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Scott Adams tells it like it isn’t.

2011 March 29

Oh dear. On the 7th of March, Dilbert creator Scott Adams wrote this post on his blog. He then deleted it later.

Photo showing a concrete cracked surface with a red footprint painted on it. Next to the footprint is a small plastic Dilbert figurine.

Photo by Flickr user Ol.v!er, shared under a creative commons licence.

Much has been said about his words, but a lot of the online discussion focuses on “I now think he’s a douche” and not on why the post should be regarded as offensive. Well, I’m pretty clear on why I find it offensive.

In my posts for BadRep I have often expressed the sentiment that men have unique problems in society, and that those problems are just as invisible as some feminist issues. I believe it’s true. I’ve also recently written a post which stated my feelings on the constant cry of “but what about the men?” in response to feminist discussion. Short answer: if you look at the world and don’t see massive gender inequality harming women a lot more than men, and don’t think that reducing the gap (and aiming to eliminate these issues for everyone) would be a good thing, then I don’t want to know you.

Scott Adams didn’t say that feminism was no longer needed, or that men have bigger problems than women. His post can be summed up in two parts:

“Now I would like to speak directly to my male readers who feel unjustly treated by the widespread suppression of men’s rights:

Get over it, you bunch of pussies.”

Why would he say that – because he sees women’s rights as far more under attack? Er… no. He has this advice instead:

“The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.”

Scott states that he’s not comparing ‘women’ directly to ‘people with disabilities’ or children, but does advise his (male) audience to treat them all the same way – to take into account the “emotional realities of other people”.

And this is where most online discussion is only just starting to get it. It doesn’t MATTER if he’s right, or if he’s a realist. Either way this is shitty, inhumane advice.

It puts the reader in the group taking action, and puts women (and other humans with inconvenient ’emotional realities’) in a group marked “Other”. And as we all know, that’s classic 101 to dehumanising your target and making it easier to see them as objects who don’t need to be considered. It’s also bollocks. He’s giving instructions for how to manipulate others for your own success, without looking at any possibility of finding any common ground, sharing boundaries, or viewing them as real people who could be talked to. They’re just there to be made to go away with the least stress to him. Adams is dismissing the idea that his current views could be wrong and that he might learn something from women, because dialogue is not an option. He’d rather choose the path of least resistance. That’s a pretty closed mind right there.

It’s not easier for “everyone”, Scott. Just you.

It’s not easier for women, for example. Also: women, children and “the mentally handicapped”(!) are together a majority, which makes you sitting inside your privileged minority and dismissing them like this all the more craptastic. The majority of the human race are more emotional than you, Scott, and as you’ve just demonstrated probably have more empathy too.

Towards the end of the post he says:

“Fairness is an illusion. It’s unobtainable in the real world.”

For someone who has spent decades writing about the inhumanity of big business, that’s a surprising quote. And my inner Hopeless Idealist rejects it totally. Yes, men face different inequalities: in the divorce courts, in countries with a military draft, in society’s ancient ideas of what ‘masculine’ behaviour is. But even if I felt that these somehow matched the towering mountain of (frequently lethal) inequality facing women (which I don’t by several miles), I would never give up on seeking fairness. It’s an instinctive, empathic, humane response which shows that you’re a decent human being.

So yeah, I now think Scott Adams is a douche as well. Several additional words spring to mind (the lovely Miranda put in a vote for “ableist asshat” at this juncture). If you want to read his justifications (that he often takes the point of view on his blog which is most difficult to defend, that his readers know he often doesn’t even believe the argument he’s making, that we’re all devoid of “reading comprehension”) then you can wander over to where he’s currently trolling the comment thread at Feministe. Yes, seriously. At no time does he back down from the opinion he stated, or acknowledge how the act of grouping 51% of the planet and more into an ‘overly emotional’ box to be safely ignored for his own mental peace of mind is in any way douche-worthy.

We are better than his exclusionary, patronising bullshit, people. There’s an alternative where we keep talking, and learning, and looking for ways to make a society we can be proud of. Together. Because women are human beings, and the fact that this still needs saying means that all men should be jumping aboard the feminism boat for joint rock n’ roll pirate adventures. The alternative is a land run by people as ignorant, reactionary and self-absorbed as the boss in the Dilbert comics, and no-one wins when that happens.

– Steve B.
White, mid-thirties cis male who used to work for a giant American corporation and buy Dilbert calendars.

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Miranda permalink*
    March 29, 2011

    It doesn’t MATTER if he’s right, or if he’s a realist. Either way this is shitty, inhumane advice.

    See, I think it does matter that people keep saying that he’s not right. I’m reading your point here as “aside from Adams’s prejudices, his basic worldview is so bleak it just shouldn’t stand anyway, regardless of the details of his prejudices”… but actually I do think the detail of what he says is important. Surely we should keep flagging up that he’s wrong? I think it definitely matters that he’s wrong about these issues and I think people should challenge the detail of his worldview (the way he refers to people with disabilities, for example!) as well as his general attitude of cynicism and lazy privilege.

    The way he refers to (ugh) “handicapped children” and infantilises both people with disabilities and women is really wince-inducing (as if these were separate groups with no overlap, so mindbogglingly othering!).

    • Stephen B permalink
      March 29, 2011

      His fans seem to be arguing that he might be right that women have “different emotional realities”, as though if the statement was correct it would justify anything.

      I don’t care if he was misinterpreted in whether he equated women and children, etc. He DID put them all into a big sack of “things I don’t need to ever engage with”, and THAT’S where I agree with you – people need to keep calling him on it. When I said it doesn’t matter, I meant his reasoning. It’s his solution which is unacceptable regardless :)

      • Miranda permalink*
        March 29, 2011

        Ah, the “men and women are different in their braiiins” argument. It’s another way of phrasing the “We hunted the mammoth to feed you!” line, really, isn’t it. :D

        I don’t think anyone has misinterpreted him per se – I think people are drawn to the way he’s talking as much as the conclusion he is building to – which I think is a sort of sarky-nihilistic what’s-the-point-you’re-all-assholes – because on the way to that point everything he has to say is very clearly coming from an embedded pile of prejudice.

        I think what that post is going for is a kind of Frankie Boyle thing. All the ableism and sexism is casually subsidiary to his main point, which is some sort of vague conclusion about how everyone needs to shut up, both women and men, cos this is how it rolls… so I do get what you’re saying about that. But in many ways I think the fact that in his view the stuff that’s getting the most flak was just tools to argue his point makes it worse.

        I think that people are predominantly focussing on how that post revealed a lot of embedded prejudice rather than the broad nihilism of it (what he sees as “his real point”) – but the thing is, people do that with Frankie Boyle too. I do it with Frankie Boyle. Because if he can’t express his point without kicking other people over in the playground, I don’t want to play with him, kinda thing. He can whine about his “point” all day, but he’s been an asshat already. If that makes sense!

  2. Russell permalink
    March 29, 2011

    I personally think Scott Adams is very wrong about something else, too: the idea that men are inherently more capable of repressing their emotions and thinking in purely “rational” terms. Increasingly I don’t think it actually is possible to separate emotion and logic within our minds. Every decision and reaction contains both the emotional and the “rational”. In fact, I struggle to define what the “rational” actually is because it seems to me to simply come from the idea of “no emotion” which, when you think about, must really be an emotion in itself.

    Also, men are encouraged by Western society to be so emotionally repressed and therefore unable to recognise their own feelings that it would be difficult for most men to even tell if they were having an emotional response to a political argument, so obsessed with the idea of their own cold rationality are they. If it were possible to seperate emotion from rationality entirely, one suspects we would all agree. That is clearly not the case.

    Finally, the idea that emotion is bad and reduces rationality is simply, in my experience, not true. Emotion is logical; a cause triggers an emotion, an effect. Whatever response is produced is therefore a rational response in itself. Basically, everything else is lies and bullshit we’ve made up to tell ourselves that the people over the next ridge aren’t human beings like us. “You’re not rational” is an easy excuse to use on someone we disagree with without having to deal with why our own emotions might be incorrect. Of course there are some situations where we cannot expect people to behave rationally (a couple of examples from personal life come to mind), but these are the exceptions rather than the rule – as a general rule, emotions come from a causative place.

  3. March 29, 2011

    I’ve known Scott Adams was an asshat since, oh, 2001 or so. I used to receive the Dilbert newsletter, which ran an annual poll of readers’ views on the year’s events and so on. One of the questions Adams asked was: which do you think is the most weaselly religion? (Yes, really.) Of course, with 9/11 in the very recent past, and a heavily white, male, US readership, Islam was voted the most weaselly religion. I was disturbed by this and wrote to Adams, asking why he’d asked the question in the first place, and saying that to put 1 billion followers of Islam into a box marked “weaselly” on the basis of the actions of a few hijackers was really dangerous. He wrote back personally, and didn’t answer a single point I’d raised; he seemed to revel in dismissing everything I’d said without a second thought. I foreswore Dilbert from that moment on.

    So this latest example of his fuckwittedness doesn’t come as a huge surprise to me.

    • Miranda permalink*
      March 29, 2011

      Wow, that’s fascinating. Doesn’t surprise me that he’s aired these views before as they’re pretty strident, but wow, he wrote to you personally. Wow. Great comment, thanks for sharing. I think I may be on the point of forswearing myself!

  4. Russell permalink
    March 29, 2011

    I’d also just like to take this opportunity to point out that I never got Dilbert, it has always seemed mean rather than funny to me, and I think it’s a badly drawn comic even by the standards of newspaper strips.

    • Miranda permalink*
      March 29, 2011

      There are quite a number of its strips I’ve enjoyed in the past, actually. Been a while since I’ve read it of late…

    • Stephen B permalink
      March 29, 2011

      I actually have some respect for the comic, mostly because I was in a corporate office environment where the (allegedly silly) things would frequently actually happen on the same day the calendar showed them. So I think he knows the lazy and pessimistic corporate thinking very well.

      I just thought he’d be better at championing an alternative instead of buying into it.

  5. Mark permalink
    March 30, 2011

    Scott Adams is just scratching the surface. The situation is in fact, much much worse:

    • Stephen B permalink
      March 30, 2011

      >>We are living in the sweatshop. They are living in the hotel. At your expense, I might add.

      Things like facts, statistics and reality contradict this.

      >>A woman refers to ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ only when these things can benefit her.

      Incorrect. I can introduce you to women who use and act on those words for the benefit of men and women they will never meet. Some directly in civil rights charities, others in their feminism.

      >>’No means no’ means ‘I want the man to take the heat if I have second thoughts after we have sex’.

      You want to be very careful throwing quotes like that around.

      Now look, I am your biggest fan on this site. I’m a guy, and I’m a guy who AGREES that there are prejudices and inequality against men in society. They are different to those faced by women, but they are acted on by men and women every day. I agree.

      I can find almost nothing in the page you linked to which doesn’t turn my stomach AND make me instantly think of several examples to prove it is factually incorrect. Sure, I know mostly UK women instead of US. I’m still fairly confident of my stance.

      “No means no”: it is currently extremely easy for a women to accuse a man of rape on no evidence, and for that man’s life to be ruined before anything is proven in court. It is also nearly impossible for a woman who has been raped to prove it, ever. This tragic situation is not helped by implying “No means no” is ever anything less than 100% solid. No actually does mean no, or you acting without the other person’s consent and should be in prison.

      I know you have legitimate reasons to feel oppressed in some ways, but I personally am not your target audience for this. When I wrote my posts on men’s rights movements and the ‘Alpha Male’ sites (which read very similarly to that link) I deliberately didn’t even link to the pages in question. I don’t agree with them.

      Even if I did, the solution Scott Adams suggests is STILL wrong. You won’t help mens’ rights by ignoring half the planet. You help by talking to them, and raising your concerns.

      When those concerns include women having control of their own lives to the same level as men, and you want that stopped because it means men giving up what they currently have, I’m not interested in your heart-rending plight.

      • Miranda permalink*
        March 30, 2011

        It’s not particularly clear in my view whether Mark’s comment is in sympathy with the page he links or not.

        Initially I read it another way, as in “Scott Adams’s prejudices only scratch the surface – there are more extreme attitudes within the MRA organisations themselves, and here’s an example link”.

        On the other hand perhaps the comment DID mean “Scott Adams is just scratching the surface as to women’s infantile nature – see here for more details!”

        Either way I guess the link is an example of the sort of position that is adopted by the fans of Scott Adams who asked for him to make that blog post (it was written in response to their requests, as I understand it). In case anybody hadn’t discovered directly the, er, joys of the more extreme end of the Men’s Rights debate yet!

        But let’s not conflate commenters with the links they post without obvious proof that this is what they intend… :)

        • Russell permalink
          March 31, 2011

          Can we not refer to it as the men’s rights movement? Can we make up our term like “anti-feminist” “anti-equality” “pro-misogyny” “anti-women”, instead? I only ask because I feel like there’s a genuine need for a “men’s rights” movement that takes many of the good and valuable ideas of feminism and applies them to the unfairer sex, and letting these ranting buffoons get away with hijacking the term before it’s even got started upsets me.

    • Russell permalink
      March 31, 2011

      I tried to read that brainless rant you linked to twice. The first time I stopped when the moron writing it referred to language as being “corrupted” by feminists (language changes and evolves over time for a variety of reasons; there is no natural or correct state for it to be in). The second time was when he stated that a woman sexaully assaulting a man was not a crime (it is, it just isn’t rape). On the plus side, it would appear from posts like Scott Adams’ and this one that all the many reasonable, intelligent, sensible feminists of both genders have to contend against is people who are really rather thick (ah, how I wish that were true…)

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