Monday, September 29, 2014

My theory on why the New Atheists are so freaked out by women these days, plus my ancient argument with Amanda Marcotte

Last week I blogged about the latest skirmish in the ongoing war of Social Justice Warriors and New Atheists. They are at it again this week.

The New Atheists came off worse in their claims that Adam Lee had smeared Richard Dawkins in the piece he wrote in the Guardian.

First Adam Lee's own cluelessness, which is admittedly relatively minor sin in comparison. He's responding here to Dawkins' whining on Jerry Coyne's blog:
I, on the other hand, am an atheist blogger who writes articles. When people say things I disagree with, sometimes I write articles criticizing them.
Lee is trying to present himself as a nobody blogger in comparison to big celebrity Richard Dawkins. But this is either disingenuous or stupid or stupendously obtuse. Dawkins wasn't responding to a nobody blogging, he was responding because the piece was published in the Guardian. Most Americans have never heard of the Guardian, but surely Lee realizes that it's a huge fucking deal in England, especially to liberal Britons - it's like the New Yorker and the New York Times rolled into one publication. 

But that's nothing compared to the New Atheists. As usual Dawkins reveals himself to be a thin-skinned drama queen:
I long ago declared that I would not wish to go on living if I found myself in a world dominated by people who no longer care about what’s true and express open contempt for factual evidence. Either a 1984 world where the Party in power is the sole arbiter of what is “true” and enforces it with violence; or a world where truth is whatever society deems it to be, regardless of evidence, and where dissenters are ruthlessly punished by vitriolic abuse or ostracism rather than violence. 
I fear we are sleepwalking towards that feared world, where people shun evidence and despise facts: a world where dogma is king, emotion is queen and evidence is exiled; and where dissent from orthodoxy is suppressed by verbal if not physical jackboots. 
The hypocrisy is strong with Richard Dawkins. But Rebecca Watson already handily nailed Dawkins for that in her parody of his infamous (and yes, sexist) "Dear Muslima" letter.

Before continuing further with the sins of Richard Dawkins I should say that I'm not at all surprised that Jerry Coyne attacked Lee on Dawkins' behalf - although I was once an admirer of Coyne (just as Lee was once an admirer of Dawkins) and read his blog regularly, I gave up on him for his support of evolutionary psychology, worship of the New Atheist assholes and disgusting Islamaphobia. And his complaint about Lee's article is truly pitiful:
It’s one-sided, quoting only the anti-Dawkins Usual Suspects, and accuses not only Dawkins but Sam Harris of “ignorant sexism.”
Where does Coyne get the idea that an editorial has to be two-sided? Lee was saying that Dawkins and Harris have said sexist things and it seems to be a pattern. Does Coyne really expect Lee to take a survey of non-sexist things Dawkins and Harris have said and present those in some absurd effort at "balance"? The guy is making an argument here, not writing a documentary.

Lee provides links to Dawkins' own words. Coyne could have argued that Lee is misunderstanding Dawkins (although I think not) but he doesn't even bother because he's too busy having the vapors that somebody criticized his hero:
I won’t bother to dissect it in detail because reading it makes me ill.
But nobody has the vapors like Richard Dawkins:
I fear we are sleepwalking towards that feared world, where people shun evidence and despise facts: a world where dogma is king, emotion is queen and evidence is exiled; and where dissent from orthodoxy is suppressed by verbal if not physical jackboots. 
Unfortunately, thanks to the influence of Social Justice Warriors on our present discourse, Dawkins isn't completely wrong about exiling evidence. Not that Dawkins is innocent of doing that, himself, but I'll get to that in the section on my theory (below).

I lost respect for Adam Lee precisely because of his disdain for evidence - he censored me on his blog while allowing a friend of his to claim I was out to get people on the autism spectrum because I speculated that Ayn Rand might be on the spectrum. Allowing his friend to shriek slanders about me, on the basis of no evidence was clearly perfectly acceptable to Adam Lee. So he is, unfortunately, not a good argument against Dawkins' worries concerning evidence.

And then there is Amanda Marcotte - in her latest Nation column, which is excellent, Katha Pollitt addresses the New Atheist misogyny (although she doesn't mention the Lee piece in the Guardian) and writes admiringly of Marcotte:
Alas, the ability to take such instruction is in good part something Sam Harris thinks women sadly lack. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” said the bestselling author of The End of Faith. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.” It seems to me, judging from recent events, that atheist men are the fragile flowers here—they, not women, are the ones wilting under criticism. Perhaps they can’t stand it that women are withholding that “extra estrogen vibe” that used to make conferences so much fun. (Amanda Marcotte, of the steel-trap mind, has a fine time slapping Harris around at Pandagon. Remind me never to get into a fight with her.)
I did get into a fight with Marcotte, on Facebook three years ago, which you can read here. I was not at all impressed by Marcotte's steel-trap mind. Marcotte had written a book review in which she suggested that Internet porn was misogynist because of the attitudes of Larry Flynt, Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione. She then maintained in our Facebook discussion that most online porn was misogynist but when I asked her for evidence she declined to present any. And when I presented evidence to make a point about straight vs. gay pornography Marcotte pulled this:
  • Amanda Marcotte Nancy, I may be pro-porn, but I'm going to defriend you for posting porn on my page. My mom looks at this.

I didn't "post porn" on her page, I posted a link to a gay porn site as evidence that gay men's porn included some of the same activities that Marcotte and friends were claiming was innately misogynist. When confronted with an argument based on evidence, Marcotte used her mother's delicate sensibilities to derail the argument. Which was not only sleazy but outrageously hypocritical - it was Marcotte herself who posted the link to her discussion of porn on her page. Apparently that was OK for her mother.

It's interesting that Pollitt herself argued my side of the issue against Gloria Steinem years ago (although I haven't yet found the reference online.) I doubt that Steinem's mind is inferior to Marcotte's.

My theory on why the New Atheists are so freaked out by women these days

It must be said that nobody shuns evidence like people who promote evolutionary psychology, which includes all the New Atheists. Atheism is not a religion - but evolutionary psychology is the religion of the New Atheists.

I've talked a lot about evolutionary psychology on this blog, so I won't go into everything that's wrong with it, but Dawkins' view of women is entirely dependent on the gender essentialism of evo psycho. In the New Atheist mind, claiming that women don't want as many sex partners as men or claiming that women are innately less interested in a "critical posture" as men is not misogyny, it's just science. And the fact that they have no evidence at all that it's women's nature to be these things is not a problem. Having a theory based on pure untestable speculation is good enough for them. And when scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould criticized their theories, they launched personal attacks against him for his political leanings (as Pinker did) or for his failure to be polite once (as Dawkins did on the Pharyngula web site - Dawkins shared a personal anecdote that Gould was too dead to respond to.)

The huge problem here is the inability of evo psycho advocates to comprehend the importance of economics to gender roles. I've been mulling this over quite a bit lately and I have a theory about it: factors impacting women directly are considered of no relevance to the fundamental human condition by New Atheists (and many others), but instead are categorized in their minds as "women's issues." Issues such as equal pay for women, sexual harassment, etc. have no real impact on their theories of the world. 

And so they have completely ignored the gradual but growing economic independence of women over the past 50 years. This independence changes utterly the balance of power between men and women that has existed for millenia, and that of course changes everything else about human society.

Which is why the twenty-first century is such a trial for Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne and intellectually-old-before-his-time Sam Harris. They feel hounded over trivialities while they want to talk about serious issues.

From their perspective all they are doing is making casual conversation infused with evolutionary psychology good sense about the nature and predilections of women - a minor topic, really - and inexplicably they are ruthlessly punished by vitriolic abuse of incomprehensible meanies.

I will give Marcotte this - her response to Harris is enjoyably snarky. But even better from my perspective, she highlights evidence that supports my theory of New Atheists towards "women's issues" - he's supremely dismissive:
Again, the acerbic tone that offends him so greatly that he goes into italics-bonanza mode should suggest perhaps that he is not as masculine and tough and women are not as soft and receding as he thinks. On average, even. Also, the reason a lot of women hated Hitchens is Hitchens thought we were inferior by dint of biology. I find that offensive whether you say it gently or say it acerbically. It’s the content, not the tone. Or, as the calm, rational manly man Harris would write, it’s the content, not the tone.
I believe that a less “angry,” more “nurturing” style of discourse might attract more women to the cause of atheism.
He gave this its own paragraph. Because every rational person knows that saying things repeatedly makes them more true.
However, I haven’t spent even five minutes thinking about how or whether to modify my writing or speaking style so as to accomplish this.
I want to be offended that Sam Harris admits he cannot be bothered to think about women beyond just dismissing us outright, but honestly, all I ever think about him is dismissive, so I guess we’re even? At least I have reasons for my dismissive attitude.
But this part towards the end of Marcotte's snarkfest is most amusing from my perspective. First Marcotte quotes Harris, then responds:
How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.
It might be 50% that women are inferior. It might only 25%. Have you considered that it’s 95% that women are inferior? All I’m saying it it cannot all be sexism. Because reasons. By the way, have I told you I don’t think there’s a god?
If you read my argument with Marcotte, she is equally vague and unconcerned with evidence as Sam Harris is, in supporting her claims that most pornography is misogynist. But that was three years ago - maybe she learned to respect evidence since then.

And when it comes to Sam Harris, this question cannot be asked often enough:
Why does anyone take Sam Harris seriously?