Online Discussions

Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite.
Excerpt from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long in “Time Enough For Love” by Robert A. Heinlein

Over a decade ago, I was active in discussion forums “debating” atheism against theists. I had a couple of Post-Its on my monitor, reminding me that I did not need to reply immediately, and that I should not post while angry.

It helped me to learn self-control in forums populated by people looking for chinks in your armor. After all, “debates” sometimes are about making the other side lose control and get angry. And by the rules of that forum, getting angry meant that you lost. And you lost publicly.

Thinking back, it might have been a case of “Someone is wrong on the Internet.“, but it also was helpful for me. It made me question my values, especially those I was redefining after leaving a rather conservative home. It helped me find the weak links in my arguments and identify my self-deceptions.

I stopped discussing when I realized that I couldn’t learn anything new about myself, nor improve my skills any further. The discussions were also inconsequential, because, well, it was just talk in an online forum. Today, religion only becomes a nuisance for me when someone tries to influence policy or social norms on religious grounds. I am for personal freedom, which includes freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Everyone is free in his/her belief, but state and religion should be separated. And for policy decisions, even regarding social rules, science is a better guide than faith. So when any religion tries to influence policy … that’s when things stop being inconsequential.

So it’s perhaps no wonder that the current brand of “feminism” bugs me just like religion did all these years ago. I mean the kind of “feminism” that talks about “patriarchy”, “privilege”, and “rape culture”. Whose goal seems to be “equality only where women are seen as disadvantaged”.

Sure, there is talk about “equality” and “feminism cares about men too”. Yet I see no efforts to argue for equality when it would remove advantages that women have. Just take education. Increasing the number of men in colleges/universities in general or in specific disciplines? Nope, the focus is only on getting more women into MINT disciplines. It’s the “Animal Farm” kind of equality: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

And the solutions? I totally agree with equality of opportunity. I am a big fan of the “Veil of Ignorance” (Rawls). But equality of outcome is an abomination. It compromises quality standards, and even worse, it negates personal freedom. It is “separate, but equal” all over again.

Under a pseudo-moral cover it’s just so self-serving for its proponents.

This kind of “feminism” behaves like a religion, relying on dogma instead of evidence. And the arguments are also shoddy and frequently ad hominem. Calling someone “sexist”, or “privileged”, or invoking “patriarchy”? Replace these concepts with “sin”, “sinner”, or “original sin” and you get a religion.

These are ideological/religious concepts, not the basis for a rational discussion.

But what is a basis for a rational discussion?

Funnily, while looking into this issue I stumbled upon “You just got logic’d” (highly interesting site, esp. for tumblr) and via that site upon these two interesting graphics:

“Rational Debating” by JT

The first graphic is a nice flowchart to determine whether a discussion makes sense by JT from An atheist created it. But due to the similarities between religion and “feminism”, it works without modification for discussions with “feminists”.

Debate Flow Chart My requirements for talking god from JT ( )
From “My requirements for talking god” by JT ( )

Really useful to save time.

“Hierarchy of Disagreement” by Paul Graham

Paul Graham wrote a couple of interesting essays, I highly recommend his site. One essay is about what it means to disagree well. Short, to the point, and brilliantly done. He comes up with the following hierarchy of disagreement (illustration from his Wikipedia page, it’s not in his essay):

Hierarchy of Disagreement by Paul Graham from

For a more detailed description of the levels look at his essay.

I think this disagreement hierarchy is useful to determine whether to engage with comments. After all, “Responding to Tone.”, “Ad Hominem.”, and “Name-calling.” do not merit responses. They do not have any value. It’s disagreement above these lower levels that show intelligence and are worthy of engagement. Perhaps one day we’ll all surf with a spam filter removing all that lower-level crap.

Really interesting to save a lot of unnecessary grief.


So, in a sense, that renewed interest in online discussions has provided me with an interesting flow chart and an interesting essay/pyramid. I’ll probably take it as basis if I ever feel the need for an online discussion again. It sure it easily applicable to all those who try to “reason” on moral or emotional grounds.

And given the “intellectual” closeness between this kind of “feminism” and hard-core theists, it’s no wonder that this kind of “feminism” has tried to attack and split the atheist community. Rational thought is the enemy of any ideology.

But perhaps “feminism” is not even such a big issue it appears to be. Perhaps it’s just the Internet giving a couple of “feminists” more exposure. These isolated nut jobs form a community and appear bigger than they are. Which then makes it easy for large numbers of … economy class thinkers to retweet or like. And the active and passive filter bubbles just home in on them.

But whatever the case, at least I now know some good criteria for an online discussion.

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