Afternoon Inquisition 5.19

This past Saturday we had a Drinking Skepchickally here in San Diego.  We did a lot of discussing of serious topics: anti-vaxxers, The Amaz!ng Meeting, what to call skeptics (rationalists? critical thinkers? awesome-beyond-words?), and how you can’t unfry things.  Also, unsurprisingly, we talked boobs.

I like these meet-ups because it feels like I could discuss any and all things with these like-minded folks. Converse the way it should be done, you know? But that’s surely untrue.

Even among one’s peeps, are there still topics that are off-limits for discussion? If so, where does one turn to get answers to these deep, dark questions in an increasingly irrational world?


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. Thinking about this, there are plenty of off-limits topics for different friends. I know which ones to not bring up politics/religion with, and what others have no understanding/tolerance of my particular brand of geekery.

    I know not to bring up how I feel one particular friend treats women, because I know him well enough to know that a) he won’t listen and b) I’ll most likely lose him as a friend. I know some may say he’s not worth having as a friend, but he has a PS3, what can I do?

    I’ll also never tell anyone about my secret obsession with arboreal cosplay. That’s right, you may have not even noticed me at some point recently . . .

  2. @JJ: Right on. I try to avoid various topics with certain people. However, I don’t do a very good job at it. The real me has no limit on the topics I want to discuss with people. I started my blog to vent my frustrations to the intertubes rather than piss off my friends in person. Even so, I think I’ve alienated most of my christian friends.

    I so look forward to each meeting of Minneapolis Skeptics because even though we are never all in agreement about everything, we share much the same knowledge base, which makes conversations so much more fun.

  3. Yeah, I’ve got this rash I don’t really talk with other people about… I thought ya’ll might be able to help me with it. I’d post pictures, but I can’t quite figure out how to hold a camera while bending that way.

    But to actually answer, I think having a science-based worldview and atheism are the subjects that can disrupt a conversation. Places like Skepchick help. And I’ve got friends who are fine with those conversations, too. But with many people, they’re off limits. Oddly enough, many people who hold anti-scientific worldviews are still intrigued with science, I just have to skirt around any implications of the fun new finds.

  4. @a.real.girl : “…in an increasingly irrational world?”

    It seems to me that the world is actually becoming increasingly rational as opposed to the almost total irrationality of the world during the previous 2000 years. And chicken entrails and tea leaves are not used nearly as often when predicting the future as the use to be.

    As far as off limit topics go, men rarely seem willing to discuss whether their partners are faking organisms or not. So I guess that’ll have to be put to the skepchicks. ;-o

  5. “Faking organisms” is now my favourite phrase. It would only be inappropriate discussion with anti-fossil creationists, though.

  6. The group I play cards with regularly includes several chiropractors who promote a variety of pseudoscientific woo (such as the notion that allergies can be treated with electric shocks). This results in frequent awkward silences.

    Religion and politics seem to be obvious topics, and ongoing medical issues are another.

  7. I think there for every topic there are friends who are cool with that and then friends who aren’t. Not one person is going to meet all your intellectual needs.

  8. I’m the only atheist I know, personally, and I’m the only one who keeps up with all this woo. I find my comments fall on deaf ears, because no one understands the controversy.

  9. @infinitemonkey: That’s frequently where I find myself as well. Frequently not just on the atheism / woo area, but also for politics and news in general.

    I think I’m just too well informed for most people to relate to.

  10. Me and my guy friends get kind of uncomfortable when the subject of our feelings comes up. With skeptical friends I feel awkward admitting my own radical leftist politics. I try to get past these reservations and talk about them anyway, though, and I found out the other night that many of my friends consider me to be open and honest to a fault.

  11. @tiger kitty:

    That is supposed to be taken care of pre-emptively by the Preview button just below the Submit button.

    Maybe — ahem, any Skepchicks listening? — maybe the Preview button and the preview could come before the Submit button?

    Preview Button

    “previewed post”

    Submit Button

  12. My wife says I’m not allowed to answer when folks ask me “how are you?” Apparently I’m “depressing,” and I “bring people down” or “drive them to suicide.” I’m only allowed to say “I’m fine,” or “the cops will come around again” and I’ll be “forcibly committed” or something.

  13. I’d like to be able to discuss my hobbies with friends, but none of my close friends come close to matching my level of geeky-ness. Most of them start looking at me strangely when I talk about video games or Dungeons & Dragons.

  14. Unfortuantely (being a young skeptic) i cannot talk about anything that contradicts anyting my parents or teacher believe without being called an idiot who’s under-educated and unfortuantely my mother hangs onto every word the head anti-vaxxer says!

  15. Of course, it depends on the topic and the friend. I don’t talk about evolution or environmentalism (or much of anything, really) with my husband’s best friend. I don’t talk bout the moon landing with his other best friend’s wife. I don’t talk about vaccines with my sister-in-law or abortion with my grandmother-in-law… Etc.
    Luckily, I can talk about ANYTHING with my husband, and with my best female friend, and pretty much with my mother. So I can spew forth my rage and incomprehension every so often, at least.

  16. I find I can talk about nearly anything with my co-workers, but the one subject I (barely) keep quiet on is race. I live in the very white Northwoods and am continually shocked to discover how bigoted everyone else who lives here seems to be, especially since the election of Obama. The “N” word gets thrown around a lot (no, I don’t mean Neo-con) and when I told one fellow who works with me, after one such comment, that several of my relatives were of mixed ancestry, including my very beautiful 3-year-old niece, his response was, “I don’t care.” I can’t NOT talk to him because he’s the guy who repairs my work truck, and oddly, on most other subjects, he’s quite well informed. I’m not rabidly pro-Obama (I profoundly disagree with at least one of his policies), but a lot of my coworkers who don’t like him seem only to dislike him because of his race (which, it seems to me, would be just as accurately described as “white” as “black,” since he has a white mother and a black father, as I understand it). Maybe if we called him “white,” they’d be OK with him.

  17. @MiddleMan –

    One bluffs very well. The other two haven’t really mastered the concept yet.

    (ObDisclosure – I’m not going to win any major tournaments myself, and mainly play for the social aspect. And the beer. Mostly the beer.)

  18. Politics. I was in a conversation to day with someone and I was talking about the differences between liberals (seeing the world as a positive sum) and conservatives (seeing the world as a zero sum). This person seemed to take exception to that, and asked where libertarians fit in? I asked real libertarians or pseudo libertarians and she started talking about strict constitutionalists (as if it was a good thing). I asked about strict constitutionalists who see an absolute right to bear arms, but no right for a woman to have control of her body? and the person explicitly terminated the conversation and didn’t want to go there. Then I asked about gay marriage and likewise the person didn’t want to go there. Obviously a pseudo libertarian and not a skeptic.

  19. My f***ing brain is going to explode!!!

    Just got off the phone with my sister who told me about her first and most wonderful experience with acupuncture today. All I wanted to do was ask if my daughter could visit her for a week this summer so my wife and I could go on a trip with no kids. Life should be so simple. I offered to e-mail her some info from Science Based Medicine and I was told that not only do people use facts to say what they believe; that the bloggers at SBM are western doctors would only make her doubt them more. I said okay, but the scientific method and research is how you determine if things work, My sister then said she does not believe in western medicine and thinks there is so much more going on in the world than science can explain.

    Before this little talk I thought the only taboo topic with my sister was her fire walking weekend. Crap…, :-(

  20. As has been said before, different friends have different no go subjects. Usually it’s politics. I tend to be moderate, work with mostly very liberals, but share hobbies with very conservatives. So I don’t agree with anybody.

    The problem is, the people who can’t rationally discuss particular subjects tend to be the ones who keep bring them up, leaveing me no choice but say “we just had this conversation yesterday, and you’re just wrong, I don’t care what Rush Limbaugh/ Air America says”, or throwing my hands in the air and walking away.

  21. I find one topic that’s really difficult to talk about when it’s close to you is mental illness, and not simply of the religious variety.

    I have a friend in one of my circles of friends that quite obviously has some serious issues with depression, and for a while we whispered around it with each other, and treaded carefully around her so as to not set her off because it’s very ugly when she does go off on us. On top of that, she’s been dating another friend within this same circle for a while, and he usually does little to ease the situation, which also doesn’t help.

    It had finally gotten to me recently that I had sent an email expressing my discontent, and sadness about her situation. I understand that she was taking medication, but I have no if she still is, or if it’s even helping.

  22. @James Fox: I don’t get the idea of faking an orgasm unless the woman is merely having mercy sex with her partner and wants to get it over. Why fake it when a little time and the right attention may make it real? I suppose some men may have ego invested in being able to make women come, so maybe the woman wants to stroke the ego even though not in a space to come herself. I don’t know.

  23. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina): I, too, can talk about anything with my spouse, but she may be alone in that class. I can probably talk about anything with my brother and my sister, but some things (e.g. my pr0n appreciation) tend not to come up with them while they do with my wife. Other people have topics that I can’t discuss with them. One of my colleagues has a great sense of humor, and we tell each other jokes and discuss sex, drugs, rock & roll, and boobs, but he’s quite conservative, so I try not to discuss politics or religion with him—I’m not interested in argument or evangelization.

  24. I just realized that, while a great question, if there IS something that’s off-limits in discussion with your peeps, by definition it wouldn’t be brought up here, right? It’s a self defeating question!

  25. @Reverend Kel: My husband works slightly south of where we live and continues to be amazed by some of the attitudes he encounters. The day after the election, two co-workers came into the office and one pointed at my husband and said, accusingly, “Well, HE voted for him!” And the other was shocked: “Really? You voted for a n*****?!” My husband was all, “Well, no, because he’s not a “n*****,” but yes, technically.”
    When does squirrel-hunting season start again?

  26. my friends are pretty cool (that’s why they’re my friends right?). though there is one who is into the quixtar “cult” (as i like to call it) so i avoid religion and politics with him. it’s kinda funny i’m fairly sure he used to be a CHINO (i could be wrong) and a democrat since joining the quixtar family though he’s wearing a cross necklace and is now a republican. he’s still pretty cool though.

    my wife’s friends on the other hand are more…i don’t know what, but i can’t speak anywhere near as freely which is why i think i don’t have as much fun when i go out with them.

  27. Political correctness!
    Some of my (white) friends get really confused about what’s acceptable and what isn’t and they very frequently assert that being friends with someone who’s “coloured” *cringes* completely negates any racist comments they make.
    One of them went into a massive rant about second generation immigrants (“You know what THEY’RE LIKE”) while I was sitting right next to her! Her boyfriend kindly requested that she shut up, but it comes up in conversations rather frequently :-(

  28. Among skeptics I’ve noticed that any discussion of libertarianism turns ugly pretty quick.

  29. My friends are open-minded, many poly, others LGBT or with many LGBT friends. I live in a pretty liberal bubble, considering I live in Phoenix. I have a few friends that I can about anything with–and I mean anything.

    A few of my friends in my home town are much more conservative, but I stopped giving a fuck a long time ago.

    If I really need to talk about something and my awesome friends aren’t available, I just turn to the internet! You can find someone to talk to about anything on the internet!

  30. @PeteSchult: “Why fake it when a little time and the right attention may make it real? ”

    Or maybe the woman is afraid to ask for what she needs to get off, or isn’t comfortable enough with her body to know what gets her off, or has been taught that women shouldn’t talk about sex and so doesn’t, and doesn’t want to hurt her partner’s feelings.

    It doesn’t usually have to do with “mercy sex” but rather that the woman doesn’t know how to talk about sex.

  31. @marilove: COTW

    I have spent so many wasted hours trying to get various women to relax, not be embarrased and just fucking tell me when I am finally licking the right spot. Just tell me dammit. To hard, to soft move left or right, faster, slower etc. You’re the one feeling it, help me make it feel good.

  32. @marilove: I think that has a lot to do with it. A lot of people don’t know how to talk about sex. One of our male friends was trying to talk about sex and ask my opinions on certain maneuvers and he kept using all these euphemisms. I had to say “anal sex” or “clit” for him every time he started hemming and hawing and blushing.
    When are people going to realize that sex is perfectly normal and pretty much everyone does it and if you would just TALK about it openly and honestly it wouldn’t be such a big screaming deal? (same as with the ED commercials and whatnot)

  33. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina) said:

    When are people going to realize that sex is perfectly normal and pretty much everyone does it and if you would just TALK about it openly and honestly it wouldn’t be such a big screaming deal?

    Well, perhaps about the same time that people realize that for some people sex was, is, and always be a big screaming deal that can be quite difficult to talk about largley because it is a very, very different phenomenon for each and every one of us, and expression of intimate feelings and thoughts is, under normal circumstances of Western society, normally difficult for most people, even with intimate friends and lovers.

    By the way, I really do not mean that to sound at all as snarky as it does, I just felt it should be said.

  34. Sex is certainly very important and very intimate and very lovely. But talking about it? Being about to inform your doctor intelligently about your pain and problems? Being able to discuss medical concerns without being embarrassed or sexual preferences with your mate without bring ashamed? I think everyone would be a lot happier and healthier if we could all just get there.
    Sex can be a big screaming deal if you want it to be (and as long as your neighbors don’t mind, I’m all for it!) but talking about it shouldn’t have to be. It CAN be difficult to discuss, yes, and THAT is the problem.

  35. @SicPreFix: Just because it is difficult for some, doesn’t mean it SHOULD be. Our society shames people — ESPECIALLY WOMEN — in regards to sex.

    Sex is a big screamin’ deal to me, but I don’t have a problem talking about it, because I know nearly everyone has sex! It isn’t abnormal or shameful, but people treat it like it is.

    MANY women have never had an orgasm because they are taught they shouldn’t think about sex, or talk about it. They think not orgasming is normal. And because they don’t want to hurt their partners, they fake it.

    We need to have more open discussion about sex in our society. Continuing to view it as some scary, shameful act does not help at all.

  36. @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina):



    Hey you two! You are both putting a lot of words in my mouth that I didn’t say.

    I am only saying that your norm is not necessarily everybody’s norm, and that with their norm being different from yours does not necessarily make them wrong or abnormal, or deviant, or hindered with a problem.

    I love talking about sex. But I know a lot of men and women who dont. And in some cases it does not have to do with any of these endless social ills we banter about here. It is nothing more than simple, normal shyness and/or the desire for privacy about personal issues.

    We need to have more open discussion about sex in our society.

    Sure. Within context. And where it is appropriate — wherever the hell that is or is not, and who’s to say?

    But I think you might allow people to keep whatever they feel to be private, in the private domain without implying they’re somehow wrong or that that is a problem.

    I suspect our difference of opinion here may in part be due to age. I know that all of my contemporaries, having passed 50, feel much less inclined to the exuberant public demonstration and gleeful, if rather forceful celebration and sometimes positively exhibitionistic sharing of personal sexual information, opinion, and proselytization that can be so much the province of younger folks. It is most definitely not that it’s viewed as shameful. It is that it is sometimes viewed as tiresome noise.

  37. @SicPreFix: FYI, I never implied you meant anything like that; I was just fleshing out my already started ideas/opinions from my first comment.

    “Within context. And where it is appropriate — wherever the hell that is or is not, and who’s to say?”

    And it would be appropriate in the bedroom with your partner. Period. You can’t expect women (and men, for that matter) to have fulfilling sex lives if they are too afraid to talk to their partner about sex. If a woman is unable to orgasm, and she is unwilling to talk about it, nothing will change.

    THAT is what we were talking about. Not necessarily talking to everyone and your grandmother about sex, but rather being able to discuss sex with your partner(s) — and hell, within yourself. i.e., “Why does this turn me on? What would bring me to orgasm?”

    Many women — young and old — feel they can’t talk about sex with their partners. So they fake orgasms. And are miserable.

  38. Yes, exactly what marilove said. I don’t think sex talk should be anything goes, anywhere and anytime. What we are saying it that people need to be more comfortable talking about it so that they can be happier and healthier.

  39. Exactly! The majority of people are happier when the sex with their partner(s) is fulfilling. I’m not saying everyone needs sex to be happy (many people don’t), but for the majority of people, sex is an important thing in their lives, especially if they are in some sort of long-term relationship (marriage or not).

    Many women do not feel they can talk about sex, even with their partners. Hell, MEN are afraid to talk *honestly* about sex with their partners. A women may not be satisfied, she may never have had an orgasm … but she can’t talk about it to the one person she should be able to talk about it with. So she continues to fake orgasms and have an unsatisfying sex life.

    As a man (and I’m pretty sure you’re a man, SicPreFix), you don’t really understand how difficult it is for some women. Can you imagine never, EVER having an orgasm?

  40. Not to mention the health concerns. So many women just ignore their discomfort or even pain and assume this is the way sex is supposed to be because they are shamed away from ever discussing it, even with their mother or sister. They don’t go to the doctor, or if they do, they don’t know how to explain what is wrong. This is bad.

    This is good: The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health, by Dr. Elizabeth G. Stewart (
    An invaluable resource, which every woman should own.

  41. @marilove:
    @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina):

    I see. I misunderstood where you were going with your posts. I stand, actually sit at the mo’, corrected.

    @marilove said:

    As a man (and I’m pretty sure you’re a man, SicPreFix), you don’t really understand how difficult it is for some women. Can you imagine never, EVER having an orgasm?

    I am! I am!

    I cannot! I cannot!

  42. As long as we’re on the subject, am I the only *man* here who’s ever faked an orgasm?

  43. @tiger kitty: Yah, I figure it was probably mental. The times it has happened has been when I wasn’t interested in the sex. I was bored and just doing it to get it over with. Also I have a really, really hard time having an orgasm. I was having sex for months before I had my first orgasm. I would just go until I was to tired to go anymore. I’m only able to have an orgasm after I’ve had sex with the woman several times. I can’t think of a time when it happened before the fifth time we had sex.

  44. So, I don’t post my thoughts on here very often for a myriad of reasons, the main being I’m actually very inarticulate and tend to ramble. However, I have vast experience not being able to talk to many people about my beliefs (non-religious or otherwise.) I work in a very small, private, Baptist University in Texas, and, as an atheist, this is tricky. If too many people here find out about my “deconversion,” it could affect/effect (damn BA in English is getting me nowhere!) my job. They reserve the right as a private college to hire/terminate according to people’s religious beliefs. I’m quite ensured I’ll be safe from termination since I’m an exceedingly moral person, sometimes more so than the people who claim to have “the truth” in Christ.

    Also, having just graduated college last May, most of my friends are from the University of which I speak meaning they are Christian. Most have accepted my deconversion, if you will, even if they don’t understand it. Not being able to completely open about my beliefs and be skeptical to things that others follow blindly is deeply isolating, and that’s a very lonely experience. I only have one friend, who luckily does not give me an excuse to “fake orgasms” (he’s quite good at what he does), that is completely in tune with what I believe in every sense. If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t have anything. And I would end up being Nietzsche. Which… actually.. might be okay. He was a smart bastard.

    Thanks for listening to my ramblings. It’s comforting to know that we don’t have to be alone in our skepticism.

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