Skip to content

Student claims in-class tirade against trans woman pastor Constitutionally protected

Hey, did you hear? A student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania was kicked out of class for saying there are only two genders! This is just another example of how universities in America are just bastions of social justice warriors trying to brainwash and browbeat everyone into sharing their views! That student’s First Amendment right to free speech was violated!

Yep, that’s totally what happened. Not at all an account that relies solely on the perspective of the student in question, which was reported by Fox News as the objective story, resulting in harassment and threats being directed at the lecturer who evicted the student, other lecturers in her department, university administrators, and even undergraduate office workers.

There appears to be an irony here in the contradiction of the “safe space, coddling students to protect them from rigorous debate” narrative. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What actually happened? Well, that’s a tougher question to answer than you might expect, because the lecturer in question, Dr. Alison Downie, is bound by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) and can’t speak directly on the student, Lake Ingle’s, behavior that caused him to be evicted from her class.  But she did issue a statement concerning the nature of the class itself, Christianity 481: Self, Sin, and Salvation, and another student from that class, Katherine Bradshaw, who is not bound by FERPA offered her perspective on the matter as well.

Downie’s description of the nature and goals of the class is as follows:

Here is part of the course description as it appears in my course syllabus: “Selecting representative diverse thinkers, this course requires students to understand a range of Christian perspectives, while focusing upon the selected three themes [self, sin, and salvation], in order to provide for depth of analysis. Students will gain an understanding of Christian history and tradition as well as an understanding of the many contemporary challenges evident in diverse Christian positions.”  

We discuss Biblical texts and early Christian thinkers as well as the positions of those in major Christian traditions writing about these topics today. We consider these questions: How do Christians understand what it means to be made in the image of God? Is sin best understood as a wrong act of an individual, or a condition inherited from Adam and Eve or systemic and structural forms of injustice? Is salvation about going to heaven after death or about how one lives in the here and now? 

There is not and never has been one answer to any of these questions in Christianity. 

Students are expected to listen to and understand a variety of approaches in order to develop depth of understanding of the complexity of Christianity, beyond one historical period or a particular church or Christian group.

Toward this end, Downie said that for this class she likes to present the views of Christian thinkers by allowing them to speak for themselves, and allow students to consider and discuss them:

When I have the opportunity to teach a small, upper level course such as this, I rarely lecture; instead, I craft various structures in different sessions so that all students, especially those most hesitant, feel welcome and able to have a safe space in which to speak, as we discuss class material. 

I also occasionally use short video clips as a way to have Christians speak for themselves in class, in lieu of guest speakers. In a university setting, students are expected to have the maturity and self-regulation necessary in order to listen to, understand, and respectfully discuss positions which they may find threatening or with which they may disagree.

Students are often surprised to discover the extent of the diversity of experiences and teachings among Christians, and students are expected to pay attention to all views, not only those with which they are already familiar. Furthermore, students are expected to prepare for and attend each class session, so that any particular session is understood in relation to the whole. 

While not a current university lecturer myself, I can say as a former religious studies major, graduate teaching assistant in comparative religion, and adjunct lecturer of my own course, that this course concept and structure sounds absolutely bog standard.

And what’s more, it should be clear from Downie’s description that her class is intended to foster precisely the sort of critical examination of ideas that has been near-outlawed in universities according to people like Steven Pinker, who would probably be too apoplectic right about now upon seeing the words “safe space” in Downie’s description to notice that she’s providing a safe space to allow for productive discussion rather than to squelch it.

But wait! She did squelch it! She kicked Lake Ingle out of class for having the temerity to express ideas at odds with the liberal ideas with which she was trying to indoctrinate the class!

Well, let’s talk about that.

According to Ingle, as Fox News writer Caleb Parke dutifully reported, this is what happened:

After showing a 15-minute TED Talk by transgender ex-pastor Paula Stone Williams discussing the “reality” of “mansplaining,” “sexism from men,” and “male privilege,” the professor asked the women in the class to share their thoughts. 

When no women in the class said anything, Ingle spoke up, challenging the professor on biology and the gender wage gap. He told the class that the official view of biologists is that there are only two genders. 

The feminist professor booted him from class and asked him not to come back. She referred him to the public university’s Academic Integrity Board (AIB). Ingle needs to complete the class to graduate at the end of the semester. 

“You are barred from attending this class in accordance with the Classroom Disruption policy,” IUP Provost Timothy Moerland told Ingle in a March 2 letter. “My professor is violating my First Amendment rights because of the fact that my views and ideology is different from hers,” Ingle told Fox News. “So she took it on herself to silence and embarrass me – bully me – for speaking up in class.” 

Downie accused the conservative libertarian student of “disrespectful objection,” “refusal to stop talking out of turn,” “angry outbursts in response to being required to listen to a trans speaker discuss the reality of white male privilege and sexism,” and “disrespectful references to the validity of trans identity and experience.”  . . .

Ingle objected to Downie’s “overall abuse” as a professor “indoctrinating” students because she won’t listen to the other side of a controversial argument. “You can’t say that anecdotal evidence is fact,” Ingle said. “My professor pretty much just tried to shut me up because she was just letting women speak. I brought up the fact that biologists don’t agree that there’s more than two genders and I said the wage gap she’s referring to – 77 cents on the dollar – that even the New York Times debunked that.”

Why did Downie ask the female students in the class to speak first? That’s not entirely clear, but I’m assuming it’s because she suspected that they might not get a chance to speak otherwise. Even Ingle does not say that only female students were allowed to speak, but that they were specifically asked to speak first after watching the video. And Ingle seems to acknowledge, implicitly, that he spoke out of turn– unless, that is, he identifies as female.

It’s important to point out here that IUP is a public university, and students do have a First Amendment right to speak their views. However, that does not mean that every class period is the equivalent of a simultaneous soapbox for students and lecturers alike, for the duration of the class, for obvious reasons. You can simultaneously retain your First Amendment rights and not be allowed to say anything you want, at any volume, at any time, while class is in session.

Further, it does not sound like a discussion on the gender wage gap, or the specifics thereof, were particularly germane to the conversation. Here’s a link to the Paula Stone Williams TED talk— she makes a passing reference to a woman “working twice as hard for half as much,” but that’s it.  It’s a talk about the differences between how Williams was treated as a man before she transitioned to being a woman. It talks about mansplaining as a thing that Williams experiences now that she’s a woman. It talks about the importance of listening to people in other groups in order to recognize how they are treated by members of your own group, and yes, it talks about privilege. And gives ample evidence of it. It’s a really good talk, and only fifteen minutes; you should listen to it.

Apparently when Ingle listened to it, there was a voice in his head saying “No, wrong, wrong, no, wrong” throughout, and that voice was so loud that he felt compelled to argue with a woman who wasn’t in the room, about statements she didn’t make (perhaps the “No” voice was just too loud to hear her), when the video was over.

Fortunately since fellow student Katherine Bradshaw was part of that class and published her thoughts on what happened, we can hear her perspective on how that went. First, some interesting context:

On Feb. 26, two days before the conflict, the class discussed the Nashville Statement. For those unfamiliar with this document, the Nashville Statement is a statement of faith published in 2017 by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The document articulates the signatories’ views on sex, gender, gender roles, homosexuality and transgenderism. We spent an entire class period talking about this brief reading and some response tweets sent out by a prominent Jesuit priest. 

Article 10 of the document states, “WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” 

Article 5 of the document states that there is a “God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female” and that “WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.” As the class discussed the document, there were no melting snowflakes. No one raised their voices. 

No one turned red in the face. It was a class period like any other. 

Ingle missed class that day.

Then the next class:

The following class period, Feb. 28, Downie showed a TED talk by Paula Williams, a transgender woman and minister. In the TED talk, the speaker recounted her decision to transition after she had married and built a highly successful career within various Christian organizations. She and her wife got a divorce, and Paula lost all of her jobs. 

To me, it was evident that this video and the Nashville Statement were meant to illustrate the diverse views of transgenderism within Christianity. The course syllabus states that students will be expected to engage with “diverse thinkers” and “understand a range of Christian perspectives.” 

Downie said that the floor would be opened for discussion for women first, and then once the women who wanted to make a comment were finished, the floor would be opened to the whole classroom. 

After a brief pause, Ingle began speaking. As I recall the event, this pause was less than 10 seconds long. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article on the incident said the pause was 30 seconds long. I cannot accept the assertion that the class was silent for three times as long as I recall. 

In an interview with Henrik Palmgren of Red Ice TV, Ingle summarized his comments during class: “When the video concluded in class, I objected to the professor’s use of anecdotal evidence in a classroom setting as if it was factual evidence. And, of course, it is a topic of much dispute and debate. And I also brought up the fact that not all biologists agree that there are more than two genders, as well as many entities like the Economist, as well as The New York Times, even have put out statements saying that the gender wage gap myth is how it is portrayed to be.” 

At various intervals during Ingle’s comments, Downie attempted to tell him to wait his turn to speak, brought up the fact that he had not been present the previous class period and said that he had created a toxic environment. I recall that Ingle claimed Downie “couldn’t just make up rules,” referring to Downie’s decision to have women speak before men. Downie countered by claiming professors do make up rules when guiding discussion. As Ingle continued to express his views, he raised his voice and became red in the face. One student walked out of the class during Ingle’s comments. Other students engaged with him at Downie’s behest. One student said that Ingle sounded highly privileged and as if he failed to understand the video. Ingle responded that his only privilege is that he is extremely intelligent. 

Another student made the point that privilege often doesn’t have to do so much with intellectual ability, so much as opportunities individuals are given to show off their abilities.

She also says:

I would like to bring attention to Ingle’s claim that he disagreed with the speaker and/or the professor regarding the claim that there are more than two genders. This is the part of the story that Fox, Breitbart, The Washington Examiner and many other news sources chose to use as their headline. At no point in Paula Williams’ TED talk does she even broach the subject. To my memory, the viewpoint which Ingle claims to have rebutted was never introduced by either the professor or the speaker in the TED talk.

Bradshaw’s remarks are very well-expressed and should be read in full.  It’s clear that she saw this as an important chance to speak up and set the record straight.

Bradshaw does note that she disagrees to some extent with the punishment that Ingle received upon being kicked out of class, which entails not being allowed to return to class until he writes an apology that specifically references each charges of disruptful behavior against him. One of these charges is that he claimed that “a low score on any classwork would be evidence of a professor’s personal prejudice,” which Ingle steadfastly maintains he didn’t say, and Bradshaw didn’t hear him say either, so she maintains that he should not have to apologize for it. Seems reasonable.

So, lacking Downie’s personal account of what happened in the class but having a description of the course syllabus and accounts from both Ingle and Bradford, I’m going to make a wildly speculative, shot in the dark analysis of this situation:

  1. Lecturer sets up a course to allow students to engage with radically different standpoints across the political and moral spectrum through a lens of Christian thinking, both traditional and modern.
  2. Student misses the class where the views expressed apparently line up very close with his own but are presumably diametrically opposed to the views of at least some other students, and the class proceeds without disruption.
  3. Student attends the next class where the views expressed are diametrically opposed to his own, and throws a tantrum. 
  4. Lecturer gives student the boot pending a change to his behavior: no more tantrums.
  5. Student goes to the right-wing media yelling about his freeze peach.
  6. Media yells “HIS FREEZE PEACH!”
  7. University officials, from the lecturer herself to administrators to students, get harassment and threats.

And then…what happens next? We don’t know.

But can I suggest what might happen, and shouldn’t? What might happen is that the university decides that while Ingle’s punishment is legitimate, it just isn’t worth the bother of having a huge incident like this every time a student encounters beliefs that he deems tantrum-worthy, and therefore Downie and other lecturers must modify their courses to omit these controversial ideas.

That is the silencing effect we should be concerned about.

Oh, and Ingle? According to the Fox News article, he says he wants to be a professor himself. I’m sure he’ll be great.

A great mythtake

Recently I was listening to the Embrace the Void podcast episode “Tolerate Me Bro!” about Popper’s paradox of tolerance. Hosts Aaron Rabi and GW were talking about how this paradox plays out in the context of platforming or deplatforming speakers, which is to say, the decisions that providers of platforms (talk show hosts, conference organizers, etc.) make about whose voices to amplify, and the reasons they have for doing so or refusing to do so.

Rabi made the point that if your intent as the owner of a platform is to allow for a productive debate, the paradox of tolerance suggests that you are justified in establishing a threshold of expertise and/or viewpoint acceptance for those who participate in the debate. So, for example, if your goal was to have a meaningful, good faith discussion about evolution, it would be reasonable for you to exclude creationists from the discussion because they would not be able to participate from a place of knowledge and honesty.

Rabi wasn’t talking about MythCon, and I’d like to make that clear so that it doesn’t look like I’m putting words in his mouth as I apply that “threshold of good faith” concept to a skepticism conference held in Milwaukee.

Last year’s MythCon was preceded by skeptics arguing in various places online about the fact that the organizers chose to invite Carl Benjamin, otherwise known as Sargon of Akkad, an alt-right Youtube rabble rouser known for his strident antifeminist views and flirtations with white supremacy.  Many people encouraged the more respectable skeptic figures to drop out, which “Thinking Atheist” Seth Andrews did after significant grousing about the so-called “outrage brigade” raising the alarm about the conference.

Others, such as Matt Dillahunty and Thomas Smith, stayed in, relaying their displeasure about the experience afterward. Smith was especially condemning after having been faced with the prospect of “debating” someone who had once tweeted “I wouldn’t even rape you” at a sexual assault victim. When this fact was brought up on stage the audience cheered for Benjamin’s tweet, making it clear that if there was any faith to be found, it wasn’t the good kind.

Fast forward to last week, when the organizers announced the speaker list for the 2018 conference. Did they learn their lesson from last year? Not even slightly; rather it’s clear that they chose to double down. Their GoFundMe page for this year’s conference explains it thusly:

We lost $12k on #Mythcon 2017 and are raising money to support the cost of #Mythcon 2018. We cannot stop talking about, listening to and challenging ideas and issues that are important to us. We will not find progress talking only to those who agree with us. We need to explore beyond our comfort zone, ask difficult questions, criticize ideas and try to find common ground in order to work on conflict resolution.

Under this pretense we see that the schedule for 2018 features the following panels:

  • How has the political climate divided the atheist community? — Includes “Armoured Skeptic,” an antifeminist and “SJW” antagonist who also featured in the 2017 conference, and David Smalley, an atheist podcaster who apparently originated the term “screeching left.”
  • What is the impact of intersectionality? — Includes Peter Boghossian, who submitted a fake academic paper on the “conceptual penis” to a paid journal in an attempt to demonstrate that gender studies is based on hatred of men. 
  • Where do social justice, the secular community and identity politics meet? — Includes Carl Benjamin and Richard Carrier, the latter of whom is actually a mythicist, apparently the only one at the MythCon conference…who is also currently suing two blog networks and multiple individuals for reporting on allegations of sexual harassment by him. 
There are other panels, and other speakers, and I do not intend to impugn any of them here. Good people inevitably seem to get sucked into bad conferences sometimes.

That’s kind of the point, though– the inclusion of qualified speakers lends a veneer of respectability and legitimacy to others. The people participating in good faith, by their inclusion and through no fault of their own, lend their halo effect to the trolls and charlatans.

There are important, nuanced debates to be had about intersectionality, social justice, the secular community, identity politics….all of it, but many of the people chosen to have a platform in these discussions are not qualified, and they are disqualified not only by their lack of expertise but by their rejection of the entire subject matter.  There is no threshold of good faith at this conference, because participants are given a platform not based on their expertise and willingness to engage in productive discussion, but virtually based on the opposite– their willingness to stir the pot, to say inflammatory things that upset reasonable people and delight the sort of people who like to see reasonable people get upset.

MythCon has gone full troll, which wouldn’t be a big deal– skeptics interested in meaningful discussion can just look elsewhere; there are plenty of other opportunities– except that they’re still trying to maintain a facade of credibility in the process. That’s something they shouldn’t be allowed to do. We do not have to tolerate the intolerant. We do not have to lower the threshold of good faith for those who have no intention of or ability to practice it. We do not have to, and we should not. 

Good luck, Ohio

Ohio’s governor John Kasich has signed into law a ban on abortion performed on the basis of Down syndrome. I’m going to call back to a post I wrote last year when Mike Pence signed a similar law for Indiana:

Before I go into what’s so horrible about this bill, I want to first acknowledge that it’s almost certainly blatantly unconstitutional. To my knowledge, there is no legal basis for banning abortions that would otherwise be legal based on the reason a woman wants one. And Indiana’s law doesn’t just ban abortions performed because of fetal disability– it also bans abortions based on the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Abortion was deemed a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade, and fundamental rights can’t be abridged based on a person’s motive for exercising them. One would think.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, made a great comment about the specifications of the bill: “They basically took non-discrimination language and made it an abortion ban.”  It’s always fun when conservatives pretend to care about diversity and egalitarianism purely for the sake of trying to make liberals look like hypocrites. What’s not fun is that this tactic is often remarkably effective, because on first blush a liberal might fully agree that women shouldn’t abort based on any of those factors. After all, none of these traits are the kid’s fault!  They’re circumstances of birth!

Yeah, well…there’s a problem there. Because we’re not talking about a kid. We’re not talking about about circumstances of birth, because we’re not talking about someone about someone who has been born. A fetus that is aborted will never experience discrimination, because that fetus will not experience anything. A fetus does not care why it was aborted, because a fetus doesn’t care about anything. The result of abortion is the same for every fetus, regardless of why the abortion occurred.

If we agree that a fetus is not a person (in the legal sense), then the fetus has no rights.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to privacy, or the right not to be discriminated against (which, again, social conservatives don’t generally support in the first place)– non-people do not have rights.

If we don’t agree that a fetus isn’t a person, which is to say, you think they are people…then every abortion is equally murder. Reasons don’t matter. We don’t just ban murders that take place because of discrimination– they’re illegal regardless.  So in that respect, passing a law that forbids abortion for discriminatory reasons is implicitly acknowledging that fetuses aren’t people.

And, in fact, the Ohio ACLU has called Kasich’s version of the law “blatantly unconstitutional”:

The ACLU of Ohio opposes this unconstitutional attack on reproductive freedom, which blatantly violates long-standing legal precedent prohibiting bans on abortion before viability.

 A woman should be able to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in consultation with those she trusts. HB 214 inappropriately inserts politics into private medical deliberations, and would discourage open, honest communication between a woman and her doctor.

 It is not the government’s role to decide what can and cannot pass through a woman’s mind before deciding to have an abortion. This type of ban sets a dangerous precedent, and opens the door for politicians to further intrude into women’s personal health decisions.

 The ACLU of Ohio opposes discrimination in all forms, and works to ensure that people with disabilities are treated with equality and dignity. However, this purposely divisive legislation is about restricting abortion, not protecting against discrimination. Instead of wasting more tax dollars on this political crusade against reproductive health care, legislators should focus on addressing the serious concerns of those with disabilities in our communities.

The last I heard about Indiana’s law was that a federal judge blocked it. Let’s hope the same happens for Ohio, but you’d think that instead of spending all of the time, energy, and taxpayer funds getting an obviously unconstitutional law passed, Kasich would be bright enough to look at what happened in Indiana and just not bother. 

Inside (outside) football

Photo credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

The insider-outsider problem in the study of religion entails that an insider in a religious tradition has an advantage of insight, while an outsider has an advantage of objectivity.

Which is to say, the insider can tell you what it feels like to participate in the religion, what’s compelling about it, while the outsider can tell you about the less attractive and even harmful features of the religion.

The most recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast shows the insider/outsider problem in the study of brain damage caused by playing football.

John Urschel, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens and current PhD student of mathematics of MIT, retired from the Ravens after learning about the prevalence of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in career football players. He had observed his own reduction in thinking skills following a concussion, and concluded that the risk of getting CTE, while still largely an unknown, was enough of a threat to his ability to study mathematics to justify quitting the Ravens and football in general.

So John is absolutely a football insider. The neuroscience researchers and journalist interviewed on the podcast are insiders– they describe, at every opportunity, their passionate and long-lasting love of football. They do this to emphasize how emotionally difficult it is to criticize the NFL for failing to acknowledge the incidences of CTE, and generally to point out a real problem with how the game they love is played.

And they also do this, no doubt, to soften the anticipated antagonism or skepticism of what they have to say as outsiders– that football as it is played today is highly likely to cause brain damage to career players and possibly amateurs as well.

(See also: How Anita Sarkeesian has had to repeatedly emphasize how much she loves video games, even while pointing out sexist elements in those games.)

I have no use for football, so could more easily adopt the role of the objective outsider on CTE in football players, but as a result, you would see me advocating for much more strident changes to rules, and stronger condemnation of the NFL for being slow to respond to legitimate criticism.

And that’s why it’s called the insider-outsider problem— is the outsider really so objective, if she has no sympathy to the value that others find in the practice she’s criticizing? Is the insider really so insightful, if her love of the practice blinds her to the valid criticisms that can be made?

Of course the potential ability of the insider and outsider, respectively, to influence and persuade others of their point of view is also highly dependent on their status. Some football-lovers undoubtedly would not listen to stories about brain damage caused by football if the news comes from someone who doesn’t establish their football-lover cred first. On the other hand, those with apathy or even antipathy to football, for one reason or another, might suspect the insider’s criticism of being incomplete or not fully representative of the actual problem it describes.

So you might conclude– okay, then we need both insiders and outsiders. Yes, we do. But insiders and outsiders are always going to exist, so more than that, we need to listen to both insiders and outsiders. And further, we need to be careful about demanding that someone genuflect sufficiently to demonstrate their status as an insider before listening to them, or even simply accept insider status as a prerequisite on its own for accepting what they have to say.

Obvious? Yes, when I state it like that. But nobody’s immune to the bias of favoring the perspectives of insiders in their own groups. Crafty politicians play shamelessly to this bias by portraying themselves as insiders of whatever group they happen to be speaking to, to great effect. Tribalism is rampant in skepticism, in movement politics, even in casual hobby groups, and it comes from the implicit assumption that insiders know what they’re talking about while outsiders don’t….except, of course, when the outsider is you.

So this is just a friendly reminder to consider the perspectives of outsiders (other than yourself). Common ground can be found at a deeper level than group membership.  For example, maybe you love football and I couldn’t care less, but (hopefully) we both care about avoiding brain damage.

Naming of names

At work the other day, we got into a discussion about names. Weird family names, bizarre nicknames, the difference (if any) between your given name and the name you have now, and how that came to be.

We talked about how it’s impossible to find a name for your child that will ensure he or she won’t get picked on in school, and went around the table talking about what horrible mutations of our own names we’d been confronted with in our childhoods.

When it was my turn, I was able to rattle of a list of what I’d thought would be obvious disparaging forms of my own name: Retchin’, Witchy, Retch, Bitchy, Bitchen…and that’s just for my first name. Coworkers, however, were surprised. Of course they were– they’re all adults. If it had ever occurred to any of them to call me by one of those names, they didn’t let on.

Whenever I see someone I care about deliberately referred to by the wrong name, even if it’s a variation of their actual name that they just don’t use, I think of third grade bullies. That, to me, is the level of maturity displayed by someone who uses this tactic of insult. Frequently it meant just using the dimunitive form of someone’s name without their consent– Mike becomes Mikey, Tom becomes Tommy, Sophia becomes Sophie, Elizabeth becomes Lizzy, etc.

Nothing’s wrong with those versions of the names, of course, and sometimes the dimunitive version is even someone’s given name. In other case it’s chosen as an alternative by the name’s owner. The point is, that’s the person’s actual name. That’s what they go by. That’s what they expect you to call them.

Warping a person’s name into something they do not go by is condescending at best. You know this– you’ve heard the tone with which Bob becomes Bobby to someone who doesn’t like him. But doing so as a deliberate insult is actually akin to bigotry, I think.

Strong claim? Oh, definitely. But here’s something to consider– your first name at least is, in most cases, a circumstance of bith. In the same way that you were born Canadian or Australian, male or female, white or Latino, ectomorph or endomorph, you are very likely to have been born Jamal or Harriet.

Turning you into Jabba or Hairy-It is, then, pretty much like calling you fat or a ginger, or making fun of your accent. It’s insulting a trait that the person (likely) didn’t choose, can’t do much about, has lived with for his/her entire life, and most importantly has no moral quality whatsoever.  As circumstances of birth don’t. If you don’t like someone’s name, that is an aesthetic judgment, a matter of taste. It says absolutely nothing about how good or intelligent or brave or educated they are. Or aren’t.

It’s funny that we call these things superficial characteristics, because in reality they go deep. Anything you’ve lived with for your entire life is going to be personal. Making fun of a lifelong “superficial characteristic” is trying to cut someone to the core over a thing unrelated to character, that they can do nothing about. That sounds an awful lot like bigotry, doesn’t it?

That’s why I don’t think you should make fun of people’s names. It’s not because I’m opposed to insults– not by a long shot– but I’m opposed to that kind of insult.

Watching Charlie

The manhunt for the terrorists continues.

At least three mosques in various French cities have been attacked.

News sources deliberate whether to repost the covers of various Charlie Hebdo magazines which were offensive to Muslims, unsure whether doing so would be simple news coverage, or construed as support for freedom of speech, or support for the presumed sentiments behind the images, or what. 

No matter what they choose, they will be criticized.

People argue, again, whether criticism of Muslims can be racist even though Islam isn’t a race. They argue about whether the Charlie Hebdo images were/are racist. They argue about what satire means. They are argue about hate speech laws. They argue about whether enough Muslims have apologized, authentically and tearfully enough, for crimes committed by people who have no relation to them aside from sharing a religion.

They have all of the same arguments, again and again and again.

Perhaps Charb and the others would be happy these arguments are happening. Perhaps they would see it as something of a tribute toward their efforts to be irreverant, controversial, brave truth-speakers.

Perhaps they would be right.

I don’t know. I just feel tired and sad, reading all of this. And yet I can’t stop.

The anti-homeless spikes

This Slate article has a collection of photos of “bum-free” additions to buildings and structures in public areas intended for the same purpose as the controversial “homeless deterrent” spikes in a London apartment block (the ones pictured below). Apparently they’re a pretty common thing.

In Manchester I recall seeing shards of glass embedded in the tops of walls on a regular basis. Less obviously aggressive are dividers in public benches which make it possible to sit but not lie down. As you can see in the article, a lot of creative work has been put into making it impossible for people to sleep in public areas– I wonder if that’s actually someone’s full time job. How depressing an occupation would that be? Does this person have any friends?

Some of my friends have posted approvingly an article about a group of activists who decided to pour concrete over the anti-homeless spikes in a shop window ledge at a Tesco Metro, which apparently resulted in the company agreeing to remove the spikes. First, however, they’ll have to remove the concrete. I can’t imagine that will be easy. It’s a mess which doesn’t look any better to sleep on than the spikes, quite frankly.

Tesco, for its part, claims that the spikes were there to inhibit “antisocial behavior” which customers had been complaining about, basically drunken loitering, and weren’t intended to be anti-homeless at all. But obviously the effect is the same.

Still, to you well-meaning activists and supporters of activists out there….try talk before property damage, okay? And try thinking for a good while before that.

This is a bigger problem than a few doorways in London. And businesses aren’t wrong for not wanting homeless people sleeping on and around their premises, though their methods of dealing with that are sometimes deplorable. When I first saw the doorway pictured below, it occurred to me that if the apartment block had installed a bike rack in that space instead, the same goal would’ve been accomplished without any of the outrage. And yet the effect would’ve been the same for any person who had wanted– no, let’s rephrase for accuracy– felt forced to sleep there.

So on the whole, it’s good that these spikes are getting attention because the homeless need attention. But the businesses aren’t the villains in this story (at least, not the only ones) and it’s going to take a lot more to solve this problem than railing against its symptoms.

I suggest focusing on positive approaches. Here’s a good example.

Silverman clarifies

sorta:

I was talking to a lot of press this week – I mean a LOT of press, and most of it hostile. When I was talking to Raw Story I gave them the same pitch I’d given so many times before: Conservatism is basically divided into two parts, fiscal conservatism, which is real conservatism, and Social conservatism, which is Christian theocracy masquerading as conservatism, with the latter holding down the former. Is [sic] the fiscals dropped the Christian social bullshit, I said, real conservatism would benefit from the influx of conservative atheists who avoid the movement due to the theocratic aspects.   I said that all of the social conservative agenda was religious in nature, to which the reporter eagerly countered that there was a secular argument for abortion. He clearly knew he was right, and so did I – there is a secular argument (one with which I firmly disagree) whose existence I cannot deny.  Rather than take the road to discussing abortion, I acquiesced to his correct counterpoint, returned to my point, and said that school prayer, LGBT equality, and Death with dignity were better examples of purely Christian positions (“it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage”), and we went on with the discussion on why American Atheists was there.  There’s my scandal. The rest of what you may have read is reckless “positing” by people who didn’t do what you did – ask me. Thank you for being responsible.

Guilty of reckless positing, here. But in my defense, I did try to interpret correctly…

And I have my doubts about opposition to abortion being less of a “purely Christian position” than the others Silverman mentions, for reasons mentioned a couple of posts ago. But there are bigger hills to die on, and frankly I’m exhausted from climbing this one.

H/T to Shanon Nebo of Secular Sunshine.

Addendum — parsing libertarian-speak on abortion

Apparently part of the issue with David Silverman’s statements is that people think he brought up secular arguments against abortion out of nowhere. Trust me, he didn’t. Here’s how it works:

1. Silverman described social conservatism as theocratic, and he gave three examples of what he considers to be social conservatism: gay rights, the right to an abortion, and the right to die.
2. Silverman contrasted social conservativism with “real conservatism,” which is anti-big government.
3. Social conservatism, which is theocratic, is pro-big government because it entails opposing gay rights, the right to an abortion, and the right to die. That’s why social conservatism isn’t “real conservatism.”
4. The interviewer, Roy Edroso, challenged the notion that “the Right to Life guys” aren’t real conservatives.
5. Silverman, who thinks that social conservatism = theocratic = big government = pro-life, then replied that actually yes, secular argument against abortion do exist.

Or as Sean Gillespie put it on Facebook,

Here are the things I’m sure of:
1. Silverman was not trying to make a secular pro-life argument himself.
2. Nor was he saying that those arguments are any good.

Here’s what I’m not sure of:
1. Does Silverman then think that there’s a “real conservative” pro-life argument? That is, an argument against abortion which is not pro-big-government because it isn’t theocratic?

I dunno. But then, I have a hard time understanding what Silverman thinks is “big government,” specifically, or that he really understands what theocracy is. True theocracy is not simply trying to pass legislation which is based on religious beliefs, but literally trying to establish a religion via government. Christian Reconstructionists are theocrats. People who try to pass religion-based laws are better described as “First Amendment-resistant.” But that’s kind of splitting hairs in this discussion.

Primary Sidebar

Secondary Sidebar