September 20, 2014

Criticizing Dogpiling vs. Defending the Target

English: Clachan Yell Looking North towards th...
Clachan Yell Looking North towards the summit of Clachan Yell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the typical social justice warrior dogpile one sees on the Internet, someone says something at which others take offense, and the the offended pounce. The rhetoric quickly escalates from "what you said was sexist" to "you are sexist" to wild accusations of "misogyny" and complaints that the target of the dogpile is an utterly contemptible person. This transformation takes no more than seconds.

What would it look like to defend someone being hit with such a dogpile? In the case of alleged sexism, one line of defense might be to argue that what the target said was not sexist. This might involve providing an alternative interpretation of what the target said in order to make the point that the statement, while perceived as sexist by some, may not have been intended that way and/or may not be perceived that way by many others. In essence, the person using this defense would be gently suggesting that the statement had been misinterpreted by the outraged. Of course, this defense might involve a more direct challenge of the claim that what the target said was sexist. Such a defense could flatly deny that there was anything even remotely sexist in the original statement. The point in both cases would be to challenge the notion that the statement was sexist.

September 18, 2014

Keep Speaking Out

Salman Rushdie presenting his book "Shali...
Salman Rushdie presenting his book "Shalimar the clown" at Mountain View, USA, October 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anything one says that is truly meaningful will end up offending someone. Of course, the fact that a meaningful statement will inevitably offend someone does not mean that an offensive statement is necessarily meaningful. And this in no way means that you or I should go out of our way to say offensive things. It simply means that we should not let others' protests about feeling offended prevent us from saying something meaningful.

Most of us will be subject to various social pressures, but we must not allow others to prevent us from making what would be meaningful statements. This is true whether the offended are religious extremists complaining of blasphemy or secular social justice warriors advocating a repressive form of political correctness propelled by outrage culture.

We need to hear from people who are different from us and/or who have different views than we do. This includes viewpoints we may not like. We need the experience of having our views questioned and even challenged by others. Without these experiences, we fall prey to groupthink, confirmation bias, and a host of other errors in thinking that will lead us astray. Without these experiences, we deprive ourselves of many excellent learning opportunities. We need to accept - even embrace - the inevitability of being wrong. This helps keep us humble enough that we may be open to learning from others.

September 16, 2014

Who and Why Does Jesus Save?

I said something recently on Twitter about how it seems that there is no one unified Christianity but many Christianities, almost as many as there are Christians. This was hardly an original thought or an attempt at profundity. It was a passing observation of the sort that Twitter is well suited for sharing.

The following response quickly appeared in my timeline:

Jesus Saves
Not a bad point. Christians do seem to have the Jesus belief in common. Of course, that does not mean that Christians agree on what sort of person Jesus was, what he wants from them, and the like. And as I suggested in my response to the tweet above, there is still great variability in who and why Christians think Jesus "saves."

September 15, 2014

Skeptical Women Need to be Careful on Twitter

Who thought this was a good idea? Yuk! Someone...
Who thought this was a good idea? Yuk! Someone had vomited in the one next to this one. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you use Twitter and other social media platforms even occasionally, you have almost certainly shared content created by someone you do not know personally. You have also had your content shared by others you do not know. This is how social media works - people frequently share things from others they don't know when they find content they think deserves to be read by a wider audience.

We've all been in the situation of having our content shared by people we don't know, and most of us would even consider that to be a good thing. When others share something we've written, it amplifies our reach. It might even mean that someone found our content worth sharing. For those of us who create content, there seems to be little downside to having it shared by others.

But there is a real danger lurking in what I have just described. At least, there is for women. I was unaware of this until yesterday, but now I am not sure I could live with myself if I didn't warn you about it.

September 14, 2014

Dismantling Pascal's Wager

Blaise Pascal argued that if reason cannot be ...
Blaise Pascal argued that if reason cannot be trusted, it is a better "wager" to believe in God than not to do so. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like it or not (and I don't like it one bit), it is apparent that those of us who limit ourselves to producing text content are limiting our reach considerably. The people, particularly the younger ones, want podcasts, image-oriented memes, and YouTube videos. And while I don't plan to do any of this anytime soon, I'm glad that others are doing so. We need variety, especially if it leads to greater reach.

I've only recently started to watch more than the occasional atheist-oriented video on YouTube. I know, I'm horribly behind the times in this regard. I'm not sure what to say except that I haven't wanted to do anything that requires me to sit in front of a computer for any more time than I already sit in front of a computer. This has meant that I probably haven't been watching more than 1-2 YouTube videos a month.

After picking up a Chromecast recently, I've been watching more atheist-oriented videos on YouTube. I may still be anchored to the TV to which I attach it, but I can at least move around while using it. Watching more videos has been an interesting experience because I am finally starting to become familiar with some of the names I've heard regularly but did not know much about.

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