AS86: Jonathan Figdor, Part 2; Commentary

We finish up the discussion with Jonathan Figdor. Lots of interesting stuff! Then I move onto some commentary about last week’s episodes. Definitely a lot to think about and discuss moving forward. Hopefully I can get some more guests on to represent all sides.

2 thoughts on “AS86: Jonathan Figdor, Part 2; Commentary”

  1. Hi again Thomas, don’t worry I’m hoping this comment will be shorter (but no promises)!

    Firstly, thanks a lot for featuring my comment and receiving it in such a positive way. It was an interesting experience to be listening to one of my favourite podcasts and then hear my name and words get discussed.

    Secondly, I just wanted to clarify a couple of things but there’s no need for you to respond to these if you don’t have the time or just want to move on from the topic.

    1) In response to my questioning of the use of the term, you read out a bit of James’ response from the blog where he basically says that if a multifaceted term can be used in a way that can harm your cause, then why not change the term.

    I don’t think think it adequately handled my complaint that the problem isn’t the words used, but the underlying concept (which means that the problem will continue independent of the words). Whatever the chosen word is, these people will find a negative interpretation – if they can find a problem with “pride”, where the worst possible interpretation is that it can sometimes refer to an “achievement”, then you’re never going to win trying to change terms.

    2) On the issue of discussing sensitive issues, you argued that these things can’t be discussed “easily” by everyone at all and instead issues arise on the internet all the time. I just wanted to clarify that I never said that they could be discussed “easily” but just that they were often discussed civilly.

    I obviously accept that conflict occurs often when these issues are discussed but my point was more that it obviously isn’t a rare occurrence for people to discuss them civilly. People write peer reviewed articles on them and discuss them in academics, so it’s hardly the hostile warzone that it is sometimes painted as.

    On that point, I really liked your attempt to rephrase Boghossian’s tweet in a way that would have garnered a far more positive response. I agree with your point that generally you’ll run into less resistance when you’re agreeing with a position rather than providing a dissenting opinion, but again this does depend on how you phrase it. I’ve had my experience of presenting problematic opinions on various sensitive topics and having my head bitten off, but after taking the time to educate myself I find that the negative response was due to my arrogant and condescending tone, and (if I’m honest with myself) I wasn’t making the claims to open up a dialogue but rather to preach my opinion to the world. If people like Dawkins and Boghossian are honest with themselves about the issues they claim to be “shut down” on, I think they’ll find the same.

    3) “Shutting down discussion”: I think we basically agree on this issue but are viewing it from slightly different angles. I agree that aggressive or sarcastic dismissals of positions aren’t conducive to open debate but I think this is a different issue to shutting down “freedom of expression”.

    The former is essentially just a claim about how people should conduct themselves and what approaches are best for civil discussions to occur. In an ideal world I would love for things to be discussed dispassionately, where nobody was hurt or offended, and people didn’t resort to insults or personal attacks. It’s well summed up by the principle of: “Don’t be a dick”.

    The latter refers to whether people should be allowed to say what they say. If we are to defend “freedom of expression”, as Lindsay does, then he necessarily has to defend the freedom of the people who respond to that initial comment, regardless of how “appropriate” or civil he finds it (arguably with exception to things like death threats, slurs, etc). The point is that freedom of expression means that you can say what you want, and it also means that people can call you a dick for saying it.

    Just yesterday I saw a relevant XKCD comic on this here ( and I thought the alt-text was extremely poignant: “I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”.

    Overall though I was really happy with your response and I felt like your thoughts on my comment provided a more balanced perspective to the topic.

    As for suggestions on possible guests, if you wanted to do an episode on feminism then I’d recommend trying to get in touch with Marina Watanabe. She does the YouTube series “MarinaShutUp” (twitter: and a good example of her stuff might be this video explaining privilege: She can be a little sarcastic and snarky at times, as that’s geared towards her audience and it can be entertaining, but she’s also level-headed and usually willing to help educate people. (I don’t know her personally or anything so I don’t know if she’d be interested or have the time but I just enjoy her work and thought she’d be a really interesting person to chat with on your podcast).

  2. I had no real issue with the majority of Lindsay’s comments in the first part… I have personally taken note of the increasingly pervasive twitter/blog “reactionary” pile-ups, the reflexive shouting down/public shaming of anyone who types or says anything remotely insensitive, “politically incorrect”, etc (and I say this as a self-avowed leftist who tends to agree with the uber-liberal herd).

    But regarding the “gay pride” thing specifically:

    What are we really talking about here?

    We’re talking about an historically oppressed minority, who, up until very recently, has existed in perpetual fear of serious violence at the hands of the majority; real public shaming, societal shunning; and of course this still goes on today in many countries (including the U.S.).

    Now, in 2014, certain members of the majority class are finding fault with this minority group’s use of the word “pride” as part of their civil rights movement.

    Is this really an important, substantial criticism worthy of extensive discussion?

    In 1968, James Brown sang “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!”; and boat-loads of white people had all sorts of problems with that, ranging from full-blown white supremacists, to more meticulous “concerns” about how such a strident statement of pride might rub some whites the wrong way. (And to both camps I say: “Who cares?” Or maybe: “Get bent.”)

    Lindsay’s “what if” scenario (“What if so-and-so tweeted they were proud to be straight white and male??”) was not exactly thought-provoking, to put it mildly. I nearly guffawed out loud: seriously James? You’ve literally just entered ‘Why don’t we have a White History Month???’ territory.

    It should be plainly obvious why that comment, among others (like maybe, “How can someone be proud of being gay?”), might lead a great many people to reason that these “criticisms” may not be 100% rooted in some pedantic concern over accuracy in language.

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