I’m a guy who “gets” nasty threats from haters. I receive anti-atheist threats and icky comments, I receive a LOT of nasty stuff from climate science denialists (and that often comes along with bogus threats of law suits), I receive nasty emails and tweets from the sexist and racist SlymePitters and those folks seem to spend more time than is healthy for them making Greg-hating memes and videos and comments on web sites I would not normally visit.
So, I receive nasty horrid verbal attacks from people who hate me and what I stand for, but do I get these nasty horrid verbal attacks in the way that, for example, Rebecca Watson or Amy Roth or Jen McRight get them?
No, I don’t. I don’t really feel like I am at much risk of being physically attacked or raped, although I do not regard physical threats as unimportant. It is just that I am a very large, muscular man with martial arts training who never goes anywhere without my pit bull, and I always carry a gun. I am also famous for kicking ass, generally. Nobody will attack me. Also, even though men are in fact raped now and then (I myself was sexually assaulted a couple times as a teenager, by women) it is a much more likely thing to happen to a woman and the stakes are different. So really, I’m not worried.
Also, I have received a steady trickle of threatening missive from creationists for longer than most of my colleagues in skepticism even knew such a thing was possible. My first threatening notes were on Compuserve in the 1980s, the first act of violence perpetrated against me in person because of my politics not carried out by a police officer was probably in about 1986, the first letter I ever got (that’s like email but on paper) threatening me with death or dismemberment was in 1998 or so. So when the Slime Pitters or their kind, or the regulars over on Whats Up With That blog, take my comments out of context and attempt to bludgeon me with them, lie about what I’ve said or done, or threaten to kill me with their favorite Glock, it is something I’m a little used to.
For various reasons, then, while I do receive these nasty notes and threats and am the subject of harassment now and then, there are a few reasons why it might bother me less than it would bother some others. And all that is context for what I am about to say to you.
Here’s the thing. If you see any of the notes that climate scientists get, or that the Skepchicks or various female bloggers get, and you are a typical person with any degree of empathy at all, you would probably see it as a bad thing and you would understand how receiving such a note might be difficult. But really, you might also very easily write it off as “nothing but trolls” or you might figure that anyone who gets into the business of taking a sociopolitical stand should expect this treatment and while it is not good and while you don’t want to blame the victim, you might figure that it is not really all that bad after all.
And you would be a little bit right, but you would be mostly wrong. Let me help you to be mostly right instead.
The Skepchicks, to take one example, or high profile climate scientists like Michael Mann, to take another, receive an order or two magnitude more of this crap than I do. This does not make it easier for them, it makes it harder. And, threats that involve highly violent sexualized language and rape threats are some large factor worse for the Skepchicks and other woman than anything I get. So, when I, a guy who receives these things, sees what happens to them, I have to adjust how bad it is for me by a considerable amount in order to know what it is like for them, so I can potentially get what it is all about, and it is still only a guess. On the other hand, when YOU, assuming for the moment that you are a person who does not receive these threats, sees examples of the obnoxious tweets, threatening emails, discovers that there are entire web pages and twitter accounts created just to have a place to put awful comments about one person, or hears about some hateful person showing up at a conference someone is at with a t-shirt designed to do one thing only … to make that person feel bad … you have to multiply your experience of zero by some large number in order to be able to get it.
Problem is, zero times some number, any number, turns out to be zero. I don’t know why they invented arithmetic with this highly inconvenient flaw, but they did. So, the thing is, maybe you can’t really know what it is like to be Amy Roth. Or even me.
Well, there probably is a way, and the truth is that if you are one of the haters, you are going to figure out a way to deny the damage you and your friends do, and if you dislike the whole hate people who stand up for feminism or science or who speak out against sexism or racism, etc. thing, then you will reach into your own experience and find something that is not zero that you can multiply by some number to reach a rough idea of what it is like.
vreify, at Teen Skepchicks, has written a blog post following up on one written several days ago by Rebecca Watson, in which she notes that these things, the threats and harassment, probably turn people away from the skeptics movement, people who should not be turned away. That is probably true, and that is probably why the slime pitters and other haters do this. Not because they don’t like skepticism. To the extent that they have a clue as to what skepticism is, they probably support it. They just want this community to be more like themselves, to be less inclusive of people who make their sexism and racism and other isms uncomfortable. They are children with a clique and they are having a big tantrum at everyone else’s expense. Shame on them.
I don’t like what vreify said at the end of her post:
Yes–sexist behavior is damaging to its targets. But it’s also damaging to the community. If skeptics want to quibble about old pictures of the Loch Ness monster, it doesn’t really bother me. No harm done, even if we’re not focusing on issues that I care about more. But if skeptics want to vehemently hate women who are making their minds and voices heard–honestly? It makes me think about getting outta here.
I don’t like that because I don’t want to see more people driven out of the skeptics movement, especially younger folks and especially women.
There is a solution to all of this, not a grand fix it all solution, but a smaller, doable one that will make a difference, even if it does not repair all the damage and stop all the haters. But I will not say what it is out loud. Let me know if you want to know what it is.
I may or may not have exaggerated about the pit bull, the gun, and the marshal arts. I have been going to the gym a lot lately though, so watch out!