SIO50: Michael Shermer on Evergreen and Gender Studies

Back for a second time is Michael Shermer! He’s the editor of Skeptic Magazine and has been a very prominent voice in the community for decades. After our last conversation, a couple of things happened. One was the gender studies hoax, which was explained and endorsed by his magazine. The other was the Evergreen incident, which Shermer tweeted about and wanted to know my thoughts on. We discussed both of these at length!

Refer to my earlier episode on Evergreen for those references

Faculty of color say they are receiving death threats; President disappointed in protesters, may discipline; Weinstein second Tucker Carlson appearance; Sokal’s response to the gender studies hoax; Feminist glaciology TED talk.

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12 Replies to “SIO50: Michael Shermer on Evergreen and Gender Studies”

  1. What kind of Germany does Michael Shermer’s wife come from? We have had Turkish immigrants since the 50s. The refugees coming right now are from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea and a lot of other places and they just come through Turkey sometimes.

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Germany also has certain things that can’t be said in recognition for historical wrongs done to other races, particularly denying some rather important events from the early 20th century. Unlike the n-word, a person can be arrested for it saying certain things. Sounds like the sort of thing that doesn’t exactly support Shermer’s argument.

      1. Holocaust denial is a punishable offence in Germany (and a number of other European countries), so yes, you can go to jail for publicly declaring that none died in the gas chambers. For prominent cases, Google for Horst Mahler and David Irving

        1. Already aware of David Irving. Historiography (I know, the much-hated social sciences strike again) sometimes uses books like “Lying About Hitler” written by the expert historian from his trial about said trial. You can get some funny looks for walking around campus carrying a book with the words “Lying About Hitler” prominently displayed over a picture of the man’s face.

  2. The day of absence is in essence, blacks going on strike for a day to illustrate their value, so flipping this ritual would be for whites to voluntarily go on strike for the day to show their value. Obviously, that’s not the intent of this. All the actions of many of the staff and students have made it abundantly clear that participation, was the “voluntary” choice to not be considered “literally Hitler.”
    The reaction to Bret Weinstein’s email exposed this for what it was. “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racist white folk got to go.”

    1. Nope. Participation was voluntary. They protested Weinstein TWO MONTHS later because of his whole track record of opposing them. And hey, you and I might agree that most of their protest was wrong, but it was simply because he stayed on campus for day of absence. It was for a long history of stuff.

  3. When I was six, I realized I didn’t believe in god. It didn’t seem realistic.

    I kind of stuck with that assumption for 15 or 20 years. But, while I was in graduate school, I had a conversation with a religious studies professor, and it occured to me that my atheism, at it’s core, was based on the rejection of a six year-old’s idea of god.

    I had read all the atheist books, watched all the youtube debates, seen all the Renaissance art, and travelled to Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, building a very nuanced and thorough identity as an “informed” atheist, but my understanding of “God” was always influenced by the conceptualization I held/rejected as a six year-old.

    When people described their understanding of God or their relationship to it/him, no matter how nuanced, complex, or multifaceted their experience was, my mind leapt to that overly-logical six year-old lens, assuming that they also built their religious worldview up from a simple base assertion (i.e., “a God, that makes sense to a six year-old, exists”), and everything else was just them complicating that belief in an attempt to defend against doubt and criticism.

    This led to a lot of “the real issue is…” arguments.

    Listening to Shermer, I’m remembering that conversation with that religious studies professor. At some point, Shermer made valid assumptions, based on his experience, about the utility of approaching research in a particular way, about how he wants to personally act so as not to discriminate against anyone, and about the way people are treated when they try to participate in public/academic conversations.

    He assumes he knows enough to dismiss a field of study’s use of terminology, feeling free to mock and belittle research that doesn’t seem to meet the standards he knows to be useful and valid, but he’s surprised to find those studies haven’t been presented acurately. He says he’s confident implicit bias doesn’t matter, because we’re all aware of social inequality now, but he’s shocked to discover that women who engage in academic discussions (some of whom he’s mocked) face threats of death and rape just for speaking publically about science as women. And despite not being involved in social justice or civil rights activism, to the extent that it seems to confuse him that liberals and people of color can also act in ways that contribute to inequality, he feels confident suggesting that “the solution is not putting ourselves into groups.”

    I don’t want to be too harsh, because I think his willingness to come on your podcast is commendable, and I’m hopeful it speaks to an attempt to form a fuller understanding of social and academic issues he’s, so far, approached so casually.

  4. When they attack Islam, Sam Harris and others put a lot of weight on what “Islamists” say, and correctly so, in my opinion. There is no reason not to take someone’s assertions on their face value and always assume they do not mean what they are saying.

    Weinstein clearly says there was no force or coercion involved. If he just came to campus without making a fuss, the only thing that would have probably suffered was his “allyship” status. He has said this multiple times and yet, these prominent skeptics pretend that he means something else when he utters those words. Even if they admit this basic fact, in a clear move-the-goalpost argument, they then claim that only the protest and the ensuing events counts and this email -flawed as it might be- still reveals some deep truth about the status of American college campuses!

    Isn’t there something to clear up here? If there was an implicit threat in asking white people to attend the off-campus workshops, shouldn’t we know how serious that threat was? Or what were the actual consequences?

    He also claims he enjoys widespread private support among the faculty. How can we reconcile this claim with the portrayal of the college campus as a hostile and unfriendly environment in which he felt so suffocated that he saw no other option but to write a public email of protest about a college tradition to a staff member?

    None of this matters to the “skeptics” who have accepted the right-wing ideological dogma that college campuses are a bastion of cultural marxism (or whatever!) and students need some tough love to get back on track! Not only they approach this event with a huge confirmation bias, they are letting their bias get the best of them. Some of these “skeptic” opinions are becoming virtually indistinguishable from alt-right propaganda. The Evergreen protests are not that big of a deal. But make no mistake, this is a dangerous moment for skepticism and rationalism.

  5. Ok, so I’m finally back where I can comment on this episode. Interesting. I was prepared to cringe, but that might be my anti-Shermer bias. I’d say you could interpret my comments through that lens, but apparently that’s too much postmodernism for a lot of skeptics.

    First, anyone else pick up on Shermer trying to use the fallacy of relative privation in this? I’m glad Thomas called him out on his trying to paint students at Evergreen as going after Weinstein as if he was biggest racist around. Why not go after Richard Spencer? Hey, while we’re at it, why are we complaining about any racism when there are starving kids in Africa? I’m sure there’s one single human being with the absolute worst life out there imaginable, but the existence of that person doesn’t mean other people don’t get to complain about stuff affecting them. Richard Spencer’s not the one attacking a 30 year tradition at Evergreen.

    Second, I thought it was interesting that, as Shermer learned more and more about the situation at Evergreen, he suddenly couldn’t answer for Weinstein. Shermer came up with all that stuff about groups and labels and how this was Weinstein taking a stand (30 years later, on the one year when the tradition was voluntarily asking white people to sign up if they wanted to do off-campus stuff because the space was limited). But then other emails that provide context were read to him, and suddenly he urged you to have Weinstein come on and answer, because he didn’t feel he could answer that one. I think it’s a dodge since it’s pretty clear he’d be supporting someone who lied about the whole thing, and he puts the onus on you to get this other guy on instead

    Next, it’s pretty well-established that Germany has had its own problems with race. The idea that it’s not a big deal over there seems incredibly ignorant of a pretty big chunk of German history. I mean, over here, there’s nothing illegal about saying the N-word. Over in Germany, it’s illegal to deny the Holocaust occurred. So yeah, I’d say Germany was already using history to justify special treatment toward at least one minority group in order to make up for some pretty bad stuff that happened.

    I’m not going to compare the slave trade and slavery to the Holocaust, though. They’re both such massively horrendous events that it would be disrespectful of either to say one was less horrible. But since we’re talking about race and the United States, you have to remember that it is THE defining aspect of American politics. Our government was made the way it was specifically because of our system of slavery, which was focused on race. Why wouldn’t we just have a single house of Congress based on population? Because then the big states in the North might vote to get rid of Slavery. On top of that, the Electoral College divides electors based on the number of Congressional seats, so this decision also affects that.

    And that’s just the organization of our government. You look at the modern Republican party and its libertarian elements, and you see they grew directly out of the Southern Strategy employed to appeal to racists without being overt about it. There’s simply no way of separating U.S. politics and history from race.

    Finally, one minor quibble: Shermer should know a bit about money being raised online, given the Indiegogo fundraiser back in 2013 on his behalf. He was aware of it and deeply appreciated the person who set it up for him. Sure, it’s no 45k, but he did let people know that if he sued someone, it might cost him 50k. You know, if anyone wanted to chip in and help him sue an atheist known for being liberal and pursuing social justice. And since the lawsuit didn’t happen, I’m sure nothing untoward happened to the money raised for him. Not that the person said what they did with the money or anything…

  6. OK episode. But I kinda felt like you mostly just repeated what you said in the last episode, and Shermer is just too much of a nice guy to argue back. 😛

    I still disagree with the way you frame Evergreen as a “both sides” kind of thing. Like, I could concede all your points about Weinstein: The day of absence isn’t such a big deal, his e-mail was insensitive, going on Fox was ill-conceived, he was opposed to equity-based hiring in the past, and so on.

    I can grant all that, and even then none of it comes even close to explaining or justifying the behaviour of the students and faculty like Naima Lowe. Most of the harassment wasn’t even directed at Weinstein, who left campus pretty early. It was mostly aimed at the college president and other faculty. What did that white female professor do to earn getting shouted at by a mob of students? Nothing, I’d guess. Then there’s students policing the president’s hand gestures and escorting him to the bathroom, and so on. And I don’t buy the defense of “they’re just kids” for anyone who’s over 14 or so.

    I know you don’t agree with the behaviour of the students, but you’re basically dedicating these episodes to how this is all Weinstein’s fault. To me, a more interesting question would be where do you see these students in a couple years? Is it rational to expect that they’ll be functioning, productive members of society? What should the left do to prevent this from happening on other liberal campuses? Is Evergreen the end result of the left’s identity politics? For example, in one of the videos someone asks if any black students need water. What happened to these students to make them constantly think in terms of race? Why not offer water to anyone who’s thirsty? Is any of this healthy behaviour that will improve race relations in the end?

    1. Excellent questions FinlandFan. I think you’re right to point to identity politics being the root of current political turmoil.

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