Tag Archives: Social Justice Warriors

The case against Tim Hunt unravels.

Along with an awful lot of other people, I owe Sir Tim Hunt an apology. I’d previously said he was guilty of misjudged tone-deaf comments that, while not a sacking offense, were deserving of ridicule. Now it’s looking as though the accusations against him were false. He’s been completely exonerated by Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society. As reported in The Times.

Connie St Louis, the journalist who gave her version of Sir Tim’s toast, to a lunch for women in science last month, described the horror with which his demeaning of women in science was received. “There was a deathly silence,” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . these guys are incredibly upset. And so after he’d finished, there was just this deathly, deathly silence.”

That did sound bad. And Ms St Louis drove home her point on BBC television. “It was a room of about a hundred people.” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . everybody was stony-faced.”

That would rightly cause a storm if any of it were true. Except it wasn’t. As more evidence has come to light it’s become clear that no only were Sir Tim Hunt’s comments taken so out of context that their meaning was completely reversed, but the “deathly, deathly silence” was completely false.

While we’re seeing a lot of justified criticism of Twitter mobs made up of people who didn’t bother to check facts before piling in on an issue that fits their chosen narrative, I think a lot of Tim Hunt’s early accusers deserve some slack. The initial accusation came from someone holding the post of Professor of Science Journalism at City University in London, who ought to have been a reputable source. The fact that this person behaved in the manner that resembles the amoral hacks from celebrity gossip scandal sheets does leave City University with serious questions to answer.

These sorts of public witch-hunts achieve nothing when it comes to reducing the amount of sexism and racism in the world. If anything they have the opposite effect, by empowering the worst bigots on the opposing side. Look how Requires Hate has boosted the standing of Vox Day. I do sometimes hear the argument that it’s necessary to destroy the careers and reputations of innocent people “‘pour encourager les autres”, but I for one utterly reject that as totalitarian garbage.

It’s not about justice, it’s about power.

Posted in Religion and Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Fearful Symmetry

Another very good post by Scott Alexander, Fearful Symmetry, which sums up a lot of things I’ve been thinking for a long while about the parallels between online “Social Justice Warriors” and cultural conservatives.

The social justice narrative describes a political-economic elite dominated by white males persecuting anybody who doesn’t fit into their culture, like blacks, women, and gays. The anti-social-justice narrative describes an intellectual-cultural elite dominated by social justice activists persecuting anybody who doesn’t fit into their culture, like men, theists, and conservatives. Both are relatively plausible; Congress and millionaires are 80% – 90% white; journalists and the Ivy League are 80% – 90% leftist.

The narratives share a surprising number of other similarities. Both, for example, identify their enemy with the spirit of a discredited mid-twentieth century genocidal philosophy of government; fascists on the one side, communists on the other. Both believe they’re fighting a war for their very right to exist, despite the lack of any plausible path to reinstituting slavery or transitioning to a Stalinist dictatorship. Both operate through explosions of outrage at salient media examples of their out-group persecuting their in-group.

They have even converged on the same excuse for what their enemies call “politicizing” previously neutral territory – that what their enemies call “politicizing” is actually trying to restore balance to a field the other side has already successfully politicized.

It’s a long post, as a lot of Scott Alexander’s deeper posts tend to be. But it’s worth your time reading the whole thing even if you don’t agree with his comclusions. He touches on that pizza parlour refusing to cater for gay weddings, the case of Curtis Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug being disinvited from a tech conference, and the ongoing car crash of the Sad Puppies Hugo Awards affair, which also gets a lot of mentions in the very long (and largely civil) comment thread that follows.

One commenter, Rachel made a very good point comparing the fate of Tim Hunt, the 72-year old Nobel laureate forced to resign after a bad example of casual sexism, and Irene Gallo, the Tor Books editor accused of slandering a significant proportion of the publishing house’s authors and readership.

I was thinking about the symmetry between Irene Gallo and Tim Hunt. Everyone I’ve seen (including my own lizard brain) supports precisely one of them and condemns the other.

But trying to think about it objectively, the situations are pretty similar. They made an inaccurate sweeping generalisation about a group, in a way that’s not directly relevant to their job, but which slandered a lot of people they work with/for. They should probably either both be fired, or both be let alone to express their private opinions.

I find myself in complete agreement with that statement, though I’ve encountered very few others who have expressed that opinion in public. Which suggests that for many the overriding principle is not consistency, but loyalty to the tribe.

Posted in Religion and Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Culture Wars Battle of the Week

Bahar MustafaThis week’s social media outrage is all about Bahar Mustafa, the Diversity Officer for the Student Union of Goldsmiths College in London. First there was some controversy surrounding a diversity event from which white men were excluded, which quite probably got blown up out of all proportion. Then there were some allegedly offensive posts on Twitter using the #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag.

Now it’s all over the media, and she could end up losing her job.

Her defence of her behaviour isn’t helping.

She then defended her position on camera, saying ethnic minority women cannot be racist as they “do not stand to gain” from inequality.

Now I know that the American-originated Critical Race Theory redefines racism as “prejudice plus power”. But that not what the word means in common everyday usage in the wider world. Not only that, Britain’s laws on racial discrimination use the older and more widely understood definition.

But she added the uses of hashtags such as “kill all white men” on her personal account were “in-jokes and ways that many people in the queer feminist community express ourselves”.

Ah yes, the old “It’s just banter” defence. That worked so well when used by racist footballers. My own use of social media follows the principle “Never say on Twitter what you can’t justify to your employer or your mum”. That would have been good advice for Bahar Mustafa, or indeed anyone in a highly visible public position.

At this point it would be easy to paint Bahar Mustafa as a bad actor in the same vein as Lutfur Rahman or Benjanun Sriduangkaew. But a more charitable explanation might be that she simply lacks the self-awareness to realise how her remarks could be interpreted outside the self-referential bubble of academic leftism.

If there is a genuine need for so-called “safe spaces” for minorities at Goldsmiths College, then surely it ought to possible to articulate the reasons for them without using risible canards that play into the hands of white racism.

On the other hand you do wonder whether the middle-class identity politics that constantly casts white men rather than the wealthy elites as the villains actually achieves much when it comes to tackling serious structural inequality. When taken out of academia into the real world, it certainly won’t be terribly effective at winning over the traditional working-class vote that progressive forces need if they are ever to win elections and form governments.

Still, calls for Bahar Mustafa to be prosecuted are utterly ridiculous. As to whether she gets to keep her job is a matter for her employer, Goldsmiths College Student’s Union, not a mob of random people on the internet with virtual torches and pitchforks.

And nobody deserves death threats, no matter who they offend.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Get Your Sea Lions Off Our Lawn

The hashtag #MetalGate has spring up on Twitter over the past few days. Despite claims that “Social Justice Warriors” have declared war on metal, the only links being passed around are to a notorious MRA site I won’t link to, and to a sife called Death Metal Underground which blows the racist dog-whistle at heavy metal volumes.

Basically SJWs are complaining about how people who enjoy metal tend to be racist, misogynist, and homophobic the three favorite strawman attacks of the left and exclude those who are not white “cisgendered” males. As you know, the average white man in the West Virginian coal mines has much more prosperity and opportunity than the rest of the ethnic and gender groups in the country, so there is no reason that white men should have a right to have any pride in their ethnic identity or have anything unique that they can identify with.

The rather more reputable MetalSucks dismisses the whole thing as total hogwash.

But my ultimate problem with #metalgate is that it’s entirely manufactured. No one, or no group, is banding together to try and change metal in any one specific way — the threat is entirely imagined. Certain social values enter the metalsphere simply because those values are spreading throughout society as a whole — this idea that “SJWs” failed with #gamergate so they’re now moving on to a different cause is total bologna. They’re entirely separate people!

Precisely. Hack journalists have been writing poorly-researched articles riddled with lazy stereotypes about metal and metal fans for decades. And metal fans have been calling them out on it for just as long. You do occasionally hear people say “Metal is racist because metal fans are predominately white”, but nobody with the remotest of clues takes them seriously. And no, mentioning the fact that Varg Vikernes of Burzum is a neo-Nazi and a convicted murderer isn’t the same thing.

If you actually look at the #MetalGate tag on Twitter, it’s all the same people as #GamerGate. It doesn’t have much to with actual metal fandom. Please get your sea-lions off Metal’s lawn.

But it does make you wonder how the whole thing started. Today’s big story in metal is the sacking of Phil McSorley from Cobalt after a bigoted meltdown on Facebook, to the tune of “Good bloody riddance” from several prominent metal music writers.

The decision to go separate ways is not at all surprising. McSorley, the former vocalist of Cobalt and current force behind the raw black metal band Recluse, employed some colorful hate slurs while accusing a prominent metal journalist of trying to build a “USBM friendship scene,” and bringing a “liberal agenda” of political correctness and social awareness into metal.

Now, I have no idea if acolytes of McSorley have anything to do with the appearance of the MetalGate tag. But the timing does seem something of a coincidence.

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Shirtstorm

That Infamous Shirt

The Internet is throwing one of its childish tantrums again.

The rocket scientist Matt Taylor, who had just made the remarkable achievement of landing a spacecraft on a comet, did a TV interview while wearing a Hawaiian shirt decorated by 1950s-style pinups that a female friend had made for him as birthday present.

Yes, the shirt could be seen as sexist in a workplace context, though I’d doubt most people would have batted an eyelid had he worn it to a rockabilly gig. But the outrage that followed blew things up out of all proportion, and showed the internet at its worst. It started with a nasty mean-spirited article on a clickbait website I won’t link to, and it was followed with the usual pattern of a Twitter mob gathering up torches and pitchforks. It resulted in the man making a tearful apology on TV. But the resulting backlash shows no signs of dying down.

Sorry, but I’m not seeing this as a successful calling out of sexism and misogyny in science. I’m seeing a brilliant but socially awkward man set upon by a pack of bullies over a social faux-pas. And from what I can tell, that’s how a lot of people outside the social-justice bubble see things as well. You are left with the impression they’ve gone for him because he makes an easy soft target who won’t fight back, and forcing a humiliating apology gives them a nice glow of moral righteousness. But there are far worse things than an inappropriate shirt, and cheap victories are often hollow ones.

There are real problems with structural sexism in the worlds of science and technology, but they’re not going to be solved by this sort of knee-jerk public shaming. Remarkable scientific achievements are often the work of people who don’t spend precious brain cycles on things like fashion sense. A scientific world that has no room for socially awkward people with a few rough edges who have difficulty navigating complex and constantly-changing rules of etiquette is a scientific world that will be less able to do things like land spacecraft on comets.

By all means call out blatant sexism. But always retain a sense of proportion, and never forget that there are real human beings at the other end of the invective. As I said about the Requires Hate saga, we must always put empathy before ideology.

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Wingnuts to the right of me, wingnuts to the left of me

A thought brought on by the Requires Hate saga.

Years ago, the most unpleasant and intolerant Internet wingnuts tended to come from the hard right of the political spectrum, typically motivated by Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, reactionary forms of religion, or old-fashioned racism. But in recent years more and more of the worst wingnuts seem to come from the authoritarian left, using the rhetoric of social justice to demand censorship of art and media, and ostracism of people that they don’t like.

Is this is a consequence of positive social change, in that things like gay rights and feminism have become increasingly mainstream, and have attracted the sorts of people who, had they been born a generation earlier, would have gravitated towards cultural conservatism?

Or is it just an illusion, a consequence of social media filter bubbles? Does the shift from subject-specific forums to people-specific social media platforms means that there are just as many conservative wingnuts out there, but they are no longer as visible on an impossible-to-ignore basis? Have the leftist wingnuts always been as common, but just never had much of a presence in online spaces I used to inhabit a decade ago?

Or am I just getting more conservative with age?

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The Outing of Requires Hate

Although I have been a reader of science fiction for many, many years, my fandom is music. And I’m glad it is.

Until very recently there was a book review blog called “Requires Only The You Hate”. It’s stock-in-trade was vitriolic reviews of science fiction novels, typically denouncing everything as racist and attacking the author rather than the work. The same blogger was also a notorious troll, posting under a number of identities over a period of a decade, and behaving as a serial harasser to a significant number of people, the majority of them women. Had she been operating in Britain she would very likely have been jailed. Her behaviour really was that bad.

Now her identity has been outed as a new writer under the name of Benjanun Sridankaew, whose new persona as a writer is all sweetness and light.

The whole thing is detailed here, if you have the stomach to read it. It’s nasty stuff.

She has now posted a public apology, but in a situation like this an apology can only be the first step on a long road to redemption. You can’t just wash away a past that bad overnight.

Whether or not we will see similar apologies from any of those who have enabled and encouraged her reign of terror over the past decade remains to be seen, and it has to be said that the list of people listed as supporting her over her victims contains one or two of the usual suspects. These are some of the same names that showed up in the Jonathan Ross debacle, including the one responsible for driving Ross’ wife off Twitter.

But the biggest problem is the subculture she operated within. What sort of subculture considers what can only be described as dehumanising hate-speech to be acceptable provided the target group is more “privileged”? Yet this is precisely the set of values that have taken over a significant part of the SFF world in recent years. It’s stated goals are to promote inclusivity and social justice, but without a commitment to human empathy it’s devolved into a frighteningly authoritarian form of identity politics. It’s created a perfect environment in which an abuser can hide; all they have to do cite the correct buzzwords and they’re given a free pass. There are parallels both with the collapse of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, and the abuse scandals that have seriously diminished the standing of the Roman Catholic Church.

When the whole Vox Day/SFWA and Hugo nominations things blew up, I was shocked that even a tiny minority would support someone who’s a known homophobic white supremacist rape apologist. But seeing later dramas unfold I’m beginning to understand why a long-term online friend who I’ve always considered a liberal would claim in the comments on this blog to be rooting for Larry Correia and Vox Day for the Hugo awards.

What happens next will be interesting. When SF’s default ideology was a militaristic frontier libertarianism and most books were written by white men with engineering degrees, too many voices got marginalised, and that was not a good thing. But now you’re left with a feeling it’s gone too far the other way, and the scene has adopted a set of values that meant it was only a matter of time before it all imploded. It’s had its revolution, now it’s reached the stage of the revolution eating its children.

SF would be a lot healthier if authors could put whatever politics they liked into the actual books, but SF as a whole didn’t favour one ideology over another. There will always be cliques and partisan sub-fandoms, that’s just human nature. And sometimes they’ll fight and there will be drama. But the bigger cultural war needs to end in a truce with both sides acknowledging the other’s right to exist.

I am still glad my chosen fandom is music. Music doesn’t have this nonsense nowadays.

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D&D5 and Internet Outrage

So the first release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition has caused an internet shitstorm. And this time it has absolutely nothing to do with any content of the actual game, but the names of two of the list of people credited as consultants. People are talking of boycotting the game, or making donations to an appropriate charity instead of buying D&D products.

Admittedly those two names have a reputation as rather abrasive characters who do not suffer fools gladly, and referring to opponents as “Psuedoactivist Swine” is not the best way to make friends and influence people. But nothing excuses smears and blatant lies such as wholly false claims of racism and homophobia. The whole thing seems to be driven by long-running personal feuds and opposing cliques, some of which goes back to the elitism coming out of The Forge a decade ago.

I’m reminded of the “Satanic Panic” back in the 1980s, when a bunch of fundamentalists declared than D&D was a gateway to devil worship and a significant cause of teenage suicide. These small-minded and censorious authoritarians managed to do a great deal of harm to the RPG hobby, for example getting the game banned in schools. They succeeded in this because D&D was little known and little understood, and too few people outside the RPG hobby understood how much their claims were paranoid nonsense.

A decade later they tried the same thing against the far more mainstream Harry Potter fandom, and they just got steamrollered. Enough of a critical mass of people had read the actual books, so that nobody outside the fundamentalist bubble could take the devil-worship arguments seriously.

The same has happened with the so-called “Outrage brigade”. When they went after relatively little-known small-press writers people who ought to have known better bought their lies and smears. Once they went after the biggest game in the RPG hobby it was the equivalent of the moral minority versus Harry Potter. They were revealed as a small clique, deserving irrelevance beyond their little echo chambers.

It does need to be said that there has been some thoroughly toxic behaviour on both sides, bad things said in anger that keep on fuelling the fires. School playgound level name-calling and “Die in a fire” ad-hominems are never acceptable behaviour regardless of the provocation. As my mother always said “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. Some people really need to grow up and let go of old grudges.

Posted in Games | Tagged , | 6 Comments

“You’re sexist if you don’t agree with me that the next Dr Who should be a woman” is the geek culture equivalent of “If you prefer metal to hip-hop then you’re a racist”. Is this a variation of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy?

Posted on by Tim Hall | 5 Comments