AS89: Comments and Tommentary

In this episode I revisit some Ferguson stuff in light of your comments. I have to revise something I said last week. Then, I do some Tommentary about comments Ayaan Hirsi Ali made a week ago, as well as an interview Dawkins had.

11 thoughts on “AS89: Comments and Tommentary”

  1. I think what motivates Dawkins, Ali, and Harris as well, is not so a problem with feminists worrying about shirtgate, but that seem not to care about things like FGM at all. I think they believe feminist activists are part of the same demographic that considers criticism of Islam racist. Cultural relativists who think, who are we (Imperialist Americans) to criticize black, and brown people’s culture. I think there is some truth in that.

  2. Like Dawkins, I’m a grumpy white male. Are there any other causes or sensitive topics I’m not allowed to involve myself with at the risk of needing to check my privilege?

    If you advocate the same point as someone else, but you score higher on the privilege ladder than they do, do you then lose your right to make that statement, while they don’t? If an idea merits consideration, it should stand on its own, and the matter of who is presenting it should be immaterial. Group membership of the speaker is not the yardstick by which something is judged correct.

    I get the impression that some people can simply never be satisfied. Fix all the problems, and they’ll gripe about how bored they are.

    1. I don’t understand why you’d see having to ‘check your privilege’ as a “risk”. If you are attempting to speak for other people whose experiences you don’t have knowledge of, then take the time to obtain that extra data that you’re missing (i.e. “check your privilege”). It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that if you don’t know all the facts, take the time to get the facts before speaking for others.

      Privilege has nothing to do with “losing your right to make a statement”. It’s not about who is and isn’t allowed to speak, it’s just about getting frustrated with people who are attempting to speak about things they haven’t taken the time to learn about first. It’s sort of like if a creationist walked into an evolutionary biology conference and started talking shit, and the scientists there all told him that he needed to learn basic evolutionary theory first. They aren’t telling him that he doesn’t have a “right to speak”, they are just correcting him by pointing out that the things he is saying are contradicted by facts and he should learn those facts before continuing.

      If what you are saying is consistent with the general view of the minority group in question then you are very unlikely to be told to “check your privilege” as making comments consistent with their experiences suggest that you have knowledge of the relevant facts (i.e. you have already checked your privilege) or at the very least you aren’t contradicting them and attempting to speak over them from a position of ignorance.

      The main problem is that if you don’t ‘check your privilege’ then you are speaking from a position of ignorance without knowledge of all the relevant facts. A position should stand or fall on its own merits, you’re correct, which is what ‘check your privilege’ is about. That is, it has fallen on account of lacking all the relevant facts.

      People are telling you that your idea is wrong because it hasn’t included all the facts, they aren’t telling you that you’re wrong because you’re a white man. It’s just that being a white man means that you aren’t immediately aware of all of the facts, like the experience of what it’s like to be black or a woman.

    2. I think Thomas was more forgiving of Ali than Dawkins here for good reason. They were ultimately making the same argument but how the argument was delivered made a big difference for me. Their backgrounds are relevant because they heavily inform their arguments. Ali talking about issues very relevant to her is just more sympathetic. Additionally when people come to expect this sort of thing from Dawkins we’re going to become less forgiving.

  3. The Ferguson case has been frustrating in that many people condemning the decision not to indict don’t seem to care what the evidence was – they apparently feel their own personal outrage is sufficient to justify it.
    I did try doing a web search for any arguments that the decision was wrong, or that an actual Jury would have had a reasonable chance of convicting, but didn’t find any. Plenty criticizing it, and lots talking about what can be done to get justice for Michael Brown, plus a few making what seemed to be legitimate criticism of how the prosecutor handled it, but non arguing that a guilty verdict would be possible.
    Very few people even discussed what the Grand Jury was supposed to do (decide whether a crime was committed and
    whether there is probable cause to believe
    the defendant committed) and of those that did, I didn’t see any even try to define probable cause, which is hard to find for a non legal expert, as most sites seem to assume the reader already knows what it is, so Wikipedia may be the best “A common definition is “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true””
    Whether the evidence meets that standard is a different issue, but it would have been nice to see it addressed

  4. You mentioned in the episode that you weren’t seeing non-rhetoric based arguments “for” an indictment. You went on to mention something to the effect that you wondered if there being “doubt” made it less clear. Keep in mind that this was a grand jury deciding on an indictment, which requires the lowest standard of evidence, “probable cause”, as opposed to reasonable doubt, which you use colloquially but has a very specific legal definition which is much more demanding than probable cause. The biggest problem with the lack of an indictment comes down to the fact that were Wilson anyone except a police officer, he would have at least been indicted and a trial would have been had. This isn’t entirely rhetoric, as it has been pointed out that in 2010 162,000 federal cases were brought before grand juries, and of these only 11 were refused indictments by the grand jury.

    ( I don’t know the veracity of this source in general, as I didn’t have the original source on hand, however the statistic stated within have been vetted.

    1. This isn’t entirely rhetoric, as it has been pointed out that in 2010 162,000 federal cases were brought before grand juries, and of these only 11 were refused indictments by the grand jury.

      In how many of those 162,000 instances was a grand jury convened by a prosecutor who wasn’t convinced a crime had been committed, or was convinced that if an indictment was handed down he couldn’t get a conviction. People seem to be ignoring that. I have no doubt whatsoever that the prosecutor could have gotten an indictment, but he didn’t believe doing so was in the interest of justice. Prosecuting someone you believe is innocent amounts to a punishment in itself. Which I would suggest is why many wanted a trial even if Wilson was found not guilty. They wanted him at to least to have to suffer a couple years of a trial, and a lifetime of legal debt.

      1. I wanted to add, in case you’re wondering why the prosecutor convened a grand jury if he didn’t believe a crime had been committed. For the same reason Pontius Pilate turned Jesus over to the Jews. He wanted to absolve himself of the responsibility for deciding unilaterally not to prosecute.

      2. This is something that occurred to me. If failure to indict is so rare, maybe that means that normally a case with such poor evidence wouldn’t even make it to the Jury.
        Could he have got an indictment if he wanted one? I don’t know. I’ve never been on one and don’t know what he could have left out or spun differently to make them think there was a reasonable chance of conviction, or if he would even be able to present the case in such a way they didn’t do the job they were supposed to do, and instead decided if they thought it would just be a good idea.

  5. On the question of why you only seemed to be getting “pro-Wilson” comments, I’d suggest that most people agreed with your commentary and didn’t feel the need to comment. You see this a lot in comment sections, where only the people who feel strongly enough about the subject will comment – this tends to be people disagreeing. But for people who are generally “anti-Wilson” in this case, I think you did a good job of representing them by suggesting that the trial seemed to have a few problems and it deserved to at least be heard in a real trial.

    The Hirsi Ali topic was interesting as I hadn’t heard of the drama before you mentioned it but I generally agreed with your reaction. I can understand why she might feel that way but I can also recognise that her position is essentially a reframing of a logical fallacy (the same one that “Dear Muslima” commits, as you rightly pointed out). It makes sense that she would get frustrated by things she views as relatively trivial but the obvious rebuttal is to point out that it’s not trivial to the person experiencing it.

    The more annoying part about her comment is that her complaint was that feminists “used” to be about fighting for equal opportunity in the workplace and education but she thought that “shirtgate” was trivial and unimportant to those goals… What? The whole complaint over the shirt was that it was yet another example (and a high profile one at that) of the workplace hostility that women face in these areas and a demonstration of why women leave these careers.

    The Dawkins’ comment doesn’t surprise me at all. I come from this issue as someone who was a massive fan of Dawkins – got the books, quoted him in arguments, even volunteered at his organisation for a few years, etc, but each comment and piece of drama that came out chipped away at my respect for him. I know you’ve said in earlier podcasts that you think people get up in arms about his comments because they aren’t viewing his comments charitably due to this jaded view of him and that you prefer to take people at their word when they apologise, but I think he makes it clear why others aren’t happy to do that (and maybe now for good reason).

    His “apologies”, to me at least, always seemed like non-apologies. They were “I’m sorry I got caught” rather than “I’m sorry I did it” apologies and in the section you read out from his interview I think Dawkins admits that, by basically saying he’s not sorry for what he has said but only for the reaction he caused.

  6. On Ferguson, I haven’t really looked into Michael Brown’s case but have been more so interested in the larger issues being addressed. I haven’t really picked a side on the case but have just felt that Brown’s death is very unfortunate and I hope we can learn from the situation and make reforms to policing.

    Dawkins comments were ridiculous. It seems like he hasn’t really considered why people have been upset with him.

    I can sympathize with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s feelings about the shirt thing. As I understand it this became a big deal because of people looking for conflict. Maybe its because of the internet that they are so visible but there are a lot of people with anti-feminism sentiments. The more people defending the shirt as a non-issue led to more people condemning the shirt as an issue. Unlike Ali though I see this as having to do with how quickly people get information these days and the ease of arguing on the internet as opposed to a sign that feminism is moving in the wrong direction.

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