AS84: James Lindsay, part 2

Continued discussion on discussion. We maxed out the time, so I’m going to have to address comments and give more thoughts on a later date. Thanks for the many good comments on this topic!

10 thoughts on “AS84: James Lindsay, part 2”

  1. James got even worse at the beginning of part 2. First of all as I said in my comment on part one. Saying I’m proud to be anything that’s an accident of birth is ridiculous except when it meant as a counter to “you should be ashamed of what you are”, so what if it feeds right wing bigotry against gays or blacks, would James also argue that Sam Harris should shut up because his criticism of Islam might fuel right wing bigotry against Muslims? Does James really think we should pander to bigots? Not only do I support, as I said in my previous post, the use of terms gay, or black pride, I think when someone criticizes the usage it provides one the perfect opportunity to explain why it’s used, and if a right wing bigot is bothered by it, good, anything that slaps them in the face with a reminder that this is no longer the 1950’s father knows best world they wish it was, is a good thing.

  2. I wanted to point out one more time as clearly as I could that Gay Pride is used in the same sense as “Black Pride”. I’m proud to say I’m black, or I’m proud to be an out of the closet black is not using it in the same sense it’s meant. If you explain why the term is used as it is, and someone still has a problem with it then they are a bigot, and can be dismissed.

    1. I don’t think its reasonable to conclude someone is a bigot because they are confused about something or disagree with your wording. It more depends on if they are being aggressive and offensive about it.

      I do think about the Gay Pride and Black Pride movements a bit differently. You can say they are both about celebrating your culture and bringing people together; but for black people its about exploring your personal heritage and with gay people its more about identity. Being out is a big part of gay pride and people tend to do this on their own terms. I’ve heard a lot of black people talk about when they realized they were black but its not an internal process the way realizing you are gay usually is.

      I disagree that “I’m proud to say I’m gay” defeats the purpose, and I like that it places focus on being open because that is the first tough hurdle for a lot of gay people. For gay people that conform with mainstream society in every other regard it really is up to them to say they are gay if they want to be identified.

      Its kind of weird that the word pride can mean having a good amount of self worth and too much self worth. But you know, its all about context. And in support of your argument, I would say a reason behind emphasizing having pride in yourself is that a lot of gay people grow up having low self esteem and hearing that you can be proud to be gay is encouraging to hear and could motivate people to say they are gay.

      1. Great comment. Let me say that I don’t think I see things quite the same as James, but I’ll talk more about it later. However, as La Tonya pointed out, someone having a disagreement about words does not automatically mean they are a bigot. I think accusations like that are quite serious and I don’t think they should be thrown around quite so easily. But, I do think the use of gay pride or black pride is fine in the sense of “not being ashamed.” I’m not quite sure why James had a problem with that exactly. Anyway, like I said, more on that next week.

        1. Hi Thomas–My only concern with “not being ashamed” as the operating use of the word pride is that the connotations of the word, to many who will hear it, only rarely stand up to this particular definition of the word, though it is one legitimately. I feel I explained this rather thoroughly in the blog posts and so did not elaborate on it verbally in our discussion. The relevant meaning is “awareness of one’s own dignity,” and it definitely fits. I don’t have a problem with using a word that fits, but I think it’s important to recognize that there are possible unintended (and potentially negative) consequences of using a multifaceted word to mean one of its definitions, particularly when the others can easily be used against your position.

          As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really care what people say, but I think they should be saying it with awareness that what they mean might not be what people hear. If that can be avoided–and here I think it can simply by more careful wording–then it should be. I don’t think it needs to be any more complicated than that.

          To the other commenters, the underlying points are that (1) the actual language used, whether “gay pride,” “black pride,” or even “straight pride” should always be as inclusive as possible to avoid a perception of unfairness that works against an otherwise important social movement; (2) we should say as nearly what we mean as we can whenever possible and not face being shouted out of discussions or branded maliciously for asking questions and exploring them genuinely; and (3) –most importantly– every human being should be afforded the dignity to own who he or she was born as authentically and should be allowed by anyone to feel pride in the accomplishment of owning that fact, particularly against social adversity or stigmas.

          I hope that clears it up. If you wish to discuss it further with me, please, by all means, email me. I will not respond again on this comment thread.

      2. I don’t think its reasonable to conclude someone is a bigot because they are confused about something or disagree with your wording.

        Apparently I have to make what I said clearer. I meant if you explain it’s not being used to mean pride in the sense that you might be proud of an accomplishment, but the opposite of ashamed, and they refuse to see the logic behind that, then yes I see no explanation other than bigotry, or stupidity. They don’t have to agree with anything.

        1. Are you referring to someone in particular or making a general statement? Because I don’t think that applies to the people talked about in this podcast. A bigot is vehement and unreasonable in their opposition.

          1. Are you referring to someone in particular or making a general statement?

            Huh? I was responding to your criticism of my comment. and pointing out that my considering someone a bigot wasn’t based simply on their being confused about something or disagreeing with wording.” It’s about a disingenuous display of willful ignorance.

            That being said bigotry is generally based almost entirely on confusion, and disagreement.
            Let’s say for example someone believes black males are inherently more likely to be criminals due to the disproportional numbers who end up in prison.
            I would label that position bigoted, and that bigotry is based on confusion, their failure to realize that blacks are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, are disproportionately poor, and are disproportionately convicted all as a result of skin color.
            If you explain all that to them, and they disagree that that explains it, they are still bigots.

            I also disagree with you characterization of bigotry as being “vehement and unreasonable”. Most bigotry is very subtle, and while unreasonable, bigots generally think they have good reasons for their opinions.

  3. Hi Thomas, long time listener, first time commenter! I should probably start by saying nice things and fortunately for me these are all true: I love the show, it’s often one of the highlights of my day, and I enjoy the way you can bring both sides to an argument as even if I end up personally disagreeing with your position, I still feel like you were always open to argument and having your mind changed.

    I do feel, however, that a counter position was sorely missing in these episodes. This isn’t really a complaint against you personally as I don’t have a podcast and I can’t imagine trying to form coherent thoughts whilst interviewing someone, nevermind coming up with arguments or positions in that interview that I might not agree with. But it was just a little jarring and frustrating given your usual format and especially as Lindsay/Boghossian’s position was quite weak.

    I apologise for the length of this comment, I’m not known for my brevity. With that said, from what I can see there are a number of fundamentally damaging issues with his position:

    1) Even if we accept that all of his claims about the term “gay pride” are true, so what? It’s such an insignificant thing to focus on semantics and even Lindsay thinks that such criticisms are ridiculous (at some point he argues that people get hung up on words instead of dealing with the concept behind the words).

    If the argument is that some people will see the word “pride” and interpret in the wrong way, which serves to fuel their anger, then it makes no sense. Bigoted theists aren’t anti-gay because they once heard a gay guy say that he’s proud to be gay. If you change the term “gay pride” to “proud to say I’m gay” or whatever you’ll still get the same problem for the same reason that the euphemism treadmill exists.

    2) Right at the beginning he presents another definition for “pride” (conscious of one’s own dignity) which has nothing to do with achievements. The debate is over, it’s an appropriate word.

    3) If we are to accept the possible retort that the word is still problematic because it has certain connotations, that isn’t something that can be demonstrated by appealing to other definitions in the dictionary. That’s not how language works. When I say that I’m going to take my money to the bank you don’t look at me confused and ask why the hell I’d leave my money by the river [bank].

    The phrase “gay pride” has its own meaning which is related to but not entirely reducible to the meanings of the two words by themselves. If a layman were to complain that the term “black hole” is problematic because the dictionary would define it as a “colourless cavity” and that couldn’t possibly have a gravitational effect on surrounding bodies then we’d point out that “black hole” is a scientific neologism that has its own meaning.

    More importantly, the complaint that Lindsay/Boghossian raises is so foreign to me. Who are these people who are running around confusing “gay pride” with the idea that it’s to do with achievement? Do they even exist?

    4) If we accept that he probably knew that all those things defeat his argument but still wanted to raise it to demonstrate that some topics are “taboo” in society now, then this is what the internet calls “JAQing off”. It’s a form of trolling where you try to upset people by “just asking questions”, which are usually purposefully loaded and pointed, then demand that people treat you civilly after you ask your question.

    There are a couple of problems with this approach but I think it’s summed up quite well in this cartoon: The point is that these issues can be quite important to some people, especially when it’s a topic like this one where gay people are told their whole life that they should be ashamed of their sexuality, being verbally and physically abused for it, fighting against society to reach a stage where they are finally happy with themselves, and then you read a tweet that essentially says “gay pride” is a silly phrase.

    The point here isn’t that it’s not allowed to be discussed, or that perception or interpretation is what Boghossian meant (as he explains in a later post), but rather that if you want to talk about sensitive topics then you need to approach it in a sensitive way. This isn’t a limitation of critical thinking, it’s not a call to “blasphemy”, it’s basically just a reminder that just because it’s not a sensitive issue to you and that you’re able to discuss it dispassionately, it might not be the same for other people. It’s a basic appeal to empathy, not a totalitarian call for censorship.

    The other major problem, which applies to the Dawkins tweets too, is that people do discuss these issues. All the time. There is no ban on them and no attempt to ban them. Discussing the severity of rape and how it affects people, discussing the ethics of abortion and children with Down’s Syndrome, discussing the appropriateness and consequences of certain terms and labels within minority groups, etc, these debates happen all the time. So instead of concluding that these topics are “taboo”, Lindsay and co need to look at why they are reacted to negatively when everyone else manages to talk about it civilly? (I’d wager that referring to people who disagree with them as “children” or “irrational”, as in Dawkins case, would contribute to it!).

    This is particularly true of the idea that “white people can’t be proud to be white” or “straight people can’t be proud to be straight”. Of course they can, and it’s encouraged to take pride in your identity. The only reason why people would be concerned if you were to say those things is because they are the norm. Being proud to be straight and white is the status quo, no one is ever really made to feel ashamed to be those things. It’s made even more difficult by the fact that historically things like “white pride” have been used to discriminate against, judge, and oppress minority groups and so that does actually have negative connotations.

    One of the main reasons I think they are responded to negatively is that they are publicly making very silly comments. Dawkins’ comment that it is immoral to give birth to a DS child demonstrates a woeful understanding of ethics, and the idea that “gay pride” is a problematic term based on a quick google dictionary search is just silly. As such, it’s sort of like someone writing a tweet along the lines of, “Humans aren’t monkeys, evolution is a lie! Come at me, bitches!” and then being surprised that people (including scientists) are responding in quite negative and harsh ways. Ignorance pisses people off, it shouldn’t be too surprising.

    Those are the main defeaters of Lindsay’s claims and I can’t see how it can possibly be defended after reading those objections. I do have some other minor issues with the interview and I guess, in for a penny, in for a pound…

    Lindsay tries to claim that these strong reactions to tweets like Boghossian’s and Dawkin’s are challenges to freedom of expression. Wait, what? These reactions are a demonstration of freedom of expression. FoE simply means that you are able to voice your opinions without fear of governmental intervention, it doesn’t mean that you should be sheltered from criticism. If someone wishes to make a homophobic statement on their twitter then they are absolutely free to do so. I’m also free to call them a jackass because of it. If we were to try to stifle these kinds of reactions and prevent them from being published, then that would be closer to a challenge to freedom of expression than Lindsay’s situation.

    Later he claims that “check your privilege” is a way of shutting down discussion. This isn’t true. “Check your privilege” is a shorthand way of saying that someone is trying to discuss experiences that they have no access to, or they are speaking from their own experiences which bias their view of the situation. For example, if my black friend tells me that he hates store attendants because they always follow him around to check he’s not stealing anything, and I say, “Nah, you’re probably just being sensitive, they hardly ever follow people around! You probably just act shady or something”, then it would be appropriate to tell me to check my privilege.

    It doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily wrong or that he’s necessarily right, it means that I’m missing a huge chunk of information that is vital to fully understand the situation. The fact that I’m basing my position on my experiences as a white guy means that I’ll have difficulty understanding how a black guy is treated by society. What this ultimately means is that in order for discussions to progress in any meaningful way then you have to be aware of your biases and preconceptions (i.e. “check your privilege”). So rather than shutting down discussion, it is the thing that makes discussion possible. (This isn’t to say that the phrase is never used inappropriately but I’d say it’s the exception and not the rule).

    I also find it odd when you are baffled at people calling others “sexists” or “homophobes” by claiming that they can’t see inside their heads. They don’t need to see inside their heads, they are judged by their actions. If someone is burning crosses on a black man’s lawn, wearing a white hood with swastikas on it, then we safely say that they’re probably racist – regardless of what they say they believe. Obviously that’s an extreme case but the point is that if someone is making homophobic comments then it’s not unreasonable to accuse them of being a homophobe. Maybe they’re wrong about the claim and they can be corrected, but I think it’s something that is better judged by behavior than mind reading.

    I could go on (like how Lindsay misunderstands what cognitive dissonance is, what ad hominems are, etc) but likely your eyes have glazed over and you’ve stopped reading long before now (and I can’t blame you!). Hopefully I’ve satisfied the demands of being civil though and my complaints don’t get relegated to the kids table.

    With all that said, I still love the show and I hope the quality remains at its usual high level. It would be great to have some podcasts giving a balancing view on some of these issues though, which I also thought was a little lacking in the Muslim/terrorism debate (it was a shame that Aslan’s position was so readily dismissed by you and your guest when nearly all terrorist reports agree with him that religious affiliation appears to have minimal impact on terrorist actions) and it’d be great to have a feminist discuss some issues with you as you seem wary of the topic but mostly as a result of misconceptions.

  4. The Puritans called from the 1660s and are delighted that our generation upholds a distaste for pride— they’re sending us a cartload of shame, plus Peter B. will receive an honorary pilgrim hat and lessons in frowning— a $35 value. Soon “Shame Day” will be celebrated with gray—let me make that clear, I said “gray”— flags since rainbows make people smile, and we mustn’t have smiles about things we have no control over like who we are. Feeling good about who we are just won’t do, and certainly no pride for what we’ve endured is out of the question. And to clear up this whole controversy, the Sadder But Wiser Philosophers’ Society is providing a printed list of things that we can be proud of: it’s a blank page by no accident, but coincidentally saves a bundle on SBWS’s printing costs.

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