Due to the recent rebranding of white supremacists, fascists, and nazis as “the alt-right” and their subsequent resurgence, there has been much hand wringing about ‘punching nazis’ as an appropriate response against those who are moving to enact genocide.
This hand wringing holds echoes of the “just ignore them and they’ll go away” nonsense that was often blathered in my direction when I was accosted with bullies throughout my life, and (as such) I have an opinion on this topic informed by long involvement with violent confrontation.
Punch them as hard as you can. Just the once. I don’t feel like burying this at the end of the essay, so I thought I’d just set it up at the start. Why? The answer to that is long.
It’s come to my attention that there’s an organization pushing for a monument to be raised here in Vancouver, in George Wainborn Park, “for the sole purpose of providing recognition to the significant contribution of Irish Canadians and Canadians of Irish descent to Canada”.
I object to this (and yes, I’m Irish) for a number of reasons that I’ve outlined in an email to that organization. I’ve included it below.
I’ve been thinking about the writing of philosophy, whose writing I enjoy the most, whose style I most wish to emulate, and I think that there isn’t just one philosopher who’s style I love. (all of the names that follow will be white and male, as I’ve been slowly going beyond what was available in my undergrad, but have not yet read enough of others to make a fair comparison)
[Note to reddit visitors from /r/prolife: I haven’t ‘run away’ from my attempt at discussion on your forum, your mods have simply decided that ye are too fragile to discuss this topic and have banned me. If you would like to continue the conversation, you’re welcome to comment below.]
I recently made the tactical error of engaging with some anti-choice folk on their Kelowna Right to Life facebook page. As this particular group seemed to laud themselves on their intellectual and academic rigor, while disparaging that of the pro-choice folk, I thought I’d see how they responded to Judith Jarvis Thompson’s seminal work, A Defense of Abortion.
The short answer to that is “poorly”. In addition to clearly either not reading or understanding the paper, they kept referring to this awful article by Greg Koukl. This article will be a dissection of Unstringing the Violinist. (If nothing else, the anti-choice people come up with some decent article titles)
Scene: a coffee shop where two people are in a heated discussion over a complex topic.
Galina: “So you can see that, generally speaking, this is predominantly the case!”
Bob: “No! What about this one time, that thing happened! That shows that you’re completely wrong!”
Galina, confused: “I don’t understand what that has to do with this?”
Bob: “Hey, this isn’t my area of expertise. I’m just being a Devil’s Advocate….”
This scene is all too common, and it’s immensely frustrating for people who have spent time and energy learning about a topic to be “refuted” by someone who knows very little. “Refuted”, though, is not the same as refuted, because Bob hasn’t actually offered a useful counterargument. No, Bob is just being a contrarian jerk. And contrarian jerks love to claim that they’re “just being a Devil’s Advocate”.
An acquaintance of mine sent me a link to a conversation between Dan Dennett and Sam Harris, wherein Dennett attempts to explain the holes in Harris’s puerile arguments against the concept of “free will”.
In any case, this particular post isn’t about Harris, but a particular point he reiterates repeatedly: that we can (and should) change our beliefs “in real-time”.
This view, regardless of who holds it, is incorrect, and here’s why.
I recorded a podcast on srslywrong, and it was released last night. I’m fairly pro-GMO (generally speaking), so I was asked to take the pro-GMO side of a debate. It turned into more of a discussion of GMOs rather than a debate, and I’m pretty happy with the results.
I’m interested in feedback here, but bear in mind a couple things:
1) My background is not biology or science. I regrettably misspoke a few times in this (e.g. when I conflated genes for Roundup resistance with genes for the production of BT, and when I had a brain fart about bacteria being prokaryotes).
2) I’m not interested in yelling at people.
3) I’m interested in pushing broad strokes and general understanding, rather than devolving down nit-picky tangents. There’s a whole bunch of areas where I could have jumped down Eric/Cody’s throat for things that he said that I considered to be just plain ‘wrong’, but as they were tangential to the discussion, I left them alone. (and, to his credit, Eric/Cody cut me the same slack.
Click here to go to the podcast.
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[This essay is going to focus primarily on the skeptic/atheist community, as that’s the community I mostly interact with. I’m sure it holds true for others too, so don’t read this essay as me claiming that this is somehow unique to skeptics and/or atheists. Additionally, this essay only applies to people who want to discuss things with other people. If your preferred style of communication is lecturing people, and you’re not particular interested in changing (or even hearing) their position: this does not apply to you]
In the years that I’ve been involved in the skeptic/atheist community, I’ve noticed two tendencies that are, unfortunately, completely at odds with one another: making the claim that we really want to discuss things, and doing a massive information dump, laying out our ‘complete’ position on something in one go.
Not only are these two things in tension, they’re actually mutually exclusive. Here’s why.
How we argue with people sends signals to those around us. We are socially signalling the kind of person we are, and giving them cues as to whether or not they want to engage with us. This is, I think, an important point in rhetoric and persuasion, and can determine how we approach an argument. We can, of course, choose to remain ignorant of the signals that we send (thus sending the signal that we hold the people around us in contempt), or we can go too far and focus too much on ‘how’ the argument is presented such that the content is diluted to nothing.
An example of the former is a tweet by Secular Outpost (@SecularOutpost):
This is, frankly, sending up a flare that displays to all and sundry “I am a giant asshole, and I am not here for constructive conversation, but to have fun at the expense of those around me”. Disagree? Alright, let me walk you through it. Continue reading
I’ve had something of a writing block for the last month or so, so I’m thankful to Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist for providing me with some fodder to dissect. I’ve always figured that there had to be some folk out there whose anti-abortion stance wasn’t built on a foundation of religion, as the latter simply isn’t logically necessary for the former. Plenty of people hold ignorant and poorly thought-out positions, appeals to god are simply gap fillers: people can also either fill in the gaps with a non-religious non-explanation, or just ignore them.
Such is the case in the guest post by Kristine Kruszelnicki, titled “Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them“. An alternative title would be “I’m unaware of how shallow my arguments are, but here they are anyway”. That is, perhaps, unfair: it’s possible that Kruszelnicki is aware of how shallow these arguments are, but she claims that they are compelling….