I stuck a YouTube of Phil Plait's "Don't Be a Dick" speech in to the footnotes of Part 3 of the Perspective and Apologetics series. Watch it if you didn't before and if you have time. It's good stuff.
PZ Myers wrote up a response to the talk (and other responses to the talk) right after it aired. His post included this bit:
One recent flashpoint in this argument was Phil Plait's talk at TAM 8, in which he asked a rhetorical question, "How many of you … became a skeptic, because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard?" And the Pharyngula switchboard lit up. Lots of people wrote to me via email or twitter, some gloating, some just unhappy, stating that Phil had just called me out.
No, he didn't. He didn't mention me at all. He opened up against a strawman New Dick, which is unfortunate, because there isn't anyone who fits that description in the skeptical movement. There are people like that elsewhere: drill sergeants and televangelists come to mind.(Emphasis mine.)
Here we cut to the core of the apologist problem. Plait made the extremely reasonable observation that people don't like being called idiots and it's not a good strategy for encouraging change. PZ's response was to say, "He's attacking someone who doesn't exist on my side. But you know where those people do exist? Over on the other side.
Plait's comments were pretty obviously rhetorical and intended to illustrate a certain type of exchange. Just because there's no proof that anyone has ever walked up to somone and literally said, "You're an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard," doesn't mean that they don't convey that exact message. Saying, "We don't do it, but the other guys sure as shit do," is rather, well, hypocritical.
Meanwhile, PZ put up a couple of posts today on Muslim and Jewish treatment of women. In a post about women being segregated due to ultra-orthodox pressures at a conference on women's health he concludes with this:
Isn’t that typical? Whether it’s Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, the exclusionary extremists all rise to prominence and start imposing their superstitious nonsense on everyone else…while the more numerous moderates tremble and hesitate to speak out against folly, and start looking for compromises. You cannot build a better world when you start by compromising with idiocy.
This follows a quotemine from the original linked Globe and Mail article:
To be sure, not all sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community support these exclusionary tactics, explains Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a Hebrew University sociology professor and author of the recently published book Theocratic Democracy. “But most people are too afraid to speak out.”
That was the very last paragraph in the article, which also included these bits:
Several Israeli human rights groups have protested the men-only nature of the conference. While it is considered a private rather than a public forum, and therefore not subject to Israeli policies against discrimination, Puah receives considerable funding from the Health Ministry, these complainants point out.
At least two male Israeli doctors have withdrawn from making presentations at this week’s Puah event once they were made aware of the exclusion of women, or at least once public outrage over the exclusion became apparent.
I find it extremely hard to square this notion of a trembling mass of wimpy, frightened moderates afraid to speak out against the loud-mouthed extremists and the words "Several Israeli human rights groups have protested" and "public outrage over the exclusion became apparent."
Then again, that piece I linked to on Phil Plait's talk contained this bit:
There is a fair point being made, that there are multiple strategies that work to convince people to rethink bad ideas, and they don't all involve punching people in the face…and many of the best strategies do involve politely listening and criticizing. But I think the best ideas involve a combination of willingness to listen and politely engage, and a forthright core of assertiveness and confrontation — tactical dickishness, if you want to call it that.
This sounds extremely reasonable. I think, too, that it's something Phil Plait would agree with, seeing as how he finished his speech with an illustration of dealing with a creationist student being argumentative, then politely listening to her arguments and telling her that her sources were based on false and/or outdated information and directing her on where to go to find scientifically rigorous info. So I actually have no fucking clue why PZ had a problem with it, other than the perception that possibly a moderate wasn't trembling and hesitating to speak out against a loud-mouthed, exclusionary extremist in the atheist movement. But, y'know, I could be wrong about that one.
And then there's his conclusion:
I don't, actually — it also seems like a dick move to try and associate a strategy with gender, since some of the most wonderfully dickish skeptics I know are female. But that's a separate issue.
Classy, PZ, really classy. Way to redirect the conversation to an accusation of sexism because Plait used a common, colloquial term. It's funny how at no point did he engage the substance of Plait's talk, choosing instead to assert that Plait was unfairly targeting a non-existent strawman and that the real, honest atheists/skeptics would never, ever egregiously misrepresent the words and attitudes of another person or group of people just to score a cheap shot and win applause.
Nope. PZ Myers would never do anything like that...