Theophontes, a pseudonymous commenter here and on PZ Myers’ blog, perfectly illustrates a key point that I have been making about PZ and some his colleagues, and their reluctance to follow the Golden Rule. Instead, Theophontes switches between two modes of judging people, which I call Charitable Theo and Uncharitable Theo.
In this post I will address Charitable Theo’s defence (which, as I have already said, I mostly agree with) of PZ telling a conference host to do her belly dance and to get off his stage, linking to pornography involving women and octopuses, writing about a dream in which he turned his students into mermaids, publicly joking about rape, endorsing a pornographic book that includes rape fantasies, and preventing a possible investigation into a threatened false rape allegation against himself by a student.
Then I will address Uncharitable Theo associating me with a fascist group that existed in Ireland in the early 1930s, long before I was even born, based on Theo uncritically accepting more false smears about me, in comments on PZ’s blog, by a man with a five year vendetta against Atheist Ireland, who has been banned from online forums in Ireland and Australia. As one example of his ethics, on the first Christmas Day after my wife Anne died of cancer, he posted details of my widows pension among messages of condolence on a tribute page to Anne on my website, after he had edited the Wikipedia page about me to include the same details in the section about my marriage to Anne.
This, folks, is the downside of the Internet. And civilised society has yet to figure out how to deal with it. When Anne and I and others were campaigning against terrorism in Northern Ireland, we had hate mail and the occasional bullet drop through our letterboxes. At least, pre-Internet, those people had to go to the effort of physically producing their hate smears and threats, and physically delivering them to individual targets. Today PZ and others can spread their smears globally at the click of a mouse button, and Theo and others will uncritically pass them on faster and wider than it is possible to correct them.
I will also address PZ and Theo’s pattern of judging of me on the basis of their opinion of other people, who are either commenting on my blog or writing about me elsewhere, and the general idea of judging people by the behaviour of other people rather than their own behaviour. And I will end, as usual, by asking that we judge each other charitably, using the standards that we would like others to apply to us, and asking that we work together with integrity to bring about a more inclusive, ethical, secular world.
1. Charitable Theo denying that PZ’s behaviour was sexist
In a recent post, I wrote that I do not believe that PZ is sexist, but that some people would consider several of his behaviours to be sexist, if they judged them by the standards that PZ uses to judge other people’s sexism.
Some of them were behaviours that could foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex, such as asking woman to do a belly dance on stage. Another was endorsing on a science blog pornography involving women and octupuses, which PZ himself describes as including “weird exploitation of women”, yet he believes that a considerably tamer image on a shirt would put some women off undertaking a science career. Also, he writes about cephaloporn that “nothing beats a sea slug for that vulval feel.”
Charitable Theo responded in two comments on my post, which he cross-posted to PZ’s blog, in which he defended PZ by placing the most charitable possible judgment on each incident.
Like PZ, Charitable Theo has completely missed the point of that post. The very first sentence was:
“I don’t believe that PZ Myers is sexist.”
And I concluded:
“I am not condemning PZ for any of this behaviour. I am asking him and his colleagues to act ethically consistently when judging others.”
The point of the post was to ask what would happen if PZ and his colleagues applied the same level of judgment about sexism to PZ’s own behaviour over the years, as they do to behaviour by other people, the most recent example being the shirt worn by Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor?
Or, from the reverse perspective, what would happen if PZ judged others’ behaviour as charitably as he would like others to judge his own behaviour?
Or from a new perspective, what would happen if Charitable Theo judged my behaviour as charitably as he judges PZ’s behaviour? Well, we don’t know how that would work out, but we do know what happens when Uncharitable Theo judges my behaviour, by associating me with 1930s fascists and describing this as my seedy past.
2. Uncharitable Theo associating me with 1930s fascists
Last week I saw this strange comment from Theo on my blog:
“Some more about your double standards: Where you wearing your red shirt when you were running with the blue shirts? I am not particularly surprised to see you are providing a home-away-from-home to right wing reactionaries on your blog.”
The link was to an article in Look Left Online about the Blueshirts, a fascist organisation that existed briefly in Ireland in the early 1930s, illustrated with a photograph resplendent with fascist salutes.
There are two separate smears here: one, that I am associated with fascists or fascism, and two, that some of the commenters on my blog are right wing reactionaries who could be expected to be comfortable being associated with fascists or fascism.
On PZ’s blog, Theo described his comment on my blog as:
“For a comment on Michael’s own seedy past, see comment #15.”
“That’s not really fair. There’s hella difference between sexual harassment and political views. Aren’t there plenty of us who’re recovering Christians, Libertarians and other scum?”
And Theo responded to Sili:
“The point is that he has claimed that he has been an atheist since childhood. He then chose to join a papist¹, populist, conservative party.
… ¹ FG are great opportunists and blow with the wind. More recently FG have been at odds with the pope. For example: Unlike the pope’s sympathy for the poor, FG do not support a living wage. Austerity for the poor and tax cuts for the rich.”
And Sili responded to Theo:
“Where does Nugent make that claim, himself? That was my issue. I’ve only seen it made by the guy who came by recently to grind an axe.”
And Theo responded to Sili:
Theo tried to link to a page about me being an election candidate for Fine Gael in Dublin in 1999, but by mistake linked to a page about a different Michael Nugent who was an election candidate for Sinn Fein in Cork in 2014.
3. The source of Uncharitable Theo’s smear
I was intrigued by the reference to “the guy who came by recently to grind an axe”. Ever since PZ falsely accused me of defending rapists, one piece of light relief that I and supportive friends have had was speculating on what would happen if Frank (aka FXR, Fexro, Fexbolt, Falconer1st, Arcus Arrow, Noel Grainger, Will Hamilton, William Rowan Hamilton, Brad Pennington, dubusa) joined in with the smears. And now we know. A quick search showed that, a few weeks ago, Frank had posted various false smears in comments on a different thread on PZ’s blog.
Frank has been conducting a five year on-and-off vendetta against Atheist Ireland generally, and against me personally, ever since he was suspended from the Atheist Ireland forum in 2009 for starting a thread titled “Cream Crackers Marching”. (In Ireland, “Cream Crackers” is rhyming slang for “Knackers”, which is an extremely offensive term for members of the travelling community.) Frank called them freeloaders, and said that “this whole ‘equal rights’ thing is just another way to scam a few freebies.”
I want to separate the factual inaccuracies in Frank’s smears from his online vendetta, because in theory he could be factually accurate while also conducting his vendetta.
3(a) The Blueshirts
I’ll start with Frank’s accusation that I
“became a card carrying member of the Ultra Catholic Fine Gael party… commonly referred to as the Blueshirts after the founding fascist organisation that preceded it.”
The fact that Uncharitable Theo picked up on this bizarre aspect of Frank’s smears is what caused me to check its source.
Nobody in Ireland seriously associates Fine Gael with the Blueshirts of the 1930s, other than as a joke. As someone wrote elsewhere about this, it is like saying that Barack Obama is a racist because the Democrats used to support slavery. Actually, it is even further from reality than that, because the Blueshirts were a short-lived faction within a wider political party in the early 1930s.
The main political parties in Ireland are ideologically strange. They mostly grew out of the sides in the Civil War that followed Irish independence, and ideological divisions that exist elsewhere between parties, exist in Ireland within parties. So the main parties have left, right, liberal and authoritarian wings within them.
By the 1980s, relatively speaking, Fianna Fail was the party of Catholic nationalism, Fine Gael was the party of constitutional pluralism, and the Labour Party was nominally socialist but in practice a potential minority party in possible coalition with Fine Gael. Fianna Fail leader Charles Haughey (‘The Boss’) was corrupt, and Fine Gael leader Garret Fitzgerald (‘Garret the Good’) was leading a Constitutional Crusade to, among other things, make divorce legal and remove the constitutional claim over Northern Ireland.
I have been briefly involved in two political parties that, at the time, were each the most secular and the most opposed to terrorism and corruption, among the non-socialist options. The Progressive Democrats was a new party in the mid 1980s that sought to remove God from the Irish Constitution, and Fine Gael in the late 1990s seemed to me the best option, despite internal divisions, to stand up to the Catholic Church. I soon concluded that, to succeed in party politics, you have to be prepared to spend 90% of your time doing unproductive things in order to be able to spend 10% of your time being productive. And so I returned to political independence.
3(b) Atheist Ireland
Secondly, Frank has made various accusations about Atheist Ireland. For example, he suggests that members of the Atheist Ireland Committee being re-elected unopposed at AGMs indicates that I personally run the organisation like a papacy. Actually, we run Atheist Ireland collectively and constructively. Any member can run for election for any elected position, or can be co-opted to new positions that the committee can create. In practice, to date, our members are satisfied with how effectively and co-operatively we are running a voluntary campaign against the might of decades of Irish political intransigence. To suggest that a voluntary organisation running smoothly is a bad thing seems strange.
Frank has repeated this and his other smears about Atheist Ireland on various websites, including the Atheism and Agnosticism section of Boards.ie, Ireland’s most prominent online forum, which is not affiliated to Atheist Ireland. Here are some sample reactions there to one such post by Frank:
“Arcus Arrow, your complaint, without details or context is pointless. Unless there’s more information provided or something else useful I’d be inclined to close this thread.”
“Yes there is a backstory going way way way way way wayyyy back to the formation of the group, for some unknown reason and nearly 3 years he continues to carry his own personal vendetta. Pity.”
“Have you even read any of the responses on this thread? Frankly if AI know who you are they probably just pre-emptively deleted your post because you’ve your own personal agenda against them and were looking to stir trouble or for something to bitch about and use as an example of their evil. Seriously, what is your beef with AI?”
“I don’t think that’s true. Atheist Ireland – and indeed their leader Michael Nugent, when he posts on here – certainly haven’t been free from criticism on this site.”
“So I take it you’re ignoring the thread on here where AI was criticised about their census campaign? And also ignoring that they took some of the criticism to heart and altered the campaign? How very religious of you. Now what’s the real reason you dislike AI?”
“It’s amazing how you’re constructing this reality of yours to justify your agenda.”
3(c) Personal smears
Thirdly, Frank makes several bizarre untrue personal smears about me, to the effect that I am a distortion liar and self promoter, that I am unemployed and living on social welfare, that Atheist Ireland is a personality cult centred on me, that Derek Walsh is one my most slavish followers, and that I campaigned against terrorism because “at the time the Troubles in Northern Ireland were the hot topic.”
These are all simply one hundred percent factually false. They are the product of a troubled mind, and I will not give them the dignity of analysing them. Suffice to say that the editors of Wikipedia had to close down the page about me to edits after Frank repeatedly edited the section about my marriage to Anne to include details of my widows pension.
If you want a yardstick by which to judge the validity of Frank’s smears, ask anybody you know, who actually lives in Ireland, whether they would seriously associate Fine Gael in the late 1990s with the fascist Blueshirts of the 1930s. Ask yourself whether it is credible that Frank, while living in Ireland today, could seriously believe such a thing. Then apply the same level of skepticism to the rest of what he writes.
4. When Uncharitable Theo met Frank
So how did PZ’s commenters respond to Frank’s smears? After a knee-jerk start, they mostly responded with caution. Apart from Uncharitable Theo.
At first, Ichthyc responded uncritically:
“thanks for the perspective, Fexbolt. good to know!”
Uncharitable Theo then added:
“@Fexbolt – Wow! That would explain a lot of very strange behaviour. Thank you for posting.”
Tom Foss introduced some skepticism:
“I’ll just chime in to express skepticism at this thread being resurrected with a bunch of damning personal information about Nugent by a commenter I haven’t seen ’round here before… In other words, I’d like to see some corroboration before I’m ready to accept that Nugent is a serial cult-of-personality leader looking for whatever group is willing to make him a figurehead, no matter how consistent that characterization is with his behavior.”
Chigua, Ichthyc and Nerd of Redhead then scolded Tom Foss for his skepticism, with Nerd suggesting that Tom should:
“Read Nugent’s blogs asshole, like you don’t believe a word he says, rather than with worship. DUH. Apply the same skepticism you want us to use, upon Nugent. Come back when you are done. In a couple of years or so.”
The discussion then became more balanced, with PZ endorsing Tom’s legitimacy as a frequent commenter who has been critical of me, and other contributions from Xanthë, Al Dente, Tigtog, Tony! and Sili. However, even some of the notes of caution were mixed with expressions of hope that Frank’s smears were true.
Even in the face of this growing caution, one person remained committed to taking Frank’s smears at face value. Uncharitable Theo said to Frank:
“@ Fexbolt – I once found it strange that your nemesis has been padding out his blog with slymepitters. The pieces of the jigsaw are all slowly falling into place.”
Theo and Frank then exchanged some light banter about how both of them had been blocked when they had tried to join the Slymepit (which is interesting because, by PZ and Theo’s standards, trying to join the Slymepit might result in some people judging both Theo and Frank based on their opinions of other people who post on the Slymepit.)
Three days later, Uncharitable Theo posted his comment on my blog, associating me with the Blueshirts of the 1930s, courtesy of his source Frank.
5. What if we judged PZ and Theo by Frank’s behaviour?
One of the common factors in PZ and Uncharitable Theo’s criticisms of me is to judge me based on their opinions about other people, who either comment on my blog or write about me elsewhere.
In his initial attempt to defend his false smear that I defend and provide a haven for rapists, PZ wrote:
“Where did I say he should delete comments? I said I judge him by the company he keeps.”
In the comments cited above, Uncharitable Theo has written of me that:
“Lying down with Thunder “anti-feminist douchebag” f00t and Vox “racist sexist homophobic dipshit” Day, makes this all look fairly trivial in comparison.”
“You rub shoulders with the likes of Thunderf00t, on your blog. You should realise how bad this makes you look. You are endorsed by Vox Day. You should realise how bad this makes you look. Then again, perhaps you don’t realise it yet. In which case: “I fart in your general direction!”
I believe it is unreasonable to judge people by the behaviour of other people. For example, I believe it is unfair to judge PZ and Theo on the basis of Frank’s behaviour. But, by PZ and Uncharitable Theo’s standards, it would seem to be reasonable.
So let’s see what happens if we judge PZ and Uncharitable Theo on the basis of “the company that they keep”, and who they “lie down with” and “rub shoulders with” on PZ’s blog. Let’s use Frank as an example.
In October 2011 Frank told a member of Boards.ie that he could literally kill him without being angry.
“If it was necessary, convenient or served my purposes and the right conditions were all in place I could literally kill you without being angry or even thinking about you afterwards. I don’t have to worry about gods only other humans. You potentially could do the same but you might need to be angry…”
In February 2010 he started a thread on Atheist Nexus titled ‘Morals and Ethics: no thanks I don’t need them!’ in which he wrote
“I can only say that I do not now or have I ever seen things by any yardstick that involves morals and ethics. But it has to be kept in mind I never heard those words growing up. I’d only say one is best having one’s own principles. After that whether it’s morals or ethics or even the legal framework of the law I’ll interpet them as I see fit with no more regard for them than serves my own self interest.”
In September 2009 he told a member of the Atheist Ireland forum that it looked like a lie when he said he had been a victim of child sexual abuse.
Chesterton: “Just for the record. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. It was not, however, carried out by a member of the clergy but by a family member.”
FXR: “On the evidence I’d have to say I think that’s looks like a lie or else you have a very serious case of self denial that needs treatment…”
In May 2007 he wrote in the Richard Dawkins Forum that he had been involved in counting bribe money in Ireland.
“I remember only too well GUBU etc. I was in the middle of it. On more than one occaision I counted the money into the brown paper bags. I was a witness to the bribery and corruption…”
6. The Diary of Ban Frank
I should acknowledge here that I did not come up with the phrase ‘The Diary of Ban Frank’. The credit for that goes to one of our international speakers, who Frank had emailed with details of his smears about Atheist Ireland.
In 2008, Frank was banned for life from Boards.ie, Ireland’s most prominent online discussion forum.
Frank: “I got the same from boards.ie for slagging the katlicks. I’m banned for life. It’s the modern equivalent of being excommunicated….. I’m surprised Irish Catholics have’nt banned me yet? It must be my turn next.”
In December 2009, Frank was suspended from the Atheist Ireland forum for starting a thread (now deleted) titled “Cream Crackers Marching”. In Ireland, “Cream Crackers” is rhyming slang for “Knackers”, which is an extremely offensive term for members of the travelling community. He wrote:
“I just generally don’t like Freeloaders. I class the cream crackers, our TD’s, the Senate, the President, subsidised farmers, the clerics and all freeloaders as one and the same. Cream Crackers is a traditional Dublin word for travellers but a lot of snobs are predjuiced when it comes to the way working class people speak. I’ve been in the Pavie centre off Mountjoy Square more than once. This whole “equal rights” thing is just another way to scam a few freebies. The vast majority of them are Freeloaders. They know a good thing when they see it. Once they discovered free money by demanding their rights they took to it like ducks to water…”
In January 2012, having rejoined Boards.ie under a different name, he was banned for life from the Atheism and Agnosticism forum for continually pursuing his personal vendetta against me.
Administrator: “Arcus Arrow is taking a permanent holiday from A&A. Boards is not to be used as a platform for personal campaigns.”
In October 2009, Frank joined the forum of the Atheist Foundation of Australia with the following ambitious introduction:
“Hello from the Island of child buggering Saints. I’m posting from Ireland. In Ireland I started a virtual think tank and now we’ve decided to go global. In the last hour I’ve posted on sites in South America, Germany and now Australia. The idea is to spread effective ideas across the globe and to find projects that can be launched in sync. At the moment in Ireland a handful of people are working on an idea to raise peoples consciousness that will require global co-operation if all the details can be worked out. There are a lot of obstacles but we heretics only have this life to make an impact so anything is worth a try. Looking forward to talking to you.”
By January 2012, after continually pursuing his vendetta against Atheist Ireland and repeatedly arguing with moderators, he was banned (or ‘raptured!’) from the Atheist Foundation of Australia Forum.
Also in January 2012, Frank was given this warning on his Talk page on Wikipedia:
“Please assume good faith and do not refer to other users as “cult members”. Continued personal attacks will lead to a block.”
It would obviously be unfair to say, as PZ says about me, that I judge him by the company that he keeps, meaning people like Frank who comment on his blog.
It would obviously be unfair to say that PZ defends and provides a haven for people like Frank who say that they could literally kill you without being angry or even thinking about you afterwards, who say that they have never seen things by any yardstick that involves morals and ethics, and who call members of the travelling community ‘Cream Crackers’.
It would obviously be unfair to say to Theo, paraphrasing what Theo says to me,
“Theo, you rub shoulders with the likes of Frank on PZ’s blog. You should realise how bad this makes you look. Then again, perhaps you don’t realise it yet. In which case: “I fart in your general direction!”
And it is equally obviously unfair for PZ and Theo to judge other people based on their opinions of different people.
There is a lot of nonsense on the Internet, some of it hurtful and harmful, and some of it fuelled by prejudice and eagerness to believe defamatory smears. Today PZ and others can spread their smears globally at the click of a mouse button, and Theo and others will uncritically pass them on faster and wider than it is possible to correct them.
We should try to judge each other charitably, using the standards that we would like others to apply to us, and we should try to work together with integrity to bring about a more inclusive, ethical, secular world. That can seem hard when some people are eager to believe the worst about you, but I am confident that we can move a little closer to that kinder, fairer world by our behaviour every day.