No, you don’t get to conflate correlation and causation because it fits the narrative you want

Racists of a handful of varieties (neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, etc) descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend. They quickly clashed with counter-protesters, resulting in their previously-legal parade being declared unlawful. Soon after this declaration, one of the racists got in his car and attempted an act of terroristic mass murder that resulted in one death and at least a dozen and a half injuries. This horror was, ultimately, spurred by the racist hatred and ignorance of the racist marchers, but the ostensible reason for the protest was the proposed removal of a Confederate statue. This faux excuse to promote racist views has, thankfully, caused a number of Confederate statues and memorials to either be removed or be proposed for removal. Unfortunately, this faux excuse has also caused some bad science. Take this MotherJones article:

Most of these monuments were not erected right after the Civil War. In fact, all the way to 1890 there were very few statues or monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders. Most of them were built much later. And since I’m not an academic, I feel comfortable squeezing this history into a very short, oversimplified summary:

1861-1865: Civil War.

1865-1875: Reconstruction Era.

1875-1895: Reconstruction Era ends. Blacks are steadily disenfranchised, allowing Southern whites to enact Jim Crow laws. In 1896, Jim Crow is cemented into place when the Supreme Court rules it constitutional.

1895-1915: With blacks disenfranchised and Jim Crow laws safely in place, Southern whites begin a campaign of terror against blacks. Lynchings skyrocket, the KKK becomes resurgent, and whites begin building Confederate statues and monuments in large numbers.

1915-1955: Jim Crow reigns safely throughout the South.

1955-1970: The civil rights era starts after the Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that Jim Crow laws are unconstitutional. Southern whites mount massive and violent resistance, and start putting up Confederate monuments again.

Yes, these monuments were put up to honor Confederate leaders. But the timing of the monument building makes it pretty clear what the real motivation was: to physically symbolize white terror against blacks.

Oversimplified, indeed.

The case being made by MotherJones is right there in the last paragraph: due to timing, we know these statues were built to symbolize white terror against blacks. That is, they were specifically built to first and foremost scare black people into submission and to remind them of their place in this country. Unfortunately for MotherJones, the facts don’t support this argument.

First, let’s look at the MotherJones chart and another, more comprehensive chart (both from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

Confederate monument chart

Confederate monuments.jpg

Look at two of the more notable spikes on the chart: around 1911 and around 1961. What could possibly make those dates special? They’re the 50th and 100th anniversaries for the Civil War. It should surprise absolutely no one that we would also see a spike in memorial dedications around those times. Furthermore, consider the common timings of when war memorials are built in general. It can happen any time, but it certainly would seem to accelerate as veterans get into their old age. This could be due to a combination of factors, such as a younger generation being prepared to romanticize their elders, and older people generally having a disproportionate amount of political power (not to mention the personal time and means to take on memorial efforts). Just think to the period of time you recall hearing about ‘The Greatest Generation’ the most. It wasn’t in the 1950s, was it? No. It was into the 90s and early 2000s.

Let’s also look at the rise of the KKK. As the second chart notes, the organization was founded in 1866. What the chart doesn’t note, however, is that the KKK was at its most powerful around 1924. The economy was roaring, as they say, racists were more than plentiful, and the desire to instill fear in minorities was higher than ever. Yet memorials fell. This could be due to a host of reasons. Most Civil War veterans would have been dead (if the mean age of a soldier was 26 in 1865, then the mean age of veterans (dead and alive) would be 85 in 1924), so the push for memorials would be pushed into the backs of people’s mind. We also just finished an even larger war (albeit with fewer deaths), so our most pressing veteran’s issues were much more current. And, of course, we just had a period of time where we built and dedicated quite a few memorials. Whatever the reasons, the evidence points to the timing of these memorials having little to do with racist flare-ups.

Now, looking at the first chart, we see an attempt to correlate monument building with the lynching era. Except the greatest number of lynchings actually occurred in the decade prior. Forget about arguing causation. The chart hasn’t even successfully argued for correlation on this point.

I’ve been making these basic points across various social media platforms for the past day or two because I find this abuse of statistics 101 to be offensive. As a result, I’ve been called a Nazi sympathizer and/or had my motivations questioned. It doesn’t matter if I give a plain objection using the dry facts or if I preface my position by pointing out that, yes, of course these statues and memorials are racist monuments* to the losing side of a racist war. We now live in a culture where even the slightest bit of nuance that disagrees with side A means you must fully agree with side B. It’s utter horseshit. We have good reason to believe Civil War memorials and dedications spiked due to mundane factors such as veterans aging and anniversary dates. That does abso-fucking-lultey nothing to take away from the narrative that the Confederacy and memorials to it were and are racist. It does nothing to disparage efforts to remove statues. It simply demands that we rely on basic facts to make our points and arguments.

*There are a narrow band of monuments and memorials that should not be controversial because they honor and remember conscripted soldiers who often fought for reasons very different from the wealthy slave owners (who, of course, hired poor people to take their place on the battlefield). The band is very narrow, but it exists.

Southern Poverty Law Center, mission creep, men’s rights, feminism…

Most of my posts only take me a few moments to mentally organize. Of course I will update and edit and do all the things consistent with quality writing, but I usually have a pretty good idea of how I want to lay things out before I even start. This is not one of those posts. If everything that follows here comes across as a bit of a hodge-podge, I guess you’ll know why.

First thing is first: The Southern Poverty Law Center has put together a list of a number of websites which are devoted to men’s rights. See here. Most of the sites, if not all of them, are pretty impossible to defend in their entirety. Some of them do express popular views at times, but they also express views which should be offensive to any intelligent person. Others seem to be devoted to nothing more than hating women. For example, on the site Boycott American Women is this:

This site’s mission statement describes American women as “generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting.”

That is more ridiculous than the time PZ called the majority of young men “superficial” and “cartoonish”. Broad generalizations like those of Boycott and PZ are just stupid. No reasonable person can really defend any of that garbage; it’s all emotionally based bitterness.

All that said, I agree with Marc Randazza when he says the SPLC has some mission creep going on here. I realize a major point of the organization is to shine a light on hate groups, but that doesn’t really seem to be the goal here. It usually focuses on groups that, ya know, matter. All it’s doing here is targeting some minor websites and bloggers that appeal to a dickish Internet crowd. If that’s where they want to focus their efforts, then I don’t see why they aren’t combing YouTube comments.

While I would like to leave the implication that I became aware of the SPLC’s blacklist of websites through Mr. Randazza, I have to admit I actually came across it on PZ’s site first. I stopped reading Pharyngula quite some time ago, but I recently told Nate that I bet PZ would have the most recent xkcd cartoon up within a day. I was right. So in checking for his post about the cartoon, I also saw his post on the SPLC; I decided to check out the comments. Once again, my mental layout for where I want to go is all hodge-podgey, so I will start with this post from user omnicrom:

The really irritating thing for me is that the MRA [Men’s Rights Activists] have to an extent made “Feminism” a dirty word. And it really shouldn’t be. Feminism except in ugly extreme cases way in the outliers is about making Men and Women equal. So the really disgusting thing about the MRA is that they aren’t really reacting to Misandry (and REAL misandry should be called out), they’re trying to keep Women less than Men. No matter what they say the MRA movement is rotten to its very core, and its poison makes people raise eyebrows when I as a man say that I’m a feminist.

First of all, I think the majority of the problems with feminism come from feminists themselves. omnicrom is right when he says feminism is about making men and women equal, but feminists often miss that point, playing a shell game. Take my run-in with Suzanne Franks, aka Thus Spake Zuska. I disagreed that a picture of two fat women next to an article about fat women and healthcare was sexist. For that disagreement I was immediately labeled a number of derogatory things; because I did not buy into the majority view of a particular group of feminists wholesale, I was seen as being sexist. In other words, feminists give feminism a bad name when they play shell games.

Second, polemics beget polemics. Some of the extreme views of some feminists (such as Franks and PZ) invite polarization. When we have people running around attacking men in generalities and calling people sexist for the least of reasons, we should expect to see some extreme reactions in at least some people. Let’s take one of the issues mentioned by a few of the blacklisted websites: rape accusations. The men’s rights sites point out that men are considered guilty by default when they get accused of rape. (Some go further and stupidly accuse women of commonly using the cry of rape to falsely attack men.) The feminist reaction is to declare, at the least, sexism. At the most, a pro-rape mentality is claimed. Neither side is being fair. It is obviously dangerous to go so far as to presume a woman is lying when says she has been raped. Yet, on the other hand, some people do lie about that sort of thing. Take the Duke Lacrosse scandal. I bet there are at least a few people who read that now and think, “Oh, that’s the case where those Duke players raped that stripper.” The reality, though, is that she lied, the lead prosecutor was disbarred and sent to jail, and the players are still seeking damages. There is room for admitting that this sort of thing happens without also saying that women are conniving liars who are out to get men.

There is a lot about feminism that I like. Before I found myself engaged in the topic, there were a lot of things I did not realize that I do now. I’m happy and grateful for that. However, I find myself highly disenchanted by certain actions and tactics of its adherents. Take the SPLC’s blacklist. It’s a collection of a few minor websites that express a lot of extreme views, but look at how it is being used. People who favor men’s rights are being lumped in with a bunch of assholes – it’s dishonest. I don’t want to sit here and pretend like men have a hard time of it comparatively; I’m not about to claim men are an oppressed group and we need to make sure we do everything we can as a society to promote men. I’m not going to say any of that because, believe it or not, I get it. I get that men, generally speaking, have it easier than women. That said, for those who favor government assistance directed at struggling women, isn’t it also reasonable to favor assistance that is directed towards struggling men? For instance, young men were hit especially hard by the recession. Would it be sexist to do something to help the men who lost their jobs in, say, construction? I don’t think so, but it’s almost impossible to argue that to some feminists because they’ll immediately resort to the “MRA” (Men’s Rights Activist) label, shutting down discussion and lumping reasonable men in with the cherry-picked bullshit the SPLC has put together.

I want to wrap this up in a succinct way, so here it goes: The problem with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s blacklist and a number of feminists is that they use polemics to shut down discussion. That is, they attempt to connect anyone who disagrees with particular claims of feminism with people who make outlandish claims about women. The effect is that no one wants to be associated with the dregs of society, so people tend to stay away from even reasonable positions if those positions overlap with the views of said dregs. To compound the issue, some of the outlandish claims are a product of the polemic-promotion seen all too often in feminism. All this adds up to undermine the goals of feminists and create unnecessary division.