The Problem with Privilege (or: Evidential Skepticism)

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, so to catch you all up, here are my prior entries in the series.

From blacklava.net. Buy one today! (If you're privileged.)

The Problem with Privilege (or: you got sexism in my skepticism!)
The Problem with Privilege (or: no, you’re not a racist misogynist ass, calm down)
The Problem with Privilege (or: missing the point, sometimes spectacularly)
The Problem with Privilege (or: after this, can we get back to the actual issues?)
The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change
The Problem with Privilege (or: cheap shots, epithets and baseless accusations for everyone!)
The Problem with Privilege: some correct assertions, with caveats

It appears that many of the bloggers now on FtB, once from various corners of the intertubes, are embroiled once again in the total catastrophic meltdown of reason that is discussing the nexus of sexism and skepticism.

The focus this time? The same as every other time — how Rebecca Watson can’t be trusted at her word, and how one must be skeptical — SKEPTICAL, I SAY — of anything she says because she’s making the obviously extraordinary claim that someone asserted his privilege to flirt over her request to not be treated that way. I mean, who’s going to believe THAT tall tale, right?

Stephanie Zvan challenges the Elevator Guy Apologists to try assuming Watson isn’t lying, and see what you think about EG’s actions thereafter. A number of folks dance around the challenge but ultimately refuse to participate. Some idiots took the opportunity over at Xblog to turn a post promoting Dawkins’ new book Magic of Reality into another thread about how poorly we’ve been treating Dawkins over his dismissive and sneering post regarding Rebecca Watson. And Ophelia Benson posted an evisceration of the meme that a man “cannot know” that a woman is interested until he cold-propositions her as a perfect stranger in an elevator at 4am.

What do these threads have in common in what’s driving their commentariat? Well, aside from having two trolls (Justicar and DavidByron, both making flat unevidenced assertions and ignoring all counterpoints to their chosen points of view) in common, the posts’ comments also run the gamut of questioning every aspect of Rebecca Watson’s story and present every conceivable method of character assassination of Rebecca Watson herself.

But isn’t that how skepticism works?

Well, in short, no. There’s a subset of skeptics that are skeptical well past reasonable levels. There are people who will pore over every detail of a paper or news article hoping to find (or spin) some part of it into something supporting their overarching worldview that the paper doesn’t actually do by itself — think global warming denialists. There are people who will not take at face value the most trivial parts of a person’s story, where every scrap of evidence must be subjected to CSI-level scrutiny — think the right-wingers checking the kerning on the fonts on Obama’s birth certificate. And there are people who must actively sow disinformation about any case or example that undercuts their chosen narrative of How It All Works, who are so skeptical of every piece of media that runs counter to their worldview that it MUST be “liberal bias” — think FOX News.

These people are unhinged lunatics, for the most part. And the manner in which they are unhinged is that skepticism normally works by keeping us from believing every little thing that’s suggested to us uncritically. I posit that the abovementioned groups are victims of a runaway skepticism of the sort that produces AGW denialists, Birthers, the Tea Party, 9/11 Truthers, New World Order conspiracy nutjobs, and just about anyone else who says something about “the establishment keeping the truth suppressed”.

To some of the cranks looking to provide apologetics for Elevator Guy’s behaviour, the problem is not EG’s behaviour at all. Nor his intentions, nor his motivations. No, the problem is entirely in how Rebecca Watson reacted to them. By… saying she was creeped out. Which I guess was totally out of proportion to what he did, according to them, given the chorus of “zero bads” you’ll hear whenever the topic is broached.

You can explain til you’re blue in the face that Watson’s reaction was entirely proportional, and that the death spiral began when Stef McGraw accused her of demanding that men never flirt or express their sexuality. Which was, demonstrably, not Rebecca’s intention at all. This fact doesn’t matter to the apologists. They’d prefer it if Watson actually said the things McGraw accuses her of saying, so they pretend like she did. That is their first presupposition.

The apologists must then gain the moral high ground of being the better skeptic, so they call into question every aspect of Watson’s story. The bar closing times are questioned, despite hotel bars in Dublin being able to serve alcohol 24/7. The photographic proof is offered that the bar setting can’t possibly have involved EG hearing her exhortation given the number of people in the picture and their relative positions to her. Never mind that Watson was in that bar for, by all accounts, ten hours, and the picture represents a few microseconds of that time, and worse, she’s even talking to someone off-frame. The existence of exhortations to please not mistreat Watson in her speech by paying her sexualized “complements” is questioned, even though the video evidence is well available. The possibility that EG didn’t hear either exhortation is raised, though he’s said “your ideas are fascinating” making him either present for one of the exhortations, or lying about what he thinks of her for even creepier reasons. The fact that Rebecca claims prosopagnosia and therefore couldn’t identify Elevator Guy if she wanted to, given that it takes her longer to pick up on unique identifying features or body language for any given person, obviously must suggest that she couldn’t even recognize the guy as someone from the bar despite it being fairly easy to tell that someone exited a room at the same or nearly the same time as you and got into the same elevator with you, alone, at 4 in the morning. The guy’s intentions are called into question, because all of these apologists would never dare ask for coffee as an euphemism for sex, and therefore he must be of noblest intentions, never mind that the hotel in Dublin didn’t provide coffee makers in the rooms and they could have had coffee in the bar they just left.

And even the existence of Elevator Guy is questioned. This last doesn’t have an adequate answer — it depends entirely on Rebecca Watson making the entire event up.

This is a level of skepticism that is predicated on one solitary idea: that women are untrustworthy when it comes to their sexual self-determination, so feminists will lie to make points that undercut a man’s privilege to flirt when and where and how he wants without consequences.

None of these pieces of evidence actually undercut Rebecca’s story, but they don’t have to. The apologists have already decided that Rebecca is guilty of inventing the story of some evil man accosting her from whole cloth out of some twisted demand that men be treated as rapists, even though no aspect of this story bears any sort of scrutiny. It is a conspiracy theory and it is somehow exempt from the especial brand of skepticism that these people claim.

So, I ask you, apologists: what evidence would it take to convince you that Elevator Guy did what Watson claims he did? What evidence would it take to convince you that Watson does not intend the subjugation of all men to a gynocracy? What evidence would it take to convince you that you’re actually the ones making it all up?

I expect the answer to that to be something along the lines of “an unbroken line of video evidence from the talk proper through to Watson’s hotel room”, but even then, I expect you’d all go over it frame by frame to prove there’s no wrongdoing.

Take Stephanie’s challenge if you want a little perspective. If you assume that Watson’s story checks out, would you continue providing apologetics for EG’s actions? I’ll go one step further — take every aspect of the story out of the equation but the encounter in the elevator. Is it acceptable to find a physically smaller and less imposing member of the opposite sex and approach them in an effort to make a transaction that’s generally considered well beyond your level of familiarity (even if you only mean coffee)? With the foreknowledge that it might be “taken the wrong way”? In an environment that has cut off any escape route for that smaller person and may in fact trigger fight-or-flight reactions? When that person has obviously had some not insignificant amount of alcohol? When that person doesn’t know you from Adam?

If you said yes to all of these, then your actions are creepy. To Rebecca, to any number of women that have been assaulted or have been taught to avoid situations like the described one, and yes, even to me. I would be very creeped out if someone more physically imposing than me had, say, decided to ask me for a loan of a few hundred dollars that he’ll pay back tomorrow in an elevator after I’d been drinking in a foreign country and I had no clue who the hell they were. I might get worried that he’d try to forceably take that money from me.

Or hell, change the analogy back to coffee in his room. I’m still creeped out, knowing that this man could very well mean sex. He could be the nicest, sweetest teddy bear of a man outside of my initial impressions of him, which are that he followed me into an elevator and propositioned me cold, without knowing me. I’m going to be creeped out regardless, because I don’t know the guy and he asked for a transaction well beyond our familiarity threshold.

Why do we need extraordinary evidence before we take Rebecca Watson at her word that this happened exactly as it did, considering how proportionate her response to the event was, and how disproportionately everyone else has taken everything else since? Why aren’t we demanding extraordinary evidence from the conspiracy theorists, that we take her as a rational and impartial actor in that play until extraordinary evidence turns up that proves that she was lying willfully about some aspect of her story, or that her motivations were not exactly as presented?

The Problem with Privilege (or: Evidential Skepticism)

83 thoughts on “The Problem with Privilege (or: Evidential Skepticism)

  1. 51

    Again as I am more interested in the meta let me note that a number of comments in the thread after I wrote my stuff start to lay the foundation for banning me and removing the threat of debate from this forum. Phrases used included,

    it seems pretty hopeless to debate

    not interested in a sincere discussion

    I suspect this attitude enjoys broad if not 100% agreement here. But why is that? Contra the characterisation of what I said by quantheory, I am not saying feminists are especially dumb or brainwashed or even incapable of debate (on any issue OTHER than feminism). Again on any OTHER issue you all seem capable of skeptical thinking too. Nor are you incapable of debating each OTHER on the feminism issue.

    As an aside I think skeptifem (who apparently you’ve had disagreements with) might be the best of the bunch of you in terms of skeptical thinking. I say that despite her obvious extreme disagreements with me. I’ll also say she appears the most internally consistent with her feminism (ie its of the nastiest kind).

    While I obviously blame feminist ideology for the inability of the two sides of the former skeptical movement to discuss this issue, I am open to hearing other suggestions. As I said above I am not talking about me. I always give feminists an “out” to slag me off as a “troll” or whatever, although I could certainly clean up my act to remove that possibility. The only result I can see coming from that is to humiliate people, which I have no wish of doing. So sure I’m kinda of an asshole for you, which is just what you want, but while you can comfortably dismiss me, how do you account for the inability to talk to any other skeptics?

    Or do you deny this is the case? Is there a calm exchange of ideas going on somewhere between the two groups that I don’t about? I’d love to read such an exchange. At any rate denying the premise of my meta question is certainly valid, but to begin with I’d actually love to hear all your views on this question.

    Because normally I know pretty much what a feminist is going to say before they say it (20 years of talking and listening does that), but in this case I am ignorant I’d like to learn.

    What is the reason for the inability of the two sides to talk?

    On Stephanie’s board for example she’s banned people who try to talk, even after going out of her way to invite people to talk (for which incidentally she gets credit from me). Why the schizophrenic behaviour? This article also contained an element of invitation for critics (and therefore I am here) which is also creditworthy.

    Hm. Guess I have some specific stuff to reply to (next comment).

  2. 52

    (1) “all men are rapists”
    Not sure what to make of your apparent harsh disagreement with “all men are rapists” when you then endorse the almost identical phrase “all men are potential rapists”. For the record then you should know that many people see you as a sexist bigot because of that statement you endorse. You and Ys and the others. To begin with then I would like to hear you recognise that I at least consider that statement to be as blatantly sexist as let’s say “women are good for nothing but fucking and making babies”. That’s the level of offense you cause and I’d like you to acknowledge you heard me say that before I attempt to explain to you WHY it’s offensive. I actually find it VERY VERY HARD to beleive you don’t already know, just as I would tend to assume anyone saying “women are good for nothing but fucking and making babies” was just trying to screw with me.

    (2) brainwashing
    Everyone is a bit brainwashed. Yes I’d say any cult like movement such as feminism or a religion is like minor brain damage. However it is also the normal human state isn’t it? In that regard you might think of a evangelical christian the same way. I am not immune to these forces. it’s not intended as an insult.

    (3) internal consistency
    I don’t think I made that accusation but it is true that these ideological mental traps do typically contian multiple internal inconsistencies and accordingly I accpet your challenge to point them out within your own beliefs. The most obvious contradiction in feminism is of course so open it is often unstated: namely that feminism claims to be for equality while actually being about female supremacy. The next best would probably be the way feminists insist on women being treated like children at the same time as they say women should be treated as adults. In general it is an interest question as to why cultish ideologies generate internal contradictions. My guess would be that they tend to be authoritarian and so lead to the absence of critical thinking, as well as attract naturally authoritarian types. Feminism is actually not a great fit here, although close enough.

    (4) lie about us
    We disagree about the nature of feminism. when I state my opinion eg that feminists are sexist that isn’t lying about you. That’s stating my position, which I certainly think is true, and as I understand it, you disagree. You should understand this concept as you used it to excuse feminists who were calling some other people names in one of your essays. So yes I can hear what you are saying. I just don’t always agree with you, ok?

    (5) feminist racism example
    I apologise for not putting a link or something when I quoted you as I should have guessed you’d want to contest my comments. Right now I am getting 404s there. At any rate the context was (of course) this whole Wason issue and race plays no part in this. What I am saying is that you were racist to say white men instead of just men, because you attempted to dragoon black people on to your “side” with that word. Why did you do that? Have you surveyed black people and determined they agree with you (black men anyway) to a higher degree than white men? I think you said white men because you wanted to steal the moral legitimacy of a recognised legitimate minority group.

    (6) men are the majority victims of violence
    You didn’t claim that women were raped more than men. The word you actually used (and I quoted) was “mugged”. Even Stephanie has admitted you were wrong (although she then dismisses male victims as unimportant of course). Again I apologise for the lack of a link (404-ing still). It’s one of the essays you link to at the top. Context was you were attempting to justify the sexist gender profiling of men as all being potential rapists. However you broadened the claim to any attack “mugging” to tell us shitty men that we don’t deserve to think we know anythign about beign victims or beign in danger. Apparently we just don’t get it. So I point out to you that women are in fact the safest demographic. That observation undermines half your case btw. Your claiming a false statement also goes to your integrity. In passing I observe that men are probably raped more often than women are in the USA.

    Now in “answering” you didn’t respond to whether men are the majority of assault victims. You did a bait and switch and talked about how many attackers are male. That’s blaming the victim – a typical feminist response. It’s also collective guilt – a typical hate movement concept. Basically it is saying that because some men are rapists we can morally ignore any male who is not a rapist but who is a victim of violence. “Men deserve it”. This is a very seriously bigoted argument. Was it your intention to make that argument? The reason I don’t think it was just an accident is that your response is a very common one for a feminist put in your position. But please you tell me why you think you ignored what I was talking about (men as victims) and leapt to talk about men as attackers.

    So that’s two issues now. The original statement by you that falsely said men are the minority of assault victims, and now this new hot water yuo got into whereby you used this classic collective guilt argument. let’s call that (6) and (7) respectively.

    Now there was some stuff raised by others but I am not sure it is worth addressing them too. As for me I am interested in an answer to my meta question. Talking about feminism directly is unlikely to be fruitful but if I did want to I might start by asking you if you think your religious “privilege” belief should be used in an argument since it is a doctrine of your faith and not something non-feminists believe in. Pretty much the other half of your argument depends on that fiction which is no different from someone arguing “the bible says so”.

  3. 53

    In case you haven’t read it, the post on predatory behaviour addresses at great length why I don’t believe “all men are rapists” is even approaching rational.

    That I recognize when one group wields more power than another, and name the attendant advantages given to that power-wielding group “privilege”, does not make it a religion. I do recognize that religious folks in a situation where they are members of the dominant regional religion have considerable privilege over people who are not members of that “in-group”, so it took a few seconds for me to unpack your “religious privilege” assertion. I don’t think sociologists are particularly religious just because they study society and recognize social power dynamics, and I got the foundation of the knowledge I have about social power dynamics from my minor in sociology. Everything else I’ve learned by merely observing society and watching as data is accumulated to show how certain groups with the majority of the power, collect that power and claw back against any attempt at egalitarianism.

    Your anti-feminist movement appears to me to be a clawing back against this erosion of power, in much the same way as Pat Robertson decries how white folks are losing their position of privilege (slowly, ever so slowly) over non-white folks. I see no religion in your views, but I do see dogma — you’ve dealt with feminists for 20 years, and the only one you respect is the one that most closely resembles what your dogma demands that we all must be. If you think there’s any faith behind what I’m talking about, you’re mistaken. And if you think I’m a bad skeptic, you’re doubly mistaken. You’re welcome to read more of my archives if you think you can prove me wrong on this point.

    I also note that you’ve given me no reason to believe that men ARE the primary victims of sexual assault, so unless you’re going to give me some evidence to that point, I consider you’ve already ceded it.

    I will eventually address the rest of your absolutely ridiculous assertions about what I do and do not believe at another time. The server’s been spotty today, I need to spend time with my lovely wife, then I need to go Mock The Movie. And I suspect we’re about to get another hardware upgrade anyway (we’re growing by leaps and bounds, this cesspool of feminists, I tell you!). So I don’t know how stable the connection’s going to be tonight for a protracted fight, but you’re welcome to throw comments (or aspersions, as seems your modus operandi) against the server and see if they stick.

  4. 54

    One thing I will point out — I only just now realized that you’re saying men are more likely to be victims of general violence, rather than explicitly sexual violence. I wouldn’t mind seeing the statistics on that too, but I consider it a totally separate issue and completely off topic. And I don’t know why you’d bring it up in any context related to sexual assault and the privilege that men have in being able to perform it and for the most part get away with it. Well, actually, I have an idea why you’d bring it up — for the same reason that I’d bring up that your violence against men pales in comparison with the widespread ethnic cleansing going on around the world (which is indiscriminate in its assaults on men and women — and even involves high numbers for men getting raped).

    It’s a distraction from the topic at hand. It is only tangentially related to the topic at hand. It is therefore a derailing tactic, designed to elicit an emotional response and/or to try to entrap the person you’re arguing with into arguing about something that has nothing to do with the topic and that, in fact, they don’t support. I no more support violence against men than I do any other sort of violence against people in general. I have been entirely consistent in that regard, and again, I defy you to prove me wrong.

  5. 55

    I’m seeing warning sides that you can’t take this any more. You are getting ratty, you don’t read what I am writing, you are lazy and insulting, you make no response to any substantial points. Stephanie managed to last longer as did Ophelia. Skeptifem knew her own boundaries and didn’t even start.

    You want to do this or not?

  6. 57

    If by “can’t take this” you mean “don’t drop hours at a time responding to walls of text that bear little resemblance to what I’m actually saying”, then yes, I actually decided to spend some quality time with my wife, and enjoy a really horrible movie, instead of spending it commenting on your nonsense. If you want to go on spouting said nonsense, you go right ahead, I’ll get to you when real life is less important to me.

    In other words, not all of us are as single-mindedly obsessed about our bete noirs as you are, DavidByron. You’ll take what attention I deign to spare for you, when I spare it, and you’ll like it.

  7. 58

    Nepenthe: I agree that rape is prevalent in ethnic cleansing efforts. I don’t discount the fact that it happens, only that men and women are affected — the men mostly by being killed, sometimes by being raped, and the women mostly by being raped, sometimes by being killed. It’s horrific no matter how you slice it, I know.

  8. 59

    Btw anyone who actually has looked at the figures knows it is men who get wiped out in gendercides not women. Very few exceptions indeed. It is a typical practise in war time to separate men from women and then execute the “battle aged” men. Meaning from eight years old to eighty. Like the USA did in Fallojeh in Iraq.

    You guy are utterly clueless about the basic facts of the debate aren’t you? Have either of you even read the gendercide watch web site?

    I really don’t understand people who just make up factoids and present them as if they were accurate. Well if they are members of a hate movement then yes, I do understand that. Love to hear why you guys think you do it though.

  9. 60

    “In other words, not all of us are as single-mindedly obsessed”

    You’ve written more than *I* have.

    And I don’t care if it takes you a while to reply. What I was commenting on was the poor quality of the reply once it did arrive. Look, if you don’t bring your best to this then you might as well give up now because I know ten times more than you do about this topic, and I have a hundred times more experience talking about it.

    All I am saying is don’t phone it in. If you do, we are both just wasting whatever time we do decide to spend on this.

  10. 61

    Men probably get raped more in wars than women do, too. Interesting article just the other week or so about the war in the Congo and the rape of men. Of course as it noted the feminists all try to block any news of male rape victims and say that if anyone helps male victims they won’t get any funding. Nice job by the feminists there. Same MO as they had with the VAWA where they made it law in the US that male victims couldn’t be helped (and therefore were never counted in statistics).

    That’s who much feminists believe in equality.

  11. 63

    Btw could you address this briefly?

    re. “all men are potential rapists”

    “To begin with then I would like to hear you recognise that I at least consider that statement to be as blatantly sexist as let’s say “women are good for nothing but fucking and making babies”. That’s the level of offense you cause and I’d like you to acknowledge you heard me say that”

  12. Ys
    66

    “Secondly, how do we decide how much skepticism to apply to any given issue? Do we say “we should question these claims over there, but not these claims here?”, and how do we decide where and when to apply the skeptical approach?”

    Do you question every single thing that comes out of your friends’ mouths, especially when they talk about interactions with other people that happened when you weren’t around?

    Just curious.

    Not sure about you, but I tend to take people at their word unless they make wildly exaggerated claims or give me reason not to believe them.

    There is such a thing as going too far with skepticism, because you reach a point where you’re so busy over-analyzing every single detail and scrap of minutae that you completely fail to grasp the overall story. Kinda like creationists and how they fail at getting the theory of evolution.

  13. 67

    Notung: you absolutely may weigh in, I don’t censor here. I even allowed DavidByron to weigh in at great length until I revoked his rights to continue posting, but I have no intention of going back and scrubbing all his posts because they make his position exceedingly clear without further domination of the comment fields.

    I accept the possibility that Rebecca Watson might be lying about the whole thing, just as I accept the possibility that you might be lying about having NOT posted under false names regarding Watson’s ostensible glee over the whole debacle. But I’m not about to go digging through Google to see if I can find some instance of someone saying something like that. I’m going to trust you at your word that you haven’t, because I haven’t seen such a comment, and I have no reason to believe you’re lying.

    The problem comes entirely with the disproportionate response to a mundane claim. As I’ve analogized before, if I claim to have returned from the grocery store with a quart of milk (say on Twitter where people say shit like that all the time), a disproportionate response would be to dig through my Google Latitude account to see where I was, and note that I had it turned off (to cover up for the fact that I didn’t go anywhere), and that a picture I posted a little later of my kitchen doesn’t have a quart of milk anywhere to be seen. Nor is there even a fridge in the frame! Conspiracy!!!

    See what I’m saying? These people want Watson’s story to be untrue, so they’re “checking the kerning”.

    Additionally, as I pointed out in the original post, one does not have to assume that EG heard either of Watson’s points where she sent clear signals of being closed to such a proposition. Without those points (even assuming you overlook the “I find your ideas fascinating”), the transaction requested in the elevator (even assuming it was coffee) was still a massive overreach of their level of familiarity. And her response to it was understated enough that this cross-examination is well past overkill.

  14. 68

    Jason, I hope you don’t mind if I weigh in on this. I find this particular issue interesting, and I’ve raised the idea of treating RW’s testimony with skepticism in several comments on various blogs. I think it’s important to discuss, as it is the method of inquiry which unifies the movement and if we shelve it we may as well disperse.

    Firstly, I disagree that the problem with global warming deniers, birthers, etc. is “too much skepticism”. These folks make claims like anyone else – claims open to scrutiny, open to skepticism. Indeed, without a healthy dose of skepticism we wouldn’t be questioning their reasoning – we are not dogmatists after all.

    Secondly, how do we decide how much skepticism to apply to any given issue? Do we say “we should question these claims over there, but not these claims here?”, and how do we decide where and when to apply the skeptical approach?

    If you say RW was lying then you are making a positive claim, a claim requiring evidence. I have no evidence for that, and hence I make no such claim. Of course, it might well be the case, but I don’t see how any of us know either way. Suppose I posted under another name saying that I met RW and she told me privately that she was delighted with the amount of fame Elevatorgate was getting her. I would be lying, and yet why not just take my word for it? Well, because I might have an agenda and may well be lying! (This is to make no claims about RW’s character. I don’t know her at all. Likewise, you don’t know me. Even if you did, people can be “wrong about people”.)

    So how should a skeptic treat the testimony? Well, it probably happened. People tell the truth more than they lie, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t accept it. Did EG know RW was tired and going to bed? We can’t tell. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. If she mentioned it, perhaps he wasn’t there or if he was, perhaps he wasn’t listening. Maybe she thought she mentioned it, but in fact didn’t. This one seems difficult to call either way.

    The part that I have most problems with is the way that EG’s words have been analysed. How can we possibly deduce anything from these words, when we cannot be sure that he used these exact words and have no idea about his tone of voice? People often recount events by paraphrasing the words of others – there is nothing wrong with it – but the resulting quote is often created to reflect the perceived intention of the speaker. The difficulty is that if they were misinterpreted by the testifier, the misinterpretation is cemented in the resulting paraphrase.

    This is quite compatible with RW recounting the event with the best intentions. How often do we remember what somebody said, without remembering the exact words they used to express it? From experience, I’d say almost always. Why is this important? Because if RW misinterpreted EG, we will share her misinterpretation if we do not doubt the testimony. So, how do we know this interpretation is correct? The truth is, we don’t. Only RW is in a position to know – if she is right then we are also right. If she is wrong, then we are wrong. We rely on her to convey EG’s real intentions, and we cannot know whether her interpretation was sound or not.

    Now, this is not to say that she has no right to make the claim in her video. She is fully entitled to say that she doesn’t like to be invited for coffee in a hotel room at night in a lift. My problem is only with the way the initial testimony is quoted as if we are absolutely certain that “these are the facts”.

    You ask:

    Why do we need extraordinary evidence before we take Rebecca Watson at her word that this happened exactly as it did, considering how proportionate her response to the event was, and how disproportionately everyone else has taken everything else since?

    My answer would be that there is no evidence at all, save for one interested testimony, which is poor and unverifiable evidence.

    Just because evidence is unavailable does not mean that we should assume that “this happened exactly as it did”.

  15. 69

    Notung, as long as we’re just doing this as a thought experiment, let’s keep going. Let’s assume that you came back and said, “don’t take this the wrong way, but philosophy is silly and pointless,” and you complained about it.

    Let’s then further assume that people started telling the world that you thought all grocers were thoughtless louts, that you were persecuting grocers, that others started complaining that you claimed everyone should be a philosopher, that people started saying you were the reason philosophy should never be taken seriously, that some grocers union started lobbying for you to lose your job. Then let’s assume that a fairly large number of people upon whom your job actually depended started looking at the fuss and forming opinions of it and you based on all the weird things that were being said.

    At that point, would you be telling us we should not be going back and insisting that people base their opinions on what you actually said?

  16. 71

    Re: 67, 68.

    I think what you say is fair enough. We wouldn’t question our friends’ mundane statements, so why question this? There really does seem to be a level of conditional assent we afford to these sorts of testimonies. I agree, therefore we have no special reason to dismiss RW’s testimony.

    My issue would be with the way that third parties are analysing the testimony, and this is true of both sides of the debate. We are happy to accept mundane testimonies, but when the issue starts to become contentious the details of the testimony start to become important.

    I wouldn’t question your trip to the grocery store, unless you remarked that the grocer said something like “don’t take this the wrong way, but philosophy is silly and pointless” (not a great analogy, but it’ll do). Now, at this point I have two options. Become terribly angry at the grocer, analyse what he said and show why his opinion is misguided – or realise that it was just how you interpreted his statement, that he may have meant (and even said) something different and that I should withhold judgement. For me, the second is more rational – you may have projected your interpretation into the quote, or simply misremembered the exact words. It would be unfair of me to blame the grocer without more evidence.

    In fact, this has happened to me. I once joked to a group of friends that the drums are an inferior musical instrument to the others. Of course, I didn’t mean it seriously and would have been more explicit that I was joking if there was a drummer present. Somebody recounted my light-hearted comment to a drummer, ignoring my jovial tone and even altering the words I used, making it sound far worse than I had intended. I was later confronted – but the drummer should have questioned the testimony in advance.

    So, to clarify: Mundane statements are too mundane to waste time over, but when the issue proves contentious we should not analyse the content of the testimony as if it was axiomatic.

  17. 72

    When even someone as socially inept as me determines that a man asking a woman to come to his room at 4 AM for “coffee” isn’t intending to break out the Maxwell House, I doubt there’s no reason to doubt Watson’s version of the story. Especially when all the other versions accuse her of being the castrating, man-hating bitch from Hell along with doubting her story. Context is everything, especially when looking at Watson’s opponents.

  18. 73

    Re: Stephanie.

    I’m not saying that people should not base their opinions about RW on what RW (the grocer’s customer) said. As I stated above, she had the right to say what she said. I’m saying that people aren’t justified in making any judgements about EG’s (the grocer) behaviour/intentions based on this sort of testimony.

    I suppose we could make hypothetical judgements. Like “well, if he said such-and-such in a particular tone of voice and if he heard her say she was tired then he was wrong to do it”. I see no problem with that.

  19. 74

    Notung,
    Okay, I can play that game.
    If EG approached RW in an elevator and asked her to do something he stepped on several trigger issues and leveraged dominant social scripts to make it easier for him to say whatever he said and harder for RW to respond in a casual manner. While the specific response engendered might be altered favourably or not by the words he used, the tone of voice, how he stood, what he knew beforehand about her opinions, and so on they can not undo the social capital that he tapped in approaching her alone in an enclosed space. He pushed over the line, it was one of the poorer places he could have selected to approach her regardless of what he said or how he did so.

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