Carol Tavris on Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen

-WOODY ALLEN-Carol Tavris has written a lucid response to the issue of child abuse in Woody Allen & Family. I didn’t make an opinion when this issue first came up. I simply didn’t feel I could know without more investigation; there were good reasons for either or both parties to have the issues wrong, or right…how to know?

The social worker side of me that used to work in a shelter for battered women wanted to opine that victims are too often rejected and told they exaggerated. But occasionally, victims also have reasons to be dishonest or I should  say they misattribute or have human memory. Which is to say the brain is a metal sieve that keeps patching and reinforcing, not even caring if it gets it right, but only if it pleases. Like many of these cases both parties are neurotic as hell, ladened with emotional intensity, and it would be difficult to know what’s going on in the best analysis.

I have no idea what happened that day so long ago, and neither do you. But science and skepticism can, perhaps, help us ask the right questions and avoid emotional reasoning. For example, it’s one thing to be sympathetic to Dylan’s account, but quite another to base one’s support mindlessly on the criterion of “believe all claims of abuse.”…

I was also dismayed to read claims by many of Dylan Farrow’s supporters that have long been scientifically disproved:

  • Children never lie about sexual abuse.
  • If a memory is vivid, detailed, and emotionally laden, that is evidence that it is accurate.
  • In the case of Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow, one must be “lying.” As Aaron Bady posted in The New Inquiry, “If one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us.”

Here is the takeaway, you don’t have to be lying.

In her TEDGlobal talk in 2013, the eminent memory scientist Elizabeth Loftus said that memory was less like a recording device and “more like a Wikipedia page—you can go in there and change it, but so can other people.” She and other researchers have implanted false memories even of bizarre events—such as, she says, “being attacked by a vicious animal, nearly drowning and being rescued by a lifeguard, or witnessing demonic possession.” False memories can be implanted with suggestions, misinformation, hypnosis, and even doctored photographs. She calls these “rich false memories,” because people truly believe they are accurate. They “recall” them with confidence, adding details as they go and feeling deep emotion, as I felt about my memory of my father reading The Wonderful O. Rich false memories can persist for years. That’s why Dylan Farrow doesn’t have to be “lying” when she reported her version of events. But without independent corroboration, we don’t know.

This mismemory is a huge isssue. How many people have refined their memories to reflect what they want without their knowing it? As Dennett famously says, every time you remember something you are creating another version. Be aware that that version is edited.

What this means for free will is a salient point. If I will not remember correctly then how am I responsible? Contextualization, selfawareness. and verification. Knowing that our memories are not representations but interpretations we seem locked in some sort of “all interpretations are misinterpretations” unable to sort truth from not. That’s why we have science and verification by others, as well as contrasting and comparing other similar cases that help clarify. It also means to always be aware that your most cherished opinion could be crap.

This seemingly insane mental memory variance should make us more compassionate towards others in empathy that memory can be wrong, regardless of how intense it is. Religious visions and revelations are often part of this confabulation. I have had many religious friends insist they have heard god speak to them or they have seen an angel. I would rather call them mistaken than crazy–if they are crazy we all are.

The difficult to digest irony is the more you have studied something or think you know a topic the more prone you are to confirmation bias. Yep, the more sure you are the  more likely you are to be wrong–your assertion is more dogmatic than conceptualized–you are more willing to negate contrary evidence because you have so, so much supportive evidence that it seems like, mistakenly, a classic “big claims need big evidence” situation. If you are willing to say “I am absolutely sure…” in the face of another’s questioning beware.

That is the reason for the vehemence with which many of Farrow’s supporters are shouting down the opposition. (The title of a research paper captured this phenomenon perfectly: “When in Doubt, Shout.”) Given a choice of whom to believe, they say, we must always side with the accuser in a rape or molestation case; otherwise we are supporting the patriarchal “rape culture.” As Bady writes, “if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured.” Anyone who asks skeptical questions of Dylan Farrow’s story is a pedophile or a sexist who is abetting the abuse of children and women. That kind of self-righteous certainty shuts down thoughtful inquiry. It does not help the cause of feminism or justice.

This kind of psychological profiling can be somewhat correct. More women are raped then men and it’s more likely that the victim is telling the truth. For the same reason we don’t want to support profiling people of color in stop and frisk laws or muslims in airport security, we don’t want to assume that all accusations of sexual violence from women are true. Most cases it’s clear but too often we don’t want people we admire or like to be immoral. Especially if one practices shunning–you won’t believe or follow anything of the person any more–the investment to be correct is so strong as to make the opinion even more biased.

How, then, should we think about Dylan Farrow’s allegations? It’s relevant that they occurred during a bitter custody dispute, when Mia Farrow’s understandable rage at Allen over his affair with Soon Yi was going at full blast. We might ask why Dylan is making her story public now. We might wonder whether she has been influenced by recovered-memory therapists or, as her brother Moses writes, by an angry and vengeful mother. We would want to take into account that this family remains bitterly divided. Most of all, we have to accept the most difficult lesson of critical thinking: tolerating uncertainty.

It is extraordinarily difficult for me to not see Woody as a brilliant but deranged person whose personal neurosis and/or personality disorder has thrived in cinematic exposition and whom could be capable of anything–especially after considering the example of marrying an adopted duaghter. It is equally suspect when a child of a fighting-contesting-divorcing parent comes up with extremely negative evidence of abuse. I would be the idiot to think I can guess who’s right as it’s too easy for me to see any and all of them bullshitting, sincerely.

This situation is so over the top, the take away is not how a powerful man got away with everything but rather everyone is mistaken and they are all sincerely deluded. In most sexual harassment and abuse cases the victims need support and that should continue. It is also true that when women have more power there may be more balance in verified claims of abuse to men but that’s not true yet. Even though Mia Farrow is famous Allen is more so but they are/were more equal in power than the average couple.

I can’t imagine after such a long time that any revision will occur. But I can guarantee that every new memory “retrieval” (writing) of the episode will carry slight confirmation biases that support each other over time. They all will go their death believing their view is correct. What is clear is they all need deep therapy.

Jim n

CPAC The Ultimate Ironic Tone Trolls!

American Atheists Logo The ACU board promised that American Atheists could have a booth at CPAC ( Conservative Political Action Conference).  Now, the people who love Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have stated that they don’t like the “tone” of American Atheists.

I just got this message from American Atheists….. (Share and donate)

Almost as soon as we announced that we would be attending CPAC, religious conservatives started to voice their outrage.

This afternoon, I received a phone call from the American Conservative Union Executive Director Dan Schneider informing me that the ACU board is breaking its agreement to permit American Atheists to host an information booth at CPAC.

Schneider cited “the tone” of a quote from me in a CNN article about our booth.

This is exactly the problem. The ACU, which has invited CPAC speakers such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin, is afraid of my tone? My ‘tone’ was clearly an excuse to back out after our press release angered religious conservatives.

Continuing to conflate religion and conservatism is not a viable strategy; this was apparently too scary for CPAC attendees to hear. America’s religious conservatives can deny it all they want, but soon they’re going to realize that ignoring the growing number of atheist constituents is a losing proposition.

This isn’t over. We’re still going to CPAC, even if they don’t want us there. We’ll be there to represent the interests of the 20% of conservatives who are non-religious and to advocate for our position that religious dogma has no place in government.

I’ll keep you updated.


David Silverman

PS: Our outreach work is only possible because of the generosity of our members and supporters. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.

Atheism to Creationism

pussy riot sochiWhat is the greater stability and tenure compensated by the hegemonic bias of belief, confirmation bias? It’s not a debate it’s a discussion…

At ay rate, that religious parents can be tried for the death of their children by refusing treatment for an unusual, but treatable disease with extremely uncomfortable medicine and saying “God did it?” certainly implies an intentionality to the act of abuse that is beyond apologies to religion. But I wonder…if they could prove that refusing a vaccination had caused the death of a child by exposure…  That not funding stem-cell research–hell, if we can use Ken Hamm’s historical science to prove dinosaurs were vegetarians…

Jaclyn Glenn has a  video responding to creationist video clips.  I’m hoping that this is like targeting the fringes of belief but a recent poll says 36% of the US general public thinks miracles occur in some way. They aren’t saying it’s science we don’t know yet…

So, am I just jaded, or just tired of the constant self-censorship in spite of our so-called militancy? Should we be burning tires in the streets and getting arrested to allow gays to marry, women to abort, criminals to be restrained or recovered, and the poor and the disenfranchised to be helped? If I showed up at an Olympics held in the US and sang protest songs against Obama (hypothetically) would I get electrocuted and thudded? Or is that horsewhipped and beaten as in Pussy Riot at Sochi? Isn’t that what happens to 50% of people of color in this country? They just call them tasters, batons, and drug users, uhhhh, common criminals? Cameras everywhere. No place to hide, good or bad.

Jim n

Are Religious People More Addicted to Porn?

It’s a great lead when you can claim that somehow religion makes one less moral. After all that is often the foundation of religion for many if not most. If religion doesn’t make you more happy or more moral, one has to wonder the point, at least as a choice. Why choose religion? Are religious people more addicted to porn? No, they just think they are

Compared with their less spiritual peers, people who identified as very religious were more likely to have a perceived Internet pornography addiction, no matter how much porn they actually consumed, according to a new study.

It would make more sense that religious people watch more porn, as they do in Utah as a whole, since religion as police-counsel would attract those who need the help–religion as lightning rod for sinners–to be better, or not care because they can be forgiven. But it’s an odd distinction. Not only do some actually watch more porn but when they don’t they still think it’s a full-on medical problem.

“We were surprised that the amount of viewing did not impact the perception of addiction, but strong moral beliefs did,” the study’s lead author Joshua Grubbs, a doctoral student in psychology at Case Western Reserve University, said in a statement…

Regardless of whether porn addiction is “real,” Grubbs and his co-authors note thatperceived addiction has been linked to several real elements of psychological distress, such as depression, compulsive behavior and anxiety.

This hypersensitivity to sin is the result of responding to an oppressive religion that wants people toe see themselves as sinners for any reason, good or bad, to get them to church, get them to Christ, and get them staying in the religion.

Religion making people feel guilty, embarrassed, or shameful at any transgression ensures full pews and full dependency of Christ to overcome their many sins. Addiction to a sin embeds the sin in ongoing transgression as a character or personality flaw. It’s not just a mistake dammit, it’s a full on sin that is so part of you you need Christ to recover?

This goes way beyond the impulse control benefit some psych’s and soc’s give to religion. Placing someone in constant fear may indeed lower frequency but at what cost. You can see why they had to invent the confessional or their flock would be frozen in guilt, unable to act for fear of sinning. Like an Army boot camp, religion beats you down to nothing and then rebuilds you in their image.

While most of us can see the difference between watching porn five times a day, once a day, once a week, or once a month any repetition is considered an addiction for religious folks? Hypersensitivity to sin means people overreact and think they have more of a problem than they do. They are obsessed with  sinning and salvation which is more effective in lowering functionally than the action they chastise. It’s not the addiction that’s bugging them but their worry that they are addicted, contaminated, unredeemed.

Grubbs and his co-authors speculate that feelings of addiction could be seen as “the religious individual’s pathological interpretation of a behavior deemed a transgression or a desecration of sexual purity.” The findings could help therapists understand that the perception of addiction might have more to do with religious beliefs than actual porn-watching habits, the researchers said.

This death spiral attitude to self-esteem has bled into other areas of nihilistic self awareness. Nihilistic because it causes people to think less of themselves for no good reason other than religious power over the flock. Like cooties in elementary school, touch a girl once to get her cooties and doing it five more times doesn’t matter as you were addicted the first time? We’re all addicted to porn. Some just know it sooner? Just like you can fall in love (lust) at first sight, you’re addicted (obsessed) at first try? Is this just a socialized perfection complex?

Aside from this as proof that religion destroys healthy sexuality you can follow into all of the other sins that show you are a permanent addict that needs supernatural help and possibly human help as well. It’s a sick spiral that should be stopped. Therapists standing by.

The irony is that if you went to the gym every day for an hour, if you took an hour for yourself every day, if you read fantasy fiction every day for an hour, all would be fine and you wouldn’t be called a fantasy book addict… Religious people should call it a routine and give themselves a break so they can concentrate on other far worse sins, like hating gays and prochoicers.

Jim n


Snow and Cold, Happy Darwin Day!

We’re expecting between 12 and 20 inches and I will likely be off computer for a couple of days.

Fill in your time by listening to SkepticMoney On Air. Several fine interviews and good social criticism!

Check out wheat I see as the best coverage-comment of Ham on Nye at Arstechnica. And yes I am terrified but am not a standard science dude just incredulous to the point of fear–how do you talk to a polite mad man?

Read this great atheist poem by Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning.

A good post on why we’re tired of hearing about your damned religion, “No one Cares About Your Damned Religion.”

An odd The Nation article on why choosing to be gay has merit especially in politics. Odd in that most agree on a genetic factor  of some sorts to ensure privacy-resilience of sexual, gender, and inter social behavior regardless. Conservatives who are vested in absolute free will where all behavior is a choice is the religious issue here.

An interview of Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Aniston. Steinem had it right on when she said we shouldn’t be shaming women who resort to either masculinized or hypersexualized images to gain effect but rather the system that encourages the potential of these success. In this interview she speaks of PreEuropean America as being egalitarian and anti hierarchy.

JA: “If I could have dinner with one historical figure it would be…?”

GS: It would be one of the women who was here before the Europeans showed up, when there were about 500 or so different cultures here but they were egalitarian. These were the women who inspired the suffrage movement. I would like to talk to one of them to understand what it was like to live in a society in which people were linked and not ranked. Where the paradigm was a circle, not a pyramid. Because that’s what was here before.

Sounds good but Native Americans showed all levels of governance and cultures in their many tribes and clans, from money to barter, slaves to freeman, hierarchies to egalitarian. While it is true that some forager societies were more egalitarian, many were not. Nor were many matriarchal. Tempting but wrong to say there was greater complementarity between gender roles, lending credence to conservative notions of natural law being patriarchal and paternal. Marvin Harris states reproduction  is as large an influence on economics as production, as Steinem does.

Jared Diamond notes that it is the amount of available resource that actually drives the making of hierarchy and governance–the less you have the more egalitarian you are. But also that city-state culture enforces a symbolic hierarchy rather than a relationship hierarchy which also leads to stratification and depersonalized rulership.

What Steinem says which I really like.

QUESTION: As a man in the room, what is one thing we men can do to keep this issue moving forward?

GS: Just think about fairness. Suppose you were the same person with all the smarts and humor and everything that makes you unique, and you were born female. How would you feel and what would you want? It’s all about empathy. There’s no emotion more revolutionary than empathy.

Right before this Steinem wails on religion. For those who get tired of being told they talk too much about religion.

QUESTION: What do you think the biggest problem with feminism today is?

GS: Anti-feminism [laughs]. The work that women do is given no economic value whatsoever. We could go on about that. But we all know that. What we don’t talk about enough is religion. I think that spirituality is one thing. But religion is just politics in the sky. I think we really have to talk about it. Because it gains power from silence.

Yup “we don’t talk about religion enough.” Religion as politics!

Jim n

Noah’s Ark was Round

A 4,000 year old cuneiform from Iraq confirms there was a flood and a person who saved animals.

The newly decoded cuneiform tells of a divinely sent flood and a sole survivor on an ark, who takes all the animals on board to preserve them. It even includes the famous phrase “two by two,” describing how the animals came onto the ark.

But there is one apparently major difference: The ark in this version is round.

Round? Ever try to going in one direction in a round boat, even with an oar-rudder. I guess they just needed to bob a round for awhile. Round boats for rivers. Oblong boats for lakes, oceans and planetary floods.

More crazy…

We have known for well over a century that there are flood stories from the ancient Near East that long predate the biblical account (even the most conservative biblical scholars wouldn’t date any earlier than the ninth century B.C).

What? Anyone who has read  literature from the med-mideast whether Greek, Roman, Sanskrit, knows of the many flood stories and flood issues. With the mideast as the great birth of vast canal systems and annual flooding it would be impossible not to have stories of flooding–and death and drowning  by flooding. Especially out of Egypt with the vast Nile overflowing every year and a super flood every few decades. Anyone who has camped in an area where remote rains can cause flooding far from signs of rain has probably been warned of flash floods that arrive without notice–don’t camp by the creek! Must be god(s).

The Bible presents a standard boat shape  long and narrow. The length being six times the measure of the width, with three decks and an entrance on the side.

The newly discovered Mesopotamian text describes a large round vessel, made of woven rope, and coated (like the biblical ark) in pitch to keep it waterproof.

So close. Must be true. But aren’t the Irish the masters of the round boat? Mesopotamians must have taken that technology North when the boat landed. Those Israelites were talking about Mediterranean boats! How did they get it right for water but wrong for story?

The Mesopotamian versions tell us that the Flood came because humans were too noisy for the gods; the biblical account says it was because violence had spread over the Earth.

I think the Mesopotamian version has more salience for me. These early city-states, foul, dirty, loud, and overcrowded, would have driven most of us to the country but for the rich and aristocratic land owners. The average city person was probably dieing for a clean and quiet place–hence courtyards, penthouses, and gates, lots of gates.

The two-by-two shows how this is all city-talk fantasy. What animal farmer, what breeder, what goat herder would think just one of either gender would do the trick? Sex doesn’t always work like a key in a door lock. Animals get sick, have bad days, and some seem oddly uninterested in sex or have to do it in weird special ways under just the right conditions. Some prefer harems and others just like their own kind but for a few procreative trysts.

Of course there are more differences and inconsistencies within the biblical version, even to its own accounts, but I’m sure not only will Noah remain as God’s laborer but Global Warming is god’s preparation for the next flood. As I understand it now, violence is so ubiquitous that a flood is due. Maybe the Dude himself will reappear and man a boat to safe passage.

Jim n