Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Boycott on Boycotts?

Amy usually takes the Afternoon Inquisition on Tuesdays, but I’ve grabbed it today because she’s busy sculpting a life-size tribute to PZ Myers out of mashed potatoes and squid parts. So here’s what I’d like to see you all discuss today:

Recently, someone I respect very much suggested I edit my post on Richard Dawkins to make it clear that I wasn’t calling for an organized boycott of his work due to his dismissal of sexism in our community. She was concerned that a boycott would weaken our community, and that we should strive to support one another in the areas in which we agree, even if we disagree in other areas. She wants people to read Dawkins’ books on atheism since that advances our goals as non-believers, even though her own disagreement with him and other prominent atheists may color her own buying decisions.

She makes a good point, and for the record, I did edit the post to clarify that I’m not declaring a boycott. I am making a personal decision to not support Dawkins because he does not support me . . . an organized boycott would most likely also include me asking others to do so and perhaps even shaming those who continue to support him, something that I have never done.

My friend’s suggestion, though, has led me to seriously consider if I would ever support an organized boycott against someone in our community with whom I fundamentally disagreed. And I think the answer is a qualified “yes.”

While I think there’s something to be said for putting aside minor quibbles in favor of the greater goal, there are times when I disagree with what qualifies as “minor.” Sexual equality is, to me, a crucial aspect of humanism and a very important goal that we as secularists and skeptics should strive for. There are those in our community who don’t actively campaign for sexual equality, which is fine, but then there are those whose words and actions damage our ability to reach that equality. I would prefer that we not make famous non-believers who will speak for us and say things that are contrary to humanistic values, and when our movement’s leaders do say things that are contrary to our values I think that it’s helpful for us to demonstrate to the public at large that we as a community don’t condone those words. A boycott is one tool available to activists who want to make their dissatisfaction known, and time has shown it to be an effective tool at that.

Dawkins isn’t the only one I’m thinking of while pondering this stuff. Bill Maher has occasionally said clever and interesting things from an atheistic and secular perspective, but he’s also said plenty of nasty stuff about women and about how vaccinations are poisoning our children. So, I will personally never buy one of his books, attend his talks, or upvote the endless stream of atheist Maher quotes that pop up on Reddit, because I don’t want someone to think that he speaks for me when it comes to issues that frankly I find much more important than whether or not there’s a god. And if some group of skeptics wanted to launch a boycott of his work, I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. It tells the world that we don’t have infallible Popes of skepticism, and that we’re not going to make Faustian deals to advance our message.

So, considering all that, and considering that I’m always yelling at the other Skepchick writers to keep the Afternoon Inquisitions short and to the point:

What do you think of public inter-movement criticism? How much should skeptics, atheists, and secularists be willing to sacrifice in order to further the cause?

Let’s keep the comments productive! I’ll be moderating away any trolls, non-clever insults, and blatant stupidity.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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43 Comments

  1. Well… if I feel poorly served at a restaurant, I’m not going to spend my money there a second time. If I feel like someone has done shoddy work on my car, I’ll try a different mechanic next time. If I disagree with someone’s politics, I’m not voting for them. If someone is a bigot, I’m not going to be their friend.

    If you go that direction over food, isn’t it MORE IMPORTANT to take stands over issues you really value? I think we can and should criticize who we disagree with, go ahead and choose who you’ll associate with and who you won’t, and support only those people you feel comfortable supporting only as far as you can without compromising your principles.

  2. Oh dear, I’ll try not to be too stupid but you’ll have to remember sometimes I just can’t help it :)

    Racism is a definite boycot, And a personal financial boycot of Richard Dawkins is quite reasonable. I’m impressed by how you handled that whole thing. I found skepchick at the same time that went off and I thought wow!! this blog is popular they get 1000 comments on each post :)

  3. IMO one of the best things about approaching the world from a rational/sceptical perspective is the ability/willingness/whatever to avoid either ad hominem attacks or argument by authority: arguments are supported and agreed with, or otherwise, because of their intrinsic strength, and not because of who makes them, or – and this is kind of the point – what their other beliefs are.

    I’ve always found it both infuriating and admirable about Dawkins, for example – not that this is solely about him, obviously – that he seems able to value arguments made by others that he agrees with on that matter, and to not let other disagreements – even significant ones – get in the way of that. I’m thinking specifically here of Hitchins’ position on the invasion of Iraq, but there are other examples.

    I do think this ability is admirable – because it means we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and we don’t feel that we need to agree with *everything* someone says to champion *anything* they say. It feels like a very intellectually grown-up attitude. But it is also infuriating, because – whether it’s meant or not – it’s hard to avoid an implied support for all the other crap that someone might spout. It’s also infuriating because of how unusual it is. It’s very very easy – perhaps even *natural* – to want to agree with everything someone says, or nothing.

    This tendency is, I’d say, one of causes of the magnitude of the genuine distress over what Dawkins said. When someone has been as prominent as he’s been over the past twenty years, and as much of a standard-bearer of sorts, we want them to be perfect. We want to agree with everything they say. We don’t want them to show feet of clay, as Dawkins seems to have done. That situation is, perhaps unfortunately, far more common than the opposite, though. Bill Maher is indeed a dick about many things. Penn Jillette has political views that to me are a bit revolting (and which seem to be largely unmentioned in the sceptical community). Hitchins’ position on Iraq is a long way from mine. And so on.

    It does seem to show a maturity in a community that it’s possible to go beyond circling the wagons when an insider is an idiot, and trying to defend them against criticism specifically because they’re an insider. There’s a obvious, and understandable, tendency to do that when a community is small and feels threatened from outside. But if it’s going to grow, and *especially* if it’s going to grow in a way that’s consistent with principles of intellectually honesty and rigor, it’s entirely right and good to criticise that which deserves it, no matter where it comes from. But it’s every bit as intellectually honest and rigorous to support that which deserves it, no matter where it comes from.

  4. No sacrifices. Skeptics, atheists, and secularists aren’t one (or even three, overlapping) monolithic structures and feigning unity to … I’m not entirely certain what the purpose would be, but feigning unity to accomplish it would be against some of the fundamental ideas in what I perceive as skeptisism, atheism and secularism.

    I wouldn’t support a Dawkins boycott, but I’d support a Maher boycott. If Dawkins had written a book instead of a blog comment, or made a similar statement on national TV… No, The greatest show on earth would still be a great book, but I’d preface any recommendation with “sometimes loon” RD’s book so and so is excellent. And maybe Maher has written or done something which isn’t at all tainted with his brand of unreasoned ideas that I’d recommend despite his lunacy at other times… but I doubt it.

  5. I have mixed feelings about boycotts. I firmly believe that Dawkins was an ass in his statements during the “elevatorgate” discussion but I’m uncertain that a boycott of his works would change anything.

    I often think of Miles Davis when sexism is the topic. As a human, he was horrible and physically and verbally abused wonderful women like Eartha Kitt and Cicily Tyson. Meanwhile, he made some of the most beautiful music of the previous century. Should the art be tainted by the artist?

    In my world, accessibility is the most important thing. I’ve tried to push an end to the technological apartheid that keeps people with disabilities out of participating in the world of ideas. I’ve tried to get people to boycott inaccessible products and companies that knowingly produce inaccessible things but I can’t even get my own family to choose Apple over Microsoft or to use an iPad instead of Kindle. So, having lost the boycott battle, I instead try to publicize and celebrate excellent accessibility and hope a few consumers may choose to reward the “good guys” in this space.

    My boycott issues are quite different from what may have been done regarding Dawkins. Accessibility and the lack thereof keep individuals from participating and there aren’t any real “ideas” in play. Yes, inaccessibility amounts to real discrimination while Dawkins, disgusting as it was, was selling notions and, given his stature, may have persuaded some people but his statements cannot directly prevent anyone from participating in anything.

    My only fear about the Dawkins question is that some people may use the controversy to actually discriminate against people, like Rebecca, who were willing to take a stand on the right side of the debate. The skeptical/atheist communities are small and very chummy and I hope that controversy doesn’t cause terrific people, like Rebecca and those who wrote and spoke on her side in this issue, to be excluded by event organizers who may not like a messy discussion about topics that rarely come up in this world.

    Does this make any sense?

      1. When Miles was alive, little of his personal life became public. He died before I had become a fan of his music so this question didn’t come up.

        If, however, another of my living favorites were shown to currently be as disgusting, I would need to do some real soul searching. I’m not entirely uncertain that supporting an artist financially or not is at the essence of the matter. As Americans, we think money first but where, philosophically, does the lasting value of an artist’s contributions to our culture come into play?

        John Waters was criticized for allowing John Travolta to act in the movie version of his musical “Hairspray” because Travolta is a Scientologist and they believe homosexuality is something that can be cured. Waters pointed out that he had worked with Sonny Bono, a Catholic, for years and his religion has certainly had a lot of bad things to say and do to the gay community. Waters suggests that all artists have some reason that we will find to be bad.

        I wish that Miles’ wives had charged him criminally for his abuse and that he was sentenced to prison but was permitted to continue his work from there. Yes, this is a silly notion but I wish he could have paid for his crimes while still producing his art.

        As I write this I am reflecting on my own opinions on this. I quickly condemn athletes, politicians, business people when they are found to be abusive. I’m not sure why I hold a special place open for artists. Maybe I believe that the artist is separate from the art but this feels inconsistent with my feelings toward people in other professions.

        I’ve got to reevaluate my position on this issue – thanks for asking a question that caused me to think deeply.

        1. That’s a great answer.

          Is it possible you hold a special place open for art, not for artists? That’s a bit abstract, I’ll admit, but it seems much easier to separate art from the artist than it is to separate an athlete from his/her performance, a politician from his/her politics, and a business person from his/her business.

          Of course, this is quite strange since at the same time, art is often considered to be the ultimate form of self expression…

          Wait – now my head’s spinning…I don’t know what to think.

    1. Evening all. First time commenting. Hi!

      Interesting point there. I think musicians/ novelists/ artists are a very different case to the Dawkins/ theoretical bigoted humanist situation. What I want from a musician is great music. If I boycotted every musician who had ever said or done something sexist, ignorant, blindly religious, immoral or otherwise offensive to my values I would be left listening to Coldplay all day. And nobody deserves that.

      However, the point of (Dawkings/theoretical bigoted humanist) is that they are thoughtful, reflective and represent and communicate a balanced, humanist view of the world, so it’s a bit more serious if they veer off course. Personal boycotts in these cases are perfectly reasonable and entirely up to the person.

      I do think that there is a danger of crying wolf with organised boycotts and having a bunch of ineffective, little observed boycott for every minor moment of offence. If you’re going to organise a boycott it should be for a clearly defined reason, with a clearly defined aim, and important enough to be worth the hassle. I don’t think our sometimes befuddled elder statesmen of atheism have quite hit that level yet, but if they do, I’m in!

  6. Reality is complicated. Do I choose to not listen to a particular musician because they have done things in their personal life that I find reprehensible? Do I not read books by someone who has expressed a view I find ill informed and egregious? As noted by paulatnorthgare the ability to compartmentalize is important (though also easily abused). If the person in question has done something that is directly related to what I like about them, then that’s an issue. If it’s not directly related I am less sure, and certainly less consistent.

    I tend to like Maher, even when I disagree with him or find him offensive, because he at least presents a reasoned explanation of his position most of the time and is usually open to being corrected when he is wrong about something. I find Penn just as frustrating at times but, like Maher, his redeeming qualities are enough to make me accept for the most part his failings.

    No one is perfect, and we will have a variety of personalities and views in such a large and diverse group as that which we have. Accepting those differences and working with them is in my view the most productive approach. And if in the course of working together on issue a, perhaps we can help them progress in their views on issue b…

    As for boycotts, I’m personally unlikely to participate in any organized boycott through sheer obstinance :)

  7. I think we have a responsibility as skeptics and humanists to stand up for what is right.

    Money (sadly) often speaks louder than words, and when appropriate I see nothing wrong with boycotts. Determining what is appropriate to boycott is a difficult discussion indeed. But if say, a member of this community was determined to be a fraud or a charlatan, or a murderer of tiny kittens or a blatent racist or other terrible thing then I see no reason to continue to support that person’s habits finacially just because they are are member of the official atheist or skeptic club or because they said something accurate or valid once.

    Money talks, bullshit walks as they say.

    Now if you will excuse me, I have to go wash the squid off my hands.

  8. Rebecca said something Dawkins disagreed with and he made his disagreement public.

    Rebecca was offended by his response and she made that offense public.

    This is not a bad thing. Dialogue is good, as are disagreements. They force us to consider our own feelings on the matter and challenge our own preconceptions. Isn’t that what being a skeptic is all about?

    We put far too much stock in offense. However, once we get into “boycotting”, now we are closing down the dialogue and moving towards a dogmatic position. Dogmatic positions are not productive to learning.

    Dawkins should be called out for his comments (As Rebecca has done), and shame on him for not either backing off those comments or backing them up.

    Boycotting isn’t the answer though.

      1. I think inter-movement criticism is fine, even positive. Dialogue is a good thing, even if people get offended.

        Even though people’s feelings were hurt, “Elevatorgate” got people thinking about the issue, and challenging their own preconceptions (it certainly had that effect on me)

        The only “sacrifice” is pride, and that should be sacrificed freely, pride, like faith, is often considered a virtue, when it fact it is the opposite.

  9. Think of the skeptical community like family. Richard Dawkins is grandpa. Sure, he says something every once in a while that is off the wall crazy. He most certainly should be called on it. And by all means get into a great fight over it. But he’s still grandpa and you still have to see him every year at Thanksgiving and he has lots of great stories to tell the kids so he’s definitely worth keeping around.

    Homer: If you don’t start making more sense we’re gonna put you in a home.
    Grandpa: You already put me in a home!
    Homer: Then we’ll put you in the crooked home we saw on Sixty Minutes.
    Grandpa: I’ll be good.

  10. Criticism can be good, sacrifice can be good and I’m no way averse to using the combination of the two to make a point when someone is espousing what I feel are harmful ideas or denying the seriousness of some kinds of behaviors. I’m not sure that the specific strategy of boycotting is all that effective except when it involves consumer products and companies who see a direct risk to their bottom line. On the other hand I think what Rebecca did in making a personal statement about how she chose to respond is reasonable and pertinent to this discussion. Also that Rebecca’s further commenting and making her decision public brought about more discussion in the skeptical community that I expect will result in some positive changes down the road.

    I’m personally boycotting Lawrence Krause and everyone is welcome to join me even though I don’t think my actions or anyone else’s in this matter will change his thinking unless he’s willing to dispassionately and rationally listen to his detractors. It’s amazing how effective having your head up your ass is at diminishing your auditory input capacity.

  11. hmmmm I think I would suport a boycott on anyone If I thought their comments were beyond the pail. If we could not apply the same critical though to ourselves and our fellow skeptics then we are blinding ourselves.

    On a side not I WANT to see that life-size tribute to PZ Myers out of mashed potatoes and squid parts. I can just imagen Surly Amy going round it throwing squid parts at it going “I’m not crazy…. I’m not crazy….”

  12. Unfortunately from a purely business standpoint, boycotts don’t work. As Amy pointed out, money talks, bullshit walks. When you boycott, even an organized boycott, you hand all the control over the product to the people who are still willing to buy it. As part of an internal movement or symbolic gesture… maybe you get some ground there, maybe…

    So then what do we do? The anti-boycott is to promote thinkers, speakers and writers who *do* get it. Save the breath you would have used on Dawkins and post an article on that awesome book you read by Ophelia Benson. Don’t bother arguing that last Dawkins post, argue that post on Greta Christina. Promote the good ideas, do not promote the bad ones. Dawkins may have been foundational for a lot of people, but we control who we recommend, who we promote and who we choose to be the voices of our movement.

    1. I actually think that a boycott, if it can become popular enough, can cause real change.

      I grew up in a household that didn’t eat a single California grape for more than a decade. This collective action on he part of what would become millions of Americans led to the recognition of the United Farm Workers union and its members have seen substantial improvement in their lives since. Life for a UFW member still sucks but they are safer and have greater freedoms than ever before.

      MOre recently in Florida, the Immokalee tomato pickers led a national boycott of Taco Bell for a one penny per pound increase in their wages. Major artists like Bruce Springsteen joined the battle and the workers won the war. Next, they announced a McDonald’s boycott and the clown came to the penny a pound settlement one day into the action. They are targeting other big tomato buyers and are winning one battle after another.

      These boycotts, however, had the participation of hundreds of thousands to millions of people and those calling for the boycott could demonstrate extreme poverty and human rights problems that effected them terribly.

  13. As a general rule, I can imagine a few situations where a boycott on one of our famous skeptic spokesperson would sounds reasonable. However, I am convinced this is far from the most effective thing we can do when we disagree with one of them. Improbable Joe said that you just don’t go to a restaurant you don’t like, why shouldn’t we do the same with the people spreading ideas? This makes this issue way too black and white.

    I love Dawkins’ way of promoting science, evolution and atheism. I don’t like at all what he said during elevatorgate. In a similar fashion, I love Apple computers and their operating system, but I hate their business model. What am I to do?

    All things in life will prove to have aspects we like/don’t like, agree/disagree with. You could always decide to put a threshold on the spectrum of your personal agreement with the person below which you simply stop supporting the person. This is a sensible solution, but I think I should be accompanied with a statement of why.

    If you call for a boycott, this is because you now refuse to support someone or buy something you used to support/buy. Just spell out why you used to like it, and why you don’t like it anymore. I think it is very important to specify where you agree and where you disagree, because in the end, it is the ideas that matter, not the people.

  14. Does anyone else have a problem with building individuals up to the point where you need to accept either everything or nothing that they produce?

    I understand that it helps to have spokespeople to promote an idea (such as eliminating religious bias from laws), but we have to be careful about creating our own “gods”.

    I find Maher very annoying at times and I would certainly not hold him up as a model of rational thought, but he is still pretty funny so I keep listening. Actually, I suspect that Maher is an Atheist (although he claims Agnostic) more because he doesn’t like to be restrained in any way more than because of some rigorous thought process. He seems like a “coffee shop Atheist” where he likes to be cool, but has not really internalized the implications of his beliefs.

  15. Unless I’m missing something, “the cause” which skeptics are out to further is science. Science and rational, evidence based thought guide our opinions about issues. But the moment we turn to issues of feminism, racial inequality, or any other sort of political or personal behavioral ideals, we stray from science into the arena a value judgments. And that is, to my mind, not skepticism.

    A good case in point is in fact the Dawkins kerfuffle. I’ve read plenty of persuasive commentary from people who agree with Rebecca – and I’ve ready plenty of persuasive commentary from people who agree with the point Dawkins was making (if not with the way he made it). Where you stand on that continuum involves a value judgment. It may be one which is very personal to you, but it is a value judgment nonetheless.

    Also note that with Dawkins we’re talking about – in my opinion – a relative molehill of a transgression. Had he killed someone, opined that Jews should be wiped off the face of the earth, or been caught with child pornography, we could safely boycot and try to forget him. Even though none of those things change one word of what he’s written in the past few decades, boycotting him is value judgment I think most people would make.

    For a while, I boycotted Alec Baldwin’s movies and television shows because of his extreme political views. But one day I realized how silly I was being – he’s an actor not a politician.

    Dawkins is an atheist and a humanist, not a feminist. If you want to boycott him, that’s your right. But he hasn’t raped or stoned someone to death; he has simply disagreed with your assessment of a situation in which no one was physically harmed.

    The very nature of how you wrote this post Rebecca belies your argument – “when our movement’s leaders do say things that are contrary to our values I think that it’s helpful for us to demonstrate to the public at large that we as a community don’t condone those words.”

    To the extent that skepticism has leaders, it is due to their ideas, not their values. We can all agree on rational, science based ideas. We’re never going to agree on values. Save those for political rallies and commentaries.

  16. I think organized boycotts in general are counter-productive at best, and completely defeat the intended purpose at worst. It’s one thing to not support a company, person or whateveron your own – I will never pay money for a product or service from a company I consider evil; I’m looking at you, Sony – and I will make my views known to those who will listen, but I think that actively organizing such a boycott will do little more than draw attention to the thing that’s being boycotted.

    I’ll give an example: (from Wikipedia, but I had originally heard it on the radio, listening to American Top 40)
    [quote]
    On 11 January 1984, BBC Radio 1 disc jockey Mike Read was playing the record on his show when he noticed the front cover design (by Yvonne Gilbert). Read apparently became outraged by the “overtly sexual” nature of both the record sleeve and the printed lyrics, which prompted him to remove the disc from the turntable live on air, branding it “obscene.”[3]
    Two days later – almost three months after the single’s initial release, and just eight days after the group’s Top Of The Pops appearance – the BBC banned the record from all its TV and radio outlets, with the exception of its Top 40 show.[3] “Relax” immediately shot to Number One in the UK charts and stayed there for five weeks, during which time the BBC could not feature the nation’s best-selling single on Top Of The Pops.
    [/quote]

    Now, I do understand that this is anecdotal at best, but does speak to my own sensibilities, and, I would hope, to skepics in general. In many cases, I don’t even hear about a company, or product or whatever, until someone labels it as “bad.” As a skeptic, I don’t want to just boycott something out of hand, simply because someone -even someone I trust- says so. Doing that would make my skepticism a religion of sorts, wouldn’t it? So I will go see for myself, consuming the product, or service that has been labeled bad, thereby increasing the revenue for the bad thing.

    Maybe I’m wrong, that’s not unusual.

  17. Well, there’s that old nugget “scientific ideas don’t die out because everyone suddenly changes their mind, but because the people supporting the outdated theories die out“.

    I think the same principles are at work when boycotting people’s ideas. However, I suppose the question you have to decide for yourself is: do I want this person’s other ideas to lose their platform by causing their voice to die out?

    Despite Dawkins having finally unveiled his old-fashioned sexist mindset for all to see, he has plenty of good ideas in his books. So long as he’s being kept away from anything regarding women and feminism, he can probably still do his part to further atheism and skepticism.
    But there’s a line beyond which everything a person says is tainted with the uglyness of who they are, at which point you don’t want them to be speaking in your name any more. Dawkins has definitely not crossed that line yet. At least, for me he hasn’t. (in fact, I can’t immediately think of any skeptic “leader”-like person who’s crossed that line).

    Then again, knowing what I know now about Dawkins, every one of his future comments and ideas is going to be scrutinized for further displays of male privilege. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. On the contrary. But it doesn’t devalue the rest of his message.

  18. I think the criticism within a movement is important and a positive because it is a form of self-evaluation and checks/balances. A movement that pretends it is completely unified, never changing, and always right smacks of religious delusion to me. I want to see (vigorous) debate when it is warranted.

    As for sacrifice, if I am dissatisfied with a product or disagree on an issue, I feel it is a natural inclination to direct my money and attention elsewhere. I try to remain open to different ideas but just like anyone else there are things I accept and reject based on evidence.

  19. I going to try to defend Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher a bit, despite the reaction I may get in these forums:

    Both Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher where the first voices I heard a decade ago who were actively challenging the bullshit that we so often find in both our knowledge and political pools. I’ve watched many documentaries/debates by Dawkins and comedy shows by Maher, including the current realtime show. So I’m going to believe that I’ve learned at least something about them over the last decade.

    Richard Dawkins, until the Rebecca/elevator thing, has always been fair and rational in his attempts to reason with the unreasonable. He has at times shown his teeth with his frank and, some might accuse, insensitive arguments on religion, etc. But I like that, who doesn’t appreciate a bit of moxy when debating.

    The worst I had to say of him was that he kept signing on to do debates in lame “let’s just take turns at repeating our points of view” formats. He often complained as much, but kept doing them.

    Rebecca’s point was very clear and obvious and that Dawkins failed to see it is a surprise to me. I am disappointed, but hey, big surprise, he makes mistakes? Who would have thought? I guess we all believed he was all-knowing? Or had no ego? Or was master of seeing all sides of a point?

    But instead of personally boycotting him I’d try the next time I met him (if I ever did, and Rebecca might), to change his mind. Point out his point of view failure. If he gets sarcastic, give him equal sarcasm until he realizes not to cloudy up the issue with snark so early in a debate. I think he could be persuaded (I don’t count that comments page where the controversy started as a proper forum since he started off hostile, and everyone tended to use the same tone of “how could you!!!” Well, I’ll tell you how “he could”. He is fallible.

    Bill Maher is probably a bit more difficult to defend. I’ve always pretty much agreed with the things he said. Not always, and I especially dislike his association with Hugh Hefner. Hugh Hefner is a tool, his business model, his attitude, his character, his everything is opportunistic. I could argue lots to support my hate of Hugh but that would be digressing.

    For those of you who don’t know, generally Bill Maher fights the political fight, speaking against the greed and selfish interests of conservatives, criticising weak government (government that allows itself to be dictated by financial institutions and corporate lobbyists), and speaking for better social programs and social awareness.

    He tends to not make that much progress because he is fairly confrontational and at times his humor is purile and low brow (whether this is a failure of his comedy writing staff, some kind of satire of the stupidity of middle America or his bad taste, I do not know).

    Rebecca as called him out on two topics, Vaccines and Misogyny.

    Bill’s stance on vaccines, which is plainly spoke in the huffington post, is briefly: Getting a vaccine shot for every little flu is wasteful and potentially dangerous given that flu is an ever changing bug that is always around and a healthy immune system is perfectly suited to handle it, yet here you are injecting yourself with a foreign compound, which may react with any unknown condition you may have developed since your last shot. Plus I would add, not withstanding all the stops the vaccine made on its way to you (even tho contamination is likely the lowest chance it does all add up). Anyway It’s a pointless risk (even though small) to take, when looking after yourself better (food and exercise) is risk free, less of a burden on the out of control medical insurance scheme, and happens to also create an environment of NOT supporting big pharma in their everquest to make you dependent on them.

    I can’t help but see similarities between chickens kept in coops to lay eggs constantly being fed/injected with medication to keep them alive in their shitty environments, and big industry selling shitty food, poisoning our environment, and then providing constant medication because now our immune systems are so weak that we can’t survive a simple flu without their medication.

    Save yourself for vaccine shots that are really needed. Bill is right on the vaccine thing.

    Bill as a Misogynist? I think you may be confusing his latest attitudes with Misanthropy. As he has aged, he has come to loathe stupidity so much that he attacks everyone in the spotlight, sometimes too casually without proper reflection. But given his association with Hugh Heffner he obviously is lacking somewhere. So I try to bear in mind he is mostly a political satirist, and so when it comes to gender culture, he likely has given it, and his perceptions of it very little thought. He’s the “religion or political guy” not the gender guy.

    Also the soundbites (like the hooters thing), if I’m not mistaken that may have been the New Rules segment, which is no doubt also written by a staff of comedy writers, and as I’ve often found some of those one liners weak and tasteless, it may just be a case lack of material and so Bill just has to repeat any old shit that the comedy writers produce. Bill has his masters, or so he claims.

    Verdict on Bill Maher as misogynist: I have reasonable doubt.

  20. Okay, this, for me, reraises something that came up for me a couple days ago on Pharyngula. I pull from:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/08/15/tiresome-and-ill-mannered-muslims/

    where PZed says:

    “Islam is a primitive religion with a violent history, and like all those Abrahamic faiths, is all about praising a non-existent patriarchal deity. ”

    Now, I want to be clear that I’m not interested in boycotting PZed right now, but I am disturbed by his use of the word “primitive”. I spoke on the endless thread about this & we had a brief discussion about what the word “primitive” might mean when one says that

    “Islam is a primitive religion”

    After all, this necessitates that some religions NOT be primitive. If you assert that all religions are primitive, then primitive is part of what you are already saying about a phenomenon when you say that it constitutes a religion. He couldn’t have meant that it’s violent since the original statement also says Islam is violent. There’s no way to get around the fact that this is either non-sensical repetition …
    (not likely w/ a thinker like PZed, but possible given his tendency to write polemic where rhetoric is more important logic in at least some parts of a piece of writing)
    …OR that PZed actually **means** something by primitive. But if he does, I have no idea what a primitive religion *is*.

    Why does it come up here? Because outside of atheism, in the larger US culture in which PZed takes part and from which he takes his grammatical rules and vocabulary, primitive is repeatedly used in a racist way. In fact, this is even MORE true on the topic of religion. How often have you heard a news report or an article in a magazine with a circulation over 50k use “primitive” to describe Christianity and other religions common to white folk in the US and how often have you heard it used to describe the religions of people of color?

    So here’s the rub. PZed hasn’t chimed in to say what he means. I think it’s very likely that he used “primitive” as an insult rather than as a thoughtful descriptor meaning something specific that separates some religions from others. The insult gets its cultural power in part from racism, though I have no doubt that PZ intended no racism by its use. And so we have someone who is using a racist dogwhistle and isn’t clarifying what he means, and the dogwhistle has no clear meaning *other* than its use as a dogwhistle.

    Should I or anyone be upset about that? I don’t routinely buy products by PZed. I think he does a lot of great thinking, and his polemics amuse me, but this is a case where his writing makes me squirm with discomfort. What is the proper reaction here? Stop reading his site? That seems an over-reaction. I haven’t stayed silent about this. I didn’t explicitly call “primitive” a racist dogwhistle but did raise the use of the word in TET. PZ chose to remain out of the discussion and thus I have, still, no reasonable explanation that would preclude the possibility that PZed lapsed into racist rhetoric for a moment.

    Is any other reaction called for? Am I missing some obvious meaning of “primitive religion” of which I should be aware?

    This is a much less egregious example of a famous author diverging from my values than when Dawkins insisted that we not speak up against sexism that doesn’t include rape, mutilation & murder. Nonetheless, it is a divergence – and moreover, it’s one that seems to crop up repeatedly. This week isn’t the only time that PZ has used “primitive” to describe a religion or sect. Also, Dawkins in “The God Delusion” called animism a primitive religion*. I think we ought to, as a community, have an understanding of the word primitive so that when the word is used it actually means something – preferably something that doesn’t reduce to “of or related to the brown peoples of the earth”.

    But what ought I to *do* about that… especially while famous folk who are assumed to speak on my behalf on important topics like science education continue to engage in the problematic behavior that I feel is against my values?

    That’s a lot, but do with it what you will, y’all.

    *( (in fact, it is more often treated as a category of religions… if you don’t know what it is, it’s the category that includes Shinto and whose distinguishing feature is assigning special force and often, but not always, consciousness to specific things in the material world…usually as a common feature of all things in the material world, living or not, large like mountains and the sun or small like individual trees, streams & ponds

        1. you’re missing what I said.

          I said it’s EITHER useless or it means something, and if it does, then definitely some religions would have to be non-primitive.

          as for my use of imply… it’s perfectly correct. you are trying to make “imply” mean the same as “entail”.

          You are right that the statement does not REQUIRE that some religions be non-primitive. However, it IMPLIES that, since to believe that all religions are primitive would require us to believe that the author of the comment said something stupidly redundant.

          1. Actually, the fact that you inferred something doesn’t not mean that it was implied.
            People miss that distinction all the time.
            .
            Leaving that aside I’m not sure what your point was. As part of the larger US culture in which PZed takes part and from which he takes his grammatical rules and vocabulary, I would take the sentence “Islam is a primitive religion with a violent history, and like all those Abrahamic faiths, is all about praising a non-existent patriarchal deity. ” to mean Islam is a less sophisticated religion (since that is what primitive actually means) in that it has not been forced to shed some of the hateful backward thinking that Judaism and Christianity have lost in order to stay relevant and there is no implied racial component that I can see.
            I can’t read Dr. Myers mind however so there may be a hidden racism there despite no previous incidents of racism on PZ’s part. It is possible, just not probable.

  21. I don’t see a personal decision to avoid or not support someone/thing financially as a boycott.

    I detest, for instance, Will Farrell’s comedy and elect to avoid any movie or program he is in. However, I did see (and own a copy of) Stranger Than Fiction and lucky me he wasn’t being his usual self in the movie. (It probably would have been stronger with someone else in the role, but he wasn’t detrimental.)

    If I receive bad service from a company, I simply don’t use them any more. If enough people do that, maybe they’ll change how they do business, but they’ve lost me. (Just ask Comcast and AT&T!) :)

    If someone I considered a friend pretty much stabs me in the back, I’m not likely to hang out with them or (where applicable) buy their products.

    These are personal decisions, but not necessarily motivated by a desire to injure anyone – it’s just avoiding some things I find unpleasant.

  22. Boycotting people who don’t agree with you on every detail seems to be a luxury of moderates. As a person of radical beliefs, I don’t have the pleasure of boycotting those I disagree with on rather fundamental issues. I must selectively support somethings they have written, but not everything they have written.

    For instance, I think Peter Singer is a very useful moral philosopher. Perhaps the best, but he is remarkably ill-informed on political topics. His belief in a charitable capitalism is just moronic, he has no understanding of political systems, he just takes everything at face value and throws his ethics at it. But considering he is just about the only popular writer who has moral beliefs that are similar to my own… I can’t disregard him because his silly comments about a number of issues. But… this is a problem for people like me who are radicals. If I was a person with less strong views, if I was a moderate, I wouldn’t have much issue with anything Peter Singer says. I might disagree with him on this or that, but not strongly. So everything is fine and dandy.

    You mention Bill Maher. He has certainly said many disgusting things. You mention his comments about women and his stupid paranoia about vaccinations… but he has said far worse things about war and communism… I mean he has in the past, said Vietnam was a good thing, he has argued this insane point. Yet on a whole, I find him a bit more tolerable than Jon Stewart who wont ask any democrat he has on a serious question, who was fully a part of the Obama mania, who throws do-nothing protests false comparisons… etc, etc.

    Richard Dawkins has voiced an array of ill-formed political and social opinions. People are upset because of his comments relating to western feminism… and they should be, because those comments are idiotic. But as a vegan I fail to see how they are worse than him saying that human beings use of animals for food is akin to slavery… but that he is going to eat meat anyways, because he doesn’t like the taste of vegetarian food, and hasn’t summed up the courage to be a vegetarian. He says something is like slavery and supports it… this is morally idiotic, it’s pathetic. In my it is far worse than his insensitivity towards women’s issues. The difference between these two issues, is not that his comments about women are worse, it’s that his many liberal readers understand his comments about vegetarianism while being baffled by his comments about women. i.e. his comments about women are more socially acceptable, that says nothing of them being more ethical. Yet… he doesn’t talk about these things in his writings… so I’m quite comfortable reading or recommending the God Delusion or Unweaving the Rainbow… let alone his scientific works… I don’t have to endorse everything Richard Dawkins says, I can just endorse those books. I don’t have to endorse everything Peter Singer writes, but I can endorse Animal Liberation and Rethinking Life and Death.

    Even my favorite writer, Noam Chomsky, who I tend to agree with and like more than someone like Dawkins, has said similar things about vegetarianism as Richard Dawkins… but he doesn’t really talk about that, in fact, you have to do fairly thorough searches to find that… but it’s there. There is always something no matter what the writer is, that someone who has strong views on pretty much everything will find disagreeable. What’s important therefore to me, is do I disagree or agree with the majority of they write about? Do I like or dislike certain works of theirs? It’s not a requirement to like everything they write or find nothing say or write repugnant. With my beliefs, that’s an unreasonable expectation.

    So I repeat when one is a liberal or a conservative, they can get upset with people who don’t parrot their own beliefs and boycott them. They might be right in doing so, perhaps because there are so many people who share their beliefs that’s the most advisable route to take in support of their beliefs. You can’t do that when you are a radical, or in my case a utilitarian anarcho communistic atheistic vegan. There just aren’t enough of us to hide away together in a little sectarian bubble. So I have to compromise and read people even though I will occasionally be annoyed. It’s quite illuminating, you gain a better understanding of the people. Much preferable than reading nothing they write.

    P.S. Theoretical question. You personally wont support Dawkins because he doesn’t support you, that’s reasonable… but let’s say all the proceeds of one of his books went to his foundation. Saying you agree with the goals of his foundation, and that he wouldn’t be reaping any personal rewards from it, would you then buy this book? Provided of course, that the book seemed informative on some topic, and had no relation to the issues you disagree with him on.

  23. I will also say that boycotting a writer, any writer, is a bully move in opposition to free thought. You create an atmosphere in which writers are afraid to express their honest thoughts, because they might offend people. So they kowtow to conventional politically correct opinions — which, historically speaking, are often wrong — lest they avoid backlash. If you oppose something someone writes, you should write something clarifying how they are wrong or simply not bother with their writings… but organizing a boycott? That’s an economic threat. You would be telling them to watch what they say. That’s the opposite of free thought. Under free thought you don’t win arguments through threats, you win them through rational arguments.

    As I said, boycotting might be effective in advocating some values… but it’s harmful to free thought. As a humanist that should be one of your values. If it’s not, I don’t really understand how you consider yourself a humanist.

  24. You’re still ignoring everything positive about Dawkins (and Maher apparently, and who knows how many others) because of one thing you consider to be negative about him. No matter how fundamental and vehement the disagreement may be, you should never disregard everything about someone because of it. That kind of behavior will never stop being irrational, no matter how many times you defend it. I think at this point you may be desperately searching for ways to rationalize your actions, or you’re deluded enough to believe they’re already rational.

  25. I’ve never formally joined any kind of boycott, but I regularly make decisions to withhold my support (financially or otherwise) from people, organizations, or ideas with which I disagree.

    I fail to see any reasonable point in arguing that one’s decision to withhold their support from anyone or anything is by definition irrational. But that is not to say that I can’t imagine circumstances by which one might use irrational reasoning in one’s decision-making process to determine whether or not to support something.

    Both Dawkins and Watson are writers and public activists whose work I admire and whose activism I believe is important and necessary. Furthermore, it seems to me that there must be at the very least a possibility for the reaching of a common ground between individuals who share so many common goals. It doesn’t seem at all obvious to me that Dawkins’ comments were made with any deliberate attempt to undermine women’s rights, any more than it seems obvious that Watson’s comments were made with deliberate intent to create divisiveness.

    I think as soon as each is willing to acknowledge this fact, there will be a growth potential for all those who admire the work of either or both of them.

  26. Well, while I am still going to read the Dawkins books that I have (mostly his science-y ones. I always preferred his books talking about evolution to his book The God Delusion, for example. The Selfish Gene was very informative) I certainly support your right to not support him, and to keep expressing your dissatisfaction for him!

    After all, ever since famous poet Robert Bly personally told me to drop dead, I’ve avoided his poetry… it would be silly for me to scoff at anyone else doing something remotely similar! You felt wronged by Dawkins, and that sucks.

    Personal boycotts… well, I can’t argue against them, since I have one. Go figure!

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