Previously on Shmeargate, I discussed how “strife and discord” (taken from the Eris myth) is good for the community, and in line with free-thought or “herding cats”. And how “with us or against us”, as convincing it may seem, was a false dilemma; a converse more like “flock of sheep” that shows already “thought-police” like tendencies. I have described some larger contexts, and hinted at conflicts between humanities and natural science that are echoed in the community (the opposing ends are perhaps postmodernism vs. empiricism/positivism).
This instalment looks further into the infamous Grenade post and the conference issues that are mentioned in it. And we have to continue a myth…
Athena, Hera and Aphrodite were still arguing which one was the fairest of them, when Zeus announced how they were going to settle the matter once and for all. For it is very neat when issues aren’t just being brought up, but also some method is devised that solves them to general satisfaction. Zeus nominated a young man with the curious nickname “Pouch” to choose which of the three goddesses should win. After all, the wedding party was still in full swing.
“[A]t the post-speech party, Shermer chatted with me at great length while refilling my wine glass repeatedly.”
— Anonymous woman
And They Knew Him By the Name of… Pouch
Pouch’s birth name was Alexandros, son of King Priam. But the Seer Aesacus told his father, without further evidence, that the new-born – incidentally also his half-brother – would cause the downfall of the kingdom should he stay alive. And so the king ordered the infant’s death. The herdsman Agelaus, unable to follow the instructions, left the child on Mount Ida, and some days later, when he found it still alive, took it home in his pouch — hence the nickname — to raise it as his own. It is hinted that some higher powers were in play, as the boy survived the nine days outside nourished by a she-bear. In Ancient Greek, a type of pouch or bag was known as “Paris” — and that makes the young man Paris of Troy, a name that telegraphs disaster, as in Antiquity, seers and their not-so-terribly-well-substantiated prophecies had the unpleasant characteristic that they still tended to get it right.
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“I will again emphasize, though, that I have no personal, direct evidence that the event occurred as described; all I can say is that the author is known to me, and she has also been vouched for by one other person I trust.”
– PZ Myers
PZ Myers made a couple of not-so-terribly-well-substantiated allegations against the “big name” Michael Shermer. In his blog post, which you may want to re-read, he quotes mainly other people whose identities are kept confidential in order to allegedly protect them from Shermer’s Wrath. Only that the second person already recognizes the first. There is a lot that doesn’t quite make sense …
“The anonymous woman who wrote to you is known to me” – Second Source on the first
But before we dive in some more, I’m compelled to write that I feel sympathy for the women who were (at least) distraught or upset with what happened to them. I hope they are well. Provided they have a case, they should get together and enable prosecution, especially when they believe the man they accuse is dangerous. In that case I come to think it is even their moral duty.
“She’s also afraid that the person who assaulted her before could try to hurt her again.” – PZ Myers
PZ Myers calls it “assault” and and makes it sound even more violent when he warns “big name” could “hurt her again”. The first source called it “coercion” and joint storytelling of the Social Justice League agrees on something more along the lines “lots of wine & flirting, escort to hotel room, sex without ‘enthusiastic consent’”. We will never know if PZ Myers found Shermers flirting skills that terrible or if he tried his hand at creative writing. But that aside, believe it or not, I also sympathize a little with him. But I’m more with the fourth quoted person in his blog post, who wrote: “I have mixed feelings about [PZ Myers] grenade-dropping” – that puts it mildly.
The most vague and evidence-free shaming is a different matter, though, and I found the arguments by Thibeault, Carrier and company unconvincing to say the least, who tried to downplay such severe allegations made in the court of public opinion as some of kind of corrective of trust. As a principle, an actual charge must be presented, allowing the accused to defend itself properly. Otherwise we might as well call it character assassination in a more literal sense. Our laws in my country are far harsher when it comes to disseminating of information that ruins someone’s reputation and I just happen to be socialized here, where I assume that cultural perspectives may play a role in how this behavior is perceived.
“unethical behavior by a big name […] the person who […] powerful big name guy […]”
– PZ Myers studiously vague (8th of August, 2013)
“Name names, always name names, and always do your best to be specific.” – PZ Myers (2nd of July, 2011)
Or not. He doesn’t mention Shermer once. And who can, in good conscience, agree to the attitude to take matters in one’s own hand like this, instead of committing it to the proper authorities? Vigilantism is typically considered a (far)-right view, borne out of the right’s distrust of the government and its institutions. With the authoritarian tendencies observed last time, it is not pretty what is gathering at the horizon.
Pick A Side
“Paris—”, the thundering voice of Zeus commanded, “Make Your Choice. Which of the Three is the Fairest? But Choose Wisely…”
Fortunately, there is a silver lining for us stray
cats squirrel (metaphor collision ftw). We don’t have to pick any side. We may just suspend judgement and consider multiple scenarios, perhaps ordered by what we quietly believe to be more likely at the moment. Whatever we believe: any picking of sides would largely be symbolical. There is hardly a reason why “Let’s Agree to Disagree” shouldn’t work.
When it is symbolical as nothing changes whatever most people think privately, the question arises who is the target audience and for what purpose. Every communication has some sort of appeal. At minimum it is “I want you to know that I think…” from where the motivations open up: “Why does the person want me to know what they think?”
If Myers just wanted to get the word out, he could have closed his comment section right away and kept it strictly “for your information”. Not that it would eleminate all concerns, but some.
It is a general expectation, that a blog with an open comment section is “open for discussion” — especially in our debate-friendly community. But the way he presented it, with the sense of urgency (must.protect.women.) and the overall “with us or against us” attitude, it doesn’t come across as “just want to let you know”. It comes across as a bait just as previous “polarizing” issues (I have written about some of in the previous post; meanwhile an article on “Debunking Christianity” explores this aspect in more depth”).
Given the circumstances, it is a fair suspicion that those who poke holes in his reporting are used to fabricate an “Evil Side” against which the Social Justice League (see Part 1) can pose as the “Good Side” as they now do with routine — the Endless Well of Wisdom refers to this as Windmill Political:
“[…] pretends that the windmill is a real threat. He does this to scare people into giving him power, to trick them into rewarding him for “keeping them safe” from something from which they don’t need protection […]” –Windmill Political (TVTropes)
And here we have the ingredients of propaganda together again: A) critics and contrarians that become a “side”, seemingly in league with a rapist and B) the “good” and only alternative.
It doesn’t mean that sexism, harassment or rape don’t exist (which would be ludicrious position anyway) or that, if true, “getting the word out” couldn’t protect anyone — we will see that it just doesn’t make sense in this case. In fact, there are serious concerns, and certainly issues that occur at conferences where an otherwise mostly online-based community gets together, with parties, alcohol and hotel rooms nearby. But let’s not overlook the trickery at work:
“I’m going to get tarred as the evil guy who publicized sexual misconduct charges against one of the biggest names in the business, and I’m about to get thoroughly slimed by a lot of people who are in denial about rape culture.” –PZ Myers (at comment 389, emphasis mine)
In that comment, Myers introduces a dualism, and knows with dead certainty that his commentariat will not think of him as the “evil guy”, and of course, it is a rhetorical device where he switches around in the last sentence. Since he’s not the “evil guy”, he becomes the “good guy” and per false dilemma the others must be the “evil ones”, which he couples with a “denial about rape culture”.
And since it’s used with such persistence, a few sentences why it’s a false dilemma: Someone could believe the problems existed as asserted, even see “rape culture” yet still remain unsure whether Shermer did what they claim he did. Another one could maintain that harassment was a big concern, think Shermer was guilty and still condemn Myers’ public shaming and shunning, and probably many more variations.
A fairly interesting element of the Grenade post was a bit overshadowed by the accusations against Shermer: blaming organisations. It is another piece of the puzzle that falls right into place once we see some of the context.
It struck me as quite odd. Why on earth, in a serious matter such as rape, would someone accuse organisations? It is actually this part that makes it all look like some sort of revenge and washing of dirty laundry in public.
“I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously. Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they [ who is they? ] did the same to them) and wanted to just say something and warn people, and I didn’t know how. I hope this protects someone.”
– Confidential Source, PZM’s Grenade Post (emphasis mine)
Solve Conference Issues — Save the World
It is very noticeable that according to the Social Justice League the situation at conference are in some way representative of overall societal issues, and at the same time somehow connected to everyone’s worldviews, after all, for about two years it’s the recurring theme which could be discussed specifically another time.
Ostensibly, PZ Myers and his source wanted to “protect women” at conferences and elsewhere. Though, how many of the readers actually will ever meet Shermer, much less party with him? This particular story doesn’t add up very well for another reason, either, since their reports are several years old, and one report even goes back to 2006. While it is still makes a lot of sense to serve justice by enabling prosecution, the justification for merely blogging about it some years later does not make a lot of sense.
Seven years ago is almost ancient history, and was when a certain (awesome) “strident” Brit released his godless polemic. When people wait seven years, then suddenly develop an urge to “protect women” we know that something is off, and there is a possible explanation.
In one of the earlier versions of PZ Myers grenade post, Carrie Poppy’s name shows up, which actually sheds some light on the situation (for the record I didn’t know about her before all this). Thunderf00t captured some earlier material, where her name is still visible.
(Thunderf00t noted Carrie at the beginning. I otherwise don’t necessarily agree with everything he points out)
Now, “incidentally”, earlier the month, one Carrie Poppy already used Myers blog to attack DJ Grothe of JREF on other issues about sexual harassment. It looks Myers and Poppy teamed up to continue in this fashion in the Shmeargate case as well.
And DJ Grothe and his organisation wasn’t particularly popular with the Social Justice League anyway (just like Shermer), as many previous exchanges attest (one ur-conflict was when Rebecca Watson, another opinion leader of the Social Justice League, less famous back then, first was suspended for using sock-puppets on JREFs forums, accidentally got mod powers which she abused, and then got banned for good).
Get Your Act Together
So let’s do some clean up:
- There are potential victims, and whether or not they were raped, they were “distraught” and upset.
- Their case is different from Myers storytelling
- … and different from smearing of a person or an organisation.
- There are issues with sexism and harassment in society, the internet etc.
- … and that is yet another issue from whatever happens at conferences,
- … and yet a distinct issue from how organisations deal or dealt with it in the past.
Independent opinions on all of these cases are possible without a problem, and it’s clear that “picking sides” is a ridiculous idea. I don’t know what’s up with this organisations. I find their behaviour rather appalling when the claims turn out to be true, though. I still don’t want to be manipulated by so-called opinion leaders.
It’s the homework of the leaders of the community who organize these events to get their act together, and it is very dubious when they enlist online mobs to attack each other. Why don’t the relevant people, when they meet, solve the issues like responsible people would do, instead of acting like manipulative parents who incite their kids against each other (well, only one side does it).
And finally, unlike Greek prophecies where Gods tend to have it their way, there is nothing to know in the Shmeargate case so far, as Myers points it out himself:
“I have no personal, direct evidence that the event occurred as described”. – PZ Myers, actually a tad more nuanced than his flock.
Any “told you so” would be mere Hindsight Bias and no matter the outcome, and there is anyway no reason for triumph.
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Aphrodite, who really wanted to be declared the fairest of them all, offered him the fairest mortal woman as his future-wife if Paris were to choose her.
“‘Paris,’ she said, and her voice seemed to sing inside his head. ‘Give me the apple and in return I will give you the gift of love. You will possess the most beautiful woman in the land, a woman equal to me in perfection of form. With her you will experience the greatest delights of love-making. Choose me, Paris, and she will be yours.’”
– Living Myths (via Greylining)
She was certainly not a difficult choice as the Goddess of Love, Beauty, “Pleasure and Procreation”, as Wikipedia puts it nicely. You might have heared of the Aphrodisiac, named after her, a mythical drink that makes “sex more attainable and/or pleasurable”. We get into drinks in the next and final part, based around the “wine story” in “Blaming Helen”. To be continued…
Don’t hesitate to leave a comment, as feedback of any kind is greatly appreciated.
EDIT: I fixed some wonky writing and typos, the content remained the same 🙂