Like PZ Myers, who has repeatedly failed to substantiate or apologise for his false allegation that I defend and provide a haven for rapists, our pseudonymous commenter Theophontes has failed to substantiate or apologise for his false allegation that my “seedy past” involved being associated fascism.
This is part of an ongoing pattern whereby PZ and his colleagues casually make defamatory smears, as if it is an acceptable part of civilised discourse, and then refuse to own their behaviour when they are corrected. Occasionally they apologise, but then either withdraw their apology or say that they hadn’t really apologised.
These smears are part of a wider pattern of misrepresentations of individual atheists, and of the atheist movement generally, by PZ and others. In recent months these misrepresentations were leaking into the mainstream media, and it was after I criticised this development that PZ and others started directing their personal smears at me.
1. Theo’s smear about me and fascism
The most recent smear came after I analysed how PZ had updated his story about a threatened false rape allegation made against him. Theo commented that I had “run with the blue shirts,” linked to an article about a fascist organisation that existed in Ireland in the 1930s, and said this was part of my “seedy past.” I located Theo’s source for that smear, and I wrote a correction.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Theo to say, without losing any face, “I’m sorry for writing that. I was told it by a source who I thought was reliable, and I mistakenly believed it. Thanks for giving me more accurate information, and I’ll try to fact-check in future before I unknowingly pass on false accusations like that.”
Instead, Theo glided over the fact that his smear had been corrected, and focused instead on different parts of the post in which his smear had been corrected. Theo did this over three separate comments, in which he applied his usual pattern of judging PZ charitably and me uncharitably.
I will respond here to those three comments, and then ask Theo to withdraw and apologise for his false association of me with fascism. 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.
2. Theo’s first response comment
Last Thursday Theo made his first response comment. It referred mostly to the length of my post, and to my reference to his pseudonymous status.
“Thank you for your response to my comments. If I can just make one small criticism with regard to the style your response, it would be that it is a little too wordy. A few hundred words should have done the trick, by my estimation. But in excess of 4000 words, and it tends to get a little verbose.”
As Shatterface put it in a recent comment,
“I think it’s telling that when the likes of Theo or Benson encounter a large body of text, their first instinct is to count the words rather than to read them.”
That said, Theo has a point. Brief posts can have more punch than lengthy posts. I generally prefer to write brief pieces, and up to recently I have typically edited my posts to remove superfluous words. One of my favourite books on writing is Make Every Word Count, by Gary Provost, which I got while I was in college, and which is still on my desk today.
However, brief posts generally work best when they are read charitably. When I know that some people will judge my words as uncharitably as they can, then I choose to compensate for that by including as much context and qualifications as I think will help to pre-empt that outcome. Of course, that doesn’t always work, because some people will ignore the qualifications anyway.
There is an ideal balance somewhere, and even given the hostile environment, I may be erring on the side of caution instead of brevity. But I have to write these posts in between my commitments to Atheist Ireland and other aspects of my life so, as Blaise Pascal (and others) have put it, “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
“I have a suggestion right out of the gate – that is to say, in the very first line: “Theophontes, a pseudonymous commenter here and on PZ Myers’ blog,”
The word “pseudonymous” seems entirely superfluous and should have been omitted….
Michael, if you feel comfortable putting your name out there, good for you. If you enjoy the privilege of living in a country that does not look ill upon the freedom of expression, then I am truly happy for you. I long, and struggle, for a time when such is universally accepted.”
Theo, I referred to your pseudonymous status as an observation, rather than a condemnation. Not everyone who reads my blog is familiar with the nuances of the current smears against atheists, and I try to start my writing with some introductory information for the uninformed reader.
I am delighted to see that you long for the day that freedom of expression is universally accepted. I assume you agree that, like all freedoms, it comes with responsibilities, and should not be used to unjustly infringe on the rights of others, including the right to one’s good name and reputation in the face of defamatory smears.
3. Theo’s second response comment
Last Thursday Theo made his second response comment. It referred mostly to sexual fantasies and rape, as well as another reference to the length of my posts.
MN wrote: “Charitable Theo’s defence (which, as I have already said, I mostly agree with)”
Theo responded; “You say “mostly agree with” and then give a summation that is wholly at odds with what I have written right here on your blog. My point is not being made “charitably”, it is being made accurately.”
Theo, I said that I mostly agreed with your defence of PZ’s behaviour, and what I summarised was his behaviour, not your defence of it. I linked directly to your defence of PZ’s behaviour, so that readers could follow it up themselves.
That said, both your points and mine (about whether PZ is sexist) are being made charitably, not necessarily accurately. Neither of us can know whether our points are accurate, because neither of us is PZ. Where he behaves in ways that some people people would consider to be sexist, we are both, I think appropriately, giving him the benefit of the doubt.
3(a) PZ and weird exploitation of women
“I fail to see why you have such a problem with simple concepts, such as pornography being perfectly OK in the context of a non-exploitative and consensual relationship.”
The reason that you fail to see why I have a problem with simple concepts, such as pornography being perfectly OK in the context of a non-exploitative and consensual relationship, is that I do not have a problem with such concepts, and that I agree that pornography is perfectly OK in the context of a non-exploitative and consensual relationship.
However, PZ has linked approvingly to pornography that PZ himself has described as including “weird exploitation of women.” Whether you or I or anyone else believes that these images are weirdly exploitative of women, is beside the point with regard to PZ’s thinking. The point is that PZ believes it is weirdly exploitative of women, and despite that PZ chose to link to it.
Here’s a reminder of what we are talking about. In October 2006, PZ published a post titled ‘Definitely not safe for work.’ It read:
“A reader sent me a link to a site I hesitate to reference, just because I know some people will be aghast at the exposed mammalian flesh and weird exploitation of women…but it’s got tentacles everywhere, and molluscs, and even a few arthropods and a giant salamander.
The title, Tentacles of Desire, and the list of organisms tells you what it’s all about. If you’re easily offended or squeamish about slime or freaked out by perverse fetishes, don’t go there!
Otherwise, though, just consider it a celebration of biodiversity.”
The link goes to this web page, which today contains the message: “This blog is in violation of Blogger’s Terms of Service and is open to authors only”
The page is archived here. To see the images PZ linked to, scroll down to 15 October, about a third of the way down the page. Warning: some of the images are very extreme, and some are photographs rather than illustrations. The text describes the style as ‘hentai tentacle rape’ that highlights ‘the relationship between the plastic body of the female and the “non-body” of the monstrous.’
3(b) PZ and fantasies about mermaids
“I question what goes around in your mind when you read things into others dreams that are only in your own mind. Do you imagine the mermaids were naked, or that they had sex? Or you just have an issue with such fantasy creatures in general? Such would reflect only on your own imagination in this regard. (Hey, its OK to be sex-positive Michael. Relaaax)”
Actually, I didn’t write anything about whether the mermaids were naked, or whether they had sex. You seem to have added that interpretation, in your own mind, to what I wrote. The only commentary that I made on that fantasy was this:
- PZ publicly posted this fantasy about his students on a blog where at least some of the students he was fantasising about might be expected to read it.
- I am not condemning PZ for this dream fantasy. I am asking him and his colleagues to act ethically consistently when judging others.
So I could ask you the same question that you asked me:
“Theo, I question what goes around in your mind when you read things into others dreams that are only in your own mind. Do you imagine the mermaids were naked, or that they had sex? Or you just have an issue with such fantasy creatures in general? Such would reflect only on your own imagination in this regard. (Hey, its OK to be sex-positive Theo. Relaaax)”
But I won’t ask you that, because that would be unfair. Your response is a perfect example of Charitable Theo and Uncharitable Theo in action in the same paragraph.
- When interpreting what you think PZ might have been thinking, you charitably imply that he may not have seen the mermaids as being naked, or imagined that they had sex.
- Yet when you speculate on what I might have been thinking when reading PZ’s words, you uncharitably question whether I saw the mermaids as naked, or imagined whether they had sex, even though I didn’t mention either of those ideas.
- You then uncharitably assume that I don’t think it is okay to be sex-positive, and you add an uncharitable ‘Relaaax’ to the end of your comment.
- You don’t explain how you believe both that (a) it is okay to be sex-positive and (b) there would be something wrong with me interpreting PZ’s fantasy in a sex-positive way.
- You ignore that my concern was that PZ publicly posted this fantasy about his students on a blog, where at least some of the students he was fantasising about might be expected to read it.
Theo, why do you apply these double standards? Why don’t you either interpret both PZ and me (and indeed yourself) equally charitably, or else interpret all of us equally uncharitably? Can you not see that this approach is at the heart of our differences on these issues?
3(c) PZ and rape and rape fantasies
“With regard to rape, it is important to be able to discuss this subject openly and frankly. No-one benefits from hiding such matters. It is wonderful that there has been a dramatic turnaround in this regard in recent years and that rapists are being exposed, along with their apologists and protectors. Will all such discussions be in a serious vein? No. This is also part of coming to terms with the issues. But certainly, too, there is no space for denigrating rape victims, nor threatening people with rape – even if such remarks are made “in jest”.”
I agree with most of this, with one obvious proviso, that I suspect you might guess. When you say that “rapists are being exposed, along with their apologists and protectors,” you are writing this on the blog of a person who has been falsely accused of defending and providing a haven for rapists, with that false allegation being made by a person who himself has been falsely accused of rape and who has comments by a self-confessed rapist on his own blog. I’m not going to analyse that in detail here, but I didn’t want to let it slip by unnoticed.
“Fantasies are fantasies. Yes they can be strange at times. It is often in our fantasies that we can resolve our fears, be they being chased by naked mermaids, or even, as in Greta’s case, being raped. There are even people who act out their rape fantasies with their loving and consenting partners. Are you going to stand on your pulpit and tell them about your catholic notions of how they should behave? Such is, after all, very different from actual rape, that your “Uncharitable Theo” would roundly condemn.”
Again, this is a perfect example of Charitable Theo and Uncharitable Theo in action in the same paragraph.
- You charitably interpret the sexual fantasies of others, and sexual role-play of others, including rape fantasies and rape role-play.
- You then uncharitably (and falsely) assume that I not only have Catholic notions about how people should behave sexually, but that I would convey these notions from a pulpit.
If you want to address somebody who has publicly conveyed concerns about people fantasising about rape as depicted in pornography, you could try Ophelia Benson. She recently wrote:
“I also don’t consider “rape scenarios” to be “edgy.” Either both are fucked up or neither is fucked up…
I don’t see why porn is supposed to include violence. I don’t see why erotica and violence need to be mashed together. I don’t see why anyone – especially feminists – wants to eroticize violence.”
Theo, would you say the following to Ophelia about this?
“Ophelia, Are you going to stand on your pulpit and tell them about your catholic notions of how they should behave? Such is, after all, very different from actual rape, that “Uncharitable Theo” would roundly condemn.”
I suspect that you wouldn’t say that to Ophelia, and neither would I. That is because I suspect that we would both interpret what she is saying charitably, and that we would both in turn respond charitably. So why do you apply different standards when you are responding to what I say? Or indeed, in this case, responding to what you imagined that I said?
3(c) Biblical proportions
“Hint: I notice that this response brings me up to a mere 3,25% of the way through your epically verbose OP. If you are going to write a 4000 word opus, at least split it up into chapters and verses, as suites something of such biblical proportions. It certainly would help people who wish to respond.”
Well, I do number the sections, so that should help you. The Bible has nearly 800,000 words, which would require two hundred 4,000-word posts. In the meantime, to quote Tim Minchin from The Good Book:
“I tried to read some other books,
but I soon gave up on that,
The paragraphs ain’t numbered
and they complicate the facts.”
4. Theo’s third response comment
Yesterday Theo made his third response comment. It referred to previous abusive behaviour, judging people by the behaviour of different people, Theo’s fascism smear, and aspects of Irish and US politics.
MN wrote: “As one example of his [Frank’s] 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.”
Theo responded: “I find such behaviours absolutely appalling. You have my sympathies for having suffered such abuse.”
Thank you, Theo. I appreciate that.
I hope you feel the same about me being falsely accused of defending and providing a haven for rapists.
4(a) Judging people based on different people
MN wrote: “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…”
Theo responded: “You attract the attention, and support, of people like Thunderf00t and Vox Day (inter alia) because they see you as being somehow aligned with their twisted, deeply reactionary, world views. They sought you out. Perhaps you should address them as to why they have done this. And yes, their support of you does make you look bad – whether or not we point this out.”
Theo, you are just repeating what you have said before. You are not addressing my counter-argument to that, which I made in the very post that you were responding to:
“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.”
Again, Theo, can you please explain why you are applying different standards to PZ and yourself, than you are applying to me, with regard to whether or not we should be judged on the basis of opinions about different people who write things to or about us? Can you not see that this approach is at the heart of our differences on these issues?
4(b) Fine Gael and Sinn Fein
MN wrote: “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.”
Theo responded: “My apologies, the correct link is here.”
Thank you. It’s interesting how you can apologise for that, but not for your smear of associating me with fascists.
By the way, this mistake has some wider significance for our discussion generally. Choosing the wrong link is an understandable mistake for anybody unfamiliar with Irish politics, but nobody with the remotest familiarity with Irish politics would mistakenly link to a Sinn Fein candidate when talking about a Fine Gael candidate.
4(c) Theo’s unsubstantiated fascism smear
MN wrote: “Nobody in Ireland seriously associates Fine Gael with the Blueshirts of the 1930s, other than as a joke.”
Theo responded: “It is a matter of simple historical fact. You treat it as a joke, yet take offence when the historical connection to Fine Gael is pointed out.”
Theo, you are ignoring the smear that you made against me, which was to associate me personally with fascism, rather than to record a simple historical fact about Fine gael or about Ireland in the 1930s.
You wrote that I (not people in the 1930s) was “running with the blue shirts”, and you linked to an article illustrated with a photograph of fascist salutes by people in the 1930s.
You added: “I am not particularly surprised to see you are providing a home-away-from-home to right wing reactionaries on your blog.”
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.
Then, for good measure, you described your comment as “a comment on Michael’s own seedy past.”
Theo, can you please withdraw and apologise for your smear that I am associated in any way with fascism, and that this alleged association is in some way linked to me “providing a home-away-from-home to right wing reactionaries on my blog”?
4(d) Fine Gael generally
“Why do you play down Fine Gale’s christian and conservative political orientation? When were they ever not so? In 1999? Is your “constitutional pluralism” referring to their banding up with other such christian parties across Europe?”
I didn’t play down any aspect of Fine Gael’s political orientation, and I explained what I meant by constitutional pluralism. Here is what I wrote about Fine Gael:
“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’ll write a longer post later about Fine Gael and Irish politics, if you are interested in the nuances of the issues that you mention.
4(e) Democrats and slavery
MN wrote: “Democrats used to support slavery.”
Theo responded: “Both Democrats, and Republicans, hold responsibilities for the continuing racial disparities and iniquities in the USA – that stem originally from that very same, racist, slave-owning, past. Perhaps if people cared more about history, they would be less confused about what happened in Ferguson.”
What is interesting here is that Theo has cited the phrase “Democrats used to support slavery” as the words to which he is responding. Actually, the full context of those words was:
“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.”
So, Theo, to follow on from your response here, and granting you the analysis that you have outlined about American history, does it follow from your analysis that Barack Obama is racist? Would it be fair to ask Barack Obama about when he was “running with the racists,” and link to an article with a photograph of KKK members? And would it be fair to describe those aspects of American history as “a comment on Barack Obama’s own seedy past”?
Like PZ Myers, who has repeatedly failed to substantiate or apologise for his false allegation that I defend and provide a haven for rapists, Theo has failed to substantiate or apologise for his false allegation that my “seedy past” involved being associated with a fascist organisation.
Instead, Theo glided over the fact that his smear had been corrected, and focused instead on different parts of the post in which his smear had been corrected. I am asking Theo to please withdraw and apologise for his false association of me with fascism.
Theo also continues to miss the point that I am discussing his approaches to his conclusions, not the conclusions themselves. I am asking him to apply the same standards of charitable (or uncharitable) judgment to everybody equally, rather than apply them selectively.
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.