Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Party Line -- nyet

A major dispute that's boiled on and on within skepticism:  elevatorgate.  At 4 AM in a Dublin hotel, a man entered the elevator after Rebecca Watson and ostensibly propositioned her.

Ideological leaders have successfully imposed a party line--that the man in the elevator did something quite wrong, justifying pariah status.  Rebecca Watson attributes the following statement to him:
Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?
The party line asserts Watson's description is reliable and that the man transparently sought 'to get his dick wet.'

To be viewed as acceptably misogyny-free, the atheist commenter is required to perceive the man as a very bad person.  He is a creepy, clueless loser--or worse.

The party line draws attention to the fact that Watson's claim garnered many stupid and offensive responses.

Because some of those who don't support the party line are jerks, therefore all of those who don't support the party line can be dismissed--goes the prevailing polite-society atheist meme.

We should try to respond to our critics' best arguments--not their worst.

When a person makes an accusation, gentle, moderate skepticism is okay--supposedly.  But hyper-skepticism is being directed at Rebecca Watson's claim, and that's evidence of privilege and misogyny--our experts intone.

The herd thinking on this topic speaks poorly of the quality of elite atheist discourse.

Hyper-skepticism is by no means required to cast doubt upon Watson's attribution.  The most minimal skepticism imaginable is all you really need:

Do we have reason to believe we know what the man said, within the lift?  It seems unlikely indeed he uttered the precise words Watson attributes to him:  The sentences have a highly written sound; one would be extremely unlikely within a hotel elevator to ask someone 'to my hotel room.'

In situations when we are unclear as to the words spoken within a disputed exchange, we generally withhold judgment prior to listening to the other side of the story.

To say this is not to take the man's side--it is simply to resist social pressure demanding belief claims about the unknown.  Could the man be a lout?  Sure.  We simply don't know.

To say this is not to rake Rebecca Watson over the coals for not naming the man.  By refraining from judging the man, due to the paltry and partial evidence, we do not impugn Rebecca Watson's integrity.

On the contrary--were we to strongly endorse Watson's initial narrative, she would have every justification for asking us why.
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