Tag: Evidence

Signs You Might Be A Hypocrite

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I can think of little else that I despise more than hypocrisy: The application of different standards (of evidence, morality, or anything else) to those things of which we approve or which benefit us vs. those things we dislike or which benefit others.  Of course we are all human and subject to cognitive biases in varying degrees, an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of our hard wiring.  Excessive hypocrisy, however, is a mark of both intellectual laziness and intellectual dishonesty, and especially for those of us who claim the mantle of skeptic / critical thinker / champion of evidence, we should be perpetually vigilant for signs of it in ourselves and take decisive corrective action when we find it.  Here are a few clues that may help you determine whether your hypocrisy self-awareness meter requires calibration.

  • You spend a lot of time defending Milo Yiannopolous and Richard Spencer under the banner of “we have to protect even the most offensive speech,” but did not defend Kathy Griffin’s mock ISIS photo under the banner of “we have to protect even the most offensive speech.”
  • You chastise others for their echo chambers and admonish them to engage with to their opponents, but block people who disagree with you on Facebook and Twitter.
  • You have ever said “fuck your feelings” with regard to perceived political correctness, but lamented the lack of respect shown to Mike Pence when he was booed at a Broadway show.
  • You were horrified by the evangelical Christian trend of “purity balls” but laud hijab as a feminist symbol.
  • You supported the Benghazi investigations but oppose the Trump-Russia investigation.
  • It bothered you that Richard Spencer lost his gym membership, but you think LGBT couples should just find another bakery.
  • You criticize western feminists who talk about sexist imagery in comics for overly frivolous concerns, but complain about women-only screenings of the film Wonder Woman.
  • You called the people who were outraged when Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals without their permission “snowflakes,” but not the people who were outraged when Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem.
  • You were more bothered by Michelle Obama’s bare arms than by Melania Trump’s nudity.
  • You characterize Milo Yiannopolous as “just a troll” but an anti-Trump D-list comedian as “a Leftist celebrated public figure.”
  • You dismiss non-binary concepts of gender as not based in science, but defended the “Penis as Social Construct” hoax by saying even if this hoax didn’t debunk the field of gender studies, it doesn’t matter because everyone knows a better hoax would have.
  • You oppose legal abortion but support the death penalty.
  • You said jokes about the death of Roger Ailes were disrespectful of Ailes’s family, but you promote Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones or call criticism of Sean Hannity’s treatment of the Rich family “regressive.”
  • You claim to oppose Islam on behalf of the women it oppresses, but promote personalities who deny the existence of date rape or who call for white women to be publicly flogged for sexual impropriety.
  • You deny that Western colonialism turns Muslims into Islamists, but claim that too much political correctness turns white people into racists.
  • You spent weeks or months condemning the Richard Spencer punch and holding it up as evidence of pervasive violence on the Left, but justified, laughed at, or remained silent when a conservative politician assaulted a journalist and deny it is indicative of a violence problem on the Right.
  • You spend more time worrying about the threat to free speech posed by Ann Coulter being dis-invited from speaking at a college campus than you do about a citizen being convicted and imprisoned for laughing at a government official (or a bill that would send teenagers to federal prison for sexting, or a journalist being arrested for asking a government official a question, or state legislatures passing laws criminalizing peaceful protests).
  • You declare the importance of seeing people as individuals rather than as collectives while making hasty generalizations about feminists, Muslims, Democrats, Leftists, etc.
  • You speak out against anti-LGBT attitudes embraced by conservative Christians, but file anti-LGBT attitudes among Muslims under “cultural differences.”
  • You denigrate the boycott of Sean Hannity’s advertisers in response to his treatment of the Rich family as a regressive leftist attack for “wrong think,” but were supportive or silent when conservatives boycotted Beauty and the Beast for having a gay character (or Hamilton because the cast addressed Mike Pence; or Budweiser, 84 Lumber, CocaCola, Airbnb, Kia, and Tiffany for airing SuperBowl ads with pro-diversity messages; or Nordstrom for dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line; or Netflix for having a show called Dear White People; or Starbucks for having insufficiently Christian holiday coffee cups; or Hawaii because a federal judge there ruled against Trump’s travel ban; or Target for encouraging trans people to use their restroom of choice; or Target again for banning loaded guns in its stores; or ABC for cancelling Last Man Standing; or . . .  )

I Have Some Bad News

turtleThis is a modified and updated version of a similar list I posted in February 2016.  The bad news for some people will be that they see some of their closely held beliefs being contradicted here.  For my part the bad news is that the list is not only still relevant but required an update.  Still, there are some things that simply must be said (and more than once, apparently).

 

  • 9/11 was not an inside job.
  • It wasn’t a “false flag” either.
  • Neither was Sandy Hook.
  • Neither were the shootings in Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Ft. Hood, or anywhere else.
  • In fact, there is no such thing as a “false flag” (a la Alex Jones).
  • The moon landing really happened.
  • So did the Holocaust.
  • Lizard people aren’t real.
  • Fluoride in the water supply is good for your teeth.
  • The earth is not flat.
  • And it is 4.54 billion years old.
  • And it goes around the sun, not the other way around.
  • There are no chemtrails, just contrails.
  • The Illuminati do not control the music industry.
  • Pizzagate is bullshit.
  • GMOs are just as safe as conventional foods.
  • Organic isn’t healthier.
  • It’s not better for the environment either.
  • Prayer doesn’t work.
  • Astrology doesn’t work either.
  • Neither does homeopathy.
  • But vaccines do.
  • And they don’t cause autism.
  • InfoWars is not news.
  • Alternative medicine is not medicine.
  • Big PharmaTM is not suppressing a known cure for cancer.
  • Including pot.
  • No, seriously – pot does not cure cancer.
  • Everything is made of chemicals.
  • Trump’s inauguration crowd was not the biggest in history.
  • Humans were not healthier 50,000 years ago than they are today.
  • Not 5,000 years ago or 500 years ago either.
  • Guns don’t make you safer.
  • Gay sex does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, tsunamis, fires, volcano eruptions, landslides, stock market crashes, train derailments, bridge collapses, oil spills, or anything else.
  • There is no Deep State.
  • Taxes are not theft.
  • Microwave ovens don’t turn into cameras.
  • Nuclear power is safe.
  • The Big Bang really happened.
  • And it happened 13.8 billion years ago.
  • Anthropogenic climate change is real.
  • All life on earth evolved from a common ancestor via natural selection.
  • There is no evidence for ghosts, an afterlife, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ancient aliens, alien abductions, reincarnation, telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, the soul, demons, spirits, angels, witchcraft, or magic.
  • There almost certainly is no god.

 

Five Reasons Atheists Should Oppose Trump

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We’ve heard a lot since the election about how the Left needs to stop accusing Trump voters of being racist, that there were many other legitimate and complex reasons for supporting his candidacy, and that rather than accuse and assume, we should ask and listen.  I tried in good faith to do this with my last post, addressing it to the Trump supporters who claim to have been motivated by concerns other than racial animus, and I received two whole responses, both of which more or less said “LIBTARD!”

Where, then, are these thoughtful, intellectually defensible arguments in support of a Trump presidency?  I submit they can be found in the same place as Yahweh, the Easter Bunny, and unicorns: In the imaginations of their believers.  The rationale for supporting Trump as an atheist activist is even less coherent.  If anything, the atheist community should be decisively opposed to the incoming regime for at least five reasons.

1. Trump has packed his administration with religious zealots who are openly anti-science and anti-secularism.

Climate change denial? Check. Creationism? Yup. Diverting public funds to Christian schools to “advance God’s kingdom?” Of course. Linking vaccines with autism? Goes without saying.  Religion-based discrimination? Bring it on.  The President Elect and his merry band of close advisors are uniformly on the wrong side of all of these issues – that is to say, they are on the side in opposition to the scientific evidence and consensus, as well as constitutional norms.  Vice President Elect Mike Pence once opposed funding for AIDS research in favor of programs that pray away the gay.  Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry’s policy response to drought when he was governor of Texas was to tell residents to pray.  Anyone who claims to value science, evidence, and secularism should be alarmed by these appointments.

2. Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate will be packing the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, with conservative judges who are sympathetic to Christianity and likely to hold a broad view of what constitutes “religious liberty.”

Trump has repeatedly promised to appoint Supreme Court judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  But SCOTUS isn’t the only windfall for the forced-birth crowd: Trump will have the opportunity to appoint dozens of judges to the federal bench all over the country, and based on his list of SCOTUS potentials, all of them are likely to share the same hostility to reproductive freedom and will thus be enthusiastically approved by the GOP-controlled Senate.  State legislatures, emboldened by the demise of Roe and a federal bench warm to Religious LibertyTM, will begin restricting access to contraception by giving employers more and more leeway to deny insurance coverage for it on religious grounds and permission to fire workers who are using birth control or become pregnant.  Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses and state houses will be deemed “traditional” rather than religious and be allowed to remain, thus signaling all non-Christians of the inherent bias against them in both the making and the upholding of laws.  Marriage equality will be undermined or overturned, and when the courts uphold the First Amendment Defense Act (which Trump has promised to sign), discrimination against LGBT people – and really, anyone else to whom a so-called Christian business owner objects – will be fully legal and constitutional.  The wall of separation under Trump will be weakened or obliterated.

3. Trump’s open hostility towards the press and his history of retribution against critics suggest he is ambivalent towards free expression.

It is curious to see so many self-proclaimed free speech advocates supporting a man who just a few weeks ago declared that burning an American flag should result in a year in jail and loss of US citizenship and who has not had a press conference since July 27 of last year.  Granted, Trump’s flag-burning statement was so ludicrously anti-constitutional that one’s instinct was to simply laugh it off with a shake of the head and an “as if.”  But that laughter quickly turned to bile upon remembering that this came from the man who is about to move into the Oval Office.  Did he really not know that flag-burning is constitutionally protected speech? Or did he know but thinks it should not be?  And how unsettling is it that we even have to ask these questions?

Almost as troubling is Trump’s decades-long record of ruthlessly going after those he perceives as having criticized him, a trait which has not abated in the slightest since his election.  It’s bad enough when the person trying to run you into the ground for a bad restaurant review is a rich mogul with a thin skin.  When that person is the most powerful human being on earth with the entirety of the Justice Department, the military, and the rest of the United States government infrastructure at his disposal (not to mention perhaps the Russian one), a chilling effect on frank discussion and criticism is inevitable.  This should be unnerving to us as citizens and downright outrageous to us as atheist activists; weakening the grip of superstition and destigmatizing atheism are predicated on our ability to criticize, satirize, mock, dismantle, and otherwise not defer to the closely held beliefs of others regardless of whose sensibilities we may offend.  A climate in which public figures, journalists, and ordinary citizens are reluctant to challenge those in power for fear of the repercussions ought to be the New Atheist’s and Free Speech Warrior’s worst nightmare.

4. A registry of Muslims is not very far removed from a registry for atheists.

Admittedly, the Trump transition team has been unclear on what kind of registry they are proposing.  Some claim it would simply be a registry of immigrants from majority Muslim nations, or nations with known terrorist activity.  On the other hand, when Trump surrogates cite the World War II internment of American citizens of Japanese descent as a precedent, it is reasonable to question just how limited a Muslim registry would really be.  Remember too that despite what we hear about “islamophobia,” religiously motivated hate crimes against Jews outnumber those against Muslims three-to-one, and the newly emboldened (thanks, PEOTUS!) white nationalist movement is already turning up the heat on American Jews.  In this climate of singling out and marginalizing American citizens from religious minorities, and given that polls consistently show atheists effectively tied with Muslims as the most disliked group of all, as well as the common belief among religionists that godlessness is the root of all evil, is it really that hard to imagine repercussions for non-believers?  Even if not in the form of a registry, the systematic collection of information on groups and individuals based on their perceived subversiveness is not outside the realm of possibility.  Either way, there is no reason to think that the persecution of religious minorities will start and end with Muslims.

5. Trump represents the antithesis of humanist values.

Yes, I know that not all atheists identify as humanists, and not all humanists are atheists.  Humanism is, however, often used as a loose synonym for atheism, and it is at the very least a common theme among nonbelievers that humans are not the filthy, pitiful sinners that theology asserts, and that people have inherent worth independent of the approval of an omnipotent creator.  Add in such values as kindness, generosity, humility, willingness to seek evidence and admit error, and support for universal human rights and you’ve got yourself a pretty good description of a humanist irrespective of religious belief.  Can you think of any list of honest Trump adjectives that includes the words kind, generous, humble, or willingness to admit error?

Ten Books That Will Make You an Anti-Theist

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I don’t think there is any doubt that in the aggregate, religion – not just belief without evidence, but organized, capital-R Religion – has historically been and continues to be a bane to humanity.  One of the reasons this realization escapes so many people is the cultural deference to religion and its ubiquitous portrayal as inspirational, beautiful, comforting, and wholesome.  One must be willing to go out of one’s way to get any exposure to the less attractive aspects and effects of religion – but once one resolves to do so, one discovers that the well of evidence that religion is harmful is deep indeed.

The following books, which I have listed in no particular order, merely scratch the surface of religious malfeasance.  However, they present such damning evidence so persuasively that it would be difficult for any but the most fanatical believer to defend the institutions they expose.  Note: These are not books for making people into atheists – that is an entirely different list.

God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner

It may surprise some readers that my selection of an indictment of the Catholic Church doesn’t involve the child sex-abuse scandal; indeed, there are many compelling (if horrifying) such works from which to choose.  God’s Bankers, however, tells a story that is far less familiar to most of us, and reveals a side of the church that is rarely acknowledged but no less sinister.  From selling indulgences to wealthy nobles to hiding Nazi gold to laundering money for the mafia to ensuring that individual dioceses held all liability for pedophilia lawsuits, the Vatican has consistently put protection and expansion of its financial assets above all other concerns, even while dictating and legislating the morality of its more than one billion followers.  In this exhaustively researched history of Vatican finances Posner offers an up-close examination of the seamy underbelly of what is arguably one of the wealthiest and most powerful – and most corrupt – institutions the world has ever known.

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

For those who are already familiar with Hitchens’s uniquely delightful, scorched-earth approach to defeating theists of all stripes, God is Not Great is more or less a collection of his most famous and irrefutable arguments, though having been written by Hitchens, no amount of repetition can ever be too much.  For those who are less familiar with Hitch, and especially for people newly coming into their own as atheists, God is Not Great will repeatedly make you want to leap out of your chair and shout, “Fuck yeah!”  Not only does Hitchens eviscerate the claims of religion, he lays bare the myriad ways it retards human progress and threatens the very survival of civilization.  (For those of you who prefer to listen to your books, the audio version has the wonderful advantage of being narrated by Hitch himself.)

Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola

This study of atheist clergy, told mostly in the voices of the participants themselves, gives readers a glimpse into the struggles faced by people who pledged themselves to serve god only to eventually realize that there is no such thing.  Trapped by a lack of marketable skills, financial opportunities, and the fear of social rejection – or, in some cases, of the loss of the automatic authority, respect, and stature that comes with the title of Reverend – these individuals struggle with whether and how to leave their ministries and what message to preach in the meantime.  It is difficult not to have both empathy for these men and women who, on the one hand, feel betrayed at the discovery that their religion was not what they had always been taught; and contempt for them on the other hand for feeding their parishioners the same misrepresentations and lies of omission that deceived them in the first place.  In either case, what the authors and the study participants make clear is that church leaders are duping young people into the clergy, and churchgoers themselves are deeply complicit.

Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell by Jack Olsen

John Story was a gentile doctor in a small Mormon community.  Though he was not one of them, he was devout in his own religion and ran his practice authoritatively and with the modern curiosity of an examination table fitted with stirrups, and in short order was one of the most respected and powerful men in town.  In the ensuing decades he sexually abused and raped hundreds of women and girls – people who were kept in ignorance about sex and their own bodies based on scriptural demands for feminine chastity and cowed by strict religious conditioning never to question male authority.  Women and girls who did speak up were swiftly shamed into silence or punished by their LDS leaders.   When enough victims finally came forward, Story’s most vigorous self-defense was his claim of devout religious belief, and his strongest defenders all declared that god was on their side.  Doc is a chilling tale of how fundamentalist religion grooms women to be victims of abuse and provides safe harbor for abusers.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

From the absurd origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the disavowal of polygamy that gave rise to the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Krakauer delivers a devastating blow to whatever claims of respectability the Mormon Church may still have had.  In riveting prose so characteristic of his writing, he weaves the tale of Mormonism’s bloody history with the modern story of two brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her infant daughter because (so they claimed) god told them to.  Under the Banner of Heaven makes plain how thin the line is between religious devotion and religious fanaticism and how fundamentalism opens the door to unspeakable atrocities committed without remorse.

Beyond Belief:  by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Many of us think of Scientology as a Hollywood eccentricity that commits no real harm, since its adherents are mostly wealthy celebrities wasting their money on spiritual silliness.  I was genuinely shocked at how wrong that perception truly is.  Yes, the doctrine of Scientology is blatantly nonsensical and in many ways laughable and it is difficult to understand the mindset that accepts it as plausible, let alone rational.  But for the lives of people living within Scientology – teaching their classes, running their hotels and restaurants, building and maintaining their properties, and living in their military-style housing under military-style rules – it is an omnipresent, all-powerful force that controls their every action, punishes them severely for any misstep, and leaves many of them living in fear and servitude.  As you read the book make sure you never forget: This organization does not pay taxes.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel is the poignant, disturbing, and inspirational memoir of how New Atheist and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali survived and escaped a life of religious brutality to become a role model and beacon for free-thinkers in the Muslim world and elsewhere.  She is unflinchingly honest even on matters that could be less than flattering for her, and she does an admirable job of conveying the mixed emotions of a child who was subjected to terrible things by her family, but loves and empathizes with them nonetheless.  Her frank assessment of the role of Islamic ideology in her plight as well as that of millions of other Muslim women, girls, apostates, freethinkers, gays, and secularists has put her in the crosshairs of Islamists and Regressive Leftists alike – and yet I challenge anyone to read her book and then claim with a straight face that her diagnosis of the Islam problem doesn’t have merit.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres

Though it is now the subject of much tasteless humor, the Jonestown massacre was anything but funny – indeed, it was a tragedy and a crime on an almost unthinkable scale.  Contrary to what many assume, Jim Jones lured followers to his People’s Temple not by starting out as a cult leader who professed that he himself was god, but as an evangelical Christian preacher.  Once he had a congregation of fanatically devoted followers, he started singing a different tune – but by then they were already committed to him.  When he founded Jonestown he convinced his congregants to relocate there by proclaiming it as their sanctuary on earth; they didn’t know that it was the final stage of his years-long plan to kill them all.  Add in the fact that a third of the Jonestown victims were children and many were forced to drink poison at gunpoint, and the story is clearly not the light-hearted joke it is so often made out to be.  As with so many other tragedies borne of irrational belief, the story of Jonestown reveals how willingly people will act against their own best interests, and even the best interests of their children, when they believe it is sanctioned by god.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris

Any intellectually honest person must admit that there is something happening in the world today that is peculiar to Islam.  Unfortunately, the repercussions are not merely peculiar, but deadly and potentially devastating.  There is simply no question that people will do irrational, sometimes terrible things when they believe they have divine warrant and in that regard, Islam is no different than any other religion.  What does make it different is the frequency and scale with which such warrants are served, combined with the principles of the doctrine itself, in which political conquest is fundamental in a way that has no analogy in other mainstream religions.  Beyond the very real threat that Islamism poses to free, secular society, an honest look at the dogma itself shows it to be every bit as heinous as its Abrahamic counterparts, putting the lie to the “religion of peace” canard.  As an aside, Harris has become a controversial figure for many of the ideas put forth in this book.  I submit that those who make accusations that Harris is racist or supports torture have not in fact read it, or if they have they are knowingly misrepresenting it.

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things that Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina

When confronted with the question of why atheists are angry (or why we talk about god so much when we don’t believe), Greta Christina’s list is the best response I have found yet.  Her list encompasses religious abuses both great and small, everything from depriving people of basic human and civil rights to creating divisions within families to hampering scientific and social progress.  What is unique about her book is not only that she seems to capture every legitimate argument that atheists and anti-theists make against religion, but the compassion she has for believers who, she correctly observes, are themselves often the victims of their own indoctrination and dogma.  It is an outstanding manual for summarizing that which many of us often struggle to communicate, and for explaining to the faithful why we feel compelled to discuss religion in spite of not believing in it.

What books would you add to this list?

Setting the Record Straight

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Image credit Getty Images

Those who follow my facebook page may have seen my recent post in which I rattled off a list of things that are true – as in, are fully established facts or are overwhelmingly supported by all available evidence. Being that I was in a state of irritation from hours of dealing with Regressive Skeptics I left out a great many items that I wish I had included. This is the list I wish I had posted. For those who have seen the original, please accept my apologies for the repetition, and my thanks to the folks who pointed out conspicuous omissions. For everyone reading, if you want to challenge any of this, please note: The burden of proof is on you.

Let’s clear a few things up, shall we?

  • 9/11 was not an inside job.
  • Sandy Hook was not a “false flag.”
  • Neither was the Boston Marathon bombing, the San Bernardino shooting, the Paris attacks, or any other bombing or shooting.
  • In fact, there is no such thing as a “false flag” (as the term is used in conspiracy circles).
  • We really did land on the moon.
  • The Holocaust really happened.
  • Fluoride in the water supply isn’t a mind control experiment – it really is just good for your teeth.
  • There are no chemtrails, just contrails.
  • GMOs are just as safe as conventional foods.
  • Organic isn’t healthier.
  • It’s not better for the environment either.
  • Vaccines work and they don’t cause autism.
  • Homeopathy doesn’t work.
  • Alternative medicine is not medicine.
  • For people who have type I diabetes, insulin is not optional.
  • Pot doesn’t cure everything.
  • Big Pharma is not suppressing a known cure for cancer.
  • Everything is made of chemicals.
  • The relative positions of the planets do not determine your personality or your future.
  • The past was not romantic. Life was not idyllic, easy, healthy, or long 50,000 years ago.
  • Not 5,000 years ago or 500 years ago either.
  • Guns don’t make you safer.
  • And jack-booted thugs are not going to kick your door in any minute now to take them away from you.
  • Gay sex does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, tsunamis, fires, volcano eruptions, landslides, stock market crashes, train derailments, bridge collapses, oil spills, or anything else.
  • Big Government is not secretly controlling every aspect of human life.
  • Speed limits are not tyranny.
  • Making health insurance affordable is not actually just as bad as slavery.
  • Taxes are not theft.
  • Nuclear power is safe.
  • The zombie apocalypse is not coming.
  • The universe started with the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.
  • The earth is a sphere that orbits the sun.
  • And it is 4.54 billion years old.
  • Anthropogenic climate change is real.
  • Evolution by natural selection really happened. In fact, it is still happening.
  • There is no evidence for ghosts, an afterlife, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ancient aliens, alien abductions, reincarnation, telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, the soul, demons, spirits, angels, witchcraft, or magic.
  • There almost certainly is no god.

Evidence matters. Even when you don’t like it. Even when it contradicts your deeply held beliefs. Even when it makes you really uncomfortable.

Evidence. Fucking. Matters.