Doubting Tom wrote a Dubito Ergo Sum post ten days ago, on Michael Nugent, Vice Principal of Atheism. (Good title. Nugent does carry on as if he’s somehow been appointed to scold some people into obedience while protecting others from unwelcome attention to their more appalling behaviors. Nugent hasn’t been appointed to do that.) This post, I was saying, is worth catching up with.
DT starts by summarizing Nugent’s previous work in this vein, then describes a pattern:
Nugent demonstrated a pattern of behavior that he has since escalated: butt in to an issue that doesn’t involve you, adopt the pretense of mature authority, treat the issue as an academic subject to be studied or hashed out in formal debate, and then move on to some other issue once it gets too real.
It’s odd about the non-involvement. (It’s also very annoying, but never mind that for now.) Nugent spends a lot of words scolding us Americans for the fact that Anglophone media keep talking about “the atheist movement” when really all they’re talking about is some Americans. There’s a global atheist movement, Nugent keeps solemnly telling us. True; so why is he so interested in this issue that’s just an American thing? It’s a puzzle.
There’s that email Nugent sent to PZ back in August – that presumptuous, obnoxious email.
He tried talking to PZ “privately” about the matter first, considering PZ a friend, and apparently seeing the need for an intervention about his destructive behavior. I can sympathize, somewhat. After all, I am all for people calling out their friends when their friends are hurting others. For that matter, I think that’s a situation where a private conversation may indeed be warranted before taking the issue public, a tactic often problematically proposed as a cure-all for disagreements. It’s not, and when it’s two people who don’t actually know each other very well, the insistence on private conversation first is mostly just a way of avoiding transparency and sweeping criticism under the carpet. But if it’s someone you’re close to? Sending them a personal note to say “hey, I think [specific thing you do] is hurting the people you care about, and I’m worried about you” would absolutely be a reasonable step in resolving the issue.
That’s not what Nugent did. Instead, he CC’d Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson on the e-mail. Again, I think Nugent thought he was trying to organize an intervention, but that’s really not how you go about it.
To put it mildly. To do that he would have had to ask Dawkins and ask me, before cc’ing us on his unsolicited email to someone else. He didn’t do that. He cc’d me without my permission or advance knowledge. I don’t know about Dawkins; I suspect a few of these guys have been planning a lot lately, so for all I know he did discuss it with Dawkins first. But he sure as hell did not discuss it with me, and I was disgusted by it. It looked to me like nothing but an attempt to embarrass PZ, and using me to do it. Not cool.
Then Tom moves on to Nugent’s little list of PZ’s putative naughtinesses. He looks up the ones I didn’t take the trouble to look up and they’re even more ridiculous as examples of naughtiness than I had realized.
I knew how ridiculous the Shermer one was though. That one jumps out at you.
he has publicly accused…Michael Shermer of multiple unreported serious crimes,
Accusations that have been validated by multiple sources. Nugent has said that he was not trying to tell PZ to keep sexual harassment accusations secret, but it’s hard to read this (and the letter, which is worded in nearly identical language) as anything but that. On Twitter, Nugent expanded, essentially saying that he thought this matter would have been better served by the police than hashed out online. We’ll ignore the continued ignorant paternalism in Nugent thinking he knows better how to handle rape than the victim, we’ll even ignore the numerousclearreasonswhy rape survivors don’t go to the police. Nugent’s living in a fantasy world of privilege-enabled ignorance where police officers are never racist or misogynist or themselves rapists, and where every rape kit gets tested and victims are never pressured into recanting or (even with clear evidence that rape occurred) treated like criminals themselves. But look at what we know, especially in light of the Buzzfeed piece: Shermer’s behavior and the accusations were known to atheist and skeptic leaders. DJ Grothe knew about them. James fucking Randi knew about them, tanking the remaining respect I had for that guy. What was their response? To continue inviting him to events, to take out extra insurance to protect themselves from his actions, and to give him a stern warning that if he does it too many more times, he might face some consequences of some sort, while punishing the people who speak out. The same thing played out with Ben Radford. Leaders in the community excuse and coddle accused rapists and harassers, and punish victims. Why should Shermer’s victim have expected anything different to happen if the police were the authorities involved rather than the event organizers?
We’ll never know how Nugent would respond to that, though, because either he’ll have already dropped the whole thing, or he’ll be too busy finding new trivia to scold us for in new 5000 word posts.