Talk to Me Like I’m Stupid: A Kind-Of-Sort-of Comments Rescue, False-Scotsman Edition


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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116 Responses

  1. Avatar aaron david says:

    ” Is it possible — and FTR I hope that it isn’t — that despite all of our attempts to use epistemology to make ourselves sound intellectually better than we are, defining and re-defining who is and isn’t part our tribe is all that religion and politics are at the end of the day?”

    It is.

    ‘No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity. But I know none, and therefore am no beast.’
    Richard IIIReport

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    The same goes for liberal/leftist/progressive (or each individually). The only one of those I am fully confident calling myself is liberal, largely because of this cockamamie idea I have about the reconcilability of Euro/Classical liberalism with at least some arguable core X of modern American liberalism.

    I feel strongly that to call myself a feminist makes claims I don’t know that I’ll be able to live up to, largely because I don’t know that I know what those are going to be, and I’m not going to pre-commit to them sight unseen. I agree that to say that someone who does call himself a feminist is not one does need argumentation along the lines of what James says is necessary. (I also think that Chris’ assertion in that case was not the kind of assertion that claims self-evidence, but the kind that implies a belief that the argument can successfully be made, that just declines to make the argument then and there (which is a real thing that keeps many discussions from becoming impossibly tedious until the point at which they actually need to become that tedious).) But I’ll also say that my natural inclination is to basically always be skeptical of male claims to feminism until they’re demonstrated (and per above I can’t even say how that needs to happen beyond saying it needs to be impressive), and to feel like it’s as likely that they’re being made for purposes of signaling and (mostly and, not or) reaching for argumentative advantage (though i know that many men will feel like they are merely reaching for purchase, not advantage).

    Generally, my feeling is that feminism mostly belongs to women, and that its purpose is not to convert men to the adoption of a label, but just to teach men and women about facts, ideas, and, yes, lessons that they should learn.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Generally, my feeling is that feminism mostly belongs to women, and that its purpose is not to convert men to the adoption of a label, but just to teach men and women about facts, ideas, and, yes, lessons that they should learn.

      This is very nice. Perhaps another view is toward pre/post enlightenment views of woman as either fully human or subjugated humans; does harming a woman, for instance, harm her or does it harm her husband/father/brother or whomever hold claim to her and holds responsibility for her? (Though I realize that with this definition, nearly everyone on Earth is now a feminist, too, to some small degree.)Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    It’s rainbows all the way down. After that storm, when all that light’s refracted, we all see the rainbow. But the truth of it is every single eyeball seeing that same rainbow (so we say, “Did you see that rainbow yesterday?) is really seeing their own rainbow; no two visions are exactly the same.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I always took you as a former Catholic rather than Protestant with a name like Kelly and all.

    We Jews have been debating this for thousands of years. The close to official definition as possible was is that a Jew is somebody born to a Jewish mother or who becomes a Jew on their own volition. This worked for determining who was and who was not Jewish for millennia. Than the Edict of Expulsion of 1492 happened. Most of the Jews in Spain decided to leave. Many tens of thousands stayed though. The ones that stated converted and became known as New Christians. Their Christianity was suspect and many Spaniards thought that they were practicing Judaism on their side. Whether they were or not is a matter of historical debate. The Jewish historian Benzion Netanyahu, yes Bibi’s father, believed that most of the New Christians were sincere in their faith and this is the appearance of racial Jew-hatred, where conversion simply isn’t enough anymore. Other historians disagree. In the 19th century, Jews gained the right to marry gentiles without formally converting. Suddenly, the children of Jewish men and Christian women could be raised as Jews. This made things even more complicated.

    In other words, we can’t square the circle. People have the ability and right to self-define themselves and even though others in the group might disagree about a person’s self-definition and identification, nothing can be done about it. This is true even if you have a formal hierarchy and organization to enforce group membership.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      I came out of good jewish womb but i would never call myself jewish since i don’t practice or believe. Yeah i have a fair amount of cultural jewishness but i think you are right. We get to define what we call ourselves especially with religion.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        My emphasis was more on the ability, right was just to reflect currentl realities. To an extent, I don’t think all self-definition is correct. Its just that there isn’t much you could do about it.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        But you could go to Israel and claim citizenship via the right of return, so in a very real and legally binding sense, you are Jewish.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      In the 19th century, Jews gained the right to marry gentiles without formally converting.

      Where, I wonder? In the Catholic Church generally?

      That date actually surprises me for how early it is – unless it’s like 1898 or something. Not to say it was early enough, but if I had been put to guess I don’t think I’d have said too much before 1900.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        When the United States and European countries emancipated Jews and for unrelated reasons introduced civil marriage. It wasn’t easy but it was certainly possible for Jews to marry non-Jews without formally converting in the 19th century.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Suddenly, the children of Jewish men and Christian women could be raised as Jews.

      Did you accidentally reverse that, or can the child of a Jewish man and Christian woman be considered Jewish without a formal conversion? My understanding has been that Judaism is matrilineal.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It’s all about the definitions of terms.

    Let’s quote Phillip Pullman: But because of my upbringing I’m a Christian atheist, and I’m a church atheist. And I’m very specifically, because I was brought in my grandfather’s household and he was a Church of England priest when the old prayer book was used, so I’m a 1662 Book of Common Prayer atheist, a Hymns Ancient and Modern atheist, and King James Bible atheist.

    In a similar way, I am not only a Protestant Atheist, but a Southern Babtist Atheist.

    As I explore and poke and prod myself and figure out where, exactly, the Venn Diagram does and does not overlap (and where it merely touches at a single point), I come up with more and more precise terms to encompass exactly where I might be on the 80+-axis graph.

    Remember the old days of “Geek Codes“? (If you don’t, just know that it was an attempt to put a lot of personal data into a very small block of text and everybody spent five minutes on it way back when Clinton was president.)

    In the absence of a Geek Code Decoder, you’re stuck using words… and, sometimes, you don’t have a whole lot of time. How do you best want to be categorized by others? What are the best terms at your disposal that will best communicate to you that you communicated accurately to others? I mean, if you say “I’m a post-Christian” and you get back “Oh, so you’re a pretentious jerkface”, will you say to yourself “I have done a good job of communicating”?

    Anyway, the problem is that there are a lot of people out there who are capable of calibrating down to some seriously significant digits… and others out there who just want the bottom line.

    The problem is that most people are familiar with the Geek Codes of their own specialized areas of Geekdom… and hearing the Codes of others will probably sound a lot like Charlie Brown’s Teacher. So you’ve got the liberty to give your unexpurgated code to someone who knows exactly what you’re talking about and if you want to talk to someone from a completely different area, you’re stuck using terms like “Christian” or “Atheist” or “Agnostic”.

    And that’s okay.Report

  6. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    I’ve always seen political identities as directions, or maybe exclusions. Saying “I’m a Democrat” is more like saying “Cleveland is that way”; you’re telling us that you aren’t in Cleveland, and a sense of where you are relative to it. Labels tell us more about who you aren’t, and which people you choose not to be like, than who you are.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      This is a really interesting take, Jim.

      I wonder how generalizable it is.

      I’d hazard a wild-assed guess that if you polled 1,000 folks of the stronger identifier ones you’d get 200 or so that identify themselves in inclusion terms and 400 or so that define themselves in exclusion terms, and the second group would skew younger by a margin.

      That is, the younger folks use the term more like Jim says here, and the older ones use it in the other way. I expect as well that the the folks that use the more precise labeling language are more likely to be using it in an exclusionary way and the ones that use the less precise label are big tent sorts.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      There’s a non-trivial amount of internet kerfuffles that occur when one says “I’m from Cleveland” (or another recognizable city) and one is really from Shaker Heights (or another corresponding suburb)Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Has Limbaugh ever described himself as a libertarian? I always thought he described himself as a rock-ribbed Republican and conservative

    Lee is probably right. Squaring the Circle is impossible. Chris is also right. Anyone can call themselves anything and this can be a great political weapon. There are absolutely a lot of trolls out there in Internet land who say stuff like “I am a Democrat but……” and then add on a million Republican and Fox News talking points.

    So words including the labels we need to give ourselves must have definitions to be true. I’m usually pretty hard on the Jews for Jesus Crowd and “Messianic Jews” crowd for not being real Jews. Or as a rabbi once said to me “There is a perfectly good word for people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Christian!”

    But this is a free country and people can say anything that they want about themselves and they should be able to. I don’t think the Government should be able to say “You need to believe in X,Y, and Z to be Christian.”

    People will always play No True Scotsman. I consider myself to be pretty firmly on the left but I am sure many people would disagree with some of my positions and whether you can be a liberal and have those positions.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      Rush was much more independent “back in the day”. I used to listen to him back then and he was more edgier . There was a conversion process where he eventually ended up, essentially, schilling for the republicans.. I’m not sure when, but I remember reading an article about it.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Take that back. I am never for the Republicans.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Rush led off his show the day after the 1994 midterms with “America! The Way it Ought to Be!”, a show bumper he would carry for years and would make the title of his second book. And this replaced the “America Held Hostage” bumper he ran from the time of Clinton’s election, when his show was less than 5 years old.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

      There are absolutely a lot of trolls out there in Internet land who say stuff like “I am a Democrat but……” and then add on a million Republican and Fox News talking points.

      This doesn’t make one a troll per se. One can be a Democrat without endorsing 100 percent of the DNC platform.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        This is true, but some people seriously only mention their (alleged) membership or ideology to be precede a “but.”

        I’ve seen it here on OrdTimes (not anyone who has participated on this post, though).Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

      AFAIK, Rush has only described himself as a conservative, not as a Republican.

      Remember, he didn’t register to vote until 1986.

      Someone has anti-abortion as Rush would never call himself a libertarian.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Someone has anti-abortion as Rush would never call himself a libertarian.

        That’s not actually true. Libertarianism is—this is an oversimplification, of course—basically about the government defending people from aggression and staying out of the way.Whether than includes banning abortion depends very much on whether fetuses are “people” in the ethically relevant sense. I don’t think they are, but many who do think so essentially consider abortion a form of murder, and thus something that even a libertarian government should ban.

        Core libertarian principles are essentially orthogonal to the question of whether a fetus has a right to life, hence you get anti-abortion libertarians.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Ditto what Brandon said.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        If I remember correctly, Jason K. is pretty strongly pro-life, and I don’t think anyone would accuse him of not being a libertarian.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        There’s also Steve Sailer who claims that antiabortion is actually a libertarian position because it prevents humans from unjust harm.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        A few ‘pro-life’ measures, if pushed by libertarians, would clearly make them hypocrites. Like the spat of government regulations targeted specifically at abortion clinics designed to put them out of business.

        ‘We told you government regulations could be ruinous, mwhahaha!’

        But I haven’t noticed any libertarians pushing for that sort of thing, so score one for non-hypocrisy.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        While I disagree with what you said, either way my point still holds: Rush Limbaugh doesn’t self-identify as a libertarian; he says he is a conserativeReport

    • Avatar DavidTC says:

      There are absolutely a lot of trolls out there in Internet land who say stuff like “I am a Democrat but……” and then add on a million Republican and Fox News talking points.

      Huh. Maybe it’s because I live in the South, but I always seems to run across…well, sorta the inverse. People who say they are Republicans, and presumably vote Republican, but give me a bunch of policy positions of Democrats that they think should be happening.

      ‘Oh, you’re a Republican that wants bigger school budgets and higher minimum wage, huh? And you think the government should just provide make-work jobs to people on welfare? And your friend here is a Republican that thinks we should build mass transit, eh? And you’re both pro-choice until 28 weeks, although you inexplicably call that pro-life? Interesting, interesting.’

      I had a discussion with a man a year or so ago about how he was letting a homeless guy stay in his basement so the man could find work, and he was like ‘I don’t see why we can’t just build them little rooms with showers and stuff’, and I explained *my* idea about the government doing that sort of thing, barrack-wise, and he thought it was a great idea. We had a nice, intelligent discussion about how it was incredibly easy to fall into poverty and how hard it was to get out, and how almost *costless* help could be provided to keep that from happening, making sure they had a place to live and transportation and a phone…and he was completely fine with the government providing such things.

      That man is the *local promoter for FairTax*. Like, runs the local organization or something. He’s got stickers all on his car, posts constantly about it on Facebook. (Yes, I know ‘FairTax’ and ‘Republican’ aren’t the same thing, but the man is a Republican. Trust me.)

      I don’t know, maybe I just keep running into liberal Republicans or something, but it’s weird. I used to call them ‘Democrats except’, because when I asked, they always had *some* reason they weren’t Democrats, some of of hardline single issue that meant they’d never vote for Democrats…except 90% of the time that issue was some sort of nonsensical myth or outright lie. (In the past: Democrats are in favor of partial-birth abortions! Democrats want to make everyone an atheist! Recently: Democrats want to kill old people! Democrats want to surrender to al Qaeda!)

      I’ve sorta stopped asking why they heck they’re voting for a party that won’t give them what they want, instead of the party that wants to do those things. It was too depressing.

      Although, as the years have gone by, I’ve realized that party identification and ‘what you want the government to do’ are not the same things at all.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “I don’t know, maybe I just keep running into liberal Republicans or something, but it’s weird. ”

        Or maybe you’ve got a picture in your mind of what A Republican Is, and that picture is very useful to how you define yourself, and that picture is actually wrong but you’re not yet willing to think about what that means.

        ” you’re both pro-choice until 28 weeks”

        ho, ho, ho. As far as abortion rights activists are concerned, “pro-choice until” is just another flavor of “pro-life” (and to be honest, they’re right, because after the first trimester abortion isn’t about birth control anymore, and banning it after then will cause more problems than it solves…assuming it solves any at all.)Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        Or maybe you’ve got a picture in your mind of what A Republican Is, and that picture is very useful to how you define yourself, and that picture is actually wrong but you’re not yet willing to think about what that means.

        So let me try to figure out what you mean by that.

        What I think you’re saying is that I think they’re ‘liberal Republicans’, when they’re actually just *average* Republicans. That Republican voters, on average, think those things.

        The really weird thing is a) I agree with this 80% (They’re not perfectly average Republicans, at least not here, but they’re not very *far* to the left of them. And this is conservative area, so maybe you’re 100% right where you are.), and b) it’s not *me* this reflects poorly on.

        It reflects poorly on Republicans politicians, who are *astonishingly* out of step with their constituents. With their *Republican* constituents. (Especially here in Georgia, where the Republican base seems to control the Republican primary, and then the Republican always wins the election.)

        I’m pretty certain that ‘Republican politicians are out of step with their own voters. Republican voters are usually fairly normal people who don’t want school funding to be slashed or the post office destroyed or the US to default on their debts, even if they say they want taxes slightly lower.’ is a point I’ve made here before.

        As far as abortion rights activists are concerned, “pro-choice until” is just another flavor of “pro-life”

        …I’m not sure how ‘abortion rights activists’ entered this conversation. Or even if such people as you describe actually exist.

        However, if you’re making the claim that ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ are completely random labels that people assign themselves and others with very little regard to *actual positions*, I completely agree with that. I’ve seen ‘pro-choice’ people that wanted *more* restrictions on abortion than pro-life people.

        That is, in fact, why I often try to use other labels. But my ‘pro-forced-birth’ label never goes over well for some reason. (And the ‘We demand no one ever terminate their pregnancy’ group refuse to come up with a different label.)Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    For example, my general agreement with this Chait piece makes me not a liberal to most of the Internet left right now:

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      As I always say, it’s never really a fight about freedom vs. tyranny. It’s always a fight over competing freedoms.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      As I read this post I was thinking about that Chait piece, which I got from Saul’s FB feed today after posting the comment referenced in the OP. Particularly, what stuck out to me was this:

      Nearly every time I have mentioned the subject of p.c. to a female writer I know, she has told me about Binders Full of Women Writers, an invitation-only Facebook group started last year for women authors. The name came from Mitt Romney’s awkwardly phrased debate boast that as Massachusetts governor he had solicited names of female candidates for high-level posts… Binders was created to give women writers a “laid-back” and “no-pressure” environment for conversation and professional networking…and many members initially greeted the group as a welcome and even exhilarating source of social comfort and professional opportunity. ….

      Binders, however, soon found itself frequently distracted by bitter identity-­politics recriminations, endlessly litigating the fraught requirements of p.c. discourse. “This was the first time I had felt this new kind of militancy,” says the same member… Another sent me excerpts of the types of discussions that can make the group a kind of virtual mental prison.

      The actual example of one conflict follows. It’s not surprising, and the criticisms–the “militancy” mentioned, are arguably not without some justification. But what’s striking is that this place created expressly to have an unusually homogeneous group still found itself riven by ferocious in-fighting over who was thinking/speaking acceptably and who was not.

      The same thing happens if I comment on libertarian blogs, which is why I rarely do. I find it amusing that here I can be excoriated as a crazy libertarian while on a libertarian blog I’m likely to be excoriated as a non-libertarian (I think Dave can back me up on this experience).

      But I don’t think it’s just about arguing about who’s in and who’s out–I think it’s about arguing about what our group is actually about; who we are and what we mean.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        “Who we are and what we mean,” is difficult. I suspect it’s why there’s so much designating who we aren’t and what we don’t mean, instead. Perhaps we’ll eventually get there when we see what’s left after we’ve gotten rid of everything else?

        Personally, I don’t think this works out great for dieting — focusing on what you don’t like and getting rid of it; and I’m not sure it works all that great at building a healthy tribe (community), either. After hearing someone expressing distain about something, my mother-in-law would quip, “Well, at least now you know what you don’t like.” It was clearly an insult, too; she obviously knew she didn’t like negative space.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I’ve read the Chait piece and have been further thinking about this.

        How much is declaring who is in and who is out basically an admission (in a subconscious way) of an impotence of a sort?

        “We can’t get the policies we want but we can yell people for microagressions and we can scream on the Internet about why Chait is wrong!!!!!!!!”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        “Who we are and what we mean,” is difficult.

        Oh, yeah. Anything that strikes at the core of our own self-identity is difficult and stressful.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @saul-degraw, many very potent groups have used such who is in and who is out tactics at the the height of their power. I’m thinking of the various established religions throughout history or the Communist Parties when they manage to receive control of the company. Humans form groups and these groups like to define themselves against other groups.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @james-hanley, Julian Sanchez on Chait’s article:

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        That’s a pretty intelligent essay.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Who thinks you’re not a liberal because you agree with Chait? Can you point to someone suggesting that agreement with Chait excludes one from liberalism?Report

  9. Avatar Damon says:

    I would think that one would have to conform to the general parameters of the group to qualify as eligible to join that group. I’d think that it’s the group that decides, not the individual. For instance:

    I was baptized Episcopalian.
    I don’t subscribe to the Episcopal belief set nor do I attend the church.
    Generally I’m an atheist, but never really gave it much thought.
    I self identify as “culturally christian” since I generally observe the secular part of the christian holidays and have been know to attend christian church services on those days, by invitation from friends or family who ARE religious Christians.Report

    • Avatar Citizen says:

      I usually go with “nonpracticing atheist” and leave it at that.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I stopped calling myself an atheist at all in most social contexts, a few years ago, to distance myself from those who had become atheism’s de facto spokesmen in the English-speaking world. That is, I wanted to distance myself from Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and to a lesser extent, Dennett, and especially from their thousands of over-angry, under-read parrots. I feel less need to distance myself now, as they’ve become a sort of circus sideshow, but I still hesitate sometimes.Report

      • Avatar Zac says:

        @chris I don’t really call myself an atheist unless pressed on it either, but mostly because I feel like it’s a rhetorical trap; by defining myself as not being a part of something I don’t believe in to begin with. it’s as though before the conversation has even begun, I’ve drawn a chalk outline of a dead man and then laid down in it.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      @zac Yes.

      I mostly just don’t join in when people start talking about their religion, god, their church, etc. I just keep quiet. If they ask me something directly about my beliefs, I won’t lie. But I don’t offer much, either; though I have, recently, been forthright with my family; but they’re all mostly Christian by habit, not by practice or deep conviction, and I think for the most part, they admire that I was able to set convention of pretense to belief aside, and a couple others have followed my lead and just said it outright. (Sure has made Christmas gatherings more fun, more pagan, and more festive.)Report

  10. Avatar Stillwater says:

    How should we decide who is and is not part of a tribe that is so large and diverse that any decision is likely to be either self-serving, arbitrary, or both?

    I don’t think “we” should decide this at all. I don’t even know about the “should” part of it, actually. That, as they say, depends.

    But maybe I’m taking your language too literally and what you’re really interested is how “I”, a generic speaker, should decide these things? Even then, I don’t think there’s a right answer. Definitionally? Functionally? Psychologically? Politically? Instrumentally? Principle-of-charitably?

    So I ask the hive mind: How do you square these circles? How should we square them? Can they even be squared?

    Personally, I think the way to square the circle is by not presupposing a specific definition – either by attributing one in the form of “what those people believe” or by applying one you’ve settled on to them – and instead look a bit deeper into the views actually being expressed by folks who identify – either by attribution or self-description – the nefarious ism. I mean, from a practical pov we all might as well just accept as a truism that words – especially Big Category words – often mean very different things to different people. Feminism is no different than any other ism comprised of intellectual content: it’s certainly not monolithic and the various strains might not even share any deeply felt or central principles except very tangentially. Loosely, of course, feminism can be defined, and it can be defined by anyone. Folks in the MRM are just as able – from a practical pov – to define feminism as self-identified feminists are. And they are equally as justified in doing so. No one holds a privileged place in that. So when inevitable disagreements arise, it makes no sense (and this strikes me as trivially true) to think that stipulating a preferred semantics will settle the issue. In fact, the opposite is usually the case: insofar as a dispute over the truth of P depends on different semantic content of key words expressing that proposition there is no substantive disagreement at all. Just people talking past each other. All that reveals is the triviality that different people use the same words to mean different things.

    Is it possible — and FTR I hope that it isn’t — that despite all of our attempts to use epistemology to make ourselves sound intellectually better than we are, defining and re-defining who is and isn’t part our tribe is all that religion and politics are at the end of the day?

    Hate to disappoint, but I think this is the case after all is said and done thru everlasting time immemorial and eternal. (Most) people will inescapably tend towards a construction of the reality they live in for various psychological, biological, institutional and intellectual reasons. I don’t think we can ever get past it. On the upside, beneath the chaotic turbulence where isms battle it out is a real world where folks just get thru their day. And that world ain’t all bad. Some say it’s even getting better. But actually saying so would identify that person as an Xist, now wouldn’t it? And round it goes.Report

  11. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I have been very engaged with the Aaronson case, as Scott works in a general field (theoretical CS) that I used to work in, and I’ve read his blog for perhaps more than a decade.

    I said to him that feminism is not a club, and nobody hands out membership cards, even though lots of people might want to. I use bell hooks’ definition of feminism which is “feminism is the battle against sexism”.

    Sexism is in our culture. It’s in my head, it’s in your head. It doesn’t matter if you identify as male or female, as a man or a woman, it’s still there. It’s in the culture. We’re working to beat it back. Scott is part of that fight. There might be lots of things he’s wrong about, but he is definitely part of it.

    If you’re a woman, your interest in feminist ideas is more likely to be a survival interest, whereas if you are a man, your interest is more likely to be a more, uh, custodial interest. (No, men don’t own women, or have custody of them. I’m thinking more like a janitor, who tries to keep the place clean, even though he or she doesn’t own it. Because clean is better.) So it can be different. But we value diversity, right?

    Nevertheless, I recognize this parsing of identities and boundaries as a very primal part of human activity.Report

  12. Avatar Saul Degraw says:



    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      This too:
      Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
      He said, “Nobody loves me.”
      I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
      He said, “Yes.”
      I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
      He said, “A Christian.”
      I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
      He said, “Protestant.”
      I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
      He said, “Baptist.”
      I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
      He said, “Northern Baptist.”
      I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
      He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
      I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
      I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
      He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
      I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

      -Emo PhilipsReport

  13. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    If you think of yourself as a Christian, then you are a Christian. Do you think of yourself as a Christian?

    If you think Christianity, or at minimum the kind of Christianity that your conscience calls you to subscribe to, requires a particular practice on your part, like refraining from work on Sundays or avoiding the consumption of beverages contained in aluminum cans, then it does.

    And if some mother-fisher in the gummint offers you a beverage in an aluminum can at a business mixer, then you have every right to sue that mother-fisher’s employer to demand an exception to that, to make sure that your beverage has always been stored in pure, holy glass or purer, holier plastic, then it is not the place of the gummint, the court, or the law to tell you that your belief is fishing ridiculous and has nothing to do with Christianity. And what’s more, the gummint better have a damned good reason for only offering you an aluminum-canned beverage.

    So sayeth Congress and the Supreme Court. Amen.

    Umm…. What was the question, again?Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      Are you similarly a feminist for believing it? A liberal? A conservative?

      I confess, agreeing that you are this is my default setting.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        The problem is clearly one of taxonomy. No one else can tell you what your beliefs are, no one else can tell you what your preferences are.

        What label gets attached to those things is sometimes susceptible of reasonably precise definition. If you say “I am a lawyer,” there are objective ways to measure the accuracy of that statement: Do you hold a juris doctorate degree? Have you been admitted to the bar of your state (or other jurisdiction)? What is the nature of your professional employment? We might quibble over which of these definitions is best but it won’t take that long to settle upon a test of whether you really are a lawyer or not.

        Words like “Christian,” “conservative,” “feminist,” and the like are not so much susceptible of precise definition, especially after they get used a lot in arenas like politics. Especially politics.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        What Burt said. Seems to me the question asked in the OP is about taxonomy and classifications, and those concepts, in just about any meaningful context for the purposes of the OP are already on the theoretical side of things. Insofar as certain concepts contain political content – which I’d broadly define as any concept who’s embrace entails policy prescriptions against or judgments of other people’s behaviors or perhaps even beliefs – then these concepts will be reduced to their political properties. What follows from that is just politics as usual: folks identify a group of people by their self-identification as an X, and then attribute to them the politicized version of X which exists in their own mind irrespective of the definition that person in fact holds. Seems to me that’s why a single narrowly phrased comment about A when phrased by an Xist will be countered by some prima facie distinct concept B by an anti-Xist. But obviously, or I’m wrong in thinking it’s obvious, this process of miscommunication could not take place unless folks carried their own definitions along with them into the discussion.

        And to Burt’s final point: this only happens when people believe something is at stake in these types of discussions, something important enough by their own calculus to supercede clear communication and clarity of the views being expressed. And that’s what politics is all about, seems to me.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      And Jews can tell you that we will always be Jews even if we convert to Catholicism, become Priests, and somehow make it up to Archbishop or Pope.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC says:

      According to Christianity itself, who is a Christian is actually a settled issue.

      If you believe in the Nicene Creed (Technically, the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed), you are a Christian.

      Now, it is possible to make the argument that *other people* can be Christians, also. Someone who just agrees with the Apostles’ Creed, for example. Or just random people.

      But it’s very hard for Christians to make any sort of supportable claim that people who *do* believe in the Nicene Creed, and are member of a church that agrees with it (Basically, every single church that claims to be Christian) are not a Christian.

      They can *make* a claim, but usually, at that point, it is they who have become heretical. (Not that they aren’t allowed to be heretical, it’s a free country, we don’t arrest people for heresy. I’m just pointing it out.)

      Yes, there are weird technicalities that could, in theory, be used to invalidate different churches from different other churches, like is the Creed plural or singular, and even weirder things like translations of words in it. But the people who run around claiming Episcopal or Mormons aren’t Christians don’t appear to know *any* of that stuff. (In fact, a very high percentage of Christians appear to know very little about *their own* denomination’s beliefs.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        According to Christianity itself, who is a Christian is actually a settled issue.

        If you believe in the Nicene Creed (Technically, the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed), you are a Christian.

        The circularity is dizzying.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        The circularity is dizzying.

        The circularity is only *inside* Christianity.

        If some competing group wanted to set up a church and call it Christian, ignoring centuries of rules, that would be something else. There’s not a trademark on it or anything.

        But any Methodists or Presbyterian who go around calling Episcopalian or Mormons ‘non-Christian’ are themselves *within* Christianity, already. Their denomination has definitions of Christianity. In fact, those definitions, unless they are Catholic, are older than the denomination itself, and, yes, they took those definitions with them when they split. (I’m not saying they had to, just that they *did*.(1))

        And thus, if a Methodist called a Mormon not a Christian, they are *in disagreement with their own church*. They are, technically, a heretic.

        Now, if they want, they can leave the denomination they’re in, and set up *their own* competing denomination, and go around calling Mormons non-Christian, but somehow I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

        Now, the Mormon is probably heretic from the POV of the Methodist church, but that’s a dumb thing to point out. Some of the Mormon’s beliefs are heretical to the Methodist church, and some of the Methodist’s belief are heretical to the Mormon church, but that’s how all Christian denominations works.(2) But neither of them are heretical to the overarching label of ‘Christian’.

        Claiming ‘Christian’ is circular is like claiming the definition of baseball is circular, that baseball is defined by people who play baseball, and those people have defined what they play as baseball.

        Well, yeah. That’s how it works. And people certainly could show up and call other things baseball. Even the MLB hasn’t trademarked ‘baseball’.

        But what we’re talking about here is a professional ballplayer claiming some little league team isn’t playing baseball, because some rules differ…except, of course, the professional ballclub the player belongs to literally *defines baseball in such a way that include little league teams*, so they’re really just an idiot who hasn’t bothered to read their damn employee handbook.

        1) I am ignoring the Unitarian Universalism in all this, because they *did* ditch the Creed. Of course, they *themselves* often don’t consider themselves a Christian denomination, and, even if they did, they are the last people to go around trying to claim anyone else isn’t. (Despite the fact that such a thing would, ironically, *not* be heretical for them, as far as I understand. Although maybe they have other rules about that.)

        2) Although it’s entirely likely that the sort of people we’re talking about have no idea of what exactly the disagreement is with any other random denomination.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Mormons reject the Nicene Creed. (As do Pentacostals.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        No, the circularity is that to say Christianity has defined what it means to be Christian, you have to have already defined Christianity, but you can’t do that without likewise defining who is and is not Christian.

        And I can guarantee I could find Christians who don’t pay any attention to the Nicene Creed, and don’t think that merely accepting it is sufficient to make one a Christian. So to get around that probably, we have to define Christianity in a way that excludes their input, and then we’re once again stuck in the circularity–they’re not Christian because Christianity says so and their say-so is irrelevant because they’re not Christian because Christianity says.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Do Christians and Jews believe in the same deity?

        Christians will tell you “UNEQUIVOCALLY YES!” and Jews will politely change the subject.

        Do Protestants and Mormons believe in the same deity? Mormons will tell you “UNEQUIVOCALLY YES!” and Protestants will start arguing with you.

        Hell, within the Babtist church, there was a (serious!) debate over whether or not other sects were “really” Christians. Presbyterians drink and they baptize babies. Catholics worship Mary and they baptize by sprinkling. The debate was over whether we had exclusive access to the Water of Life or whether the firehose being shot into our mouths had enough water to allow, maybe, Methodists to get a small trickle of it despite the fact that they let out early.

        Much like Rollerball, it’s a game that is much more fun to watch than to play professionally.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        And I can guarantee I could find Christians who don’t pay any attention to the Nicene Creed, and don’t think that merely accepting it is sufficient to make one a Christian.

        Yes, you can find people who think that. And those people are free to think that.

        And those people, if they belong to any Christian denominations that accepts it, are technically heretics. And hence are the last people *anyone else* in their denomination should be listening to on any doctrinal issues like who is and isn’t a Christian.

        No, the circularity is that to say Christianity has defined what it means to be Christian, you have to have already defined Christianity, but you can’t do that without likewise defining who is and is not Christian.

        Yes, people who are in Christian churches *have already defined Christianity*. It’s the premise of them belonging to the church. And hence, if they’re going to claim to be a member of the church, they should either follow what their own church says, or, at least, be able to explain what it is and why it is wrong.

        Mormons reject the Nicene Creed. (As do Pentacostals.)

        Whether or not Mormons accept the creed or not seems to be a little debatable. They *say* they accept it. Mormon doctrine can sometimes be hard to nail down, especially the metaphysical stuff.

        …and I’m actually a bit confused by the claim Pentacostals don’t accept it. Is this the same problem with the baptists, them going a bit too far in their sola scriptura statements?

        That delves into weirdly complicated issue that doesn’t really belong on this blog. Basically, as you probably know but I’ll explain to others, some protestant denominations don’t have *any* doctrine outside the actual text of the bible, or at least they *claim* not to, although this is usually completely incorrect. (They just don’t formally write them down. Or sometimes, they do, but claim they don’t matter, somehow. Go try to figure out that the heck the Southern Baptist Convention thinks it’s doing issuing religious statements with no religious weight at all.) And, hence, they don’t, *officially*, accept the creed.

        But they don’t officially *reject* it, either, and if you were actually go and *ask* them, they do not disagree with any point of the creed.

        So it comes down to ‘Does it count if the denomination won’t officially agree to it, but appears to actually agree to it?’. Or, in the case of the Mormon’s, ‘Does it count if they do officially agree to it, but some of their religious text appears to contradict it?’

        *Those* would be interesting grounds for the ‘Mormon’s aren’t really Christians’ people to argue. But, uh, they aren’t at that level of sophistication yet.

        Hell, within the Babtist church, there was a (serious!) debate over whether or not other Protestants were “really” Christians.

        Oh, I hear you on that. I grew up in a Baptist church. Baptists be crazy. Let’s all insist that we’re directly reading our own personal opinions out of the actual Bible, aka sola scriptura, so that debate becomes *almost impossible*. I remember the debate on women deacons. Well, here’s one verse saying that women shouldn’t teach, but then here’s another verse mentioning a female apostle. And then…uh…well, everyone seems okay with women deacons, so we’ll do it. (This isn’t as bad as it makes my church out to be. We already had a woman deacon, and everyone except a very small group of people were fine with it. That small group of people demanded a vote.)

        It’s like we tried to run the country without any real laws at all. We just pointed to the constitution and just somehow *derived* all laws from it, but no one really wrote them down or had a way to change them or anything. And our constitution was thousands of pages long and written over 3000 years by different people.

        I always make a joke when asked about my religion. I like to claim I’m a *really bad* Baptist.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Usually people who are really adept at something understand that thing very well. Circular reasoning is an unusual case where those most adept at it don’t actually understand it at all.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        @james-hanley , definitions are always circular *inside a group*. A group defines itself, and the people that have defined themselves in a group. The established denominations have no trademark on ‘Christian’, and anyone can call themselves ‘Christian’, and if that is your point, I completely agree with it.

        My complaint is that the people being referred to here attempting to exclude of certain denominations are almost always members of *established* Christian churches and denominations that already have specific rules they follow about how is and who isn’t a Christian, hashed out literally 1600 years ago. The basic core of Christianity, as their own church sees it, and basically all of the existing Christian churches agree on.

        And it’s not that the people think the rules their church has decided on are wrong…it’s that they’re completely *ignorant* of them. If they want to try to change their church’s position, or break away, that would be one thing. But they just don’t bother to learn what their own church says. (And this is hardly some obscure point of doctrine!)

        If other people want to call themselves Christians but have different rules, or if existing groups of Christians want to change their rules, that’s fine. I’m merely talking about people who have no knowledge at all of their group’s rules, so run around (incorrectly) arguing that Episcopalian are outside them!Report

  14. Avatar Chris says:

    Upthread, James writes,

    I think it’s about arguing about what our group is actually about; who we are and what we mean.

    This is a good description of the context in which the exchange you quote took place. Aaronson had begun his testimony by stating that he is a feminist, with references. He then immediately dismisses a woman’s experience of harassment and tells a personal story that involves feminism hurting him, then concludes by saying he’s down with 97% of feminism. I took him to be using the label feminism to shield his remarks from certain criticisms, or to make his feminist critics look bad. It worked for J R, who is not a feminist or even pro-feminist. It seems to have worked for others as well.

    In this context, then, my goal wasn’t to argue that Aaronson is or is not a member of a particular tribe, but to delimit the extension of the label by using Aaronson’s behavior as an example of something outside the boundary. I likened his behavior to Dawkins because he is someone who is an even more obvious example of a person who claims feminism and then does things that I, and most people I imagine, would consider outside the bounds of feminism.

    This is the way dialectical reasoning has worked since Socrates. J R and I, in our back and forth, were determining the extension of a term.

    Of course, that term coincides to a tribe, or a collection of them, and as a label of tribes it carries with it all sorts of essentialist baggage (Aaronson was counting on this baggage to keep him out of trouble, in fact). There’s no getting around that, and tribally speaking, perhaps Aaronson is a fallen feminist, but I don’t really care. For me, all that really matters is that conceptually, in the context of that missive, he was not being feminist, even if in some broader social sense he was being a feminist, and it’s important, in that context, to highlight the importance of certain features in determining whether one is being feminist, regardless of whether one is a feminist.

    To use Dawkins again, regardless of whether he is a member of the feminist tribe, when he dismisses claims of sexual assault and harassment, he is not being feminist. One has to wonder, when he does this, whether he understands what that tribe is all about, to be sure, but regardless, he’s stepped outside the conceptual boundaries of feminism at least in that behavior.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      “I get profit from a philosopher, just so far as he can be an example to me. There is no doubt that a man can draw whole nations after him by his example; as is shown by Indian history, which is practically the history of Indian philosophy. But this example must exist in his outward life, not merely in his books ; it must follow the way of the Grecian philosophers, whose doctrine was in their dress and bearing and general manner of life rather than in their speech or writing. “Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I believe that women and men should be treated like by the law, and by private actors. I believe they should get equal pay for equal work. I believe that the differences in professional abilities between men and women are vanishingly small and certainly negligible. I believe that men and women bring differing perspectives too ambiguous situations, and both profit from listening to one another. I seen nothing threatening to the culture in the prospect of a single mother, or a woman being the primary or even sole breadwinner for a family, regardless of the composition of that family. I believe a woman has an a priori right to control her own reproductive organs and that the governmental seeking to restrict the exercise of that individual liberty bears a heavy burden before it ought to be allowed to do so. I believe that a woman may engage in sexual activity for all the same reasons a man would do so, including recreation and pleasure. Her sexual behavior carries the same moral weight as does a man’s — no more, no less, no better, no worse. A woman may wear what clothing she chooses, pursue the hobbies that interest her, and benefits from education the same way a man does.

      Am I a feminist? Seems to me the responses here are:
      A) yes, adhering to this constellation of propositions is an integral part of what it is to be a feminist.
      B) not enough information, but possible; adhering to this constellation of propositions is a necessary but not sufficient part of what it is to be a feminist. Begging the question, what else satisfies sufficiency?
      C) not enough information, but doubtful; the constellation of propositions cited here are two basic and fundamental to be meaningful, at least in this day and age. These beliefs may have made you a feminist in the 1960s, but that’s not where things are right now.
      D) no, something in the above recital of propositions is incompatible with feminism, specifically [x].

      All of which imputes to the person responding to this question the ability to properly define what it is to be a feminist. As I suggested above, I suspect that this term has grown too broad, too old, and too political to be meaningful standing on its own in this manner.

      Perhaps related: A number of women these days offer some degree of resistance to this label. None of them appear in the least bit faced at the proposition of women participating in professional activities like practicing law or holding high political office, and obviously do not advocate a return to the legal and cultural regime that women lived under in, say, the pre-War era. E.g., Ann Coulter, a lawyer of no small ability and a political actor of some renown. Not a (self-identified) feminist, I presume. But one who stands, nevertheless, on the shoulders of the Elizabeth Cady Stantons and Gloria Steinhams who came before her by simple virtue of the fact that she votes, earns her own income, and possesses her own public identity.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I do not doubt that one could argue that you are a feminist, and probably that you are not one as well. I’m not particularly interested in those arguments. I’m more interested in whether you behave as a feminist, or whether your behavior is feminist.

        In the Aaronson conversation, immediately after or around the “saying you’re a feminist does not make you one” remark was a discussion of where his behavior diverged from feminist: was it when he questioned the ubiquity of privilege, or was it in a different place? I said the latter, and in fact wouldn’t consider his essay necessarily anti-feminist, as I do in fact consider it, if all he did was question privilege. His views on privilege suggest ignorance, nothing else. His essay itself, however, suggests a deeper anti-feminism, which is separate from the question of whether he is or can be in any meaningful sense a feminist.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:


        You said:

        Lest it not be clear, what makes Aaronson’s response a little bit disgusting is that he responds to a woman’s discussing reasons to fear men (harassment, including physical harassment) by saying not just that he feared approaching women, but that the world view that teaches women they shouldn’t have to fear men, was responsible for making his fear of approaching women worse. Heartfelt and risible.

        While I get your point, that Aaronson was transposing, I think your critique here emboldened grabs a lot of weight from the consequence of the transposition but attributes intention. And I see a lot more of Aaronson blaming society-at-large for his issues with repressed sexuality, not feminism explicitly.

        If Aaronson’s experience of feminism is X, critiquing it for being an inaccurate representation of feminism is fine.

        Saying Feminism is Y and therefore Aaronson is terrible for dissing Y is off, though.

        I’ll note: the way I read Aaronson’s comment, in its entirety, he doesn’t claim in there that his experience is generalizable, he doesn’t make any particular claims about how feminism ought to be perceived, etc. He pretty clearly is laying out his own personal experience in an attempt to provide his own context.

        If your experience with feminists is pretty uniformly negative, saying, “this is the reason why my personal biases toward feminism aren’t like yours” isn’t downplaying feminism or rejecting some or all of the claims of feminism or anything else, either.

        Speaking about your own experience isn’t always an attempt to downplay anybody else’s experience, is it?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I took it to be pretty clearly downplaying her experience: he begins by saying that some other woman he’s talked to sees it differently, then launches into a bit about his own experience, to conclude that Geeks like him are some of the least privileged people on the planet. All of this is in response to her saying that Geeks were, in her experience, the worst offenders. This is a claim a lot of women have been making lately, and his is a common response.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        to conclude that Geeks like him are some of the least privileged people on the planet.

        And you are clearly downplaying his experience. People who are so emotionally traumatized that they seek castration aren’t exactly the poster child for privilege.

        But he’s smart, white and male, so we all know he’s uberprivileged.

        I swear to god I’m about to blow at the utter callousness here, and the grotesque hypocrisy of whining that Aaronson’s downplaying women’s experience while completely skating over his experience.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Look, his experience sucked, there is no doubt of that. I have a great deal of sympathy for his experience, but none whatsoever for him using it manipulatively in this context.

        As I’ve said, I don’t think Marcotte’s approach to him is effective, but I get it, and I don’t think he deserves to be treated with kid gloves simply because he’s spoken of painful experiences. If he’d told that story in almost any other context, a context that wasn’t designed to suggest that a woman’s experience of harassment was somehow not valid, I’d probably be expressing nothing but sympathy for him.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I am getting a bit upset too.

        To everyone who hasn’t read this yet:

        Do so. Then come back and say whether this guy is really the insensitive jackass you thought he was, or whether he said some intemperate things that aren’t HALF as bad as what I’ve said around this blog.

        Was he blaming feminism? Yes, but by his own admission, he doesn’t think people should use Dworkin as a feminist model (as he did). I’m pretty sure he knows how much of an idiot his younger self was.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Aaronson: Yes, women’s experiences suck, but

        Chris: Yes Aaronson’s experiences suck, butReport

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Oh, I see, your recent schtick: I’m doing precisely what I criticize. Context isn’t a thing for you, I’ve forgotten.

        Let’s just settle it, then: Aaronson is a saint who cannot be criticized, because he’s been so open. Marcotte is a horrible human being for reacting to Aaronson as though he’d just responded to a woman’s complaints of harassment in precisely the same way that so many other men have responded to it: if nothing else, by making it about them.

        I am a horrible human being because I’ve defended Marcotte from claims that she’s a horrible human being, and repeatedly said that Aaronson is deserving of criticism and that I find his testimony manipulative (in two ways: by making it very personal, and by trying to place himself in a tribe so that criticisms from within that tribe will be seen as less valid), even if I don’t agree with Marcotte’s method.

        There, done. I won’t be commenting on Aaronson anymore, and I apologize to Tod for dragging it out this long in defense of a blogger I hadn’t read since ’08 or thereabouts.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        That was impressive, Chris.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        If he’d told that story in almost any other context, a context that wasn’t designed to suggest that a woman’s experience of harassment was somehow not valid…

        Maybe this is asking too much, but I would love to see the exact part of Aaronson’s comment that you feel suggests that a woman’s experience of harassment is not valid.

        Is it something in the comment? Or are you starting with an assumption that Aaronson is attempting some Dawkins-like rhetorical trick?

        Here is part of the problem as I see it. Imagine two versions of Aaronson. Version #1 is a sincere feminist who comes to believe that feminism’s conception of male privilege is not compatible with his own lived experience and is trying to reconcile the two without abandoning his feminism. Version #2 is a decided anti-feminist who decided to adopt the guise of a feminist to try to point out a logical contradiction within feminism.

        In practice, it would be very difficult to tell Aaronson #1 from Aaronson #2.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        James, you’ve been impressive in your incomprehension. Happy to be impressive in return.

        J R, this really will be the last thing I say on the subject. As you’ve been a fair interlocutor in these threads, so I feel I owe it: the entire comment is, as I see it, a counter to the claim that geeks are the worst offenders. He begins by saying some other woman thinks the shy ones aren’t as bad, then launches into the testimony, concluding that with his comments on feminism. I take the whole thing to be a response to her claim. Every word. So, it appears, did many others.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        I took it to be pretty clearly downplaying her experience: he begins by saying that some other woman he’s talked to sees it differently, then launches into a bit about his own experience, to conclude that Geeks like him are some of the least privileged people on the planet.

        Oh for God’s sake. I just read that article for the first time, and I’m not someone who particularly agrees 100% with the framing of ‘privilege’, and I downright dislike Marcotte. But Aaronson’s comment is one of those things that makes me want to leap completely in their boat. She’s right. The man had *social anxiety* that he decided to blame on feminists.

        And he’s also decided that *absolutely no help was available* for this. For some reason. Because we don’t have therapists helping people get past social anxiety, or any books about the matter, or anything. No help. None.

        I especially like the framing (even from the *current* perspective, not from his past POV), of men who actually flirt with and try to impress women as ‘Neanderthals’. Marcotte is right when she points out that this does not describe ‘Neanderthals’. This is, in fact, perfectly normal and accepted behaviour for men. And women, too.

        Granted, I don’t agree with half the stuff Marcotte said in the article. She, as always, is reading ignorance as malice. And Aaronson is really, really ignorant, so assumed to be really, really malicious. And Marcotte is also wrong about geeks. Geeks do not make the worse ‘offenders’ in any reasonable definition of the term ‘offenders’. Geeks are just *really bad* at hiding sexism, and they tend to harass women in *very obvious* ways.

        And they often feel oppressed (1), so get all annoyed when women point out how they’re acting towards women, often trying to make really dumb excuses and claiming to be ‘socially inept’.

        Geeks, here’s a clue: Claiming social ineptness is basically the idea that having no skill point in ‘interacting with women’ means, when you roll a 1 in that and look like a sexist idiot, you get +1 on your reflex save to social damages. Firstly, most people think that rule is nonsense and refuse to follow it, and second it *won’t* let you succeed in your original roll anyway! The woman is still going to dislike you and leave as soon as possible. You still failed! All it can do is *maybe* reduce how much everyone thinks you’re a jackass later, out of *pity*. A +1 pity modifier. Maybe, instead of caring about modifiers on the damn saving throw after a failure, you should try *increasing your skills* you can actually succeed at interacting with them. Read a book. Find a female friend. Actually pay attention.

        1) Geeks feel opposed for the somewhat justifiable reason they often are suffering some sort of very *mild* oppression. But they don’t realize how mild it is. This is part of why I think the ‘privilege’ framing is not very good…suddenly, everyone’s trying to be less privileged.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I don’t know if this is helpful at this point, but Aaronson admits he was blaming feminism for his problems in his first series of comments (he’s edited some of them, esp. 171 to include elaborations of what he meant). So if the dispute is over whether or not Aaronson in fact did use his personal experiences to argue against feminism generally, or a narrow type of feminism specifically, then it seems to be settled. He admits he did.

        After reflecting on the many thoughtful comments here, there are two concessions that I’m now willing to make.

        The first concession is that, as Laurie Penny maintained, my problems weren’t caused by feminism, but rather by the Patriarchy.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Geeks feel opposed for the somewhat justifiable reason they often are suffering some sort of very *mild* oppression.

        To be fair, when you are a teenager, this mild oppression is experienced much more acutely. Of course, when you grow up, you look back with the adult perspective and recognize just how mild it was, even if the memory still stings.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        You may want to read the rest of what Aaronson says. It is unclear whether he is conceding the point or rather making a point contrary to the feminist notion of patriarchy.

        Also, an observation. If Aaronson were a woman who, instead of talking about the rough time he had as an adolescent male geek, were talking about the rough time she had as an overweight, awkward teenager, I have a hard time imagining that anyone here would be reacting in a similar manner as some if the reactions that I’m seeing here. Imagine a women talking about how boys looked passed her to thinner girls and how media representations of female bodies contributed to psychological problems. Would anyone here respond by saying that she was not entitled to those boys affections or suggesting that she should have spent more energy addressing her own shortcomings and less time blaming others?Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        Rereading my post, it comes out rather harsher on Aaronson than I intended. Aaronson is a guy who had a problem when he was younger, and overcame it. Which is good. He is also a guy that does not see some of the sexism in the community around him. Which is *perfectly understandable* and how most guys are. (And part of the reason I have *huge* problems with Marcotte, as she always acts like this is malicious.)

        So when he saw his community attacked for, what were in his mind, wrong reasons, he leapt to their defense. Which he did with a confused and pretty silly conclusion about the problem he had when he was younger, made all the worse by the claim he was a feminist but doesn’t really seem to understand it at all. (Micro-aggressions, for example, do not really make sense in the context of dating. Well, maybe ‘negging’. They don’t make sense in the normal context of men and women flirting.)

        Aaronson, and other guys: You’re missing sexism that is happening around you. Really. It’s happens in all sort of minor ways you don’t even notice unless you pay a *lot* of attention (And around *here* is where micro-aggression come in.), but even then you can’t see it all. You don’t know that guy just rubbed up against that woman. You don’t know how that guy took credit for that woman’s work. You don’t know what that guy said his female employee behind closed doors.

        I know it seems like you should defend your ‘group’, but maybe by the time the tenth or so woman shows up talking about her experience, you should step back a little. There might *actually* be something to all this. This is not some sort of conspiracy.

        There is an *actual disconnect* between what men see in how women are treated, and what women see. That is just how things are. When anyone bothers to investigate any of this stuff, it’s almost always found out to be true. So maybe men should start with the assumption that it *generally happens*. (1)

        And *most women* understand men don’t see it. (Unless they are horrible people like Marcotte) They don’t demand we do see it. They just ask we *stop insisting they’re making it up*.

        1) If people want to dispute individual instances, well, I understand that if someone knows the guy and whatever. If the guy really acts like that, *other examples will show up soon*. If he doesn’t, well, actual known misogynists appear to do fine, so I’m sure a guy some woman once said one thing about will be fine. But there’s a difference between not being sure whether it rained last Tuesday, and asserting that rain barely exist.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        j r,

        I’ll grant you that he’s not making a full-blown endorsement of the patriarchy, but he is very clearly conceding that he blamed feminism for his problems otherwise the concession that he was wrong makes no sense, seems to me. YMMV, of course.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        In the cited comment, he talks about going to a therapist, who was UNABLE to help him — to the point where the exasperated/depressed young man was suggesting castration as therapy.

        Sometimes therapists suck. I’ve been to ones that were unequivocal “yes men” and ones that I simply hated because they made no effort to understand me.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      My response would be that you seem to have agreed that feminist/not-feminist is not that simple, it’s not really a binary, but that you seem to be applying the binary in reference to Aaronson.

      But I think that response is also very much a part of the “who are we and what do we mean” debate.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      It worked for J R, who is not a feminist or even pro-feminist. It seems to have worked for others as well.

      To say that “it worked” for me, is to imply that we know for certain what Aaranson’s true motives are. And that is where we have a fundamental disagreement; although I admit that I am in no way close to sure that my reading is the correct one. You seem to be much more assured of of your reading; that’s fine, but it makes it difficult for us to continue the conversation much past this point. That’s fine as well. A conversation in which two people who broadly disagree on some issue can identify the specific area(s) of disagreement is a successful conversation.

      I encounter this problem a lot when dealing with feminism. I can start from a place of taking feminists seriously when they say things like @doctor-jay says above, “feminism is the battle against sexism”. Or there is this description, which I find rhetorically brilliant: feminism is the radical notion that woman are people. That statement’s rhetorical brilliance, however, belies the fact that it is metaphysically confused. Even the staunchest Archie Bunker-like male chauvinist believes that women are people. He just has a much different conception of what does and what ought to flow from women’s humanity.

      Contemporary feminists have by and large chosen not to deal with this metaphysical question. And I believe that is the right move for them. There is an opportunity cost to dealing seriously with the Archie Bunkers of the world. And why should any group of people waste time and effort trying to prove their humanity to people who are dead-set on denying it? In a just world, we must start from the point of recognizing the full humanity of women and recognizing that full political, legal and social equality is the only just outcome.

      I am tempted to maintain that my belief in the above ought to be enough to get me into the big tent that is feminism. What stops me, however, is the realization that it is not my tent.Report

    • Avatar kenB says:

      J R and I, in our back and forth, were determining the extension of a term.

      The problem with this statement is that it implies that there’s a single correct answer to the question, as if you and JR were trying to pin down the value of pi to the 1000th decimal point. You and JR and Aaronson all have different extensions of the term “feminism” and it makes no sense to say that one of you is right and the others are wrong — all you can really do is compare to majority usage within a specified language community, and/or make rhetorical appeals to extra-linguistic factors (e.g. giving primacy to the opinions of people in a particular category who you feel have some claim of ownership over the term).

      I remember getting into a semi-serious argument with someone about the difference between “a few” and “several” — I had said “a few”, which to her meant 3 or 4 in the given context, and in fact there were five or six of whatever it was, and we quarreled about what exactly these terms mean and finally agreed to disagree. So, which of us was right? What would it even mean to be “right”? We each had a strong feeling that our own usage was correct, but the dictionary didn’t resolve the question (and dictionaries are merely the restatement of common usage anyway).Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The problem with this statement is that it implies that there’s a single correct answer to the question, as if you and JR were trying to pin down the value of pi to the 1000th decimal point.

        No, it does not. Quite the opposite, in fact, at least from my perspective, where these things are discursively determined, rather than metaphysically.

        He just has a much different conception of what does and what ought to flow from women’s humanity

        If we recognize that the terms in question — person, human, etc. — are polysemous, we can reasonably avoid some of the metaphysical problems. There is plenty of evidence of the dehumanizing effects of even “benevolent” sexism, which does not mean that sexists see women as some sort of non-human animal, but that they see them as lesser humans, or less human, than men.

        Speaking of Aaronson specifically, my interpretation is likely very similar to the one that many women have reacted to. Aaronson is knowingly operating in the context of “elevatorgate,” Gamergate, the Michael Sherman fiasco, and so on, in which basically this defense of Geeks against charges of extreme sexual harassment has been offered over and over and over again over the last few years.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        plenty of benevolent sexists see themselves as feminists. See: all the people crowing about same-sex education.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        where these things are discursively determined

        Perhaps we’re miscommunicating, but the problem I think is in the term “determined”. To the extent that the argument is over the term and not over Aaronson’s sincerity or self-knowledge, there are basically two possible outcomes in your dialogue with JR — either you reach some sort of agreement about the proper extension of the term, or you fail to reach agreement (which seems more likely). In the latter case, what has been determined other than the fact that you disagree?Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        kim: yep. “I’m a feminist, because I think women should be put in the proper place where they’ll be happy instead of pushed into roles that require more maturity and intelligence and effort than they’re capable of producing; roles where they’ll fail and end up worse off than before, sort of a Petra Principle.”

        Same thing as people who said “we’re not racist, black people can’t see as well as white people and if you try to make them combat aviators they’ll just die, so we’re really doing them a favor”Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        I am having a hard time squaring this:

        No, it does not. Quite the opposite, in fact, at least from my perspective, where these things are discursively determined, rather than metaphysically.

        with this:

        His views on privilege suggest ignorance, nothing else.

        From my perspective, Aaronson understands what people mean when they talk about male privilege; he simply does not agree. Some would argue that there is little difference between the two, but that suggests a metaphysical position.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “Aaronson understands what people mean when they talk about male privilege; he simply does not agree.”

        The contention is that if he understood then he’d agree, and since he doesn’t agree then ipso facto he doesn’t understand.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        From my perspective, Aaronson understands what people mean when they talk about male privilege; he simply does not agree. Some would argue that there is little difference between the two, but that suggests a metaphysical position.

        I don’t think it’s at all controversial to suggest that in feminist discourse, privilege is generally treated as a relative, contextual thing. That Aaronson treats it as something else suggests ignorance of this fact. Noting this doesn’t suggest that what privilege is is not determined discursively.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        kenB, I don’t expect J R and I will resolve anything, just between the two of us, even if we come to some agreement. The meaning of the word itself is “determined” through such discussions, but not just one of them. And by determined, I do not mean to suggest that it is static: its meaning is created discursively, but as discourse is constant, its meaning is in flux. Our discussion is just part of that.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The contention is that if he understood then he’d agree, and since he doesn’t agree then ipso facto he doesn’t understand.

        In a sense, yes, because the way he describes his own sense of privilege, which he sees as a critique of the concept of male privilege, is in fact in complete agreement with the way “privilege” is generally used among feminists. That is, he recognizes that its relative, but thinks that he’s contrasting this with an absolutist sense.Report

  15. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Feminism could be broadly defined as “We should treat women better than we do.” (That’s probably at the core of what the MRM would call feminism, even if they might add on a few other things.)

    This Feminism can win battles, sure.

    But MOST of the battles worth fighting are within Feminism.

    For example: One strain of feminism says that “women are fragile flowers, and need to be protected from brutish men in order that they can “flourish” in safe little WASPy do-nothing jobs”.

    Another strain of feminism says “Just treat us like a human being, and we’ll just get along fine. We just need the same opportunities, we can do the rest ourselves.”

    Battling between those two strains of feminism, in my opinion, is a much better and bigger fight than battling against people who “oppose feminism”. At least in america.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Let the record show that I understand what @kimmi is saying here and that I am in broad agreement.Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        Any given day Kimmi can fire on all cylinders, and go three layers deep. The last couple months have been a little sketchy though.

        Since you an Damon showed, I have to comment a helluva lot less, probably makes the comment section a lot classier.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        A little emptier, I’d say. I think of you as being one of those folks who has a unique (for here) way of approaching an issue. So FWIW, I’m glad that you drop by when you have the time.Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        I appreciate it, and will bring my 2 cents when I can.Report

  16. Avatar zic says:

    Conor Friedersdorf has an interesting piece at The Atlantic On the Stanford Man Who Alleged Sexual Assault which, to my mind, goes to the definitions of sexual assault and feminism.

    I would definitely say the man experienced an assault — coercion is a pretty common thing; and that if we want to really understand assault and understand sexual respect, it has to include this type of assault committed by a woman against a man. That, to me is a feminist perspective. I notice there are a few female dissenters, but mostly I see a lot of men suggesting that feminism wouldn’t be able to expand to include this definition; so there’s some tribal ‘not-feminism’ going on here that seeks negative definition. But I suppose there are plenty of women who might suggest this wasn’t an assault, either; and plenty of men who’d think that including this assault as part of what feminism is all about emasculates men, too.

    The repercussions of boys-get-lucky, girls-get-shamed thought is going to take a long, long time to sort out.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      I have been in a couple-few situations that are comparable to what happened to this man. One sticks out in particular, which I mentioned before in the comments here. For me, however, none of those incidents rise to the level of sexual assault.

      You could try to convince me that, despite my subjective understanding of it, I was sexually assaulted, but I’m not sure what that would accomplish. It would just demonstrate that different people have different conceptions of what it means to be assaulted.

      At that point, we have two choices. We can agree that there is a realm of actions that are decidedly sexual assault (those involving the overt use or threat of force, for instance) and a realm that is decidedly not sexual assault(asking once and getting a no, asking again later and getting a yes), but affirm the existence of a gray area in which sexual assault is to be defined subjectively. Or we can draw a line and choose to objectively define sexual assault as anything past that line, whether the victim sees it as sexual assault or not.

      In either case, there are some decisions that we have to make. We have to decide where to draw the line or lines that delineate sexual assault from not sexual assault. And in the former case, we have to decide how to treat the behavior in the gray area.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Personally, I’m pretty sure it’s all just shades of grey. There are people who genuinely enjoy force and threat of force in sexplay (and others, I’m sure, who put up with it for the sake of their partner).[I’d like to emphasize that it’s a really, really good idea to get consent before doing stuff like this.]

        The bottom line is: if you don’t have some pretty clear (and agreed upon) notion of what consent is, and acquire it before doing an act, you’re in grey waters. And those are really, really dangerous places to be, because getting sued/thrown out of college/reputation ruined are pretty bad things.Report

  17. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    “Saying that you are a feminist does not mean that you are a feminist.”

    Although, weirdly enough, I find that saying you are not a feminist is just as problematic in the eyes of feminists who think you should be claiming the name.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      There’s a young (mid-20s) woman from St. Louis named Netta Elzie who’s become something of an internet celebrity for her participation in protests in Ferguson, and elsewhere, beginning on August 9 of last year. She’s sort of become an activist by circumstance, which has led her to have an interesting perspective on activism and activists (by 25, most people who are going to be activists have spent some time in activist circles). She was interviewed for an article in the Atlantic, and in the interview she discusses her relationship with feminism, and the fact that others want to call her (and want her to call herself) a feminist:

  18. Avatar Patrick says:

    So in math there’s this thing called set theory.

    People intuitively think that the real world is often like set theory. That is, you can define a construct, and people either fit into that construct or they don’t, and you can attach a label to that construct, and then you know who someone is by whether or not they carry that label.

    But remember all those discussions we had about standing way back when, and all the “who gets to decide who a libertarian is” discussions? Yeah.

    The best you can say when you’re having these conversations is, “This is what I think it means to be a member of this group, and that’s how I’m applying the label”.Report

  19. Avatar Pinky says:

    We should make a distinction between belief-related and non-belief-related identities. A person can’t be an Episcopalian atheist, but a person can be a former-Episcopalian atheist, or an atheist from an Episcopalian background, or some variation on that. It’s wrong to describe yourself using contradictory terms.

    Beyond that, we should recognize that any high-level ideological category is likely to have a lot of variation. There’s no reason to think otherwise. And we should stop being idiots about it. We should use terms according to their most-commonly-recognized meanings, or if we don’t, we should explain ourselves immediately. I shouldn’t go around calling myself a feminist, because as the word is used today, I’m not. I could argue that the word’s meaning has been tainted over recent decades, but I shouldn’t represent myself as a feminist without putting that big caveat right out there. The goal is clarity.Report

  20. Avatar Will H. says:

    From listening to Mennonites, Catholics, and Jews speaking about their faith, I can see three distinct groups, none of which are mutually exclusive:
    1) a religious ______, someone to whom the religious identity and observance of articles of faith are very important;
    2) a ________ by association, someone whose most immediate community is made up exclusively or primarily members of the same _________ group; and
    3) the cultural ________, who may or may bot have formally left the group but retain strong cultural relations (foods, holidays, etc.) as the religious group.Report

  21. Avatar Kimmi says:

    RE: Aaronson
    for anyone who’s still reading.
    It’s often helpful to unpack people into what action items they’re looking for.
    For him:
    1) Actually saying what the Physicist did that was wrong, and shaming him accordingly, not with some vaguely worded “sexual harrassment” (reason given: shy nerds are gonna overreact).
    2) Remove Dworkin from the list of “acceptable feminism” — unlikely (feminists are REALLY not the “throwing people out of the club” sorts), but at least he’s recognizing that he was treating her as an Authority on all Things Feminist, and that was a Dumb Idea.
    3) Run through a few classes on “how to talk with girls, how to express interest without being a creep” (and, to add on a bit that he didn’t say, but probably would with a dash more thought “how to get boys to know when girls are coming onto them”)Report