Scott Anderson, or how an academic mistake can ruin your life

I’ve just encountered the big debates around the experiences of Scott Anderson. Currently an esteemed, and happily married, computer science professor, he spent school years as an unhappy nerd. A big part of that was that he was.. not even rejected by girls, but rather, ashamed to ask them out for fear of being labeled a monster.

He mentioned feminism as a cause for such labeling, and mentioned reading Andrea Dworkin (and I suspect his list would also include McKinnon etc).

He got loads of flak for loads of things, many of those patently untrue. His response at http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2119 (and yes I am hoping for a trackback) seems to have caused more waves. Some people made him out to be a misogynist, conflated his statement with the “nice guy fallacy” despite key factual differences (“Nice Guys TM” claim they are rejected while Scott was ashamed to ask to start with), and there were a lot of other things. There was also a generally awesome response by Laurie Penny, and they apparently agreed to work together.

But I still think something here is missed. And given that Scott is a professor I think I should mention it – if only because it might ultimately help with that advice post he seems to be still working on with Laurie.

WARNING: the following text is PERSONAL OPINION based on LIMITED information FROM INTERNET POSTINGS. This is in NO WAY a complete analysis and VERY WELL can miss facts. I’m only writing about it because I feel it’s a seriously dangerous intellectual “trap”.

I feel that young!Scott may have contributed to ruining his personal life at school by something that professor!Scott would probably be horrified with if he saw it from the outside. Academic bias, of all things!

He admits that he was “drawn” to the likes of Andrea Dworkin. But these are not toys we’re talking about, nor political journalists where you go pick a party and follow its pundits. This is research. And so the high school nerd has committed a nerdy mistake. He failed to read up on the opposing views.

There were, by the time, two coherent intellectual strands in opposition to Dworkin, and each would have provided its own pathways out of the impasse Scott had.

One was conservatism. Not the modern-day MRA radicals with their “game” and stuff – I think these were, thankfully, still not there – but good old conservatism with family values etc. It had an answer: that you just don’t “ask” for sex because sex outside of marriage is not a Good Thing. You get *yourself* ready for marriage while you also seek marriageable, as opposed to sex-able, female contacts. There are ways to do that. He mentioned the shtetl, but guess what – match-making still very much exists in Judaism. I am a Christian myself – of Jewish lineage but Christian by choice – separate discussion though; whatever religion he chose, he could have followed its arrangements to seek women interested in courtship towards marriage, while skipping the secular dating scene entirely. Or else one could just seek out friendship and companionship, with an outlook to “propose” the status of a “fiancee” (if not outright marriage) in *good* time – without bothering to compete with the “neanderthals” who want a quick bang. Wait with sex, all the way until marriage, because it’s the Right Thing To Do. I’m not sure if it would be less miserable (though it actually worked for me, more or less). But at least it was a different and coherent option.

The other strand opposing Dworkin was early feminist sex-positivism. Oh, the big feminist split, the world-shaking (well, America-shaking) censorship battles – I am rather baffled how one could research Dworkin and miss those. For the sex-positivists, consent was key. Their solution, as far as I can understand it, would be basically “ask but be ready to step back”. The “creepiness” is not the asking but the persistence. No means no, maybe means no. In words from a very different field (and apparently penned later, so not available to young!Scott), “fail early, fail often”. While “fail-readiness” might take some training it was still a coherent alternative. For the modern nerd, the obvious and funny similarity to Agile software development might be of help.

It appears – though I might very well be wrong – that young!Scott did not work out either of these pathways because he latched on to the Dworkin view without examining the alternatives. But Dworkin was writing in her own context. For many other people, mostly women, her words had, and still have, immense therapeutic meaning. And she did not set herself up to be The Only Voice.

She did try to push for a level of censorship, but not in the social sciences; so she never intended her works to be the only source of someone’s viewpoint. And it was not drummed into him at school, either.

Radical feminism, which I do NOT agree with, is still not to blame for someone choosing to read just its stuff and getting life lessons from it that it was just not designed to give. The radfems did not close the libraries to him. He should have checked the other viewpoints. And I am sure that Professor Scott would not make such a mistake when reading up on a subject these days. I hope he can advise new generations to be wider in their outlook.

And if Scott thinks he had it bad, he can just imagine – yeah, that argument again – someone transgender in his time and his situation with his reading preferences. If a transgender person made the same mistake of being drawn into collectivist radfem literature exclusively, suicide would have been a very likely outcome. They shamed Scott for any idea of asking girls out, but they would shame the transgender person for existing. (Not Dworkin herself but many of her colleagues).

TL;DR: Don’t choose to read just one academic strand in a relevant area of the social sciences. It will feck up your life. If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, unfortunately including your own head.

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17 thoughts on “Scott Anderson, or how an academic mistake can ruin your life

  1. I’ve been reading a lot of radfem stuff recently, but it hasn’t made me depressed. There are lots of aspects of trans activism that I find unsavory now. For example, the intimidation and yelling often used by trans activists I have found to be increasingly disturbing. The same is true with the riding roughshod over people. The difference with me is that I have a lot of experience with opposing views, as well.

  2. >The difference with me is that I have a lot of experience with opposing views, as well.

    And that was my point. Radfem authors can have useful points but limiting one’s reading to them is generally a bad idea. The same applies to any other one viewpoint on a controversial issue.

  3. BTW, could you write more often, or perhaps compile your writings somehow? I just saw your posts on the Culturally Bound Gender blog and I was like OMG you seem to be the only person who actually answers radical feminists’ comments in a satisfying manner. I thought what the radical feminists had been saying was fresh, but I have been writing them for a while. Now your writing seems to be particularly fresh and I want more of it!

  4. Thanks! Basically I didn’t write here often because nobody seemed to read this blog anyway. I’ll try to write more here now that, at least, you do.

    No promises that you’ll like all my views however. I don’t fit into any single party. For example, I’m probably going to vote No in the upcoming Irish same-sex marriage referendum – though I roundly condemn things like Russia’s gag law, and if the only options were such laws or same-sex marriage I’d concede same-sex marriage.

  5. I’m sorry, I meant “reading”: I thought what the radical feminists had been saying was fresh, but I have been reading them for a while.

  6. Also, regarding disbelief over having had cross-sex thoughts as a child, I do remember something. Recently, my dad got at me for a statement I made at age 15 in which I said I wanted to move on and put the past behind me. He thought I meant that I wanted to throw behind being male, but he was incorrect.

    You see, at age 14 I had had cross-sex thoughts since age 6. At that age, I had a psychotic break in which delusions and disorganized speech were the main symptoms and I was put in a mental hospital for 6 months. While in the hospital, we watched _Ace Ventura_ (the first time I had seen that), and when they did the big reveal at the end where like the police detective whom everyone thought was a woman turned out to be an ex-college (American) football kicker who apparently went crazy or something over Dan Marino (a former NFL quarterback for the Miami Dolphins) and tried to kidnap or kill him or something. (It was like “laces out!”)

    Well, that movie taught me a lesson. Those kinds of thoughts that I had were just for crazy people, and look at how I just went psychotic! In reality, I had resolved to put both psychosis and GID behind me and build my life pretending that such things had never happened. I informed my dad of that intention at age 15, but he misunderstood me, apparently.

    Of course, these things tend to catch up to you.

  7. Regarding forced feminization fantasies, I wonder if there is a different explanation from simply fetishizing being submissive. It has to do with something I’ve recently read, about some people called biohackers who implant magnets into their fingers so they can sense electromagnetic fields. Some biohackers, as their philosophy talk about socially acceptable talents and socially unacceptable talents. They mention that there is often social disapproval of steps people take to achieve certain advantages with their bodies verses those who gain such advantages passively through fate. The latter are often viewed as natural, honest, and deserving, while the former are viewed negatively.

    It might be that with forced feminization, it is an attempt to find a more socially acceptable way to feminize; otherwise, they must meet with social disapproval for taking the steps themselves.

    It might also have to do with responsibility, in the sense that forced feminization allows for denial of responsibility for feminizing in the first place.

  8. This is my source for issues of Providence verses choice:

    ” Condemnation of those striving to be something more than merely human is ever present; examples exist throughout all of history harkening back into antiquity. Perhaps the best example of this can be found in a comparison of the Greek myths of Pelops and Icarus. Poor Pelops was killed and cooked by his father and served to the Gods. Upon realizing what had happened, Demeter had Pelops resurrected and replaced his consumed shoulder with an ivory prosthetic made by Hephaestus the god of blacksmiths and artisans. Pelop’s prosthesis was good; to be restored to the functionality of an average schmoe is a gift from the gods. Icarus, in contrast, strove too far and undeservedly flew too high. His joy in being more led to his demise. The problem wasn’t simply that Icarus achieved great heights. Much like society today, the Greeks worshiped their heroes. Icarus, however, used a means which wasn’t acceptable and thus deserved his fate. An unapproved device or substance which raises one above the average is worthy of only condemnation and shame. I find this perspective exceedingly strange, but it comes as no surprise that the history of prosthetics and implants consists primarily of devices to restore lost abilities rather than augment or create new abilities.”

    http://augmentationlimitless.blogspot.com/2014/07/magnet-implants-i-armstrong-as-icarus.html

  9. One thing I’ve noticed among both feminist and conservative opponents of transsexualism is the belief that instead of medical transition, adult patients can make due with what is essentially conversion therapy. They tend to assert that gender dysphoria is a form of delusion (and therefore a form of psychotic disorder), requiring psychotherapy and perhaps psychotropic medication to correct. They tend to argue that medical transition is _cooperating with a mental illness_, a form of enabling dysfunctional behavior.

    The problem that they ignore, however, is that there is very little support in the literature for such therapy in adults. Gender identity is not readily malleable and gender dysphoria in some patients can be severe and persistent. It is true that some can be dissuaded from medical transition, but not all. Of course, opponents are likely to try various attempts to defend their position even in the face of this: 1.) They may argue that those who could not be converted just weren’t _trying hard enough_, making their hypothesis unfalsifiable and thereby unscientific, or 2.) they may argue that conversion therapy success is being suppressed, making the _I’m Galileo_ argument. Of course, it remains a fact that their position is not supported in the literature.

    One thing I’ve noticed among feminist opponents, as well, is the belief that their ideal society would prevent the onset of gender dysphoria and transsexualism; therefore, medical insurance should not cover medical transition. Of course, the problems with this are obvious. While it may be true that their ideal society may extinguish gender dysphoria, we don’t know how far into the future it would take to attain that society, if at all, so we would be basically sacrificing the real people and their real problems in existence today on an altar of ideology. Furthermore, such an ideal society may not do anything for a person who has already developed gender dysphoria.

  10. That part in the last paragraph was, as someone told me, actually recognized by Andrea Dworkin, at least at some point in her career.

    However, it’s usual for adherents of an ideology to ignore the plight of particular people caught in its subsequences. In turn, the ignored grow to hate the ideology. I know this because that’s how I grew to hate Communism so much I was swung to a near-Randroid perspective for a few years.

    RIght now, though, my brain is a bit off that topic and a few others, as I am still trying to make a final decision on Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum, though somewhat trending towards No – but today getting off the Internet forums and onto TV (over the Internet of course, I’m way too lazy to get a proper antenna working) led me to realize the amount of jerkassery on the No side is similar, just not that concentrated online.

  11. I see your point.

    I am feeling the same way about a lot of debates. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole, “can’t come to bed,” because “someone is wrong on the Internet” thing. :p

    I’ve gotten caught up in this kind of thinking.

  12. Well, I voted no, yes won, it’s ok. They key thing is that a few important promises were made on an official level by the Yes side. I di dnot trust them, I tend to not trust politicians. They won – now my idea is to keep these promises remembered and keep them accountable…

  13. I have no idea why there is resistance by some people to ‘medical’ transitioning. Nearly all transition related surgeries are performed in much larger numbers on cis women. Like breast implants, facial surgery, breast removal (for FtM), etc.

    On GRS is specifically done on Mtf and this is a very successful and safe surgery now with very high positive (incluing sexual functioning) outcomes.

    Being transgender is not just about wanting to wear a damn dress it is about feeling and looking right to yourself.
    If you (as I do) feel that your genitals are just wrong, feel wrong, look wrong, only GRS is the solution.

    Nothing social or poltical is going to change that fact. That’s just cis arrogance speaking ” :my body has never felt wrong to me,if you feel that way you are deluded”. And “oooh don’t want you do do those medical things that I ignorantly think are dangerous…because…well I’m cis and I know these things better than you do”.

    As for ” For example, the intimidation and yelling often used by trans activists I have found to be increasingly disturbing.”. Well in countless discussions with TERFs (etc) I have never came across that, rather it is all the other way.

    Snarky yes (I just was), but when you endlessly get told that you are ‘deluded”, or a ‘sexual predator”, “or nothing medical should be allowed for you”. “I’m cis and I know far more about being trans than you do”…..and all that tosh…it takes the patience of saint sometimes not to snark back. I take a positon of ‘mirroring’ of abuse and invective, not initiating it. If (say) a Bailey like character calls me a sexual pervert, then I am entitled to question his sexuality, mirroring his derogatory comments right back at him.

    Despite that, the vast majority of TG commentators argue on very rational and sane and sensible ways, despite incredible provication at times. For example read the many comments made here and the ones from trans people are reasonable, rational, use science and logic, make sensible point…the anti-TG ones ..well read for yourself: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2015/06/11/what-kind-of-woman-is-caitlyn-jenner-part-one-of-a-qa-on-autogynephilia-with-michael-bailey/

    Here is one such exchange:
    R.S.> Cake Kidd • 2 months ago
    So what if she’s a tranny sympathizer. Good thing she was honest enough to publish those statistics.

    Cake Kidd > R.S. • 2 months ago
    Hm, to repeat myself: You fallaciously cherry-picked data from a study and misinterpreted its meaning.
    In my comment above, I quoted another study by the author you cited to show that she does not support the interpretation you had falsely drawn. This further invalidates your argument.
    Replying “so what” shows you have not even fully understood what you were saying.
    Oh, and what evidence do you have that Cecilia Dhejne is a “tranny supporter”?

    Or another comment:
    archaeologist • 2 months ago
    the problem is Jenner did not turn himself into a woman. he mutilated himself under the deception that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Since he cannot obtain a uterus or experience other womanly functions, it is both an insult to woman that he is referred to in that manner and a lie to call him a woman. he is still a man who was deceived by evil and now you see the result of that deception.

    Perfect example of a standard exchange:
    McChimpin> Zoe_Brain • 2 months ago
    Where is your evidence for a female brain and a Divine Stooge who keeps trapping female ‘spirits’ into male bodies?
    Gender is a social construct, why pancake makeup on your face, get breast implants, etc. when you don’t need that to be a woman, eh eh?
    Zoe_Brain > McChimpin’ • 2 months ago
    None. Just cross-sexed neuro-anatomy. Nothing about “spirits” or “souls”. Or gods for that matter. That hypothesis is un-necessary.
    Maybe this might explain:
    Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation

  14. You are right about the majority. My words were penned (well, keyed), I think, right after the “die cis scum” fad. It was a fad and it was a minority at all times anyway.

    Re surgeries, I am not saying they are not needed, I am saying they are generally a last resort. And this applies to all major surgery on people with all identities. Yes, some people are unhappy with their genitals specifically, but others are unhappy with the way they have to see themselves and interact with society (this is much more than “a damn dress”, though yet others want a damn dress and that is fine too). I think one does need to work out which of this spectrum (there are more than just the three) is the particular individual case. And I suspect it can be worked out reliably in childhood (actually I’m sure of this part but unsure of the exact definition of “childhood”; I am generally, not just on this topic, unhappy with seeing 16-17 year olds as “children”, and I would extend most adult rights to them).

    There is also the practical argument on the money side. If a third party payer (a state department or an insurer) is to pay for treatment, they need proof, by some accepted standard, that the treatment is medically necessary. You can’t have service-on-demand with a third party payer, it just does not work that way for any medical work. I understand that, after the Reagan admin used Raymond as a condom to deny Medicare/Medicaid coverage for transition and the insurers followed suit, for many years this was not an issue in the States, but things are changing there too.

    So I’m not *hostile* to care, far from it. Actually. I support it and did a major restructuring/edit on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_reassignment_therapy . The “medical necessity” question is really for *all* surgery and all people.

  15. As for that “die cis scum” thing…that is endlessly quoted because it is so rare.

    Compared to far more such statements and threats, made by TERFs, transphobes, etc.

    In the comments part of just this (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2015/06/11/what-kind-of-woman-is-caitlyn-jenner-part-one-of-a-qa-on-autogynephilia-with-michael-bailey/) there were repeated hate stataments made by several people, with one female saying
    “If we as a society were to enact the death penalty for the male “transwomen” who enable and encourage young kids to do this, I think we should let the parents pull the trigger. That’s how dangerous you are to their children, to their entire families, with your absolutely grotesque lies directed at vulnerable kids.””

    Or on this (comments on a trans hating Counterpunch article which started “” believe it was Shakespeare who said “a dick by any other gender is still a dick,” and now we have Caitlyn-formerly-Bruce Jenner to “live out her truth” and prove it. “):

    “Raven Moon: Fuck him. Fuck him and his fake boobs, his fake smile, his fake soul. He is a loser from the word go. Belongs in a zoo.”
    “Jennifer Culbertson: Jenner didn’t have a sex change. Jenner had a bunch of plastic surgeries and got a new wardrobe.”
    “Minax Allore: He has wealthy white male privilege and arrogance.”
    “Dennis W Black :….A mentally ill old man wearing woman’s clothing is not, it is pathetic. Masses of fools gushing over it does not make it less so.”

  16. Trans people have a long way to go before they descend to the levels of trans haters:

    Death threats to Jazz jennings: http://www.people.com/article/i-am-jazz-death-threats-sneak-peek
    The comments start out hurtful and ignorant, with anonymous posters making claims like “transgender was something made up,” but soon turn violent.
    “Someone please shoot it, if not I’m going to kill it myself and make it die a horrible, painful death,” one commenter writes.
    “Is ‘it’ referring to you?” Sanders asks in disbelief.
    “I didn’t think anybody could be so cruel,” Griffen says to the camera during an interview.
    ‘Sad that the devil is tricking you into thinking you were meant to be a girl,’ she reads, her voice shifting from flippant to more serious. ‘You’re a boy and always will be male. ‘Cause an individual is a man. There is no such thing as transgender. That’s something that was made up to make homosexuality sound good and accepted.’

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