My Disappointment In Bad Actors
August 2, 2012
You follow a philosophy of some kind, all of the readers of this blog, and hopefully you follow it well. When you encounter problems with your philosophy and your internal sense of morality, you seek ways to modify one or the other until there is harmony again. Hopefully, when you do this you modify your philosophy more than your internal morality. There is a problem, though, that I have seen in the world around me. There are people out there that follow absolutist philosophies who then modify the philosophy in a way counter to the absolutist claims in order to make it jive with their internal morality. Then there are people who rightly stick by the absolutist stance of their philosophy and, instead, modify their morality despite evidence toward them being wrong about said modification.
These two things, they’re seriously frustrating for me. I hate dealing with Bad Actors, people who think and argue in Bad Faith, and the immoral bigots that are a product of such people.
First, let’s define Bad Faith.
Bad Faith is a willingness to argue in a way that is cheap and meaningless. The use of strawmen, a willingness to misconstrue, the usage of cherry-picked statistics to show something counter to prevalent data, using conclusions drawn from initial passes rather than understanding of arguments…it’s essentially arguing poorly. Arguing in a way that is secure in the correctness of the argument and not needing to critically examine anything. “I’m right, and I don’t have the time to prove you wrong. You just are.”
I don’t know if many of you know this, I know my friends and some of my regular readers know this, but I’m autistic. I’ve got a high functioning variant of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, so I’m able to fake being normal some of the time (I’m not spectacularly good at it, though – despite being poly and relaxed and generally a nice person, my massive social awkwardness has limited me to a handful of partners and they’ve all been women so far…even though I am pansexual. Dating is hard, you guys.). Fun fact about people who have High-Functioning ASD – we’re militantly logical and we defend our base assumptions to the death. That second part I don’t get so bad because one of my base assumptions is fact is fact and I must conform my worldview to what works and what doesn’t work. So, Bad Faith is, perhaps, my biggest pet peeve in the history of pet peeves. I am not a violent person, but there are times where Bad Faith arguments makes me violently angry.
Now, let’s define a Bad Actor.
A Bad Actor is always arguing in Bad Faith, even if they do not use any of the Bad Faith ‘techniques’. This is because they espouse a philosophy or worldview but they do not follow it. This is Muslims who drink alcohol but don’t eat bacon because it’s haram. This is Christians who talk about Leviticus and how God hates the gays while wearing blended fabric clothing and eating shellfish. It’s people who claim to follow, and offer validity to, a set of rules and structures then use that claim to establish moral superiority while, simultaneously, not following those rules themselves. Bad Actors are living embodiments of frustration for me. They are hypocrites and unwilling, or perhaps incapable, of seeing their own hypocrisy. Further, they are right about them belonging to their group – the aforementioned Muslims are still Muslim, they’re just Bad Muslims. The aforementioned Christians are still Christian, they’re just Bad Christians.
Now, I told you all of that to talk about this. Bad Skeptics.
Skepticism has a set of tenants. It’s not a religion-level philosophy, it’s not a whole worldview, it’s more just a simple set of ideals. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. All claims are subject to doubt until sufficient prove is provided. Data is more important than belief. Methodology is important to understanding how data becomes information. That which is factual is true.
It’s not a difficult concept, I think, and it’s a rather rational one. Don’t believe everything you hear unless someone can prove their case. Simultaneously, do not dismiss anyone out of hand until they have a chance to prove their case. (Unless, of course, their case is the same case you’ve already heard and have no interest in hearing it a second time.)
There are many, many people in the skeptical community that have stopped following these basic tenants, though. These people encounter certain things outside of their comfort zone and, despite really good evidence that their behaviours may be wrong and supporting a system of ostracism and oppression, they defend their behaviours through bad data, bad science, bad methodologies, bad arguments. In effect, these Bad Skeptics defend their skepticism in Bad Faith.
I’m sure many of you are shaking your head and knowing what I’m talking about, since I must be talking about the same thing as everyone else given that I’m a feminist and I’m a fan of both Skepchick and FreeThoughtBlogs. It goes beyond just that, though. It goes beyond harassment policies, entitlement culture, tribalism, extremism, and even elevators. It goes beyond the movement and beyond our nice, social niche that we live in. It goes beyond the middle class and upper middle class, white-bread world that most skeptics come from. It goes to the very core of what it means to be a participating actor in the society around us.
For instance, every single Libertarian Skeptic is a Bad Skeptic. All of them. Bar none. They believe in a socioeconomic worldview that is both childish and impossible to realize. They believe in a set of structures and (and absence of) regulations that create an idealized, individual focused world. However, data and history show us that these beliefs are wrong. They do not work. They have never functioned outside of very small communities. In effect, Libertarianism is effective to the same points as Communism, and quickly devolves into madness as you get beyond those points. The madness in Communism comes from the corruption of those in power. The madness in Libertarianism comes from the corruption of acquiring power and sacrificing the less powerful to your cause. The end point of a totally Libertarian society is a corporate feudal state (and if you don’t believe me, look at the global economy right now and let me know how much power any individual person has over their own life and their own opportunities – it’s pretty amazing what Microsoft can do for one of its employees and how difficult it is for a normal, well adjusted kid with no connections to become a success).
Furthermore, Libertarians ignore the societal investment in success that propels every single “independently successful person”, from the maintenance of a police force and armed forces to the laying of roads and the repair of bridges. Or even the simple fact that our political discourse is, currently, not modulated by men in armor and wielding swords.
So, let’s take a look at the current problem in the skeptical community, and in society at large (as that’s why it’s even a problem in the skeptical community). What we have is a confluence of the three largest kinds of oppression in society – Sexism, Racism, and Classism. That is, oppression based on gender or sex, oppression based on real or perceived status as a minority group, and oppression based on station in society and the capability of spending money to participate in society. I shouldn’t have to explain why meetings like TAM, taking place in Las Vegas and costing several hundred dollars to even attend without eating or drinking or sleeping or doing anything else in Vegas, is difficult for the less wealthy members of the community to attend. This particular problem crops up a lot in skeptical gatherings as well, like meetings taking place in relatively expensive restaurants or places that are difficult to get to regularly without one’s own vehicle (at least outside of cities with robust public transportation, which is itself a classism issue in the meta-culture). I do not have the authority to really delve into sexism as anything other than an ally, but there are resources you can check. I’m sure there are also great resources for an examination of racism (another -ism I can’t really explain, as I am white for the most part and I only get a touch of Exoticism when people find out about my heritage, nothing to the point that most people of color face), and if a helpful commentor out there can supply those links I’d be much obliged. Now, let’s talk about how these three things interact.
Men wield power. Men define the conversation, men control the politics, men control the actors in any particular space. This is the default assumption of the world due to the whole idea of gender equality being a rather new one in the history of human social groups (post-agriculture). Men are predisposed to authority by their culture, while women are disavowed of their capabilities. This leads to some rather bad problems. Men were the only people to have a say in women getting the vote. In a recent congressional panel on birth control, not a single woman (the only people to be affected by regulations on internal birth control – for the time being) was on the panel. When a woman speaks in a social context about possible institutional abuse, she is required to go above and beyond the standard level of acknowledgement to prove that there is a problem. This entire situation is an outgrowth of Entitlement – thanks to a history of patriarchy, where the Man of the Household carefully Guides and Leads his family as the Earthly representative of God’s Grace (gotta love Victorian random Capitalization) – where men aren’t required by society to be anything other than whatever the hell they want to be. Women, on the other hand, have to deal with the constant and capricious whims of the men of the world and have to fight tooth and nail with social obstructions and an invisible nature to have the barest modicum of respect and dignity afforded to them and preserve their own Agency. That is the ultimate expression of Entitlement Culture – feudal systems of men owning women and women having no capability to have any say in the matter. Besides, on a long enough time line you can teach the women to keep themselves in check so it’s all gravy anyway. Now, we’ve got the legacy of that Entitlement Culture hanging over our heads in the ways that Men are supposed to be Men and Women are supposed to be Women and how the Sexes are Different. This presumption gives us remarks like “boys will be boys”, and the attitude associated with that allows men to be forgiven for things like leering, pinching the fleshy parts of women’s anatomies, or being a little too forward in conversation. Women cope with these behaviours, despite those behaviours being aggressive and based on the presumption that ‘all women want the man’, and are put in a position where they’re always on defensive. In effect, Women Play Black – there’s no opening strategy, they’re just constantly responding to the White player in the game of chess. And when women point out that this isn’t fair and we should fix this, they get turned into demonized hell-spawn witches of Satan’s east end. Including one word that I have a particular distaste for because it’s a good word and should not be used as an insult.
This gets compounded with racism. A white woman has more power to speak in a social situation than a black woman, and is given more legitimacy and authority by the people around her. Please don’t start arguing with me, I really don’t want to go digging up all the studies that show this is a thing and it actually happens. I’m not sure what the break down on men of color in comparison to white women in modern culture is, as far as inherent validity in the eyes of the meta-culture, but I imagine it isn’t pretty. And I’m not really a fan of this kind of line drawing when I’m not developing role playing systems. Again, I will have to defer to any people of color who might want to expand on this particular part of the problem as I don’t have a lot of experience with it. I’m a white guy in Orange County, California. Even though we have people of color in our neighborhoods, for some reason we don’t tend to run in the same circles very often.
Finally, oh so finally, we have classism. Poor people are erased just out of the sheer fact that they can’t make it to the conversation. And when they do get there, they don’t have the power or prestige to get an audience. When poor people are involved, they’re frequently denigrated for being lazy, told that they’re not educated enough and don’t understand, or are pitied rather than listened to. Power does not extend naturally to those on the bottom of the economic ladder and, because of this, their problems are written off as being unimportant if terribly depressing. Instead of going on a long rant here, in the middle of another rant, about how society encourages people to either stay rich or become poor, I’m just going to say that as a homeless person of moderate education but a knack for understanding the things I read, this is infuriating.
So, how does this contribute to entitlement culture?
White men tend to be the wealthy patrons of a movement, especially a social movement rooted in doubting large power structures. White men establish the ground rules and become the leaders of the movement de facto due to being the first ones to participate. The first women in the movement tend to be daughters, wives, and sisters of the white men who founded it. These women tend to extend the patriarchal control of those who they trust as they’re all good people, and this creates a system where women unknowingly contribute to the gender stratification due to not enforcing diversity in controlling stakes (this is changing – more women, people of color, disabled and atypical people, and other minorities are demanding involvement in social systems to even participate. Nothing About Us Without Us). When later groups come in, they start at a disadvantage. When groups complain about sexism, racism, and classism, they first must convince those in power (the wealthy white men) that the problems are real. This is really difficult when those in power have never experienced them. Especially if the complaints start with, “This thing you do, it’s gotta stop. ‘Cause seriously, it’s wrong.” When this message isn’t believed, or even more commonly isn’t wanted, then they tend to rally the forces of invisibility. All the sexism, racism, and classism cards start to get played – you just don’t understand the complexities, you wouldn’t understand it as a woman, it’s just boys being boys, our culture is just different from yours, it’s not our responsibility to make it affordable, it’s not our responsibility to make it accessible, it’s not our responsibility to be welcoming to anyone but us.
The best part is, eventually even the minorities that are permitted to be part of the inner circle get in on the defending the patriarchs game. This is also an observed phenomena. Malcolm X’s rather virulent distaste for kowtowers was very well documented and he’s just the first example I can summon without willingly stepping into the heaping mess of the current skeptical community.
So you’ve got these Skeptics, who say that they doubt and examine elements of society that people offer them, who are told about these effects. Told about institutionalized sexism, racism, classism, ableism, what have you. They’re shown studies and examples of this happening in popular culture. They’re shown the effects of behaviour on those around them. They’re even shown how if they were to act in a different manner then they would get more of what the purport to want. However, they don’t listen. These people are Bad Skeptics, and are acting in Bad Faith.
This makes me disappoint.