Muslima” to tell Rebecca Watson to shut up. Or was it the Zombie Richard Dawkins who said that?

I’ve suggested this before, and it may be worth repeating: Imagine that Rebecca Watson, Stef McGraw, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Barbara Drescher, Stephanie Zvan, All the Skepchicks, Me, all the other bloggers, and most of the commmenters on our blogs discussing Rebeccapocalypse all worked for the same big-giant company and this entire discussion happened at work. Imagine what the HR (Human Resources) department would be required to do, would want to do, would want to avoid. Imagine how they would handle the current discussion, and what they might do to avoid future difficulties like this from arising, by following best practices and following the law to the greatest degree possible.

Imagine that.

And now … “Power and Presence on the Internet and Elsewhere

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13 thoughts on “Making sense of our fights on the Internet

  1. “I would hope the Skeptics Movement has at least some degree of fluidity and evolvability and that skeptics can recognize and understand this.”

    Since the movement is made up (mostly) of humans, I expect that it -does- have some degree of fluidity and evolvability. 😛

    It’s funny, because I was thinking about elevator guy just this morning, and wondering what might have been different if, after Rebecca’s first comments, he sent a letter that said something like:

    “Dear Rebecca, I apologize for hitting on you on the elevator. While I didn’t realise it at the time, I can see now how it could have made someone uncomfortable, and it was – to say the least – rude of me to put someone in that uncomfortable position. I hope to do better in the future by listening to women and considering their wants and needs at least as much as I consider my own. Thank you for calling me out on it. – Elevator Guy”

    Did EG ever come out with a viewpoint?

  2. I don’t think he did. And, actually any response including a Hoggleesque “Imma kick you in the c**t” would have made things different. Remember, a lot of the misogynists are making the claim that the incident didn’t even happen.

    It would be like Obama’s Mamma’s ObGyn coming forward and admitting that he was born!

  3. You know, I’ve met some famous atheists (PZ, JT, Silverman, etc.) in RL and found them perfectly charming and sweet-tempered people, but folks I really had little attraction to outside of their writing/public speaking/und so weiter.

    But if you ever find yourself doing the speaking-tour thing and wind up somewhere in the Ohio valley, I think — and I may be deluding myself — that you and I could really get into a rapid-fire exchange of inchoate doubts and potential ideas that would be Great Fun.

    [Long-winded way of saying that I love this sort of post.]

  4. You have my attention. You seem to have an amazing way of exploring these topics.

    I’d be using vim instead of emacs to type this blog post.

    Oh, I’m not so sure that any universe in which we might exist could be that different. 😀

  5. I do have a question.

    People have berated Ana Miller and me for addressing something other than Carnage on the Highways in our Fukushima Updates.

    Could you point me to an example of what you are referring to here? If you have the time, interest, or patience.

    I’d like to thank you and Ana for providing these updates if I haven’t done so previously. Searching the internet for anything related to this ongoing disaster is teh suck, whereas the collection of information you post is the opposite. Thanks.

  6. F: Most of what remains on line is in the comments on the first few “Japan Update”posts (see link above to the full list of those posts).

    It would be funny to have a science fiction series based on the fact that someone went back in time, stepped on a butterfly, so now all the emacs keybindings were different but otherwise nothing obvious.

    There would have to be a human interest angle to tie it all together, of course.

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