[Trigger warnings: sexual abuse, scary Internet mobbing.]
[Try not to link to this everywhere because I feel bad about discussing it and don’t want to spread it to more of the Internet than it has to be or make this the sort of thing people associate this blog with.]
A couple of months ago this blog got into a fight about false rape statistics. There has recently been some amount of – let’s call it “aftermath” – to that incident which I found interesting.
Some context: Mr. Clymer is a man who is (was?) active in the feminist movement. He wrote a popular article saying that false rape accusations were rarer than comet strikes, which the feminist movement dutifully liked and reblogged thirty thousand times. I wrote a blog post pointing out that his statistics were what we in the business sometimes technically refer to as “off by four orders of magnitude”. I may have been slightly cross about this.
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Clymer was in the news again. More accurately, he was trending on Twitter, where a very popular #StopClymer hashtag apparently indicated he had done something that needed to be stopped. The best description of the whole incident seems to be the one here.
As far as I can tell, Clymer said on Twitter that Jesus would have been pro-feminist and that religion needs to try harder to be pro-choice and pro-feminist. Someone interpreted this as “using a women-centered hashtag to promote religious beliefs” and decided to see what else she could find on him. You may read the page and decide for yourself, but as far as I can tell, what she found was:
– He’s around the 75th percentile for Internet jerkitude and some of the people he was jerks to were women
– He banned people from his Facebook page, reasons unclear, and some of them were women
– He said he was in the feminist movement “80 percent for the cause” but that he also felt good when things he wrote became popular
This was sufficient to paint a big target on his head. We then proceeded to the ritual of Dredge Up Everything He Has Ever Written And Interpret It As Further Evidence He Is Terrible. For example, he once complimented a fan of his and added “just to be clear, I’m not hitting on you” at the bottom:
The response was reasonable and completely proportionate:
@BhasChat That is some hardcore predator grooming. It's clear why CC was able to fly under the radar so long: He's a pro abuser.
— Viridiana (@sariweather) May 30, 2014
@BhasChat Are you telling me that this mofo was after minors now too? 'Scuse me for a moment… *vomits through fingers*
— lurker (@groovyswkr) May 30, 2014
@BhasChat Just did a search for him and his profile and he is far too slick. He is a me, me, me merchant. A real predator. Stay safe.
— Andrew Dalby (@ardalby71) May 30, 2014
Then it was found that he mentioned that because he was a survivor of rape, he tried to be extra careful because he knew rape survivors were more likely to become rapists themselves. Surely no one could have a problem with…
@Jellis1snv YES!! ????
— ?James Saint-Franc? (@sirjamesa12) May 30, 2014
— AspieWomanist Writer (@MochaLisaccino) May 30, 2014
That he had once had some kind of complicated disagreement with a black woman that I have trouble getting a good picture of from her description of such:
Anger is a natural reaction to oppression; anger is useful; anger is the only appropriate reaction to this sort of erasure of racial identity.
The members of the feminist group in which I expressed this anger were, for the most part, combative or unreceptive (I did receive small pockets of support, and for those individuals I am most appreciative). Multiple leaders of the group tried to tone police me, told me that movements becoming inclusive “takes time” and I should just be patient. I was begged by one of the most prominent leaders to educate everyone by writing a “powerful article” rather than express my feelings to the group itself. I was told by this same leader that they would not use the term “white supremacy” because “it was triggering” to some folks.
But failure to call evil by its name only begets more evil.
Another prominent member of the group, and a semi-well known name in the huffpo blogosphere, charles clymer, decided to pipe in to remind me that both white supremacist and anti-racist viewpoints should be valued equally. That’s white supremacy in action, right there.
Anyway, whatever the disagreement was, Charles Clymer tried to talk it out with her, but eventually got really annoyed with her tone and asked her to stop messaging him. Needless to say, she described this incident in a reasonable and completely proportionate way:
Unbeknownst to me, by criticizing charles clymer, I was awakening a psychologically abusive internet monster. And when it dissolved into an abusive mess of white tears and white-man-trying-to-force-a-black-woman-to-do-something-she-won’t-do (“yes, massa!”), that’s when I knew I had to block this fucker.
The above conversation was added to the pile of evidence. Then someone noticed he was a war veteran. I’m sure this will be dealt with reasonably and completely proportionally as well?
— Carolyn Luby (@Carolyn_luby) June 13, 2014
Bailiff! Next piece of evidence! Accused once wrote an article saying that the words “c*nt” and “b*tch” could not be “reclaimed” and that people should stop using them. Does the prosecution have a reasonable and completely proportionate response to this?
— Alexander Yarde (@thatalexyarde) May 30, 2014
Let it be added to the record. Prosecution, any reasonable and proportionate closing words?
#StopClymer a dudebro using his status to talk down/ police women & get laid = recipe for disaster & complicity.
— Black Paula Deen (@Capolavoro_) May 30, 2014
— Kayla Pearce (@KaylaPearce5) May 30, 2014
— Suey Park (@suey_park) May 30, 2014
QUICK! HE’S TAKING OUR CRITIQUE TO HEART! STOP HIM BEFORE HE GETS AWAY!
Annnnnnnyway, before the court could render verdict, the whole affair triggered a massive relapse of Clymer’s PTSD and he posted saying his therapist had told him not to go back on the Internet for a very long time. The idea was floated that he was making this up, but finally it was decided that yeah, rape survivor + military veteran + suddenly everyone in the world hates him, eh, maybe he is having a PTSD relapse. The announcement was greeted in a suitably compassionate manner that, may I add, was reasonable and completely proportionate:
To everyone who participated in the #StopClymer movement: THANK YOU. Our work is not done but tonight is a cause for celebration.
— kelly coviello (@KellyCoviello) June 3, 2014
Gotta say, if a guy's PTSD is triggered by resistance to his misogyny, his PTSD isn't going to be the #1 claim on my sympathies. #StopClymer
— Dan Holzman-Tweed (@HolzmanTweed) June 3, 2014
Clymer says he's going away briefly. But all of us behind #StopClymer will be here whenever he shows his slimy face.
— Natalie BauerOBrien (@NatalieOGrumpy) June 3, 2014
Far be it from me to defend Mr. Clymer. But it is hard for me to see this happen to someone and not feel at least a little bit of sympathy. I’ll just point out that when I talked to him over Facebook, he was a jerk to me. So let this be the defense he gets from me: he is an equal opportunity jerk. I don’t think he’s misogynist. I don’t think he’s racist. I don’t think he’s ‘a predator’. I think he’s just abrasive, unpleasant, and bad with statistics.
In February, I wrote:
[He] should be cast out from the community of people who have reasonable discussions and never trusted by anyone again. It might not totally succeed in making a new norm against this kind of thing. But at least it will prevent other people from seeing Clymer’s success, taking heart, and having the number of lies which are socially acceptable gradually advance.
Nevertheless, I cannot be happy with the current turn of events. Mr. Clymer deserved to lose his podium. But he didn’t deserve to lose it for this reason, and he didn’t deserve to be psychologically traumatized in this particular way. Justice is not quite served.
Drew recently mentioned on Facebook his delight that there was a scandal called “Jacobinghazi”. I share his delight and his hope that -ghazi becomes a scandal suffix similar to “-gate”. Filesghazi! Climateghazi! Let’s do it!
The scandal itself was somewhat less interesting. Jacobin is a leftist magazine. I was recommended it a couple of months ago and have read it inconsistently – they have a good article on drug research I’ll be blogging about sometime. Anyway, as part of a broader point about rape they linked to someone on Twitter talking about receiving rape threats. After a multistep game of Telephone, this turned into “linking to rape threats”, “digging rape jokes”, “mocking rape threats”, “using rape threats to belittle people”, and finally, you know you expected it, “making rape threats”. Anyone who pointed out that this was completely made up and made no sense was accused of “minimizing rape threats” and “silencing voices”. But apparently the first side, the one not involved in the original accusations, was doing some pretty bad things too, even though I can’t get a clear description of exactly what they were. Needless to say, at every step hundreds of people tweeted about it and called for the heads of everybody involved.
(in Soviet Russia, Jacobins’ heads get called for by YOU!)
Finally, everyone agreed that everybody on the other side (whichever that might be) was a dudebro, treated women as things, and was super racist, even though as far as I can tell nothing about the incident seemed to involve race at all. Consensus having been achieved, the incident mostly died down.
There is an executive summary here (warning: two pages, click blue button at bottom to get second), a much less executive and more mocking summary here, and a horrible Twitter hashtag here which now mostly seems to be populated by people who are vaguely embarrassed and can’t remember what they were so angry about and definitely didn’t participate and it’s not their fault. Newsweek also wrote an article, but everyone on both sides seems to agree they got it horribly wrong.
And what I think these kinds of incidents show is that…
Wait! Sorry! There’s one more set of #StopClymer tweets we haven’t gotten to yet!
Aand now I'm reading #StopClymer to remind myself how bad this "lookitme I'm a guy who Gets It" thing can go
— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) May 31, 2014
!!! But didn’t you…?
I once took Clymer's side in an argument & was kinda wary abt him even at the time but the guy on the other side was just SO wrong
— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) May 31, 2014
Oh no I can’t let you get away with that I am SO not letting you get away with that.
More context: my article condemning Clymer got discussed on Facebook. Arthur weighed in saying I was wrong to criticize Clymer’s article, because it was on the side of feminism, and feminism is good, and sometimes people need to use dirty tricks and exaggerated statistics to fight for good things. He said my problem was that I was too focused on abstract virtue, rather than the gritty reality of needing to do whatever it takes to win a battle, in this case the battle of pushing feminist ideas. Mr. Clymer’s ends justified his means, so I should have let him be.
I wrote a blog post disagreeing with that assessment, Arthur replied in the comments, I replied to him in the comments, and then it died down.
Assuming Arthur’s referring to our discussion – and I think he is, it would be very strange if circumstances had made him defend Mr. Clymer twice – then I don’t think I was, as he puts it, SO WRONG. No one disagreed with my debunking of Mr. Clymer’s statistics; there were over two hundred comments on that post and over five hundred on the followup and not one of them claimed he had gotten his math right. All that was left to argue about was my assertion that what he had done, if deliberate, was not remotely okay.
In my final discussion with Arthur, way down in the comment section of my response post, we discussed our different definitions of tolerance and in-groupishness. I said we should tolerate people who are truthful and kind, regardless of their political opinions. Arthur thought, on the contrary, we should tolerate people with the correct political opinions, regardless of whether they are truthful and kind. My exact words were:
Both of us successfully trap [actually bad people like] the KKK and Hitler on the outside of our fence. But I get to have a lot more allies than you do – allies against the actually bad people – and you have to put up with some pretty creepy friends. And if your side of the fence wins, you may find that hate is pretty darned transferable and you can’t always ensure it gets directed against the right people.
I am deeply creeped out by many of your friends and while some of my friends might be a little loud and obnoxious, I on the whole admire them.
I don’t know if Arthur was genuinely “wary” of Mr. Clymer four months ago. He sure spent a heck of a long time defending him and being very upset that other people were criticizing him. But even if Arthur is totally telling the truth, even if he was as wary as a dockyard full of consumer goods, exactly one of us sounded the “this is maybe not the best guy to have representing the feminist movement” alarm. And exactly one of us condemned that person for doing so and said that “while some of my friends might be a little loud and obnoxious, I on the whole admire them.”
But I don’t know. Maybe, despite the topic of discussion, he wasn’t referring to Clymer in particular? Maybe you can admire someone and be wary of them at the same time. Still, I think all of this touches on a much more important question: why don’t whales get cancer more often?
I mean, think about it. Cancer results from a series of mutations occurring by chance in a single cell. So over a given time period, the cancer rate of an organism should be proportional to the number of cells in that organism. If a whale is a thousand times bigger than a person, it should have a thousand times more cells and therefore get cancer a thousand times more often. Since humans have maybe a 1% per year cancer risk, whales should get ten cancers a year. But most whales live a long time and don’t die of cancer. Why not? It can’t just be that they’ve evolved more efficient anti-cancer mechanisms, or else other animals (who also experience gains in adaptive fitness from not dying of cancer) would have evolved the same [EDIT: Carl Shulman suggests reasons why this might not be true].
(This problem is called Peto’s Paradox, was first raised in 1975, and is a great example of the rationalist skill of ‘noticing confusion’. Anyone who knows anything about cancer had the tools to notice something was really, really weird here, and other than this Peto fellow nobody did. I feel appropriately ashamed for somehow going through my entire life up to this point without picking up the glaring weirdness here.)
I don’t know which of the various proposed solutions to this puzzle is true but the most hilarious is no doubt Nagy, Victor and Cropper (2007). Whales are very big, so in order to threaten a whale, a cancer must also grow very big. In order to grow very big, a cancer must evolve a complicated internal structure determining which cells expand where and who’s going to secrete the factors necessary for blood vessels to grow and so on. Cancers can do that: even in humans, tumors develop impressive amounts of structure and cooperation among the cancerous cells inside of them. But as tumors grow bigger and more intricate, and cells have to spend more and more time altruistically working for the good of the tumor rather than just reproducing, some cells will inevitably defect from the plan and just divide uncontrollably. This ends up in an unhappy equilibrium. Whenever the balance swings too far toward defectors, the tumor can’t support itself and most of the cells die. Whenever the balance swings too far toward cooperators, the defectors have a big advantage again and start expanding. As a result, the tumor either remains at a fixed size or dies off completely. It might get a chance to metastasize, but the same will happen to its metastatic descendents.
In other words, the theory is that whales survive because they are so big that their cancers get cancer and die.
And if true, this wouldn’t be too surprising. Multicellular organisms have put a lot of evolutionary work into getting their cells to cooperate with each other, and part of that includes very strong safeguards again cancer. Your safeguards against cancer are so good that even though you will experience about 10 quadrillion (= ten million billion) cell divisions during your life time, in most people none of those ever turn into a clinically relevant cancer.
Cancerous cells are those that have lost all of those safeguards. As they grow into a functioning tumor, they need to evolve new mechanisms of cooperation, and so they do. But a couple million cells working for a couple months in your body aren’t going to do as well as all the animals in the world over 3 billion years of evolutionary history. So cancer’s cooperation enforcement mechanisms are much much worse than noncancerous cells’ cooperation mechanisms. Which is why you can live for a hundred years and have ten quadrillion cell divisions and not get cancer, but cancer can’t even take over one lousy section of a whale colon before it gets meta-cancer.
We like to call things we disagree with “social cancers”. People dislike social cancers and often inveigh against them. Here’s someone who thinks inequality is a social cancer. Here’s another guy who thinks gambling is. Here is a person who thinks that communism is, and though we may not agree with his spittle-filled rants, his web design choices, his choice of facial expression in photographs, or his assertion that “medical orgonomist” is a thing, we cannot doubt his sincerity.
I wonder if a good definition for “social cancer” might be any group that breaks the rules of cooperative behavior that bind society together in order to spread more quickly than it could legitimately achieve, and eventually take over the whole social body.
But society, like whales, is very big . Long before a group can take over society, it reaches a size where it needs to develop internal structure and rules about interaction between group members. If you collect a bunch of people and tell them to abandon all the social norms like honesty, politeness, respect, charity, and reason in favor of a cause – then the most likely result is that when your cause tries to develop some internal structure, it will be overrun by a swarm of people who have abandoned honesty, politeness, respect, charity, and reason.
Contrary to what our medical orgonomist friend says, I don’t think the Communists were much of a social cancer. The political communists, the kind we got in the US, mostly stuck to the rules. But look what happened to them. They got all excited about how the governing power structures were evil and needed to be destroyed. They set up various organizations dedicated to destroying the governing power structures. And people proceeded to decide that the governing power structures of those organizations were evil and needed to be destroyed. As a result, Communist parties were rent by constant factional warfare and they never got around to destroying the society they lived in at all.
And look what happened to Mr. Clymer. His whole spiel was about throwing out the virtue of charity – how when people have been accused of things, we should condemn them automatically, no chance it’s wrong, false accusations rarer than comet strikes. And then…
We have a lot of proverbs about this sort of thing. “Hoist with his own petard”. “Taste of your own medicine.” “A trap of your own making.” Jesus said “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword” – and it has been pointed out to me that Jesus himself lived as a carpenter and died by being nailed to a piece of wood, so there’s that.
Or since we’ve gradually meandered back on to the topic of sexism, there’s an ancient Sexist proverb that seems highly apropos: “Bro, if she’ll cheat with you, she’ll cheat on you”.
And in the same way, someone who will be a jerk for you will be a jerk to you. My disagreement with Arthur was about his willingness to tolerate jerks in his movement. He thinks it will help him win. But someone who is a jerk to men will, by and large, also be a jerk to women. Someone who is a jerk to men’s rights activists will, by and large, also be a jerk to feminists. They may not do so immediately, if it doesn’t serve their self-interest to do so. But in private, or as soon as the chance comes up, jerkitude will out. If you defend them as long as they’re only being jerks to outsiders, then a few months later, when – shock! horror! – you realize they’re being jerks to insiders, you end up having to retreat and mumble something about how you were “kinda wary about him” all along.
But more importantly if you elevate jerkishness into a principle, if you try to undermine the rules that keep niceness, community, and civilization going, the defenses against social cancer – then your movement will fracture, it will be hugely embarrassing, the atmosphere will become toxic, unpopular people will be thrown to the mob, everyone but the thickest-skinned will bow out, the people you need to convince will view you with a mixture of terror and loathing, and you’ll spend so much time dealing with internal conflicts that you’ll never get enough blood supply to grow large enough to kill a whale.
You will get things like #StopClymer and #Jacobinghazi.
Thus the Archipelagian Principle: Given infinite freedom of association, most people end will up in more or less the community they deserve.