Skepticism, and Emotional Responses to Terrible Ideas

This piece was originally published in Free Inquiry.

(Content note: passing mentions of spousal abuse, rape, intense racism, homophobia, transphobia)

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Does being a good skeptic mean listening calmly and patiently to every idea, and considering every idea with a completely open mind?

Strike that. Let me phrase that question in a more honest way, a way that makes my position clear: Where on Earth did we come up with the cockamamie notion that being a good skeptic means not having an emotional response to terrible, harmful ideas, and not treating those ideas with the contempt they deserve? Where did we get the notion that being a good skeptic means treating every idea, no matter how ridiculous or toxic, as equally worthy of consideration? Where did we get the notion that bad, harmful ideas should not make us angry, and that we should never get angry at anyone who brings them up?

Ron Lindsay recently wrote a piece, “Questioning Humanist Orthodoxy: Introduction to a Series” (No Faith Value blog, May 18, 2015), in which he criticized, among other things, humanists who respond angrily and emotionally to supporters of the death penalty, and who don’t calmly make what Lindsay considers to be good, rational arguments against it. PZ Myers has already responded to the core content of Lindsay’s essay (“Brave Ron Lindsay,” Pharyngula blog, May 19, 2015), so I’m not going to do that here. And in any case, I don’t want to pick on Lindsay: he is very far from the only person to put forth this idea. Several prominent atheists and skeptics have chided progressives for expressing anger over debates about abortion (citations collected at “Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion,” Greta Christina’s Blog, March 13, 2014), and Massimo Pigliucci described these debates about abortion as “a tempest in a teapot” (“David Silverman and the scope of atheism,” Rationally Speaking blog, March 14, 2014).

This is a very common idea in the skeptical world: the idea that being a skeptic means being willing to entertain and discuss any and all ideas, with a completely open mind, with no attachment to any particular outcome — and with no emotional response.

And it’s an idea that should be taken out into the street and shot.

homosexuality can be cured newspaper
Let’s set aside abortion and the death penalty for a moment. Let’s use some different examples, ones that will make my point more clear. Let’s imagine that someone shows up at your dinner party, or comes into your online forum, and says that husbands should be allowed to beat and rape their wives. Or that homosexuality is a serious and dangerous mental illness, and gay people should be locked up in mental institutions. Or that black people aren’t fully human.

How are you going to respond? Are you going to say, “Hm, that’s an interesting idea — I don’t agree, but I’m curious why you think that, let’s calmly look at the evidence and examine the pros and cons”?

Or are you going to say some version of, “That is vile. That is despicable. The fact that you’re even proposing that is morally repulsive. Apologize, or get the hell out”?

And assuming that you did call the idea vile and toss the person out — how would you respond to someone telling you, “You’re a bad skeptic! You shouldn’t be so emotional! If someone is questioning black people’s basic humanity, you should be willing to debate that dispassionately, and with an open mind!”?

Now, some may say that if we want to change people’s minds about their horrible toxic ideas, we need to be willing to engage with them — and if we want them to listen, we have to do it in a calm and respectful manner. It is certainly true that we sometimes change people’s minds by debating, by listening and showing evidence and making good persuasive arguments. But that is not the only way we change minds. We also change minds by demonstrating that some ideas are repugnant, outside the limits of basic human decency.

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Other people’s opinions can act as a reality check. And that doesn’t just happen through the exchange of information and analysis. It also happens by emotional demonstration. In fact, a show of anger, insult, revulsion, is an exchange of information — the information that the idea being expressed is considered morally bankrupt. Emotional responses get attention. They act as a siren or a warning light, letting you know that people see your idea, not only as bad, but as seriously and dangerously bad. If you tell an idea to everyone you love and like and respect — and they all look at you like you’re Hitler — you’re probably more likely to rethink that idea. And you should be. Of course everyone disagreeing with an idea doesn’t automatically mean we should give it up. But it probably means, at the very least, that we should stop and think about why they all disagree, and consider whether those sirens are warning us off from a wrong and terrible direction.

And it is not the least bit skeptical to treat all questions as equal, and as equally deserving of consideration. We don’t do that with scientific questions: if someone asks if evolution is true or the Earth orbits the Sun, we don’t treat those issues as open to reasonable debate. We treat them as settled, unless someone comes up with some enormously compelling reasons to question them. We do that with moral issues as well. There are some moral issues that, in the absence of enormously compelling evidence to the contrary, we treat as settled. That doesn’t make them “dogma” or “orthodoxy” (to quote Lindsay again), any more than evolution or heliocentrism are dogma or orthodoxy. And since getting moral issues wrong has real power to screw up people’s lives, people respond to them emotionally. When terrible moral ideas are expressed, people often act as if they’re being threatened, or as if people they care about are being threatened — because they are. It’s unreasonable to expect anything else.

In fact, a very strong case can be made that calmly debating a question gives it gravitas, makes it seem respectable. There are many pro-evolution advocates and educators who will not debate creationists — because they think it makes creationism look like a serious idea that’s worthy of debate. If someone says that husbands should be able to beat and rape their wives, and you reply, “Hm, that’s an interesting idea, I don’t agree, but tell me why you think that and let’s debate it” — you’re treating that proposition like a serious idea that’s worthy of debate. Women who are vulnerable to being raped and beaten are probably going to have an emotional response to that. It’s absurd to want or expect anything else.

Which brings me to my next, very important point: It’s a whole lot easier to be calm, detached, and coolly logical, when it isn’t your basic humanity being debated. I don’t think it’s an accident that, when the debate is over women’s right to not be forced to donate our organs, it’s usually men telling women to calm down and have a rational discussion. Ditto cisgender people, telling transgender people to carefully consider the logic and evidence about whether they should control their own bodies and their own names. Ditto white people, telling black people to stop being so emotional about the fact that, in the United States, a black person is killed by a cop every four days. It is wildly unreasonable to ask people to be unemotional when their lives, their autonomy, their basic humanity, are on the line.

man thinking about questions
See, you have to look at who’s asking the questions. When men are deciding whether husbands should be allowed to beat and rape their wives; when straight people are deciding whether gay people should be locked up; when white people are deciding whether black people are human beings — the important thing isn’t necessarily to answer those questions. There’s a much more important question at the root of all those questions: “Why are you the ones deciding this? Why do you get to decide whether other people have humanity and the right to human autonomy? Do you really not see the power dynamics, and the history of those power dynamics, inherent in the very notion that you’re the one who gets to make that call?” Or, to put it more succinctly: “Who died and made you king?”

I’m not saying there should be skeptical or progressive dogma, ideas we should never ever question. After all, questioning what was previously unquestioned, what was previously considered unquestionable, is exactly the reason we now think that husbands should not be allowed to beat and rape their wives, that gay people should not be locked up in mental institutions, that of course black people are human beings and seeing them any other way is repulsive. We questioned dogma, we questioned received wisdom — and we made ourselves better. We made our ethical standards more humane, more consistent, more — well, more ethical. And we did it by questioning what was once unquestionable.

I’m not saying there should be ideas we should never question. I’m saying there are some questions we should be damn well careful about asking. And I’m saying that some questions can’t just be treated as neutral. I’m saying that when we ask questions and start debates about people’s lives, people’s autonomy, people’s basic humanity, we cannot expect them to treat it like an intriguing mental exercise, like a brain-teaser in the newspaper. Telling people to not show repugnance to repugnant ideas is telling them to not share information that’s crucial in a moral debate — the information that the idea in question is a violation of basic human rights. It’s an attempt to eradicate those moral sirens and warning lights, and replace them with a discreet, soberly-worded, easily-ignored handout. And it’s using the supposed principles of skepticism to silence people who typically don’t get heard, who can only make themselves heard by setting off their sirens. It’s bad humanism. And it’s bad skepticism.

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Coming Out Atheist
Bending
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Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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Skepticism, and Emotional Responses to Terrible Ideas
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26 thoughts on “Skepticism, and Emotional Responses to Terrible Ideas

  1. 1

    There’s an issue related to the “It’s a whole lot easier to be calm, detached, and coolly logical, when it isn’t your basic humanity being debated” point, where there’s an assumed “objective” POV that just happens to coincidentally belong to whichever group holds the most power in the situation. Anti-gay activists have tried to disqualify gay judges on gay rights cases because of the assumption that only straight people can be objective on that issue. In the same way, more privileged voices are very often invested in shutting out the people most affected by issues from debates on those issues. Skeptics are guilty of this in a lot of cases, and while they hand-wave about objectivity, what they’re really claiming is that their ignorance is actually a strength in those debates where they want their biases and bigotries to win the day. In no other instance would anyone claim that their complete lack of experience with and immersion in a situation is a benefit to the discussion, unless it is a privileged person talking down to oppressed people about their own oppression.

  2. AMM
    2

    This is a very common idea in the skeptical world: the idea that being a skeptic means being willing to entertain and discuss any and all ideas, with a completely open mind, with no attachment to any particular outcome — and with no emotional response.

    And it’s an idea that should be taken out into the street and shot.

    Even before you get to unconscienceable ideas, this doesn’t work. There are simply too many possible ideas, attempting to even grasp all the ones people can throw at you would consume lifetimes. Virtually all of them are either BS or are a waste of time even if true. Actually trying to find out which are true takes orders of magnitude more time (and energy.) People like creationists, holocaust deniers, and the like exploit this: while you’re examining and refuting one baseless claim, they’ve come up with a dozen more. Not to mention the practice of “JAQing off.”
    .
    So when they say “any and all ideas,” what they really mean is “the ideas that I think are worth considering.” And when they say “be skeptical,” they mean “be skeptical of the ideas I want to discredit.” Would Ron Lindsay say that we should seriously consider the proposition “Ron Lindsay should be burned at the stake right now”?
    .

    there’s an assumed “objective” POV that just happens to coincidentally belong to whichever group holds the most power in the situation

    If you get to choose the rules and the referees, you can win any game you want.

    If you get to decide what is “objective” and “rational,” and which arguments and evidence are admissible, you can win any argument you want.
    .
    I also want to be “skeptical” of the notion that emotional responses are less trustworthy than “objective”/rational/skeptical thinking. One of Temple Grandin’s books describes a person who due to some brain injury had no emotional connection with life. His thinking would seem normal, but he would make decisions no sensible person would make. He had no “gut” sense of when he needed to rethink things. My education is in mathematics, which you would think is the pinnacle of rationality. But it’s people’s “gut feelings” that lead them to solutions. Rational arguments are how you convince people that the solution you came up with is believable. And if you have a bad feeling about someone (e.g., that they are dangerous), you’d do well to listen to it, even if you can’t come up with a rational reason for feeling that way. (See The Gift of Fear.)

  3. 3

    When emotional and moral responses are in line with the facts, why the fuck should anyone exercise this bogus ‘skepticism?’

    But there was a time, for example, when the notion that gay people were NOT mentally disordered was a fairly new and fragile idea. People who would know better (had they any reliable information to base their reactions upon) would go along with the unquestioned orthodoxy. So some ‘reasonable skeptical discussion’ was required for quite a while, until the cultural background noise got shut off.

    It keeps coming back to whether the things people believe are TRUE. Beliefs in human integrity and equality appear to be on the level of heliocentricity, the evolution of species, and the nature of gravity. The possible need for skepticism on these types of questions if vanishingly small.

    There are borderline issues where emotional certainty may mislead us. Some stock positions about trans people are questionable, and a lot of heat (and very little light) gets churned up by the emotional intensity around this. The fact that trans people exist, that gender is a LOT more complex and variable than ‘XX or XY, so shut up, that’s why,’ needs to be grasped as broadly as possible. THEN the second-level questions can be thought, and felt, about.

  4. 4

    I’m not saying there should be ideas we should never question. I’m saying there are some questions we should be damn well careful about asking.

    …and some questions we should damn well be ready to accept have been fucking answered already.

  5. 5

    I blame Star Trek. Too many people see Spock as the embodiment of logic, and that in order to embody logic yourself you have to be emotionless too (which is just silly – it’s obviously having pointy ears that does it!). I much prefer Picard logic – perfectly happy to lay down a calm, quiet case for why X or Y needs to happen, but also quite willing to tell you that you’re utterly full of shit if you think you’re gonna pull Z while he’s around.

    I think the problem with trying to promote an unemotional form of discussion is that when someone’s convinced themselves that they’re arguing without consideration of emotions, they seem to make themselves unable to recognise the influences that their emotions do have over their positions. I mean, every single time I find myself debating whether feminists are the warriors of Satan with a calm and rational person who is merely skeptical of the dogma that all men everywhere are emperors and have their every whim catered to at every moment, it’s pretty clear that their stance is based solely on an emotional reaction to the first poorly or dishonestly phrased feminist idea they heard. The problem there is that there’s no consideration of the possibility that their stance might be irrational, because they’re dispassionate skeptics who would never be so foolish as to allow emotion to influence their thinking. Rather than managing its influence, their denial of emotion allows it to overwhelm their skeptical abilities and turn them into the equivalent of creationists on the topics that upset them. They may honestly believe that it’s a more rational position, but they’re really just promoting a skeptic’s brand of irrationality.

  6. 6

    Awesome article.

    “This is a very common idea in the skeptical world: the idea that being a skeptic means being willing to entertain and discuss any and all ideas, with a completely open mind, with no attachment to any particular outcome — and with no emotional response.”

    The problem is that skepticism has been co-opted by people who actually can’t entertain and discuss ideas. They seriously argue that, for example, anything which is against the law is automatically evil (because it’s a crime, and crimes are evil, like, by definition!), so producing evidence that the law is bad and campaigning to change the law is also evil. They seriously say that, for a political candidate, honestly promising to do what the electorate wants done is “populism”.

    Questions should have clear, rational answers unburdened by superstition. But people aren’t obliged to spend their time providing said answers on demand or reassess them every time someone asks a specific question, wasting finite resources and to the exclusion of other questions. People can and do reply with “because that’s immoral, how can you even ask this, you monster?” to both “why is raping people bad?” and “why is consensual gay sex between adults bad?” However, there are volumes of evidence (which keeps accumulating) on the importance of bodily autonomy for a person’s wellbeing, and nothing but debunked pseudoscience and religious dogma on the evil of The Gay.

    “But I’m just asking questions!”
    So they do, but why did they ask that particular question despite the very low probability that asking would be in any way useful (even disregarding the negative utility of negative emotional reactions), and not any other question? Why are they spending a finite resource so irrationally? Shouldn’t they, after asking again and again and again, based on idle speculation with no new evidence in favor of the alternative hypothesis, get skeptical of and reassess ther priorities?
    Yeah, I’m sure an emotional, irrational motive has nothing to do with it.

  7. 7

    I think a useful way to express this is in the context of boundaries.

    If someone is arguing that black people aren’t fully human, or that the Holocaust never happened, or that women should be forced to donate the use of their organs to an embryo, then I am not obligated to engage with them in a calm discussion. They do not get to stake a claim to my time and energy and to tax my emotional reserves just because they want to have that kind of discussion. I am well within my rights to say, “Fuck off, I don’t consider this issue to be up for debate. You can either drop the subject or GTFO.”
    Like you said, Greta, people do this all the time with creationists and other history-deniers, but somehow when the issue they’re arguing is MORE taxing on you, due to being an emotional topic, they feel that you have LESS of a right to refuse to debate it. Ultimately, this boils down to not respecting our boundaries. And like anything else, it’s even worse the more marginalized the target.

  8. 8

    The problem with calls for philosophical dialogue is that when one side of a dialogue has been marginalized for too long, outrage is one of the few ways of generating voice and power for the marginalized group. Against the marginalized, the call for a philosophical dialogue has the necessary side-effect of requiring marginalized groups to set aside their most powerful (and in some cases, only) equalizing tool.

    Which isn’t to say that outrage cannot be misused. Because it can.

    And that isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for philosophical dialogue. Because there is.

    I think Ron does have a point. But he’s also missing one.

  9. 10

    it’s an idea that should be taken out into the street and shot.

    When reading Maryam Namazie recent post, I had this thought: yes, that’s exactly what they did. The University Student Union took this idea out into the street and shot.

    Greta, you make pretty good points: not everything is equally deserving of consideration, you can’t ask people to be unemotional when it is their basic humanity which is at stake, and so on, and so on. You can build a quite reasonable and decent standpoint on such premises.

    Taking these premises as a starting point, you can also create a monster. Or has such a monster already been created?

  10. 12

    Greta,

    You have to admit there are subjects to which anger and contempt lead to perpetuation of dehumanizations. There is one issue in particular that virtually no one discusses calmly and logically. There is one issue that creates more anger than rational discourse that puts people on opposite ends of the boxing ring. The issue I speak of is the never ending ethnic geopolitical conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Previously I reacted with anger and much to my ignorance I lumped the whole problem on religion. I used to think everyone would gather together by campfires in the Middle East and sing Kumbaya if everyone in that region became atheist. That simply is not true and it was anger and hostility that shaped my view. And yes, I used to have greater sympathy for Israelis and viewed all Palestinians as evil Taliban loving jihadis. All that was terribly wrong and I was a horrible bigot towards one group. But it was the emotional response that misguided my views until I met a gay atheist Palestinian in medical school.

    After he and I had a calm rational discussion, he opened my eyes to the complex dilemma between the two peoples and nothing was black and white. There are no clear “good guys” and “bad guys” over there. Indeed, there would still be an Israeli occupation of the Palestinians even if they all became atheist. Furthermore he showed me an article that significantly changed everything in my views. He showed me a study in the 1980s of two women graduate students working together to find an efficient way to desalinate water which would benefit all in that region. One woman was an orthodox Israeli Jew and the other a devout Palestinian Muslim.

    Bottom line is that there are controversial issues to which raw emotional reactions only cloud judgement and lead to misguided views. In my case, it lead to bigotry and islamaphobia. Only, after I discussed the matter calmly coolly with a distinguished colleague did I become enlightened.

  11. 13

    @ ragdish
    The impulsive aspects of morals and social activity may be prone to running in cycles, but I don’t think that an international version of cycles of physical and social conflict can be compared to social conflict in a general sense.

    There must be a capacity for use and understanding of intense emotion in society because that is how groups focus attention on the whole. Emotions are information. The experiences and arguments attached to them are either right or wrong. I respect the fact that some people have a complicated relationship with intense emotion because of their experiences and I proactively try to accommodate them (it’s why safe zones are important).

    But you can’t forget that raw emotions do not exist in reality. Emotions are attached to things that people talk about, remember and react to.

  12. 15

    @ Karellen: I think Athywren got the point better than you noticed.
    To the extent that I am like a Vulcan, that is because of self-discipline. And because I discipline myself to control my emotional responses in on-line discussions, I find it hard to tolerate other people’s tendency to give in to outbursts.
    In particular, I resent such outbursts from more-rational-than-thou persons who treat any emotion on my part as a sign of weakness. Such people behave as if my becoming angry with their argument proves them to be right.

    I am not accusing you of this. I am saying that I have encountered this behavior on line. And to allow yourself to become emotional, while treating your opponent’s emotions as weaknesses, constitutes hypocrisy.

    That is the point @Athywren was making.

  13. 16

    Yea, I don’t get why “skeptical” people think the level of emotion displayed has anything to do with being right or wrong about something. Or why they think they’re owed an emotionless discussion of facts about a topic from someone who’s fundamental rights or agency are in question with said topic. I like to bring up the “Should all males be castrated at birth as a practical way to end war, rape and violence?” when there is one of these “skeptics” trying to badger me (or others) about women/gay/black rights. They all claim that they’re willing to discuss, but then complain that I’m changing the subject (i.e. not talking about rights they want to take away, which is totes more important than ending war rape and violence for some reason). Also, it’s not that great of a table to turn as there isn’t an actual political party who’s platform is based on removing testicles (unlike the one who’s platform is about taking rights away from women/gay/black).

    *sigh*

    I guess we can’t expect those “skeptics” to be as rational as us. 😉

  14. 17

    @Changerofbits: It sounds as if you are using a false dichotomoy: that a person must either behave like a Vulcan, or give in to an emotional outburst, with no third alternative possible.
    http://debunkingdenialism.com/2015/09/26/the-value-of-debunking-irrational-bigotry-over-emotional-outbursts/
    See the above link for an answer to that.

    There is also a difference between feeling emotions and behaving emotionally. And to Ms. Christina’s example…
    “Let’s imagine that someone shows up at your dinner party, or comes into your online forum, and says that husbands should be allowed to beat and rape their wives. Or that homosexuality is a serious and dangerous mental illness, and gay people should be locked up in mental institutions. Or that black people aren’t fully human.”

    I would not honor anyone who used such language with an emotional response. I would say that I do not accept their basic moral premises, that their statements are morally and/or facutally wrong, and that I have no respect for their position. I would not lose my temper, because that would give my opponent ammunition they do not deserve.

    Also, because I have heard emotional arguments and outbursts from religious people. I do not respect such an approach from anyone, regardless of what they are trying to argue.

  15. 18

    @greybuck

    It sounds as if you are using a false dichotomoy: that a person must either behave like a Vulcan, or give in to an emotional outburst, with no third alternative possible.

    Actually it sounds as if you are using a false dichotomy: that there are no options between behaving like a Vulcan, or giving in to emotional outbursts.
    There’s actually a spectrum between those two possibilities. Yes, you can calmly sit across the table from them, quirk your eyebrow and explain that you do not see the logical basis for their claim that black people should be sterilised; you can also have an emotional outburst – flip the table and swear at them, threatening to kill them if they show their face near you again; or you can take a position somewhere in the middle of those positions. You do not have to treat their bullshit, inhuman, pseudo-rational stance with any degree of respect, but you also do not have to launch across the room with your fangs bared. Unlike Vulcans, we actually have a range of possible emotional states, rather than the binary of calm and raging.

    Also, because I have heard emotional arguments and outbursts from religious people. I do not respect such an approach from anyone, regardless of what they are trying to argue.

    I’ve heard calm arguments with the appearance of logic from religious people. Does it follow from that that I shouldn’t respect such an approach from anyone else, regardless of what they’re trying to argue? Seems like a silly position to hold, to me.

  16. 19

    […] “Other people’s opinions can act as a reality check. And that doesn’t just happen through the exchange of information and analysis. It also happens by emotional demonstration. In fact, a show of anger, insult, revulsion, is an exchange of information — the information that the idea being expressed is considered morally bankrupt.” Read more. […]

  17. 20

    @Athywren: You seem to have misunderstood. Yes, I know there are many different responses.

    My point is to distinguish emotions from behaviour. You can feel outrage and yet remain calm. I find that is the best tactic.

    And I am saying that I do not respect emotional outbursts as a substitute for an argument. Period. The comparision you used is to miss the point.
    When someone uses the appearance of logic for an illogical argument, my issue is not with their tactic but with their ideas.
    When someone uses an emotional outburst on behalf of an illogical argument, I have no respect for either.
    And when someone uses shouting and loaded langauge where they could have used a reasonable argument, my response is this: “What you are saying is true; but I no longer respect you.”

    My point is: I do not respect emotionally manipulative tactics, no matter who uses them or for what purpose.

  18. 21

    @16

    It sounds as if you are using a false dichotomoy (sic)

    Emotional anti-logic outburst: “Eeeek! I didn’t intend to do that! I don’t know where you got that from, but the barn would like it’s straw back!”

    Rational logic: “That was not my intent. That comment has a level of snark that must have inhibited you from understanding it.”

    To be more clear: I think the level of emotion displayed is a spectrum (not a dichotomy), I was just claiming that regardless of where a particular piece of communication falls on the emotional spectrum, it has no bearing on the “logic” of the thing being argued.

    I would not honor anyone who used such language with an emotional response. I would say that I do not accept their basic moral premises, that their statements are morally and/or facutally (sic) wrong, and that I have no respect for their position. I would not lose my temper, because that would give my opponent ammunition they do not deserve.

    *slow clap*

    Personal question: You aren’t a woman, gay or black, are you? Just asking.

    @18

    I find that is the best tactic.

    By what measure are you judging it to be “best”? BTW, I’m not arguing that a calm emotional response is worse or that a livid emotional response is better, I’m just skeptical of this claim. The only thing I’d assert about tactics is: “It depends.”

  19. 22

    Good morning, @Changerofbits.

    I am glad to hear you see emotional responses as a spectrum. That is a more nuanced response than Ms. Christina’s example in her blog post.

    It is also true that the level of emotion displayed is irrelevant to the truth of a statement. This is why I try to avoid it. If the other person is open to a rational discussion, such a display is likely to be counter-productive. And if they are not open, then such a display just plays into their hands.

    You asked, by what measure do I judge my method best? The answer: that will depend on what you are trying to accomplish. My goal is to have a reasonable discussion where the focus is on ideas. It is not to have an argument where the focus is on calling each other names. Such a shouting match achieves nothing, in my experience.

    If your goal is to get the other person to hear you and to understand you, then having “a level of snark” in your statements is counter-productive. And that is my goal, in any case.

    That is why I am ignoring your comment about a barn missing its straw, and the “slow clap”.

    But to answer your question: yes, I am a member of one of the groups you mentioned: I’m gay. What is more: I’m a member of another minority group, which you did not mention: I have Asperger syndrome.
    So yes, I do know what it is like to be seen as less than human.
    Are you a member of any of these four groups: black, female, gay, autistic?

    One final question: suppose I had responded to your “slow clap” and your snark about the barn with snark? Or with anger? How would you have responded to such an argument?
    Would you have preferred that, or do you prefer the approach I am taking now?

  20. 23

    My goal is to have a reasonable discussion where the focus is on ideas. It is not to have an argument where the focus is on calling each other names. Such a shouting match achieves nothing, in my experience.

    greybuck @ #20: But once again, you’re assuming that these are the only two options. They’re not.

    I don’t think “reasonable discussion where the focus is on ideas” is always the best goal, and I certainly don’t think it’s reasonable or fair to expect other people to always have that goal. As I said in the piece, “If someone says that husbands should be able to beat and rape their wives, and you reply, ‘Hm, that’s an interesting idea, I don’t agree, but tell me why you think that and let’s debate it’ — you’re treating that proposition like a serious idea that’s worthy of debate. Women who are vulnerable to being raped and beaten are probably going to have an emotional response to that. It’s absurd to want or expect anything else.”

    There are options other than “reasonable discussion” and “calling names/ shouting match.” When you equate “emotional response” with “calling names/ shouting match,” you’re straw-manning this discussion.

  21. 24

    Good evening, Greta.

    In my experience, the two most common emotional responses on line shouting or snark. This is not so much a straw-man but an expectation. You are correct: it is not reasonable to assume other people are interested in a discussion of ideas as distinct from an argument.

    Still, that is my policy.

    No, I do not assume these are the only two options. And to run with your example: to anyone who said husbands should have the right to beat their wives, I would tell them that I do not respect them. The same is true about men or women who feel entitled to beat their children.
    http://debunkingdenialism.com/2015/09/26/the-value-of-debunking-irrational-bigotry-over-emotional-outbursts/
    My first post on this thread includes this link, which explains my position better than I could.

    Have a good evening.
    🙂

  22. 25

    In my experience, the two most common emotional responses on line shouting or snark.

    greybuck @ #22: First: Your experience is not universal.

    Second: Snark is not the same as shouting or name-calling. Please don’t equate them. It seems to me that snark and sarcasm are pretty mild emotional responses to hatred, bigotry, and dehumanization. I understand that you don’t like it, but “I don’t like it” is not, by itself, a good enough argument for why nobody should ever do it anywhere (although it’s certainly a good enough argument for why people shouldn’t do it in your own spaces that you moderate). If you’re seriously arguing that people should never respond to hatred, bigotry, and dehumanization with sarcasm or snark: Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

  23. 26

    Greta: you are most welcome. I think we understand each other on this matter, and so I am dropping the topic.

    I wonder what your reaction is to Emil Karlsson’s response, which link I have provided.
    Or should I assume you are not interested?

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