Category: Conservative Crisis

A Shared Mythology

I’ve semi-seriously discussed quasi–pseudo-academic debate of monopuppyist versus duopuppyists i.e. was science fictions attempted right-wing coup in 2015 one movement (with internal differences) or two movements (with some shared features). One reason I keep looking at those events (and those distinctions) is the way they were a microcosm of broader ideological movements among the right.

Taking stock of those broader movements, similar issues arise. How are things different and how are things the same? There is scope for error in lumping diverse beliefs together and in becoming too focused on points of difference to see the commonalities. I spend a lot of time reading rightwing websites and comment sections (not just former Sad Puppy related ones) and two things stand out as commonalities:

  • Unmoored anti-leftism. ‘Unmoored’ because while the anti-leftism is common the rationalisations offered are not. For example, left opposition to the Bush Jr. Iraq war remains a sore point for many on the right (who ignore Democrat support for the war) but is ignored by the section of the right who also opposed the war (who don’t ignore Democrat support for the war but do ignore left opposition to it).
  • Common mythology. By this, I mean a set of beliefs about the world that are quasi-factual in nature.

The common mythology is a social glue and also a medium of cultural exchange. These are beliefs about how the world is that are:

  • Very specific, i.e. more specific than economic or social models that may be more ideological in nature.
  • By their nature beliefs that can be examined critically against facts but…
  • …which are either NOT examined critically against facts or more often run counter to established facts.

That such mythological-like beliefs exist among the right isn’t a new observation. However, many which we might associate with the right lack this common currency aspect. For example, many people in this broader right I’m discussing are not creationists (although most creationists are of the right), likewise Holocaust denial is still regarded as objectionable by many on the right. Anti-vaxxer beliefs are drifting more rightwards but still cross ideological boundaries. However, a broad habit of believing things that just aren’t so has become entrenched on the right.

I’d like to suggest the following as a core-common shared set of mythologies that act as a means of group identity. These ideas are shared uncritically in diverse parts of the US/Anglosphere right and questioning them too much leads to social ostracisation.

  • Global warming data and theories have been corrupted by politically active scientists. Note this isn’t quite the same as denial of global warming but obviously works very closely with it. The belief that temperature records and other aspects of global warming have been meddled with allows discussion of the reality of global warming to be avoided.
  • Universities and colleges routinely indoctrinate students with Marxist social theories. This belief over-extrapolates the existence of actual courses (perhaps a course somewhere on queer theory) and asserts that this is the norm for all students. The belief has a bedrock of fears by evangelical Christians about their children becoming less religious at college or exposed to things like evolution but in the form, I am describing is more general and less tied to religion.
  • The Democratic Party routinely engages in mass voter fraud at a highly organised level. The belief is very pertinent today given the headlines but the work on this idea is constant and on-going. US conservatives are primed to believe this idea against any facts to the contrary.
  • Mass illegal immigration is an intentional policy of leftists and foreign governments. This deeply disturbing myth and surrounding rhetoric about ‘invasion’ is widely believed and extends beyond the alt-right & more overtly ideologically racist parts of the right.
  • Europe is on the verge of (or already is) being controlled by or dominated by Islam. There’s a vagueness here as to what the actual proposition is. Partly this is due to the age of the claims. 10 years ago, claims about an imminent Islamic take over of Europe were very common on the right and 10 years later the claims are similar. In the face of ridicule of some claims (e.g. ‘no-go’ zones in places that aren’t ‘no go’ zones), the broader beliefs have become vaguer and less open to immediate refutation.
  • Cities are places of rising violent crime. At some point, of course, this idea gets to be true. Crime stats go up and down but what is remembered is the ‘ups’ and what is ignored is the ‘downs’ as well as general trends. What marks this belief as mythology is that it remains unchanged over decades: violent crime is always rising but somehow the point where violent crime was low shifts around.
  • Home invasions and violent attacks on middle-class suburbs or rural areas are common and imminent. These two form a pair and of course relate closely to gun ownership and NRA propaganda.

There are other beliefs that I could list but which I feel are more clearly ideological. For example beliefs around public healthcare relate to specific policy positions overtly advanced by conservatives for decades. Similarly, beliefs around affirmative action or even ‘PC culture’ have a closer connection with ideology. There is a common thread of seeking to avoid facts or to examine these ideas critically that gives them a similar quality of belief that would only be true in a parallel universe.

A relevant question is whether these beliefs are sincere. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte had a recent Twitter thread where she examined some of the anti-factual claims of the right and argues that they are insincere i.e. overtly lies:

Her argument is a strong one and there’s a longer analysis in this 2016 piece she wrote: https://www.salon.com/2016/09/26/its-science-stupid-why-do-trump-supporters-believe-so-many-things-that-are-crazy-and-wrong/

Clearly, some of these viral claims are trolling. The argument that ‘birtherism’ was insincere holds water. However, I think the ones above are held with sincerity of a kind. There is a lot of advocation of beliefs that don’t stand up to critical scrutiny going on that CAN’T be primarily about trolling people on the left. I can be confident of that because these are often beliefs that people on the right do not wish to discuss with the left or raise with the left. To point out factual or logical errors in particular beliefs is seen as trolling BY the left rather than the left being trolled. Readers familiar with the Sad Puppy debarkle will have many ready examples to hand.

Marcotte also raises the group identity aspect as part of the issue i.e. that asserting false or dubious beliefs ties people together, as they act as a marker of loyalty. However, in addition, the soup of false beliefs fostered by creationism on one hand and corporate propaganda on issues such as pesticides, smoking, guns and global warming has entrenched confused thinking as a habit among the right. These poor cognitive habits encourage the ‘grift’ culture I’ve talked about before within the right, that often makes them prone to both perpetuate and be victims of scams and dubious money-making schemes. Marcotte points out Trumps willingness to say what he is thinking is often mistaken for honesty and forthrightness by his supporters. This kind of uncalculated, unhedged speech without weasel words can be refreshing in a world where many people try to avoid being caught in a literal lie. Meanwhile, the new acting Attorney General of the USA was himself part of a company that deliberately targetted military veterans in a scam https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/09/matthew-whitaker-acting-attorney-general-wpm-scam

What’s trolling, what’s an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of public misbelief, what’s a scam and what’s people being scammed and what is just the inevitable confused belief of poor thinking habits is hard to disentangle. What the shared mythology has in common is that I think these are largely internally believed and which act as defence mechanisms for other beliefs or expressions of fears. In particular fears about race and social change among conservatives who see themselves as ‘libertarian’ and ‘not-racist’ require hoop jumping rationalisations that they can express by changing classifications (racial fears changed to fears about violent people in cities or rule-breaking immigrants). The ‘scam’ part here is that more openly racist parts of the right (i.e. the parts that are more willing to own the label ‘racist’) can control those fears via propaganda.

 

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Looks like cess-pool social media site Gab is finished

Gab was established as an alternative social media site to Twitter in 2016 but really only took off last year when it opened registrations. While it now has a reputation primarily as a safe-haven for overt neo-Nazis, many conservatives joined optimistically because of Gab’s claims to support ‘free-speech’. The term ‘free-speech’ here meaning something like ‘unmoderated comments on an internet platform’: there were rules and limitations but they were thin and difficult to enforce.

The consequences were predictable. The loudest, nastiest voices crowded out the less loud, less nasty. The idea that being able to mute comments or give-as-good-as-you-get would make a social network self-policing was already obviously nonsense but the right had convinced itself with misapplied rhetoric about ‘free-speech’ that somehow it would despite years of evidence from other internet forums, comment sections etc that it wouldn’t. Rapidly Gab became a haven for the most overtly extreme.

The mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a far-right antisemite brought added attention to Gab when it was revealed that the alleged shooter had essentially announced their intent on the platform. However, the site had been banned by both the Apple Store and Google play some time ago and was forced to remove two anti-semitic messages in August when Microsoft threatened to cut its services. Now GoDaddy has told Gad to seek a different domain registrar on the grounds that Gab had broken GoDaddy’s terms of service https://techcrunch.com/2018/10/28/far-right-social-network-gab-goes-offline-after-godaddy-tells-it-to-find-another-domain-registrar/ This isn’t the first time Gab has lost its domain registrar: in September last year Asia Registry dumped the network because of anti-Semitic comments promoting genocide: https://www.newsweek.com/nazis-free-speech-hate-crime-jews-social-media-gab-weev-668614 However, this time this is just one of multiple pressures on Gab including payment options and webhosting services withdrawing cooperation https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/10/29/a-look-at-gab-the-free-speech-social-site-where-synagogue-shooting-suspect-posted

Regulars will remember that I covered Gab last September when there was a spectacular falling out between Gab and alt-right publisher Vox Day https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/that-vox-v-gab-think-explained-as-best-i-can/ As far as I can tell the threats of legal action went nowhere but the fallout is instructive. Less than five months after opening publicly for business, the culture at Gab had become so toxic that it was too unpleasant for even Vox Day.

With had at least a decade (arguably multiple decades) of an apparently sincere argument from conservatives that being moderated in chat rooms, forums, comment sections or social media platforms is an attack on free-speech. In that time the right has been unable to put forward a workable alternative. Experiments in unmoderated platforms have followed the same spiral into obnoxious-extremity without even a civil veneer over the hate and actual speech, with even conservative ideas being rapidly crowded out. Gab’s ‘free-speech’ model didn’t create a pleasant sanctuary from ‘political correctness’ but instead just let the very worst people shout down everybody else (even other anti-Semites and cryptofascists!).

I hope this is the end for Gab but I suspect the spiral down the plug hole will drag on for awhile yet.

Mobs and the divine right of GOPs

I lost the link to the piece that sent me off on this post but it was some pundit on the right pointing out that the founders of the USA were sceptical about majority government. The observation in isolation is true but it is also worth noting that whatever doubts they may have had about democracy, they actively fought a war and risked their lives against the notion of monarchy.

There are (among many other things) different protections against majority rule in how the USA was set up:

  1. Individual natural rights being recognised as foundational and offered at least nominal protection.
  2. Regional autonomy and influence being protected by reserving some powers to states and loading one chamber of their version of a parliament with state representation.
  3. A wider impact of the separation of powers, non-proportional chambers, and no direct elections of the executive to limit the scope of a small majority of the population to impose its will on a large minority.

This approach was manifestly flawed. Most obviously by the limited perspective of who they regarded as being politically relevant people (essentially just men who owned property and hence white men who owned property where ‘property’ might include other people). As a scheme, it couldn’t last and led to a bloody civil war because a large minority with regional power (the slave-owning states) wanted to continue violating the rights of individuals. If a political disagreement within a country can only be settled by a war then manifestly the constitutional arrangements had failed.

It is still worth considering though what principle was implied by the US constitution given that monarchy was overtly rejected and democracy was treated with grave suspicion. Looking at actual beliefs of the time can be informative but there are multiple answers, all the variations on political analysis from Britain and the European Enlightenment and classical thinkers. However, it’s possible to peg a broad consensus around the concept that the legitimacy of government arises from the consent of the governed either overtly or implicitly. It’s this concept that informs the rationale of the earlier Declaration of Independence.

It is a weak but broad premise for the legitimacy of government. By itself, it doesn’t negate the legitimacy of a given monarch or dictator at a particular time but it does imply a standard by which systems of government can be judged. A monarchy might enjoy broad popular legitimacy for a specific king but monarchy can’t protect a nation from tyranny. The principle implies voting and elections but without implying that the people are capable or competent of choosing the right government or policies. To take that additional step and endorse *democracy* conceptually (as President Lincoln begins to take only rhetorically in the Gettysburg Address) highlights that democracy is a radical and egalitarian idea.

What ‘consent of the governed’ lacks in progressive force it gains in at least providing a principle that many ideological stances could potentially support. It is a pragmatic principle in so far as there are practical reasons for endorsing it. A political system that aims to ensure the consent of the governed is one that should avoid being overthrown by its populace. The regressive impulse is to limit the concept to the consent of only some section of the population but this is a road that leads to internal social conflict. Practically there’s an incentive for a broader franchise, although that is a tension among those with wealth – capitalism wants stability but stability implies adjusting to social change which threatens those with established wealth.

During and post-WW2, the US rhetorically embraced the language of democracy more. This was often done hypocritically while actively supporting tyrants but even then you can see in some of the rationales offered for given regimes appeals to the kinds of exemptions ‘consent of the governed’ can give. Pretend that General Whoever is popular and loved by his people and you provide a kind of legitimacy argument for them. The authoritarianism of ostensibly Communist regimes and West’s embrace of the rhetoric (if not the practice) of democracy denatured the meaning of the term. Democracy as a word was presented as a broad ‘liberal’ value on which both left and right of western nations were supposed to agree.

Of course the right never really did. I don’t mean every conservative who ever praised democracy was lying, just that the institutions and process and other ideals that even the nicest and most good-faith conservative was arguing for or defending where never entirely consistent with the idea that government should be chosen or controlled by the people, even if only indirectly. Rather, at best, those views were consistent only with the weaker premise that a government only needed to seek the consent of the people for its legitimacy and (to go beyond just the government) the broader system of a nation does not need the active support of the people but only the absence of opposition to it.

In this framework, democracy is seen as a vice among the right and as such the rhetoric of the ‘mob’ comes to the fore. However, the deeper problem is that right is also abandoning the concept of the consent of the governed (or perhaps has forgotten or repressed it). That concept, weak that it is, has helped people fight for an extended franchise because it points toward social and political stability. Instead, conservatives, mainly in the US but to varying degrees elsewhere, are actively trying to narrow the franchise and reduce the number of people eligible to vote.

Their reasons for doing so are a mix of cynicism and a rejection of democracy. While they may make an appeal to the fact the founders of the US constitution feared majority rule imposing their will on a minority of voters they fail to see that the converse must be worse (a minority rule imposing their will on the majority of voters). It was once understood that a government that lacks wider popular support would need to tread carefully — not out of principle but to maintain the nation.

Having never truly believed in democracy and having forgotten the consent of the governed, what paths are left for conservatism?

I can think of three alternate views on the source of government legitimacy (not all of which are mutually exclusive:

  1. “Philosopher Kings” – rule by the wisest, the smartest. The person who knows best should rule and they deserve to rule because they know best.
  2. Might makes right. The person who has the power to rule, rules because you can’t stop them.
  3. The divine right of kings. The person in charge is in charge because God wills them to be in charge and therefore are acting on God’s behalf.

In the past, you could see elements of the Platonic model among libertarians. The government would be based on rights (in particular property rights) and would follow the constitution from which the government would always be able to infer what is right. However, overall this concept of the rule of the expert is not one seriously embraced by the right except rhetorically (i.e. claiming that whoever they like is the best at everything regardless of the evidence). Despite their sycophancy, even the GOP struggles to pretend that Donald Trump is a philosopher king.

Might makes right isn’t going away any time soon in the Republican Party and US mainstream politics (including Democrat leaders) has had a long and problematic history with admiring military strongmen and rationalising US military action as being just because it was something that the US military could do.

However, it is the divine right of kings whose comeback is the most ironic for a party that calls itself “Republican”. It is not hard to find claims that Donald Trump is somehow the agent of God on Earth. Partly this is a way for rightwing evangelical Christian voters in the US rationalising their support for a man who violates most of their ethical norms. It is also weirdly self-reinforcing: after all the fact that Trump is in office and remains popular with the religious right and defied expectations of winning on multiple occasions is hard to explain. Things that are hard to explain or which defy common sense, appeal to supernatural explanations. Trump is either the work of God or the work of the devil in this model because how else can he make sense? The religious right aren’t going to believe he is the work of the devil which leads to the only conclusion that somehow trump is God’s plan. The more absurd Trump is, the more that hypothesis is confirmed and hence the more he should be supported.

Divinity can justify anything but it is not a solid foundation for anything other than a religion.

CoOrDiNaTeD aTtAcKs!

Cast your minds back to April 7 2015. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were beaten by the Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship and Senator Rand Paul announced he was going to run for the Republic nomination for President of the United States. Meanwhile, in Sad Puppy related news, Larry Correia posted this: https://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/07/addendum-to-yesterdays-letter/

“To the the SMOFs, moderates, new comers, and fence sitters I addressed yesterday, yes, we have disagreements with you. We’re happy to discuss them. We are not, however, happy to be libeled as the vilest forms of scum to walk the earth, and we are not happy to live in fear of career destruction. You want my part of fandom to coexist peacefully? You want to work out our differences and keep the awards meaningful? So do we. Though we disagree on the details and the issues, we also love this stuff. But coordinated slander campaigns, lies, character assassinations, threats, witch hunts? No… We won’t stand for that.” [CF: my emphasis]

“Coordinated slander”, oh my golly gosh! The issue being that the Sad Puppy campaign had become notable enough that its impact was being covered by the mainstream media. You’d think that was predictable — make a loud enough noise, eventually pay attention — but no, for Larry the news coverage must have been because of some hidden layer of coordination. A week later he was on the same theme: http://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/14/george-r-r-martin-responds/

“So here is a question for you.  What term would you use to describe the shared politics of the dozens of reporters, columnists, and bloggers who have run similar articles this week with obvious false accusations that Sad Puppies supporters ran an anti-diversity slate, motivated by racism, sexism, and homophobia? Jerks? Yes, they are, but that is a bit too coordinated for mere jerkage. That was a political attempt to establish a political narrative.” [CF: my emphasis]

Changing topics but not themes and sticking with a Sad Puppy outlet for a moment, fast forward to February 3 2017. Milo Yiannopolous’s star had risen high with an invite to the Conservative Political Action Conference and a book deal with Simon & Shuster when anti-Trump Republican group The Reagan Battalion released an edited version of a 206 video in which Yiannopolous justified sex with 13 year olds. At Mad Genius Club, Kate Paulk was unhappy about Yiannopolous’s book deal being cancelled: https://madgeniusclub.com/2017/02/23/the-inadequacy-of-silence/

“What I care about is that someone who has – objectively – done not one damn thing wrong is the subject of a coordinated effort to not merely silence him, but disappear him. I’ve seen this happen in the past. It happened to Larry Correia. To Brad Torgersen. I didn’t get the full force of it last year, but instead got the cold shoulder of people doing their best to pretend I’d already been disappeared.” [CF: my emphasis]

The theme being coordination obviously, the idea that if multiple sources are saying similar things it must be because of hidden coordination. Of course, some people really do plan things and approaches. Obviously the Reagan Battalion planned their media campaign against Yiannopolous but the “coordination” claim is stronger than that and proposes that the subsequent fuss and related outrage was also somehow coordinated.

I was initially planning this post yesterday after I read a series of tweets from Ethan Van Sciver, the right wing comic book artist who claims the mantle of ‘ComicsGate’®™. EVS was the guy who had the big falling out with Vox Day in September. In a series of tweets he disappointed me slightly by using the word “organized” instead of “coordinated”. I shan’t link to the tweets because it messes with the WordPress layout but the combined message was this:

“This Wave of Organized Attacks on ComicsGate consisted of:
1. The rise of @sinKEVitch as leader of AntiCG!
2. Jeff Lemire calling pros to arms against us!
3. Darwyn Cooke’s widow baiting CG!
4 Three Bleeding Cool hitpieces on me!
5. Hit pieces in the Washington Post, & INVERSE
6. Hit piece in The Guardian! The Daily Dot!
7. Robbi Rodriguez sending me a photo of his anus!
8. Vox Day trying to co-opt ComicsGate for the Alt Right!
9. Patton Oswalt condemning ComicsGate!
10. Pablo Hidalgo of Lucasfilm compares ComicsGate to the KKK!
11. John Layman spews bile at 21 year old CG writer Nasser Rabadi for 21 consecutive tweets!
12. Kieran Shiach penned hitpiece in POLYGON!
13. Marvel Comics Chief Creative Office Joe Quesada weighs in to debate @DiversityAndCmx and EVS: Loses debate.” [CF: my emphasis]

Rather like the Yiannopolous defence, the charge of coordination here crosses political lines. EVS suggests a conspiracy between a disperate group that includes the Guardian and Vox Day. The Yiannopolous piece suggested coordination between the left and the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Like I said, this post was going to concentrate on a theme among culture wars and be a break from writing about the nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. However, the morning news presented this to me: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/24/politics/read-brett-kavanaugh-letter-senate-judiciary-committee/index.html

“These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse. But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination—if allowed to succeed—will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service. As I told the Committee during my hearing, a federal judge must be independent, not swayed by public or political pressure. That is the kind of judge I will always be. I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process. The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out.” [CF: my emphasis]

It’s an interesting principled-tone Kavanaugh strikes whilst simultaneously accusing two different women of inventing ‘smears’ against him. And there is that tic again. Of course, yes, clearly the Democrats coordinate their opposition to his nomination just as the Republicans and other conservative groups have coordinated their support of him but the ‘coordination’ here is intended (as it does in the examples above) to imply that criticism is not just illegitimate but sinister and underhand.

“They” are out to get me and it doesn’t matter who ‘they’ are or that ‘they’ are a superfluous hypothesis to describe events. By casting events in this way, a call to action is made against the shadowy Them — who, to quote Kavanaugh, are a threat “any man or woman who wishes to serve our country”.

Personally I like to believe Them are giant ants. I prefer the classics.

 

 

 

 

Claims and false claims

[A content warning: this post discusses sexual assault reports.]

All reports of a crime have potential consequences. We live in an age where false reports of crimes lead to death and where “SWATting” is a murderous prank. However, only one class of crime leads to constant concern from conservatives that false allegations are sufficiently common to require a kind of blanket scepticism. Amid the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, conservatives are pushing back against treating allegations of sexual assault at face value. This is part of a long history of people demanding that sexual assault crimes, in particular, require additional scepticism and scrutiny. That history pushed an idea that rape claims are made by women to ruin a man’s reputation even though historically the consequences of speaking out have always fallen more heavily on women than men*.

A piece by David French at the conservative magazine National Review attempts to pushback against modern feminist advocacy for supporting victims of sexual violence:

“It happens every single time there’s a public debate about sex crimes. Advocates for women introduce, in addition to the actual evidence in the case, an additional bit of  “data” that bolsters each and every claim of sexual assault. You see, “studies” show that women rarely file false rape claims. According to many activists, when a woman makes a claim of sexual assault, there is an empirically high probability that she’s telling the truth. In other words, the very existence of the claim is evidence of the truth of the claim.” https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/09/brett-kavanaugh-accusations-rape-claim-statistics/

The tactic here is one we’ve seen in multiple circumstances where research runs counter to conservative beliefs. FUD, fear-uncertainty-doubt — everything from cigarettes to DDT to climate change has had the FUD treatment as intentional strategy to undermine research. Note the ‘how ridiculous’ tone of ‘In other words, the very existence of the claim is evidence of the truth of the claim.’ when, yes the existence of somebody claiming a crime happened to them IS evidence that a crime happened to them. It is typically the first piece of evidence of a crime! It isn’t always conclusive evidence of a crime for multiple reasons but yes, mainfestly it is evidence. The rhetorical trick here is to take something that is actually commonplace (i.e. a default assumption that when a person makes a serious claim of a crime there is probably a crime) and make it sound spurious or unusual.

The thrust of the article rests on an attempt to debunk research that has been done on the issue of false rape allegations. To maintain the fear of men suffering from false rape allegations, the article aims to emphasise the uncertainty in the statistics to provoke doubt (and uncertainty) amid its target audience.

After a broad preamble, the article focuses on one study in particular and to the article’s credit it does actually link to the paper. The 2010 study in question is this one False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases by David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa and Ashley M. Cote. The specific study looks at reports of sexual assault to campus police at major US Northeastern university. However, the study also contains (as you might expect) a literature review of other studies conducted. What is notable about the studies listed is that they found frequencies of flase allegations were over reported. For example a 2005 UK Home Office study found:

“There is an over-estimation of the scale of false allegations by both police officers
and prosecutors which feeds into a culture of skepticism, leading to poor communi-
cation and loss of confidence between complainants and the police.”

The space were David French seeks to generate uncertainty around these studies is two-fold:

  1. That sexual assault and rape are inherently difficult topics to research because of the trauma of the crime and social stigma [both factors that actually point to false allegations being *less* likely than other crimes, of course…]
  2. That there are a large numbers of initial reports of sexual assault were an investigation does not proceed.

That large numbers of rape and sexual assault reports to police go univestigated may sound more like a scandal than a counter-argument to believing victims but this is a fertile space for the right to generate doubt.

French’s article correctly reports that:

“researchers classified as false only 5.9 percent of cases — but noted that 44.9 percent of cases where classified as “Case did not proceed.””

And goes on to say:

“There is absolutely no way to know how many of the claims in that broad category were actually true or likely false. We simply know that the relevant decision-makers did not deem them to be provably true. Yet there are legions of people who glide right past the realities of our legal system and instead consider every claim outside those rare total exonerations to be true. According to this view, the justice system fails everyone else.”

The rhetorical trick is to confuse absolute certainty (i.e. we don’t know exactly the proportion of the uninvestigated claims might be false) with reasonable inferences that can be drawn from everything else we know (i.e. it is very, very, unlikely to be most of them). We can be confident that cases that did not proceed BECAUSE the allegation was false (i.e. it was investigated and found to be false) were NOT included in the 44.9% of cases precicesly because those cases were counted in false allegation. More pertinently, linking back to the “fear” aspect of the FUD strategy, the 44.9% of cases also led to zero legal or formal consequences to alleged perpetrators.

I don’t know if this fallacy has a formal name but it is one I see over and over. I could call it “methodological false isolation of evidence” by which I mean the tendency to treat evidence for a hypothesis as seperate and with no capacity for multiple sources of evidence to cross-coroborate. If I may depart into anthropoegenic global warming for a moment, you can see the fallacy work like this:

  • The physics of carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect imply that increased CO2 will lead to warming: countered by – ah yes, but we can’t know by how much and maybe it will be less than natural influences on climate and maybe the extra CO2 gets absorbed…
  • The temperature record shows warming consistent with the rises in anthopogencic greenhouse gases: countered by – ah yes, but maybe the warming is caused by something natural…

Rationally the the two pieces of evidence function together: correlation might not be causation but if you have causation AND correlation then, well that’s stronger evidence than the sum of its parts.

With these statistics we are not operating in a vacuum. They need to be read an understood along with the other data that we know. Heck, that idea is built into the genre of research papers and is exactly why literature reviews are included. Police report statistics are limited and do contain uncertainty and aren’t a window into some Platonic world of ideal truth BUT that does not mean we know nothing and can infer nothing. Not even remotely. What it means is we have context to examine the limitations of that data and consider where the bias is likely to lie i.e. is the police report data more likely to OVERestimate the rate of false allegations or UNDERestimate compared to the actual number of sexual assaults/rapes?

It’s not even a contest. Firstly as the 2010 report notes:

“It is notable that in general the greater the scrutiny applied to police classifica-
tions, the lower the rate of false reporting detected. Cumulatively, these findings con-
tradict the still widely promulgated stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence.”

But the deeper issue is the basic bias in the data that depends on reports to the police.

“It is estimated that between 64% and 96% of victims do not report the crimes committed against them (Fisher et al., 2000; Perkins & Klaus, 1996), and a major reason for this is victims’ belief that his or her report will be met with suspicion or outright disbelief (Jordan, 2004).”

Most victims of sexual assault do not report the crime at all i.e. most victims aren’t even the data sets we are looking at. Assume for a moment that the lower bound of that figure (64%) is itself exaggerated (although why that would be the case I don’t know) and assume, to give David French an advantage, that 50% of actual sexual assaults go unreported and that half of the 44.9% figure were somehow actual FALSE allegations (again, very unlikely) that would make the proportion of false allegations compared with (actual assaults+false allegations) about 14% based on the 2010 study’s campus figure. It STILL, even with those overt biases included, points to false allegations being very unlikely.

It makes sense to believe. The assumption that rape in particular is likely to draw malicious allegations is a misogynistic assumption. That does not mean nobody has ever made a false claim of rape, it just means that we do not place the same burden of doubt on people when they claim to be robbed or mugged etc. People make mistakes and some people do sometimes maliciously accuse others of crimes but such behaviour is unusual and, if anything, it is particulalry unusual with sexual crimes where, in fact, the OPPOSITE is more likely to occur: the victim makes no allegation out of fear of the consequences and because of the trauma involved.

Somehow it is 2018 and we still have to say this.

*[I don’t want to ignore that men are also victims of sexual violence, perhaps at far greater rates than are currently quantified, but the specific issue here relates to a very gendered view of sex and sexual assault.]

The Right’s reaction to Kavanaugh allegations is deeply ugly

 

As you are no doubt aware Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated to be an associate justice of the US Supreme Court and Congress is currently in the process of considering his nomination. His integrity has already come under serious doubt, there are concerns about odd financial activity and credible allegations that he may have committed perjury in the past. More recently an allegation of sexual assault committed by him when he was 17 became public. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/20/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-confirmation-battle-stalemate

Putting ideology and partisanship aside for the moment and even putting aside that allegations of sexual assault are far, far more likely to be true than false and putting on our extreme-benefit-of-the-doubt hats on…Clearly, this is an allegation that requires a careful investigation. The moral responsibility towards Kavanaugh alone implies that the allegation should be investigated — rationally, those who regard the allegation as an attempt to besmirch Kavanaugh should want the allegation investigated precisely because (if false, which it probably isn’t) Kavanaugh has already been besmirched.

The current risk for Kavanaugh is that he doesn’t get a very nice job for life. The risks for the Christine Blasey Ford, who made the allegation, are already apparent. Due to a sustained harassment campaign she has received death threats and has had to leave her home for her own safety.

This isn’t a complex ethical question. Questions around allegations of sexual assault are sometimes cast as a conflict between supporting victims versus due process/presumption of innocence. However, in this case, the due process is an option that is proposed and is available. The Republicans are not so keen, however. Investigations may slow down Kavanaugh’s nomination process which may imperil it all together in multiple ways (including giving Democrats time to look further into other aspects of Kavanaugh’s past).

So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see a reaction from right-wing sources that is mind-bogglingly extreme. Here is Denis Prager in the National Review:

“It is almost impossible to overstate the damage done to America’s moral compass by taking the charges leveled against Judge Brett Kavanaugh seriously. It undermines foundational moral principles of any decent society.”

A foundational moral and legal principle common to British and US culture and legal history is that an ordinary person can seek redress for acts committed against them and expect people to take credible claims seriously.

Prager goes on to say:

“In any society rooted in Judeo-Christian values, it is understood that people should be morally assessed based on how they behave over the course of their lifetime — early behavior being the least important period in making such an assessment.”

That’s a very hand-wavey principle and it’s not one that the US Right or Prager himself can credibly claim to follow consistently. It is also irrelevant. Brett Kavanaugh is CURRENTLY saying that he did not commit the assault and therefore there is a credible question of whether he is lying NOW. If Kavanaugh was saying the allegation was largely or partly true or if he was saying the allegation was possibly true but he was too drunk at the time to say one way or another etc., then there would be a different discussion going on. But none of that is what is happening now — instead, there is an open question about Kavanaugh’s current capacity for honesty and acknowledging past mistakes, which all pertain to his character as a mature adult and what his character will be like on the Supreme Court.

I’m not going to directly quote the rest of the Prager article because it only gets worse from there: worse both in terms of the quality of argumentation and in terms of its ethical qualities. Essentially Prager goes on to minimise the impact of sexual assault and argues, in effect, that it is so common and so widely experienced by women that we shouldn’t worry about it too much.

The eye of the storm of the modern Right’s rape-culture paradox requires them to both deny that sexual assault is normalised & encouraged on the one hand, while claiming (as we are seeing with Kavanaugh) that sexual assault is commonly committed by young men and so ubiquitous as to reveal nothing about a man’s character. It is an odd defence to claim that Kavanaugh’s alleged actions are sufficiently common-place as the defence itself lends direct credibility to the concept they disagree with: that women should be believed when they make claims that they were assaulted.

Looking at blogs I visit more frequently, I can see similarly confused vehemence. Apparently naming or linking to certain blogs is a terrible form of persecution, so I shan’t do either. Notably at least one champion of free speech is demanding that Christine Blasey Ford be punished as well as anybody helping her. More alarmingly a common theme on multiple blogs is the idea that Kavanaugh’s alleged actions are ‘drunken groping’ and not assault or a crime, which is not the case: groping somebody without consent is very much assault under any definition and certainly is illegal (whether it is a misdemeanour or a felony in US law is another question depending on many factors).

Repeatedly, both in the Prager article and others, the writers include examples of either women they know or, in the case of articles written by women, examples they have endured of sexualised assault. The purpose of the examples appears to be to show that such assaults are commonplace (which, yes, we know sadly that they are) and therefore normal or quasi-acceptable (no, they’re not and under ages old definitions of assault they’ve always been assault – just not always treated that way by society) and that is all OK because the victims moved on. The plea then is to consider the perpetrators and ask that their lives not be ruined — which is a giant non-sequitur. Kavanaugh’s life being ruined is not the stakes here but whether he gets to sit on the US Supreme Court for a lifetime appointment. If being denied an opportunity to be nominated to the US Supreme Court is ruing somebody’s life then the Merrick Garland should be worrying them more.

 

Synchronicity

I just finished that last post about authoritarians trying to control people by excluding those who won’t support them and hoped into my little boat to quickly sail around what remains of the Sad Puppy archipelago.

It’s not just that I don’t have to dig deep for quotes that exemplify the point, it’s also that the quotes are from the most current posts and are even more extreme than simply pointing at a group they like and saying ‘these are the real fans’.

At Mad Genius, Dave Freer and the consumption of human flesh:

“This doesn’t mean that I don’t think some people employed in publishing are nice people, but that’s just like some people in a tribe of cannibals are nice people. The nice cannibals are still cannibals and still going to eat people…” https://madgeniusclub.com/2018/09/10/monday-itis/

To be fair to Dave, that’s partly just writers hyperbole. To what extent he means that to be taken seriously requires a broader grasp of his previous comments.

For somebody just making flat out false claims you need Sarah Hoyt:

“The left feels that way because they have a vast number of the maladapted and the mentally ill in their most vocal sectors. And therefore, if they are maladapted and mentally ill, someone must be oppressing them. The game after that is to claim the greatest possible oppression, because that justifies anything you might want to do.” https://accordingtohoyt.com/2018/09/10/utopia-means-death/

[NOTE: Please in the comments don’t compound Hoyt’s stigmatisation of mental illness with some of the more obvious response. Threading the needle of the hypocrisy there is too hard to do without repeating Hoyt’s error.]

It’s not enough for authoritarian’s to say that somebody is wrong, it is vital for them that they assert that other DO NOT COUNT and in huge numbers and broad swathes. Dismiss a whole industry as cannibals or a third of your nation as being led by the “maladapted and the mentally ill” is both intellectually lazy and reveals a dangerous desire for control.