Often find myself in situations where “scientists” are quick to mock or otherwise reject and/or denigrate a seemingly “post-modern” opinion. A main thread of mine is urging sceptical scientist types to be more open to respecting & understanding alternative thinking – alternative to realist logical positivism and anything but objective facts – so that constructive dialogue can actually occur. [Most recent here.]
[I should say I find myself in this position as an experienced science & engineering type who has had to resort to epistemology latterly, simply to keep STEM (and atheist / humanist & “social justice”) discourse honest.]
This morning I noticed a social / gender studies type (someone I don’t know anything about) dropped this into a thread:
Before the Enlightenment the female skeleton didn’t exist
— Sally Hines (@sally_hines) March 27, 2019
Oh, how we laughed.
I know no more about the context or content of the dialogue beyond a couple of prior twitter responses, but the follow-up tweets started to include sarcastic mockery of the post-modernist statement – obviously false on the face of it.
I merely chuckled inwardly, until Sophie Scott, someone I have a lot of time for shared one particular “witty” riposte from someone I also know nothing about, or even whether he was involved significantly in the original dialogue – that’s social media.
It’s true. Before 1752, women sort of splodged around the place.
Elizabeth I’s dresses served as elaborate exoskeletons. Hildegard of Bingen was known for her ability to ooze under doors; in fact, she found that easier than opening them. https://t.co/glrRgxDXx4
— Iain Brassington 🇪🇺 (@IBrasso) March 27, 2019
When I was moved to post this:
I’m feeling the need to defend the PoMo position in this thread … But not sure it’s worth the risk on Twitter 😉
— Ian Glendinning (@psybertron) March 28, 2019
Hence this blog-post rather than more Twitter exchange:
So, in the specific statement …
“Before the Enlightenment
the female skeleton didn’t exist”
… it clearly isn’t literally true, to anyone talking objective facts represented literally by the words. (As I said already.) But, doh(!) that’s not the point of a post-modernist statement like that – to convey literal objective facts about the world, that’s what science is for.
What that sentence says (to me), is that,
“At that time, the prevailing culture did not recognise that female skeletons were any different to male skeletons, (even if some physiology experts already knew it to be so).”
I suspect that might be true, though I can’t be sure, and if it’s not it’s more an argument about dates I suspect, and “Adam’s rib” and the fact females were generally smaller maybe, and …. Anyway, whether it was relevant to the ongoing dialogue, I have literally no idea, that’s why I didn’t comment on the original thread.
What I did respond to was the shared mockery. Mockery is no substitute for dialogue unless the protagonists already respect each other. (See Rules of Engagement and The Court Jester.) It is especially bad-faith if the would-be jester really did understand the PoMo point, but is just making their own rhetorical zinger to the gallery. And clearly it’s the wrong response if the would-be jester really didn’t understand the point.
The right response would surely be more like:
“I understand what you mean (culturally), but I think it’s irrelevant to this thread. What am I missing?”
Which is much closer to his response to my own tweet, when I pointed out the PoMo position might need defending from mockery. Might need defending was my point, I’m only actually defending it because I was asked.
My tweet simply highlighted the thought …
… that a PoMo position might be defensible,
(and worthy of respectful dialogue.)
A Twitter thread continued from this response. I had contemplated summarising it, but it mostly repeated what I’d already said above, with a side-order of ad-hominem and whataboutery. Basically the point was being willfully ignored – continuing to claim the right to mock as entirely appropriate.
I don’t know what “speaking PoMo” is supposed to mean. It looks like you’re using it as a way to insist that a false statement isn’t. That, in turn, seems to reduce to a claim that SH was being deliberately obscure.
So, yeah. I was mocking her tweet. It deserved it.
— Iain Brassington 🇪🇺 (@IBrasso) March 28, 2019
And as I say, 20 odd tweets before and after that one.
Anyway, as I had feared, the target of the mockery (and much worse abuse) has posted a follow-up thread of her own, citing the dreadful experience of the pile-on that ensued.
So… You’re in a (supposedly) feminist thread. There is disagreement around sex/gender. You reply briefly (its Twitter not a publication, lecture or an irl sit-down chat). The reply may – though often not -have a little irony, a tad of sarcasm, a bite of humour
— Sally Hines (@sally_hines) March 29, 2019
(And the detailed thread that follows).
[Post-Post-Note: And sadly, after the disgraceful pile-on yesterday, @sally_hines has subsequently locked her account and only approved followers can see it now. Proper interdisciplinary dialogue disrupted by the thoughtless mob, yet again.]
[Incidentally – the “rules of engagement” topic came-up several times yesterday. Someone re-shared Maria Popova’s Dan Dennett / Rappaport Rules post into my timeline, and more:
And right on topic … https://t.co/HhDib8s1hr
— Ian Glendinning (@psybertron) March 28, 2019