Some tactics always stink.

Abel and Orac and Isis have recently called attention to the flak Amy Wallace had been getting for her recent article in WIRED Magazine, "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All". The flak Wallace has gotten, as detailed in her Twitter feed (from which Abel constructed a compilation):

I've been called stupid, greedy, a whore, a prostitute, and a "fking lib." I've been called the author of "heinous tripe."

J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent an essay title" "Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine." In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug. "The roofie cocktails at Paul Offit's house must be damn good," he wrote. Later, he sent a revised version that omitted rape and replaced it with the image of me drinking Offit's Kool-aid. That one was later posted at the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism. You can read that blog here.

I've been told I'll think differently "if you live to grow up." I've been warned that "this article will haunt you for a long time." Just now, I got an email so sexually explicit that I can't paraphrase it here. Except to say it contained the c-word and a reference to dead fish.

Since the scientific issues around vaccination (including the lack of evidence to demonstrate a link between vaccinations and autism) are well-covered in these parts (especially at Orac's pad and by Mike The Mad Biologist), I just want to speak briefly about the strategy that seems to be embodied by these reactions to Wallace's article.

Clearly, some people didn't like the upshot of Wallace's article, that there is more scientific evidence to support the benefits of vaccinating than there is to support opting out of vaccination to avoid autism -- and that there could well be bad consequences for more than just the vaccine refuseniks (a point we've discussed here). Sometimes, when people don't like your upshot, they dig in and try to identify the flaws in your reasoning, or they try to ferret out the unreliable sources on which you might be resting your claims.

If they can't do that (or if they can't be bothered to try responding to the content of the claims or the logical structure of the reasoning, for whatever reasoning), sometimes they call you names. Stupid, greedy, arrogant, pharma-shill.

But the invective hurled at Wallace includes some sexualized insults: Prostitute. Whore. Female body part, described in language designed to be crude. The victim of (intellectual) rape. Someone who may now be targeted for physical violence, including sexual violence.

This kind of response goes beyond communicating that people didn't like Wallace's article, or that they take issue with the conclusions she draws in that article. It targets her as a woman.

It communicates that, for the audacity of taking this public stand, she will be reduced to her lady-parts. Her lady-parts, not any of her intellectual labor. And the verbal attacks on her as a bearer or lady-parts may include threats to enact physical harm on her and her lady-parts, because that's a well-worn way to keep uppity women in line.

For the moment, set aside the question of which side of the vaccination wars an author might be on. Set aside the question of which side of the vaccination wars you might be on. If you are a woman, or someone who counts women as your allies, shouldn't you be appalled at this kind of tactic for responding to Amy Wallace's article? Because this tactic can just as easily be used against you (or one of the women with whom you make common cause) if someone decides that you get out of line and express a view you're not entitled to express.

When people disagree with your position, is it cool for them to reduce you to features of your anatomy? For them to remind you that you and people like you exist primarily to service others sexually? For them to threaten you with sexual violence?


Then, if you find this tactic to be inappropriate, you should call it out when it's used -- whether it's being used by your opponents against one of your allies, or by one of your purported allies against one of your opponents.

Really, this stuff is not hard to figure out.

* * * * *
Liz Ditz has been compiling the definitive link-list of reactions to Wallace's article (and reactions-to-reactions).

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The little matter of finding out that the actor who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation appears to have anti-vaccine proclivities sidetracked me from something that I had actually wanted to blog about yesterday. Specifically, it's something that my blog bud Abel Pharmboy has been hitting…
Over the weekend, I saw a rather fascinating post by Sullivan entitled A Sense of Civil Discourse. The reason I found it so fascinating is because what was quoted in it utterly destroyed my irony meter yet again, leaving it nothing but a molten, gooey mess still bubbling and hissing in my office.…
One of the most engaging and clearly-written pieces of science journalism over the last year or so was published in Wired magazine last week. Amy Wallace's, "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All," is part interview with rotavirus vaccine developer, pediatric…

Isn't this merely the ultimate insult to do this to someone? Your concern here might be a from of sexism exceptionalism.

If someone really likes their chevy cavalier for example, and they just wrote an immunology paper whose conclusions you particularly despise, wouldn't you want to smear dirt on their car?

You will want to attack the [especially when deep down you suspect you may be dead wrong] the one thing that that person holds dearest to him. For the immunologist it may be the chevy cavalier, for anybody else it may be their human dignity, i.e. that part of your mind that suspects that you may be more than a sexual organ.
It says a lot more about how the attacker perceives the attackee than anything else. I don't think it really says that much about the objectification of women and all that. That guy (or gal) knows that attacking that writers human dignity is what will hurt her the most. If the writer were a man, there would of course be other things that would be used for the attack.
So is the issue the fact that women and men in this society have different 'most sensitive' topics? Is that unfair, or is it merely the human condition.
I don't really pretend to know, I'm just pulling on the thread you left behind in your latest post.

By Dominic S (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink


If you really can't tell the difference between your own body and your favorite car or other toy, I recommend a visit with a good neurologist.

But, frankly, I don't believe that you can't see the difference between a threat to destroy a man's car and a threat to rape and murder him. Except that, as you know, male bloggers aren't threatened with rape, because they aren't seen as stepping out of their proper (subservient) gender roles by stating an opinion.

@1 Even if you assume the verbal attack on body parts is just to attack a woman's human still goes too far to include rape and murder in that line of thinking. Way too far.

Dominic, am I right in assuming you're probably posting from Romania, which is... somewhat behind the US when it comes to feminism? (My best friend is a Bucharester; I know about what goes on 'round those parts)

The slurs being hurled at Wallace were about her sex, in much the way people hurl slurs at our president because of his race. These are important, immutable features of human beings. Nobody has been violent toward other people because of what car they drive; there is STILL prejudice against women and people of color.

That aside, what kind of immature moron smears dirt on the car - which is a relatively mild gesture - of someone they disagree with? That's sort of an ad-hominem, which doesn't contribute to the argument and doesn't contribute facts. And a car is far, far less important than aspects of people.

How would you feel if men were the sex that had to have a suffrage movement back in the early 20th century and if someone used sexist metaphors about men to insult your position? Don't let the relative security of penis-bearing delude you from what your vagina'd comrades have to put up with sometimes.

By Katharine (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

I'd not realized how strongly these folks felt. The irony of course is that they are more like wacko scientists than religious nuts. Meaning they are basing their opinion on sketchy information and believe that, like Galileo, they are seeing some truth, "the system" is suppressing. Of course they are failing to understand that Galileo was a scientist who was paying attention to all of his observations and throwing out those things that directly contradicted that. He wasn't simply picking and choosing things that made him feel good about his beliefs. Obviously, you have a lot of folks who are relatively intelligent, greatly concerned for their children and they want desperately to find answers and someone to blame. When those answers or purported villians are demonstrated to be untrue or innocent, respectively, these folks become upset. They cherry picked answers that made them happy and they don't want to lose that. Frankly, I think the whole thing is sad because at this point I think autism is radically over-diagnosed. I further believe that this is because of an inability to accept personal differences and some of it has much to do with parents expectations and a childs differences. This is particularly true with Aspergers. As a culture we value social ability, wit and adherence over intelligence. If a child is socially backward at any level that makes their parents think something is wrong....but the kid is sharp...well, who wants a kid who is a geek? Therefore, the kid has Aspergers, it is out of the parents hands and gosh, if it is due to a vaccine, it wasn't even the parents contributing was a large dark profit driven system that is the bad guys...those people probably don't even love their kids! So, yeah, I'm betting you tip over their cart, you're going to find a lot of nasty names being thrown out.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

Hey hey hey my comment was partially/mostly in jest.
[Just to be clear: The immunologists chevy cavalier was a canard.]

Succinctly: The argument is that retard pseudo-scientist is basically shut down by excellent article in Wired. He/She oh what the hell! HE writes attack that is ad hominem, which is always a fallacy.
The guy was trying to cause damage. He knew that this was softest part he could hit. If someone is doing that he's hit a level of desperation that barely merits discussion. So I really wanted this discussion to go down the path of "can you say something about sexism and attitudes about women from the reaction of a few dolts. Eahh, I'd say, about as much as Ted Kizinky's writings say about whatever the hell he ever wrote about.

Note added in proof: Check out the anti-romanian comment on this page. Woops! all the hallmarks of an ad hominem attack, going for blood. To which I would reply: You can get the romanian out of romania (in '74 to be precise), but not the romania out of the romanian.

By Dominic S (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

If you are a woman, or someone who counts women as your allies, shouldn't you be appalled at this kind of tactic for responding to Amy Wallace's article?

That's drawing it rather narrowly, isn't it?

How about simply, "someone who counts women as human?"

(No offense to babble intended.)

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

Now that I've gotten your attention. Here is the answer that has been on the tip of all your collective tongues (mine's too actually). Are you ready for the phrase that will so perfectly capture the zeitgeist that it will launch a thousand thesesises??:

The twentieth century fallacy is one of polemics, and its beginning to turn around and bite us all in the A$$. Why? Because it is this very process of drawing meaning from extreme examples, that really tell us nothing, that has gotten us in this mess in the first place. It is a common meme (most esp in 20th century liberal politics) to quote the worst case as being emblematic of the true situation. When this same approach is applied to epidemiology, you end up with those arguments and those websites and all that pseudo-medicine, and natural foods and organic sausages, immune-boosting pills, and whole foods and fair trade foods (alright just kidding about the fair trade part).
Basically, the chickens have come home to roost baby!!

Talk amongst yourselves!!

To Do:
1. mention that right wingers occasionally fall prey to this also,(in alarming numbers actually) but eloquently explain that it is really only when they are being weak and mimicking liberals that this happens to them.

By dominic sooooo… (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

As always, you put it so well, Dr. Freeride

Science is big and scary. It makes me feel powerless that something I don't understand has so much power over my life. It challenges my view of myself that I am powerful, strong, in control.

It enrages me that effete little men who do nothing physically impressive can control this thing. It's far worse when a woman - a woman! - dares to tell ME about a reality that is there to touch and control with my own two (calloused, strong) hands. Who are these people to tell me, powerful virile man, what to think? Could they beat me in a fight? No? Then what do they think they're doing correcting me?

It makes me feel better about myself, more in control, to believe that "science" is just a game that nerds play with no relationship to reality, like Scrabble or Chess. Every time I hear about science being wrong (again!) I reaffirm the superiority of my way of life, my power in the world.

And every time a "scientist" says something I don't like, I only have to remind myself of their weakness, their ivory tower, their ignorance of reality. That street learning trumps book learning every time. That physical strength is real, while reason is just a bunch of hand waving that the weak use to confuse the strong. That I am better than them.

Who are you to tell me different?

How dare you?

Anti-Romanian? Hardly. Just trying to figure out where you were coming from - a place of perhaps not understanding the situation here or knowing what it is but being an eejit.

By Katharine (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

As I see the world, if you respond to my assertions with an ad homenium attack on my underarm hair, I take it that I have won the argument, because you have no substantive response. If everyone saw it this way, we would have less discourse, but what there was would be civil.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

Dominic amuses me. That level of crazy just cannot be manufactured.

As he says, you can't get the out of the . Some cultural crazy has to be ingested young, while the gut is still permeable.

Of course, for truly world-class insanity you really need to know some Lebanese-Mexicans or Greek-Mexicans. Hybrid vigor -- but make sure the tables are reinforced.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

"It makes me feel better about myself, more in control, to believe that "science" is just a game that nerds play with no relationship to reality, like Scrabble or Chess."
Scrabble is very clearly related to reality. Chess, not so much. I mean what is with the little knight going hop-hop-hop?!

"If everyone saw it this way, we would have less discourse, but what there was would be civil. "
Only a complete moron would believe that.

"That level of crazy just cannot be manufactured."

Hey folks,

While I'm struggling to do some singularly unrewarding writing for a committee, could y'all try *not* to interact with each other in ways that will require me to haul off and write another post about inappropriate tactics? (Ascribing certain characteristics to national origin, for example, looks like it's dancing on a line that just isn't going to add much productive here.)

And, can I ask those of you who have not been targeted as women, in response to things you've said or written with which others have disagreed strongly, not to dismiss the experiences of those of us who have? Because seriously, the experience is something with a larger impact than your standard name-calling, especially in a cultural context where it is not that rare for physical violence to follow such threats. Or, for that matter, for physical violence to materialize even in the absence of a specific verbal warning (just because you happen to be female in public). And where, as recent events reinforce, it's not totally out of the question that people you might be inclined to view as your fellow human might end up just standing around and watching you take that violence.

In short, our experience may be different than yours.

Banana not appropriate?

My interpretation was that the BANANA was intended to derail the derail (making it a rerail, I guess).

Also, they're loaded with potassium and the peels can be fun, if they're not used to perpetrate physical violence ...

Hmm... maybe banana *not* appropriate.

I think as well that we should all be careful of falling prey to similar sorts of thinking. Meaning that suggesting because someone uses a word, or displays an image it automatically colors their whole world view. Out of anger, or fear, folks can make or even write some pretty bold statements which can be taken out of context and used to create a "hate" stereotype that is entirely inappropriate. A couple of examples spring to mind: 1) Frank Zappa's old album, "Joe's Garage" has Frank in black face on the cover. I don't remotely believe that Frank was a racist and he seemed to go pretty far to protect civil liberties. 2) I was watching an old Living Colour video, "Funny Vibe," which addressed a variety of issues about perceptions and how they can be used to hurt others. Frankly, as an artist Vernon Reid made some very good points on civil liberties and concepts of higher ideals v. personal perception. 3) If a woman spends years mistreating a man and then in the course of divorce accuses him of being a child molester as a ploy for either custody or simply out of spite...I don't think labling that man as a misogynist because he uttered or thought of her in terms of the dreaded c-word is truly appropriate. I disagree with the anti-vax folks...but the fact they are so easily reduced to name calling says a lot. Take any nasty word they've used and substitute doo-doo stinky poopy head...and you get an idea of the mentality you are dealing with. Their ideas and perceptions are threatened, they feel frightened and they react with hate rather than logic. The fact they will continue to spread misguided notions and perhaps lying about research, however, is even worse.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

Yeah, the sexist response of anti-vaxxers is pretty depressing. Katharine's arrogance in these comments is even more so. Her attitude is 'you're not an American, so your opinions are primitive and ill-informed.' And she's not just relying on her own prejudices there - she actually knows someone from Bucharest! Wowee! I know one black person - look out for my authoritative history of the African continent, to be published early next year.

I don't actually agree with Dominic's argument, but I do admire his impertinence in daring to argue with a Daughter of the Great Freedomland, despite the fact that he is only a dirty foreigner from a country that's 'a little behind.' I'm also admiring his ability to post on the internet despite being from some loser country that probably doesn't even have electricity, amirite?

By Katharine of A… (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

Ahh, essentialism: the common probability to invert the capacity of root human nature as if that capacity existed for the sole purposes of quantification. Really folks, are we actually wasting our very expensive educations arguing that Gender can be only be condensed to social convention?

What if Gender Identities, were in part the result of natural instinct as inherent capacity as well as social definition as quantificational classification?

Afterall, as Suffragettes of days of old and the Thurgood Marshalls and Ceasar Chavez (es) of the past have attested to, the only essential truth about human nature is that we are ALL inherently equal because and in spite of it.

I speak primarily to other men here when I say: grow up and learn to listen, because underneath ALL our intelligence, is the constancy of necessary error which will always be proportional to that which we call perspective and that which we ultimately discover over time, is no better than illusion.

Just a Thought from,

Jim Thomerson- You have no idea what you are talking about. At all. Ask a woman sometime how often they walk around or go out without any concern of violence- especially sexual violence. It is almost never. There is an ever present threat of it that women have to think about almost all the time. Every woman knows that failing to take every available precaution would mean that we would be blamed for it if an assault happened. I don't know any woman who hasn't been groped by strangers or was in a similar scary situation where a dude didn't care too much if the woman they were after was willing. It is a lifetime of a lot of fear that you won't ever understand (Unless you go to prison, I suppose). Don't tell women how to deal with threatening and misogynist people when you just can't know what it is like. Not being afraid would be completely insane, given what women have to deal with on a regular basis. Anyone with more than a handful of female friends/family members likely knows a rape victim, its not a small problem to any of us. Misogynist language is how scary threatening guys talk to women to try and hurt them.

Mike olson- you are acting like the only thing that happened was a single slur- that isn't true at all. read what she reported again. it was a whole lot of slurs and violent/sexual emails. You are minimizing what happened.

By skeptifem (not verified) on 02 Nov 2009 #permalink

skeptifem: Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I had not considered the matter in exactly that way. A female relative fought off a potential rapist, but suffered some lasting physical damage (she is a singer, and he choked her). I do tend to be egocentric in my viewpoints.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 03 Nov 2009 #permalink

How exactly do I defend against that accusation? Do I make a strong statement suggesting that we take seriously the use of certain words? Obviously, I think that hate is wrong. I also think the author(of the original article) is supporting a very logical, rational viewpoint, which is that vaccines work, don't cause autism and further, avoiding them enables the spread of disease. Having that argument derailed because someone used a nasty word? Someone became angry and acted childishly? That is ridiculous! As an earlier poster pointed out, I also tend to believe that many of the anti-vaxxers are liberals! Some of those who sent her nasty mail are undoubtedly female. The real thing to point out or harp on here is not that anti-vaxxers are somehow misogynists...they're mostly women who are concerned about their children, but rather to point out how irrational these folks became when their beliefs were challenged! I'd further hope that a grown woman, working in journalism, who is willing to make statements others might consider frightening or find disagreeable would have an ego capable of withstanding name calling. Let these idiots use that language! It allows us, their opponents, to be aware of just how juevinille their arguments and beliefs are in reality. This blog appears on "Science Blogs." Descending into mudslinging or creating a broad, sweeping, general characterization of all opponents is ridiculous.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 03 Nov 2009 #permalink

Mike, you make a lot of sense. Much has been made of the misogyny of the remarks made to Ms. Wallace. As a woman with journalistic training, I have to say that her piece presented her story about as non-judgementally as one can and still have an agenda (and she does have one). Denigration of her gender as a response to it is one of the lowest attacks in the book of moronic ploys in feeble arguments. Many of the other responses were just as unworthy of consideration because of the many rules of reason and debate that were broken. Then again, many of the responses here and on many other blogs have been about as full of misandry. Name calling, stereotyping and dismissiveness are never useful in any conversation.

Then again, many of the responses here and on many other blogs have been about as full of misandry.

Sorry, I must have missed something here. Where is the misandry in this thread? Or elsewhere on ScienceBlogs? I've been following this pretty closely, and the only thing that was over the line to me was Isis' bestiality smear against JB. Not that I begrudge the emotion behind the counter-attack -- kids (and not just kids) are already dying due to anti-vax nonsense, and as we tip away from a sufficient level of herd immunity many more will die or be injured by diseases that were practically wiped out just a decade ago.

Denigration of her gender as a response to it is one of the lowest attacks in the book of moronic ploys in feeble arguments. Many of the other responses were just as unworthy of consideration because of the many rules of reason and debate that were broken.

"Feeble arguments" --the mind boggles. It's hate speech! This isn't a high school debating society. When barefaced lies are being spoken, when people are being called less than fully human because of what they are, we long ago left the realm of "reason and debate."

"Hate speech." Look, I gotta tell ya, if someone is targeted because they are part of an unempowered group I'm all for excessive sentencing as a hate crime. If someone is in the public square making a speech or putting up signs intended to enflame a community against a group...the term "hate speech," would be appropriate. But, when you simply decide that because an image is used, or because you've defined a particular word in a particular fashion it can never be used....we're denying our own intellect and giving that word greater power than it should ever have. A word is a word, an idea, when you start telling people they can't have an idea you give it power. The gal that loses the "clip fight" is the one that loses their cool and starts yelling or name calling. If all someone has to do is use a word to yank you off lose. Not to mention, and this is not intended to be circular, the one who is the problem is the one who suggests someone else is less than human or less equal...not the one who is called a name. If someone has put you in that position or called you names, you don't have to get mad...they are the ones with an issue and they are the ones who are, not as evolved/civilized/mature/grown/balanced as you. Getting mad demonstrates that is possibly not true and takes you to their level.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink

I think it's almost always a bad idea to tell people how they should feel. It is especially so in cases when the people you're telling it to are subject to a very different experience of things on account of something like their gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation (to name just three).

Words are not just squiggles on a page or soundwaves floating in the air. They have histories and exist in a social context, and are all to often accompanied by sticks, stones, violent assaults, casual gropings on mass transit, and all manner of other things that apparently it's really easy not to see if you're not a member of the group who such words have been -- and are still -- used to target.

It is not at all clear that the people who have sent Amy Wallace emails threatening sexually violent acts are upset antivax moms who are flustered because her command of the relevant scientific research surpasses their own. Indeed, the one person we know who invoked rape in responding to her, J.B. Handley, is a man. It is surely tempting for a man (or, for that matter, for a woman) to brush off the vitriol directed at Wallace as "all talk", but women have been subjected to violence to "keep them in line" for much less. Calling attention to people's use of violent language (and understanding how this has been and continues to be on a continuum with violent acts) is utterly appropriate -- much more so, to my mind, than letting it pass unmentioned.

And honestly, that I get angry when someone sees me as less than human is in no way equivalent to my dehumanizing them.

Again, if you're paying attention, this stuff is not that hard.

"My interpretation was that the BANANA was intended to derail the derail (making it a rerail, I guess)."
Yes. Also, when somebody says 'you cannot manufacture that level of crazy' I take it as a challenge to manufacture a higher level of crazy.
Also, bananas are delicious.

Mike Olson, yeah yeah, whatever. Look, when you've spent your lifetime being chased down with sticks and stones after verbal threats, then you can calmly expound on the nature of words and hurt. It's nice to have a thick skin- but it's not necessarily a virtue so much as a sign you haven't had to deal with serious threats in certain contexts.
More to the point, as far as Amy Wallace herself goes, she isn't reacting by being overtly terrified or sinking to anyone's level, or whatever other nonsensical spin you'd put on a strong response to this. She knew this topic would be controversial. She knows other journalists steer clear of it for fear of retribution. She said what needed to be said anyway. You may not think it's a big deal, but it's certainly a good journalistic attitude.
Instead, the public outcry has been more or less along the lines of "what BS. she shouldn't have to deal with this". I hardly see how *that* is overreacting to nasty words either. You can argue that journalists need to be prepared to hear nasty words- and you'd be right, and she was. You cannot reasonably argue that the nasty words are therefore OK and Not A Big Deal.
While the fact that ZOMG A Woman said something controversial and had to deal with Sexist Bullshit! does not exactly surprise me, I think the coverage of the reactions she got is useful. It helps illustrate exactly how emotional this topic is for people. I can understand why that might be, but really seeing it like that helped me understand a bit more why some pro-vaccination folks around here are so aggressive. Before, I was turned off by their approach. Now, well truthfully I'm still turned off by it, but I understand much better how 'high stakes' both sides view the issue. So while you might think covering this puts too much power in the hands of a few foul-minded jerks who should be ignored, I think it serves a very useful purpose to help folks that are mostly 'observers' in this battle understand how it is being waged.

Darn. That required far too much thought and introspection. Rutabega, rutabega, RAH RAH RAH!!!!

First of all I didn't suggest that your getting angry was the equivalent of your dehumanizing them. I wrote that they were not at your level based on their use of offensive words and their willingness to attack you on a personal level based on your communication of an idea. I suggested that by becoming angry you risk being perceived as being at their level or sinking to it. Second, words and symbols only have the power we give them. To go back to artistic examples, Bono used to play the Beatles song, "Helter Skelter," and announce that it was a song about love that had been turned into a song about hate(due to Manson obviously)...It was time to re-claim the song as something positive. A couple of years back while working in social services I saw a magazine cover with a black man on it wearing a rebel flag bandana. His statements were similar to Bono's. To paraphrase, the flag was a symbol of rebellion and rather than allow it to be used as a symbol of hate, he was claiming it as a symbol of bucking the system to gain rights. The swastika has a long history of being simply a symbol. To suggest that it should be banned or should never be used because of Hitler, simply gives the racists and hate mongers power. Hate dies in the light, when you force it to hide, or let it fester it grows and gets worse. We are all human and we all become angry at different times...the issue is when we start trying to say that a word or a symbol is the problem when the real problem is ongoing hatred, intolerance to a difference of opinion and a willingness to censor others while proclaiming a tolerance for different ideas. What these people did is not okay. AT all. But, if you tell them they can't say it, or you pursue them as if they have already assaulted her because of those words...they will simply learn not to say anything and simply act. I want the hateful, intolerant yahoos to be able to use all of their words. I want them to be able to say exactly who they are, how they feel and what they intend. With logic, tolerance and compassion it can be demonstrated why that hate is wrong. But that can't be demonstrated if you censor what they say or allow yourself to simply become angry and name call them back. Use your big isn't that hard to understand!

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink

Mike, can you please show me where I called for censorship?

People certainly have the right to use particular words and ways of speaking that contribute to a climate that is hostile towards women who have the audacity to express a point of view in public.

And, I and others have the right to judge those people to be assholes for using those words and ways of speaking.

While I agree with the intent behind Dr. Freeride's comment @17 ("don't dismiss the experiences of others"), the phrasing is a little to close for comfort to the classic "if you're not an X, you can't really speak about Y, as you don't know anything about being an X! (and so you should just STFU, as anything you have to say is worthless ... unless of course you agree with me, then, by all means, show that you concur)"

Which, honestly, is directly counter to the sentiment of "don't dismiss the experiences of others", as you're flat-out dismissing the experience of anyone who is a non-X as irrelevant. (Not that Dr. Freeride is doing so, it's just that I've seen that position taken way too often.)

A better tactic is to work on convincing the doubting non-X's that whatever is under discussion is really is a problem, instead of getting indignant and calling them a privileged X-ist. ("I'm a Z, trust me on this" doesn't close off discussion in other contexts - why does it become sacrosanct when Z is sex/race/ethnicity?)

If that was not your intent I apologize completely! Especially given that your post at 33 makes the point I was trying to make in a few short sentences.

Again, I apologize. It appears that we are largely on the same page!

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink

"If they can't do that (or if they can't be bothered to try responding to the content of the claims or the logical structure of the reasoning, for whatever reasoning), sometimes they call you names. Stupid, greedy, arrogant, pharma-shill."

It's called the ad hominem fallacy - a usual tactic of the stupid and/or the lazy.

By Silver Fox (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink

A perfect example of what I was discussing earlier. I'm a cockwad for using the phrase "gal." Should I have said guy? Boy? Girl? Woman? Chick? What is offensive about gal? My folks use it. My collegues have used it. I mean let's be isn't a questionable term. On the other hand I could assign mystical power to the term cockwad and become angry, and spend the rest of the night upset about the history behind cockwad, wrapped up in the notion that I'm a lesser being than a guy who calls himself or herself comrade physioProf....

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 05 Nov 2009 #permalink