Hostility …

Recently, Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels wrote a post talking about Russell Blackford’s and Jerry Coyne’s defenses of James Damore. What’s important about it is that she says this:

But this wasn’t a disinterested discussion at a think tank. It was a non-supervisory male employee writing up his unsolicited opinions on why there are fewer women than men in jobs like the ones at Google – in other words a contribution to a hostile work environment. It’s not just a matter of “oh my god this man’s valuable academic opinion on a completely random abstract subject has been suppressed!!” – it’s also a matter of person from favored group explaining to disfavored group that it’s disfavored because of its own psychological quirks, in the workplace.

The problem, though, is that Benson is ignoring that Damore didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to talk about this, or decided to use this method to put out a personal screed. At the time he wrote this — and, obviously, still today — there were lots and lots of discussions over the lack of women in the workplace and what could or should be done to get more women into the workplace. If the methods being proposed were based on a false idea of what women want, they wouldn’t have the appropriate impact and could be harmful. Damore’s main point was that instead of pushing for this sort of loose diversity, what they should do is refine the work and work environment to what it should be — which would mean changing some things that the “male-dominated” workforce had put in that weren’t necessary or good — and then let the chips fall where they may. So Damore’s memo was commenting on things that the company was trying to implement and replying to things that people at all levels of the company were talking about, and that he thought were factually incorrect and/or would cause harm to the company.

You don’t get to declare someone correcting or challenging your facts to be a hostile working environment.

I didn’t want to talk about this for fear of it looking like whining, but after reading this post it’s actually relevant. On a guest post there, Maureen Brian based an entire conclusion about men on a narrative describing Elevatorgate. A narrative that was, in fact, factually incorrect, because it said that men blew a fuse over Watson’s purportedly innocuous comment of “Guys don’t do that!” and used that to conclude that that happened because men didn’t want to deal with that small point, when the truth of the matter is that that didn’t happen at all. I made a long comment there — which, sure, I recognize could be annoying — and the only two comments on it was one from Screechy Monkey linking me to Gamergate for some reason, and Benson commenting on the length and, most importantly, asking this:

Also, boy is there anything we need more than a verbose relitigation of “guys don’t do that” a mere SEVEN YEARS later.

Well, if you don’t want people relitigating Elevatorgate, you might not want to use that as the basis for your arguments, and you especially might not want to do so with an incredibly misleading narrative. This leads to the first rule that everyone in any sort of discussion and argument needs to accept: if you bring something up, you have to expect that your opponents are going to talk about it. So if you want to talk about Elevatorgate and use your interpretation of that event to drive your argument, you have to expect that people who have a different interpretation will call you out on that, verbose or no. And if you want to talk about why there’s a lack of women in a workplace or field and advocate for measures based on your interpretation, you have to expect that people might question your interpretations and talk about that. And if you want to advocate for a specific philosophical view, even at times heatedly, you have to expect that people who disagree might do the same thing.

To be honest, this is where the focus on “feels” really makes its mark. While some may conclude that attempting to shut down opposing viewpoints is the point of making those claims, I don’t think that’s true for most of those who advocate for this. I think it is all about “feels”. If something makes them feel good and aligns with their view of the world, then no matter how verbose or distorted it is it’s perfectly fine, and anyone who dares say that it isn’t is just ignoring their “experience”. But if the speech makes them feel bad, then it’s hostile and dangerous, even if it merely expresses different views in the same manner and in the same places and follows the same rules as the things that make them feel good.

I think this is behind the defenses of “no-platforming”. P.Z. Myers recently linked to a post talking about “Free Speech Grifters”, and endorsed it and used it to endorse the “no-platforming” protests despite the post saying that the “no-platforming” tactics were a bad idea (which he never mentioned nor responded to in the comments). If you read the comments, there are a number of people saying that universities shouldn’t be allowing those in the first place because some students oppose it, despite the fact that some students oppose the liberal views that Myers and his commenters support and so would have the same right to disrupt events that they put on. The “no-platformed” speakers go through the same procedures to get access to university facilities as everyone else, and would potentially have the same sorts of security issues as liberal speakers if those who opposed liberal speakers would try to disrupt their speeches in the same way. But those ideas make them feel bad, so it’s okay to do whatever it takes to shut them up, while speakers that make them feel good should not only be allowed to speak, but have the right to speak. And we can see this when we look past the “Nazis”, but to a group that Benson, at least, thinks are being invalidly “no-platformed”, so-called TERFs. Trans activists think that TERFs create hostile environments, too, but Benson doesn’t think that that’s enough to stop them from expressing their ideas. But that’s all she needs to try to stop Damore from expressing his ideas as a reaction to expressed ideas in a forum designed for that sort of expression.

So when Benson says this:

But the point isn’t that the ideas “offend”; the point is that they can contribute to an environment perceived as hostile.

We can see that, no, the point really is that they offend, and offend a specific group, because all of the other factors are identical except for the fact that what those other people say offends them personally for whatever reason, while similar ideas that don’t offend them are just fine. After all, it can’t possibly contribute to an environment perceived as hostile if they don’t find it hostile, even if others do, right? I’m sure no feminist or liberal activist has ever said something so crazy.

No, that you are offended is the point, whether you see it or not. And that’s a bad criteria to use when determining what speech should get a platform, and one that can just as easily be turned on you when you express something that the powers-that-be find offensive, as Benson herself found out with the whole TERF thing. That she misses that fact when she approves of the speech is sad, but entirely in keeping with the mindset.


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