Adventures in Ethics and Science

Coming up with a good definition is hard. And it’s not obvious that people are even really talking about the same thing when they identify an action or a situation as displaying civility or incivility.

So I’m wondering what kind of insight we can get by looking at some particular situations and deciding which side of the line it feels like they belong on.

Before I put the situations on the table, let me be transparent about how I’m making my calls: I’m going to be asking myself whether it feels like the people involved are showing each other respect, and I’m going to make a special effort to imagine myself on the receiving end of the action or behavior in question. (I’m also going to keep my calls to myself until other people have had a chance to weigh in. And I’m purposely choosing situations where it’s not totally clear to me what I think about the level of respect that’s coming across — so my judgments here are nothing like an official solution set!)


Case 1: “Climate Change — I care!”

From a post at The Island of Doubt:

Over at Linked In, the professionally oriented social networking service, there’s a discussion group called “Climate Change – I care!” Most of its members are those who share a concern for what anthropogenic global warming is threatening to do to civilization as we know it. Until this week, membership was open to anyone. But the moderator just ejected one member who has, shall we say, a contrarian point of view. …

The member, Leigh Haugen, only posted pseudoscientific rants about the conspiratorial nature of the entire climatology community, and if he does actually care about climate change, it’s clearly a different sort of care. At the beginning his occasional post was little more than annoying. It was a relatively simple and quick exercise to post a rebuttal with a reference to peer-reviewed science. Not that that would change Haugen’s mind, but at least the exchanges had the appearance of respectful back-and-forth.

But over the past weeks, Haugen’s posts became increasingly offensive. His last missive, apparently offered him as a farewell before being removed from the group, included a series of links to stories about the recent cold weather that has taken hold over much of North America and Europe, a plea to “spare me one of your ridiculous lectures about the difference between weather and climate,” an implication that one scientist quoted in a story about snowfall was getting rich off his research grant, and this sign-off:

Silence all Dissent! Avoid all debate!

Joseph Goebbels would be so proud of you!

…enjoy lying to each other – how fun and productive for you.

Was Leigh Haugen showing respect for the members group with his contrarian postings before he started comparing them to Nazis and liars? After?

Were the other members of the group showing respect for Leigh Haugen?

Was the ejection of Leigh Haugen from the group a respectful move?

(There may be relevant facts that we don’t have here — make the best call you can from the facts available.)

Case 2: And the conversation dies.

This situation is described by drdrA in a recent post at Blue Lab Coats:

I was at a meeting recently and I was walking around one of those infernal mixer type deals, that they always have at these things, chatting with people.  And for the most part, that was all fine, and I’m usually quite comfortable with the random chit chat and walking up to complete strangers and starting a conversation about projects, or some other mutually interesting topic.

But then I had one of those weird socially awkward moments. I walked up to a good friend (a man), who was standing with a big group of men, senior in my field, that I had not previously been introduced to. My friend was lovely, and he introduced me to all the other men in the group one by one.  Then, all the group conversation totally stopped DEAD. I felt incredibly awkward- it was as if I didn’t know the secret handshake or the men had to use some other language to deal with me. I suppose this incident sticks out in my head because I was the only woman in the group, and junior in the field.

Mere social awkwardness? Or was there some respectful way the group could have either included drdrA in the conversation they had been having, or shifted to a new topic of conversation that included her?

Was coming up to the group while it was in the middle of the conversation (and in effect getting that conversation to grind to a halt) a respectful move on drdrA’s part?

Case 3: Your connotations don’t look like mine.

Bikemonkey, in a guest post at DrugMonkey, explains why he’s less than thrilled that a professional cyclist of note has been tagged (by one of his pals) with the nickname “The Redneck”:

I like Horner as a pro cyclist. He’s got a great story in the US-favored vein. Hard luck guy, talented but never quite hits the top of the game. Shows a lot of promise and class but manages to break the hearts of his fans, year after year. Great stuff. Whenever he writes a riders’ diary or piece for his local paper, you feel like this is a likable dude.

He might be. Probably is. But when a guy he rides with calls him “The Redneck”, it gives me pause. Yeah, probably just his buddies joking around with him. Guy’s pretty pale and he spends a lot of time with the back of his neck exposed to the sun. Probably just Armstrong giving his teammate the Texas nickname treatment made famous by W.
I can understand that. But I’m not particularly interested in being a fan of bigots. When someone like Mel Gibson goes all wackanut, it decreases my enjoyment of his movies. Speaking here as someone who was and is squarely in the target demographic for the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon movies. Someone who enjoys semi-provocative film enough to be in the zone for his recent weird-ass director efforts. Just like I’m finding myself reaching for the radio knob when Keillor comes on in recent weeks.

Commenters on the post take issue with the meanings Bikemonkey imputes to the “redneck” label. For example:

If you want to define “redneck” as someone who likes cherry lollipops and drools a lot, that’s certainly your privilege. You can also define “wetback” as a passionate snorkeler. On the other hand, if you’re going to read meaning into what someone else writes, it’s a good idea to use the same semantics they do — and every source I have (including history) tells me that the defining characteristic of a “redneck” is “poor rural white.”

References: Edward Abbey’s “In Defense of the Redneck,” Jim Goad’s “The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats”

and:

Whether I stereotype someone on the basis of incomplete information is irrelevant to the connotation of “redneck”.

As you yourself put it, you’re leaping from the label (“redneck”) to a conclusion that the person in question is a bigot. That’s the same “logic” behind concluding that someone with dark skin is ignorant.

And, like all bigots, you’re most vehement when your prejudice is called out.

and:

Given the wide use of the word by large parts of the country in a manner that rarely touches on the economic interpretation of the slur, let alone bearing connotations of “racist”, haven’t we established that perhaps you’re over reacting?

Now, if you have evidence that Lance grew up in an area in which “redneck” = “racist confederate-loving skinhead”, then you might be onto something.

Meanwhile, Dr. Isis goes the visual semiotics route and shows us what images Google Image search delivers for “redneck”.

So … we seeing an exchange about the historical and emotional baggage attached to the word “redneck” whose participants, while disagreeing with each other (strongly) are still showing each other respect?

If not, can you suggest some other way to have this discussion that might be more likely to really engage participants while helping them stay respectful of each other?

Or is this one of those topics that you’d want to avoid if at all possible in order to be able to respect other folks (and yourself)?

Case 4: A post of mine that substantial swaths of the internet view as downright mean.

[W]hen I claim that people who opt out of vaccination are free-riders on society, what I’m saying is that they are receiving benefits for which they haven’t paid their fair share — and that they receive these benefits only because other members of society have assumed the costs by being vaccinated.

The post in which I defend the claim that those who opt out of vaccination for communicable diseases are free-riders on those who get vaccinated has been linked in a number of parenting forums. Denizens of those forums who identify this post as disrespecting them significantly outnumber those who describe the post as respectful (even if they disagree with my conclusions).

Interestingly, in the science-y sector of the blogosphere, I am frequently told that I’m too nice in that post.

If I’m seriously committed to the whole respecting other people thing, what level of respect does a post like this (explaining the foreseeable consequences of a particular decision, and looking at these consequences in the context of ethics) need to achieve? What’s the clearest way to demonstrate that respect?

DId I succeed or fail at demonstrating that kind of respect in the post I actually wrote?

* * * * *

What I’m really interested in discovering here is how much we agreement we have in our basic assessments of whether a particular engagement, or attempt to engage, or decision to not engage, comes across as showing respect or disrespect. (This is different from whether it comes across as polite!)

And of course, if you want to explain why a particular situation reads the way it does to you, have at it.

Comments

  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    January 6, 2010

    Or is this one of those topics that you’d want to avoid if at all possible in order to be able to respect other folks (and yourself)?

    That’s a context-sensitive question.

    Some topics have a high heat/light ratio and are pretty well guaranteed to go nowhere productive (e.g. my son’s girlfriend. Just don’t.)

    Others have a low heat/light ratio and are safe topics. Weather (if not climate) comes to mind.

    Then there are the topics which are going to ruffle feathers, but may be worth raising. Such as the kid in the neighborhood who always has bruises on his arms, but usually wears long sleeves.

    I believe that that last category is the kind that Zuska (among many others) identify as places where calls for “civility” are used to stifle people trying to call out wrongs.

    Promoting any of these to a general rule seems like a Bad Idea.

  2. #2 Chester Burton Brown
    January 6, 2010

    Janet, I am perhaps once burned twice shy of defining “respect” because the word is too frequently tossed around where it might not belong (or may be, at best, a secondary issue).

    In my experience, people tend to complain about the tone of a discussion as a weapon of last resort. That is, we tolerate amazingly disrespectful exchanges when we will it is not interfering with our ability to make an argument or when it allows our opponents to undermine their own. Folks (generally) only stop the discussion process to complain about meta-issues like respect when they haven’t got a point of argument to offer instead.

    That is, arguers at a loss for a satisfactory rebuttal will claim instead to be “insulted” to the point where productive discussion is stalled (when, in fact, it is they who have stalled the discussion by stepping out of it to complain about the tone).

    As a corollary to this, it seems to me that what most people *mean* when they say they have been disrespected or insulted is that somehow has suggested that they are wrong. Since few profitable discussions on difficult issues can be had without *somebody* being wrong about *something*, this means serious intellectual explorations with such a person are a minefield of hurt feelings waiting to be validated.

    Scientists, sceptics, honest thinkers are all aware that being wrong is a wonderful thing — because recognizing how you are wrong is a small step toward becoming slightly more correct.

    The vast majority of people, however, view being wrong (or being viewed as being wrong) as a toxic, ego-threatening situation from which they will escape at any cost. I may get called a shameless sexist for saying so, but in my experience many men can be counted on more than some women to be reactionary and hostile when confronted with the possibility of their being wrong about something. It is perceived as a direct attack upon their potency and legitimacy as a thinking being.

    Thus, in all the smoke, I lose sight of what true “respect” really is in a discussion between people with radically different points of view. Myself, in person, I try to be polite (it’s a national pastime here in Canada), and to use language that is diplomatic or at least neutral, and to dance lightly around points of discussion which may highlight that my opponent’s fundamental problem may be something very sensitive, like a lack of education or — worse — a lack of basic brain power.

    Yours,
    CBB

  3. #3 thoughtcounts Z
    January 6, 2010

    Case 1
    It sounds like Haugen was showing respect for the members of the group initially, but at some point it seems as though he ran out of patience and became disrespectful. Comparing people to Nazis is obviously disrespectful, but I also think that “spare me one of your ridiculous lectures” is a pretty disrespectful thing to say, and that was probably happening before this final post of his. My guess is that the other members of the group were generally respectful of Haugen. Explaining your viewpoint calmly and rationally to someone who has stated their disagreement with the intent of starting debate is a respectful thing to do. It’s also my guess that this respect was not practiced uniformly by all members of the group at all times … just based on my experience with internet discussion boards in general. I am really torn on whether ejecting him from the group is respectful. Haugen knowingly went into an environment where everybody disagreed with him, and became belligerent about being the only person there with his particular viewpoint. Shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him, though. And the people of this group don’t have to tolerate his intolerance of them. It’s possible the most respectful thing to do is to inform Haugen that he was not welcome and to revoke his membership, though I think it would be strictly more respectful for group admins to have contacted him ahead of time and alerted him of their concerns and the possible consequences.

    Case 2
    I don’t see any reason why the conversation should have stopped when drdrA walked up. She says “I’m usually quite comfortable with the random chit chat and walking up to complete strangers and starting a conversation” so I presume that is how these mixer type things generally happen. People move around the room at random and interrupt other conversations all the time. I don’t think it’s particularly disrespectful for drdrA to have walked into the conversation because of this, and I’d be inclined to say any lack of respect is a function of the event structure rather than something any individual should take blame for there. Also, it’s so easy to say, “Nice to meet you! We were just talking about [brief summary of the last five minutes]” that it’s hard to imagine a legitimate, respectful reason that everyone in the group had for not doing so. I do wonder, if drdrA is so comfortable with these things, why she didn’t ask them about their work or offer some other discussion-starter herself. I’m not sure I would advocate for, but might potentially buy, the argument that not doing so was disrespectful on her part — expecting the others to bear the weight of starting a conversation.

  4. #4 thoughtcounts Z
    January 6, 2010

    Case 3
    This conversation seems about as respectful as I could imagine. It’s hard because everyone is very sensitive to everything that’s being said, and nobody wants to be called bigoted or racist or prejudiced. But sometimes those things ought to be said! As long as it is clearly understood that everyone involved is well-intentioned, I think respect can be maintained. I don’t think it is respectful to anyone, particularly to groups that are targets of prejudice and discrimination, to refrain from all conversations about discrimination and privilege. That certainly won’t mean that no one is ever offended.

    Case 4
    I think the best way to respect someone in a dialogue like this is to treat them like adults. Don’t try to sway their minds and actions with fear or other emotions. Laying out the facts seems to be the best way to go about it. I think other science bloggers are telling you this post sounds too nice becaue it is very hard to remain respectful of someone who seems to be willfully blind to the facts. Of course, “they” feel the same way about “us” so the most respectful thing to do is for everybody to try to be patient with everybody else, to explain one’s position and one’s points of disagreement with alternative positions. I think you succeed in this.

  5. #5 Nick
    January 6, 2010

    In Case 1, Haugen may or may not have been respectful in the early going, but his parting shot was pure trollery, and could be used as a textbook example of disrespectful behavior. As for booting him from the forum, that seems disrespectful as well (it’s hard to read, “You don’t deserve to be here, and we must force you to go away,” as anything other than disrespectful), but the lack of respect may or may not have been warranted based on his previous behavior. I’m not certain that any reasonable standard of civility should include indefinite tolerance of a troll, but ejection of that troll is a disrespectful act.

    In Case 2, I don’t see drdA as being disrespectful in entering the conversation, since, as thoughtcounts Z has observed, that’s kinda what you do at a mixer. The sudden death of the conversation could be a sign of disrespect or of social awkwardness; it’s not clear from the evidence at hand. In her place, I’d feel mighty awkward, but that isn’t an unfamiliar feeling at a scientific gathering…

    In Case 3, the first commenter seems to be dancing around the line between respectful discourse (e.g. citing sources) and disrespectful inflammation (comparing bikemonkey’s read of the word “redneck” to a blatant misreading of an unambiguous racial epithet). I might have been a bit annoyed by this first comment, had it been directed at me, but it can be engaged on its merits. The second commenter clearly crosses the line into disrespect, with the direct ad hominem insult; in bikemonkey’s place, I wouldn’t see myself responding to anything further from the second commenter. The third commenter seems to me to resemble the first: a bit inflammatory, but not completely disrespecful. As for Dr. Isis, well, that was pretty inflammatory and disrespectful; she led with a direct insult of the person she was defending, she didn’t advance an argument so much as make an appeal to emotion (it’s hard to construe a sequence of photographs of images of racism as an argument), and the images were surrounded with quite a bit of mineating language (“…[S]ometimes when it comes to issues of race around these parts, Mama’s gotta speak (er, type) real slowly…”). It was an entertaining post, but I don’t know, were I a partisan in the argument, that I’d make any sort of attempt to rebut her, since I’m not sure I’d know what to rebut.

    As for Case 4, the direct insult (“free-riders”) was disrespectful and inflammatory. The rest of the post had plenty of substance to be engaged, but it was often couched in language that expressed anger and frustration at the anti-vaccers, and would thus tend to provoke defensiveness rather than engagement with the issues.

  6. #6 Mike
    January 6, 2010

    Case 2,
    I think the interloper was disrespectful for interrupting the conversation in the first place. With the exception of an emergency, it is rude and disrespectful to interrupt another group of people who are in conversation. If the person in question wanted to talk to one member of that group, she should have waited until he was finished talking.

    Case 3
    I did not see lack of respect. I just saw rather odd judgment that the nickname of “Redneck” would bother someone that much.

  7. #7 Janet D. Stemwedel
    January 6, 2010

    Nick @5: As for Case 4, the direct insult (“free-riders”) was disrespectful and inflammatory.

    This is the kind of thing I’m glad you all are here to point out. In academic philosophy, “free-rider” is a technical term. So, against the backdrop of my training, I didn’t expect it to be read as an insult. Obviously, it can be.

  8. #8 Axxyaan
    January 6, 2010

    Case 4
    The problem here is that you are trying to bring accross a message that happens to threaten the self-image of those people. I doubt that any of the people who don’t wish to vaccinate their children sees themselves as a free-rider, so being at the receiving end of that message probably hurts. That is not necessarily being disrespectfull but is easily perceived as such.

    IMO there are two things you could have done to enlarge the odds those people not vaccinating there children would have viewed your message as respectful.

    1) Somehow stress more that you are only talking about this particular aspect. I know it was not your intention and someone who isn’t emotional vulnarable won’t read it that way, but those who are could interpret you calling them free-riders, as you labeling them as free-riding personalities who would try to get anything they can for free.

    2) Call out the good characterictics of those not vaccinating their children that cause them to act this way. Stress that they are probably good mothers that care for their children and worry about them. Explain how this natural worry is used to induce fear by those with an agenda and how that fear influences their decision making resulting in them not vaccinating and in this aspect taking a free-ride.

    Now none of those suggestions will guarantee that your message is viewed as respectful. Messages that threaten someone’s self-image are never easy to deliver.

  9. #9 Chad Orzel
    January 6, 2010

    But then I had one of those weird socially awkward moments. I walked up to a good friend (a man), who was standing with a big group of men, senior in my field, that I had not previously been introduced to. My friend was lovely, and he introduced me to all the other men in the group one by one. Then, all the group conversation totally stopped DEAD.

    I’ve seen this one a lot, and ironically, it’s a direct consequence of the lovely behavior. Introducing a newcomer to each of the members of a previously speaking group necessarily stops the conversation dead for at least as long as it takes to do the introductions. After that, it can be really hard to start up conversation again, without falling back to really cliche “So, you come here often?” kinds of small talk.

    Individual introductions are also a thing that frequently happens when a conversation has reached a natural stopping point on its own. One of those awkward pauses is about to happen, and then someone seizes on a new arrival as a way to fill the gap. And after the introduction, the awkward pause that was going to happen happens anyway.

    I’ve been on both ends of this lots of times, and it has nothing to do with respect on either side. It’s just one of those things that happen sometimes.

  10. #10 Miki Z
    January 6, 2010

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in Case 1 is the issue of who should be receiving the civility. It’s possible (perhaps even probable) that Haugen was civil in the first message, but if you post follow-up messages without reading responses to your first, you’re not discussing, you’re pulling a ‘ding-dong ditch’ repeatedly. I don’t know if that was the case here, but I’ve seen it more than a few times in online discussions where one poster comes on to dispute the entire premise of the discussion.

    Haugen was obviously not civil in the comparison of the others to Nazis, but at that point I think the only civil response to the community is to kick him out. Despite the typical criticism these forums are not (usually) echo chambers; in the absence of an ‘opponent’ the discussions can be more nuanced.

    In Case 4, I’m not sure there’s a good solution to offense at terms-of-art. In that specific instance, ‘free riders’ is the accepted term. Had you said ‘free loaders’, it would be different. Audience matters too. You did not write an article on their forum calling them free riders. I’m not sure it would have been uncivil even then, but using a technical term in the correct way on your own blog is not uncivil.

  11. #11 Paul Murray
    January 6, 2010

    #1)
    “Was Leigh Haugen showing respect for the members group with his contrarian postings before he started comparing them to Nazis and liars? After?”

    Tricky. If I were to drop in on a forum with the sole intent of preaching, it would be rude of me. But for many people, their only model for communication and debate is television and church, both of which are one-way. It may be that he was showing disrespect by not reading the responses and engaging with them, or it may be simply the equivalent of someone not accustomed eating with implements showing up at a dinner party.

    “Were the other members of the group showing respect for Leigh Haugen?”

    By all indications, yes.

    “Was the ejection of Leigh Haugen from the group a respectful move?”

    The question is a red herring. The situation had moved to a stage where p_isrespectful() could not be meaningfully applied.

    #2

    Given that the person did not know what was being discussed, it’s impossible to say. Maybe the group was discussing something genuinely confidential. We don’t know. However, the fact that it’s acceptable to mix at a mixer is precisely why it’s wise to limit yourself to small-talk.

    #3

    ??? !! Seriously, WTF?

    #4

    Ahh, the nub of the issue. The word “civility” makes my ears prick – the image that immediately comes to minbd is that of genteel slaveowners getting all distressed about the niggahs not knowing their place. Civility, in that context, means yessir massah boss.

    Feh – I’ve run out of patience. The fable of the dog in the manger comes to mind. You cannot let yourself be held hostage by people who use “I got offended” as a gag.

  12. #12 Isabel
    January 6, 2010

    Isis’ post was exploitative, mindless and inflammatory. She added nothing to the topic and as one of her own posters notes, her image choices were heavily cherry-picked. She also labeled those arguing against the negative stereotyping of a group that the writers are not part of as “disgusting” because they are not considering the feelings of brown people. In other words we’re bigots.

    The woman is a mess. I don’t post over there even when I have something to contribute because she deletes my posts and then lies about it, saying I called her a bad name.

    Also, Alex has suggested on both threads (Isis and DM) that because of the class and cultural connotations of “redneck” it should not be used by the participants, especially those outside the group who are using it in a pejorative fashion. I seconded the idea, but everyone else has completely ignored this sensible suggestion, refusing to even considerate it, which is pretty uncivil if you ask me.

    And hypocritical considering the usual PC sensitivities around here…

  13. #13 bikemonkey
    January 7, 2010

    Isabel, are you of the opinion that economically disadvantaged rural white folks have a pass on their bigotry, where expressed, because they are so oppressed by middle class urban whitefolk?

  14. #14 sam
    January 7, 2010

    Case 3#
    I think it is clear that Dr. Isis would be a hypocrite if she ever criticizes anyone for being disrespectful. Her post of so called “redneck” images is nothing that falsely characterizing poor, rural, whites (rednecks) as all being racist Klan members. At best you could say that Dr. Isis was proud of showing off her ignorance. But in no case could you say that she was being respectful.

  15. #15 becca
    January 7, 2010

    Case 1: Not enough information.
    I will say that this is far from the most egregious application of Godwin’s law. People conflate “fascism” with “Nazism” way too easily. Not that implying people are either is necessarily civil.
    Also, I agree with Nick that booting people from a forum is disrespectful (sometimes necessary, but disrespectful).

    Case 2: I don’t see this as an identifiable case of respect or lack thereof. Sometimes, grad students will be talking and a Dr. Greybeard will come along and interject. They may be very well-respected, but interrupt the previous type of socialization, creating an awkward social moment. On the other hand, the wost case scenario in drdrA’s case is *very* disrespectful, so it’s hard to assess (is “social awkwardness” just another name for not being able to determine the appropriate course of action?)

    Case 3: There are both respectful and disrespectful participants in this one. I’m honestly having trouble figuring out how it could have gone more smoothly.

    @bikemonkey 13: are you of the opinion that economically advantaged urban tan folks have a pass on their bigotry because they are so oppressed by all white folks?

    Case 4: Compared to some *cough*orac-the-asshattery-it-burns*cough*, you are a paragon of respectful virtue. On the other hand, I do wonder how it would have gone if you had argued substantially the same thing but used a title like “What are the benefits of vaccines? Let us count the ways…”. You might not have gotten as much traffic, but what you had got might have been more moved in their position. It’s hard to know.

  16. #16 Nick
    January 7, 2010

    Dr. S@7: This is the kind of thing I’m glad you all are here to point out. In academic philosophy, “free-rider” is a technical term. So, against the backdrop of my training, I didn’t expect it to be read as an insult. Obviously, it can be.

    Yeah, that changes my perspective a bit. Had I known that “free-rider” was a term of art, I would have perceived your post as singificantly less disrespectful, even though your frustration with anti-vaccine crowd was still evident.

    I do want to note that I did not intend to criticize Dr. Isis with my earlier comment. Her weblog is, in my mind, an example that one can be thought-provoking and entertaining without being even a little bit respectful of other viewpoints. I don’t think that her sort of communication promotes calmly-reasoned dialogue, but I also don’t think that’s her goal.

    Rereading my earlier post makes me question how respectful I was being in it; when does “blunt” cross into “disrespectful?”

  17. #17 Nick
    January 7, 2010

    In Comment #18 to her post (I don’t usually read comments over there, so I just noticed it) Isis explained her position using clear, respectful language. It wasn’t as flamboyant and entertaining as the post itself, but it actually communicated her point in a way that I could readily understand. Interesting.

  18. #18 Isabel
    January 7, 2010

    “Isabel, are you of the opinion that economically disadvantaged rural white folks have a pass on their bigotry, where expressed, because they are so oppressed by middle class urban whitefolk?”

    Well, think about it. Every day here, we repeat relentlessly that racism is about power. So therefore blacks can’t be racists, etc etc. But are rednecks in power? How has the government treated them over the years? How do they have power over you?

    After all, for all the fears of some kind of KKK lynching or “Deliverance” episode, how do you think whites who venture into inner city black or brown areas feel?

    Are you really threatened by redneck racism (whatever that is) or by the institutionalized racism kept in place by the people actually in power? I’m not saying this is the case, but could the “bigotry” you mention be of very limited power but much more visible? THIS is where the scapegoating comes in. A more privileged (=powerful) white gets to mock and condemn another group highlighting how superior they are by comparison AND proclaim themselves to be anti-racist enlightened representatives of their race at the same time.

    And the white “pride” that is being suspected and detected all over the place in thee threads (rather triumphantly) could it just be people reclaiming their ethnic identity and deciding not to be ASHAMED of it anymore?

  19. #19 Isis the Scientist
    January 7, 2010

    In Comment #18 to her post (I don’t usually read comments over there, so I just noticed it) Isis explained her position using clear, respectful language. It wasn’t as flamboyant and entertaining as the post itself, but it actually communicated her point in a way that I could readily understand. Interesting.

    Thanks, Nick!

  20. #20 bikemonkey
    January 7, 2010

    are you of the opinion that economically advantaged urban tan folks have a pass on their bigotry because they are so oppressed by all white folks?

    No.

    how do you think whites who venture into inner city black or brown areas feel?

    Something like what black or brown people feel in the vast geographical majority of the US? I dunno, you tell me.

    Are you really threatened by redneck racism (whatever that is) or by the institutionalized racism kept in place by the people actually in power?

    Now, let us suppose that there is a racism that amounts to the same thing expressed by both political institutional structures and by poor rural whites. How does the directional arrow point is at issue. You seem to feel that some entity of socioeconomic oppression of poor rural whitefolk has somehow also cursed them with bigotry? How the fuck does that work?

    Is it not more likely that pandering to or reinforcing the existing bigotry of poor rural whitefolk drives the political institutions? In a way that empowers them?

    Another question. If the poor rural whitefolk are really so at odds with the richer whitefolk that hold the reins of power…why in the HELL do they keep voting Republican? They continue to vote for the political party which most obviously screws them economically on an individual and class basis…why? Why in the hell would they do this?

    A: Because the thing that is most important above all else is to not affiliate themselves in any way with the interests of the tanfolk.

  21. #21 david
    January 7, 2010

    Case number 2: odd to find this case included. This is just bad manners, hard to imagine in a group of sophisticates.

    I agree with Chester Burton Brown and Paul Murray.

    I like (love, madam) the argument style of Isis.

    I get the sense that the bloggers are feeling their way here where they cannot see well, where they confuse conversation with discourse, lack of plan with rhetoric, ad hominem with summation, feelings with lack of insight and persuasion. Avocados, abagados they are not, readers do not expect them to be, and they should quit worrying, which has a certain charm in itself.

    La Rochefoucald I think: ‘We should love our enemies because they tell us our faults.’

  22. #22 david
    January 7, 2010

    @ Dr. Free-Ride
    In my opinion there is quite a bit of philosophy on this topic under the name of rhetoric, which was quite clear till Wittgenstein took a microscope to it. Myself, I like Schopenhauer on rhetoric, which I read when I was very young, and can tell you now, it is inadequate, not enough, and is more complicated and subtil than he indicates. Still, he’s an honest man and I like what he says but am not surprised he lost his lawsuit when he represented himself.

    It seems to me that a great deal of the dialogues of Plato are about rhetoric, which is being served up a dish of reality (or fantasy) to see if we will partake of it, and if not, try this dish, or both, or none.

    Are bloggers rhetors? speaking to the public? relevant question? Or are we, the commenters, coming into their privacy? Is what’s true for one blogger’s imagined audience on this true for all the others? Answers seems obvious to me, but maybe not to those who think differently.

    So no, I’m not thinking what the bloggers (who have spoken) are thinking at all. I’m thinking that rhetoric (public) is changing, as it does you know — just look at some old news reels from 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc. watch it change — and bloggers are feeling around, with a little group-think, trying to get a handle on that changing. Some will benefit more than others. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but it is not something that can be lit up with clarity or given a neat definition as it is happening (emphasis on neat) nor apply to all bloggers.

    This is my considered opinion, which I could expand on, but I don’t offer it as gospel.

  23. #23 Isabel
    January 7, 2010

    “Another question. If the poor rural whitefolk are really so at odds with the richer whitefolk that hold the reins of power…why in the HELL do they keep voting Republican? They continue to vote for the political party which most obviously screws them economically on an individual and class basis…why? Why in the hell would they do this?

    A: Because the thing that is most important above all else is to not affiliate themselves in any way with the interests of the tanfolk. ”

    You are wrong, but you will not easily find the answer if you are crippled by misconceptions. Talk about making it all about you!

  24. #24 Sam
    January 7, 2010

    Bikemonkey,
    In comment 20 you show extreme disrespect, ignorance and a very closed mind.

    Why would a poor white person choose to vote for the Republican party. To you, it was all about greed. Because the democratic party offers more programs to provide for the material well being of a person, people should automatically follow their greed. As a person who has voted for candidates of a number of parties and who grew up with these poor whites who voted Republican. You stated that only racism could cause a person to overcome their greed. But you miss pride, liberty and independence.

    1. Pride. Many of these poor whites I grew up with qualified for a number of government programs such a food stamps or reduced priced meals at school or welfare. It was a point of pride for these families to not take these government programs. While you may disagree with this mentality, you do have to admit it would be irrational for such a person to vote for a candidate strongly supporting further expansion of such programs. This mentality was fairly widespread.

    2. Independence. Having lived in urban areas for over a decade now, one of the biggest differences between rural and urban dwellers is the issue of guns. Guns are such essential tools and everyday items in most rural areas, even among the rural poor. In the urban areas I have lived, guns were seen as pure evil. Many urban people consider private ownership of guns as incomprehensible and many rural people see gun control as incomprehensible. And these convictions are held with deep passion by both sides.

    I think your post 20 explains your view that redneck = bigot. You seem to be so filled with hate towards anyone who votes for a Republican. And your mind is so closed that you think the only reason anyone would vote for a Republican is due to racism.

  25. #25 Zuska
    January 9, 2010

    Case#2: approaching the group was not disrespectful; that’s what you are supposed to do at a mixer. The introductions were nicely done. Conversation fail may possibly be due, as Chad Orzel points out, to the introductions themselves, but I wonder…if drdrA had been male, whether the conversation might not have just picked up nicely on its own again, what with all the boys feeling so comfortable with each other.

    I’ve been in a situation like this, where a senior guy introduced me to a group of other senior guys, and conversation faltered. And then the senior guy who did the introducing, restarted the conversation, drawing me into discussion with another of the senior dudes, and got the whole group talking again. He was a very smooth politician. That’s the kind of stuff that senior dudes ought to be doing. But really, that’s what any dude ought to be doing, if they want to really help make science spaces more welcoming for women – really and truly draw them into and include them and make them part of the conversation. Don’t just stop at introductions. Now that’s some respect and civility!

    @Isabel #12:
    The woman is a mess. I don’t post over there even when I have something to contribute…

    She’s referring to Isis, here, but it doesn’t matter what person she’s referring to. What I want to draw attention to is the incivility, if you will, of the phrase “The woman”. Can you imagine writing the same way about a man? “The man is a mess.” More likely you would write, “He’s a mess.” He would get to be his own person, and not an example of the stupidity of all manhood. This is a subtle point, but it is generally only women who are talked about or addressed in this manner, “the woman” or “that woman”, as if somehow the fact of their being a woman is relevant to the complaint being put forth.

    Even if you wrote, “The man is a mess” I think it would not carry the same semantic weight and sting as “The woman is a mess.” One is simultaneously calling Isis a mess, and calling her a woman, as an insult.

    It doesn’t matter that the person doing this insulting, in this case, is a woman. Women are not exempt from culturally ingrained denigration of and negative attitudes toward women.

  26. #26 Isabel
    January 12, 2010

    I can totally imagine saying “the man is an idiot” so I stand by my opinion that the woman is a mess. And she is no foe of incivility on-line so I think it is ironic to the max that she is involved in the upcoming forum.

    She appears to be a middle-class white woman with a simplistic and pornified “feminist” blog who will not cop to her own privileges and who posts incredibly offensive “let’s mock poorer people” posts. Hey let’s laugh at these toothless idiots who swim in their pick-up trucks because we know that deep down they are bigots!

    She has deleted my comments and then lied about why, but she leaves comments like these (and often worse) up on her site??

    108

    Hoy fucknoly, this thread is still alive? I had no idea rednecks had such good internet access.

    Posted by: MonkeyPox | January 10, 2010 3:49 PM
    109

    I think it is more likely that they don’t have jobs.

  27. #27 David
    March 4, 2010

    Regarding Case #1 Leigh Hagen
    If you would like to see evidence of Leigh’s behavior check out his blog: http://agwscam.blogspot.com/

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