Archived YouTube discussion with Dan Fincke

Our discussion about feminism and controversies within the atheist/skeptic communities is now available – mirrored on my YouTube channel in addition to the original hosting on Dan’s YouTube channel.

http://youtu.be/85l5rN_-6-g

Does atheism lead to beliefs about feminism?
What should the atheist movement be concerned with?
What are the concerns of particular feminists?
Is there good reason to suggest the atheist/skeptic communities are hostile to women?
Is there reason to doubt claims of harassment in the atheist/skeptic communities?
How should claims of harassment be handled?
Does ‘elevatorguy’ exist? Was asking for coffee in an elevator inappropriate?
Are anti-harassment policies needed for women to feel safe and welcome at conferences? Are such policies a good idea?
How can people respond to unwanted propositions at conferences?

Feel free to comment below and, if you can, leave timestamps concerning your comments if you comment on particular parts of the video.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • sezit

    Wow. What I heard here – condensed down to its essence – is “What I, Justin, think is reasonable. What these other specific people (mostly women that I, Justin, don’t like) think is reasonable is not. Because.

    I have been trying to keep an open mind regarding your honest engagement on this issue, and this interview has sunk it. There is no way to honestly engage with you if you actively doubt the validity of this many women’s negative experiences. I am a women – I have been attacked (enforced unwanted sexual groping) by men twice at work in enclosed spaces, several times in public. I was stalked by a man from work. I have had disrespectful interactions from male atheists both at conventions and in atheist social spaces. I have heard of many, many, MANY similar experiences from other women regarding their interactions with men, both in and apart from atheist events. I have heard maybe one ten-thousandth of that number of experiences happen to men. I have heard none happening to men in the atheist movement. Doesn’t meant they haven’t happened. But, if I guy told me it happened, my first inclination would be to believe him, because it is the soup that we all swim in everyday. Your continual denials of these reports speaks dishonorably of you. Do you think I am lying too? Or just mistook these events that I’m sure would have been reported differently by one of these guys or his buddies?

    Let me tell you that I am thrilled that these issues are being addressed in the atheist community. Not addressing it openly is just denying it. Your inability to imagine yourself as a woman who is all day, every day experiencing themselves as a target for men’s aggression is willful disrespect. You are wrapping yourself in a pretzel shape to find alternate explanations to believing women’s reports of their experiences, and I can’t figure out why. You have done good things for atheism, but I don’t trust you, and I don’t respect you.

    You deny reality.

    • We’re not talking here about what happens in society-at-large. We’re talking about what happens at atheist conferences. The claims are that the atheist community is hostile toward women, that conferences are unsafe, and that there is “rampant misogyny” in the community. I don’t see evidence of this – and your testimony of what happens in society-at-large is not evidence of it happening in the atheist community.

      It’s not active doubting of women’s experiences, but rather a skeptical attitude. Shall we just accept things because people say so? What is people said you were a “dangerous woman speaker” and said you were a harasser? Shall we just accept these claims at face value or should we look into the claims and demand evidence?

      We’ve already seen, as I mentioned in my discussion with Dan, people GETTING IT WRONG – claiming a man was taking upskirt photography when it actually was not the case – and was a completely fabricated claim. It’s not about people being liars, but rather about people possibly getting it wrong – making claims that do not reflect reality.

      “I have heard of many, many, MANY similar experiences from other women regarding their interactions with men, both in and apart from atheist events.”

      Ok, what is the evidence of this happening at atheist events? Mere testimony is not enough.

      “Your inability to imagine yourself as a woman who is all day, every day experiencing themselves as a target for men’s aggression is willful disrespect.”

      What does this have to do with anything? Where is this “men’s aggression” at atheist conferences?

      • sezit

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To claim that you are skeptical that a pervasive social behavior is not present at atheist events is an extraordinary claim. I am skeptical of your skepticism.

      • ool0n

        Just a small point on “rampant misogyny” …. PZ Myers has gone on the record to say he thinks the misogyny in the atheist community is better than society at large. I doubt this. Better than the gaming community specifically. I doubt this.

        My first ever blog post was about it, no one on that “side” has ever said misogyny is worse in the atheist community. http://www.oolon.co.uk/?p=8

        As sezit says your claim is extraordinary as you are claiming, like PZ actually, that the community is better or even there is no misogyny. True?

        • David Jones

          If the misogyny’s no worse. ool0n, what’s Watson’s rationale in not attending TAM because she feels unsafe? Where does she hang out for those few days that’s safer? Obviously not society at large.

          Or do Watson and you agree with each other and disagree with Myers, you all having taken the misogyny readings with your highly attuned and carefully calibrated misogyny antennae?

          • ool0n

            Rebecca Watson=/=”all women” … Not too clever there Dave, premise off somewhat.

            The level would have to be assumed to be the same as wider society until proven otherwise, clearly. Although while I accept feminism is consistent with atheism and scepticism I don’t think it necessarily follows that misogyny is lower or higher in the community as a result. These are long ingrained social ills and atheists and sceptics are part of the same culture.

            So PZ is wrong to make that claim, although to be fair he did say he “thinks” misogyny is lower not that it is. Only his personal opinion so I’ll forgive him. People are bound to think the community they identify with is “better” than others. Basic tribal thinking without which they wouldn’t identify with a community at all. Who identifies with a community they think is “worse” than ones they don’t identify with!

          • David Jones

            No…Watson’s not all women and …er…I didn’t say she was . She is, of course, a very noticeable member of the contingent of people claiming – for example – that TAM was unsafe, so unsafe she couldn’t attend.

            Just wondering where you were on that claim of hers. Anyone heard from the police yet about those threats?

            I think you put it correctly -almost – when you say feminism is consistent with atheism and scepticism, which is the point that Vacula kept trying to make. It’s consistent.

            Sort of. It depends on what you mean by feminism, of course. The feminism espoused by the slightly-late-to-the-party Watson and others is one strand of feminism, a strand that makes all sorts of highly dubious claims a skeptic might wish to challenge.

          • ool0n

            Vacula didn’t seem to understand the basic concept of “consistency” in that “debate” with Dan… More a whitewash and embarrassing for him. He needs to stick to debating creationists.

            Why do you want to derail a point I made about relative levels of misogyny into your own little pet bugbears about Rebecca Watson. I said she is not all women as her not feeling safe anywhere is irrelevant to the question.

            So what say you? Higher level, lower level, same level of misogyny in the atheist community?

          • David Jones

            You can make a claim about a ‘whitewash’. I don’t think it was at all. I thought Finke sophomoric, plodding, very unagile. Look at this guy below saying ‘Dan uses a Socratic method’. Just embarrassing.

            Watson’s claim to feel unsafe is not irrelevant. Her campaigning against TAM and Groethe and many, many, many others is one of the most significant causes of all this ill-feeling. I think her claim is disingenuous. I don’t think for a moment she actually feels more unsafe at TAM than at anywhere else she habitually ventures, I really don’t.

            As I don’t hang out in an ‘atheist community’ (is there singing, I wonder) I have no idea about levels of misogyny. I’d guess less because I’d suppose most people who took the trouble to organise themselves enough to participate will have an above-average education and that correlates to more socially progressive attitudes. Total guess though.

          • ool0n

            “Campaign” … You mean that forum she hangs out at stirring up shit and encouraging more and more hyperbole about the “psychopathic ideaogues” at the JREF? Where she laughs at photoshopped pics of DJ Grothe in sexually explicit poses?… No that’s the Slymepit.

            I doubt you even know how many posts she’s written having a go at TAM or the JREF. How about you look it up and see how effective her “campaign” is. The received wisdom at the pit and a Slyme-meme is that she is out to destroy TAM/JREF and will not rest until her task is complete. I rarely find the black and white positions over there to be particularly compelling.

            Yup I think we agree on the misogyny levels, hopefully less for the reasons you give and others, but without evidence you cannot reject the null hypothesis. So after a long back and forth the main point about “rampant misogyny” is over blown is agreed?

          • David Jones

            I have on interest in getting into the byzantine tangles of arguments between Watson and Benson and Zvan and their real or imagined enemies. I have my own view of Watson that’s resulted purely from her many, many attacks, her rantings and ramblings, and her bizarre, fact-defying echo chamber – where I first bumped into you, I believe.

            I have no readily available opinion about levels of misogyny except to say that I don’t think it a particularly significant issue. I do think Watson and others are hyping it up for their own benefit. There is no way TAM is more unsafe than most of Watson’s life – and she presumably attends her own life.

  • qbsmd

    Dan uses a Socratic method to try to convince Justin that A) atheism is consistent with feminism (about 1:00-10:00), B) atheism implies feminism (about 11:00-20:00), C) that feminism should be included in atheism (about 25:00-40:00), D) that feminists have a postive influence on atheism (41:00-46:00), E) that harassment is a problem (47:00-1:01:00), and F) that one shouldn’t discourage people from talking about threats and feeling unsafe (1:01:00-1:08:00). The results are best summarized by Justin’s last sentence: “If all the feminists were like you I wouldn’t really have an argument”, because if it were a debate, Dan Finke would have won. He appeared knowlegable, prepared, and passionate, while Justin appeared unprepared and trying to find any point he could disagree with, rather than having a consistent message to present. Part of this may be that Dan talked over many of Justin’s points.

    Dan is very successful with points A, B & C, involving Justin agreeing (at around 16 minutes in) there are no good arguments against male-female equality given naturalism. Justin (at 27:45) agrees that using specific issues to appeal to more diverse audiences is a good idea, suggests using other issues to appeal to other groups, but says threat narratives (dangerous speakers, harrassment policies) have the opposite effect. Dan (37:00) expresses dissapointment with gay rights groups for not supporting atheism when atheists support them. Justin (38:00) has had similar experiences, resulting in him no longer working with certain organizations. Dan says he doesn’t want atheism to do that to anyone else and that (39:00) Justin is pushing feminists away the same way he was pushed away from those organizations.

    For point D, both speakers contest every point the other makes and it’s left unresolved.

    On conference harassment, Dan presents his case well. He claims (46:30) Jen McCreight’s information about harassment at conferences would meet journalistic standards, not just rumor. Justin mentions witch hunts (47:30). Dan claims the purpose (47:45) is to produce a procedure, where due process can be followed. Justin (48:00) talks about monopod man. Justin says (49:40) “Is it evidence or is it a reason to start believing the claim is true”. I would have defined evidence as reasons to start believing a claim, so that surprised me, and looked like a concession.

    Point F is left unresolved, with Dan saying (1:11:00) “how often does someone have to threaten to kill you before you feel unsafe?”

    Other highlights:
    Dan refers (30:00) to dictionary atheism as “semantic banality”.

    The exchange at (50:30):
    Dan: “David Silverman said ‘we want people to have orgies'”
    Justin: “Only under approved feminist standards”
    Dan: “yes, like consent”
    Justin: “asking someone for coffee in an elevator is apparently inappropriate”
    Dan:”making someone feel boxed in is creepy, and even ElevatorGate said talking about that wasn’t such a big deal, so that’s a red herring”

    At the conclusion of the argument about whether elevator guy exists, Dan says (53:00): “is your claim that there was a second harrasser on the grassy knoll?”

    • jjramsey

      “Justin
      agreeing (at around 16 minutes in) there are no good arguments against
      male-female equality given naturalism.”

      Careful, though. That’s not an argument that atheism implies feminism. Suppose, for instance, that many of the “memes” involved in patriarchy were true, such as women not being as smart as men, or women tending to have certain emotional temperaments that make them suitable for more subordinate roles, and so on. If those were true, then atheism would not support feminism at all. It’s the falseness of those memes that tends to support male-female equality, not atheism per se.

      That said, I’d say that Vacula showed that he had a lot to learn from Fincke, to put it mildly.

      • qbsmd

        I’m on record elsewhere noting that many on the “feminist” side sometimes define feminism as believing women are people, believing men and women are equal, or preventing discrimination and other times define it to include other stuff like privilege, shutting up when women are talking, patriarchy, being careful not to offend or “trigger” women, rape culture, and calling anyone with a different opinion a misogynist. They then equivocate between these definitions when convenient.

        I would recommend for Justin or others to start by clearly stating this and then clearly stating that they fully support definition A, and then just agree on any related points. Or say something like “I have a small philosophical issue with that wording, but it’s not relevant, so I’ll agree and we can move on”. I think Justin’s primary mistake was getting hung up on dry philosophical points while Dan was trying to make an impassioned moral argument.

        I’d have preferred that he agree with Dan that atheism is compatible with feminism A, and given the best evidence available, implies feminism A. And then that atheist groups have good reasons to promote feminism A. Then he would have had much more time to argue that feminism B has not been good for the movement (preferably prepared with lots of applicable quotes from feminists about the movement and people in it) and to put the burden of proof on Dan to demonstrate evidence of harassment being a problem (Dan primarily just argued that it’s a-priori plausible). Further in the future, Justin or whoever else should have quotes available to show what feminist B members have claimed as harassing or threatening so he could make the point (that some discretion is required for labeling harassment) without looking so insensitive. Hopefully this criticism is taken as constructive: prepare more, differentiate feminism A and B early and often, and let minor issues related to feminism A slide.