MythCon Ain’t Over – Part One

[CONTENT WARNING: Mythicist Milwaukee]

I’ve been following up on the reaction to MythCon, and overall it’s been heartening. People who were there were outraged, people who merely saw the video of a crowd cheering a rape threat were outraged, and some big names came out in opposition to Mythicist Milwaukee’s conference. Reaction has been almost uniformly negative.

But this video caught my attention. Dr. Kirsti Winters and Kevin Logan were discussing an “interview” between Thomas Smith, Eli Bosnick, and two spokespeople for Mythicist Milwaukee. Ever had an intense discussion with a Trump superfan, or anyone from the Alt-Right? Now imagine that superfan pulling out every dishonest debating tactic discovered; I counted changing the subject, responding with a question, spamming responses, everything from half-truths on up to full-throated denials, hyperbole and exaggeration, distraction via outrage, whataboutism, gaslighting, reversing victim and offender, I honestly couldn’t keep up. I wouldn’t be shocked if future philosophers credited those Mythicist Milwaukee board members with coining new fallacies.

The level of dishonesty and bad behaviour on exhibit cannot be sold short. Without giving Smith any heads-up, people from Mythicist Milwaukee shared the conference recording with Carl Benjamin, who promptly posted it on his YouTube channel. As a result, Smith’s inbox and social media filled up with harassment from Benjamin’s fans. After the “interview” was over, the Mythicist Milwaukee board members shared their recording of the interview with a YouTube atheist who was about to interview Smith, without any warning or consent. As a result, said YouTuber was able to clip out Smith’s worst performance during the interview and throw it back at him, even though Smith had yet to publish the interview on his side.

And that tweet! Smith and Bosnick lead with that, asking how it made those board members feel. Buried in endless dodges and claims that no-one was offended and that it was taken out of context and that Bosnick had said very nasty things, at least one of those spokespeople admitted that they didn’t have any strong feelings about it.

Let’s underline that: a sexual assault victim, who suggested that maybe we shouldn’t send rape threats to people, was told that they are so contemptible for holding that view that they were not worthy of being raped, which in turn triggered a wave of threats of rape against her…. and two board members of Mythicist Milwaukee don’t have any strong opinions about that? Two board members from an organisation that claims “humanism” as a core value? Christ on a cracker.

While I’ve been listening to the “interview” – oh, I still haven’t finished it, by the way. Despite my high tolerance for bullshit, I had to follow Dr. Winter’s advice: pause and walk away periodically. So far the insights of her and Logan have been spot-on, though, so I recommend listening to them if you haven’t built up a strong bullshit tolerance.

Anyway: while I’m listening, two things kept jumping out at me. If you’ve ever heard Benjamin challenged on his views, you quickly realise he cannot deal with criticism. His debate with Dr. Kirsti Winters consisted of reading prepared statements that weren’t on topic and didn’t respond to what Winters was claiming. Even his own fans thought he’d flubbed it there. He only performs well when the crowd supports him and harasses his challenger. But those two board members of Mythicist Millwaukee? Damn, are they slick at handling criticism. Like, Richard Spencer good. I wouldn’t be the least shocked if they joined Breitbart and started pocketing some Mercer cash.

 I also suspect some people within the atheist/skeptic community are going to write this off as a one-time event, something by a handful of extremists. I mean, tonnes of people came out to oppose Mythicist Millwaukee, right?

At one point in the interview, Smith complains of the wave of harassment he’s facing. The pair from Mythicist Millwaukee point out that his Patreon is doing extremely well thanks to MythCon. It’s telling of their worldview, but it also gives us a metric for judging the impact of the conference. Nearly everyone involved has a Patreon page, after all. If their Patrons didn’t approve of their performance at or about MythCon, some of them would value the given person less and either cut or reduce their donations. If they approved, donations would increase. If more people learn of someone, their number of patrons would go up.

But of course, we need to be cautious here. You’re not going to throw money at someone you oppose, so the Patreon stats shouldn’t be counted as a general approval rating. At best, they measure the approval of people who share similar values and are likely to approve of your actions to begin with. We also need to be careful about faux correlations; did the stats go up because this person’s audience approved of them, or because they’ve been doing well at promoting their Patreon account? Or did they do something else before or after MythCon that tweaked their approval? We need to use a de-trended time series here to dodge around those problems, as this de-emphasizes long-term trends and allows us to see when short-term blips happened. I’ll go with a simple differencing detrend, as it turns the money/Patron counts into velocities of money/Patrons.

In part two, I bring on the charts.