Misogyny and the Meaning of Life

Next week at the Feminine Faces of Freethought conference in Dallas I'm going to be talking about the meaning of life. Specifically, I'll be talking about an argument in Alex Rosenberg's book The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions -- to the effect that life is totally meaningless.

But first I plan on saying just a bit about the misogyny wars that have been raging lately in the atheosphere.  The question bouncing around in my head is: why?  Why so much friction about so little -- since the dispute is about relatively small things like how to treat each other at conventions?  I have a little theory about that.  Hope to see you at the conference!

P.S. This was longer as of 5 seconds ago, but thought better of it. If you subscribe, maybe you got the longer thing by email. When all is said and done, all that talk just repulses me, and I didn't want it at my blog. 


julian said...

Probably wise to avoid all the fighting the deleted bits would cause.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, it was going to be unbearable. I suddenly saw my weekend going up in flames. Not worth it. The kind of people who would disagree are people I really (honestly) just don't want to interact with.

Michael Fisher said...

Hi Jean. I hope you'll post a transcript of your talk here in case there's no video available [or the sound quality isn't too good as is often the case with these conferences]. Cheers!

Charles Sullivan said...

Not sure if you meant to post a link to the conference, but here it is:


Criag Urias said...

There is a wide range of variability in Internet addiction or at least Internet obsessiveness. Out of millions, we expect some number to exhibit strong obsessiveness and strong opinions. In the extreme case we find nutjobs. Since these people make a disproportionate amount of noise, the tail end of the distribution curve becomes exaggerated in our minds, leading to misperceptions.

Just as we are evolved to perceive human-length time intervals (and not deep time) and human-magnitude velocities (and not near-lightspeed velocities), we misperceive the attitude of a group of millions of people when we use our online experience as evidence. Also see the 1% rule.

In addition, being personally attacked also skews our perception, causing us to give undue weight to a handful of individuals. Moreover, personal attacks create a vicious cycle leading to an even greater exaggeration of the distribution tail segment. We don't see tit-for-tat exchanges of kindness that drag out for months or years, or whole websites devoted solely to raining compliments upon a group of bloggers.

We should therefore be skeptical of an individual's assessment of a particular group's social problems formed from the individual's perceptions gathered online.

Jean, if you think about the factors which culminated in your current belief that there is a "misogyny war", doesn't it boil down to a small number of individuals? Your attitude seems to have shifted after you were unjustly attacked. While the sense of injustice is a very real and palpable thing, it is helpful to find some perspective. Think about the millions of people in the secular population worldwide. In Europe there are whole countries of atheists. So you ran into a few nutjobs. In the long view, so what?

Before elevatorgate we did not hear about atheism particularly having a misogyny problem. Shouldn't we have noticed it before? Isn't it more likely that we are looking at an online phenomenon? Internet discussions tend toward conflict due to missing cues from body language, pressure to defend oneself in front of thousands or (potentially) millions, social stroking from commenters that give license to otherwise antisocial behavior, the (sometimes monetary) incentive to increase traffic by discussing contentious issues, and of course the perils that accompany anonymity. Personal drama does not generally require deep contemplation or research, making it perfectly suited for high-volume blogging.

And remember the Internet includes literal and figurative children who love the attention that Internet flaming gives them. For them, nothing is more exciting than seeing their words quoted and accompanied by outrage. They "win" every time that happens, and lately they have found a wellspring of seemingly unlimited wins.

Jean Kazez said...

Craig, Really interesting comment. I hope you are right about the skewed perception, small numbers, etc. But one thing you're not right about--why my tone has shifted a bit. I've always firmly supported women under attack, but a couple of months ago I started noticing that even more are coming under attack, and some of this is in "real world" spaces, and some of the attackers are not just anonymous obsessives, and there is not as much firm, clearly stated opposition to these people as I think there should be. I'm not even sure what you mean by me coming under attack. I don't think I've really endured much in the way of attack. Some rubbish here and there, but nothing compared to what other women have been through.

Criag Urias said...

Jean, I was referring to your relatively recent "no mad dogs!" post in which you linked to someone lying about you. The post seemed to mark a change in attitude or tone or assessment of the problem.

The "real world" event of which I am aware is that a woman wore a T-shirt at TAM that expressed her willingness to be disassociated with the term "skepchick". That seems like a trivial affair to me (there has been non-misogynistic pushback to skepchick in recent years, including pushback from women), but somehow it became cause for lacrimation.

The point is that such isolated events, whether trivial or not, cannot be used to make sweeping statements about misogyny and atheism. Again think of the millions of atheists worldwide, and the countries in Europe filled with them.

Jean Kazez said...

If there was a change in my thinking it began earlier than that and had to do with the treatment of Surlyamy. I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time detailing everything that went into my growing concern. It's just not that important or interesting. Seriously--don't misread this post as making a claim about atheism itself or atheism worldwide. I'm just talking about a mostly-online fracas having to do with harassment codes, "atheism plus" and the like. Nothing global or monumental. I agree--it's important to make that clear.

julian said...

I don't understand why everyone keeps insisting it's only a small number of individuals and only a small minority online. Most instances of bullying, hazing and abuse are between the abused and a small number of any population. For example, most Marines frown upon hazing "boots" (Marines who haven't deployed) but hazing remains a big issue in the USMC.

The relative innocence of the larger group is never in question. Why would it be when, as is pointed out, they are far more numerous often only tangentially involved (if that)? Everyone (should) understands.

But, going back to my USMC example, the relative innocence of the majority doesn't stop the hazing. It doesn't help the people who've been abused and it doesn't penalize the "bad apples." If a community cannot (or will not) "crack down" on problematic behavior like that it's entirely fair to say they have a problem.

((Two cents anhyway. Sorry for misspelling and such. Typing from phone and screen is crazy cracked. Good luck at your conference! Probably shoulda said that in my first comment lol))

Steersman said...

Interesting post and suggestive of the view of others that the drama surrounding the issue of “misogyny” has gotten out of hand – that it has become a case of the proverbial tail – or tale – wagging the dog. In which case I can well sympathize with your apparent aversion to allowing your site and time to be taken over by further battles in the flame wars surrounding the issue.

However, while I will be interested in seeing how you answer those questions – “why so much friction?”, for example – one can’t help but get the impression that you are, with all due respect, losing sight of the forest for the plethora of trees demanding our attention. And while I think your previous post on “The Backlash Against Feminism” at least broaches the question, I think it still falls well short of the objective of addressing the common thread motivating, in large part I think, that backlash.

And more specifically, I think that Stephanie Zvan’s post on “Legititmate Differences of Opinion” lets the proverbial cat out of the bag, even she refuses to address it, to wit that, “gender is entirely a social construct” is the default or null hypothesis. And in which regard, as I have argued, phenomena such as altruism in species from ants to humans, the claim that “men=testosterone damaged females”, and the claim that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, all tend very much to raise questions about if not seriously discredit that hypothesis. A hypoythesis, one might add, that seems to be very fundamental to some fairly common versions of feminist ideologies and dogmas.

But my impression is that that hypothesis – as suggested by Zvan’s Scientific American article on it [The Politics of the Null Hypothesis] – lies close to the root of that friction, that animosity, that battle. Failing to address that issue seems not far removed from trying to cure a disease simply by papering-over its effects.