July 14, 2024

Michael Nugent on choosing not to make a jerk of yourself.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character.  In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned.   My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. Read the comment policy before posting.
Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. Read the comment policy before posting.

Nugent suggests 8 choices that he thinks may help move the secular community beyond the rifts that have developed. I blame Rebecca Watson! You know she will inevitably be blamed anyways, so now that that is out of the way. (joking, of course)  I do attempt to do everything he has listed when I discuss controversial topics anyways.  It is important to me to try to not come off like a jerk.  I realize there are personalities especially online that that is their shtick   It is also important to realize that sometimes outrage and anger are appropriate responses to communication that is based on hate like racism, sexism, homophobia, class-ism, bigotry, etc. Outrage and anger at hate shouldn’t be confused with being a jerk.

Right now, for example I am outraged at the Vatican’s choice of yet another homophobic, sexist bigot, who got where he is by collaborating with the then brutal, fascist government in Argentina. How can it be any different when the Pope made a misogynist comment than when some in our community make hateful comments towards women?

He was named after Pope Francis for his purported championing of the poor agonist the rich, but St. Francis could never imagine the wealth of the Vatican. Evil!
He was named after St. Francis for his purported championing of the poor against the rich, but St. Francis could never imagine the wealth of the Vatican. Evil!


I can say with blunt honesty that this man is evil, and it isn’t the same as “insulting or mocking someone who disagrees with us.” The outrage in the case of the Pope is deserved.  Nor would I phrase it charitably as our President has in light of the amount of injustice the Vatican metes out worldwide.

“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy,” Obama said in a statement from the White House. “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years—that in each other we see the face of God.”


There is no charitable way to interpret Obama’s endorsement of Pope Francis I. He is either gullible in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that the Vatican has become rich off the poor and most vulnerable among us, and lacks the compassion to stop demonizing condom use in AIDS wracked countries; or he is dishonestly pandering to the religious.  The official Catholic stance forbidding contraception contributes to the cycle of poverty especially in third world countries.

In some ways, suggesting a charitable in lieu of an accurate interpretation of a comment like Obama’s has the effect of shushing well earned criticism. It is the difference between being a jerk and being justifiably angry.

Nugent’s suggestions are already being used in the comments to point out the mote in someone else’s eye rather than removing the log in their own eye first.  I remember as a Christian the weird glee, that some would take in judging fellow Christians’ “fruits”, while being blind to their own glaring character flaws.  Someone rightfully pointed out that his suggestion can only be self-adopted; the only person anyone can realistically control is themselves.

Here are Nugent’s suggestions, which again I think for the most part commendable, and I have no problem adopting as I have already chosen to use them before.

The first five choices are general

1. We can choose to robustly debate our disagreements about ideas, while not personally insulting or mocking people who disagree with us.

2. We can choose to want to de-escalate, rather than escalate, the hostility and hurt that has been one outcome of how we have addressed some disagreements.

3. We can choose to accept that, just as we know that others are mistaken about our motivations, we may also be mistaken about their motivations.

4. We can choose to charitably interpret ambiguous statements, or ask the person to clarify them, rather than unilaterally attacking the worst interpretation.

5. We can choose to give people the space to reconsider previously stated beliefs, and to either clarify or easily disown off-the-cuff statements.

The next three choices relate to specific issues

6. We can choose to actively tackle the problems of sexism and harassment in our communities, regardless of the scale of those problems.

7. We can choose to robustly debate disagreements about aspects of feminism, without labeling people based on our interpretation of their motivation.

8. We can choose to unilaterally retract any statements that we personally have made that, in retrospect, we now believe were wrong or unhelpful.


28 thoughts on “Michael Nugent on choosing not to make a jerk of yourself.

  1. I know that he was accused of collaborating with argentinian junta, but to my best knowledge nobody has presented any evidence.

    Do you have some sources, which could confirm those accusations?

    1. I don’t have any smoking gun linking the new Pope himself, though testimony during the truth commissions found that the church supported the dictatorship. Like this soldier who get rid of some political prisoners in a nasty way the dictatorship liked to use. Drug them, shackle them, put them on a plane, strip them naked, drug them again, and dump them out over the ocean. He discussed how they were given spiritual counseling by priests afterward and assured that it was good and god’s will because they were protecting their Christian civilization.

      So, yeah, the church was at least telling the military that they were right and had god’s backing to torture and kill people.

      I may be off on when the stripping down occured. Either way, the first thing I thought of upon hearing the Pope was from Argentina was to wonder just what role he played in the church’s cozying up to the military dictatorship. There are a lot of Desaparecidos to answer for.

    2. I’m from Argentina. It’s no great secret that the Church collaborated with the military. Sometimes the church had the task of informing families that their loved ones were dead, so they should stop looking for them. But only families that they thought wouldn’t use their loved ones’ deaths politically. The church was not only silent, but recommended silence to the families of the Desaparecidos.

      It’s also no secret that during our de facto government decree-laws were passed that granted catholic priests salaries and retirements from the state. The church was also given LOTS of lands. Bergoglio was not a small town chaplain. He was not only aware but a part of all this.

  2. Does that mean that we should stop beating on actual MRA’s? Most of those guys actually are misogynistic assholes of the worst sort.

    1. I agree with Nugent on the suggestion to give them space if they want to change their minds. If not, some of them have a pattern for externalizing blame. They post abusive stuff to women, and then if the women become angry they then get to be the bully and the victim. You’re not going to change the mind of most of the abusive ones. You can only use it as an example for the majority reasonable people. In real life, 2 years ago, there were still a lot of misinformed people at the secular gatherings I frequented. I do more of these gatherings than average because Aron speaks at them. Now if you go like I did to a Greta speech at a student group, there is no one in the room that admires MRAs, or thinks it is okay because of free speech to hate campaign a feminist. They have lost in the court of public opinion because they are demonstrably wrong.

    2. That depends on your objective.

      If you’re interested in changing minds (either of the person your talking to or, more likely, the people watching the debate) then following these rules will make a more persuasive argument.

      If you’re interested in poking them to snag an amusing response then ignore these rules. Just be aware that many forms of poking-for-amusement can harm your cause. Sometimes mocking, etc. has its place in winning people watching the debate over to your argument, but will almost always cause your debate partner to turtle and become more set in their ways. If poking is done wrong (and its easy to do it wrong) then the people watching your debate may reflexively go to the opposition’s side as well.

      I have no doubt that there are situations when ridicule is a better option than respect and reason, but I’m a horrible judge of people and don’t trust myself to use the technique effectively or know when its best used.

      1. In debate if someone defends a ridiculous position like Presuppositionalism in a dishonest attempt to avoid evidence, ridicule can be a good tool. Some of the more dishonest like the Pope may only change their behavior with ridicule or social disapproval.

    3. Lord Narf, I would think both of these are worth considering:

      3. We can choose to accept that, just as we know that others are mistaken about our motivations, we may also be mistaken about their motivations.

      4. We can choose to charitably interpret ambiguous statements, or ask the person to clarify them, rather than unilaterally attacking the worst interpretation.

      If you’re going to ridicule someone, it might be worth trying to engage in open discussion first so that you know you’ve got the right target. We’re all sometimes wrong about the motivations of others, and we all sometimes write ambiguous statements that can look very bad if looked at in the worst possible light. Good discussions should leave some space for those kinds of mistakes before the flamewar starts.

      1. 1) Someone can be open to ridicule even if their motivation was different from how it turned out. Expressing oneself very badly is, frequently, ridiculous.

        2) We’re often dealing with people who have different reaches and different levels of involvement. Often, a blogger may have something to criticize about someone whom they have no reason to believe will bother to respond to a personal message from them. “Approach them privately” often means “just let your criticism wither on the vine.”

        3) As you’ve doubtless become aware over these internet fights, there are a lot of people who AGREE with the most uncharitable interpretation. Even if we accept, for instance, that Richard Dawkins isn’t personally hostile to feminism (an interpretation that I feel flies in the face of the vast majority of his recent behavior), many of his supporters plainly ARE. If we just quietly approach Richard, even assuming he would answer us (see #2), we may end up interpreting him charitably, but that would not clear anything up for those who feel validated by the anti-feminist interpretation.

        4) If someone has actually made a mistake, what’s to prevent them from just clarifying once they are criticized or ridiculed? Is that the worst thing ever? Really?! Is it really so hard for them to say, “Okay, I see how it came across that way…my bad, what I actually meant was XYZ.” However, when someone really does have some nasty/thoughtless/privileged underpinnings of their worldview (of which they may not even be aware), they can’t really actually counter the criticism, and instead are just left trying to insist that people ignore the plain implications of what they said read charitably.

        5) Many people are not even aware of their own motivations (as skeptics, this should not be news!). This is why “I’m not a racist, but…” has become something of a catchphrase.

        6) Sometimes, there just plain isn’t a charitable interpretation. There is no way to charitably interpret “Dear Muslima.” That is just too many levels of crass, insensitive, illogical, and thoughtless. If anyone says something that stupid, it’s on them to apologize and learn from their mistake, not demand that others make it less obvious that ze is not perfect.

  3. I try to practice every one of Nugent’s suggestions.These are the problems I have been trying to get at for 6 months now, and I couldn’t agree more. The worst stuff that goes on is all the gossiping and labeling and character assassination that goes on. The labelling and grouping into sides and teams, and the amount of time spent doing that is atrocious.

    Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms.[2] The theory is concerned with how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. It is associated with the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping.

    People get stigmatized very rapidly around here, and yes, often on misunderstandings.

  4. The thing is, though, this whole pressure to “read charitably” is complete and utter bullshit. IT DOES NOT MATTER whether or not someone intended to be hurtful with what they wrote. Intent is not magic. IT DOES NOT MATTER if they were not conscious of sexist/racist/homophobic/irrational thinking behind what they did or said. The vast majority of biases are unconscious, anyway, and as skeptics we really ought to be familiar with that fact by now. Our culture has deeply ingrained hierarchical assumptions built into its cultural norms, and those norms are not going to change if everyone who accepts them and–thinkingly or not–perpetuates them is interpreted as “charitably” as possible, and no one is expected to grow beyond those norms.

    Moreover, it is sooo easy for people to act like simply being criticized for being thoughtless or rude is the be-all-and-end-all of attacks on their personhood, rather than just “Guys, don’t do that” or words to that effect. If someone says you did something that was biased, demeaning, hurtful or inaccurate, learn from it, correct the record, but don’t stamp your foot about being read charitably (or, like Michael Shermer or Richard Dawkins, you may just end up giving ample evidence to show the uncharitable read was the correct one!). Case in point: Melissa McEwan read PZ’s comments about her advice in a very “uncharitable” way, and PZ did the right thing and acknowledged he hadn’t come across as he’d have liked, and he put the rest of the focus back on the value of her advice. This isn’t really that hard to do, and if you actually have been read uncharitably (as opposed to having some of the less-flattering aspects of your privilege and assumptions brought to light), it’s a hell of a lot easier to clarify than to try to shut up the person making the complaint.

  5. 4) If someone has actually made a mistake, what’s to prevent them from just clarifying once they are criticized or ridiculed? Is that the worst thing ever? Really?! Is it really so hard for them to say, “Okay, I see how it came across that way…my bad, what I actually meant was XYZ.”

    Because, you fucking nimrod, is it so hard to say, a – “Hey, you seem to have a problem with being polite. What’s the harm in giving the benefit of the doubt? It sounds like you like to intimidate people, to me. Sorry, maybe I’m reading into this”

    instead of b – “It sounds to me like you are an unforgiving shit disturber with a chip the size of mount Everest on their shoulder that will take any excuse to act like an uncharitable bully. What the fuck is your exact problem with being able to act like a fucking decent member of society? If a cop gives you a ticket, do you call them a stunned freak because you were clearly not speeding and any fool that can read would see that their radar gun indicated that, and then expect them to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to give you the wrong impression. I stopped you to warn you that your tail light is out, and to get it fixed before someone else decides to give you a ticket.’ Are you that fucking stupid?”

    A, or b, do you think, is the best, in general. Look, I know that some people need a thrash over the head, but most likely, if you are mistaken about their intentions, you are going to come across like a hot headed type A. If your intent really is to clarify, or have a dialogue, you must realize that people get defensive when attacked. Everyone makes mistakes of comprehension, especially people with anger issues and blinders on.

    It is unacceptable to unload on bank tellers, cops, doctors, teachers, anyone in public, so how do you think the rules are any different on the internet? Not every place is Pharyngula.

    The point is, why do you expect someone else to react calmly to your verbal assault if you are not willing to make the effort yourself in the first place?

  6. mikmik @ 5–

    Personally, I would just be happy if I could give a scrupulously polite criticism of a ‘pitter and consistently get a non–derailing response in return.

    It is very unhelpful when people respond with:

    — You shouldn’t experience emotion X when you make logical point Y, so point Y is invalid. (This especially irritating when emotion X was not what I was really feeling.)

    — Your point may be valid, but blogger X said Y, so I’m going to respond to her point instead.

    — You insulted me and hurt my feelings when you said X, so now we have to stop talking about logical point Y and talk about my hurt feelings instead.

    And, of course,

    — But what about the menz?!??

    All four of those responses are stonewalls. The original point is simply taken off the table. I try to be polite, myself, but I personally don’t think the insults and name-calling are a serious issue. It’s the endless, ENDLESS derails that are making any resolution impossible.

  7. Actually, yes, the derails are red herrings, I think so.(!?)

    I fall for them and then everything gets out of hand and becomes mind bogglingly complex. Now, I try to point out the fallacy and repeat the original contention. It works excellent.

    You don’t always get to a resolution, but at least you do expose the disengenuousness of the other.

    Yeah, the derails are what’s important.

    Another one is a so called link to a citation or reference they made, but the link goes to a whole page of discussion without specifying the relevant passage. That one really pisses me off because it’s like they expect you to read the whole thing, and then they expect you to agree with whatever they concluded – whatever that is! Those links are not citations, they are another way of avoiding putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

  8. Mikmik @7–

    The problem isn’t that *you* fall for them. The problem is that *everybody*falls for them!

    1. Honestly I am not sure what their major beef is. What is it about FTB or Skepchick that merits constant monitoring, harassment, and accusations?

  9. Lilandra @ 8.1–

    When ‘pitters have written seriously, the issue seems to be that they do not want support of atheism associated with support of feminism. I’m not sure if they are also adverse to having atheism associated to other issues, such as LGBT rights, reducing income inequality, etc. I would guess that most of them would actively support better science teaching in public schools.

    But they actively oppose people who publicly link their atheist and feminist beliefs.

    As to why they would do that, rather than shrugging and saying, “okay, if that’s what you want, but count me out,” that, I don’t understand.

  10. FTR: Pope F(1) did not choose his name in honor of that hippie saint (who, historically, had more than a little second-hand blood on his hands), but to memorialize Francisco Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit order (originally set up a a military unit to tame those heretical Protestants by means of sophisticated theology theology).

    1. Someone must have hacked Wikipedia,then:


      At his first audience on 16 March 2013, Francis told journalists that he had chosen the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, and had done so because he was especially concerned for the well-being of the poor.[149][150][151] He explained that, as it was becoming clear during the conclave voting that he would be elected the new pontiff, the Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes had embraced him and whispered, “Don’t forget the poor”, which had made Bergoglio think of the saint.[152][153] Bergoglio had previously expressed his admiration for St. Francis, explaining that “He brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.”[154]

  11. Oops – pardon me for the tpyos on my # 10, which should conclude: “… theology swordplay.”

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