Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Know What Would Be Great?

A little goddam support, that's what.

I know I haven't used this blog for personal gripes in years, but this one has a sceptical angle to it, so bear with me.

I'm in the midst of a row with a person who, only a few weeks ago, I considered a close personal friend, colleague and (kinda/sorta) employee. I had to make some tough decisions about our business relationship, and that led to some pretty lousy behaviour on their part.

Tempers were lost, memes were posted. I'm not particularly proud of one post I made early on, but generally I think I've conducted myself quite well through all of this. Keeping a cool head (despite wanting to lose it) and keeping all my comments and responses on the 'decent' side of the line.

The same cannot be said of my opponent in this debacle, who is going thermonuclear in spectacular fashion. I'm not surprised by their actions in all this (I've known this person to be something of a transuranian element as long as we've known each other), but what has surprised me is the actions of almost everyone else.

You may notice I've avoided any mentions of a name and all gender pronouns when referring to the person in question. If you really want to know who it is, it won't take you long to find out. If you know the person, you already know who it is. But for the sake of keeping this exercise an intellectual one, I feel the need to depersonalise this post. But for the sake of expediency, I will use a pseudonym: "Snowclaw".

Since I first lost my temper on Snowclaw's Facebook wall, they have undertaken a massive campaign to undermine and slander me, in a fashion I can only describe as "grandiose". I'm not the only target of this campaign... my girlfriend Soo and the business we own together are targeted as well. (the campaign actually started before the row did, and led to its commencement, upon which it changed form, but that's a long story)

Snowclaw's campaign appears to have consisted of the following strategy:

  1. Wait for Owen or Soo to say something. Anything, no matter how benign.
  2. Write an essay with poor spelling, grammar and punctuation (so it looks frenzied and hurriedly assembled) bleating about how whatever was said constitutes bullying, harassment or abuse (often all three), how dare anyone speak to them that way, they are completely innocent and sweet and nothing they've ever said or done deserves such a militant response... that sort of thing.
  3. Wait for Snowclaw's friends (most of whom have never met Owen & Soo) to join in on the thread, repeating Snowclaw's accusations while being generally hostile and behaving like a gang of naughty schoolboys kicking a dead cat.
  4. Contact Owen & Soo's friends, wailing about the mistreatment Snowclaw has received and try to convince them to turn against Owen & Soo. As additional ammunition, Snowclaw will refer to the consensus among Snowclaw's own friends that the claims are true.
  5. Repeat.
What you may notice immediately (I certainly did) is how closely this strategy resembles that of religious people from societies where religious privilege is common.

It's a well-worn strategy that seems to serve religious people well, even if it is ludicrous. Luckily the rationally-minded among us have seen it before, and know it when we see it, right?

That's what I would have thought. But the astonishing thing is that doesn't appear to be the case.

You see, step 4 in Snowclaw's strategy above actually works. I've lost a number of friends over the last few days. Some of whom were very close to me for years. The rate of attrition is alarmingly high.

Even more astonishing is every single one of those people is a rationalist! Every last one! Surely someone with a sceptical outlook would be accustomed to rejecting a superficial explanation of some extraordinary claim, pending the results of a more objective inquiry. Even if the claim is only mildly interesting.

And since an objective inquiry is quite easy in this case (all the relevant discussion threads are publicly visible*), I would expect that a 30 second survey of the facts at hand would allow any rational person the opportunity to dismiss the claims presented and accept a more accurate interpretation.

At the very least, if such a person found it difficult to arrive at a conclusive opinion based on that facts at hand, a logical next step would be to approach me (or Soo) to gain an insight into our side of the matter, and weigh that accordingly. Right?

I don't pretend that my interpretation of the situation is an impartial one. It's arrived at through my own set of biases. But surely my side should at least be considered before a conclusion is reached, should it not?

Guess how many of those friends have asked to hear my version. I'll tell you: none. 


I began this post with an emotional outburst which requires some explanation. Although many of Soo's and my friends appear to have accepted Snowclaw's version of events without question, some few have not. Those few have spoken to each of us in private messages, expressing their reassurance and wishing us luck. We're very glad in the knowledge that not all our friends have abandoned us.

But another puzzling thing is this: although Snowclaw's allies seem gleefully eager to express their support and agreement with Snowclaw, loudly and publicly, the same doesn't appear to be true of those who agree with us instead. Snowclaw has a veritable army of trolls, cheerleaders and other assorted flunkies egging them on, but we appear to have few or none of those.

I don't blame our friends for wanting to keep their heads down... drawing attention will also likely mean drawing fire from Snowclaw and their sniper-bullies. But it would be very gratifying to have a few people stand up for us in public. Very gratifying indeed.

It would also send a message to those who cast us aside that not everyone agrees with Snowclaw's assessment, there isn't a widely accepted consensus on the matter, and further investigation is warranted.

If you feel like you could offer us some of that kind of support, please do. It would be great.

* UPDATE: It seems the two threads in question may no longer be publicly visible. Snowclaw has blocked me, so I can no longer see them myself, and I won't resort to sockpuppets or meatpuppets to get around the block. Although it weakens my case that it's not possible for you to verify the facts for yourself, you might ask yourself what exactly Snowclaw has to hide if they are truly the victim in this situation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

In Which I Am Surprised to Be Called a Rapist

This was originally going to be a very different post. I wanted to cover a number of different topics in one go, but it turns out I have a lot more to say about all this than I'd expected. As a result, I'm going to have to split it up into several posts, the first few laying the ground-work for the later ones.

You'll notice that in this post, I've backed down from my usual tone of 'blood-thirsty mercilessness'. As strongly as I feel about the subject matter, because the people I'm talking about here are allies of mine in the rationalist movement, I feel it prudent to afford them a certain degree of benefit of the doubt I wouldn't ordinarily offer. There won't be any cheap shots, name-calling or hair-pulling here. That's not cool.

Here's hoping I'm actually able to finish a series of posts this time! Fingers crossed!

Rebecca Watson
If you're at all involved in the atheist and sceptic online communities, you'll no doubt be aware of the schism currently underway that originated (more or less) with the "Elevatorgate" incident a year and a half or so ago.

If you're not, I'll try to bring you up to speed.

Noted sceptic and atheist speaker, Rebecca Watson, made a YouTube video in which she (among other things) expressed mild annoyance at having been propositioned by a guy while they were alone in a lift at four in the morning. She found it irritating and a little creepy, and implored all men everywhere to think twice before doing something like that.

Here's the actual video: (the relevant bit is at 4:30 if you want to skip ahead)

I didn't think anything of it at the time. And I still don't think much of it. It was a perfectly reasonable response to a situation that, for whatever reason, Rebecca didn't like. The shitstorm that followed on the blogs, YouTube, Twitter  and at sceptical and atheist conferences since then was, in my view, a ridiculous overreaction to an insignificant incident. Lines were drawn, polarizing labels abused ("feminazis" vs "rape apologists") and the whole thing got pretty messy.

I decided to stay the fuck out of it. I didn't agree with either side, and saw no benefit to sticking my nose in (beyond, perhaps, stimulating downloads for Consilience). But a few days ago I changed my mind about that.

I read this post by Rebecca. In it, she calls me a rapist. To be precise, she claims that if you have sex with someone who is drunk, you are automatically a rapist. "End of story."

How Does That Make Me a Rapist?

I'm a teetotaler. Always have been. But I don't have a policy of dating teetotalers. As it turns out, I've actually never dated one. In most of my sexual relationships I've been in situations where my partner was drunk and I wasn't. One of my longest-running relationships was with a woman who could probably have been considered an alcoholic - she was in some state of inebriation almost every time we were intimate.

We didn't part on the best of terms (it's safe to say she hates me more than any person alive) but if you were to ask her if I ever raped her, she'd say no. Even on some occasions when she was at her drunkest (I'm talking slurred-speech, unable-to-walk-unassisted drunk) the thought never occurred to anyone that our sex was anything but consensual. Everyone involved in the sex was an adult, capable of making his/her own decisions, and did so. Even at her drunkest, if she wasn't in the mood for it, she was perfectly capable of saying "no", and that would be the end of it. No means no.

Am I a rapist?  Of course not. It's absurd and, frankly, offends me that it would even be suggested.

Am I suggesting that alcohol can't be used as a tool by rapists to exert a measure of control over their victims? No. I can't speak to that. Not being a drinker myself I couldn't say how much it compromises one's decision-making ability. But I can categorically state that just because you have sex with a drunk person, that does not automatically make you a rapist.

So What's the Problem?

Rebecca's statement was wrong, and her apparently ideological commitment to that unwavering position of "drunk sex = rape, always" signifies a lack of rational thinking. Moral absolutes are the domain of the religious and other fundamentalists, not of rational, thinking people. I've always considered Rebecca to be a thinking person, not a dogmatist, hence my surprise.

It got me thinking about the whole schism in our movement, and particularly the position of the so-called "Feminist" camp in this fight. I use those quotation marks because I don't believe that their position represents Feminism in any real sense, but more of that later.

Suffice to say that I no longer wish to remain out of this fight, but I do want to be clear that I don't align myself with the rape-threatening trolls any more than I do with the Pseudo-feminists. I predict that my opposition to the Pseudo-feminists will draw (and already has drawn) accusations against me for being a sexist and rape-apologist (in addition to being a rapist, of course). That is the price for getting into this fight: putting up with trolls on both sides.

Shields up. Phasers locked. Ahead one half impulse.

"Sheilds... SHEILDS!!!!" - CAPT Hikaru Sulu

Keep your sensors peeled for the next installment. And check the comments below for the fireworks!