Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women: Phil Plait
Welcome to the sixteenth installment in my series where I ask the men who are leaders in the secular communities to speak out against the hate we have seen primarily directed at women.
Today, I bring you the words of Phil Plait. Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, and writes the Bad Astronomy blog. He is the former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and has written and spoken numerous times about the idea of what it means to be a skeptic.
Phil speaks to us about the recent uptick in the amount and intensity of online sexism and thuggery and explains how and why each individual must fight to stop it.
Phil’s words after the jump.
What the hell is going on in the online community?
If you’ve been reading or paying attention at all to any of the online
cultures like skepticism or general geekery (scifi, gaming,
convention-going, and so on), you’ll have seen astonishing and
depressing displays of sexism. That’s been true for a long time. But
recently some sort of sea change has occurred, and what we’re seeing
now is a marked increase in outright misogyny and thuggery.
The examples are so distressingly ubiquitous I hardly need point them
out. A woman gamer wants to make a documentary showing misogyny in
video games, and she gets rape and death threats. Rebecca Watson
calmly and rationally tells men not to hit on women in enclosed spaces
and reaps a supernova of hate and irrational vitriol. And now we’re
seeing death threats, rape threats, all kinds of violent threats,
against women who are simply trying to improve the way they are
treated at meetings as well as online.
This. Must. Stop.
I am a skeptic and a scientist. I know what’s it like to feel anger
and frustration toward implacable forces I think are threatening my
way of existence. You may feel this way about many things as well. And
while you and I may disagree on some of these topics, the way to
work out our disagreements is through the exchange of ideas via
honorable words and actions.
Threats, dickery, bullying, hate, insults, mob-baiting, and
humiliation are not honorable actions and must not be used.
You want to change my mind? You want to win my heart to your cause?
Then argue your case logically and based on evidence.
If you have to resort to the kind of crap we’re seeing now, then maybe
your convictions aren’t as rationally based as you think they are.
Look, I know people are angry. Some of them have the right to be. As I
have said many times, anger is natural, anger can be warranted, and
anger can be a great motivator. But it must not lead to
hatred. Unfocused anger, uncontrolled anger, cannot lead
anywhere but away from a goal. Once hatred leaks in through those
cracks, rational discussion is dead.
I have seen precious few discussion on this where sooner or later (and
usually sooner) the comments don’t devolve into spittle-flecked
rhetoric. Even if the original article is well-reasoned, thoughtful,
calm, and rational, the comments quickly fall apart. That is what hate
That’s unfortunate, but that’s the internet. There’s not a whole lot
that can be done about that in general, because you cannot control how
others act. But here’s what can be done in particular: you can control
how you act. Don’t let the anger, don’t let the hate, get the
better of you.
Internet discussion devolves quickly, but discussions in person tend
not to. We know when we are facing another living, breathing, feeling
person, but that knowledge is easily overwhelmed by emotion online.
But the two are not separate: raging emotions online have real life
consequences. Threats and bullying online don’t just go out into the
ether. They affect real people, and can cause a lifetime of damage.
Don’t let the hate get the better of you.
I’ve been quiet about this up until now for many reasons. Whenever I
dip my toes into this miasma the overwhelming response is been vicious
and hateful. Even many people who claim to be critical thinkers dive
into the ichor and become part of it.
But I decided I can’t stand by and watch this anymore, and that’s why
I’m writing this now. My friend, Surly Amy, has been posting a series
of articles by men speaking out against this incredibly disturbing
trend toward violent rhetoric, and the post by Dale McGowan, Executive Director of
Foundation Beyond Belief, really struck home:
Silently shaking my head does nothing. The women under
this kind of attack can’t hear my head rattling, so they can only
assume I don’t care, when I actually care deeply. I think it’s the
difficulty of putting this massive, deranged genie back in the bottle
that keeps so many of us quiet. But that’s a poor excuse that only
keeps the victims feeling isolated and besieged.
If you threaten violence against someone you disagree with, then you
are not a critical thinker. You are not a skeptic.
And you are most certainly not a decent human being.
If you disagree with someone, fine. You may be right, you may be
wrong. But if, when expressing your disagreement, you bully, threaten,
verbally or mentally abuse the person you’re arguing with, then
you’re doing it wrong, and you need to stop.
Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s just as relevant now
as it was in 2010, and it always will be: Don’t Be A Dick. If we can just start there, we’ll
get a lot farther along the path of understanding and mutual benefit.
And from there we can get on with the real work of making the world a
better place. For everyone.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us Phil and thank you for being a good friend.
Prior posts in this series can be found here:
More to come.