Timeline: Rachel Oates and EssenceOfThought

I’ve already covered some of this material, as has EoT, so you might be wondering why I’m repeating myself months after the events in question.

The old stuff hasn’t been well-organized nor placed in chronological order. My own efforts, for instance, were at the end of the second-half of a long blog post where I was pretty harsh on Rationality Rules. There’s room for a more dispassionate summary of the full context of what happened, especially if allegations about this “will be amplified by social media and echo for weeks, months, maybe years.” I’m pretty firmly on EoT’s side, but by minimizing my commentary in favour of direct quotes I can create a summary that Rachel Oates’ supporters will also find useful. The primary bias of this post will thus be via lies of omission, so I’ll try to be as comprehensive as possible. There’s also material that neither EoT nor I have mentioned, most of it focused on Rachel Oates’ side of the equation, so her point of view is better represented.

With that intro out of the way, let’s begin at the beginning. All dates and times are based on Twitter’s timestamp, which I think uses my timezone of Mountain Daylight Time, though it’ll be helpful to know about India Standard Time. Oh, and CONTENT WARNING for transphobia, plus mention of suicide and self-harm. [Read more…]

The Progressive Secular Alliance

I was a little amazed at how few people wanted the Atheist Experience blog to remain on FtB. I counted two people arguing for them to remain, one that was ignoring the contents of the original post, and the other had a history of transphobia themselves, before the thread inevitably descended into debating whether or not transgender women are women. The Atheist Community of Austin’s new board have trashed the organization’s prior reputation and destroyed people’s trust, and the odds of them rebuilding it are effectively zero thanks in part to Matt Dillahunty‘s shoddy leadership.

But I was also surprised that a name never came up. When any organization of that size undergoes this sort of scandal, it’s inevitable that some former members will branch off and form their own group. In this case, that group is the Progressive Secular Alliance. They currently have a YouTube channel and Facebook page. It’s still early days, but so far I’ve heard good feedback about them. If you’re an Austin-area atheist, give them a look, and even if you’re not remember that many of these people helped build and maintain the former ACA. Their content will likely be similar to that which drew you into being a fan of the ACA originally.

 

Some Much-Needed Follow-up

You can almost watch my opinion flip in real time.

September 25, 2014 at 11:57 am

If Benson made a habit of linking to TERF materials, even though she knew where they came from and had plenty of alternatives, I wouldn’t be so quick to defend her. But this is a single cartoon that is only problematic because of its source, and even then you had to either know TERF lingo or read carefully to discover the source was problematic. It should be entirely forgivable, at minimum, especially if Benson made it clear she didn’t endorse trans exclusion once she knew of the source. Which she did.

That some people aren’t willing to forgive this no matter what Benson does outs them as demanding perfection from imperfect beings. Only the most fanatic religious fundamentalists agree to that.

=====

September 25, 2014 at 9:38 pm

Not only does coded language allow you to get away with saying racist/sexist/classist things, you might trick non-racist/sexist/classist people into supporting you. I myself was thinking of sharing an image elsewhere, until I saw octopod raise the TERF flag and went “hmmm, I might be missing something here.” On and off over several hours, I scratched my head trying to work out what that was. “I suppose that one comic ‘reinderdijkhuis’ linked to made it explicit, but I didn’t spot anything else as bad. Though, now that I think of it, that rainbow comic looked like a coded message. And it was weird the masthead used the word ‘cotton’ but I’m HOLY SHIT HOW COULD I BE THAT BLIND….” […]

In that moment, a page I originally thought contained a mix of funny but heavily obscure comics was revealed to be a vicious cacophony of sexist dog whistles. EVERY comic was dripping with hate, but in some of them it was so carefully hidden that it looked like feminist commentary. Those could easily float around Facebook, with only a select few snickering over the true message being passed around. Imagine sharing an image that mocked Obama for being a warmonger, following the link to the source, and stumbling across a white supremacist website. If you were black, that would be horrific.

Hopefully that should explain why the image had to go, and why I was wrong to edge towards the “devil’s advocate” chair. My apologies for taking so long to clue in.

I was a latecomer to Ophelia Benson’s transphobia, other people had been aware of it for at least a year before my flip began. The whisper network had started talking, and I decided to listen. I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who helped me move from clueless to slightly-less-so, people like abbeycadabra, Janine, Xanthë, and Jason Thibeault. That also means I should take critiques from them seriously, as my understanding isn’t as far along as theirs.

Frankly, for a trans person, there’s something surreal and erasing in seeing cis people feuding with cis people over whether we exist. I mean, I am grateful that there are cis people being allies for us and pushing back against the transphobes (and homophobes and every other kind of -phobe.) But the fact that people have to come up with logical arguments and “evidence” that our transness is “real,” thus keeping the question alive of whether we do, in fact, exist, keeps giving me the creepy feeling that maybe I’m just a figment of my own imagination. I think the technical term is “depersonalization.”

It’s like when people run around “proving” that 1 = 0 — nobody sees any real need to “disprove” it, because it’s obvious that such a proof is BS. (It’s a reductio ad absurdum on the face of it.) But it seems like even those who believe in our existence feel the need to prove it. I was just reading HJ Hornbeck’s post about trans athletes, which has all kinds of “scientific,” “objective” evidence that gender dysphoria, gender identity, etc. are real. The problem with going down that path is not only that it concedes the possibility that it could be “disproven,” but also that trans people who don’t fit into the definitions and criteria in those “proofs” are then implicitly left out of the category “real trans.”

I was originally going to type up something in response, but after re-reading this comment that instinct feels mistaken. I agree with all of it, anything I add would just be restating something they said, and that would promote the idea that trans people’s opinions only have weight if cis people agree with them. So I’ll give Allison the final word.

This is BTW why I don’t like the idea of medical tests for transness, or proofs that trans people’s brains are observably different from cis people’s. Ultimately, being trans lies in one’s own understanding of oneself, gained through hard and painful experience. If I know based on my own experience of myself that “trans” best describes me, and some brain scan “proves” that I’m not, which am I to believe? (“Who are you gonna believe? Me? Or your own eyes?”) I spent most of my life ignoring my experience of myself and trying to live the way society told me I should, and it damned near killed me, and I think most trans people (at least we older trans people) have had the same experience.

A Year-End Wrap Up

… You know, I’ve never actually done one? They feel a bit self-indulgent, but having looked at the data I think there’s an interesting pattern here. Tell me if you can spot it, based on the eleven posts that earned the most traffic in 2018:

[Read more…]

Checking In

Goodness, it’s been longer than I thought.

One reason I’ve been silent is that I spent much of the last month grinding away on a paper. It’s basically a useful set of computational tools for a specific job, a minor improvement over existing techniques. Nothing too fancy, but as is typical for me it wound up snowballing into a LOT of work right before deadline. My advisor wanted more results, alas, so we blew past that deadline and are aiming for another venue in February.

Normally I would have popped back up after that, but as you may have noticed the Christmas season was upon us. Historically, it has been the hardest time of year for me. Worse, my life has taken a nose-dive over the last two months, and that plus some changes to my emotional support network could have combined to absolutely crush me.

It didn’t, which is still surprising even in hindsight. After a lifetime of battling depression, I’ve apparently gotten to the point where my  subconscious can organise self-care without my consciousness cluing in. That was a head-trip.

I haven’t fully dodged the emotional bullet, alas, but at least I’m functional enough to either hammer away at the worst I’m dealing with or sit patiently while it passes. It does mean I’ll be keeping to lighter topics and sparse posts on the blog, though, as I’m not centred enough to pull off longform rants unless I get really ticked off. Sorry to disappoint in that department, but hopefully this isn’t a permanent phase.

Case Dismissed

Just over two years ago, Richard Carrier filed a lawsuit against Freethought Blogs, The Orbit, Skepticon, and a few individuals. Strangely, his choice of venue was Ohio, well away from anyone involved

It’s worth noting that Ohio lacks any anti-SLAPP protections — making it easier to sue people who may not have the money to fight back — while California, Minnesota, and Missouri have at least some protections.

It was a crafty move, but in the end it bit Carrier in the ass.

Defendants made allegedly defamatory statements outside of Ohio, relating to conduct that occurred outside of Ohio, about an individual who moved to Ohio a few weeks before the statements were made. In sum, there is no sufficiently substantial connection between any of the Defendants and Ohio to make the exercise of personal jurisdiction reasonable.

The Court declines to hold an evidentiary hearing because even if all of Plaintiff’s assertions of fact are true, there is still an insufficient basis for personal jurisdiction. Weighing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court holds that Plaintiff has not made a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction over any of the Defendants.

PZ Myers is already celebrating, quite understandably, so I’ll play the grump.

For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendents’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and DISMISSES Plaintiff’s Complaint WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

WITHOUT PREJUDICE” is the troublesome bit, as that means Carrier can re-file his lawsuit in another state. He appears to be an independent scholar that earns most of his money from online courses, yet his legal bills must be substantial, which suggests one or more people are subsidizing his lawsuit. Even if he didn’t have a sponsor at the start, he likely has one now. How much money are those people willing to sink into griefing FtB/The Orbit/Skepticon? If Carrier’s move was to set up this lawsuit, that suggests he or his possible backers know the legal system, know how expensive it can be, and hold a substantial grudge.

I’d recommend tossing some cash at the defendants; if my pessimism is accurate they’ll need the cash, and if not it’s a good guess that their legal bills are more than what they fundraised. Don’t dump all your cash in there, though. Save a bit for champagne, as this is still a celebration.


HJH 2018-11-14: Two things. James Hammond on Pharyngula pointed out that I wasn’t considering the statute of limitations. It turns out both Minnesota and Missouri only allow libel claims within the two years, and California within one; two of Carrier’s original five claims were for libel, so he can’t re-file those. Minnesota and California also limit personal injury claims to two years after the incident, which I think block his claims of emotional distress there. “Tortious interference with a business expectancy” is going to be very difficult to prove, even in civil court, as the allegations of misbehavior against him haven’t prevented Carrier from offering online courses, being invited to speak at conferences, and give lectures.

In sum, there isn’t much to re-file on, which deflates a lot of my pessimism.

PZ Myers, meanwhile, confirms what I suspected.

The donations don’t yet fully cover our legal costs, so no, we’re still in the hole.

If Carrier’s intention was to punish his accusers via the legal system, he’s partly succeeded. One way to soften the blow is by donating to Skepticon or the rest of the defendants. They’ll all be grateful for the support.

It’s Time

I finally gave in and set up a public Patreon account. My financial situation isn’t as good as it once was, and I could use the pocket change. It’s on a per-work basis, as my posting schedule is erratic and goes through long dry spells. I only intend to ding patrons for my larger, more analytic posts; those “hey look at this cool thing” posts are too easy to charge for. If you’re worried about a posting spree draining your bank account, no problem: Patreon allows you to set up a monthly cap, so you’ll never be caught with a surprise bill.

Why the reluctance to hop on this bandwagon? The main reason why I never became an artist is that I have no appetite for self-promotion. Long-time friends and family members have no idea about my blog, because I know their interests and know it’s not their cup. Running a successful Patreon demands a pro-active social media presence, and that’s just not my thing. I’m not anti-social so much as a-social, which leads to all sorts of confusion when people meet me in person.

Having said that, I do have a few special things planned.

Some people dropped out of the hike, due to the lousy conditions. There is no such thing at O'Hara.

I used to be an avid photographer, and I’ve still got a tonne of unprocessed photos sitting on my hard drive. So let’s say that if you contribute at least $5 in any given month, then if you send me an address I’ll send you a photo postcard. I’ll track which ones you receive so you’ll never get the same one twice. I also have a lot of old ideas kicking around that were never fully completed, so a members-only poll of which ones to revive might encourage me to finish one of them. Even if not, it at least gives you some insight into where my head is at.

So if that sort of thing is appealing to you, or you just like the stuff I write enough to donate some pocket change, sign up. If you don’t or can’t, no problem! I don’t plan on going anywhere.

Help A Brother Out

Tony Thompson Jr. has been around the social justice side of atheism/skepticism for a long while; I mean, just check the page count on his blog. He’s a great guy, but his personality can’t stop hurricanes. Tony escaped the worst, but he’s still had to deal with no electricity or running water, a lack of food and other essentials, and his funds are running dry.

If you’ve got a few extra dollars, send them his way.

The Boghossian Experience, in Audio

If you somehow missed my series of blog posts on this “grievance studies” debacle, or you’d just like the info in audio format, you’re in luck! Cory Johnston caught wind of what I’d written, and invited me on the Skeptic Studio podcast to summarise it. I was interviewed just as the third in that series came out, if you’d like to properly situate it in the timeline.

Cripes, I’ve done five posts on Boghossian and friends? Sorry, but the trio are fractally wrong.

Anyway, Johnston is part of the Brainstorm podcast network, a series of skeptic/atheist shows that tick all the CanCon boxes. They have Twitters and Books, and if you like what you see consider tossing them some cash via their store or Patreon.

As for me, I want to polish off an illustration before formally launching my Patreon thing. Give me another day or two, I pinky-swear.