Don’t mention the manifesto…

supreme gentleman Another young, middle-to-upper class man has allegedly gone out in a blaze of indignation, taking a crowd of innocents along with him. And already, we have the interested parties, sifting through the news, trying to find something that disconfirms their enemies’ claims, or to dismiss, without much in the way of reason, inconvenient facts about politically charged violence.

This, seemingly without regard for either the victims, or future, potential victims of the same phenomena.

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Like other alleged, young, middle-to-upper class killers, Elliot Rodger has left behind a manifesto.

According to reports, Rodger wrote a 137-page tome, presented by email to his own mother. And Rodger was quite clear and candid in expressing his motivations, in the now infamous ‘Elliot Rodger’s Retribution’.

He’s the true “Alpha Male”; it’s women’s fault they didn’t find him attractive; “it’s an injustice [his not getting fucked]”; he’s the “supreme gentleman” (aka Nice Guy); women are things to be possessed… and if we fail to recognise these ideations as truths, Rodger will annihilate us, for we would surely have had more sex than him, or been an unpliable member of the wrong gender…

This is what Rodger flatly and plainly tells us, and it is littered with precisely the kinds of misogynistic ideations we see time and time again, online; the kinds that feminists have been warning us about for years.

And the responses from the usual quarters?

There are other factors the feminists are excluding – This is the stub, the base from which the other deflections grow. Yet you’d be hard pressed to get hold of a representative sample of feminists claiming that misogynistic ideations in isolation are the sole cause of misogynistic violence.

Also, we don’t always disregard manifestos in other instances of violence; are we for example, now to treat Anders Breivik’s manifesto as entirely irrelevant to his terrorism? I’m sure this would suit Pat Condell and Geert Wilders fans just a treat, but what about the rest of us? Are we going to measure the significance of a manifesto, or just ignore it?

What he needed was a therapist – Therapy and mental health care in general, are great things, but supporting them doesn’t oblige you to view all incidents of violence as preventable by therapy. Case in point; Rodger had a therapist.

He was probably just autistic or an Aspie – Autism doesn’t necessarily lead to violence, and often doesn’t even coincide with it. If you’re going to go down this road, then please demonstrate how autism is a reliable predictor of killing sprees, or at least save the speculative pseudo-science for another audience. Aspies and Auties have enough crap to put up with without the generation of even more stereotypes. Also; Rodger wasn’t autistic.

“Mr Astaire said Elliot had not been diagnosed with Asperger’s but the family suspected he was on the spectrum, and had been in therapy for years. He said he knew of no other mental illnesses, but Elliot truly had no friends, as he said in his videos and writings.” – Emphasis added.

(Joe Mozingo, LA Times, 2014)

It’s the general Zeitgeist of the thing… 1984…Orwell! TAKE THE RED PILL!!1! – Please, I’ve had enough.

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I almost forgot that particularly vile meta-criticism: Feminists are only pointing out the misogyny of Rodger’s manifesto to drive page hits! Outrage bloggers!*

Allow me to reply in kind…

Online misogyny is the stuff of loyal readers – provided you keep online misogynists wanting to like you. If you manage this, without giving enough of your contradictions to wedge them, you’ll have a loyal base, albeit an insular one, quite possibly with a limited future.

Every now and then, you’ll have to throw them a bone, and it will help if you accompany this with cries of victimhood when you’re inevitably criticised for it. In the case of Rodgers, the task is to deflect from the content of his manifesto so that MRAs, and associated haters-of-women, don’t have to relate too strongly with his alleged killings. Because let’s face it; politically, the points of the MRAs and of Rodger are very, very similar.

These are people who deny hating women while simultaneously blaming women for being raped, so you can imagine the cognitive dissonance caused when someone who is essentially one of their number allegedly puts political thought into action through murder.

My own turf, for this particular phenomena of apologetics, is among secular/atheist/humanist types, where people are generally happy to ascribe religious-ideological motivations to the 9/11 hijackers. These are also circles where there is a misogyny problem, and an MRA contingent, and a number of self-serving individuals willing to throw bones.

Now, if you’ve ever considered the manifesto of the 9/11 hijackers, or that of (again) Anders Breivik, or Timothy McVeigh, or a Papal encyclical, or any other political document, as being in any way motivating, you’re rather obligating yourself not to dismiss the content of Rodger’s manifesto out-of-hand. This I think is essentially a good way of spotting which ‘side’ is peddling the bullshit in this matter.

If you were to on the one hand, criticise a Papal decree, or a fatwa calling for violence, and yet on the other, dismiss the misogyny of Elliot Roger’s ‘Retribution’ as immaterial, then you’d be outing yourself as a hypocrite. You’d invite queries into your motivations, if not provide evidence for conclusions to be made.

Sure, it’s highly unlikely that any of the manifestos we’re talking about, in isolation, are entirely responsible for the actions of their proponents, but this isn’t what we’re talking about. What we are talking about is the categorical denial of the role of the manifesto, and in select cases (i.e. where politically convenient).

My assertion is that if not out of pure fear of being attacked by misogynists, then people are dismissing the idea of misogyny as being in any way causal, in order to appeal to misogynists, or to undermine the critics of misogynists for other political or personal purposes. While it may be intellectually dishonest, it is, it has to be confessed, probably a good way for crummy public speakers, and writers, to get gigs.

Some people love that shit.

~ Bruce

* As it happens, my blog posts on the topic have almost always been failures if judged in terms of internet traffic. If I’m supposed to get hits from “outrage blogging”, they are yet to manifest.

I can’t stop watching the Nice Guy…

A video has done the rounds more than once (which I first witnessed courtesy of two friends who’ll go unnamed), showing the fear, rage, cognitive dissonance and self-pity that’s commonly on display around certain parts of the Internet.

But I’m a Nice Guy – Scott Benson

I’m not entirely sure why I like returning to this short clip, but I do know it’s not just because I don’t like misogyny, nor just because I’ve been exposed to some of the examples referred to in the animation. I love Benson’s visual style, which the retro audio matches perfectly. Though for those not familiar with the subjects raised,  it probably comes across as more surreal than it actually is (or conversely, not more surreal – the behaviour being criticised is pretty same surreal in its real-world incarnations). I’ll give you a few pointers on the references in the video…

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The phenomena of the “Nice Guy” (capital “N” and “G”), is one where a guy holds the attitude that being nice to women, is universal currency paid in advance for certain services – usually sexual. When a woman holds out on sex, supposedly the guy is being exploited through an inherent disadvantage in sexual power. In reality, it’s often the case that the guy doesn’t have the social skills to talk to women about sex, which she may otherwise actually be willing to consent to, or that the attitude of sexual entitlement permeates their advances, thus making them too repulsive to fuck. In any case, these guys aren’t actually nice. The “Friend Zone”, is that place in some heterosexual dating scenarios prior to sex, where nothing moves forward on account of fears of intimacy, or the realisation by one party (usually the woman) that the other isn’t the kind of person they’d like to fuck. In a healthy world, this is either something a couple work together to overcome, or it’s cause for people to part from romantic engagements as friends. For the puerile man-child though, this is something women condemn men to, causing pain, and robbing guys of the fruits of their investment (see “Nice Guy” above). The “Red Pill”… Perhaps you’ve seen The Matrix movie… If you haven’t, think Dan Brown paranoia meets sci-fi “maybe we’re just brains in vats!” In The Matrix, Neo if offered a red or blue pill. If he takes the blue pill, he will return to his illusory world to live a mundane life, unaware of the conspiracy that lies behind… well, everything. If he takes the red pill however, he will see past the lies and become aware of how the world and indeed reality, is manipulated by a secret conspiracy. Naturally, Neo takes the red pill. In the world of Internet Men’s Rights “Activism”, “The Red Pill” is what you metaphorically take to see how the matriarchy is behind everything – conspiring to rob men of their self-respect, jobs, status, and entitlement to sex. And perhaps also rob them of their sperm. There’s a Reddit community called “The Red Pill”, which among other things, informs us that women not wanting to be raped are like girls having tantrums for a ponies. I think I’ll opt for the blue pill. Other, less obscure references are “RAPE HAHAHA!”, which pertains to various debates surrounding the use of references to rape in comedy and online culture, while “Give me what’s mine” is an obvious reference to some men’s sense of lost entitlement… *** If you’re healthy, and not some self-loathing individual who needs a therapist more than they need an online community (I mean this in all seriousness – see a GP if this is you), then in light of the above, the other references in the video should make sense. I’ll not go on. Please do enjoy the video. Frequently if possible. Scott Benson has done a nice job. ~ Bruce Update: Now it’s a T-Shirt, with 25% of the profits going to Planned Parenthood in the US.

In Dawkins’ Honour?

Dawkins - photo by Marty Stone Over much of the past two years in political circles, a slew of polemics have been argued, over the online harassment directed at women. Even the list of more recent incidents spawning these debates is expansive; the harassment of feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian; the viral video of Prime Minister Julia Gillard criticising Tony Abbott’s relationship with misogyny; the multiple waves online of chauvinist vitriol directed at amongst others, New Statesman columnist, Laurie Penny, and so it goes.

A heavy reliance on the Internet for communication leaves atheist and free-thought communities, especially in the US, potentially wide open to abusive interaction, whatever the disposition of their constituencies. One could go into great detail discussing the event that saw the crystallisation of the phenomena in secular circles online; “ElevatorGate” in 2011. However, I’ll try to be brief.

In 2011, atheist, sceptic and feminist blogger, Rebecca Watson, in the middle of a YouTube video post, pointed out that it wasn’t a good move for guys to introduce themselves at 4am, in an elevator, asking a woman to “…come to my hotel room for coffee?” Initially, this mild comment prompted a series of alleged and mostly unrelated grievances to be aired by Watson’s detractors.

Then Prof. Richard Dawkins entered the fray with his now infamous “Dear Muslima” commentary, sarcastically deriding Rebecca Watson’s supposed lack of perspective; Muslim women were being treated like dirt the world over, while Watson complained about guys in elevators. Imagine it as Dawkins’ take on “First World Problems”; very dry, at least a little truculent, and with a hint of unstated grievances.

What followed was an escalation in online abuse; “she’s too ugly to rape”; “I hope she gets raped so she knows what real abuse is”; “if I’m ever in an elevator with her, I’ll cop a feel”; “…Rebeccunt Twatson…”. And of course, there have been the ever-present images depicting feats Laurie Penny would likely describe as “sphincter stretchingly implausible”. This torrent of vitriol rapidly engulfed other targets, all while maintaining the same intensity of malice and irrationality.

Possibly the most sinister act amongst all of this, was an incident endured by Amy Roth in 2012.

The Slymepit”, an Internet cesspool of vex and loathing, dedicated to attacking Rebecca Watson and fellow travellers, was to temporarily play host to the publication of Amy Roth’s home address. Despite an allegedly public source for such personal information, you have to ask; what was the implied, suggested use for Roth’s home address, being posted at such a forum?

The individual posting Amy Roth’s home address, one Justin Vacula, coupled this act to a claim of “censorship” at Roth’s instigation, on account of her filing of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claim on a particular photo of hers, and only the photo, to be withdrawn from a post of his authoring. As of writing, Vacula’s description of the exchange, published at the Southern Poverty Law Centre listed hate site, A Voice For Men, fails to accurately describe all the relevant details (i.e. that the article was not in fact, “censored”).

But aside from the obvious, what has any of this got to do with Richard Dawkins?

To simply state that abuse has followed Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” comments, ergo Dawkins’ responsibility, would be an instance of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy so loved by reactionaries. As far as I can ascertain, Dawkins has offered neither tacit, nor explicit endorsement of the mentioned abuse. Rather, from “ElevatorGate” onwards, it seems often to be a case of overzealous Dawkins fans appointing trolling duties to themselves.

Still, at a time when men are increasingly being called upon to decry misogyny, sexism and online abuse, Dawkins’ continuing silence on a phenomena situated so close to him seems difficult to defend. This silence, coupled with the abuse, and coupled with the behaviour of a number of enablers, at least to my addled mind, seems only to serve the wrecking of communities, intentionally or not.

In response to the outbreak of online abuse, and a series of incidents at events, a number of free-thought organisations in the US have made steps to implement harassment policies. It’s been no secret that Dawkins’ sentiments oppose these moves for mostly unarticulated reasons. Maybe it’s a case of bonobo ethology romantically adapted to Homo sapiens, or perhaps more likely, it’s that Dawkins objects on the grounds of identity politics.

However, such policies aren’t a reflection on the behaviour of the broader godless constituency – they prescribe courses of action for when things go wrong, as happens from time to time in all human communities. The existence of a harassment policy no more defames a community, than laws against murder condemn a society as being particularly murderous.

Last year I covered the Global Atheist Convention for Ophelia Benson’s Butterflies and Wheels, although at the time I left something out of my coverage; an incident where my eyes were flecked with the spittle (and possibly the mild ale) of an atheist academic, who ranted amongst other things, that he’d always oppose bullies.

Said academic, a self-confessed Dawkins fan, despite his supposed anti-bullying advocacy, has thus far failed to call the harassment of Rebecca Watson, Amy Roth and others for what it is. Yet what he has managed to decry are concerns over a campaign to fund Justin Vacula’s presence at this month’s “Women in Secularism 2”, held by The Centre For Inquiry in Washington D.C..

My spittle-spraying former acquaintance isn’t alone amongst intelligent, academic, Dawkins fans in adopting this double standard. Weirdly, there’s an attitude even amongst a small set of atheist academics, that somehow they’re doing Dawkins a favour. It’s as if they harbour fantasies that fame and book sales will rain down upon them, if only they enable Watson’s harassers.

It’s not like Dawkins hasn’t been pressed for more substantive contributions to this debate, or even with questions about his mere awareness of the existence of the torrents of abuse. I’ve sources who’ve done as much, with little success in the way of obtaining answers, and Dawkins has publicly squelched such lines of inquiry, such as during a Q&A session at the University of Miami in September of 2011.

I was able to discuss these concerns with Dr. R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director of the US branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. She was aware of the mentioned instances of harassment, expressing displeasure and dismay.

I raised the issue of serious chatter arising out of a polarised climate amongst organisers, that suggested that Dawkins was using his influence to have Rebecca Watson barred from events. Dr. Cornwell assured me this wasn’t the case.

Whichever way one decides to interpret these contrary claims, one thing is indisputable – there‘s a lack of trust within secular circles, born of online harassment during the past few years. This conflict is ostensibly being driven by an unknown number of self-appointed zealots, and their enablers, acting in Dawkins’ honour.

Whatever Dawkins’ intellectual or personal differences with Rebecca Watson et al., it wouldn’t undermine him to explicitly state that he doesn’t welcome the online abuse of his opponents. Dawkins may retort that this is in fact obvious, however this wouldn’t seem to hold for those who need to hear the message the most – a number of his more enthusiastic fans.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Marty Stone).