The sad story of Laci Green

Emphasis on sad. I’ve been a fan of her work for years and years, and quite abruptly she has completely flipped from an ally and supporter of social justice to someone who is more concerned about defending harassers. It’s a terrifying reversal: how can somebody so completely change their perspective, and worse, how can they switch from a white hat to a black hat? Katelyn Burns has a very good summary, it’s especially useful because there are a lot of obscure alt-right YouTubers I’d never heard of before explained and defined.

How did she switch sides? It’s a familiar story to anyone who knows anything about religious cults. She got love-bombed. It was especially effective against someone who has a long history of empathy and willingness to listen to anyone.

In a series of videos, Green revealed that her shift was a result of “red pilling,” the term for a twisted Matrix-inspired recruitment process coined by men’s rights advocates, pick-up artists, and the “alt right.” The process involves a recruiter who attempts to position white supremacists as oppressed truth tellers while spinning phony racial and gender science as “free speech” that’s being trampled on by feminists and the political left.

I also learned something about YouTube.

Lindsay Amer, a queer YouTuber who has experienced response videos firsthand, explains:

“You see these anti-feminist YouTubers who gain hundreds of thousands of followers in under a year. I think there’s a lot of money in anti-feminism. The content is really easy to make and it doesn’t have to be high quality. Someone can just turn on a camera and rant and say something controversial and know that it’s going to get a ton of views. I see people who recut my videos with their bullying commentary added.”

Troublingly, up until recently, such videos were not only supported by YouTube, but incentivized. Because response videos are so easy to make, it was easy for reactionary YouTubers to churn out a lot of content, which YouTube then prioritized in an algorithm that favored prolific output, high view counts, and abundant comments — even if those comments were toxic. Gaming the very closely held secret of the YouTube algorithm became a de facto path to internet stardom, and the format was perfect for response-video creators. Even after changes to their algorithm in December of last year, YouTube has continued to discourage vloggers from preventing harassment — according to Amer, when users disable comments and the sidebar for other suggested videos, their content is less likely to be promoted by the algorithm, and their view counts plummet.

I had no idea. A couple of years ago, I shut down comments to my YouTube channel because I was seeing the opposite of love-bombing — I was constantly getting hate-bombed. The comments became useless because the swarms of anti-feminist trolls would barrel in and rage about feminists and throw in buckets of incoherent abuse no matter what the topic was…and there were multitudes of downvotes that would automatically appear within minutes of an hour-long video. Not only is there a simple-minded formula for gaining avid followers, but those same simple-minded, avid followers become a tool you can use to suppress other critical points of view.

YouTube is broken. It’s still broken. I don’t think Google is incentivized to fix it, either, and it’s become a reactionary breeding ground for assholes who don’t need to provide substantive discussion to become popular — they just need to repetitively echo the same hatreds over and over, reaffirming the prejudices of the lowest common denominator. As Anita Sarkeesian accurately said,

“You make your name on YouTube by making these dumbass videos that just say the same shit over and over again. I hate to give you attention because you’re a garbage human, whatever dude.”

That’s some ego the guy has

I was going to point and laugh at Donald Trump for hanging a fake Time magazine cover in his golf clubs, but then I realized — we all fake this stuff to inflate our egos. Right? Perfectly normal. Entirely natural.

I mean, I’ve got photos of my 3 kids hanging on my wall at home. Two of them are totally fake (I won’t reveal which). I’ve been inflating the number of children I have just to make myself seem more virile. But then, you all claim to have more kids than you really do, I’m sure. It’s ordinary human behavior.

I’m supposedly able to drive, but — true confession — I actually don’t have a driver’s license. I posted a photo of Tom Selleck that I downloaded off the internet onto my library card. We all do it. My wife has a photo of Jennifer Aniston taped to her credit card, it fools all the police who’ve stopped her for her autograph.

My degree? It came out of a Cracker Jack box (not the regular size, though, you have to invest in the super-duper economy sized box, obviously), but it’s good enough. Impressed everyone who gave me this job, after all.

Having pathologically engorged narcissistic tendencies is simply part of the human condition, as I’m sure you all agree. It’s normal. You can’t condemn Trump for lying, you know, or being an egomaniacal buffoon, especially since Obama faked being president for a whole eight years, and nobody complained about that.

Those under-appreciated carbohydrates

This is a promotional video for the University of Utrecht, but it doesn’t lie (although I’m beginning to detest the phrase “dark matter of the ______”). Glycans are essential components of the cell.

In our cell biology course — and probably in most cell bio courses — we start with an overview of those key macromolecules, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids, and then spend almost all of the semester focused on proteins and nucleic acids. I think in part it’s because we have a straightforward connection between them, and so much of the discipline of molecular biology is about just those two. It’s also the case that there is no such thing as a gene coding for a lipid or a glycan, which immediately removes them from consideration or interest to many biologists. Instead, glycans and lipids are produced indirectly by the cellular and extracellular environment, which makes them an order of magnitude more difficult to understand.

But that should make them even cooler!

It doesn’t make them “dark matter of the cell”, though.

Welcoming the deep rifts!

Clementine Ford has published a book, Fight Like A Girl, and has written a number of columns like this one, It’s time we demanded more from boys, for all our sakes, to promote her next one, Boys Will Be Boys, that universal phrase used to excuse vile behavior. In that essay, she writes about some high school football players who anally raped an intellectually disabled 17-year-old African American boy with a coathanger and made him sing a song about lynching black people, and who then got off with probation.

For orchestrating this crime, Howard was sentenced to three years’ probation and 300 hours of community service. In his sentencing remarks, district judge Randy J. Stoker stated the attack was not, in his opinion, racially or sexually motivated.

This is a real problem Ford is describing. The judge let them off, and citizens of the town excused their behavior. How can you excuse anal rape? That’s just what boys do.

They’re 15-, 16-, 17-year-old boys who are doing what boys do … I would guarantee that those boys had no criminal intent to do anything or any harm to anyone. Boys are boys and sometimes they get carried away.

I was once a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old boy. I was never even tempted to sexually assault other boys, black, handicapped, or not. I think I rather resent this idea that because of my sex, I am predisposed to viciously and violently carry out sexual attacks on others, and I think I’m going to have to side with Clementine Ford on the fact that this attitude does a disservice to boys.

But having that attitude is apparently beneficial to a lot of Australians, because they’re very upset that Ford is going to be a speaker at the Atheist Foundation of Australia‘s Global Atheist Convention in 2018. I’m glad she’s speaking there — atheists need that kind of wake-up call — but wow, you should see all the hatred for Ford sweeping out of Facebook and YouTube right now. How dare she confront male privilege and chastise not just bad actors, but also all the people who make excuses for them, people like…the people hating on Ford.

So, the anti-feminists have launched a campaign to boycott a bookstore stocking her book (they seem not to have decided to campaign against either atheism or Amazon, though), and are trying to fill the AFA’s facebook page with threats of violence.

Just on 10% of all comments (that have been also deleted) have included threats of physical violence by men against not just Clementine Ford but other women here. These have included suggestions of being raped and having throats slit, a women told to ‘sit on a knife’, called whores and sluts, retards and so on.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. But hey, as one person made note. The women here deserved the threats because they were feminists.

Wait, aren’t these the same people who usually howl about free speech and hate deplatforming and other such sins? Never mind…it’s OK, because they’re feminists.

The title of the 2018 Global Atheist Convention is “Reason to Hope”. I don’t see much reason to hope in the misogyny sector of atheism, but elsewhere I do — in particular, that the anti-feminists have become so cartoonishly villainous and stupid that maybe more people will understand why they are pariahs. The anti-feminist atheists were furious in their attacks on Atheism+, as they are now on Clementine Ford, but I think what they’ve accomplished is to drive much of mainstream atheism away and create little ghettos of hatred for themselves. Congratulations to them on successfully establishing Atheism!

Anita Sarkeesian responds to the garbage humans

She has a fine statement on their fundamental dishonesty.

Now, he and his followers are acting as if me publicly calling him a “garbage human” is the equivalent to what he has done to me. In truth, he and his followers cannot begin to imagine what it is to have to constantly beg for and fight for your basic humanity in a culture that fundamentally refuses to acknowledge it. He cannot imagine what it is to spend years and years being the target of floods of harassment and hate, and then to still go out there and keep fighting. The companion of his who made that apology video I referenced earlier also tweeted that women are “powerful” enough to “deal with things like workplace harassment to rape.” As if power is in accepting a culture in which women are second-class citizens, in which misogyny and workplace harassment and rape are the norm. Fuck that. I’ll never settle for that. You’re damn right I’m powerful. After everything I’ve been put through by Carl and other men just like him, I’m still powerful enough to go out there and try to change it.

Just the fact that they’re trying to conceal their history and pretend to moral equivalence tells you that they’re a gang of smug goons.

Big Wooden Box gets snazzy video treatment

I was asked by Paulogia to say a few words about Answers in Genesis’s news story about my visit to the Big Wooden Box* in Kentucky. I think I said more than a few, because it turned into a half-hour complaint which he then made entertaining by turning me into a cartoon, and by adding lots of videos made by others of the interior of the Big Wooden Box. You should watch it.

*They really hate it when you call it the Big Wooden Box rather than Noah’s Ark. So guess what I’m going to call it from now on?

Evergreen and bad allies

I keep getting asked to explain my position on the mess at Evergreen College. I’ve abstained so far because I roll my eyes at both sides. But OK, here goes…and here’s the background.

A bit of background: The “Day of Absence” is an Evergreen tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As Mr. Weinstein explained on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, “in previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus — a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning.” This year, the script was flipped: “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities,” reported the student newspaper on the change. The decision was made after students of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”

Mr. Weinstein thought this was wrong. The biology professor said as much in a letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” In other words, what purported to be a request for white students and professors to leave campus was something more than that. It was an act of moral bullying — to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.

Stop telling me that Weinstein is a wonderful progressive leftist. He talks the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk. What I see here is a situation where, for decades, students and faculty of color have borne the burden of demonstrating their significance while everyone gives ’em a thumbs up and cheers and waves little equality flags. This time, the supporters were asked to do a little more, that they take on the effort for one day of actually demonstrating their support in a more concrete way, and Weinstein refused to do that.

His basic message was that he was a shitty ally. He wasn’t willing to do one thing that his minority colleagues had been doing for years.

His letter made it worse. He tried to claim the moral high ground, that his refusal was a principled stand against bullying. Nonsense. It was a statement that you people might have an interest in fighting racism, but he had no interest in making any small accommodation to join in that battle. He was the personification of the passive white middle class that allows racism to persist, and I can understand how people would be outraged at hearing that bullshit from a person who had presented himself as supportive.

But the protesters went too far after that. You don’t get to demand someone be fired for being a shitty ally — there are people who are much, much worse working on college campuses. Protest, yes; scorn the guy, yes; take him off your list of friendly, supportive faculty for sure. But nope, it’s not a firing offense. It is also not grounds for threatening violence, or even worse, threatening violence to his students.

I’ve thought about what I would do in Weinstein’s position, and it would be an easy decision: I would have joined in the protest, and announced it to my classes for that day. Professors do have responsibilities, though, which might have made me hesitate, and I’d have had to do some calculations to figure out what to do to accommodate the students and keep the class on track, and it would have involved extra work on my part, but this is something for which there is precedent and almost certainly a procedure at Evergreen.

I occasionally have to miss class. I missed three days this past year to give a talk in China, and conferences and invited lectures happen all the time for almost every faculty member. The policy here is that I have to give written notice to my administrative head, including my plan to cover the coursework for the students. That typically involves asking another faculty member to give a guest lecture (I’ve reciprocated for my colleagues), or a description of readings or other assigned work for students to do in my absence.

Doing that is routine and trivial. I have to do it several times a year (if these turned into frequent extended absences, of course, I’d have some ‘splainin’ to do and would be getting dressed down by the administration and my peers), and I’m sure Weinstein has been in similar situations himself. If we’re willing to do that for a science meeting, I have to wonder why Weinstein couldn’t do it to support students of color for a day. Priorities, I guess.

So, shitty ally exposed. Do protest and make your opinions of the guy known. Do not, however, demand his head on a platter and harass his students. I’m more on the side of protesters, but a few of them crossed a line I can’t support.

P.S. I have a fondness for Evergreen, and when I was looking for teaching positions it was high on my list. I even got to the point of having a phone interview with their biology committee about 18 years ago, but didn’t make the final cut — I was coming from the traditional Big State College and didn’t have the kind of interdisciplinary/small classroom experience they wanted (they said, or maybe I just sucked). I was disappointed, but finding a job at a small liberal arts college right after that made up for it.

Which speech do you choose to defend, and which do you choose to shut down?

This is a fantastically good video by ContraPoints on free speech. It’s basically a dissection of what “free speech” actually means, showing how absurd the free speech absolutists are, and how appreciating the complexity of the issue is mangled by the right wing into claims that “the left hates free speech!”

The left doesn’t hate free speech. We kinda hate the cartoon version of free speech touted by right-wingers, but as ContraPoints explains, we do understand the concept very well, and probably better than they do: it protects the right of the speaker to express a controversial position as well as of the audience to hear it, and it’s actually strengthens defensible positions by exercising their defense. Minority positions need special protection because they are marginal, we have a duty to protect them from the tyranny of the majority.

ContraPoints agrees with all that. So do I. But we also recognize that a cacophony of loudly shouted views is not practical, and that giving everyone bullhorns does not protect anyone’s right to be heard. It’s a difficult balancing act. You need moderation for free speech to work. There are inherent contradictions and incompatibilities that make it impossible to be truly neutral on speech.

For example, social norms can have a silencing effect. The right-wingers are fond of complaining that calling them “racist” or “misogynist” hurts them terribly, is unfair and unkind, etc., etc., etc. But then what about expressions of racism and misogyny on the internet? Don’t you have to agree that those must also have a silencing effect?

Well, the reply goes, that’s just the hurly-burly nature of the internet. Just deal with it. You can’t change it (translation: we don’t want to change that part of it, we just want to change the part that lets you call us racists). It says a lot about these free speech absolutists in whose speech they rush to defend and promote and who they tell to take the abuse and get over it. Somehow, saying that “it is the nature of universities to promote more tolerant exploration of ideas than the shit-raging of Milo Yiannopoulos” is not accepted as an excuse by these same people.

We see a great deal of hypocrisy on this matter from the right. This video skewers Christopher Hitchens rather effectively, I think, and is maybe a little too generous to Dave Rubin, who is one of the louder proponents of alt-right bullshit while cloaking himself under the mantle of rationalism and free speech. Somehow that rationalism always expresses itself in cheerleading for racism and misogyny, but hey, that’s the hurly-burly nature of the internet.

I can think of other examples of this double standard, too: Bill Maher comes to mind. Sam Harris. Another recent instance is Carl Benjamin, proud defender of liberty, who gets called a “garbage human” by Anita Sarkeesian and is so crushed by an insult that he immediately whips around and petitions a conference to kick her off a panel. FREEDOM! Freedom for me, just not for you.

An even more cogent example: this video was temporarily taken down by a flood of complaints to YouTube by those same people who are so vocal about their inviolable right to express themselves however they want (or possibly by Hitchens idolators, who infest both atheism and YouTube, oblivious to the contradiction in that). I guess they just wanted to prove ContraPoints‘ point.