Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Good cop, bad cop?

Here's a chance to really demonstrate a problem (although it might guarantee that I'm not asked to speak at the University of Oregon)...

Lucy Gubbins has weighed in on the recent discussions about the skeptic schism.

She and I seem to agree on some things but she's managed to frame this entire subject so poorly that the good points almost get lost in the fray and she finishes it off with a call for the "firebrands" to be more accommodating of the accommodationists.
"In interactions with religious people, do we need the Good Cop, or the Bad?

As often as I hear this dialogue, the answer seems to be, surprisingly, the same: we need both."
I'm in agreement that we need many different voices to present information in many different ways to ensure that we have the best chance of reaching the largest audience, but when we start portraying this as "good cop" and "bad cop", we've already erred. Those of us who are most likely to be tossed into the "bad cop" category simply don't belong there because that category doesn't exist.

In reality, if we're going to stick with the cop analogy: we have an entire police force watching the highways and we all have discretionary control over when we're going to give a warning and when we're going to give a ticket or make an arrest.
"What happens when a nonbeliever appears who doesn’t loathe religion, and doesn’t find religious mockeries all that funny? And what happens when this nonbeliever is a vocal opponent of what the “Bad Cops” are doing?"
That's actually pretty simple: they're entitled to their opinion but it doesn't mean that they get to define the skeptic or atheist community for others.

Sticking with the cop metaphor, these are the cops who are happy to give out tickets for reckless driving but they don't like giving out speeding tickets until someone is exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 MPH...and they're telling the cops that give out speeding tickets that they don't like what they're doing and they wish they'd stop.

Who are the bad cops? Are they the ones who cut too many breaks or too few? I'd say that both extremes are problematic...but I don't think we really see those extremes. What we see are people pretending that someone has crossed a line when they haven't and it all comes down to ego and personal offense. Here's a scenario that better represents the problem:

I pull someone over for a busted tail light, check their license and registration and notice that their inspection sticker expired 3 months ago. I could give them a ticket for both, either or neither.

I decide to write a ticket for one and give a warning for the other.

My partner steps out of the car and says "Hey, don't give them a ticket, it happens to everyone." And when I point out that I'm going to give them a ticket for one of the infractions, my partner says "Now you're just being a dick."

My partner may be trying to claim that giving people tickets:
- isn't effective in correcting the problem
- makes people dislike cops
- gives cops a bad name
- demonstrates that I'm an inflexible bully

My partner's view is that you shouldn't give people tickets unless there's a very serious violation of the law. My view is that this is nonsense because that's when you should arrest them.
" However, I’m willing to take a leap of faith and concede that yes, if we want a strong, diverse community, we need both sides. But to make this happen, folks: we need to start practicing what we preach.

That means that if we want to continue touting the idea that the secular movement is one with diversity of opinion, and that the “Good Cops” and “Bad Cops” are equally welcomed, we need to act like it. We need to stop decrying the “accommodationists” and start supporting them, especially because they’re so underrepresented. "
If we're going to support many different views, do we need to support the people who claim it's wrong to support many different views? Because that's what you're suggesting. Of course not, that's absurd - and that's the point.
"And if you happen to be a firebrand who isn’t such a big fan of the diplomats? I humbly ask you to reconsider. You might be able to rally the secular troops, but you won’t have much chance reaching out to the vast majority of the world: the believers."
I'll go ahead and assume that I probably fit the "firebrand" category in Lucy's opinion. (As far as I know, we've never spoken, so I may not fit that category...but the examples she provided make me suspect that I would.)

In that case, I not-so-humbly ask you to provide EVIDENCE to back up your assertion about the effectiveness of honestly and aggressively addressing religion. Because I've received many e-mails over the past 5 years that serve as evidence to the contrary - and Dawkins has an entire portion of his website devoted to that purpose as well.

What do the accommodationists have?

"And without the ability to reach out, you lose a conversation, a dialogue, a chance to make the world a more secular-friendly place. And when that chance is gone, we lose everything."

Clearly they have chicken little predictions based on gut feelings and a desire to "just get along".

How has that worked out so far?


  1. I'm with Robin Zimmerman as to what "good cop/bad cop" implies. In the movies, the "good cop/bad cop" thing is about interrogation style. One cop goes into the interrogation room all blustery and threatening, and the second one is nice and friendly. It's about manipulating the emotions of someone to get them to think and do things they might not otherwise do.

    Recent example: the movie "The Other Guys" had a joke that played on this "good cop/bad cop" thing, in which Mark Wahlberg suggested they do the good cop bad cop thing, so Wahlberg launches into his bad cop routine, then Will Ferrell's character comes in and launches into his "insanely terrible" cop routine. Afterwards he says, "good cop/bad cop? Oh, I thought you said "bad cop/bad cop."

  2. Woah, woah, woah. Matt.

    Are you implying that this issue is entirely too complex for a four-word metaphor and that maybe we should acknowledge that there are nuances involved and not decry another person's methods just because we prefer our own?

    That's just crazy talk.

  3. This analogy comes up just when I was reading about the new head of the SPVM (Montreal police force) and what it meant for the service. Appropriately enough, the issue of tickets quotas is one of the problems the new head of police will have to deal with. Police work and crime news are two of my interests, so this "good cop, bad cop" analogy got my interest.

    I think the expression "good cop, bad cop" is inaccurate. What people mean when they say that is "nice cop, nasty cop". Even then, it is beside the point. A good (i.e. competent) cop can be nasty sometimes, what matters is that he has principles and work ethic. He is not paid to be nice, he is paid to uphold peace and to protect, etc. He does not have to be nice and friendly. I think it should be the same in the skeptic community: be nice if necessary, but bear in mind that you don't necessarily have to be. What matters is that you always remain rigorous and intellectually honest.

  4. Diversity of opinion is important, but not as important as standing against this notion that religious faith is immune to skepticism. How does removing the accommodation one step solve anything?

  5. Oh, and another note: in real life, it is usually one cop who interogates the suspect (from what I know of interrogation techniques anyway), who is alternatively both nice and tough, depending on how the interrogation plays.

  6. These "diplomats" are really starting to annoy me with their sanctimony. And it's muddying up the issues.

    *Are we going to treat religious beliefs like all other beliefs, or not?

    *Is religion exempt from certain kinds of direct scrutiny, or not?

    *Are the feelings of religious people somehow more precious that our feelings, or anyone's? (Let's not forget who the minority is in this society. Theists are not exactly an oppressed, endangered species!)

    *Are there exponentially more religious "dicks" than atheist/skeptic ones, or not? (Not saying that makes true dickish behavior OK, but this fact is worth keeping in mind if we are to have a sober discussion about dickishness.)

  7. This reminds me of an old Onion article:

    Good Cop, Bad Cop Both Racist

    And yet, I think that the Good Cop, Bad Cop metaphor is inherently problematic. For starters, a "firebrand" is not necessarily the Bad Cop (as discussions of this type imply) who "closes people off" by "pissing them off" (as the anti-"firebrand" types describe). A Bad Cop could very well be an accommodationist whose coddling compels people to close themselves off through the creation of a false sense of harmony and agreement. On the other hand, a Good Cop could be a "firebrand" who rightly calls others out on their nonsense.

    My biggest concern about the metaphor is that, to the religious/woo-woo mindset, the skeptics, atheists, and others freethinkers -- whether they be "firebrands" or "accommodationists" -- are promoting a collection of viewpoints that can be described by a slight change in the title of that Onion article: Good Cop, Bad Cop Both Dicks.

  8. In my mind, the cop analogy is so bad its not worth sticking to. This isn't about getting one person getting another to divulge information. There is no threatening or coercion involved, at least on the part of the atheist.

    Fundamentally, this boils down to how polite atheists/skeptics should be towards people on the other side of the debate, how much respect should be shown. Personally, the amount of respect a person's belief is due is directly proportional to the ridiculousness of that belief. To me, fundamentalist/orthodox religious belief deserves a lot of open ridicule, mild/inoffensive/pick-and-choose religious belief far less.

  9. What I don't understand is how this whole issue got redefined as good cop/bad cop. Certainly Lucy Gubbins isn't the only one characterizing it as such. What the accomodationist debate used to be about (at least I thought) was that some people were willing to say that science and religion do not conflict. Religion is a different way of knowing and so on. Taking an argument from moderation / everybody's a winner little league approach saying that both sides can be right so why can't we all just get along. But now instead of debating if religion has anything to offer over or in addition to science it has shifted to a niceness debate.

    I find that weird. People are using terms like 'diplomats' and 'warriors' which seem to be fictional caricatures. Atheists aren't kicking down the doors of Christians saying "Hey dumbass, I'm gonna teach you some evolution!". Callers to the AETV show aren't greeted with "Hey moron, what stupid, demented, dipshit of an idea are you going to burden us with today?" Richard Dawkins is thrown into the 'new atheist' camp and he is about as polite and mild mannered person as you will ever meet. The 'new atheist' side isn't mean. Isn't angry.

    Apparently asking for proof of why you believe something has somehow become antagonistic. When someone gives a logically inconsistent reason for something and you say "Hey, that doesn't make any sense and here is why.." then that makes them a 'bad cop'? I just don't get it.

    Accommodationists seem to be saying, "Well of course they are wrong, but by golly it is bad form to point that out. Lets just say that their arguments are just as reasonable and chalk it all up to differences of opinion. This might work for discussing your favorite color, but when it comes to objective truths about the workings of our universe there are right and wrong answers and we should endeavor to make sure we get the right ones.

  10. It always amuses me no end when Dawkins is portrayed as being in the 'bad cop' role.

    He is an elderly English academic with a talent for writing in clear intelligent terms.

    It just goes to show that expressing a robust opinion in an intelligent fashion is enough to get labelled a bad boy of the atheist movemeny.

  11. One other quick point in regard to mocking religion. People seem to think that mocking is always inappropriate but when people offer a ridiculous reason for something then ridicule is the proper response. There are some reasonable (if flawed) arguments people give for belief and they will rarely be mocked. It will just be explained what the flaws in the reasoning are. But some arguments are so devoid of rationality and logic that it would be a disservice to treat it seriously.

    It is like in politics. If you say, "we need to cut deficits and here is how we should do it." Okay we can have a debate. But if you say "Obama is the anti-christ, muslim, secret sleeper agent out to destroy America!" then you deserve to be laughed out of the room.

    (sorry if this double posts, we had an evac here and I can't remember if I submitted or not)

  12. I'm fine with accommodationists kissing as much theist ass as they want. I don't see any atheists trying to suppress their speech. The "tone it down" message is coming from just one side-- and they really want us to "tone it down" when it comes to Jesus-based religious faith... not all that other woo-- not religions like Scientology nor Islam.

    If Lucy and her ilk get their feelings hurt when we call them "accommodationists" (or faitheists), then maybe they should stop calling other people dicks. The term "skeptic", like atheist, Christian, and deist are terms anyone can apply to themselves and anyone else can determine whether such a person fits the category according to their own definition. I'm sure just about everyone imagines themselves to be "skeptical". And few people consider themselves to be "dicks"-- it seems like everyone knows who is being a dick, but nobody agrees as to what being a dick is and when someone does get around to naming names, the criticizer often seem like a bigger dick to me than the person they are calling a dick.

    I would like the accommodationist crowd (whose feelings are hurt by the name) to stop being so dickish in fostering the "Tom Johnson" lie that there is a cabal of militant atheists screaming retard at theists and doing other super mean things at poor little theists minding their own business. It furthers a nasty lie and gives people an excuse to hate those who threaten their faith by not finding it respect-worthy.

    I don't think a skeptic should have to know or care what assorted peoples' magical beliefs are any more than they need to know or care about their fetishes. Are we supposed to care about the hurt feelings of those who don't even think we have feelings? I'd like to assume all adults are rational and that I didn't have to tiptoe around because someone still believes in Santa. Do people at woo forums worry about skeptics' feelings? In any case, I don't think god belief is worth coddling anymore than demon belief or "The Secret", and I don't think "faith" is anything worth respecting.

    I'd frame the situation this way: People like Lucy are really asking for skeptics to treat religious woo differently than we treat other woo. They cannot give us a valid reason why, so instead they complain about our tone when we do so. Maybe they aren't even aware that they are "keeping 2 sets of books" so-to-speak. In their simple minds there are nice guys like them and mean guys like those undefined "dicks" who are "hurting the cause" with their meanness.

    This "framing" keeps them from having to examine whether the real issue is that they've developed a bias against these supposed "militant atheists" and their mind is confirming the bias as if it were true.

    I think I've been guilty of this myself in my pre-atheist days. People like Dawkins have raised a lot of consciousness on the subject (but I imagine Lucy would think that he was just being a dick.)

  13. Faux News is filled with hate, derision, stupidity, disrespectfullness,and ridicule. How's that working out for them? They have the White House firing people Faux News doesn't like. I am not saying to use the same techniques but to say we will lose audience because we aren't nice enough is a joke. Maybe we've been too nice for way too long.

  14. "What do the accommodationists have?"

    Tom Johnson?

  15. Shorter accommodationist: "You need to stop telling people you don't agree with to sit down and shut up. Anyone who doesn't agree can sit down and shut up. [i]Dick.[/i]"

  16. Jeremiah said "Atheists aren't kicking down the doors of Christians saying "Hey dumbass, I'm gonna teach you some evolution!". Callers to the AETV show aren't greeted with "Hey moron, what stupid, demented, dipshit of an idea are you going to burden us with today?" "

    I just have to say this made me laugh out loud. And wouldn't it be a hell of a way to start the show?

  17. What does she mean when she says the accommodationists are "so underrepresented"?! Until, very recent history, accommodationists were all that was allowed to express any opinion in public!

    I still think the vast majority of skeptics are of the "belief in belief" variety. They are stuck with the meme that faith is something good or worth protecting even if they don't have faith themselves. These "faitheists" have learned to treat religion differently than other woo but they don't realize they deny that they are doing so. Instead, they imagine that those who treat religious woo the same as other woo are being antagonistic. In this way they can feel superior and diplomatic.


  18. First I'd like to say that Matt is a master of the proportional response. I believe this would be evident if a poll were taken by the theist callers. Some callers would say good cop some would say bad. It's really in the eyes of the person talking to the skeptic/atheist.
    When talking to theists I gauge their ability to absorb what I'm saying. Saying the wrong thing can shut them down to listening to anything else you have to say.

    My strongly religious neighbor is unable to hear anything beyond The lightest insinuations. Anything more and I'd lose the ability to have an influence on her.

    On the other extreme I have a southern baptist youth minister in my guild and we can have it out without holding back or offending each other. Just the other day we were on voice chat and he was implying Atheism was a religion.
    As I pondered using bald or stamp collecting rebuttals I had an inspiration I had not heard before.
    If atheism is a religion then abstinence is a sex act.
    The shock value was wonderful.

  19. So we go from non overlapping magestierium (NOVA) discussions to god cop/bad cop analogies?

    Consider me properly chastized....

    Oh, wait.

  20. Callers to the AETV show aren't greeted with "Hey moron, what stupid, demented, dipshit of an idea are you going to burden us with today?"

    I might have to start answering my phone that way. "What staggeringly stupid crap did you morons do to your computers this time?" I actually got in trouble yesterday for assuming a particular user I've never met may have been "dangerously" stupid instead of "can't pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel" stupid.

  21. Well, I watched Phils talk again just to make sure I wasn't missing something. Phil tries to be very generalized but the few times he does fall into specifics it is always with religion. I think this is the beef. Where are all the crocodile tears for the skeptical raelians or homeopaths among us? In the question portion of the talk a guy got up and said "I don't have religious discussions with skeptics anymore", implying it is because they are dickish. What if a raelian got up and said "I don't discuss UFO landings with skeptics anymore, they just don't respect my views." Would we get a flood of blog posts about how mean the non-UFO crowd is?

    Phil relates a story with a young earth creationist, she asked him some questions, he told her she should talk to a biologist about it and at the end of the day they were laughing and having a good time, the moral being it was because he wasn't dickish. Of course there is no evidence that he changed her mind on anything. What if he was confronted with someone that believes in the healing power of crystals and he said 'talk to a geologist' and at the end of the day they were laughing. (which why wouldn't they since they didn't have their views challenged) Does that story carry the same impact for 'not being a dick' or does it just sound silly? And if so, why is the religious one different? Where are all the talks about how what we really need is more diplomats to homeopaths?

    See, this is what atheists are getting at. ONLY religion receives such kid gloves treatment. Only religion has such an aura of undeserved respect.

  22. Just from my own experience, here is what I see in our mail...

    Complaints about being dicks come, surprisingly, mainly from other atheists--who seem to think patronisingly of theists. They tend to say "If it helps the stupid people out, why take it away?"

    This is not to say no theists find the program offensive. But they tend to write to say "you all are dicks"--not to ask us to go easy.

    I come from a family of dicks. I was raised in an environment where you could be yelled at, insulted and even hit for disagreeing.

    When I got to college, I studied communication. The idea behind communication is to examine effective communication--as you would think of it in a business environment. How can we make communication more effective and understand communication barriers--or what is called "interference."

    When I joined ACA, I would have been on the side of "offensive or harsh criticisms are not conducive to effective communication."

    However, I've done a 180. I've learned that there really ARE people in this world who aren't interested in effective communication--because they're too busy defending indefensible beliefs. There is no talking to these people without offending them. And they won't hear you whether you're kind or harsh. They are seemingly impervious--mainly due to severe indoctrination.

    The idea that kindness gets through these people is not born out in my dialogs with theists so far. In fact, I've found no way at all to communicate with these people.

    What I have found, though, is that many people watching seem to be able to feel _less_ offended or attacked when they're watching a takedown of their beliefs with a caller on AETV, than they might if it was actually THEM on the phone. However, these people seem to be more open than the people on the phone to begin with, because the guy on the phone will not entertain the possibility even that he could be wrong. The person watching, in order to be imipacted must have that capacity that the caller lacks.

    This is the person who agrees with the caller, but is slightly less invested in the beliefs. He's not invested enough to call to defend them.

    I generally only get angry at a dialog where the other person argues demonstrably dishonestly. And I always assume "stupid" over "dishonest" in every conversation where a person seems to not get it. I try to maintain for "stupid." I have no tolerance for "dishonest."

    The person 'defending' will not argue honestly and can be used as a tool to teach others with a harsh take down.

    The person who is not being skeptical on this topic (stupid, if only in this one context), can be reached by both kind dialog and viewing a hard take down. But this is the person I'm not inclined to be harsh with in the first place?

    Just my thoughts and what I've experienced, for what it's worth...?

  23. Rhetoric: "If atheism is a religion then abstinence is a sex act."

    I will now lovingly steal this gem, and thank you kindly.

  24. You know, it's funny. Up until dealing with all this stuff re: the skeptic schism, I thought of myself as something of an accomodationist. But all I advocated was the fostering of mutual understanding to help ward off certain kinds of extremist ignorance. It never would've entered my mind how many people would seriously advocate closing our eyes and pretending the disagreements don't exist.

  25. " "If atheism is a religion then abstinence is a sex act."

    I like :)

    However, I tend to shy away from examples/analogies and just come back with:

    Atheism is a religion?

    Point me to:
    1) our church
    2) our tenets
    3) any atheist pageantry
    4) where I pay my tithes

  26. We need to stop decrying the “accommodationists” and start supporting them...

    Wait....WHAT? The parallels to the theist arguments, here, are staggering! I can't believe she turned the tables to make the "firebrands" the attackers!

    Phil is the one who started this whole mess with the DBAD garbage, and it's the "firebrands" that are not supporting the accommodationists?!?! I, for one, have never seen a strident atheist tell a less strident one that they are a "dick."


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