The Tolerance of Intolerance

 

Germany Comet Landing ShirtMany of y’all have heard of the furor over the tacky — and I think, unprofessional — shirt worn by the Rosetta comet mission’s Project Scientist. Various feminists took offense at the cartoon women on the man’s shirt as being misogynistic and claimed that this kind of thing is what keeps women from going into the physical sciences as a career. The pile-on got so heavy that the man was nearly reduced to tears in an on-camera apology.

Yet even now, it hasn’t stopped. Among my fellow astronomers, there is a lot of talk about writing an official condemnation of Matt Taylor by the American Astronomical Society on the issue, as the Astronomical Society of Australia has done. While I think the shirt was in poor taste, the volume of ink being spilled talking about it is way out of proportion to the offense, and the claim that this is evidence of astronomers’ “misogyny” is ridiculous.

Now, a few days later, our biggest professional discussion group had someone post a link from Media Matters to a joke making fun of Fox News. While the joke is mildly funny and only made me roll my eyes a little, it demonstrates the comfort my fellow academics feel in making fun of those of different beliefs. In the discussion that followed, we were told that it’s actually justifiable for us professionals to openly make fun of people of particular political beliefs or religions. (For the record, this joke didn’t bother me; I’m really talking about much worse behavior I have seen in this crowd.)

Now, I pointed out that — just as we try to be aware of and correct the subtle and unconscious biases against women and people of different races (discovering these subtleties in all kinds of seemingly-innocuous behavior is an art form this bunch is skilled in) — so too should we be aware of and correct the intentional and openly-expressed dislike of people of different political or religious belief. Beyond the legal protections against these forms of discrimination, it’s beneath us professionally to be mocking people this way, and it makes others feel unwelcome.

Well, in response to my plea for even-handed tolerance, I was told that it is “inappropriate and offensive” to make any comparison between discrimination against race or sex or sexual orientation (which are said to be unchangeable and are grouped under the heading of “identities”), and discrimination against religion or creed (which, she said, you can pick and change).

What can I possibly do or say? This is such open, unashamed a defense of prejudice that I’m speechless.

This person has pulled out this argument before that it’s “offensive” to compare sex discrimination to religious/political discrimination (with the implication that the latter is nothing to object to), and she’s shut up her opponents pretty effectively.

Secondly, another one of the angry crowd has explicitly said that when it comes to “offense,” the intent doesn’t matter, only the subjective feeling of the offended person.

I know that openness and tolerance are better, but I don’t know if there’s any way to convince this crowd of it.  They have been using the language of “identities,” “intersectionality,” and other stuff I think they picked up in a sociology class, and it’s such a twisted way of thinking of the world that they seem oblivious to normal logic.

Is there any argument I can make, any approach to this that can back up the idea of an open, liberal, tolerant society and leave them with no defense?

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  1. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Severely Ltd.:

    Scott Abel:If I land something on a comet, I am going to go all day without pants.

    You don’t need to achieve anything in today’s society to celebrate or be celebrated, it’s all about unearned self-esteem. Go ahead and whip those pants off just for being you, wonderful you!

    You ain’t kidding.

    • #31
  2. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Misthiocracy: You ain’t kidding.

    At least some of them hide their faces.

    • #32
  3. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    “another one of the angry crowd has explicitly said that when it comes to “offense,” the intent doesn’t matter, only the subjective feeling of the offended person.

    Is there any argument I can make, any approach to this that can back up the idea of an open, liberal, tolerant society and leave them with no defense?”

    Only to take offense. And (this is the key) taking offense is shorthand for justifying violence. Offense as used by the left is a dog-whistle for a beatdown. It is a way of so thoroughly demonizing the subject that no retaliatory measure is off the table. So make sure you appear so wounded, so deranged by offense that you might just lash out and belt the harpy. Or it doesn’t mean a thing.
    SHort answer — you are not dealing with rational people. So no, there is no argument you can make, any more than you can reason with the whirling blades of a propeller.

    • #33
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Ball Diamond Ball: Only to take offense. And (this is the key) taking offense is shorthand for justifying violence. Offense as used by the left is a dog-whistle for a beatdown.

    Agreed. It’s a tactic for getting around the non-aggression principle. The idea is that defensive coercion is justified because the target moved offensively (i.e. aggressively). If the Left can convince the public that it wasn’t the first mover in the dispute, then it can justify the use of coercion against the target.

    The only option for the target is to deny that it intended to be the first-mover (via an apology), or to prove that it’s attackers were the first mover. Since the attackers are by definition reacting to an act taken by the target, that’s pretty hard to prove.

    • #34
  5. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Douglas:At the risk of ticking off the author, the worst thing about science is scientists. I know I’m not the only one that was driven away from a fascination of things like astronomy (used to have a telescope and enthusiastically participate in web groups) by scientists themselves, and their fanboys (see: the Neil DeGrasse Tyson cult). The “I effing Love Science” crowd really sealed the deal for me, but it started in college with professors bad-mouthing religious faith, and continued into the 90′s with the new atheist wave that was enthusiastically supported by scientists.

    Oh, don’t worry about annoying me:  I’m with you!  But one thing to remember is that most of us working scientists aren’t like this.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not a working scientist.  He’s got a Ph.D. (which it took him two tries to get), but he hasn’t done research in years, and even when he did, it was very little.  He’s a showman, and an annoying one to those of us who don’t agree with his unscientific prejudices.

    The I.F.L. Science crowd also bugs me, and I’m happy to see they bug other real scientists, too.  Aside from the casual use of really vulgar language, it’s juvenile in all sorts of other ways, from the constant Buzzfeed-style “This [minor thing] is THE COOLEST THING EVER” headlines to the snide insults to religious faith.

    • #35
  6. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    A similar kerfuffle came up a few months ago, when one fellow asked the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy to please post social issues in this astronomy forum less often (it was 2-3 times/week, much of it dealing with how women are victims of all kinds of sexism).  In the storm of anger that came at him, one guy told him that he needed to apologize for the offense he called, and wrote out a helpful template apology and confession of sins that he could start with.

    That this was like an inquisition was too obvious to state.  Now the same people are pushing this video as a helpful way for Mark Taylor to make a true apology when they’re “called out.”  It’s a short nine minutes long and is apparently custom-made for those suffering from the disease of white privilege.

    You’d have to tie me down and prop my eyelids open with toothpicks to make me watch it.

    • #36
  7. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    Z in MT:..There is definitely a difference between the sexes in the fields they choose to pursue, and I don’t have any idea how to change that. …

    I’m not sure why I should want to.

    • #37
  8. user_129448 Inactive
    user_129448
    @StephenDawson

    The strange thing is, in a way the shirt was quite appropriate. Space scientists are disproportionately SF fans. Surely the present offender is, or at least was when he was younger. His shirt evokes the covers of those novels. Caution: as we now know, stylized images of fictional women are not safe for work, even though they were okay on the novels I read as a 13 year old.

    • #38
  9. Ross C Member
    Ross C
    @RossC

    I would say pleated pants has the right tack here.  However, as an adult you probably know you can rarely win an argument in one sitting even when you are right.  I would think that giving them something to think about is enough.  Your appeal is an appeal to fairness and IMHO that is one of the best possible approaches when there is no hierarchy to appeal to.

    I think amping up the rhetoric is probably a mistake.  Maybe you could reiterate your point in that mocking others is at the very least beneath your profession and leave it at that.

    One day at a time.

    • #39
  10. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Stephen Dawson:The strange thing is, in a way the shirt was quite appropriate. Space scientists are disproportionately SF fans. Surely the present offender is, or at least was when he was younger. His shirt evokes the covers of those novels. Caution: as we now know, stylized images of fictional women are not safe for work, even though they were okay on the novels I read as a 13 year old.

    Amen.

    • #40
  11. user_545548 Member
    user_545548
    @TonguetiedFred

    “Various feminists took offense at the cartoon women on the man’s shirt as being misogynistic and claimed that this kind of thing is what keeps women from going into the physical sciences as a career. The pile-on got so heavy that the man was nearly reduced to tears in an on-camera apology.”

    I would argue that the pile on got so heavy that it spilled over into misandry…

    • #41
  12. Grendel Member
    Grendel
    @Grendel

    Tim H.: Is there any argument I can make, any approach to this that can back up the idea of an open, liberal, tolerant society and leave them with no defense?

    No.  They have no interest in openness and tolerance.  They are interested only in the power to determine what ideas people can espouse and even think.  They use appeals to openness and tolerance only because we value them.

    So say that.  Make your case for open discussion; for tolerance, as distinct from approval or concurrence; and for respecting people’s humanity.  Preface it by saying that you know that such a regime will be incomprehensible to so-called liberals, because they are actually only interested in Gleichschaltung and are as mean-spirited and Fascistic as any Bible-thumper toward people who disagree with them, because they lack the ego-strength to argue and be tolerant.

    • #42
  13. Grendel Member
    Grendel
    @Grendel

    Umbra Fractus:

    Severely Ltd.: I’m surprised you get a lot of this in a STEM field. Good luck.

    I’m not. Radical secularists are sadly drawn to STEM professions.

    Drawn or pushed?

    One of my daughter’s friends in middle school (circa 1999) decided to be an atheist because she wanted to be a chemist and thought that to be a scientist was to be an atheist.

    • #43
  14. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Grendel—”One of my daughter’s friends in middle school (circa 1999) decided to be an atheist because she wanted to be a chemist and thought that to be a scientist was to be an atheist.”

    How awful for her! It’s horrible that the New Atheists crowd, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and Richard Dawkins, have pushed this ignorant idea that science and religious faith are antithetical. I didn’t know it was influencing kids that young.

    • #44
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