Shirts And Shirtiness

This week I'd like to thank Dr. Matt Taylor for helping to show us that we don't really understand each other or the internet, and probably don't care to.

Your Job Is Probably Not A Vehicle For Self-Expression.

First things first: we1 like to forget where we are (or pretend to) when it serves our narrative.

Dr. Taylor wore a vivid shirt with scantily-clad women at work, while he was representing his employer in media interviews. That's different than Dr. Taylor wearing the shirt at home, or out at a restaurant, or on his own time. Our employers generally get to set a dress code. This is actually not fascism.

'Houston, we have a problem." Traditional mission control dress codes require a white shirt, black pants, black tie, and looking as much like Less Nessman as possible.

"Houston, we have a problem." Traditional mission control dress codes require a white shirt, black pants, black tie, and looking as much like Less Nessman as possible. Also, the Right Stuff.

I train both corporations and nonprofits in sexual harassment prevention, something required by California law for entities with more than 50 employees. I would advise my clients that someone wearing this shirt should be counseled in an appropriate manner to wear it on their own time2. It's not sexual harassment, and it doesn't create a hostile workplace: it's nowhere near being severe or pervasive enough to change the nature of the workplace. However, it could eventually be cited as one factor in a long list of things that create a hostile work environment. That's why I'd say it's a risk, in addition to being — in my opinion — unprofessional.3

On the other hand, I'd also advise any client that the way to counsel an employee wearing the shirt is in private, professionally, in a measured fashion. Asking the employee to apologize on television is not private, professional, or measured. No competent professional who deals with sexual harassment prevention would advise public shaming as a method of correction; it's irresponsible, legally reckless, and ineffective.

I've seen people say that the shirt "looks like freedom." Well, I guess, to the extent you think freedom means you can wear whatever you want to your job. I can usually wear whatever I like to my office, because my name is on the door and I don't actually own any clothes that would offend anyone, other than hypothetical people triggered by khaki. But I don't actually get to wear whatever I want when I go to court.4 I have a cool tie with little handcuffs on it but I don't tend to wear it to meetings with new clients because they can find it off-putting. I don't wear sweat pants when I take a deposition because part of a deposition is making the witness take you seriously and nobody takes you seriously when you are in sweat pants.

Work is not the same as home. We ignore than when it serves our arguments.

Our Intended Message Is Not Necessarily The Message People Received.

People took different messages from Dr. Taylor's shirt. Based on my own biases I interpreted it ironically, as in "MY HIPSTER SHIRT: LET ME SHOW IT TO YOU." Some people interpreted it as "this is what women are for." Some people interpreted it as "I do what I want." I don't know what message Dr. Taylor intended to send; it might well have been a message of fondness for a particular artistic style and iconographic era, to the extent he consciously contemplated a message at all.

Many of us don't have a firm and consistent grasp of how to handle the distinction between intended messages, received messages, and both reasonable and idiosyncratic differences between the two. It's tempting to say "we can assume that people intend the message that reasonable people receive," but prolonged exposure to actual people tends to cure you of that.

It's okay that we don't have a coherent theory of how to distinguish intended and received messages. Smart people have been arguing over that for a very long time. But doesn't it make sense to contemplate the difference when we talk about expression? Isn't it reasonable to ask "do I give the benefit of the doubt to people on 'the other side' as well as people 'on my side'?"

We interpret messages based on our experience. When we say "you're a sexist if you don't interpret this shirt as sexist" or "you're a weakling if you think this shirt sends a discouraging message to women," we're saying "my set of life experiences is the correct one." My wife is a PhD, and she shook her head at the notion that the shirt sends an excluding message. But I have friends and clients who are women in science, and some of them have had experiences with discrimination that would stupefy you. They may take the shirt differently. The issue isn't that one set of experiences is "right" and the other "wrong." The issue is this: if we want to discuss things seriously, we might have to resort to something other than our own experience-based gut reactions. We might have to confront a difficult question: how much do we care about how people interpret what we say, or about what people meant when they said things that annoyed us?

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that everyone on social media loves sarcasm and irony, but irony is hard to interpret on social media. I've been blogging with Patrick for nearly a decade and I still can't reliably tell when he's being ironic. As a Twitter follower said this weekend about our account:

Dilemma

So if one of our followers retweets us to someone who has never heard of us, what chance do they have of correctly interpreting our meaning?

We're Not Sure What It Means To Say Something On The Internet.

As a variation on the last point, we're often not clear what message someone intends when they say something online.

Take this response.

NotLikingTheShirt

The textual message is pretty clear. But what message, if any, is intended by posting it on Twitter? If you are sympathetic to Dr. Taylor and hostile to the criticism of him, you may interpret the underlying message as "cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war" — you may assume that the speaker intended to make this into a Very Big Deal, and intended to provoke a particular response among readers. But did she? I don't know. Twitter lets us reach all of our followers instantly, and potentially be repeated to thousands or millions more. But it lets us do it in an instant, with very little thought or effort — really no more effort than it takes to speak it. Yet when it serves our individual narratives, we tend to assign a level of intentionality to Twitter and other social media that we would normally reserve for planned, deliberate, formal expression. A tweet might be a throw-away, a vent, a yawp, but we interpret it as "this person carefully formulated this statement and deliberately transmitted it to thousands of people, intending that it be passed on, showing how important they think it is."

That's true of tone as well as content. Let's say I say "fuck" in a tweet, as one does. I have likely not gone through the thought process "I am going to say 'fuck' now, with full consciousness that the people who are going to read it include my 14-year-old cousin, several of my pastors, some judges before whom I appear, and any number of people who are uncomfortable with that language." I type it out the way you might mutter something under your breath in traffic. Yet people may interpret it as if I arranged to have it engraved. Then the very same people will turn around, forget that that's the way they interpret Twitter, and casually toss out something with a tone and content they wouldn't deliberately choose for polite company. Let's call this "Twitnesia."

We're also fuzzy about how to react to multiple people talking about something. When I retweet something, or comment on something on Twitter, I rarely think "this person needs to have social consequences inflicted on them and I will add my followers and then we need 2.4 million more people to read it and then that will be the appropriate level of condemnation." In other words, we don't consciously think "watch me pile on." Instead, we tweet about stuff that's interesting, or funny, or affirms or preconceptions, or that we have a good line about. But we tend to interpret other people as being part of a coordinated effort. When they do it, it's "piling on."

Moreover, it's easy to confuse one person's momentary chosen focus for that person arguing that their focus should be everybody's focus. This is the "how can you talk about this when children are starving in Africa" rhetorical technique — or if you want to be a complete asshole, the fallacy of relative privation — and we aim it when we disagree with what a person is saying. When Mars Curiosity landed, plenty of people paid lots of attention to Mohawk Guy. Few people were upset by that — you didn't hear a lot of "OMG people are focused on appearance rather than on this historic event, how terrible." That's because for the most part the comments didn't push anyone's social or political buttons. But let the comments on appearance become critical along politically controversial lines, and all of a sudden everybody's name-checking the African kids. (That's easier to do when some people use rhetoric explicitly suggesting they are framing it as "what I noticed is the most important thing.")

In short, when we react to something on social media like it's been thought out and nailed to the cathedral door, we may be serving our own preferred narratives rather than reality.

We Build Our Own Echo Chambers.

We like to imagine that the internet in general, and social media in particular, will broaden our horizons by exposing us to a greater diversity of ideas and arguments.

What if the opposite is true?

The internet — and particularly social media — is only as broadening as you work to make it. Our natural instincts may be to use it to confirm and congratulate what we already think. That's especially true on places like Twitter: we "follow" people we want to follow. They, in turn, follow the people they want to follow — so when they retweet content, it's often agreeable to our peer group. When conflicting ideas are retweeted, it is often in the context of ridiculing them, or as disingenuous ideological synecdoche: "look at what this idiot says which is representative of what people on That Side say." We misinterpret a show of hands in our carefully cultivated clubhouse as a broad consensus. That means, of course, that it's much easier to treat opposing views as preposterous, extreme, or deliberately offensive.

We Can't Tell Whether There Is A Difference Between "Online" and "Reality."

We also become so immersed in our internet subculture that we mistake it for the broader culture. Have you ever talked to a kid with a hobby who seems genuinely mystified that you aren't intimately familiar with the intricacies and petty dramas and celebrities of his or her hobby? We make fun of that ("Grandma, I CAN'T BELIEVE you're not getting how controversial it is that they nerfed Paladins again in this latest patch!"), but we are that. We assume that something that's the talk of social media is the talk of the nation, and react accordingly. We're encouraged in this by online journalists — and increasingly television and print journalists — who are immersed in online culture and report it as if it is the same as the "real world." Then, when the story self-perpetuates into mainstream media and the "real world," we react with contrived outrage: "can you believe that this is actually a thing?" Of course it's a thing, we made it a thing by training journalists to rely heavily on social media for stories.

We're Dishonestly Obsessed With Metaphors of Violent Oppression.

People get criticized on the internet. Sometimes this criticism is unfair, irrational, and/or ridiculous. But when you say they've suffered a "lynch mob" or "witch hunt," unless people are actually calling for the person to be hanged or jailed, you're almost certainly full of shit.

Criticism is not censorship. Criticism is what we have instead of censorship. Preserving the ability to criticize vigorously is how we convince ourselves — tenuously — not to censor. Criticism is often leveled for incredibly stupid reasons, but then, so is the mechanism of government censorship.

When you say that someone criticized on the internet (or in the news) is the victim of a "lynch mob," here are the notions you are trying to sneak past your listeners:

  • The people who criticize this person are part of a thoughtless mob, reacting with visceral emotion and caught up in the wave.  They should be driven by the pure cold light of reason, like me.
  • If lots of people criticize somebody that doesn't make the criticism right.  In fact it makes it less right.
  • Being criticized by a bunch of people is like being physically harmed, possibly by the government.  How much like it?  We'll get to that later.
  • Discourse about controversial subjects should be polite and productive and I wish these squirrel-fucking subhuman traitors would get that.

In other words, you're likely just saying "I disagree strongly with this criticism and I will use lazy shorthand to say so."  That's how you get a discourse in which lynch mobs are apparently chasing each other in circles — first the lynch mob after Dr. Taylor, followed by the lynch mob chasing the people who criticized Dr. Taylor, etc.  This makes the shirt itself look profound in comparison.

We also use related rhetoric about what we're allowed to say.  You hear a lot of "you're not allowed to . ." or "these days you can't . . ," by which people mean that we live in a time where if you do certain things it will have significant social consequences. But we always lived in that time.  If I got up at a town meeting in 1914 and said "homosexuals should be allowed to marry each other," that would likely have had one set of strong social consequences, if I got up in a town meeting in 2014 and said "homosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other," it might have a different set of strong social consequences.  The "you're not allowed to" rhetoric implies two false things:  (1) that social consequences are equivalent to force or government coercion, and (2) there has been some sort of magical bunny-rabbit-gumdrop time when people could say whatever they wanted without social consequences.

Why do I care? I care because society's commitment to free expression is weak, and literacy in basic free speech concepts is spotty. "Lynch mob" rhetoric tends to equate speech with action that can be regulated. People who say "politically correct people form lynch mobs that ruin lives" may ironically make it more likely that the populace will tolerate laws enforcing political correctness, because they help conflate speech and action.

Should we make an effort to practice decency, and proportionality, and humility, and self-awareness in inflicting social consequences for speech? Damn right we should. But remember the points above about how we don't understand the internet. We mistake everyone in our Twitter feed condemning someone with everyone in the world condemning someone. We mistake offhand criticisms for carefully calculated ones deliberately sent to a mass audience. We mistake a different perspective for malice. We mistake our familiarity with someone for mass familiarity ("OMG @popehat called that guy out! Popehat has a huge audience! That's so disproportionate! He's leading a lynch mob!"). Our view of what is proportionate or disproportionate may be skewed.

We Like To Use Everything As A Weapon.

Whether we're criticizing, or criticizing the criticism, or criticizing the criticism of the criticism, or so on unto eternity like a mastubatory Oroborus, we enjoy making very broad social and political use of incidents.

Take the narrative that emerged in the criticism-of-the-critics level over Dr. Taylor. Allow me to pick on Glenn Reynolds for a second, because he can take it:

So how are things going for feminism? Well, last week, some feminists took one of the great achievements of human history — landing a probe from Earth on a comet hundreds of millions of miles away — and made it all about the clothes.

This, with all respect to Prof. Reynolds, is bullshit. Imagine me turning it back on him:

How are things going for conservatism? Well, last week, conservatives took a transitory social dispute and cynically twisted it for political advantage.

The familiar sequence is this:

1. People did something stupid.
2. Those people self-identify as feminists or I label them as feminists.
3. Feminists are stupid.
4. [A week later] Feminists say we should do xyz. But remember how stupid feminists are? Extremely stupid. Ha ha. So clearly we shouldn't do xyz.

You could plug anything into that to replace "feminists" and recognize it as common discourse. It's nonsense. It distorts the way we interpret things: it makes our focus not "what's a reasonable interpretation of this comment/incident" but "how can this comment/incident be of use to me."

But it's so seductive and fun. That's why we do it.

We're Plagued By Dirtbags.

If we congregate at the coffee shop on the corner to discuss politics, it's pretty easy to get rid of the nut who says "YOU DESERVE TO DIE for saying that about ethanol subsidies!!" It's a lot harder on the internet. There, crazy assholes can plague our conversations without getting kicked out. It's the drawback to anonymity: we can't inflict social consequences on trolls and threatmongers.

This is an uncomfortable truth, so we tend to deflect it. "Your statistics about who gets threatened more are totally misleading!" "Of those five statements, only one was really a threat, the others were just ill-wishes!" "Your Side's threats are worse than Our Side's!" "You didn't say anything the time we got threatened!" "This threat is probably a false flag!" "That dude probably can't really kill you because he lives far away and he doesn't have a car!" "That wasn't really doxxing because I found your home address on the internet!"

Ultimately, if we want to promote conversations worth having, that's all wheel-spinning. I have opinions about who is more likely to be threatened online, but whether or not I'm right, threats are unacceptable. I know the difference between true threats and bombast, but even "untrue" threats can be seriously creepy and unsettling. I know the difference between malicious abuse and threats that are likely to be carried out, but malicious abuse can be genuinely chilling. We minimize it until it happens to us.

It's easy to say "threats and publishing addresses and phone numbers and abuse of families is completely unacceptable," but that really doesn't get us anywhere. Being told "what happened to you is not right but it doesn't represent everyone who disagrees with you and it's probably a false flag and other people experience it too and I got called a dick on XBox Live once" isn't productive. Action talks. What might action look like? It might look like utterly shunning — unpersoning — anyone we identify who is engaged in such tactics. It might involve saying "that's unacceptable" without the "but . . . ." It might involve saying "this threat is frightening and unacceptable" rather than "this threat that is typical of Group X is frightening and unacceptable." It might involve people using their white-hat or grey-hat or even black-hat skills to identify — in public — the people who make threats, so that appropriate consequences can be inflicted upon them.5

As of now, threatening behavior distorts discourse in important ways. The discussion of Dr. Taylor is a good example. I hear — and find completely credible — that some people who criticized Dr. Taylor were threatened. Then when Prof. Reynolds offered the critique of the critics that I criticized above, some people suggested that he was morally responsible for what the threateners did. That's unfair and even pernicious. The existence of threatening scumbags shouldn't deter anyone from speaking their mind — whether it's a likely target, or someone that the scumbags are likely to agree with politically.

So What?

So where the hell do I come out on Shirtgate?

I come out like this: the shirt was not workplace-appropriate, but Dr. Taylor may not have realized that. The appropriate way to tell him was privately and professionally. Making him apologize on TV — if, in fact, he was made to do it — was hideously inappropriate. Some people reacted much more strongly to it than I did, but those people might have very different experiences with sexism than I've had. Someone calling Dr. Taylor an asshole on Twitter is not the same as someone saying "I call upon the polity to brand Dr. Taylor officially an asshole." Shut the fuck up about lynch mobs already.

  1. Every time I say "we" in this post, I mean to include myself, because I have made all of these mistakes frequently.  
  2. At least in most workplaces. It might be contextually acceptable in some workplaces  
  3. So I'm giving sexual harassment prevention training to the police department of a small city and it's not going over great. A cop asks me "why the hell can't I express myself by putting a centerfold on my locker?" And, because I am me, I say "are you cool with someone putting a Playgirl centerfold on the next locker?" I then realized (1) the door was on the other side of the room, (2) all of these cops are armed, (3) we've represented this department in excessive force cases, and (4) it's possible that not everyone finds me as irresistible as I find me.  
  4. I did actually show up in court once without a tie. But that's because I got a flat tire on the way to court and the tie got caught in the jack as I tried to change the tire and then there was a thing with the wrench. Long story.  
  5. Humiliation of themselves and their families, loss of scholarships and jobs, inability to form relationships or secure employment, etc. Yes: if you are asking me if I have a problem with someone's life being utterly destroyed if they send an anonymous email saying "I will rape and kill you" to someone because they didn't like their target's speech, my answer is no, I support natural consequences.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. jtf says

    Uh, I think "mastubatory Orobus" was meant to be a "masturbatory Oroboros". Unless that was an ironic effort to go Tara Gilesbie on us.

  2. bradley13 says

    Wow, what a long article. And I'm still not sure what y'all said. Certainly the 1960s NASA photos are completely irrelevant. That's NASA, that's 50 years ago, and that's on a different continent from the current issue.

    I have two take aways from this situation, both pretty simple:

    – Europe is not as obsessed as the US with sex and sexism. Most of the freak-out happened on the US side of the pond. Or, at least, west of the English Channel.

    – A certain breed of feminists look for sexism wherever they can find it. Did you know that a plain, gray t-shirt is sexist? Read the referenced article, and try – just try – to bend your brain around that concept.

    As far as I am concerned, the only error Dr. Taylor made was not thinking fast enough on his feet to tell people that. It's a special shirt for him, made by his (female!) friend, and he wore it on a very special day. Where, exactly, is the problem?

  3. ShelbyC says

    "Criticism is not censorship."

    Unfortunately, one of the problems with the chilling effect on speech that hostile environment law has created is that women can't engage in good-faith criticism of anything gender-related without it being censorious.

  4. Dan Weber says

    I had just finished an anti-harassment course online when I first saw the picture of that shirt. "Oh, they just said we shouldn't do that."

    That Fry-meme nicely bottles up one of the things I like about Popehat's twitter feed: I don't know who is behind it and based on the context it could mean two radically different things. Which is awesome in and of itself. It forces me to not take everything so seriously all the time.

  5. HamOnRye says

    Being a manager of an R&D team I can concur that for a lot of the creative class, common sense is often missing. His supervisor should have pulled him aside and asked him to change his shirt or gave him a jacket.

    With that being that, there is no good in offering a public apology. I would have instructed Dr. Taylor to shut up and contacted our legal team.

  6. Mike says

    So… what is the proper, polite way to say "It's awful that there are people on the internet who threaten you, but the fact that there are horrible people on the internet does not make the rest of your points correct"? Because in most of these unmoderated online conversations, it's not as though we can call a time out for the greater social problem while we go round up the anonymous villains. Maybe just work on a rule that neither side should address the harassment issue in the same post as the actual issues?

  7. David Smith says

    Years ago, I was at a "turn it on and see if it passes the smoke test" event that ended over a year of effort. One guy showed up dressed like a hippy.

    Why? Those were his lucky clothes from his undergraduate days in Berkeley.

    Nobody questioned his judgement, for that event, and we never saw the outfit again.

    PS To ease the tension of the event, a lot of black humor was going around, and one guy ritually pulled out and kissed his rabbit foot.

    There is such a thing as humor.

  8. I Think This Is Too Long says

    Good initial points. You should have quit while you were ahead though, because this is about 3x longer than it should be.

  9. ShelbyC says

    "Traditional mission control dress codes require a white shirt, black pants, black tie, and looking as much like Less Nessman as possible."

    You forgot, "have a penis". I'm not sure the '60's is the best example of an inclusive environment for women.

  10. says

    "It's tempting to say "we can assume that people intend the message that reasonable people receive," but prolonged exposure to actual people tends to cure you of that."

    So many great lines, but this is an absolute highlight for me. But that might be because I work in a call center, when we often feel as much like babysitters are we do team leaders.

  11. Desiderius says

    The above-it-all approach doesn't buy you what you believe it does.

    The Rose Eveleths of the world very much do live in a self-constructed echo chamber. The rest of us do not, for the very simple reason that the commanding heights of both the culture and institutional power are dominated either by Rose Eveleths or her apologists who evidently still believe you can get away with above-it-all philosophizing.

    Are there fringe movements that labor mightily to construct their own echo chambers? Of course, but those are not the main source of the still largely amorphous push back. Leaders are needed, and if those like yourself who would otherwise be qualified to take the helm are too cowardly to do so, others less able will fill the void. Those who hire the Rose Eveleths benefit from the resulting chaos.

  12. Desiderius says

    "I don't know what message Dr. Taylor intended to send; it might well have been a message of fondness for a particular artistic style and iconographic era, to the extent he consciously contemplated a message at all."

    Conscious or unconscious, one should be able to safely assume that the only message on his mind was "We just landed a probe on a freaking comet! Share my joy and wonder!"

    "I don't know" should be the beginning and the end of the analysis. That you nonetheless managed to go on from there ad nauseum is an embarrassment.

  13. irrelevant says

    Technically, Ken is correct. The right word for this sort of behavior is "pillory", not "lynch mob".

  14. says

    The idea that a University of Tennessee law professor is a big boy, and can take it, but the technology editor at The Atlantic is a little girl, and can't.

    Is that what I said? I must not have been paying attention.

  15. Kevin says

    @Ken
    For the sake of my sanity, I'm going to assume that your continued insistence that the phrases "witch hunt" and "lynch mob" must never be used except in a strictly literal sense is just an idiosyncrasy of yours particular to only those two phrases, rather than any kind of generalizable principle against metaphorical and/or hyperbolic language usage. Because the contrary hypothesis would require me to believe that there are a disturbing number of people out there in the world with a way too intimate knowledge of the aroma of your taint.

  16. Chuck says

    I don't wear sweat pants when I take a deposition because part of a deposition is making the witness take you seriously and nobody takes you seriously when you are in sweat pants.

    Unless you're John Quinn.

  17. Ted H. says

    All these rhetorical fallacies people like to cite as law stem from scholastic debates, where one issue is in focus. Intersectionality, the mode of debate coming from the liberal arts, destroys their usefulness generally. Plus, in a large public forum, where every issue is on the table, it might be alright to say that there are more pressing matters at hand, and your issue sucks because its insignificant.

  18. Grifter says

    I don't tweet; I signed up once, just to retweet something because I always love a good Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra joke and had no other way of expressing "This. I like this.", but I really don't like how it encourages even less "think about what you're posting" than Facebook, which is already problematic enough (I work in the medical field, and some of my colleagues seem to think HIPAA doesn't apply on Facebook…).

    Some people can and do do it well, from my limited experience, so I'm not bagging on it in general, just as it applies to myself–I want to maintain a tendency of governing myself accordingly.

  19. Ted H. says

    Also, this reads to me like an oblique defense of poor manners on the internet. Maybe Ken looked in the mirror this morning and didn't like what he saw. I should add, I'm fine with poor manners, but with "natural consequences" and all.

  20. Mercury says

    Future of Civilization Final Exam:

    The space administration at which you hold a C-level, leadership position is about to hold a press conference announcing that it’s interplanetary probe has just screwed it’s anchor and fired it’s harpoons into the virgin surface of an orbiting comet named after two men. Suddenly you realize that the only four scientists qualified to lead a press Q&A are all dressed like assholes:

    One is wearing a shirt with an S&M graphic intended to express irony.

    The second is wearing a shirt with the same graphic intended to express second derivative irony.

    The third, whose expressive intent is not known, is showing a tattoo with the same graphic.

    The fourth is wearing a shirt like the first two but the character in the S&M graphic is the of same gender.

    Who do you send to the podium and why?

    Extra credit: How many negatively charged, group identity memes can dance on the head of a pin?

  21. Rhonda Lea Kirk Fries says

    Women will live to regret the fallout of third-wave feminism. Between the nitpicking and the insane attempts to morph men into women with penises, it cannot end well.

    There's currently a petition that asks for Rose Eveleth to be fired. I think I may sign it. I'd like to see one for Allison P. Davis too. Her piece on Zuckerberg's shirts gave me a migraine.

  22. Astra says

    "Why do I care? I care because society's commitment to free expression is weak, and literacy in basic free speech concepts is spotty. "

    Indeed. However, this post is much too thoughtful–no one will pay attention. Outrage is much more fun.

    I am basically Taylor's peer: project scientist on a high profile space flight mission (a Hubble Space Telescope instrument in my case). I interpreted his tee-shirt as "you don't have to be a colorless geek to do science." Problem is, you don't do that when you're representing your mission on international TV. You are selling the science, not yourself. I'm sorry he had to find that out the hard way. ESA takes the bulk of the blame here. He would not have gone on camera for a NASA project in that shirt because NASA vets clothing in advance for press events.

    I was not offended by the shirt but I sure do get cranky at all the attempts to tell women to shut up if you don't agree with their reactions. I especially dislike the false equivalence between "awesome scientist who landed a probe on a comet" and "humorless feminists who are incapable of any productive endeavor" since in my corner of the internet it was his peers, male and female, who pointed out that this is not how you represent your field when the world is watching.

  23. says

    I can usually wear whatever I like to my office, because my name is on the door and I don't actually own any clothes that would offend anyone, other than hypothetical people triggered by khaki.

    Gotta be someone triggered by khaki. It's a weird world.

    But yes, you are responsible for delivering a message when you dress. That means that you need to consider what other people think, rather than just what you think. And if you work for someone else, you have to consider what the boss is willing to put up with.

    Wayne

  24. Ken Mitchell says

    Point one: I liked the shirt, but agree that it was probably inappropriate for the occasion. I'm a little surprised that the European Space Agency didn't provide nice polo shirts with the ESA logo, with a dress code that says "Wear this when you're going to be on TV."

    Point two: Proper LOL-speak requires the phrasing "MY HIPSTER SHIRT: LET ME SHOW YOU IT."

    Point three: I certainly agree that the WoD patch has TOTALLY nerfed Paladins! There cannot be any intelligent disagreement about this crucial point.

    Point four: Rose Eveleth is a self-righteous prig who actively seeks out ways to take offense.

  25. Jacob Schmidt says

    "Shut the fuck up about lynch mobs already."

    Ken's war on figurative speech continues unabated.

    This defense is pretty common, but to date I see no validity in it. The message, "Online critcisms are figuratively lynch mobs," is still incredibly stupid. I mean, when I got yelled at by my mother for occasionally being an annoying ass of a kid, even in my formative years I wouldn't liken that unpleasantness to murder.

    All you've done is attempt to justify non literal speech simply because it's non literal, but the severity of the speech is what's being criticized. If you seriously think online criticism, even pervasive online critcism, is like being figuratively lynched, you're an idiot.

  26. Trent says

    Being a manager of an R&D team I can concur that for a lot of the creative class, common sense is often missing.

    As a socially inept creative person of the group you just criticized let me say that with absolute certainty common sense isn't all that common. Or as someone once said, everyone is stupid every so often. It's part of being human, everyone does stupid senseless stuff at times.

    The Rose Eveleths of the world very much do live in a self-constructed echo chamber. The rest of us do not,

    Everyone lives in one echo chamber or another. You may not live in the same one as Rose but you most certainly do live in an echo chamber that isn't that different from her's, otherwise you wouldn't be criticizing her echo chamber while trying to claim everyone else is in yours.

  27. Anonymous Coward says

    Personally, I placed the shirt as unprofessional and thoughtless (especially on international fucking television), and the kind of thing that should result in workplace discipline. Appropriate for the home, appropriate for a bar with friends, sure. Whatever floats his boat. Misogynistic? No more so than Bayonetta, and the arguments on that are ongoing and vocal. AFAIK the apology wasn't forced, though, it was an unplanned exclamation (for lack of a better word) during a later livestream.
    I do agree completely that the reaction has been insanely out of proportion.

  28. alexa-blue says

    From what I saw from my limited corner of the internet, the criticism of Matt Taylor wasn't particularly intense or personal (although wouldn't be surprised to learn *he* received death threats). Most people I saw criticizing were saying, shirt's bad, defense of the shirt worse. The latter took a few forms: (1) yes, shirt discourages women in STEM, and that's a good thing (ie, loons); (2) the kind of hysterical women getting upset over the shirt aren't the kind of women who are going to drive STEM forward, good riddance to them, and (3) the shirt's fine, this is all just a cynical political game from feminists.

    It's hard to address any of those points, but in particular point (2), without going back to the shirt itself and asserting the right to be legimately put off by it. But then you've attached your self to the lynch mob, or whatever, going after this innocent, helpless idiot-savant (really, that hotair article was ridiculous), you heartless feminazi.

  29. alexa-blue says

    Patrick, Justine was fired. Do you not think that a PR director should be sufficiently twitter savvy to manage her own public image? Also, my understanding is that she found employment at "Hot or Not" after the lynch mob had its way with her.

    The Target kid is probably a better example.

  30. Jacob Schmidt says

    Has Justine landed yet?

    I know nothing of Justine, nor her (it's?) airborn status.

    (I'm out of the loop and have no idea what you're talking about.)

  31. Echo says

    "Intersectionality… destroys their usefulness generally"

    I'm starting to realize that people like Ken are so deeply engrained in an intellectual culture of liberalism that they don't notice it dying around them.
    "Act this way so everyone can share their opinions without suffering threats" is just begging the question of why speech and disagreement are good, because it's such a fundamental assumption for people like him.
    The "post-rationality" types reject the fundamental premise that such "bourgeois" liberalism is desirable at all.

  32. Ken Mitchell says

    I know nothing of Justine, nor her (it's?) airborn status.

    Justine Sacco, a PR rep for the parent company of (among others) Match.com, tweeted "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" She then boarded an aircraft and was offline for 18 or so hours. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet was attached to an enormous number of replies and retweets.

    "Shirtstorm" was a drop in the bucket compared to Justine's arrival in Africa. There's lots on YouTube about it. The ultimate lesson from Twitter being, if you shoot yourself in the foot on Twitter and let it bleed for 18 hours, you can suffer professional "death" as a result.

  33. eddie says

    If you seriously think online criticism, even pervasive online critcism, is like being figuratively lynched

    It's not like being figuratively lynched. It IS being figuratively lynched. It is LIKE being literally lynched.

    That's what figuratively means.

  34. Stella says

    I definitely, totally 100% agree with the sentiment that there is such a thing as "appropriate" or "professional" dress for work/public appearances, and that you should be sensitive to whether your dress in a professional setting might make a coworker/client/etc. uncomfortable, or whether it might change the impression people have of you rightly or wrongly. Indeed, I've been going back and forth on whether to dye a blue streak in my hair because I'm not sure how my dissertation committee would take it.

    I've made this exact point in arguments before–usually in the context of women or girls and "slut-shaming."

    I actually think this comparison is very appropriate. If Dr. Taylor had been a woman who wore bootie-shorts and a super-low-cut tight top to the press conference, I think it would be reasonable to criticize her attire as unprofessional or inappropriate for the occasion.*

    But if people called her names (like "a**hole," or, since that's a word usually applied to men, an analogous word usually applied to women), if they someone said she ruined the comet-landing for them, if others wrote long articles about how she's *just the sort of woman* who's poisoning the scientific profession… Well, I'd be on the feminist side of that conflict.

    *Similarly if Taylor had worn ridiculously tight pants and a ruffly-Fabio shirt with the front open to show his chest. Less likely, of course, because that's not fashionable.

  35. Jacob Schmidt says

    It's not like being figuratively lynched. It IS being figuratively lynched. It is LIKE being literally lynched.

    I was leaving room for hyperbole and other un-exact statements.

    In any case, no, it is not comparable to lynching, literal or otherwise.

    (Now stop lynching me.)

  36. Bob says

    A cop asks me "why the hell can't I express myself by putting a centerfold on my locker?" And, because I am me, I say "are you cool with someone putting a Playgirl centerfold on the next locker?" — you never said what his response was. If it were me, the response would have been, "yes, why should I give a fuck?"

  37. says

    This is what is wrong with society. We don't focus on achievements — putting a probe on a comet, the first time its ever been done. Instead we focus on witch hunts and social conformity and keeping nutcase feminists happy.

    This is the reason for the decline of Western Civilization — its oriented towards female taking offense and the modern equivalent of fainting couches (mobs on Twitter) rather than accomplishment.

    I DONT CARE if the guy wore a Klan Hood, much less some Hawaiian shirt feminists got the vapors over. I really just don't care at all. What I do care about is science, science that can help avoid a catastrophic cometary impact on the planet, or cures for cancer, or a thousand other things.

    And guess what? All of that stuff is going to come from geeky White guys. It won't come from women. Or gays. Or Blacks. Or any of that stuff. Any more than geeky White guys will give birth.

    Lets get real, what lawyers do in court, or politicians appearing before the media, or law enforcement officials do, where not giving offense is probably a third-level consideration, is orders of magnitude different than technical operations like landing a probe on a comet. That people actually CARE what some obscure scientist wore during a news conference shows the skewed, idiotic priorities they place — social conformity and rule-following rather than real accomplishment.

    As a White guy, I would not care if some scientist was a Black supremacist who wanted to eliminate all White guys like me — if he had a cure for cancer he was sharing. The important take-away from a guy wearing a Malcolm X shirt announcing a cure for cancer is not the shirt. Its the cure for cancer.

    As a man, I DON'T CARE about what you or anyone else thinks, has an opinion on, or what kind of clothes you wear. I care what you DO. What actual real accomplishment makes my life better, more pleasurable, LONGER.

    This noxious Witch-hunting by hysterical women (just like the Salem Witch trials I think) has got to stop. The message every White male geek received is that their power/status is less than some hysterical feminist who has done nothing and so we will get more social conformity and far less science.

    Thanks stupid women!

  38. eddie says

    In any case, no, it is not comparable to lynching, literal or otherwise.

    Of course it's comparable. It's not equivalent; it's comparable. That's why it's being used figuratively, rather than literally.

    Ken himself posted four ways in which certain types of online criticism may be similar in some sense to a lynch mob. He framed them in ways which, I believe, are strawmen so that he can ridicule them, which of course is the beloved Popehat style, so that's fine. But even so there's a kernel of truth to them which points out that in fact online criticism is quite comparable to a lynch mob (not the same, not equivalent, not even in the same ballpark, but that's not what figuratively means, any more than Juliet was in the same ballpark as a flaming ball of gas 109 times the size of the earth):

    a. Like lynch mobs, the people who engage in such criticism are part of a thoughtless mob, reacting with visceral emotion and caught up in the wave.

    b. Like lynch mobs, the fact that lots of people are doing it doesn't make it right.

    (Item c is simply begging the question, and item d isn't actually about the comparison of online criticism to lynch mobs, so I'll leave them out here.)

    I'd say another element that people are implying when they use the figurative term "lynch mob" is that the critics are trying to do more than simply criticize – they aim to compel some kind of response on the part of the subject which the subject would otherwise want to avoid, such as apologizing, or getting fired. So an accusation of "lynch mob" connotes more than just piling on, or disliking something, or trying to score points in an argument.

    One needn't be literally killing people in order for one's actions to be comparable in some sense to a lynch mob. This is the miracle of figurative speech, and our language would be poorer without it.

  39. Ben says

    While I agree the shirt is tacky and probably a poor choice, I believe he did clear it with his employers before going on air. At best it deserved a few "Hah, look at this nerd and his stupid shirt" comments as a sidenote, all the outrage about it "setting back woment in stem" does is make people complaining about the real problems women in science might have look dumb by association.

  40. babaganusz says

    Like lynch mobs, the people who engage in such criticism are part of a thoughtless mob, reacting with visceral emotion and caught up in the wave.

    …which is why "mob" alone is perfectly adequate.

    @Herr Schmidt: all i could think of was this.

  41. says

    a. Like lynch mobs, the people who engage in such criticism are part of a thoughtless mob, reacting with visceral emotion and caught up in the wave.

    Thank you for making my point.

  42. babaganusz says

    and so we will get more social conformity and far less science.

    "far less science" is an inevitable consequence of enforcing a dress code? though it sure would be spiffy for a critical mass of policy-makers to pretend that nobody has even superficial concerns about image, you–you idealist. just think–politicians who hold shallow voters in the contempt they so richly deserve…

  43. alexa-blue says

    That's absurd. Anything is comparable to anything; for a metaphor to be useful it helps to examine all of its parts. One key feature of a *lynch* mob, compared to its more innocuous cousins (flash, glitch, eg) is the presence of a lynching. Does anyone really think the comparison of Matt Taylor to, say, Emmett Till is helpful in understanding this event?

  44. Tim! says

    @Vorkon I clicked. It's not spam.
    @Heather O'Meara URL shorteners aren't really important in fora like they are on twitter, and are in fact counterproductive.

  45. babaganusz says

    @Ken:

    crazy assholes can plague our conversations without getting kicked out. It's the drawback to anonymity: we can't inflict social consequences on trolls and threatmongers.

    which is why i hope to someday personally afford you (prior to retirement) more time for blogging and gaming (and hanging out with your family, i suppose)… not to assume that you don't catch a reasonable quantity of positive social consequences, but i'll hazard a guess that they don't completely bury the negative ones…

  46. eddie says

    @alexa-blue: There are a number of features of a lynch mob which are not implied by simply "mob" (or flash mob, Glitch Mob, angry mob, aggro mob, et al) beyond simply the presence of a hanged victim. The figurative use of "lynch mob" could easily be intended to convey one or more of these:

    a) Injustice
    b) Illegality
    c) Racism
    d) Vigilantism

    as well as the connotation I mentioned above, that of seeking punishment of the subject rather than simply expressing disagreement en masse.

    As you say, for a metaphor to be useful it helps to examine all of its parts. "Lynch mob" contains many parts; execution is only one.

    Ken's insistence (and yours, and babaganusz', and Jacob Schmidt's) that "lynch mob" is only appropriate to use in the case of literal murder is, quite frankly, bizarre, and out of character for Ken, who is otherwise a wordsmith of the highest caliber and imagination.

  47. says

    That would be my point that "lynch mob" is a way to assert that people who disagree with you are motivated only by emotion and haven't thought about an issue.

  48. eddie says

    Ah, that point. Yes, thanks. And quite a valid point, although not at all the point I was making.

    MY point was that such assertions – and all the other connotations that "lynch mob" brings along with it, perhaps most especially the notion of a mob seeking punishment – most certainly have a place in discourse, and no one should feel the need to "shut the fuck up about lynch mobs already".

    After all – if someone really feels that their opposing interlocutors ARE motivated by emotion, then they should certainly say so. They may be wrong, but their use of "lynch mob" to express their (wrong) opinion is succinct and easily understood.

  49. jdgalt says

    It seems to me there are important issues here which your article doesn't address (or to be more precise, on which your article assumes without question a conclusion that deserves debate, at the very least).

    Issue #1 is the "sexual harassment" law. (I have the impression that the EU has one very much like that in the US, so I'm going to ignore that distinction unless someone can point to relevant differences between ours and theirs.)

    If this law were limited to actual harassment (by which I mean overt sexual suggestions made to somebody after she has said she doesn't want to hear them) and included reasonable due process (meaning at the very least, the accuser should complain directly to the accused and fail to get results there before she gets to complain to authorities), then I could accept such a law. But in practice, the law amounts to broad censorship of any cultural expression that may be interpreted, even unreasonably, as "objectifying women." And the shirt was simply such an expression.

    Therefore this law, and all use of it (other than against actual harassment), is censorship and it is not hyperbole to say so.

    Note that if there were no such law and a (non government) employer simply had a dress code, or some other kind of regulation that effectively bans the shirt, I would not call such a rule censorship. But since employers have no choice about this rule, it is nothing but a red herring to point out that an employer could enact one and would not necessarily be unreasonable by doing so.

    Indeed, this law "chills" such cultural expression all over the place, so it certainly merits a challenge by someone like Randazza at least as much as does Miles Sisk or Roca Labs or Sundance Vacations. Then again, EU "human rights" law probably makes it more likely to be upheld there than here.

    And yes, so long as this censorious law is out there, it is reasonable to interpret any and all "criticism" of Dr. Taylor as attempts, or threats, to use this law against him.

    Issue #2 is the fact that this [expletive] of a woman TV reporter, on camera, changed the subject from an important news story about landing on a comet to a personal complaint about a man's attire, as if it were any of her business. If I were her boss she'd at least get a week off without pay for that. Anyone who finds Dr. Taylor's actions more blameworthy than hers has a stupid set of priorities.

  50. Jacob Schmidt says

    One needn't be literally killing people in order for one's actions to be comparable in some sense to a lynch mob. This is the miracle of figurative speech, and our language would be poorer without it.

    See, this is where I see blatant dishonesty: literally anything is comparable in some sense to literally anything else. In using 'lynch mob' to describe the actions of others, you're doing more than saying that their actions bear some characteristics also born by lynch mobs; one might as well compare mass criticism to disaster relief, another thing frequently done en mass in a visceral fashion; another thing that is not made right because of the number supporting it.

    But that's not the description people use: instead, people use (and defend) a phrase likening mass criticism to being murdered in public by a mob. There's no helplessness, no dead or almost dead person, no pubic condoning of extreme violation of human rights, etc. I don't believe for a second that placing "murder" and "criticism" side by side isn't, to some extent, intentional. It's clear that, when describing criticism as 'lynching,' people are drawing upon the absolutely horrible reputation lynching has to tar the act in question.

    Figurative speech is a boon to our language; hackneyed, lazy, and inappropriate comparisons are a bane to be mocked and derided, as far as I'm concerned.

  51. roppert says

    That would be my point that "lynch mob" is a way to assert that people who disagree with you are motivated only by emotion and haven't thought about an issue.

    Lynch mobs are created to destroy their target through extra-legal means. Emotion is a useful tool, but not a defining criteria.

  52. jilocasin says

    Unfortunately people seem to have lost the ability to be around people who are different than themselves, obnoxious even, and react in a non violent manner. Back in the day we referred to that as 'having a thick skin'. Politically correct, conservative, femanist (or femanatzi), examples of just how intolerant people have become. From 'GamerGate' to Mozilla's CEO donating to an organization against gay marriage, to an offended eves dropper at a conference, to a scientist's questionable choice of attire. In every case the collective reaction of the masses puts the original act to shame.

    People say stupid things all the time, it's a sure sign that they are; a) human, and b)alive.

    To paraphrase a former pope; We should respect all speech for the inherent truths it contains (even if it's just that the speaker is an idiot). Words only have the power we attribute to them. Unless it's a judge ordering your imprisonment, or an actual lynch mob calling for you to be strung up from the nearest tree, words are only as hurtful as you,or other listeners allow it to be.

    As an old proverb one said:
    When someone criticizes you there are only two appropriate reactions, either they are correct in which case you should thank then, or they are incorrect in which case you should ignore them. In no case should you react with anger or violence. Of course you can always try to convince them of their errors, but that way sometimes leads to frustration and madnesss, or hilarity. If you're not careful, you may even find out that it was you who was wrong.

    Here's to hoping for thicker skins and sanity.

  53. roppert says

    I always found those white shirts and narrow black ties offensive. They implied you had to be a boring middle aged white male to do science. Well screw that.

    OTH – Doc's bright and fun shirt said science is a party. Come in and have some fun. All I can say is "Honi soit qui mal y pense,"

  54. eddie says

    See, this is where I see blatant dishonesty: literally anything is comparable in some sense to literally anything else.

    Please interpret my use of "in some sense" as "in some important sense". In a later comment I pointed out some important senses which "lynch mob" conveys that aren't literal murder.

    I'm sorry you're seeing dishonesty in my comments. Please try to read them charitably, and I apologize if I've not done the same for yours.

    It's clear that, when describing criticism as 'lynching,' people are drawing upon the absolutely horrible reputation lynching has to tar the act in question.

    If you mean here "murder" (as I think you do, given your preceding sentence) then that's far from clear to me. What's clear to me is that people are drawing upon the notion of punishment meted out by a mob.

    Clearly, what's clear to you and I is not clear.

  55. says

    The ultimate lesson from Twitter being, if you shoot yourself in the foot on Twitter and let it bleed for 18 hours, you can suffer professional "death" as a result.

    In fairness to Ms. Sacco, while it was an awful joke in which she attempted to make a positive point about western indifference to the suffering of HIV-infected Africans, she didn't "let it bleed." She was on a trans-Atlantic flight, without internet access. When she arrived, tabloid stringers were at the gate to film her reaction to the news she'd been fired.

    I was one of the people who jumped on her, earlier than most. Though I'm not to blame for what happened to her Though I'm only one of many, including Ms. Sacco herself, to blame for what happened to her, I deeply regret participating in the figurative mob.

    I'm trying Ringo, real hard, to be the Shepherd.

  56. says

    If this law were limited to actual harassment (by which I mean overt sexual suggestions made to somebody after she has said she doesn't want to hear them) and included reasonable due process (meaning at the very least, the accuser should complain directly to the accused and fail to get results there before she gets to complain to authorities), then I could accept such a law. But in practice, the law amounts to broad censorship of any cultural expression that may be interpreted, even unreasonably, as "objectifying women." And the shirt was simply such an expression.

    Therefore this law, and all use of it (other than against actual harassment), is censorship and it is not hyperbole to say so.

    Note that if there were no such law and a (non government) employer simply had a dress code, or some other kind of regulation that effectively bans the shirt, I would not call such a rule censorship. But since employers have no choice about this rule, it is nothing but a red herring to point out that an employer could enact one and would not necessarily be unreasonable by doing so.

    Indeed, this law "chills" such cultural expression all over the place, so it certainly merits a challenge by someone like Randazza at least as much as does Miles Sisk or Roca Labs or Sundance Vacations. Then again, EU "human rights" law probably makes it more likely to be upheld there than here.

    And yes, so long as this censorious law is out there, it is reasonable to interpret any and all "criticism" of Dr. Taylor as attempts, or threats, to use this law against him.

    I have, on occasion, represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment suits. It would have been far easier if the law were as plaintiff-friendly as you assert. It isn't.

    The hurdle of showing that workplace conduct is sufficiently pervasive to be actionable harassment is actually fairly high.

  57. TTC says

    1. I was really concerned that this was going to turn out to be another Donglegate or Justine Sacco. I attribute most of the outrage came from similar feelings.
    2. The work culture and dress code at European space agency is going to be different then what's expected at an American law office or court. It's not like you guys wear barrister's wigs. Also, wasn't Tayler the project boss? If so, I imagine he gets to set the formality level of the dress code to the extent they even had one.
    3. Analyzing and critiquing someone else's experience/emotion based reaction is fair game.
    4. Thank you for bringing up proportionality in response to speech. Not enough people recognize that. Personally, I try and go a bit further than that and allow a safe harbor for ideas I don't like before flinging social consequences around. It's hard sometimes. ie I want to read Red Shirts, but every time I go to buy a copy I'm reminded how Scalzi can be a passive agressive douche sometimes.

    PS Clarence Darrow would have totally worn sweatpants to court if they had been around in his day.

  58. says

    Unfortunately people seem to have lost the ability to be around people who are different than themselves, obnoxious even, and react in a non violent manner. Back in the day we referred to that as 'having a thick skin'. Politically correct, conservative, femanist (or femanatzi), examples of just how intolerant people have become. From 'GamerGate' to Mozilla's CEO donating to an organization against gay marriage, to an offended eves dropper at a conference, to a scientist's questionable choice of attire. In every case the collective reaction of the masses puts the original act to shame.

    I think this is a fine point — we really have forgotten how to encounter things we disagree with without losing our shit.

    But the key is recognizing it's true all around. For every person freaking out at Dr. Taylor, there's at least one person freaking out because someone is criticizing Dr. Taylor.

  59. Mitch says

    That was a poorly-thought-out post. So, in your opinion, a person should be utterly mindful of what they wear at work (even though it seemed to bother no one Dr. Taylor worked with) but saying "fuck" on Twitter is an involuntary reflex, and we really shouldn't judge people based on what they say? Cognitive dissonance ain't just a river running through Cambridge, Mass.

    The fact is, I actually do carefully contemplate what I wear and what I say, even on Twitter. Tweeting is nowhere near as casual as speaking, because I put actual thought into what I'm going to say and how it will be interpreted, rather than just banging on the keyboard like a crack-smoking koala, adding to the spew of inconsistent, ignorant and unintelligible emoting that the Internet has become.

    Although I would probably never wear a shirt like that, the hysterical feminists and castrated he-males who shrieked like banshees over the shirt are fascists. Not because having dress codes for work is fascism, but because they are a lynch mob, albeit too weak and limp-wristed to toss a noose over a limb, so they take to their keyboards, like the psychologically-damaged filth that they are, destroying our society with their incessant whining.

    "Thanks for ruining the cool comet landing for me asshole." There wouldn't have been a comet landing if not for that "asshole", you entitled bitch. Matt Taylor contributes something to the world he makes things. Rose Eveleth is a sub-human parasite who poisons and kills her host society with her self-centered cuntiness. Any sane civilization would have long ago realized she will never contribute anything to the advancement of humankind–not because she is physically or mentally handicapped, but because she is an ignorant bint, motivated only by her own massive sense of entitlement to be the universe's biggest bitch. That civilization would then leave her in the desert to fend for herself–which would probably end up with her dying–due to her obvious inferiority.

  60. Jim Tyre says

    I train both corporations and nonprofits in sexual harassment prevention

    Yes, Ken trained my colleagues at EFF.

    They will never be the same again.

  61. says

    Tweeting is nowhere near as casual as speaking, because I put actual thought into what I'm going to say and how it will be interpreted, rather than just banging on the keyboard like a crack-smoking koala, adding to the spew of inconsistent, ignorant and unintelligible emoting that the Internet has become.

    I really admire people who are able to bring discipline, seriousness, and focus to their writing. It's really something I'd like to work on. Do you find that it works well for you?

    Although I would probably never wear a shirt like that, the hysterical feminists and castrated he-males who shrieked like banshees over the shirt are fascists. Not because having dress codes for work is fascism, but because they are a lynch mob, albeit too weak and limp-wristed to toss a noose over a limb, so they take to their keyboards, like the psychologically-damaged filth that they are, destroying our society with their incessant whining.

    Ah.

  62. Anna says

    This is a great piece, thanks Ken. I think I'm going to make this assigned reading for my teenagers.

  63. erwin says

    On one hand, I like well thought out posts. This post seems well reasoned.

    On the other hand, I can't help thinking that the kind of amplification afforded by social media creates bad outcomes by amplifying conformity. Within certain bounds, I would rather not squelch crazy people. White suits and ties are dull.

    I wonder if substantially avoiding positive feedback loops relative to minor issues would work better. Just let crazies shout at crazies and treat them with indifference.

    –Erwin

  64. Jacob Schmidt says

    What's clear to me is that people are drawing upon the notion of punishment meted out by a mob.

    Then call them a mob: the similarities begin and end there. Adding lynching adds no more similarity than adding "humanitarian." Since I don't see anyone comparing critcism to humanitarian mobs, I can only conclude that there is some aspect particular to lynching (the murder, the rights violation, the dark reputation) that people find convenient. I find your justification as convincing as a tabloid journal saying they were "just asking questions" when they run an article with the headline, "Did [public personality] rape puppies/canoodle with terrorists/say nice things about China/[insert ostensibly bad thing here]", while asserting that they are just asking questions.

    Tweeting is nowhere near as casual as speaking, because I put actual thought into what I'm going to say and how it will be interpreted, rather than just banging on the keyboard like a crack-smoking koala, adding to the spew of inconsistent, ignorant and unintelligible emoting that the Internet has become.

    Do you talk like a crack-smoking koala?

    There wouldn't have been a comet landing if not for that "asshole", you entitled bitch. Matt Taylor contributes something to the world he makes things. Rose Eveleth is a sub-human parasite who poisons and kills her host society with her self-centered cuntiness.

    I am not convinced that Taylor is in any way inexpendable to the project; I see nothing wrong with the notion that a good deed can be marred by a crass one; and I am very convinced that your choice of rhetoric means you feel like you're losing the culture war, but can't bring yourself to admit it.

  65. LJM says

    Rose Eveleth is a sub-human parasite who poisons and kills her host society with her self-centered cuntiness. Any sane civilization would have long ago realized she will never contribute anything to the advancement of humankind–not because she is physically or mentally handicapped, but because she is an ignorant bint, motivated only by her own massive sense of entitlement to be the universe's biggest bitch.

    Yes, Ken, why couldn't your post have been well-thought-out, like this one?

    I put actual thought into what I'm going to say and how it will be interpreted, rather than just banging on the keyboard like a crack-smoking koala, adding to the spew of inconsistent, ignorant and unintelligible emoting that the Internet has become.

    Mitch, if you're trying to not inconsistently and unintelligibly emote, well… I'm sure you'll manage it if you try just a little harder.

  66. Mitch says

    I really admire people who are able to bring discipline, seriousness, and focus to their writing. It's really something I'd like to work on. Do you find that it works well for you?

    Yes, Ken, you really do need to work on it. I've read a few of your posts now, and the quality varies from "reasonable, though obvious to anyone who is not stupid" to "hastily thrown-together between pints of Thunderbird." Sometimes it's okay to say nothing, if you have nothing of particular worth to say.

    Ah.

    Did I say anything that was inconsistent, ignorant or unintelligible? I suppose you can be forgiven for thinking it was "emoting", given the world in which you choose to submerge yourself, but I assure you my comments were nothing if not coldly analytical. I've identified a disease, and suggested the appropriate remedy. Something for which you seem to lack the intellectual capacity.

  67. sinij says

    they nerfed Paladins again in this latest patch!

    They did?! Those bastards!

    I think Ken is spot-on about his point on echo chambers. Tribalism plus echo chambers and you have a recipe for an internet lynch mob. As social technology matures we will likely see the last shred of proportionality disappear.

    As to Ken's opposition to the "lynch mob" rhetoric, the phenomena is here. Calling it something else won't make it any less chilling or arbitrary.

  68. Anna says

    Generally, Mitch, it's considered inconsistent to first talk about how reasonable and thought-out your online communications are in one paragraph, and then spend another paragraph pointing on how a person is, based solely on a few tweets you disagree with, clearly a subhuman who ought to be left in the desert to die. Just so you know.

  69. says

    I assure you my comments were nothing if not coldly analytical.

    Your comments are not coldly analytical; they're more like re-heated pablum, heavily spiced to try and hide the fact that it's just slop for a particular brand of masses. Deep down in places you don't like to talk about at parties, you know this to be true.

  70. Anna says

    Nah, Grandy. It's not that the shrewd analysts among us don't like to speak at parties. It's just that parties are full of emotional people, getting together all mob-like.

  71. babaganusz says

    It's clear that, when describing criticism as 'lynching,' people are drawing upon the absolutely horrible reputation lynching has

    i'll buy that this may have been an intention when this particular hyperbole had been drawn on fewer times, perhaps even occasionally under more relevant and/or life-ending circumstances; but who wants to sift through reams of press statements to find out how many paleface yutzes have made the comparison in a tone-deaf lunge for sympathy over the last decade alone?

    Then call them a mob: the similarities begin and end there. Adding lynching adds no more similarity

    agreed entirely. we should of course feel free to be as absurd/hyperbolic/ignorant/style-unconscious as we please in private; public statements, even hyperbolic ones, could always use a dose of consideration. you'd think there'd be a new term by now if someone half-clever were interested in making such comparisons… 'wob'? wobility?

  72. babaganusz says

    Calling it something else won't make it any less chilling or arbitrary.

    then again, relevance has its place.

  73. Mitch says

    Do you talk like a crack-smoking koala?

    I don't know; do koalas (crack-smoking, or otherwise) talk? I suppose they vocalize..

    I am not convinced that Taylor is in any way inexpendable to the project

    Perhaps, perhaps not. However, I do know that Rose Eveleth has no value to the project, and is net negative on human society.

    I see nothing wrong with the notion that a good deed can be marred by a crass one

    Yes, but if you're complaining about the present you were given because the wrapping paper offended your pathetic, little feelings, then that would textbook entitled bitchiness. You really need to think these things through before engaging your keyboard. I can tell you the correct opinions, but I can't make your brain function–that's your job.

    and I am very convinced that your choice of rhetoric means you feel like you're losing the culture war, but can't bring yourself to admit it.

    Well, I don't consider myself a direct participant in any "culture war", as you put it. But considering how many people despise Rose Eveleth now, and how hysterical acts like these continue to poison the well of feminism for all sane, thinking people, I'm not sure her side is winning.

    Regardless, I don't deal in "culture wars", which seems to be the domain of bed-shitting children, judging by the participants. If I'm going to be involved in a war, it will be a real war, with a substantial number of enemy dead, burning cities and exterminated ideologies. And not some pissy "culture war", fought on Twitter over the scandalous haberdashery du jour, with all the associated pants-wetting, like a fashion show held at a home for incontinent, retarded children hopped-up on juice.

  74. eddie says

    Then call them a mob: the similarities begin and end there.

    I disagree. Simply saying "mob" doesn't convey the notion of a mob out to levy punishment against an undeserving target. "Lynch mob" does.

    I find your justification as convincing as a tabloid journal saying they were "just asking questions"

    I assure you, when I use the term "lynch mob" I am alluding to the "out-to-levy-punishment-against-an-undeserving-target" aspect of the term, and am not in any way trying to make the comparison more negative by subtly dragging in the associations with murder. Before this very minute, I had assumed that anyone else hearing the comparison would have understood that, and I still assume that anyone making the comparison is intending it the same way that I am.

    I'm sorry if you don't believe me. I won't try to convince you further.

  75. Mitch says

    Generally, Mitch, it's considered inconsistent to first talk about how reasonable and thought-out your online communications are in one paragraph, and then spend another paragraph pointing on how a person is, based solely on a few tweets you disagree with, clearly a subhuman who ought to be left in the desert to die. Just so you know.

    Hi, Anna. Please explain your position. You have not stated a reason why you think it is irrational to ostracize parasites. It seems irrational to permit them to continue existing within the society they are destroying.

  76. Personb says

    Hey Mitch. Around here when you want to ridicule someone's pathetic little feelings it's considered appropriate to use the term "butthurt". Live and learn.

    That aside, Anna is completely right. While I find your vivid over-the-top writing style entertaining, you go too far when saying people are worthless human beings and so on. Attack the idea, not the person, etc. etc. It's hard to tell if you have a point or not through all that vitriol. I think the consensus you are violating with a comment like "it seems irrational to permit them to continue existing" is the one the says basically all people have a fundamental right to exist, see: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

  77. Anna says

    Mitch, it's irrational to decide that a gainfully employed self-supporting person is a parasite because she tweeted some things you disagreed with, or even if she tweeted some things that literally everyone else in the world disagreed with. See, there's an actual definition for the word "parasite" and it's not "person who annoys or offends Mitch" or "person who distracts others from coverage of scientific discoveries" or "person who doesn't use Twitter properly".

  78. Mitch says

    Your comments are not coldly analytical; they're more like re-heated pablum, heavily spiced to try and hide the fact that it's just slop for a particular brand of masses.

    You know, it's faster to just say "I have no rational argument to make against what you said, so I'm just going to whine." A little faster, at least.

    Deep down in places you don't like to talk about at parties, you know this to be true.

    I don't know about you, but I don't talk about my deep-down places at parties. It's kind of rude. But if you're the type who likes to regale a crowd with his latest visit to the proctologist, so be it..

  79. sinij says

    What are the key characteristics of an internet lynch mob? First, individual members do not greatly contribute to the outcome, but there are a lot of them. Second, the outcome is usually awful and disproportionate. Third, large group social behavior kicks into overdrive and there is no longer anyone in charge of the process.

    We like to think that above happens only to bad people, but any sufficiently large group of people with semi-coherent identity can form one. Then aggro happens, and it doesn't always stays on the tank.

  80. alexa-blue says

    @Mitch, I dunno, maybe it's just me, but when I read people who take to the internet to anonymously trumpet the strength of their wrists relative to those with opposing viewpoints, I assume they got that way through dedicated and furious masturbation.

    @eddie, Someone beat me to it, so I'll quote: "lynch mobs are created to destroy their target through extralegal means." As I said above, I didn't read anyone who seemed to intent on destroying Taylor. Consider that while metaphors have utility in, say, giving us insight into novel situations by relating them to more familiar ones, they also have costs – fanning flames, polemicizing debate, marginalizing certain parties in a conversation.

  81. eddie says

    As I said above, I didn't read anyone who seemed to intent on destroying Taylor.

    I haven't been discussing Taylor. I've been discussing Ken and his hatred of this particular metaphor.

    But to your point, it's irrelevant whether you think anyone was intent on destroying Taylor. What's relevant is whether the people who used the term "lynch mob" were trying to assert the mob was intent on destroying him.

    I believe that that was their intended meaning. Jacob believes that their intention was to tar the mob with allusions of murder. I think he is wrong.

  82. alexa-blue says

    > It's irrelevant whether you think anyone was intent on destroying Taylor. What's relevant is whether the people who used the term "lynch mob" were trying to assert the mob was intent on destroying him.

    It's not relevant if they're accurately employing the phrase or not?

  83. Jacob Schmidt says

    I suppose you can be forgiven for thinking it was "emoting", given the world in which you choose to submerge yourself, but I assure you my comments were nothing if not coldly analytical.

    Self aggrandizement is not something I consider "coldly analytical."

    I assure you, when I use the term "lynch mob" I am alluding to the "out-to-levy-punishment-against-an-undeserving-target" aspect of the term, and am not in any way trying to make the comparison more negative by subtly dragging in the associations with murder.

    "Look, I don't mean 'murder' when I say 'murder.'"

    If you don't mean to say "murder," or anything like "murder," I suggest you stop using a word that means "murder by mob."

    (Also, for the record, "intent on causing harm" is a firm connotation to the term "mob"; it does fit sufficiently for your purposes).

  84. Matthew Cline says

    @sinij:

    What are the key characteristics of an internet lynch mob? First, individual members do not greatly contribute to the outcome, but there are a lot of them. Second, the outcome is usually awful and disproportionate. Third, large group social behavior kicks into overdrive and there is no longer anyone in charge of the process.

    Given how easy and quick the Internet makes it to broadcast your thoughts to everyone, lots of people are going to spontaneously share their negative thoughts on whatever bothers them, and if there's a lot of people with the same point of view, then when X happens there's going to be a lot of negative talk about X. So, how is that different from an "internet lynch mob"? Or, if that is an internet lynch mob, then how does one avoid becoming a part of it?

  85. eddie says

    It's not relevant if they're accurately employing the phrase or not?

    The point I've been trying to make is that the people using the phrase were asserting that the mob was trying to destroy Taylor. It's irrelevant to my point whether they were correct in that assertion.

    "Look, I don't mean 'murder' when I say 'murder.'"

    "Lynch mob" is not synonymous with "murder".

    I accept that you cannot hear the term without thinking of the association with murder. I'm telling you that not everyone always interprets it that way when it is used figuratively. In the contexts that we're discussing, a very reasonable and natural interpretation of the figurative use is "unjustly seeking punishment" and not "murder". You may disagree that such an interpretation is reasonable or natural, but please believe me when I say that I find it so. Please consider that the people you are criticizing for using the phrase may mean something very different from what you think they are saying, and may have motives much more benign than you are assuming.

    Also, for the record, "intent on causing harm" is a firm connotation to the term "mob"; it does fit sufficiently for your purposes

    Yes, this mob was certainly intent on causing harm, wasn't it? And of course there's this mob, simply teeming with destructive hostility.

    But besides that: "lynch mob" is not just about causing harm, the way that, say "angry mob" or "unruly mob" or "soccer fans" might be. "Lynch mob" has an additional connotation, one of a mob intent on carrying out punishment which they perceive as being righteous and just but which is actually unjustly inflicted upon an innocent victim. Simply saying "mob" doesn't carry that sense.

  86. Grifter says

    Claiming that "mob" is necessarily inherently negative, or that it inherently connotes "intent on causing harm" is just false in modern usage. "Flash mob" does not mean "group that randomly go together to smash stuff". "Mob" means group of people.

    "Lynch mob" is intended to convey that the group has a purpose other than merely being a group–usually, it's purpose is shaming and possibly ending the career of someone.

    If "Lynch mob" is as inappropriate as is being claimed, I assume that those claiming it are just as upset when someone says that someone was "calling for his head" (in firing) or "heads will roll" (also in firing). Firing is often equated with murder rhetorically.

    So is getting in trouble (very few parents will ACTUALLY murder their children if they skip school).

    I'm not arguing that this specific usage is appropriate. But the notion that mob alone conveys the notion that's intended to be conveyed (right or wrong) is just false in general usage. Words mean what they're understood to mean, and "mob" just means "rabble", or "group of people" to most people these days. There's often a connotation of some measure of anger, or at least of rowdiness. But we qualify it: "Angry mob" is a group that is angry. "Lynch mob" is a mob that's angry AND focused on something specific–such as shaming an individual, or getting them fired. How would those who have a pet peeve against it recommend conveying that? (And don't say "just use mob"–as noted, it just won't mean that to most listeners).

  87. Jacob Schmidt says

    Claiming that "mob" is necessarily inherently negative, or that it inherently connotes "intent on causing harm" is just false in modern usage.

    An inherent connotation is a contradiction, so yes, that claim would be false.

    However:

    noun: mob; plural noun: mobs
    1.
    a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.
    "a mob of protesters"

    I'm happy filing away "trouble or violence" under "harm" if you are.

    "Lynch mob" is not synonymous with "murder".

    No, being that one is a noun and the other is a verb.

    Lynch, however, does mean "murder by mob."

  88. Jacob Schmidt says

    Also,

    I assume that those claiming it are just as upset when someone says that someone was "calling for his head" (in firing) or "heads will roll" (also in firing). Firing is often equated with murder rhetorically.

    I don't see either used nearly as frequently in an attempt to disingenuously de-legitimize criticism.

  89. says

    "That wasn't really doxxing because I found your home address on the internet!"

    Want to take a guess as to which of the bloggers you're friendly with has used that excuse in the past month?

    "Action talks. What might action look like? It might look like utterly shunning — unpersoning — anyone we identify who is engaged in such tactics."

    Are you going to hold yourself to that standard concerning one of your associates?

  90. anne mouse says

    My usual response to teapot tempests is to ignore them. That goes double for the general category of "people are wrong on the Internet" and triple for "twitter is populated by twits."

    However, I am compelled to stop and curse Ken for high crimes against literacy, to wit, use of the suffix "gate" to indicate a scandal. May you hear the phrase "my head literally exploded" twenty times tomorrow.

  91. Grifter says

    @Jacob Schmidt:

    I was actually referencing your own words. Another poster was saying what they meant when they said lynch mob, and you said, in an attempt to be snarky to them, too:

    "Look, I don't mean 'murder' when I say 'murder…"

    The other poster has called you out for them not being synonymous as well, so please don't pretend I pulled it out of thin air.

    As to the definition, I'm happy using the WHOLE definition instead of your cherry picking of it, if you are:

    1 a large or disorderly crowd; especially : one bent on riotous or destructive action;
    2 the lower classes of a community : masses, rabble
    3 chiefly Australian : a flock, drove, or herd of animals
    4 a criminal set : gang; especially often capitalized : Mafia
    5 chiefly British : a group of people : crowd

    Again, it's about conveying a concept–rightly or wrongly, the question is not whether YOU like it or agree with it, the question is whether the concept is properly conveyed. You haven't addressed flash mobs which, according to you, should be causing "trouble or harm", but they aren't. Mob has negative connotations, but not the same ones as lynch mob.

    And I found this particularly ironic:

    "I don't see either used nearly as frequently in an attempt to disingenuously de-legitimize criticism"

    Almost all phrases are used wrong, or poorly. The point was, is using it as a figure of speech ever valid? It clearly conveys an idea, and a more specific one than merely saying "mob". That some people use it disingenuously doesn't somehow make it wrong to ever use the phrase within the context of criticism, and it's rather disingenuous of you to pretend it's so.

  92. Harald K says

    "This is actually not fascism." This is actually not necessary either. Dress codes is one of those things we have because we have, contrary to old conservative assumptions, the world doesn't fall apart if you drop them.

    It is not fascism. It is, however, conservative – the superstitious, fearful kind of conservatism. Some places have come further in letting go of it than others.

    "it could eventually be cited as one factor in a long list of things that create a hostile work environment" Yeah, that's a problem with your society. Fix your society, pls.

  93. alexa-blue says

    @eddie The criticism of "lynch mob" here (or at least my criticism) is that it's a bad metaphor, because it polemicizes the debate and doesn't accurately reflect what critics of the shirt were trying to do or say. It's not a war on figurative language, it's a plea for more careful use.

  94. Sami says

    I am a leftie progressive ardent feminist.

    When a friend told me about the shirt thing, I winced and said: "Oh, that poor guy. That's really, really unfortunate."

    I mean… seriously. NERD PREOCCUPIED WITH SCIENCE DIDN'T THINK VERY HARD ABOUT WHAT CLOTHES HE WORE: FILM AT ELEVEN.

  95. JonRob says

    @Grifter
    Don't forget the video game jargon. Kind of turns this whole thing on its head when you are killing the mobs, no?

  96. Rodrigo Castalan says

    This is an incredibly weak article.

    You start off with, basically, "Did feminists truly feel accosted by the shirt? I can't say for sure; I have no idea how they felt. Maybe they felt that way. I think maybe they were overreacting, but that is only my opinion and therefore in a subjectively experienced universe I can not say the feminists were not genuinely and what is more, intentionally hurt by the shirt, because I also don't know that Taylor didn't want to hurt them."

    And then you move on to, basically, "Don't you ever make the comparison between an unaccountable anonymous mob calling for a person's blood and an unaccountable anonymous mob call for a person's livelihood, the forced ending of their personal life's dream. Those two are nothing and more importantly feel nothing alike, because the feelings of Taylor are objective and I can quantify just how it feels to be in his shoes."

    I know you have a pet peeve, Ken, but you're way off, here.

    Moreover, you entirely miss the point of the second mob.

    We live in an age of mobs: almost the entire point of most social media is to aid society in conglomerating over one subject or another, without ever having to actually congregate. Social media exist primarily as a sort of mob-forming apparatus, and comprise the reality of the world we find ourselves in.

    Though we may be moral philosophers of the highest order, with all of the right pet peeves and everything, we cannot assume away gravity, and we cannot assume that we don't live in an age rife with a horde of viral mobs-of-the-moment.

    When a mob forms to go after a guy we think shouldn't get flushed by an unfeeling bureaucracy for his shirt faux pas, we don't have a good way to go to his relief in non-mob form. What do you suggest we do in that case, Ken?

    It sure seems like you think we should just assume the mobs away so long as WE stay out of it. Well, that doesn't work even a little. What you are advocating is like pacifism in an age of armed anarchy: you are effectively advocating that good people completely disarm themselves in the hope that nothing bad will happen as long as they are unwilling to act like jerks when provoked. That's beyond stupid. It's barely even a real attempt to solve the problem.

    Please try again.

  97. Patrick Not Anything says

    Wow lots of angry people here. Where do you get the energy to be on any side of this discussion.

    Echo chamber is the word for those whos inputs are so concentrated that they typically only hear one side of a debate.

    What's the word for an argument where inputs have to be concentrated to know there is a debate in the first place? I read quite a bit and I am under 30. But things like this and gamergate seem to be old news by the time I hear about them–certainty none of the people or professionals I know bring it up. I think it has something to do with social media. Glad I don't do that. Or maybe I'm missing out, but boy, I just don't think I'd have the energy to care.

  98. Czernobog says

    @Sami: I can see where you're coming from, but disagree slightly:

    1. This nerd is a grown man who dresses himself. We shouldn't treat him like some kind of idiot-savant. He knew he was facing media exposure, and made an error in judgement, even if only PR-related (I personally see no actual harm in the shirt, people with a different set of experiences might.)

    2. ESA are part of the equation. Do they not have a PR team? A legal counselor? A 5 year old who can say "Why is the beardy guy wearing the shirt with all the funnily dressed ladies for the cameras?" on the payroll?

  99. stillnotking says

    It's easy to say "threats and publishing addresses and phone numbers and abuse of families is completely unacceptable," but that really doesn't get us anywhere. Being told "what happened to you is not right but it doesn't represent everyone who disagrees with you and it's probably a false flag and other people experience it too and I got called a dick on XBox Live once" isn't productive. Action talks. What might action look like? It might look like utterly shunning — unpersoning — anyone we identify who is engaged in such tactics. It might involve saying "that's unacceptable" without the "but . . . ."

    It's not incumbent on me to take any action to suppress, shun, or shame anyone, no matter what they've done. I am not Internet Batman. Nor does anything they do reflect badly on me, even if we share a point of view, a hashtag, or a hobby.

    All you're doing is helping weaponize victimhood. Being a victim of threats/doxxing/etc. does not make someone right. It doesn't even increase the probability that they are right, in the internet age when any loon can get a Twitter account. Victims deserve our sympathy, but not our deference; I am not going to agree to table whatever issue I'm advocating, just because some people on "my side" got nasty on social media. That is a profoundly dishonest thing to ask — all the more so because it's an attempt to game the noblest instincts of humanity.

  100. TM says

    I seem to recall reading recently (but can't find now) an interview with this guy from a year or so ago talking about his tattoos and odd style of dress while "representing his employer", and basically the reason he does so (and that his employer after some misgivings allows him to) was to demonstrate to the youth that you don't need to be a stodgy clean shaved white guy in a suit with pocket protectors and black rimmed glasses to be a scientist.

  101. eddie says

    @alexa-blue: That's a reasonable criticism, but I disagree with it.

    it polemicizes the debate

    I agree, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. A debate is not always (in fact, perhaps never) about bringing the opposing viewpoints into reconciliation with each other. Often it is about convincing those who are undecided that one or the other viewpoint is correct. If you truly believe that the other side is wrong about something important, there's nothing wrong with using rhetoric which accurately conveys your argument ("group X is seeking to unjustly punish person Y") and your sentiment ("… and that's BAD."). Even if that rhetoric might tend to inflame those on the other side.

    it doesn't accurately reflect what critics of the shirt were trying to do or say

    I can't speak to that. And as I said above, I don't think it's relevant.

    I do think that those who leveled the charge of "lynch mob" at the critics of the shirt thought that it accurately reflected what the critics of the shirt were trying to do – inflict punishment as a group upon an undeserving individual. If your argument is that that's not what the critics of the shirt were doing, then that's merely an argument against using "lynch mob" in this particular case, due to the facts of the matter which you allege, facts which the other side undoubtedly dispute. It's not an argument against the use of "lynch mob" in general.

    Ken's exhortation to shut the fuck up about lynch mobs already is about the use of the term in general, and it's that exhortation with which I respectfully take issue.

    it's a plea for more careful use

    I'm all in favor of more careful use. What would you suggest as a more careful alternative?

  102. Anonymous says

    @Mitch:

    Although I would probably never wear a shirt like that, the hysterical feminists and castrated he-males who shrieked like banshees over the shirt are fascists. Not because having dress codes for work is fascism, but because they are a lynch mob, albeit too weak and limp-wristed to toss a noose over a limb, so they take to their keyboards, like the psychologically-damaged filth that they are, destroying our society with their incessant whining.

    Unlike MyTeam, when OtherTeam thinks there is a problem, they don't start killing people. That's not because they're better people, of course, it's just because they're not strong like MyTeam.

    No, Mitch, it's because we're better people.

  103. Jacob Schmidt says

    The other poster has called you out for them not being synonymous as well, so please don't pretend I pulled it out of thin air.

    What?

    Lynch literally means "murder by mob." It even includes murder by mob subsequent to due process, trial, etc.

    You haven't addressed flash mobs which, according to you, should be causing "trouble or harm"…

    That's not what "connotation" means.

    Almost all phrases are used wrong, or poorly. The point was, is using it as a figure of speech ever valid? It clearly conveys an idea, and a more specific one than merely saying "mob".

    Tell you what: if you find examples of people going on about the evils of "heads rolling," as if it were some evil beyond the pale, refusing to accept that it's merely a firing, I will mock them as fools. Until then, I'm going to remain mocking idiots who think being criticized in public is comparable to lynching.

  104. eddie says

    @Jacob Schmidt:

    No, being that one is a noun and the other is a verb.

    That's pedantic, but I started it with my "it's not like being figuratively lynched" remark, so I suppose fair is fair. For what it's worth, I noticed the discrepancy between the noun and verb forms even before I clicked the "Post Comment" button but decided it wasn't worth the words to clarify. But you're quite right. Point scored and taken.

    Can we call it even now?

    an attempt to disingenuously de-legitimize criticism

    I assure you, once again, when I use the term I am being sincere, not disingenuous. Furthermore, I am not attempting to de-legitimize criticism and have a hard time understanding how I could even be doing so.

    I certainly can't speak for anyone else using the term. But if I were a neutral observer, I'd place a higher weight on the "correct" interpretation of the intended meaning of a term based on what someone who uses the term says they mean rather than what someone who has the term used against them says the user means.

    For other responses to your points I'll simply incorporate by reference everything Grifter has said here so far.

  105. says

    Are you going to hold yourself to that standard concerning one of your associates?

    "Associates." Like "Popehat & Associates, LLC?"

    Is this a person who writes for us? Is this a person on our blogroll?

  106. says

    I don't deal in "culture wars", which seems to be the domain of bed-shitting children, judging by the participants. If I'm going to be involved in a war, it will be a real war, with a substantial number of enemy dead, burning cities and exterminated ideologies.

    "Man, you come right out of a comic book."

  107. Anonymous says

    @stillnotking:

    Nor does anything they do reflect badly on me, even if we share a point of view, a hashtag, or a hobby.

    That is, unfortunately for you, me, and people in PR departments everywhere, not true. What does or does not reflect upon you is entirely in the eyes of the audience, and large parts of the audience thinks that it does reflect on you when you have the same views, hashtags or hobbies. If you want the audience to think you aren't an asshole, you need to avoid associating with subjects they associate with assholes.

  108. Anonymous says

    @stillnotking

    To continue (Now that the editing window has closed and eaten the edit I was making):

    Nobody reasonable thinks "X was attacked for opinion Y, therefore Y is right and you're an asshole for disagreeing."

    Reasonable people DO think: "X was attacked and your reply was 'That was entirely expected because Y is a terrible opinion' so you must be an asshole." These are the waters you swim in and you can ignore this if you want, but that doesn't suddenly mean people will think you aren't an asshole.

    As a purely tactical piece of advice. If person X has terrible opinion Y and gets hit with attack from Z (Rape threats, doxxing, whatever) you can still criticize both X and Y without coming off as an asshole. You do this by not bringing up Z when attacking X or Y. If you want to condemn Z also, do that separately.

    Bad style:

    It is terrible that @AssholeOnTheInternet called up John Doe's local police department and told them John was a pedophile after John made his controversial tweet, but you cannot deny that the tweet was inflammatory.

    Good style:

    John Doe is clearly in the wrong when he posts wrong things like the tweet where he judged whether cats are objectively better than dogs.

    Separate condemnation (If desired):

    I cannot believe assholes like @AssholeOnTheInternet thinks such behavior is legitimate, and I've cut off all contact with him. I don't need toxic people like that in my life.

  109. stillnotking says

    @Anonymous:

    So what you're saying is, we are doomed to a future in which all controversial issues will be decided by who can make the most convincing show of martyrdom on social media? Doesn't sound very appealing, or indeed very sane.

    I think I'll just keep advocating for the idea that it shouldn't be that way, and trust that others are smart enough to realize it.

  110. Shane says

    The trouble with serious artistic/genuis types, is in general they could care less about what anyone thinks. Companies to attract these types must make concessions to keep these people around. For a company it is a small price to pay to allow a relaxation of dress code because honestly, really you can't pay enough for the types of things that they can do. I think this is a huge part of the human condition as pointed out in the article, people are different. They are also motivated by different things. Artistic/genuis types that work for companies typically speaking want to retain their freedom of expression, and would forgo a job that they would actually enjoy and care about if said job takes away the thing that makes them able to enjoy the job. Feeling like a sell out puts a giant wet blanket on the creative process. For what it is worth.

  111. Jeff says

    The distinguishing characteristics of lynching are that it is extra-judicial, public, almost certainly deadly, and putatively intended to punish (but more probably intended to intimidate). The Munny quote: "deserve's got nothing to do with it."

    Using the term "lynch mob" in situations like these belies any good faith argument. It's lazy.

    And, it's use is irresistible bait fish.

  112. Philip Cass says

    I'd add "…but we should probably not brand people assholes without giving them the benefit of the doubt anyway"

    I also think, given he sent a public message (which I, personally, am certain he had no intention of sending) by wearing that shirt some sort of public response was required. It didn't have to be by him to a camera – any of the things written by friends and colleagues of him would have been fine just with the addition of "I've spoken to him and he regrets the message that wearing that shirt sent; it wasn't deliberate" – but something public was necessary, if only to (as it turns out, futilely) attempt to draw a line under things and move on

  113. Burnside says

    For some reason, when I read "blogroll," I thought of a really big Ho-Ho, possibly wrapped in a twinkie. And now I'm hungry…

  114. eddie says

    @Jeff:

    The distinguishing characteristics of lynching are that it is extra-judicial, public, almost certainly deadly, and putatively intended to punish (but more probably intended to intimidate). Using the term "lynch mob" in situations like these belies any good faith argument.

    Do you not think that those using the term are arguing in good faith that the actions of the "mob" are extra-judicial, public, and putatively intended to punish?

    If not, why not?

  115. Duvane says

    @eddie in re polemicization of debate

    A debate is not always (in fact, perhaps never) about bringing the opposing viewpoints into reconciliation with each other. Often it is about convincing those who are undecided that one or the other viewpoint is correct.

    I consider myself a cynic, but this struck me as wrenchingly cynical. Sadly, you probably correctly describe the motivations of many involved in many debates, including this one.
    I would argue that this illustrates two things: a poor approach to any long-term success, and what's wrong with so much of politics/debating these days (or maybe throughout history, but it seems to be getting worse). Grandstanding for the undecided masses by vilifying your opponent probably is the easiest way to grab as many short-term points as possible, but long term, its a recipe for closing off any further gains–for the sake of making a stronger grab for the middle, you've closed off the reasonable edges of the other side. Plus, your hold on the previously undecided middle is probably weaker than it would be.
    Honestly engaging the other side's arguments, correctly parsing the true differences between the sides, and carefully arguing for why your take on the differences is more logical or morally superior to the other person's will lead to a longer term hold on the previously undecided middle and give you a better shot at the edges of the other side. But it ain't gonna happen on Twitter, I know.
    I often wonder if this sort of dialogue is getting worse, and so leading to increasing polarization in politics and society. It feels worse to me, but maybe that's just because I'm living now, or maybe it seems worse because communications have changed. It seems that every "discussion" amounts to two sides shouting and waving signs at each other, while the middle rolls their eyes, sticks their fingers in their ears, and engages with the issues as little as possible, understandably, I think, and so a great deal of potential insight is lost. I wonder how many people take the lid off a pot like this, think "Both sides are jackasses to an extent far greater than the importance of what happened" and walk away, leaving the two sides shouting for a smaller, probably less sophisticated, middle.

  116. eddie says

    @Duvane: Good points and well said. I'll disagree only to note the following:

    As regarding cynicism: I'm as cynical as they come, and I don't regard my quoted words above as being cynical. If you believe you are right, you should be endeavoring to explain why you are right to those who are unconvinced. This takes the form of having a public debate with those who cannot be convinced. If there is honest disagreement you should not expect to win over the other side, but you should aim to win over those who may yet be won over. This isn't cynicism, this is the way it's supposed to work. For example, it's the basis of our entire system of trial by jury, with zealous advocacy by attorneys for their clients and a neutral arbiter providing a level playing field.

    As regarding grandstanding and vilifying versus honest engagement: Note that in my post I explicitly talked about honestly representing your arguments and sentiments.

  117. Jeff says

    @Eddie:

    I do not think that those using the term are arguing in good faith. The magnitudes of any similarities are so exceeded by the magnitudes of the differences (e.g., the violence of the stakes) that, even conceding the similarities, the comparison provides no meaningful insight–even if it is great bait.

  118. John says

    Ken,

    Thank you for this post. I didn't find it too long, and I did find that it tempered my opinions and my emotions about this whole controversy, though I might prove that statement wrong in a few paragraphs (hopefully not as badly as Mitch did above!). The things I objected to about the "shirtstorm" weren't mentioned in your post, but I think they're worth discussing.

    First, it wasn't just Rose Eveleth and her compatriots on Twitter; writers and bloggers published actual articles on The Verge and whatever Phil Plait's (Bad Astronomy) website is. I'm sure there were others. Those weren't just hasty shots fired from smartphones, so we know their thoughts and opinions were well considered and that they should be prepared to stand by them, and to expect lots of legitimate criticism.

    Second, when people say they're offended by something or that something is sexist, misogynist, or insensitive, it is not just an opinion or a feeling. It is both an accusation and a demand. It is an accusation of wrongdoing, with the implication that the wrongdoer should have known that it was wrong, and if he didn't, then both his decision and his ignorance are a problem. Either way, it's an accusation of being a bad person. The demand is that the wrongdoer apologize for the transgression and make redress for it, as well as be sure to stay in line in the future.

    I detest those types of demands.They serve only to bully and badger an innocent, non-malicious person into prostrating himself tearfully before a bunch of overly judgmental people who know nothing about the person or his intentions.

    A blogger's or columnist's opinion of Dr. Taylor's shirt is no more relevant than my opinion of the Yankees or Coldplay. The feelings it evokes in them should carry no more weight than the feelings it evokes in me. This leads me to two conclusions: (1) that, as you wrote, we shouldn't just dismiss or criticize their opinions or feelings, because they're as legitimate as our own; but (2) what we can and should be incensed about is the accusation and demand implied by their publication of their opinion. The fact that they turned their feelings into a social-media mob that bullied him into apologizing is objectionable. And don't say, "Rose Eveleth and Phil Plait didn't start a Twitter mob any more than Glenn Reynolds did." It seems to me that inciting a furor that led to an apology (and to more public awareness of the perfect feminist line that everyone must toe) was exactly their intention, as evidenced by their satisfaction with his apology and the the fact that his apology has closed the matter for them.

    Third, the entitlement. God, the entitlement. Left-feminists love to talk about entitled men. They overuse the word to describe all kinds of behavior they simply don't like, but they are oblivious when it applies to them. They are offended by a shirt that they think demeans and objectifies women. As Stephen Fry has famously said, "So fucking what?" Matt Taylor didn't think it demeaned or objectified women, nor did the thousands of his female defenders, nor did the woman who made it, nor did (presumably) the multiple women who are partly responsible for the existence and sale of the fabric at the store where the seamstress bought it. I don't like Matt Taylor's tattoos. So what? I really wish the Royals had won the World Series in their first postseason appearance since 1985, instead of the Giants for the third time this decade. I expressed as much on both Twitter and Facebook. Does that opinion have any consequence? Does it imply a demand? Does it signal that something should be done in response to my opinion, namely that the Giants apologize and not do it again? No. But saying that something offended you and was inappropriate and sexist does imply such a demand, and the demand-makers consider anyone who objects to their demand a misogynist MRA troll. It is obvious to them that someone wronged them, personally, as well as all women collectively, and therefore they are entitled to an apology and a promise that they won't be offended in such a way again.

    I don't remember NASA's mohawk guy, but I suspect the reason no one got up in arms about his hair was because no one's commentary implied any accusations or demands. Maybe no one was trying to say he had wronged half of the human population or that their opinions of his hair necessitated any action by him or anyone else. No one bullied him into shaving his head or apologizing for it.

    What "shirtstorm" does remind me of is David Howard, the D.C. mayor's aide who was forced to apologize and resign for uttering the word "niggardly"? There's even a Wikipedia article about controversies over the word "niggardly"! A completely innocent word that people take offense to, and no amount of explanation or citing of dictionaries matters to them. Matt Taylor's intention didn't matter, his general lab-nerd obliviousness didn't matter, and the actual history behind the shirt didn't matter. All that mattered was that they got their groveling apology and their little victory over a defenseless, well-meaning, mild-mannered, solidly leftist-feminist scientist. All that mattered is that they perceived a slight, so they were entitled to an apology.

    As a lot of people pointed out on Twitter, the offended were also acting very narcissistic. They dismissed this great scientific achievement in favor of harping on their personal social-justice cause. Their tweets and columns and blog posts weren't about what a great day it was for all the (male and female) scientists on the Rosetta team; instead, they brought attention to how their feelings were hurt and their cause was set back by a shirt. The shirt ruined this scientific accomplishment for you? How awful. You ruined the greatest day of his career over an innocent clothing choice, a choice he made to honor his friend who made the shirt as a birthday gift. If his transgression was that awful, then by any reasonable standard, their response must be much worse.

    Those were the things I objected to (and, I think, most people like Glenn Reynolds and Mollie Hemingway objected to) about this ordeal. In summary, I know this post was pretty tangential to your point about emotionally charged reactions and echo chambers and empathy and so forth, but I think almost all of the controversy stems from the accusations and demands that were unfounded and overly harsh, made by people who honestly do seem to find outrage and offense everywhere. And I think any discussion of this sad episode needs to address (preferably, condemn) the bullying and conformity that modern feminists are so fond of.

  119. Ken says

    The distinguishing characteristics of lynching are that it is extra-judicial, public, almost certainly deadly, and putatively intended to punish (but more probably intended to intimidate).

    Interestingly enough, the mobs under discussion here are also extra-judicial, public… and putatively intended to punish (but more probably intended to intimidate). So even though they share three of the four most important characteristics, using the phrase to refer to a group of the second type metaphorically is "bad faith"?

    I don't use the term "lynch mob" as a casual metaphor. The violent connotations associated with "lynch mob" are too strong for casual metaphoric usage in my opinion. It can be wildly offensive to some people, especially since there are people alive today who have known people who actually were lynched. It's lazy. It's distasteful. I avoid the use of rape metaphors, for the much same reasons

    But "wrong"? Prescriptivist nonsense. "Bad faith"? Seems like an overreaction to me.

  120. Mr. Shotgun says

    I am not convinced that Taylor is in any way inexpendable to the project;

    Reading from his profile:

    His studies have focused on energetic particle dynamics in near-Earth space and in the interaction of the Sun’s solar wind with the Earths magnetic field, particularly focusing on how boundary layer interactions evolve, leading to 70 first or co-authored papers.

    Now I am not a scientist but I do keep up on things and have a little knowledge, and I would say this project was right up Dr Taylor's alley which is why he was brought on to the team. In particular his focus on boundary layer interactions would make his presence key to the team, since measurements taken from the project would contribute data and understanding for how those layers are formed. Scientists of his caliber and focus are a very rare breed, and are not at all like a factory line worker in that they are so easily replaced.

  121. Vorkon says

    I'm generally not a fan of using the term "lynch mob" to describe the sort of online dogpile on a person that we're talking about here, for some of the same reasons other commenters have pointed out. Mainly that "lynch" necessarilly implies killing the target, which is not the case here, and renders the phrase perhaps a little too hyperbolic for its own good. I do agree, however, that every other connotation of the term "lynch mob" fits the "people online ganging up on someone" description perfectly, and as such I also agree that "lynch mob" is still a better description of the situation than simply "mob," but it's still not a particularly accurate analogy, and should probably be avoided.

    However, while "lynch mob" might not be the best term for the situation, the other term that Ken complained about, "witch hunt," fits this sort of situation pretty much perfectly.

    While it's true that the two most famous witch hunts in history, the Salem witch trials and the Spanish Inquisition, were both pretty deadly, unlike a lynching, a witch hunt does NOT necessarily imply killing the target. There are plenty of cases where a "witch" is only subject to some exorcism-type ritual, or imprisonment, or a forced confession, or social ostracization, or being fired, or any number of other punishments. However, the term "witch hunt" still implies the same sort of mob mentality and determination to punish the target at all costs that "lynch mob" implies, just without the necessarily deadly outcome.

    More importantly, "witch hunt" also implies that the target, personally, is not the main focus of the attack, as is the case in a lynching. The target is the "witchcraft," not necessarily the actual person accused of it. The person facing the accusation just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a witch hunt, the mob is swept away in a craze to eliminate witchcraft (or sexism, or comunism, or drugs, or any number of other menaces that must be eliminated) and in that craze either innocent people are caught up in the mob's attempts to eliminate said menace, or guilty parties are punished in a manner completely out of proportion with their crime. In that sense, a woman being persecuted as a witch just because she happens to be unmarried and live alone with cats is remarkably similar to a scientist being persecuted because he wore a shirt that some people find objectionable. Just as in the case of the woman accused of witchcraft, Dr Taylor was not the target of the people criticizing him, but sexism in general was, and people were just trying to fight against it wherever they found it, even in the most innocuous of places, such as a shirt. The poor guy just got caught up in the wave, and due to the sheer size and scope of the mob, faced an unproportionate level of punishment.

    I really can't think of a better term in our language to describe this phenomenon. If anyone else can, please let me know.

    Shifting gears a little bit, I also disagree with Ken's argument that criticizing critics in this manner tends to normalize the idea that speech should be censored. No one is calling for the critics to be silenced, (well, maybe Mitch is, but I think we can all agree that he's a bit unhinged and not particularly representative of any side of this debate) they're just saying that they should be subject to criticism as well when they go overboard. Yes, that sort of "criticism of criticism of criticism of criticism" can snowball out of control very fast, but as Ken said himself, that is what we have INSTEAD of censorship, and if we want to avoid censorship we need to deal with the downfalls of the alternative, such as that sort of nested criticism. If anything, I'd say that it is allowing a witch hunt to continue uncriticized that tends to normalize the idea that speech should be censored.

  122. babaganusz says

    This takes the form of having a public debate with those who cannot be convinced.

    to paraphrase some guy: a proof convinces a reasonable person, a rigorous proof convinces an unreasonable person. neurobiology is awfully young; must be why we take such absolute delight in what we can patch together to approximate social/psychological 'proofs'.

    Thank you for your kind remarks.

    i hoped "press statements" was enough of an indicator that i was referring to public figures (from whom we might expect–perhaps even demand–a modicum of competence and/or composure in communications), not shrewd commentariat analysts; and that "tone-deaf" was situational, not contingent on having a pale face; and that "yutz" was contingent on being tone-deaf + appealing (consciously or otherwise) to any audience's (or a particular audience's) interpretation of "lynch". i have plenty of empathy for the irrationally downtrodden; that doesn't oblige me to approve, stylistically or otherwise, of behavior that contributes to the desensitization of The Mobility w/r/t a loaded term.

  123. Argentina Orange says

    FYI (and I'm puzzled that nobody else has mentioned it):

    Strategically dressing down has been a part of the science/technology business for decades. The message it is supposed to convey is "My skills are so important that I am exempt from the normal rules of workplace attire." It's the geek equivalent of Hotblack Desatio's stuntship.

  124. babaganusz says

    maybe Mitch is, but I think we can all agree that he's a bit unhinged

    on the contrary, i reckon it takes incredible restraint for him to take a break from oiling his hinges. his rig is so sophisticated it's almost like he doesn't want to break out all the dogwhistles at once…

  125. babaganusz says

    But "wrong"? Prescriptivist nonsense. "Bad faith"? Seems like an overreaction to me.

    i agree that 'bad faith' is a bit over "the line"… though for some reason i don't feel the same about 'disingenuous', and definitely think/hope that 'tone-deaf' is most often the most accurate assessment.

  126. Matt says

    Ha, I like this. I hope the cognitive dissonance here gets more and more people aware of how free speech works, as opposed to how they want to believe it works. Nice write Ken.

  127. Ken in NJ says

    @babaganusz
    "Tone deaf" is a good description. And some people undoubtedly use "lynch mob" in bad faith – intentionally inflating the emotional content and inflammatory nature of the argument. But it strikes me that automatically and immediately assuming bad faith just becuse someone does use it seems like… well, seems like bad faith

  128. says

    @Vorkon:

    Shifting gears a little bit, I also disagree with Ken's argument that criticizing critics in this manner tends to normalize the idea that speech should be censored. No one is calling for the critics to be silenced, (well, maybe Mitch is, but I think we can all agree that he's a bit unhinged and not particularly representative of any side of this debate) they're just saying that they should be subject to criticism as well when they go overboard.

    My concern is about how rhetoric contributes to social attitudes towards speech, which in turn contribute to legal norms. So, even though I didn't think much of Prof. Reynolds' column, I disagreed vigorously with the idea that it should be treated as "incitement" or "doxxing" or so forth, because it clearly wasn't.

    To me, the witch hunt/lynch mob rhetoric sounds like the rhetoric of people who say that hate speech ought to be legally prohibited — the metaphors appropriating images of violence are similar.

  129. eddie says

    Completely aside from the question of "lynch mob" as appropriate terminology in figurative discourse…

    I haven't commented about the substance of the Taylor controversy because I knew I couldn't write about it as eloquently as John has above (@ November 18, 2014 at 10:15 am). I agree with everything he said and am glad that he said it.

  130. says

    John said:

    Second, when people say they're offended by something or that something is sexist, misogynist, or insensitive, it is not just an opinion or a feeling. It is both an accusation and a demand. It is an accusation of wrongdoing, with the implication that the wrongdoer should have known that it was wrong, and if he didn't, then both his decision and his ignorance are a problem. Either way, it's an accusation of being a bad person. The demand is that the wrongdoer apologize for the transgression and make redress for it, as well as be sure to stay in line in the future.

    John, what words do you use when someone's behavior or speech bothers you? When someone has said or done something that makes you wince, either on your own or someone else's behalf, and think "Oh god, they shouldn't have said/done that"? When you think "Oof, that was really thoughtless and uncaring– it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of or disdain for these people. Hearing that hurts/must hurt"?

    Whatever words you use, when you feel this way– and I assume that you do feel this way, sometimes, as an intelligent and non-sadistic human being, capable of empathy– are you accusing someone of wrongdoing and making demands?

    Or are you sometimes saying "That was a bad thing" without saying "You're a bad person?" Do you comprehend the difference between guilt (the former) and shame (the latter) at all?

    It is an accusation of wrongdoing, with the implication that the wrongdoer should have known that it was wrong, and if he didn’t, then both his decision and his ignorance are a problem.

    Are sexism, misogyny, and insensitivity caused by ignorance not problems?

    Or are you saying that when a person is offended by what they call sexism, misogyny, or insensivity, they are always mistaken? In which case I guess that means they're not actually problems, because they either don't exist or they don't (justifiably) offend people.

    Because I think there's such a thing as justifiable offense. I think it's something that intelligent, non-sadistic people, capable of empathy, feel. And I don't think it necessarily entails accusations or demands– I think it's as simple as what I described in that first paragraph, which means I think that you experience it too. Just not in response, apparently, to the same things that people who care about sexism do. Perhaps you don't care about sexism at all, which would certainly do the trick. But I'm banking on the fact that there are things you do care about, which elicit that reaction in you.

    In other words, yeah– I'm calling you a hypocrite. As everyone who disavows "offense" is. Nobody– again, except someone with no feelings whatsoever– is offended by nothing. A society in which no one is offended would be a terrible place, and not last for long. So yes, you get offended. You just pretend you don't because you're not offended by (some) things that (some) other people are. So you're willing to dump all of these assumptions on their heads about what they're trying to accomplish and what their ulterior motives must be, and (I'm guessing) none of it on yourself.

    You're not fooling anyone.

  131. says

    @John:

    I appreciate the comment.

    I may agree that some of the reactions towards Dr. Taylor's shirt showed entitlement, or tunnel vision, or lack of charity or proportion. (I don't think that they did so to a notable extent, given how everyone reacts on the internet, but that's a different question.

    What I don't buy is the effort to redefine this sort of criticism as somehow uniquely powerful, demand-laden, or disabling. To me that's just a retread of categorical arguments that try to carve out some types of speech from the herd. We see that on all sides — from some progressives saying that racist/sexist/etc. speech is uniquely harmful and powerful and therefore should not enjoy full protection, to conservatives saying that calling someone racist or sexist is uniquely harmful and breaks the marketplace of ideas.

    Fundamentally I don't buy the "THIS speech belongs in a different box" argument.

    The remedy when someone criticizes you for racism/sexism/etc. and you think the criticism is wrong, unfair, deceitful, etc. is to say so.

  132. eddie says

    To me, the witch hunt/lynch mob rhetoric sounds like the rhetoric of people who say that hate speech ought to be legally prohibited

    Do you believe the people who have used that rhetoric in the cases at hand (shirtstorm, gamergate, Pax Dickinson, etc) think that some kinds of speech ought to be legally prohibited? I don't. But maybe I just get to see a more tolerant slice of the Internet than you do. I'm pretty sheltered.

    Also: a) People who want speech to be banned talk about "witch hunts" and "lynch mobs". Therefore b) People who talk about "witch hunts" and "lynch mobs" want to ban speech.

    I think that maybe there's something wrong with that reasoning…

  133. says

    @John:

    And one more point, since you name-dropped Stephen Fry, who is great:

    They are offended by a shirt that they think demeans and objectifies women. As Stephen Fry has famously said, "So fucking what?" Matt Taylor didn't think it demeaned or objectified women, nor did the thousands of his female defenders, nor did the woman who made it, nor did (presumably) the multiple women who are partly responsible for the existence and sale of the fabric at the store where the seamstress bought it. I don't like Matt Taylor's tattoos. So what?

    Here's the thing about the "why should anyone care if you are offended" meme: I'm fine with it being used to explain a "haterz gonna hate" approach. That is, if you want to live life not caring whether you give offense under this banner, that's fine — so long as you are prepared to be treated like someone who doesn't care if they give offense.

    Too often the Fry quote is dropped for another purpose, though: not to say "you're offended, but I don't care," to "you shouldn't talk about being offended because offense isn't real." That's kind of bullshit — it's wanting your cake and eating it too. It's chickening out of the consequences of speech. It's saying "because being offended is unreasonable, nobody should judge me for offending them or not caring about offending people."

    As I always say, nobody has the right not to be offended. But just as clearly, nobody has the right to have their audience not be offended.

  134. says

    @eddie

    Also: a) People who want speech to be banned talk about "witch hunts" and "lynch mobs". Therefore b) People who talk about "witch hunts" and "lynch mobs" want to ban speech.

    I think that maybe there's something wrong with that reasoning…

    I doubt that most of them want to ban speech. But they are using a metaphor that makes it easier to contemplate speech being banned. They are contributing to the idea — more explicitly articulated by some on the "left" — that some speech is uniquely harmful and therefore outside the real of normal protected speech.

    It's a little bit like the "fire in a crowded theater" nonsense, one of my bugaboos. It's a rhetorical trope that contributes to people thinking that it's OK to ban speech.

  135. eddie says

    What I don't buy is the effort to redefine this sort of criticism as somehow uniquely powerful, demand-laden, or disabling.

    It made a grown man cry. In public. On camera. Sounds powerful to me.

    Not powerful enough to bring the force of law against, though, which seems to be what your concern is. I don't think anyone here is suggesting that the force of law should come into play here.

    Okay, I guess maybe Mitch is, but come on!

  136. Nobody says

    > It might involve people using their white-hat or grey-hat or even black-hat skills to identify — in public — the people who make threats, so that appropriate consequences can be inflicted upon them.

    @Ken: How do you distinguish between this and doxxing, which you condemn earlier? Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the origins of the word, but it covers unmasking anonymous speakers as well as things like posting someone's phone #/address/SSN. Furthermore, this itself could be construed as a 'threat' (in the ordinary sense of the term, as it contemplates harmful action in revenge for some wrong), so you may wish to clarify that as well. I had thought that the legal system was supposed to adjudicate such things so that the practice of revenge was not privatized and while I am aware of it's failure to do so in certain cases, I was not under the impression that this was considered desirable. Perhaps that's just my lack of legal training showing.

  137. TM says

    @Ken White

    That is, if you want to live life not caring whether you give offense under this banner, that's fine — so long as you are prepared to be treated like someone who doesn't care if they give offense.

    An interesting question is, if the people who do care if the give offense are treated this badly (televised tearful apologies, seriously if Ms. Eveleth thought this shirt ruined the comet landing for her, I assure you the resulting backlash ruined it for Mr. Taylor) will more and more people stop caring if they give offense? This goes back to the theme which seems to run constantly around here of finding that balancing line between calling for speech suppression and calling for moderation in speech. I tend to think that sooner or later (if it hasn't already started) outsized reactions to minor offenses are going to produce more offense, not less as people adopt a damned if you do, damned if you don't attitude.

  138. says

    @Nobody:

    My view on doxxing is similar to my view about shooting people — it's rarely justified, but sometimes it is.

    I'm okay with doxxing someone committing a crime against others, as a way of identifying them. Now, if Dan Dickwad sent an anonymous threat and someone enterprising figured out who it is, I wouldn't support posting Dan Dickwad's home address, phone number, social security number, etc. But I'd support (1) passing his info to the victim, (2) passing his info to police, and (3) identifying him as someone who made the threat.

    Yes, the obvious dilemma is that some people think they are good at this, but are not.

  139. Matthew Cline says

    @Rodrigo Castalan

    "Don't you ever make the comparison between an unaccountable anonymous mob calling for a person's blood and an unaccountable anonymous mob call for a person's livelihood, the forced ending of their personal life's dream.

    I don't doubt that some people were calling for him to be fired, but how large is that group compared to those who were merely criticizing him? Should those who criticized him but didn't want him to be punished by his employer have added a "but I don't want him to be punished by his employer"?

    ————————————————————

    @stillnotking:

    It's not incumbent on me to take any action to suppress, shun, or shame anyone, no matter what they've done.

    All you're doing is helping weaponize victimhood. Being a victim of threats/doxxing/etc. does not make someone right. It doesn't even increase the probability that they are right, in the internet age when any loon can get a Twitter account.

    Wait, shunning someone who doxxes necessarily implies agreeing with the victim?

    ————————————————————

    @Ken:

    The distinguishing characteristics of lynching are that it is extra-judicial

    Interestingly enough, the mobs under discussion here are also extra-judicial,

    When "extra-judicial" is used, it means "doing something that's reserved for the government", like executing a criminal. If you use it to mean "something done by an actor who isn't the government", then it loses all meaning, since then everything a private citizen does would be extra-judicial (like, right now, I'd be extra-judicially typing). Unless you're implying that calling for someone to be fired is something that's reserved for the government.

  140. John says

    @Gretchen

    I think the difference that I draw, in my mind, between things that are merely distasteful or insensitive and things that are actually wrong and require redress is whether someone was harmed, like they were physically harmed or threatened or their rights limited in some way. (I'm sure that's not absolutely exhaustive.) The former, I think, fall under the purview of exchanging opinions and debating, and the latter are the things that I think require some action on the wrongdoer's part. I think that should mostly answer your question about how I feel about certain wrongs or offenses and what types of things rise to the level of demanding an apology and/or some other form of redress. In summary: something would have to be deliberately, obviously, hurtfully offensive to make me think an apology is in order, if all it did was offend and not actually harm someone in a physical or legal way.

    For example, there are shirts that could be completely offensive and unacceptable, like if he had worn a T-shirt that said "Men are better at science than women!" or something like that. That would be clearly, deliberately sending a hurtful, exclusionist, misogynist message. Or maybe — I'm just shooting from the hip here — he took credit for other people's work on the project. That wouldn't necessarily be sexist (or anything-ist), but either way it would be wrong and require a major retraction and apology, and debilitating career consequences.

    As it stands, though, I didn't think his actual shirt was objectifying, and I didn't think it sent any message at all, and I thought it was wrong, selfish, aggressive bullying to hound him into an apology. I think it's a pretty reasonable position to take. Other people thought it was offensive and that their social-media bullying was justified, and I tried to convince people that it wasn't justified and was harmful and distasteful, not only to Matt Taylor but to all fair-minded, free-speech-and-free-expression-loving people. That was my main point.

    One of the reasons I object so much to the bullying and badgering of people who do politically incorrect or insensitive things, even by accident and even when many people think they aren't offensive at all, is that if we accept the standard that any offense gives the offended the right to bully the offender into retraction and apology, then hardly anyone's freedom to be who they are and live their lives normally remains intact. Most TV shows, movies, and stand-up comedians would never get off the ground. Everyone in public life would be afraid to stand up for anything controversial or unpopular. I think it's a bad standard and a slippery slope, and I think my comments also reflect that worry. And I think that worry is reasonable as well.

    If you say, "Well, not any offense gives the offended that right," then we're back to arguing whether Dr. Taylor's shirt rises to that level, which again is the point of my argument.

    Are sexism, misogyny, and insensitivity caused by ignorance not problems?

    Or are you saying that when a person is offended by what they call sexism, misogyny, or insensivity, they are always mistaken?

    Of course not on both counts.

    Because I think there's such a thing as justifiable offense. I think it's something that intelligent, non-sadistic people, capable of empathy, feel.

    Again, that's what I considered this whole controversy about: what's a justifiable offense, and what's a justified response to Dr. Taylor's shirt? I said it wasn't that offensive and that people who demanded an apology were over-sensitive and that their bullying went way too far and wasn't justified by the images on the shirt, nor by the time and place he wore it. I said that their offense-taking and apology-demanding distracted from important issues in favor of their personal social causes that weren't (shouldn't have been) an issue here. I said (elsewhere) that crying foul over his shirt was crying wolf, so that it will make potential sympathizers with left-feminist causes less likely to see their complaints as valid in the future. You read my comments (and presumably those of many others) and still disagree, so we'll just disagree. I guess that should be the end of it. That's how debating should go, not hounding someone until they lay prostrate demanding forgiveness.

    Nobody– again, except someone with no feelings whatsoever– is offended by nothing. A society in which no one is offended would be a terrible place, and not last for long. So yes, you get offended. You just pretend you don't because you're not offended by (some) things that (some) other people are.

    My point is that our threshold for offense should be much, much higher and that we shouldn't demand that people apologize and conform for things as minor as a racy shirt. I don't know why you would say I pretend not to get offended. I get offended by personal insults calling me a hypocrite, for example, but I'd say I get offended for pretty few things that aren't directed at me personally.

    To reiterate one of my points, I don't think people shouldn't get offended, I think they shouldn't proclaim it to the world as if to demand that the offender apologize and not do it again. I think for most things, such as Dr. Taylor's shirt or a comedian's tweets or "South Park" or a million other things, they shouldn't demand anything from the offender. They certainly shouldn't join Twitter mobs to hound the person into an apology. I might even go so far as to say it's good to be offended sometimes and to have no other recourse than to deal with it. It knocks people down a peg.

    So you're willing to dump all of these assumptions on their heads about what they're trying to accomplish and what their ulterior motives must be, and (I'm guessing) none of it on yourself.

    The motives of many offense-takers in this instance and in many others, such in the cases of people forced to resign and apologize over the years, were to achieve exactly that: apology and resignation. I think it was an accurate assumption here. I think I can safely assert I've never demanded a public apology from anyone, and certainly not a resignation or other career-/financial-related punishment, for merely offending someone.

    You're not fooling anyone.

    Well, hopefully not, I wasn't trying to fool anyone!

  141. bud says

    "Traditional mission control dress codes require a white shirt, black pants, black tie…"
    That's a black and white photo, which is why everyone looks like they're wearing that. You're right about the white shirt, but the ties and pants could well be brown, or blue…

    That was standard "engineer" wear; white shirt, dark pants and a tie. But in the early 70's Bill Hewlett and David Packard decided that they didn't give a obese rodent's rear about what their engineers were wearing, and proved that guys in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops could design really good products. Pretty soon, they were attracting the best and brightest, and affecting not only their product competitors, but their competitors for talent, as well. The good designers were choosing H-P because the freedom of dress indicated more freedom in the design area. Within a few years, very few companies were left that had a strict dress code for engineers.

    Expecting this guy to even think about his choice of shirts is way too much. Engineers and techies haven't done that in a generation. I fault the PR folks who arranged this – if one of them had told him that the shirt was not what they'd like him to wear, he probably would have gone along.

  142. Jackson says

    I will say that I am starting to find it to be a useful rule that I ask people I haven't met before if they use twitter, and if they say yes, I hold my hands up and back away slowly like they are a dangerous wild animal.

  143. John says

    @Ken,

    Thanks for your comments. I'll try to take what you say to heart. One more rejoinder, though: Regarding the Stephen Fry quote, what I'm saying "So what?" to is the demand implicit (or even explicit, occasionally) in their complaint of offense. "I'm offended, and I demand an apology." Well, I demand that you take back your demand, so what? Feeling a certain way doesn't give you a right to an apology, or anything else. But some people act like it does, because they think feeling offended means they have been wronged. If they weren't demanding an apology or some other admission of guilt, then they would have said, "I didn't want an apology and I didn't want people to bully him into anything. I just wanted to talk about unwelcoming, subtly misogynist things that are everywhere." But they didn't. They knew what they were doing and they got what they wanted.

  144. TM says

    @ Jackson

    There's nothing wrong with using twitter per se. It's when people try to use twitter to hold something approximating a debate or reasonable conversation that we run into problems. Surprisingly a form of communication that limits you to a bumpersticker's worth of characters is not a good form in which to have political discourse.

  145. John says

    Oh, I just saw this comment of Ken's:

    Isn't calling criticism "bullying" begging the question?

    No, I wasn't calling mere criticism "bullying". Bullying is pressuring or intimidating with the intent of making someone feel bad and using superior numbers, superior influence, or the threat of social consequences to make someone give in to what you want. That is (what I understand) people did on Twitter and who knows where else to make Taylor tearfully apologize and think he had done something dreadful and hurtful. I consider it very different from mere criticism, even harsh criticism. I think that's a pretty common way to distinguish the two, isn't it?

    In this instance, there might not have been a single comment that by itself amounted to bullying, but the result was clearly that he was hounded into apologizing.

  146. Olaf Kröger says

    There's something weird going on here, and I only noticed it after reading Ken's post: This is America bossing Europe around. That's not the weird part – the weird part is both parties not even noticing it in any way.

    Only after Ken went about his recommendations for US clients regarding sexual harassment lawsuits for some length did I notice that this is completely irrelevant for Matt Taylor's bosses in – Noordwijk, I guess? Or Paris? Darmstadt? Definitely a non US place, anyway.

    While the rest of the world was more than welcome to partake, the ESA television and web broadcasts were primarily addressed to European tax payers. "See what a great thing we can do thanks to you, folks".And I would bet that you could not find one European person angry on Twitter about Taylor's shirt before that original American clickbait article went up. I'm not certain you could find 20 anti-shirt Europeans *after* the publication of said article.

    It's not that I can criticize any ESA person for sucking it up to the Yanks; until Ken's post my own reaction was "That stuff about women in STEM is nonsense" and not "This is nonsense, and since when has Darmstadt to take notes from San Francisco of all places?!"

  147. says

    Sounds a little fuzzy, honestly.

    So, if I criticized him, and nobody else did, that would be criticism, but if too many people join me or rewteet me, then it's bullying?

  148. says

    This is America bossing Europe around.

    I thought it was mostly Americans using something happening in Europe to make an argument about how things should be in America and elsewhere.

  149. Kevin Kirkpatrick says

    "The work culture and dress code at European space agency is going to be different then what's expected at an American law office or court. It's not like you guys wear barrister's wigs."

    "Europe is not as obsessed as the US with sex and sexism. Most of the freak-out happened on the US side of the pond. Or, at least, west of the English Channel."

    "This is America bossing Europe around."

    So, it seems to be a rising consensus here: gender disparity in STEM fields is a uniquely American problem.

    Apparently Europe, with it's laid-back, non-obsessive approach to the matter, has outright solved sexism, as evidenced by findings from papers like this http://www.socwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/fact_12-2007-stem.pdf:

    Many of the issues for US women in STEM are also seen in other countries. In a study of Swedish postdoctoral
    fellowships, women had to score five times higher in the merit review process to be rated the same as men
    (Wennerås & Wold 1997). In Italy, women researchers in national labs advance at half the rate of their male
    peers (DeWandre 2002). In the UK, women have accounted for half of biology graduates for 30 years, yet
    women hold only 9% of full professorships (DeWandre 2002).

    Oops.

  150. Echo says

    The lynch mob metaphor is tired, give it a rest. There's a much better one y'all are missing.

    "Into our town the hangswomyn came, smelling of clickbait, freebleeding, and shame…"

  151. That Anonymous Coward says

    This is what we have fallen to.
    A man wore a shirt, someone got offended, they made him the 'poster child' for a litany of societal problems, they extracted their pound of flesh, but at what cost?

    He is just himself. He is not in-charge of the world. He wore a shirt, much like shirts he had worn before. He did not wear it to start a war. He did not wear it to oppress women. He wore a shirt that he more than likely felt good about. He felt good because it was loud and was a gift from a friend. As he was approaching a really big moment in his life, he wanted something to make him feel good.

    "We" made him cry for making that choice. "We" demanded he atone for all of the sins. "We" decided that reducing someone to tears on what should have been an amazing day was the correct price.

    I am an imperfect messenger, but try to stay with me.

    Where were all of these people who hurled their fury at him for being the sole cause of women not going into STEM when the story of the woman who lied about being raped & destroyed a mans future? There wasn't anywhere near as much outcry, and no one held her up as the reason rape allegations can't be taken truthfully. Anyone who dared to say anything unkind about her was summarily browbeaten for not taking rape seriously.

    Society is working on devolving itself. Everything MUST be in black and white terms, and to dare to even for a moment to touch a grey area puts you on the other-side to be vilified. Is this really how we want the world to be?

    He wore a shirt. We filled in his motivations with our own bile and prejudices and went on the attack no longer caring what the actual event was. We crafted a narrative to suit the cause, and steamed ahead.

    If the entire world can be changed with just one shirt, why not put one on that says peace on earth and fix the whole planet. Maybe a no more global warming shirt will solve the issue. Or perhaps the real solution would be in to stop trying to single a single person to blame for all of the wrongs, stop the screaming, and maybe attempt rational discussion. Your personal vision of utopia doesn't match everyone else's, but demanding your way or nothing else moves us further away from even a happy balance.

    He wore a shirt, and more people talked about that than the thousands who died that day in the world, or those who are homeless in areas where the cold is coming to claim their lives, or those who went to be hungry, or those who wonder if they will wake up tomorrow because a disease is killing them.

    He wore a shirt, and it was a mirror of how fscked up we have become.
    He isn't the monster some people want him to be, the shirt showed us the monsters are us.

    But I'm just an imperfect messenger from the grey area. I delight in toying with sacred cows, and then offering you a burger. Doesn't mean I hate the cause, but sometimes you need to laugh or take someone off their high horse to show them how silly they've become. Dude wore a shirt. Is your personal history so perfect that you can be a 'poster child' on any given day? Something something throw the first stone, something something and 4 fingers pointing back at you.

    Dude wore a shirt.

  152. says

    Then I would think you'd call that person out, criticize them, and let social consequences take their course. As is now happening to that idiot.

  153. Matthew Cline says

    @John November:

    … what I'm saying "So what?" to is the demand implicit (or even explicit, occasionally) in their complaint of offense. "I'm offended, and I demand an apology." …. "I didn't want an apology and I didn't want people to bully him into anything. I just wanted to talk about unwelcoming, subtly misogynist things that are everywhere."

    So, if you criticize someone by calling them sexist, you should explicitly make clear that you're not demanding an apology? Are there any other types of criticisms that should include such disclaimers?

    Bullying is pressuring or intimidating with the intent of making someone feel bad and using superior numbers, superior influence, or the threat of social consequences to make someone give in to what you want.

    How does one tell the difference between the above, versus a group of individuals who simultaneously and publicly criticize X because 1) X just happened and 2) publicly speaking to countless people is really easy?

  154. Robert What? says

    Would that a fraction of the interest be focused on the incredible science that was achieved as on damn shirt.

  155. says

    Ken's post on #shirtgate reads just like DeWayne Wickham's USA Today column this morning. DeWayne's was funnier though.

  156. Drew Hardies says

    Sounds a little fuzzy, honestly.

    So, if I criticized him, and nobody else did, that would be criticism, but if too many people join me or rewteet me, then it's bullying?

    This seems identical to: "If I made one off color remark, and no one else did, that would be a joke. But if too many people join me, then it's harassment?"

    The answer — in both cases — is yes.

    A few negative interactions can be dismissed as minimally important. We round it down to nothing. But, at some point, a barrage of negative interactions really does have a significantly negative impact on someone's life.

  157. Matthew Cline says

    @Drew Hardies:

    So, if I criticized him, and nobody else did, that would be criticism, but if too many people join me or rewteet me, then it's bullying?

    A few negative interactions can be dismissed as minimally important. We round it down to nothing. But, at some point, a barrage of negative interactions really does have a significantly negative impact on someone's life.

    So before publicly criticizing someone, you should have some idea of how much public criticism that person has already received, judge if it's enough criticism, and say nothing if it's reached or passed the "enough" stage?

  158. Drew Hardies says

    So before publicly criticizing someone, you should have some idea of how much public criticism that person has already received, judge if it's enough criticism, and say nothing if it's reached or passed the "enough" stage?

    I'm happy to support that as a social norm. Especially if you're directing the criticism *at* someone.

    Context matters. An isolated joke/critique is fine. A barrage of them create toxic environments. Even if they're coming from different individuals.

  159. Lampshade says

    So, if I criticized him, and nobody else did, that would be criticism, but if too many people join me or rewteet me, then it's bullying?

    There is criticism, and then there is criticism which is call to encourage more criticism, with the goal of pressuring the subject into an apology or being disciplined by their employer. This looks pretty plainly like the motives of the critics in this case given that (a) it's the outcome that happened and they stated that they got what they wanted, and (b) the critics are from a political group known to have activist goals, other than just having a discussion.

    If you criticize someone, and other people criticize them entirely independently of you, it would be hard to call that bullying. But that's not what happened here. The critics were not acting in isolation, they were egging each other on. The words of the initial critics sounded like a call to arms. I'm not certain of this interpretation, but I think it's highly probable when looking at the event in context.

    Matthew Cline:

    So before publicly criticizing someone, you should have some idea of how much public criticism that person has already received, judge if it's enough criticism, and say nothing if it's reached or passed the "enough" stage?

    If you are talking about ethics or social norms, then yes, critics should judge whether their criticism and other people's criticism is proportionate when someone's reputation is at stake. They are perfectly capable of observing each other. (In fact, the fact that critics can see each other is exactly part of why there are so many: it's a bandwagon effect.)

    This is a pretty common social norm. While it's not always followed, people who try to dogpile on someone in real life can face consequences to their own reputations if they act disproportionately. On the internet, there are less consequences.

    If you are talking about free speech law, then no, of course there is obligation to withhold your speech if other people are making the same criticisms.

    I think the main concern here is the social problem of bandwagon effects leading disproportionate criticism being aimed at individuals in ways that would would violate social norms outside the internet, and political activists (of any stripe) who knowingly harness these bandwagons and start them rolling.

    For those of us who see this phenomenon as a social and ethical problem, the appropriate response, of course, is more speech, hence emotive language like "lynch mob" and "witchhunt." Those terms are helpful in some ways, and unhelpful in other ways, to describe the behavior of critics who knowingly or recklessly create a snowball of criticism to damage someone's career or reputation for political goals. I would be interested to know what words Ken thinks are more appropriate. I've tried "call to arms", "bandwagon", and "snowball" as metaphors, but they aren't sufficiently negative for my taste.

  160. Maria says

    @Kevin Kirkpatrick That shirt has nothing to do with gender disparity in STEM. I am a women, I work in IT and used to work in science. Stop using women equality pretense to force your own sensibilities on others.

    First of all, that shirt is highly unusual in both STEM and science. Most people there do not have tattoos and wear in very standardized way. There is no culture of wearing goofy girls girls on shirts. The whole symbol of "causal misogyny frequent in stem" line of argument is nonsense.

    You know what insulted me as a women in STEM the most during last three months? Feminists article that complained about women in STEM clothing in "masculine way" and attributed it to "desperate attempt to blend in".

    I'm not joking, that was fellow your feminist talking. And that attack on what women wear was not only one I have seen.

    You know what is hurting women in STEM? People who believe that there is some inherent conflict between femininity and various aspects of tech. People who require me to spend at least hour a day focusing at fashion in order to be "feminine enough to count" (hi feminists).

    You know what is hurting women in STEM? People who believe that women are inherently weaker (thank you feminists), in constant need of protection (thank you feminists), that women are unable to deal with minor annoyances (thank you feminists) and that women are unable to handle small setbacks (thank you feminists).

    I suspect that blowback is not only about Matt Taylor bullying. Maybe I'm not the only one who is getting fed up with it.

  161. Parfour Course says

    Women have fought long and hard to become their own arbiters about what is appropriate attire in the workplace. They fought for themselves, not for men. Men like Matt Taylor have confused themselves into thinking this openness applies to men. Men are not a protected group.

  162. Matthew Cline says

    @Drew Hardies:

    I'm happy to support that as a social norm.

    If criticism of someone is happening in-the-flesh, then how much criticism that person is receiving is immediately obvious to everyone present. However, on something like twitter, if you see a tweet saying "X did Y", it's not immediately obvious how much criticism X has received so far, and so not immediately obvious if one should refrain from adding to the criticism; one would have to do a bit of research first, which would be a high bar for merely writing a tweet, and an even higher bar for responding to a, favoriting or retweeting a tweet. Then again, the target of the criticism (assuming they use a Twitter account) wouldn't receive any notifications if the tweets didn't contain "@handle", so would that suffice in the context of twitter? Just leaving out the "@handle"?

    As for blog posts and tweets without the "@handle", the target of the criticism would have to go search for references to themselves, something which they can easily avoid doing. Or would having to avoid doing a self-search be a toxic environment?

  163. Philip Cass says

    With regards to "Well I'm not offended by the shirt" and similar points

    First of all, imo "offense" is the wrong word (even though everybody uses it). The reason it's wrong is not because it evokes feelings of anger or outrage, but because it evokes feelings of (low-grade) oppression, or objectification, because it's sending a message that science is OK with pinups and similar objectification of women (note that I don't claim any intentions on behalf of the poor guy, just that the message was sent).

    Secondly, yeah, I'm not daunted or distressed by the shirt, because I'm a guy. The point is, I know many women scientists who are, who say this evokes hardships that they, personally, have had to endure in relation to e.g. department porn stashes, pin-ups, being shown pictures of someone's partner naked "because it's all right because you're married" and similar. From my point of view, it's not about whether I think the shirt might cause harm – I have evidence that it does. That's my guiding principle in this matter. People being "offended" and "outraged" are just so much noise

  164. eggo says

    So when our side criticizes people by only linking to screencaps and archive links of their twitters, so upset people can't harrass them… we're still disgusting misogynerd bullies?

    To make a cultural norm against bullying work, you actually have to CARE about it, not just use it as another weapon to bully the filthy cishets who deserve it.

  165. Czernobog says

    @Philip Cass

    Your evidence is not entirely compelling. If the shirt "evokes" hardships those women had to endure, than the problem isn't with the shirt, it's with the hardships they had to endure in the first place. Take away the serious issues, and the shirt becomes harmless. Therefore it is not the shirt we should be concerned with.

  166. Max says

    This article says so much I wanted to say about #Shirtgate.

    This chap was at work. A workplace where it was at least possible for someone to be offended by the shirt and where he was in a senior position. If he wore it socially, they could avoid him or tell him they hated it. In work they have less options to object or avoid this message. If a senior manager wore a 'I bathe in male tears' shirt to work and a bar, I would say the same thing.

    It doesn't matter if you find either shirt funny or cute (and I like both shirts) both are inappropriate for a work environment and both appropriate for a social one. Because of allowing people choices (as well as relevant legislation).

    This is as stated in the article.

    As soon as Mat Taylor wore the shirt to announce a triumph in his career, he allowed it to be a legitimate factor to mention when discussing that triumph. All legitimate discussion is then just the world having a conversation about what is appropriate.

    Complicated by the fact Doc Taylor is obviously a lovely guy with a family he adores and a female friend he cares about so much he wore the shirt she made on his special day. He wasn't being a dick, he was just careless, and he had a lot of other things to concentrate on that his costume so he should be forgiven. It was down to those around him with less responsibility to give him a little heads up.

    At which point it is about the discussion. Then the space gets filled with people being dicks on both sides. Isn't it then OK to discuss also which side is being most dickish? To say 'our side is being pretty awful here but the other side is being worse?'

    Those Who Cannot be Named often say 'yes some people who align with us make death threats, but some of us have been doxxed and threatened as well, and those who did that on our side really weren't us, but the chaps who threatened us are real.' Can we then not have a discussion on severity and quantity, and while approving and mentioning efforts to self-police still ask for whole-hearted condemnation?

  167. Xmas says

    I dunno. If he had been wearing something conservative on top of all that Rockabilly, it would have looked odd. He was wearing a shirt that represents his culture.

    In reference to "Mohawk guy", white people with mohawks is a terrible example of cultural appropriation. It was very likely that people were complaining about his hair, but Indigenous Americans don't have the same power if voice as angry 3rd wave feminists.

  168. Kevin Kirkpatrick says

    Just going to clean up a bit of Anonymous Coward's comment; forgive me if I misconstrue anything….

    This is what we have fallen to.
    A man announcing a major scientific breakthrough wore a shirt depicting a scantily-clad woman posing seductively, someone people concerned with gender disparities in STEM fields got offended suggested it was inappropriate for the occasion, they made him the 'poster child' for noted how such workplace depictions contribute to a litany of this specific societal problems, they extracted their pound of flesh expressed this opinion via social media, but at what cost?

    He is just himself. He is not in-charge of the world, just someone who (like the rest of us) expresses his tastes and values in what he chooses to wear. He wore a shirt that highlighted his appreciation for sexy women in seductive poses, much like shirts he had worn before. He did not wear it to his workplace to start a war, merely to broadcast his affinity for sexy women to his coworkers. He did not wear it to oppress women with any awareness of the doubts it will give many women about being evaluated by their abilities, not their attractiveness. He wore a shirt that he more than likely felt good about. He felt good because it was loud and was a gift from a friend , and frankly, how it might make others feel was of no concern. As he was approaching a really big moment in his lifethe lives of countless scientists and those who might be inspired to become one, he wanted something to make him feel good with no concern for the message of the focus on women's sex appeal within his professional laboratory setting.

    "We" made him cry for making that choice drew attention to this. "We" demanded he atone for all of the sins more awareness of the effects of sexual objectification in the STEM industry. "We" "He" decided that reducing someone to tears a heartfelt, tearful apology was a fitting response to his having dumped a heap of casual sexism on what should have been an amazing day was the correct price.

    To make a gross understatement, I am an imperfect messenger, but try to stay with me.

    Where were all of these people who hurled expressed their fury at him blatant expressions of sexism in STEM fields for being the sole cause contributing factors of women not going into STEM when the story of the woman who lied about being raped & destroyed a mans future likely had no influence on women's interest in STEM? There wasn't anywhere near as much outcry from those who seek to address this gender disparity about this topic which has nothing to do with it, and no one held her up as the reason rape allegations can't be taken truthfully. To underscore my inability to remain on topic, let me clearly state something about this unrelated item: Anyone who dared to say anything unkind about her was summarily browbeaten for not taking rape seriously.

    As an Anonymous Coward might work to devolve an ignorant rant with incoherent platitudes, so too is Society is working on devolving itself. Everything MUST be in black and white terms, and to dare to even for a moment to touch a grey area puts you on the other-side to be vilified. Is this really how we want the world to be?

    He wore a shirt that was inappropriate for the occasion. We filled in his motivations with our own bile and prejudices explained what made it inappropriate and went on the attack with our lives no longer caring what the actual event was well aware that comment sections would be full of ignorant blowhards taking umbrage at such criticism. We crafted a narrative to suit the cause knew there was still plenty of work to do to combat sexism, and steamed ahead.

    Using poor grammar to reinforce my incoherence, I declare the question, If the entire world can be changed with just one shirt, why not put one on that says peace on earth and fix the whole planet. Maybe a no more global warming shirt will solve the issue. Or perhaps the real solution would be in to stop trying to single a single person to blame for all of the wrongspointing out when people do things that make careers in science seem less appealing to women, stop the screamingspeaking out about such incidences, and maybe attempt rational discussion remaining quiet and hoping the problems just go away by themselves. Your personal vision of utopia a science community that feels welcome to people regardless of gender doesn't match everyone else's my preference for the status quo that advantages men over women, but demanding your way or nothing else that changes are made moves us further away from even a happy "balance" where people such as myself remain happy with the way things are.

    He wore an inappropriate shirt, and more people capable of thinking coherently talked about that than several subjects that have nothing to do with gender disparity in STEM. I can again demonstrate how my mind tends to wander off by listing several such subjects: the thousands who died that day in the world, or those who are homeless in areas where the cold is coming to claim their lives, or those who went to be hungry, or those who wonder if they will wake up tomorrow because a disease is killing them.

    Now, what was I talking about? Shit. Let's see… homeless people in the cold… world hunger. Fuck. Oh, wait, let me scroll up a bit. Aha! Now I remember!. He wore a shirt, and because I think they make me look smart, I'll express another disconnected platitude: it was a mirror of how fscked up we have become.
    People will really think I'm deep with another one, like: He isn't the monster some people want him to be, the shirt showed us the monsters are us.

    How about another understatement? But I'm just an imperfect messenger from the grey area. And on the off-chance that my word-count is still a little shy of that "wow, this guy is SMART" effect I'm going for, I'll wrap up by stringing together a shit-ton of glurge.. I delight in toying with sacred cows, and then offering you a burger. Doesn't mean I hate the cause, but sometimes you need to laugh or take someone off their high horse to show them how silly they've become. Dude wore a shirt. Is your personal history so perfect that you can be a 'poster child' on any given day? Something something throw the first stone, something something and 4 fingers pointing back at you.

    Fucking hell, lost it again… scrolling up… ah, right! Dude wore a shirt.

  169. Eggo says

    Max, how about actually acknowledging when people actually hunt down and turn in people who make threats, instead of just ignoring it because it doesn't fit the narrative you're regurgitating?

  170. Harald K says

    Philip Cass: "it's sending a message that science is OK with pinups and similar objectification of women"

    Similarly, tattoos send a message that you're OK with motorcycle gangs, and yarmulkes send a signal that you're OK with Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza, I suppose? They may not mean to send those messages, but they send them, because that's what I'm feeling when I see it. Right?

    No. We have a fundamentally different view of sexism, and probably racism and all the other isms too. My position is that your right to be free from racism, sexism, etc. is grounded in your right to be treated as an individual. Some people are overrepresented in the crime statistics. Some groups are really stingy and never tip well. Some people may seem to be "nothing but trouble". These differences may be perfectly real, but that doesn't matter. You deserve to be judged on your own merits, not based on the characteristics that happen to be visible and easy to group you by.

    With that approach, I don't have to judge who the real "deserving victims" are. No need for oppression olympics. Your right to be free of racism isn't grounded in any majority's pity, or guilt. It doesn't matter what your history is. You don't have to prove that you're a "real" victim to me. You have the same right to be respected as anyone else.

    You associate geeky guys and pictures of comic book ladies with sexism, apparently. Just like I associate tattoos with criminals. Maybe I feel intimidated by some big tattooed dude smoking in the doorway. Maybe you feel embarrassed or excluded by that guy wearing a geeky T-shirt. But we got to rise above that sort of thing, and realize maybe THIS particular guy isn't a bad guy, even if you think he looks the part. It may take a little courage, but isn't it prejudice to assume women aren't capable of that? I'm not so crippled by fear of tattooed people that I demand tattoos be banned or that tattooed people should be forbidden from speaking on TV, so I'm absolutely not going to demand that sort of thing on behalf of others.

  171. EAB says

    My sympathy for Dr. Taylor (who I am sure is a perfectly lovely person who did not intend to give offense) is somewhat tempered, because I too possess numerous articles of clothing which many schools and workplaces consider to be unprofessional, distracting, and which interfere with my co-workers' ability to work/learn. A short list:

    — open-toed shoes
    — absence of pantyhose
    — skirts with hemlines 1" above the knee
    — leggings
    — knee-high boots
    — capri-length pants
    — yoga pants
    — button-down shirts
    — v-neck shirts
    — sleeveless dresses without a jacket
    — heels higher than 2"
    — tights with patterns

    If all of these items can fairly be considered to create a difficult and distracting environment for my co-workers, and if I can be written up, suspended, or fired for wearing them, can we likewise agree that Dr. Taylor's shirt can also create a difficult environment?

    Mind, I'm not at all *suggesting* he should be fired. But if his shirt is just a shirt he wears because he likes it, and nobody else should get to have an opinion about the messages it sends, why can't my skirt or shoes be just skirts and shoes that nobody else gets to have an opinion about?

  172. Czernobog says

    @EAB:

    Yes, but being people of will and intelligence, shouldn't we strive for a world where both your clothes and Dr. Taylor's shirt are tolerated, rather than conform to an environment which arbitrarily constricts personal expression?

  173. AnonymityIsImportant says

    Anonymity and free speech go hand-in-hand. Anonymity means you have to focus on what is said instead of who is saying it. Anyone with an socially unacceptable but TRUE idea who wants to share it will find anonymity to be their best ally. Fighting anonymity is fighting free speech, period.

    Additionally, there's a systemic problem with media with regards to misrepresenting and amplifying negativity that shows up on twitter and elsewhere. It's one thing for a group of people on twitter to spontaneously "pile on" someone, it's quite another when there are deliberate agitators working to maximize controversy to maximize traffic, gain political power, or even wage personal vendettas and directly lead to real world consequences for the people involved.

    In a healthy environment, "cooler heads prevail," the responsible people with the most power and influence talk sense into everyone else. But that doesn't happen. Smart people with large audiences who should know better offer up excuse after excuse for the major media agitators who recklessly, selfishly, and often maliciously promote and cultivate the very worst echo-chambers. You should know better, you disingenuously pretend like you can't tell the difference between legitimate criticism and deliberate attempts to engage in real-life bullying by proxy.

    I'm not talking about a viral twitter hate. I'm talking about mainstream news sites writing misleading articles with deliberate factual omissions and sensationalized rhetoric specifically targeting either individuals or malicious stereotypes. I'm talking about deliberate coercion. Bullying by proxy. Threatening to embarass an employer unless they fire someone. Threatening to embarass a company or organization unless they make a statement or change their product. And again: the key is the lack of TRUTH and SINCERITY and INTEGRITY on the part of the threatening media. It's one thing to embarass someone and publish something that is sincerely true. It's another thing to embarass someone by any dishohest means short of actual slander or libel.

  174. EAB says

    @Czernobog: if we ever theoretically get to that point, Dr. Taylor's shirt will have long since ceased to be problematic. Believe me, I do my part to make tech into a welcoming community for people who don't look like the stereotypical NASA pocket-protector dude. It's just that I am slightly less worried about Dr. Taylor's particular options in Hawaiian shirts than about my own.

    Did I mention I am a programmer? Did I mention that I've also been criticized for "dressing too well" in the office, and had it suggested that I should maybe try to look "less feminine" and "more engineer-ish'? That's for wearing perfectly office-appropriate clothing and tasteful makeup, in an effort to present myself as a competent professional adult.

    I will happily trade you one internet outrage quantum over #shirtstorm for the day that never happens again. However, I don't recommend holding your breath for the swap to come around. It's a lot easier to politely suggest that Dr. Taylor stick to pineapples and hibiscus for his next loud shirt than it is to solve the problems of people who think Ann Taylor trousers mean you're not a real programmer.

  175. That Anonymous Coward says

    @Kevin Kirkpatrick – The name is THAT Anonymous Coward.

    Question, why are your choices supposed to be the perfect ones for what is appropriate?
    Who elected you king of the world?
    I don't remember voting for you, and leadership shouldn't be decided by some daft woman in the lake handing out swords.

    Are you so out of control of your own self that seeing images of women who are scantily clad, in your definition of the word, can not allow you to move past it?

    If a single man wearing a shirt can keep all women everywhere from actually having their own dreams and aspirations, they really must be the weaker sex.
    Perhaps I'm just made of stronger stuff, because I didn't get to see any role models for me in the media when I grew up, in fact people still suggest that I molest children and cause bestiality merely by existing. I will be the downfall of the western world, I cause hurricanes, tsunamis, snow storms, and most likely shot JFK from the grassy knoll. That must be the reason I'll never amount to anything because enough people never decided that the oppression I face needed someone to champion it.

    I'll tone down my response out of respect for the Popehat gang, Snort my taint.
    Rewrite that one how you know I meant it as you seem to be the expert.

    If his shirt had said "Women are to stupid to do science" I'd agree with the outrage, but this entire fscking debacle is based on people filling in blanks with what they imagine the message he was trying to send was. People are calling for list to be kept of people on both sides of this issue and try and get them fired or reprimanded. The underlying issues can't actually be discussed because the issue has to be treated as binary, you have to agree with my viewpoint and if you disagree with me you are a baby eating monster.

    Oh and dude wore a shirt.

  176. kmc says

    @EAB It's just a constant nuisance, isn't it? The idea that there's this line that, from my perspective, feels pretty super-fine regarding what you should and shouldn't wear, and actually finding something to hew to that line. I miss my uniform days from the military (I keep suggesting it in meetings but no one seems to go for it). And you and I, for instance, feel like we're part of a discussion the way we would be standing around with a few people, so we sigh and say, "Man, I have to put so much thought and energy (and money) into maintaining my wardrobe and getting dressed in the morning. I wish it were as easy for me as it seems to be for the guys I work with." And the response is a mind-blowing, "Well, if you weren't such a whiny, silly, weak person, it wouldn't be a problem. Why don't you just…" Any time someone's response includes the word "just", I stop listening, because I know they've completely discounted the fact that I'm actually a different person than they are. If you try to point out ways in which you're under different expectations or face different problems, you get someone countering that you're just whining and badgering and playing a victim. How hard is it to step back and say, "Maybe something doesn't have to be a problem for me to understand that someone else is having a hard time with it?" Why is that a thing that people get angry about? When my toddler complains about her bedtime milk being "too short", I have no idea what she's talking about or how to fix it, and I might get frustrated when she asks me to fix it and I don't know how, but I don't get angry at her about it, because I know she's seeing something that I'm never going to see, so how could I possibly make a judgment call about it? Also, I feel sorry for her that it seems to be so distressing and that she's frustrated at herself for not knowing how to fix it.

  177. Peter B says

    Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

    George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra

    With that in mind, Matt Taylor is a barbarian. Too bad he's not a barbarian from some picturesque tribe wearing his quaint native attire. Oh, wait.

    But in real life, the workplace stuff Ken brings up seems about right.

  178. Meriweather says

    @Maria – do you also believe that a group of black people who suggest that it might not be comfortable to eat at a restaurant that proudly sports a mammy statuette are implying that black people as a class are weak and oversensitive?

    Generally:
    I'll leave aside the discussion of feminism that treats feminism as an internally unified movement because that's a long discussion. (Besides, I really need to figure out whether saints exist or not, and whether I can get divorced. Those whacky Christians can't make up their minds. Ugh, guys, get it together.)

    I'll say this: as a teenager, I went through an overly dramatic stage as teenagers do, and my phase included dabbling in some aspects of radical feminism, mostly in thinking that overt displays of conventional femininity in public or in the workplace as 'letting down the side'. I grew out of that. Thank god we grow out of being teenagers. I never did get out of the habit of dressing masculinely myself, but I've long since accepted that my comfortable habits do not dictate objective right behavior. I welcome and fight for women who reasonably expect to be treated as competent while wearing fashionable, work appropriate clothes and makeup. (Perhaps selfishly. My partner is one of them, and if she gets successful enough maybe I can retire and be one of those housewives who sips martinis all day.)

    I'm a woman in the heavy trucking industry, and I'm very used to seeing the idealized female figure as a prop– we sell calendars of uniformly thin white women in tight t-shirts posing with our product, silhouetted mudflaps are eternally a thing, at conventions we have booth bunnies. It's a habit, almost a superstition, automotive feng shui that equates an ideal female figure with a live plant or a mirror in the right quadrant of your home.

    I don't think shirts like Mr. Taylor's are the cause of the problem. Or the mudflaps or the calendars or the booth bunnies. I think they're certainly a symptom. I do think that there is a cultural bias that requires women to function as decoration first and people second and it's tied to the harassment of women who fail to meet any given asshole's standard of beauty (and I refer to assholes of both sexes, because cultural expectations are not tied to the y chromosome.). It's a symptom of the same cultural understanding that causes Jane Doe's resume to be read as less competent as John Doe's identical resume, by mere presence of 'Jane' anywhere on it.

    Does his shirt 'offend' me? No. I only have so much energy and all I can muster is a sort of eyeroll and sigh. But to pretend anyone is just upset about a single man's single shirt is fairly silly.

    The first I saw of the issue was a facebook share of an article (I'm not hip) about his apology. The tone of the article was: this shirt was sort of inappropriate. He apologized and seemed to mean it. Sans sarcasm, what a mensch. My takeaway of Matt Taylor then was 'some poor work attire choices, but a mensch.'

  179. says

    @ThatAnonymousCoward:

    If a single man wearing a shirt can keep all women everywhere from actually having their own dreams and aspirations, they really must be the weaker sex.
    Perhaps I'm just made of stronger stuff,

    I'm having difficulty reconciling two themes:

    1. People should be strong and not be offended by things, and if they can't, maybe they aren't suited for that environment anyway.

    2. Criticism is debilitating and objectionable.

  180. TM says

    @EAB

    To be completely fair, not only do I think the reaction to Mr Taylor was way outsized and if his employer and team did not have a problem (which they appeared to not) with it then it wasn't a problem, but I also find your particular employer's dress code to also be ridiculous. As Czernobog said, I'd rather spend my energy ending ridiculous dress codes like that, than harassing some random scientist half way across the globe.

  181. That Anonymous Coward says

    @Ken –
    People can be offended, the problem I am having with it is that it is more common to see people demanding the entire world change to keep them from ever being offended.
    People get offended and the response is well out of proportion as they snowball all of the ills of society onto that single offense.
    He wore a shirt, some people found it offensive.
    Some thought it might be in bad taste.
    Some thought oh hey we landed on a comet! Why are we talking about the shirt?
    Some people who were offended turned it into a cause celeb that this is the reason no women ever go into science because all men are evil, see the shirt proves it.
    The criticism was disproportionate, as battle lines were drawn and what could have been a discussion got turned into a judgement upon the entire scientific field and men.
    If someone wearing a loud shirt becomes the sole lightning rod for a much larger issue, the larger issue can't be discussed because we are to busy screaming down the other side while digging in and not listening. We can no longer discuss any issue without having to put up trigger warnings, and avoid using any words that might upset someone. Some of the issues can't be discussed because daring to talk about it means you must support the horrible thing if you just don't 100% agree about something. I don't support the stupidity that has gone on from both sides who have declared war in an attempt to win by silencing the other side.

    Part of the reason I think many people were offended is because they assumed he was sending a message.
    If you encounter a 4 yr old who says the n word vs a 40 yr old who says is, it is clear that the same response really isn't warranted.
    It is hard/silly to make the argument that the 4 yr old had the exact same intention as the 40 yr old in saying the word.
    But what if the 40 yr old is developmentally disabled, do you have the same response?
    The world is not black and white, while the n word is objectionable the intent actually needs to be considered for the response.

    The world is full of double standards for genders, and I support a discussion of them and trying to find a solution.
    To actually make some progress though we might have to admit that it isn't 100% all one side doing it, that it exists on both sides.
    Until we can admit both sides engage in it, it is really hard to have any discussion.

  182. EAB says

    I find it amusing you think that's a ridiculous dress code exclusively limited to my current employer. All of those provisions are pretty bog-standard for women's dress codes in professional settings.

    Button-downs and V-necks aren't usually on the official list, but they will absolutely get a talking-to if you are a person of a certain physique, because they are inevitably cleavage-revealing. Leggings and yoga pants aren't professional office-wear anyway, but they will get you sent home and eventually suspended from most public schools. More formal employers, including pretty much any law firm, finance, or large corporate job, frown on lack of pantyhose, open-toed shoes, above-the-knee skirts, and lack of jackets over sleeveless dresses. Boots and higher heels likewise aren't usually explicitly prohibited per se, but it's not uncommon for them to be considered "excessively sexy" (and by boots I mean nice leather dress boots, not exotic-dancer lace-ups).

    If you think that's appalling, welcome to the world of being a professional women.

  183. A. Nagy says

    I'm an Engineer, everyone on our team is at minimum required to wear a collared shirt, long dress pants, nice shoes(they don't have to be dress shoes but they can't look like tennis shoes aka 100% black tennis shoes are a-ok but white ones with a nike swoosh :/ don't do that. Depending on where we are working that day Tie+dress shirt+undershirt might also be required…or if not required will be frowned at if you do not comply.

    Being professional is about dressing in a way that couldn't possibly offend anyone you are likely to come into contact with.

  184. TM says

    @EAB

    Of course individual professional offices will set their particular dress codes, that isn't unique to being a "professional woman". A man who walks into your office wearing a tank top or a muscle shirt would get a talking to or sent home. Same if they showed up in sweatpants or gym shorts and I'd wage to bet a dress, sleeveless or not. Likewise a male lawyer, accountant or large corporate position showing up in sandals will be sent packing as well. So that narrows your list of complaints down to the cleavage issue, the panty hose, the skirts and the high heels. There's no good male analog for pantyhose but yes, baring cases of literally wearing clothing one or more sizes too small or violating a particular uniform standard, I tend to find any "too sexy" dress code to be absurd. Then again the only specific dress code my current employer has is no open toe footwear (we work with chemicals) and no tank tops (male or female), and my previous employer … well the CEO was famous for his sneakers, denim and turtlenecks, and occasionally bare feet, so I find most restrictive dress codes that aren't "uniform" to be absurd.

  185. Tarrou says

    The correct move for Mr. Taylor was to declare himself to be a triracial bi-hermaphroditic inverse square sexual, and accuse his critics of Triple Secret Transphobia. Never acknowledge criticism, just make up an even-more obscure and possibly fictional oppressed group "X", claim membership, and accuse all critics of "X"-phobia. Works like a fucking charm.

    Anyone who disagrees hates gays, and blacks, and dendrophiliacs.

    Heh, that rhymes.

  186. Cromwell Descendant says

    I thought it was a great article, thank you Ken.
    .
    And for the people who hate reading and thought it was too long, I say: go back to twitter.
    .
    I personally find the shirt abhorrent. Not for the reasons most people give, and as you explained, different people have different responses. But it is just obviously in the set of things that will offend some people. So I don't even need to think about the reasons that I find it personally offensive, I really only need to know that many people in a workplace will find it offensive. That will include the people least capable of standing up for themselves; people who feel oppressed for real reasons based on unlawful actions taken against them during their career. If we know that real sexism exists in forms that causes real harm, then we don't need to worry about the cases where we think it didn't happen. We can just know that some of the people affected, it did happen. So it is not acceptable professional attire.
    .
    You don't need to understand how people react to get there. You don't have to worry about the intended tone. You only need to be ask, "what is appropriate attire for work?"
    .
    Even in a workplace without a dress code, it should be obvious that "iconography that is obviously offensive to a minority of people" is not appropriate for work generally, much less for work on camera. It really doesn't matter if you agree with people's reasons for being offended, or think they should somehow be "tougher." If they complained, they're going to get called names and potentially threatened, so admitting to being offended actually proves that they're "tough" enough, but spoke their mind.
    .
    I agree he should be politely told not to wear such things to work, but I also think the worst part, wearing it on video, should simply be responded to by not allowing him to represent the company on video. If he is important to the work, then that isn't the main reason for his job, so they should just have somebody else do that part and leave it at that. Wearing it in front of his co-workers needs to be corrected directly, but being bad at PR can be corrected quietly without putting him under extra pressure.
    .
    And to people who question if he was even aware it would offensive to a minority of people, I say: I think you being intellectually dishonest. It is obvious that some people, potentially co-workers, would be offended. You can't use disagreeing with their reasoning as a shield to claim you didn't know they were offended. They were probably stating that it offended them, not asking your permission to feel how they feel. And, you can't disagree with their position without having heard it, so it is a self-defeating argument. He has a college degree. He has been around other humans in his life, and managed to succeed. He knows that some people find such things offensive.

  187. Cromwell Descendant says

    @roppert Mission Control isn't science, it is the intersection of engineering and management. Even as a person who has a dislike of ties and conventional fashions, I still find substantial utility in both engineers and managers showing conformity on the job. Being predictable, and especially predictably knowing about and following relevant guidelines, is an important part of their jobs.
    .
    Likewise, when I go to a restaurant and see somebody wearing different footwear than their co-workers, I worry if they follow the hand-washing guidelines. Blue hair I don't mind, as long as it is worn in a way that complies with the local sanitation rules for their job.
    .
    And when I see a cop parked illegally, without his emergency lights on, I worry about being stopped and illegally harassed.
    .
    If everybody in a Mission Control Room looks different than me in a conspicuous way, and one of them has clothing that depicts people who look like me in an a degrading position, I would naturally assume that I would not be welcome working there. It takes a real martyr or hero (you won't know which you are when you go in, you have to accept both possible outcomes) to go into those jobs anyways, because you know going in you won't be welcome. Those are real cues people take, because like it or not, people often are unwelcome in various rooms in the world based on how they look. It is a real thing, look it up.

  188. Cromwell Descendant says

    @stillnotking @Anonymous

    What does or does not reflect upon you is entirely in the eyes of the audience, and large parts of the audience thinks that it does reflect on you when you have the same views, hashtags or hobbies.

    Conversation overheard at the chess club:
    Young Conservative: Why don't you play golf?
    Retired 30-something rich guy: Because it is too elitist, and I can choose any hobby I want.

  189. Cromwell Descendant says

    @Parfour Course

    Men are not a protected group.

    Hate to burst in on your oppressed-male pity party, but in my State women are not a protected group either. All humans are protected from discrimination in employment based on gender. Same for other groups; there is no special protection for [people of a race with a history of being oppressed] either; all humans are protected from discrimination based on race.
    .
    The reason that certain groups are more likely to be using those protections in court might be that there is a statistically significant difference in who is actually being discriminated against. However, that overall statistic is irrelevant to what the protections are, or if they apply in a particular situation.

  190. bw1 says

    Ken, Your remark about Glenn Reynolds is flawed.

    Reynolds said "SOME feminists" you said "conservatives" which implies "all conservatives." You
    subtly altered your version to make it better fit your familiar sequence. Now, context may prove
    me wrong, but my take on your quotation of Reynolds is that, when some vocal people waving the
    banner of your cause very publicly say something stupid, that's not exactly an example of things
    going well for your cause, for many of the reasons you outline in your post.

    Further, "taking a transitory social dispute and cynically twisting it for social advantage,"
    while it may be intellectually dishonest and unethical, isn't necessarily stupid. It can be very
    effective in advancing one's cause, if one's morality is sufficiently flexible. On the other
    hand, the backlash response to "making [a great achievement] all about the clothes" tends to
    indicate that, regardless of whether it was ethical or intellectually honest, it was not effective
    in advancing the intended cause, and was thus shown to be stupid.

    Overall, your post makes some very good points. However, what seems to be missing from your posts
    on this general concept is any acknowledgement of Clark's quite legitimate concerns about minority
    viewpoints and "thick liberty." At what point do unbridled social consequences become
    functionally equivalent to government censorship in terms of their impact on the marketplace of ideas?

    Finally, how is, in the face of this great achievement and Dr. Taylor's contributions to it,
    feminists having a conniption about the shirt he's wearing, any different from conservatives, in
    the face of Hillary Clinton announcing a major diplomacy achievement when she was Secretary of
    State, carrying on ad infinitum about her pantsuits?

  191. Drew Hardies says

    I'm having difficulty reconciling two themes:

    1. People should be strong and not be offended by things, and if they can't, maybe they aren't suited for that environment anyway.

    2. Criticism is debilitating and objectionable.

    It seems simple enough:
    1. People should be strong and not be overly offended by small/isolated things.
    2. Pervasive criticism/teasing is debilitating.

    Scale matters.

  192. says

    At what point do unbridled social consequences become
    functionally equivalent to government censorship in terms of their impact on the marketplace of ideas?

    A crucial question. It doesn't even have to rise to the level of "functionally equivalent to government censorship" to be "censorious enough to be damaging to any marketplace of ideas."

  193. says

    Ken,

    Great article. One additional thought. When people use the term "lynch mob" – to me, at least – they are throwing a whole set of thoughts about race into the mix. The prototypical "lynch mob" in the United States was a group of white Southerners who lynched an African-American male for some offense against the Jim Crow-system (from murder to rape (Scottsboro Boys) to looking too long at a white woman (Emmitt Till)). The person who is the victim of the so-called "lynch mob" is put in the position of those infamous victims.

    I believe this is the reason that Clarence Thomas's retort that he was the victim of a "hi-tech lynching" was so effective at muting the criticism. He was able to take on the attributes of those former victims of racial injustice.

    I also believe that it demeans that horrific experience for a person who is only the victim of criticism to claim (or for others to claim on his/her behalf) that he/she is the victim of a lynch mob.

  194. says

    I am the "Mitch" who posted at 9:31 am today. I am NOT the "Mitch" who posted yesterday. I did not see those posts before I posted. I do NOT subscribe to any of the comments made by that "Mitch" who brings ill-repute onto an otherwise spectacular name.

  195. says

    At what point do unbridled social consequences become
    functionally equivalent to government censorship in terms of their impact on the marketplace of ideas?

    Here's the key difference: social consequences represent someone else's free speech. You can't limit them without making a value judgment about some speech over other speech, like "the right to be an asshole is more important that the right to call for someone to be fired for being an asshole." Sooner or later you always get to the First Speaker Problem — a system where you irrationally prefer the speech of the first person to speak.

  196. Andrew Krause says

    Ken doesn't even know what the dress code is at the Euro space agency, but he's positive Taylor was not in line with it.
    These things are trivial until we see this kind of blog post highlighting it. Ken is very much a part of the media pushing this on us, he just doesn't notice. So id Reynolds , AltHouse Fox etc, they all took the bait.

  197. Kiwanda says

    There's so many curious social phenomena going on.

    If every guy at the office hits on you, it's a problem, even if every interaction is polite and reasonable. If guys on the street constantly look at you and compliment you, it's a problem, even if these frequent interactions are polite. So sometimes collective behavior is a problem, even if the independent individual behaviors are not. A single independent, "mild" on-line criticism is one thing; multiplied by a million, it's something else. People are faced with many independent negative responses to the tweets they put out for their friends (and the rest of the planet), and feel harassed.

    As the OP points out, problematic behavior does not always represent independent thoughts, or independent echos of the same thought: there is a social process that encourages people in a mob to behave worse than they would individually, egging each other on, with safety in numbers. This amplification applies to the cat-calling guys in the construction crew, and to on-line critics as well.

    There can be amplification due to exaggeration: the women on the shirt were just not scantily clad, they were naked (practically); the guy didn't just ask her back to his room for coffee, he asked her outright for sex (one is just like the other).

    Sometimes the social processes are intentional (something I think the OP understates), via the email backchannel, the organizing committee, the attempts at a catchy hashtag or a "meme".

    There's often a huge amplification of controversy about an incident due to assumptions about things that are unknowable, like (often) the protagonists' intentions. Matt Taylor's shirt is a statement of his obvious misogyny, unless it's obvious that he was just clueless about how it would be seen, unless it's obvious that he was just wearing it for his friend on a special day. His obvious misogyny, and that of everyone who doesn't see his obvious misogyny, is additional evidence of rampant misogyny.

    The worst of one "side" is taken as representative of a large uncoordinated set of people: Islam is a violent religion, because Isis exists; Gamergate is nothing but harassers, because some "anti's" have been harassed; all critics of some feminists are MRAs.

  198. says

    You can't limit them without making a value judgment about some speech over other speech, like "the right to be an asshole is more important that the right to call for someone to be fired for being an asshole." Sooner or later you always get to the First Speaker Problem — a system where you irrationally prefer the speech of the first person to speak.

    The conclusion is unsubstantiated. What you prefer depends on what kind of speech culture you're trying to promote, and has little to do with who spoke first. If you're trying to promote a speech culture where speech is responded to with speech, and ideas compete on their merits, then it's rather easy to distinguish between "the right to be an asshole" and "the right to call for someone to be fired for being an asshole" without reference to who spoke first, or when, or how often, in the chain of the exchange. Calling for someone to be fired is asking for consequences that go beyond speech and have a chilling effect on future speech, when simply calling the original speaker an asshole in response would have sufficed. Or, better still, when ignoring the original speaker and talking about more important things would have. That's how marketplaces in products work, after all. You don't actually have to ban high fructose corn syrup to avoid it, you just … don't buy it. Calling for bans is anti-competitive. Responding to products by producing better products is not. The analogy extends in a straightforward fashion to speech markets. We don't actually have to pretend that calling for people to be fired is OK. It's fine to say that it's not. It doesn't hurt anyone's speech rights to say that it's not. It promotes a better speech culture to say it.

    "Promotes a better speech culture" will, of course, involve a value judgement about what kind of speech culture we prefer, but it's unclear how that's bad. Some speech cultures are better than others. We're trying to have the kind where you can exchange ideas without losing your job. Seems like a win for everyone.

  199. Lance Smith says

    Assumptions you are making that are part of the problem I think (at least some of us) are trying to point out:

    * Social mores in Europe are the same as they are here. — Holding them to the same standards is ethnocentric. I suggest embracing diversity.

    * We all have the same sensitivity to a sexuality. — IMO, the level of prudishness pushed by the modern feminist movement (and the sexual harassment industry that has grown up to address this prudishness) is a problem. Of course you can have dress codes, but we are well within our rights to call them prudish (just as the people back in the '60's called prudish the attire in the pic you are showing at the top of your article). Oh I'm sure you'll rationalize that prudishness … but of course so did the managers that pushed suits, ties, and proper hair cuts back in the day. Feminists need to understand that not all women are afraid of their heterosexuality. And male sexuality is not misogynistic.

    In addition to these points, those of us that are fighting the good fight when it comes to #shirtstorm are sick of the double standards in modern feminist discourse. Between attacks on dress targeted at this poor guy or even the likes of Zuckerberg, it seems we can attack the wearer if the wearer is male, but not if the wearer is female.

  200. Drew Hardies says

    At what point do unbridled social consequences become functionally equivalent to government censorship in terms of their impact on the marketplace of ideas?

    Here's the key difference: social consequences represent someone else's free speech. You can't limit them without making a value judgment about some speech over other speech, like "the right to be an asshole is more important that the right to call for someone to be fired for being an asshole." Sooner or later you always get to the First Speaker Problem — a system where you irrationally prefer the speech of the first person to speak.

    I don't follow. We can make value judgements without falling into the First Speaker problem. We do it all the time.

    For example, Miss Manner's columns are full of "That person was rude to say X. Your reply of Y was/wasn't reasonable under the circumstances." Etiquette hasn't descended into paradox.

    The trick is that these are judgements about the proportionality of individual replies. They're not referendums on criticism as a concept.

  201. Kratoklastes says

    If I got up at a town meeting in 1914 and said "homosexuals should be allowed to marry each other," that would likely have had one set of strong social consequences, if I got up in a town meeting in 2014 and said "homosexuals should not be allowed to marry each other," it might have a different set of strong social consequences.

    This is a very unsatisfying example: if, at any point in history, objection to homosexual marriage had 'adverse' "social consequences", then those social consequences would be a fortiori morally wrong.

    Let's ignore the idea that some folks exercise their minds over who is putting their pee-pee into what orifice, and make the example much starker.

    More than 10,000 onlookers gathered in Waco in 1916, and watched approvingly as Jesse Washington was dragged out of the courthouse, lynched, had his genitals severed, and had his body dragged through town (and later dismembered and sold for souvenirs).

    At no point in the entire 'incident' was there a scintilla of moral defensibility for the 'social consequences' of being Jesse Washington.

    Society is a fiction, as Arrow's Impossibility Theorem (Arrow,. 1950*) tells us: it is a moderately useful fiction a lot of the time, but when it's used as a trope to defend the passing fancies of the crew of the Ship of Fools, it's worse than useless.

    * As Clark would no doubt tell you if you asked him: Arrow's Impossibility Theorem shows that for >2 individuals and >2 choices, the aggregation of individual ordinal preferences will not generally result in a 'social preference' function that has the necessary properties. Specifically, 'social preferences' may be transitive (which is a huge problem for a welfare function: A > B > C > A is the same as crossing the streams in Ghostbusters).

    Autrement dit: anybody who uses the term "what society wants" is talking bullshit, whether they know it or not… because what society wants cannot be reliably determined.

  202. Eggo says

    Thank god we've finally got an automated blacklist to make sure we never hire or interact in any way with filthy harassers. Like KFC and presidents of our own organizations, apparently. You couldn't make this crap up.

  203. says

    Dr. Taylor wore a vivid shirt with scantily-clad women at work

    I'm confused. Were the scantily-clad women at work, or was Dr. Taylor wearing a vivid shirt featuring scantily-clad women while he was at work?

  204. Kiwanda says

    Were the scantily-clad women at work, or was Dr. Taylor wearing a vivid shirt featuring scantily-clad women while he was at work?

    Yes.

  205. bobby_tables says

    It's tempting to say "we can assume that people intend the message that reasonable people receive," but prolonged exposure to actual people tends to cure you of that.

    Casual Popehat reader here as can be evidenced by my comment on a week-old posting, but I have to chime in with Dirkmaster above. This line is a thing of beauty. I wish I could write anything as half as true, half as witty or half as concise as this. Essentially, I commented to say that I wish I could be at least an eighth the man that Ken is. Someday…maybe someday… Well done Ken!

  206. Michael says

    So very many commentaries- no matter the subject, the tone, the audience or the factions involving themselves- rapidly descend into a giant reciprocating storm of "I know you are, but what am I?!" trading blows with "So's your face!" Intellectual argument seems the hobgoblin of intellectual discourse.

  207. Brian says

    We Like To Use Everything As A Weapon.

    Whether we're criticizing, or criticizing the criticism, or criticizing the criticism of the criticism, or so on unto eternity like a mastubatory Oroborus, we enjoy making very broad social and political use of incidents.

    Take the narrative that emerged in the criticism-of-the-critics level over Dr. Taylor. Allow me to pick on Glenn Reynolds for a second, because he can take it:


    So how are things going for feminism? Well, last week, some feminists took one of the great achievements of human history — landing a probe from Earth on a comet hundreds of millions of miles away — and made it all about the clothes.

    This, with all respect to Prof. Reynolds, is bullshit. Imagine me turning it back on him:


    How are things going for conservatism? Well, last week, conservatives took a transitory social dispute and cynically twisted it for political advantage.

    The familiar sequence is this:

    1. People did something stupid.
    2. Those people self-identify as feminists or I label them as feminists.
    3. Feminists are stupid.
    4. [A week later] Feminists say we should do xyz. But remember how stupid feminists are? Extremely stupid. Ha ha. So clearly we shouldn't do xyz.

    You could plug anything into that to replace "feminists" and recognize it as common discourse. It's nonsense. It distorts the way we interpret things: it makes our focus not "what's a reasonable interpretation of this comment/incident" but "how can this comment/incident be of use to me."

    But it's so seductive and fun. That's why we do it.

    So, I saw a few people say that it was a long article. I think that you wrote something beautifully elaborate and in such a way that it draws a narrative of the internet and communication in the modern age.

    I suppose… TLDR version – The internet is rife with sophistry and the most complex logic you're likely to encounter is syllogistic. Knowing this, arm yourself with the understanding that people will judge you and accept the social consequences of criticism. Stupid or not, freedom leaves that door wide open.

  208. art guerrilla says

    tl;dr but half…

    1. shirt was a litmus test for idiots, many strips turned red… much ado about less than nothing…
    2. as a poster commented upon, a picture 40-50 years ago was supposed to be representative of how science/space nerds are *supposed* to dress ? ? ? o-o-o-kay, argument self-defeated…
    3. apparently, you have NOT been around many labs, science, nerdy type of work environments, because there IS a HUGE variance in what the 'dress codes' (if any, formal or informal) are, and whether they are actually adhered to…
    also, being in the reviled florida, i can say that there a lot more informal work environments than there might be elsewhere; AND, there are almost always individuals who by sheer dint of their competency, 'get away' with wearing 'non-standard' work clothing… i know i did: sweat pants and tee shirts in an engineering office of shirt/tie, nobody said a thing because i cranked out great work…
    further, people who INSIST that -for example- lawyers HAVE TO wear a suit/tie (skirt/jacket? *whatever* the female equivalent is to an idiotic suit/tie) to be taken 'seriously' ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM: they (you) are valuing style over substance and perpetuating a skewed value system…

    i actually laugh at the talking heads on ESPN because the wymn look like they are headed for the prom, and the men look like they stepped out of a boardroom… they are reporting on stupid fucking SPORTS, for chrissakes, wear some shorts, a jersey, and flip flops, and i will not take you ANY LESS 'seriously' for reporting scores/analysis on stupid SPORTING EVENTS…
    in fact, i would not take brian williams/whoever any less seriously than i do now, IF he wore a polo shirt and bermuda shorts while spewing propaganda for Empire…
    (as an aside, while their subject is generally not that serious -in a metaphysical way- ESPN actually does far better 'reporting' on sports issues than the mainstream media does on their 'real' news issues…)
    4. mitch got more of a thumping than he deserved, in that he expressed what many think, and defended it; his detractors offered little in rebuttal but snark and insults that left his points untouched… which gets to WHY hating on haters is okay… have YET to see any rational explanation for why -for example- mitch's hating on the particular idiot chick who made the 'ruined it, thanks asshole' comment makes him a waste of protoplasm; BUT haters hating on mitch for doing so are on the side of the angels… almost as if they were totally unaware… (PS *HER* hating on the comet guy is 'good' hating, amirite ? ? ?)
    that YOU ALL try to take obvious hyperbole and turn it into a real threat of killing/threatening someone is EXACTLY the type of problem YOU ALL ARE PERPETUATING…
    i know, i know, YOUR righteous and deserved hating on -say- mitch, et al, is -you know- 'good' and 'justified' and 'reasonable' hatred, but his hating ? well, YOUR MOB has deemed it not safe for humanity… oops, hupersonity ? ? ?
    about sick of all you PC 'tards; kind of glad we are destroying the planet/people at such a pace that the cockroaches will get their chance before too long… THEN we'll all be equal in death… idiots…

    also, the arrogant and presumptuous 'disallowing' of words/phrases by a snarky, self-perpetuating parasite on society, oops, lawyer, is too droll to be believed: a 'profession' which generates their 'worth' to society by obfuscating and obscuring 'law' so they can unveil what they have veiled, is too rich, too rich…

    Empire must fall.
    the sooner the fall,
    the gentler for all…

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