It's interesting who else has a troll problem

As Vox Day has been increasingly distancing himself from the world of science fiction and dedicating more of his time to tilting at the windmills of large tech-platforms, I’ve been taking less of an interest in his antics. However, as I was writing about trolls yesterday it is appropriate to write about a different troll problem today.

It seems Vox is beset by a troll problem. Having spent a bit of mind-numbing time looking at various Reddit threads and some incoherent You Tube videos, it is fair to use the term ‘troll’. We aren’t talking about argued responses to Vox Day’s behaviour but rather people clearly trying to wind the guy up. Politically the stuff is coming from the same cess-pit of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories as Vox’s base. However, the dank-meme subculture was a ready recruiting ground for Vox Day’s brand of extreme white nationalism for years, so attacks from this direction are interesting politically.

The substantive complaint is around Day’s “Unauthorised TV”: a subscription video service that is part of his alternative tech platform plan. The scenario is a familiar one to readers here: Day announced a big bold plan that will a numerous features (like the buttons of the Open-Office Mouse) and will end up as a rival to mainstream equivalents (just as Castalia House was supposed to surpass Tor). There is a flurry of activity and recruitment and money raising (again, think of Voxopedia). An actual, tangible minimum viable product genuinely is delivered (again, Voxopedia) but it is substantially less than the original vision. Don’t worry! All those other features are on the way, the true believers are told and maybe there is more money raised. The amazing features never eventuate and again, consider Voxopedia remains jut a clumsy, vandalised copy of Wikipedia that a tiny number of editors struggle to stop drifting further out of date — none of the amazing capabilities (such as different versions of articles based on you political position) have ever eventuated and they never will.

The same seems to be true of Unauthorised TV. I say ‘seems’ because obviously I’m not subscribing and also I didn’t track what was originally promised. Defenders of Vox Day can correctly point out that the basic promise is delivered (e.g. Castalia House genuinely did publish actual books, with covers and a modicum of copy-editing) and detractors can point out the gulf between the reality and the fever-dream ambitions. [Speaking of which, I wonder what happened to that comic book movie…]

The broader context is the deeper divisions within the alt-right. In particular the current strength around the so called “groypers”, the latest iteration of extreme nationalists with a cartoon frog obsession who are associated with the latest white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nick_Fuentes ). The other element is Vox Day’s alliance with the increasingly unstable Owen Benjamin (see here for earlier coverage https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/vox-day-sort-of-denies-he-is-a-flat-earther/ ).

Alt-right figures follow what I call a dark-wizards rule. Being territorial and ideologically anti-social (not the same as personally anti-social) and dogmatically committed to clear social hierarchies, you can’t have two of them in the same general space unless it is in a lord-vassal* (or if you prefer, master-apprentice) arrangement. Where somebody like Vox Day maintains patterns of allies it is where those allies have their own environmental niches and where they can offer each other things transactionally (e.g. Milo Yiannopolous, Mike Cernovich or Stephan Molyneaux) and where they may even ostensibly have marginally less similar politics.

So Fuentes rise in popularity was going to lead to a feud with Vox Day, which is what happened but slowly and with an intermediate feud between Owen Benjamin and Fuentes first. The details of the feuding don’t really matter as they weren’t questions of substance and Owen Benjamin is incoherent even by the standards of a whole subculture of incoherence.

Skipping forward in time. Reddit (particularly sections dedicated to Owen Benjamin) and various YouTube channels (the people concerned hop around accounts a LOT because of repeated bans and rule violations) have got it in for Vox Day big time. I’ve seen nothing new here** (these aren’t people doing original research) and there’s no deep ideological difference, it is just a mish-mash of stuff (I even saw a screen-gab of a page from here included) and stupid nicknames and homophobic insults (and random anti-Semitism). In short: trolls…but trolls aiming their trolling at a guy who tried to weaponise trolling.

On Friday matters must have come to a head for Vox Day and he announced an ultimatum:

“I’m giving Davey Crocko, RealOwenBenjamin, ultrafuzzyforeigner, and the rest of the Unauthorized-hating gamma trolls on Reddit and YouTube 24 hours to come clean, declare their real identities, admit their actions, and thereby avoid having the wrath of the VFM and the Legal Legion of Evil crash down upon their heads.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/24-hours-trolls.html [link for reference – not recommended to follow it]

Whether that is an idle threat or has some substance I don’t know but the reaction from the trolls was derisive. Day is also claiming that there have been some sort of cyber attacks on some of the tech services. I’ve no way of ascertaining whether there is any truth in those claims and there are zero people involved in this fuss who could be regarded as a reliable source.

In a substantial dose of even more unwitting irony, Day himself is now bemoaning the quality of online discourse these days:

“In what is a crushing refutation of libertarian theory, the Internet and the devolution of what were once civilized anonymous discussion spaces on bulletin boards and CompuServe have clearly demonstrated that Man cannot handle the freedom of a perceived lack of accountability.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-troll-wars.html

He’s also concerned about how there’s no way forward other than legalistic means:

“No matter how we react – and notice that we did ignore it for months until events yesterday rendered that impossible – there has never been anything to it. By this bizarrely twisted illogic, people only react to true accusations, against which stands the entire history of written and case law dealing with defamation, slander, and libel.”

http://voxday.blogspot.com/2019/12/an-interesting-perspective.html

Which takes me back to a point I have made before. The SFWA and later the WSFS membership absolutely did the right thing in the end by taking an uncompromising response to Vox Day’s antics. Following his OWN advice on how to handle those whose only aim is to act in bad-faith and disrupt an organisation and the discourse within an organisation, is to not attempt to reason or become further embroiled in a bad-faith discussion.

tl;dr obnoxious people are shouting at each other.

*[See also the distinct pecking order within the Sad Puppies]

**[Aside from one point: there is a claim that the video service Day is promoting is actually using Vimeo’s infrastructure. Which is a bit ‘so what?’ However, the argument is that this disproves that Day is spending the money on a tech platform independent of the mainstream tech platforms.]

Chaos, fascism and the UK

I’m still processing the UK election results. I wrote something yesterday and then trashed the post. I’m writing again from scratch.

My first observation is that while the results are heart achingly bad, they aren’t surprising. Of course it is very easy to say ‘I expected this’ after the fact but I wasn’t going to assert prior to the vote that the Tories would win despite their manifest incompetence as that would help nobody.

Should they have lost? Absolutely. Aside from a record of bad policies over multiple Prime Ministers, the Conservatives have even lost their veneer of competence. They are a broken party and Johnson is one of the least capable people to be in the role of Prime Minister since World War 1 (and I only stop there because my sense of who was PM when gets very hazy prior to that). By the very basic standard of whether there might still be meaningfully a ‘United Kingdom’ by the end of his tenure of PM, he has already deeply damaged Britain as a concept. Which helps mark out what his victory is and means — it is a victory for a particularly toxic and racist English nationalism.

The corollary of the victory of English nationalism (better symbolised by the odious Nigel Farage than Boris Johnson) is the increasingly plausible outcome of an independent Scotland and a united Ireland. Scotland also points the way to ‘nationalism’ in a different sense. Scottish people aren’t magical (despite the cartoons I’m watching) and are just as capable of bigotry and short-sighted thinking as the people south of the border but Scotland’s own very different concept of national identity as enabled the country to remain immune from the worst aspects of the divisions that have gripped England.

So why did I think the Tories would win? A few inter-related things but the common element is Brexit. There is obviously a lot to discuss about Labour, Corbyn, the Liberal-Democrats and how Remain campaigns stuffed up in various ways but I honestly think these all amount to a discussion how a very, very narrow path to a substantial Tory defeat was not met.

The predominate feature was the chaos around Brexit both in parliament and as a source of social division. Years now of wrangling around Brexit has only resulted in a political stalemate. It was that stalemate that resulted in two general elections, the first of which failed to improve the situation. That circumstance set up a situation where several things are in play:

  • The sunk cost fallacy. A huge amount of time, money and emotional energy has already been invested in the Brexit debate. That biases people towards seeing not enacting Brexit as a waste. This is fallacious reasoning but it is a very powerful kind of cognitive error, one that will incline people to ignore or repress the more obvious doubts they may now have about the wisdom of Brexit.
  • The problem of coordinated action. There are many reasons to oppose Boris Johnson and the conservatives but with multiple positions and opposing views beyond the Conservative Party there was no clear, simple alternative position.
  • Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats had a way of making Brexit magically vanish. That’s part of what is so poisonous to public discourse about Brexit as an issue. Jeremy Corbyn’s compromise policy of offereing a new deal that would be ratified by a second referendum was credible but by its nature it was a policy that would prolong the pain. A more assertive Remain policy would be more promising but that also would not end the pain UNLESS there was a massive and unambiguous vote for staying in the EU. A small-majority or a coalition government hoping to end Brexit would be facing a very politically determined opposition. Which takes me to the last point.
  • Bullying works. People know who the scary, less than rational group is in the Brexit debate and it is the pro-Brexit side. There is a disturbing result in game theory were an apparent loss of rationality is a rational manoeuvre. If one side cannot be reasoned with, that can (in some circumstances) place the more rational side at a disadvantage in a negotiation. In this circumstances people know that the pro-Brexit politicians weren’t going to stop if Labour won, or if (somehow) the Lib-Dems had won or if a Lib-Lab coalition had won or if Parliament had completely realigned to form a Remain Government of National Unity. We are back to the situation of were only a massive Remain victory to the point of utter humiliation would bring the poisonous debate to an end.

In these circumstances, it becomes clearer what a dithering voter might do. The clearest route and the route that it is easiest to enact as an isolated voter at the ballot box is to hope that they only way out of the Brexit chaos is to push through. It is also self-destructive ‘madness’ and rewards the very people who created the mess but illustrates something we know about fascism in general. Fascism feeds on chaos by creating a climate of turmoil and offering authoritarian control as the antidote. It’s a poison that markets itself as the cure for the symptoms it creates.

Am I saying Boris Johnson is a fascist? Meh. That’s not my point. He’s not-not a fascist but no, his core ideology is “cynical opportunist” and I very much doubt there is anything much deeper than that going on in there. However, that hardly matters. It’s not the inner personal qualities or personal ideological commitments of Boris Johnson that are in play but the policies and program he has committed Britain to. His personal route to political power as a jolly oaf was never going to get him any further than Mayor of Greater London. His political success since has been via exploiting English nationalism, racism and xenophobia and doing so has kept paying off for him again and again. He’s hardly going to stop now that using the dark-arts of appealing to the worst aspects of English culture has delivered him a substantial parliamentary majority. Nor will he be able to pivot back to the centre because the fundamental problems with Brexit are still there and when/if the UK leaves the union those deep issues will only get worse. Boris’s problems are only just beginning and he has only one move that has worked for him: double down on the racism.

Well, that’s not a very happy account. I’ll concede that I’m writing from a long way away and from all the frustration and fear that entails. I was hoping to think of something more positive or at least hopeful to people in Britain. I’m sorry but I don’t have anything. This will be hard and it is on top of years now of misrule and hardship. It will be especially hard (and often needlessly cruel) to so many different groups of people in Britain.

It has been awhile since somebody tried to rewrite Sad Puppy history

I believe it is usually January that we get an up-tick of attempts to vindicate Sad Puppy history and I imagine that we’ll get a few more attempts next year when SP3 marks its half-decade anniversary of accomplishing nothing but frustration, upset and column inches. However, I missed one earlier this month from science fiction’s top self-appointed witch-hunter and winner of the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel That Isn’t Actual Horror, Brian Niemeier. https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/12/no-american-man.html

Sadly nothing new. Some Scalzi bashing and some Tor bashing but let’s go through.

“To recap, author Larry Correia started the Campaign to End Puppy-Related Sadness when he smelled something rotten among the oldpub clique that hands out the Hugo Awards. He set out to prove that winning a Hugo has less to do with literary merit and almost everything to do with scratching the right backs while having the right politics.”

Nope. Larry’s initial campaign was overtly against the idea of nominating on the basis of literary merit. His imagined enemy where the ‘literati’ and ‘snob reviewers’. The campaign was an attempt to win himself a Hugo Award (which we know because he said so).

It is true that at every stage of the various Sad Puppy campaigns they have been presented as some sort of Manichean struggle of good-guys versus bad-guys but the nature of the split was repeatedly revised in a “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” way. The conflict has variously been characterised by Sad Puppy supporters as:

  • Pulp authors versus the literati and snob reviewers
  • Marginalised conservative authors versus SJW entryists
  • Newcomers to Worldcon versus SMOFs
  • Outsiders versus the SFWA
  • ‘blue’ sci-fi versus ‘pink’ sci-fi
  • Traditional science fiction versus modern science fiction
  • Tor books versus Baen books
  • Indie publishing versus trad publishing

Of course, the reality is also multi-faceted, with multiple kinds of people becoming involved in a conflict with no single cause. However, the purpose of the reductionist group A versus group B framing is to create a clear just cause for group A.

“After three years, Larry decided he’d proved his point and retired from the Sad Puppies. “

Technically after two years. Sad Puppies 2 was the last Correia led campaign.

“When you have one publisher winning more than twice as many Hugos as the next most award-winning house, and when SFWA officers constitute an oversized chunk of Best Novel winners since 1986, you’d have to be terminally naive not to see a cool kids’ clique trading participation trophies.”

The ‘twice as many Hugos’ line is a reference to the number of Hugo Awards for Best Novel won by Tor. Niemeier adopts the anti-Tor line fairly consistently from here on in his history re-write. Of course, the full-on Tor hatred did become a feature of the 2015 campaign but even I find it hard to remember that the anti-Tor aspect of Sad Puppies was a minor aspect until quite late in the history. It is true that Tor versus Baen was always an undercurrent, specifically around the Best Editor Long From award and (from a Rabid Puppies perspective) due to Vox day’s specific animosity toward Nielsen Hayden’s.

However, the idea of the conflict being defined as a war against Tor did not fully crystallise until Vox Day manipulated a boycott of Tor books in June 2015. Prior to that Sad Puppies 3 had nominated one Tor published book for Best Novel (Kevin J Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars), prominent puppy John C Wright (and multiple Sad & Rabid puppy nominee) still promoted himself as a Tor published author and the eventual winner of Best Novel in 2015, The Three Body Problem was voted for by many Puppy supporters.

“Imagine if one movie studio won more than twice as many Best Picture Oscars than its closest competitor in a similar span of time. What if a preponderance of Best Picture winners had also been directed by current and former high-ranking officers of the Directors Guild? Anyone who’s not a total NPC would at least entertain suspicions of some shady backroom  deals.”

Honestly I’m surprised Best Picture is evenly distributed and I find an even distribution more implausible than what we see in the Hugo’s. For added “this framing doesn’t add up” Tor winning a minority of Best Novel Hugo’s in that time period is also due to five wins (half of Tor’s total wins up to 2019) from Orson Scott Card and Vernor Vinge. Card, in particular, was used as the paradigm by many Sad Puppies of the kind of author who used to win Hugo Awards but no longer did. Vinge is an author less championed by Sad Puppies but was overtly cited as an example of a ‘good’ Hugo winner from the past by Sad Puppies 3 leader Brad Torgersen: “We’ve fallen a long way since Vernor Vinge won for A Fire Upon The Deep.

Nor does the Tor-narrative fit the other narratives. If the Hugos had recently become more leftwing and Tor was somehow to blame, then Tor would be winning more Best Novel awards in recent years. Of course, the other name that connects Tor, the SFWA and Puppy angst is John Scalzi and the particular and very personal animosity both Puppy campaigns have for him. That man himself is a very agreeable person who repeatedly tried to find compromise and understanding only seems to have added fuel to the fire.

“For its first three yeas, Sad Puppies performed the vital public service of wising normies up to the convergence of legacy sci fi publishing. In a way, it prefigured what #GamerGate did in the video game scene. But like pretty much every dissident online movement since, SP quickly devolved into petty territorial bickering. When its original founder was replaced by people who still want a pat on the head from oldpub, SP became just another bogeyman in the Left’s morality play.”

GamerGate is a kind of Schrödinger’s cat in Puppy rhetoric. The essential rule is this: Puppy supporter can imply that the two campaigns are connected but if critics of the Puppy campaigns do so then it is a terrible slander. Brian Niemeier is very much in favour of the misogynist Gamergate campaign, which given his overt support for male-only cultural spaces is not a surprise.

The digs in the paragraph above look like they are aimed at both Brad Torgersen and Sarah Hoyt but I assume the thrust of it is aimed at Hoyt. Quite how we can sort Correia, Torgersen and Hoyt into more or less connected to “oldpub” is unclear. Hoyt has been published traditionally and independently. Of the three she is closer to the post-traditional publishing model.

The indie versus ‘oldpup’ narrative is hard to maintain for the Sad Puppy conflict as a whole. Attempting to apply to the internal shifts of Puppy leadership is absurd to the point of incoherence. Nor did Sad Puppies descend into territorial bickering except in the sense that the bickering was always there. The argument Niemeier references was not until the non-appearance of Sad Puppies 5, when Declan Finn attempt to make some book recommendations using the ‘Sad Puppy’ name, generating an angry reaction from Sarah Hoyt (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/sad-popcorn/ ). This was in 2017 by which point Sad Puppies had long since become irrelevant to the Hugo Awards.

“As mentioned above, Dragon Con now hosts the Dragon Awards. The Dragons boast far larger and much more open participation than the Hugos, and after rebuffing an SJW takeover attempt, they’ve largely settled into an antipodal role as readers’ choice awards for fans of a certain SFF publisher.”

The Dragon’s create a bit of a conundrum for Brian. Their headline categories are more dominated by Baen than the Hugo Best Novel is by Tor — which if Brian was remotely consistent would according to his prior arguments demonstrate that the Dragon’s are rigged. However, Brian won a Dragon Award in its first year and so more or less has to be pro-Dragon award.

The “SJW takeover attempt” is an even more egregious re-writing of history. He is referring to his own imagined culture war against John Scalzi in 2017 (see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ). The “takeover” was authors trying to withdraw from the Dragons precisely because of the nominees like Niemeier. At the time, Brian was very much in favour of the Dragons not letting authors withdraw. When the admins saw sense and allowed authors not to participate, Brian was outraged and saw it as a potentially fatal defeat for the Dragon Awards. There was only one remedy that would save the Dragons!

The Secret Kings, my highly praised space opera novel, is the only viable competitor against Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire.”

https://www.brianniemeier.com/2017/08/conservative-play.html

Suffice to say, Brian didn’t win another Dragon and instead Babylon’s Ashes, by James S.A. Corey won instead. By his own weird standards then I guess that means the SJWs won or something? Who knows. With narratives that shift as easily as goal posts made of clouds, who can say.

So how are people reacting to impeachment?

Last week I looked primarily at how the least pro-Trump of the pro-Trump trio of groups were reacting to some Democrat electoral victories (short version: badly) but I didn’t talk much about the other two groups. There are weird and interesting things going on there as well. I’m not going to be posting many links for reasons that will become obvious.

Reluctant Converts

The group I call reluctant converts are conservatives/libertarians who were initially distrustful of Trump and apprehensive about him during the GOP Presidential nomination process but who pledged support for him by the time of the election or since. In terms of the milieu of right wing authors discussed here that would be people like Sarah Hoyt or John C Wright.

Their main political issue currently is the name of the whistle-blower who raised concerns about Trump’s Ukraine phone call. The case for anonymity for the whistle-blower is simple, they went through the right channels, we all should want some protection for public servants holding elected officials accountable and there is genuine reason to think they might come to some harm. In terms of the veracity of the complaint, the whistle-blower’s claims have since all been verified. There does not seem to be any key points of fact that rely on the integrity of the whistle-blower as a witness. To use an analogy with more conventional crime, they are the person who rang the cops rather than a key witness.

However, naming the whistle-blower has become a big thing among right-wing media. Fox News has been dancing around it. Former Superman actor and now right-wing personality Dean Cain, apparently named the wrong person. Supposed libertarian Rand Paul has been naming them and among the group I call the Reluctant Converts it has become a point of honour to circulate a name on social media.

Facebook and Twitter, mindful for once of the danger of internet mobs (which if you recall the Reluctant Converts are very much against if said mob is three or four people and left-wing) have adopt a no-tolerance policy to spreading names of potential whistle-blowers. With a mighty cry of “you’re not the boss of me” some of the Reluctant Converts have taken to posting multiple times one of the names. As a consequence they have ended up with Facebooks bans. Sarah Hoyt in particular has been busy disrupting her own social media presence to circulate a name, which essentially means nothing, as if it was a major revelation. Spoiler: the whistle-blower was somebody you have never heard of.

It’s both odd and predictable. The ad-hominem argument is central to the mode of debate as is a concept of contamination. If the whistle-blower can be shown to be a Democrat then, the argument goes, Trump is innocent even though the facts revealed by the whistle-blower have been confirmed by the White House.

The Ironic Cheerleaders

This is were things are a lot more strange. The Alt-Right is currently in one of its phases of shifting grifters. The good news is that there is currently lots of metaphorical back stabbing and infighting and the bad news is that whoever comes out on top will still be a racist arse spreading hate.

The current landscape can be summed up with three oddly-similar looking boyish fascists (links are to Rational Wiki). Off on the alt-lite/intellectual dark web side is the irritating Ben Shapiro who is nominally anti-Trump but mainly promotes similar ideas. More overtly supporting Trump is Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA. Currently seeking leadership of the 8-Channers and other odious internet denizens is Nick Fuentes of America First (which is as fascist as it sounds). Fuentes is actively disrupting Turning Point USA events presumably as a way of gaining status and also to give his followers something edgy to do (see https://www.diggitmagazine.com/column/charlie-kirk-culture-war-groyper-trolls ) In short Kirk hates Fuentes and Fuentes hates Kirk and everybody hates Ben Shapiro. It would be funny but Fuentes main objective is to push more overt anti-Semitism.

Confused yet? OK, remember Richard Spencer, the crypto-Nazi involved in the murderous Unite the Right Rally? Milo Yianopoulus (another name fading into obscurity) released audio of Spencer having a very emotional and very-Hitleresque rant in the wake of the disaster of the Unite the Right Rally. The release of the audio by Yianopoulus was clearly intended to discredit Spencer, presumably on the grounds of being too obviously a nazi. Why would he do that? The answer is that Spencer has been critical of Fuentes – I assume because everybody involved are an ugly mass of egos and bigotry. There’s a point where close examination just finds more gross toxic sludge.

Quite where Vox Day sits in that mess of backbiting shitholes I don’t know but I believe that Day’s friend, the flat-earth former actor Owen Benjamin is also feuding with Fuentes.

Relatively not grounded in reality

It would be hard to describe the ‘Sceptical Advocates’ reaction I discussed in an earlier post as either measured or rational (it ended with calls for mass executions of political opponents) but at least it was a comprehensible (if appalling) position. Heading into the other groups, things become even less grounded and bizarre.

Things are only going to get even stranger.

So how are people reacting to recent electoral results in the US?

Several weeks ago I discussed a way of classifying different styles of Trump support that I encounter online – mainly in ex-Puppy circles. [see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/10/09/a-typology-of-some-online-trump-supporters/ ] I have been watching to see how different political events generate reactions from these groups and what that might presage about Trump’s overall support.

With the impeachment proceedings it would be simplest to say that there’s no obvious change in any of the groups. They see the Democrats as bad and the impeachment as partisan as per the GOP line. The same essentially pro-Trump message is seen in all three groups including the group I called ‘Sceptical Advocates’ who claim not to be actually supporters of Trump per-se.

I was wondering how these groups are reacting to recent Democrat electoral victories [https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/democrats-score-election-victories-in-virginia-and-probably-kentucky/ ] and it is probably too early to say. The main reaction appears to be ignoring but among the ironic cheerleaders there are dark mutterings about defeatism. More generally there is the usual fact-free conspiracy theories about election fraud.

The other continuing marker (particularly among the ‘Sceptical Advocates’) is the objection to urban voters. Simply put, they portray the idea of people in towns having more people and hence out-voting people who live in more sparsely populated areas. It’s such an entrenched idea that it often doesn’t need to be overtly argued. However, it carries with it a whole bunch of related poorly thought through concepts particularly around immigration and the idea that towns and cities have big populations because of illegal immigration. That last idea is what creates a straight line between the Sceptical Advocates who portray themselves as moderate libertarians and the Ironic Cheerleaders who are more overtly white nationalists.

And if I’m going to talk about poorly thought through ideas from a person who sees themselves as a moderate libertarian than who better than our old pal Brad Torgersen [archive link to Facebook]

Remember this is while the Republicans still control the federal Senate and the Presidency. The point being that Trump’s support will continue to be backed by people who actively dislike him but who regard not only the left, but moderate Democrats and indeed anybody who lives in more densely populated areas as politically illegitimate.

[ETA post script: Woah…in the comments to his post Brad goes somewhere even I’m surprised by:

>image removed<

Good grief.]
[Update 2: So apparently Brad T must have thought better about that comment and it’s now gone. As this isn’t the ‘Document every appalling thing Brad ever said’ blog (I can’t afford the storage upgrade) I’ll take that image away.]

[Update 3: …so…Brad T has since put up a Facebook post complaining about Facebook taking something of his down for breaching Community Standards ” I don’t know what FB’s bots are tripping on, and it’s not explained what specific item(s) are “against community standards” which has become such a laughably absurd concept this past year I almost have tears in my eyes. Suffice to say this is what happens when we let the software do the thinking. Perhaps I ought to be reassured? Skynet and The Borg aren’t super-genius evil. They are in fact drooling-moron stupid, and incapable of parsing fundamental human interactivity. ” From this I infer that Brad didn’t take his comment down, Facebook did and according to Brad he can’t work out what they took down.]

Vox Day sort of denies he is a flat earther

I say “sort of” because he really doesn’t believe the Earth is more or less spherical. One of Day’s recruits to his video streaming thing has been the comedian Owen Benjamin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Benjamin. Benjamin had the beginnings of a Hollywood career including co-starring with Christina Ricci in an obscure film in 2009. However, his career got derailed by his increasingly extreme views. These days Benjamin pushes extreme anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which amount to a kind of unified theory in which her thinks everybody is trying to make you believe lies about the moon landing etcetera as part of a Satanic plot. It’s the usual nexus of anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia with epistemic paranoia. The central theory is that people are lying about everything to make you believe lies in general.

What’s interesting here is that Day appears to be following Benjamin down the same path. Not that Day also doesn’t push the same kind of fallen-world anti-Semitic nonsense but that he’s being more open about how out there some of his beliefs about the world are — including flat earthism.

The specific pretext is this 2012 interview with a NASA data visualisation person: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/about/people/RSimmon.html The interview explains how he helped create an image of one hemisphere of the Earth as seen from space by stitching together multiple higher resolution images of Earth. Aha! Say the flat Earthers, Manipulation! Lies! etc etc.

It’s something you see a lot from falt-earth to vaccine denial to global warming denial: a rejection of any data, images, graphs etc that relies on any kind of inference or data cleaning etc. The demand is for evidence that is an unfiltered capture of external reality — which is impossible. Heck, not only is it impossible but which we know is myth at least since the time of Plato. What you see out of your own eyes is stitched together and processed and inferred.

Day sums up his position:

“Notice that ALL of the hemisphere photography we think we’ve seen has turned out to be nonexistent. It’s becoming clear that from the evolution fairy tale to the Blue Marble fraud to the dinosaur fraud and the satellite myth, the world is very, very different than we have been told it is. What is the point? To deceive you into serving Satan rather than God.”

Interestingly he gets a lot more pushback in his comments than he normally does. I guess even Day’s followers aren’t keen to adopt a flat-earth although structurally it’s no different than the anti-vaxx and anti-evolution stuff Day peddles.

In the comments Day responds with a weak equivocation:

“VD October 24, 2019 12:20 PM Jesus… The earth is not flat. What part of “fraud is being committed concerning X” leads you to immediately conclude that this means “Therefore Y”? I don’t believe the Earth is flat. But I don’t believe the mainstream narrative concerning the nature of the Earth either, because it contains too many lies. Binary thinking is usually a serious mistake.”

The “mainstream narrative” here being that the world is more-or-less spherical.

Unfortunately Day really does need to engage in some binary thinking here. Just by visiting different places in the world we can quickly observe that whatever curvature the Earth has it’s pretty much the same everywhere. Sure big mountains are pointy and oceans are flat but in both places you can observe that whatever is going on it’s pretty much the same everywhere. That is seriously limiting to the range of possibilities for the curvature of the Earth. A flat or curved disc with an inaccessible underneath would have edges with a radically different curvature. Any shape that you could circumnavigate, if it wasn’t basically a sphere, would have some spots with extreme curvature that frankly everybody would have noticed i.e. the Earth really isn’t a cube.

A sphere isn’t just one option among many for the shape of a thing. It’s a particularly special shape. If you want a uniform (more or less) curvature and no edges, then let’s just say your options are limited. Or…maybe the devil is making me say that…

A bad survey about the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’

This is an edited version of three Twitter rants from yesterday. It started as an off-cuff reaction but I was too far into it before I thought that it should be a blog-post rather than Tweets.

Stephen Pinker tweeted out a very weird bit of science theatre created by Michael Shermer.

Pinker has enough critical thinking skills that he should look at it with hefty scepticism…but obviously isn’t. It’s pretend science, using play-acting at science to refute what is obvious and ignores the core issues.

The “survey” by Michael Shermer (which should be a red flag in itself) was sent to 34 notable people associated with the label “Intellectual Dark Web” and asked where they stand on a number of issues. The survey was anonymous, so the views identified in the survey can’t be matched to the individuals asked. https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/preliminary-empirical-study-shedding-light-on-intellectual-dark-web/

Each and every one of the people surveyed is a public figure who have made multiple public statements about politics and social issues. I don’t need an anonymous survey to find out what Andy Ngo or Sam Harris thinks, I can go and read what they say. And it is what they SAY that matters and what defines the IDW term not what they might privately think. If Sam Harris thinks he has warm & fuzzy liberal beliefs that’s nice but the whole point of the “dark web” label was the contrarian issues he promotes. Maybe Ben Shapiro secretly believes Global Warming is real and climate change is caused by humans. I don’t know but what matters is he propagandises the opposite. If an anonymous survey of the 34 “Intelectual Dark” Webbers reveals that their underlying views are more centrist and mainstream then that is not evidence that the public perception of their public positions is wrong. Rather it confirms a key point about the IDW.

The fundamental issues with the disparate group lumped together as the Intellectual Dark Web is that they are DISINGENUOUS about their politics. It’s not news that Jordan Peterson thinks of himself as moderate and reasonable. We knew that already. It doesn’t change that he (and Harris & Shapiro & Ngo & Quillette) frame and enable a perspective that bolsters the far right. The whole “we are the reasonable ones” is part of the schtick of the IDW. That they’ll boost that in an anonymous survey is, frankly, wank.

Let’s be sceptical as I’m sure Dr Pinker and Shermer would want us to be. Let’s take one conclusion Pinker raises from the survey: The members of the IDW are “concerned w climate” Let’s look at the survey: The survey agrees: “67% strongly agreed that global warming is caused by human actions (no one strongly disagreed)” So their you go! Hoorah! No, no let us be sceptical first. If this was GENUINELY true would it not be easily observed?

To the empircism-mobile! Here’s the output of the Quillete Climate tag https://quillette.com/tag/climate/ zoiks! A hefty TWO article, one concern trolling Greta Thunberg and the other saying people shouldn’t be mean to capitalism. Yes, Quillette is just one source but it is one that connects Steven Pinker on the one hand (who we can observe genuinely does advocate for action on Global Warming) with Andy Ngo on the other hand (who genuinely does have connections with the alt-right and violent far right groups) via Claire Lehmann (Quillette’s founder, fan of Pinker and one time boss of Ngo).

Yes, Steven Pinker himself has a better record on the of global warming but the issue he raised was to look collectively at the IDW and their media-organs. Broadly this is not a group trying to do very much about helping with the issue. And wow, think of the actually good the IDW could achieve given their actual audience. Whatever they may think of themselves, collectively they do have the ear of many on the right – exactly where climate change denial and bad science on the topic is endemic. You’d think these out spoken people might be busy being outspoken on a potential planet wide disaster.

It gets worse. The actual sample was only 18 not 34 people. Nearly half of the 34 didn’t answer. So when the survey says “67%” (the percentage favouring gun control and which believes global warming is real) actually means “12 people” That’s actually both more plausible and more wretched. Even if we accept that 12 of those IDWs think climate change is real, it says almost nothing about the group. Any one member of the original 34 people is a hefty 3% of the population being sampled and hence missing any one of them can have a large impact on the results. This is particularly true given that we already know that the label of “Intellectual Dark Web” is being attached to a group with a very broad range of views on many topics.

Shermer is assuming non-response to the survey is random across the traits being surveyed (i.e the 18 is a random sample of the 34). There is no reason to believe that and really anybody who is wants to seriously call themselves a sceptic should dismiss any general conclusion from the survey without substantial additional supporting evidence.

Indeed there’s good reason to assume that the 18 who responded is not a good random sample of the 34, just on the nature of the numbers. It is very hard with small numbers in a survey for the sample to be representative because one person makes a big difference. Shermer hides that by quoting percentages rather than raw totals but with small number percentages hide how few people he’s talking about. It’s not invalid to look at proportions with small sample sizes, sometimes that is all you have but there’s a point where 12 out of 18 is more informative than 67%.

We can illustrate the issue with the women who were surveyed. Of the 34 named people in survey associated with the “Intellectual Dark Web” 8 (24%) are women. In the survey 3 (17%) are women. So are the IDW 17% women (generalising from survey) or 24%? Obviously 24% is the correct figure but 17% is the equivalent of the the kind of survey conclusions Shermer presents. In fact any one woman listed is 13% of the IDW women, so one more woman answering makes a huge different to sub-sample of women. Any one person is 6% of the whole sample of 18 people!

Circling back to 67% claim. Again assuming everybody who responded is being honest (which I doubt) the survey actually found that 12 people of the 34 who were asked believed in gun control and the same number believed that global warming was real (which I’ll add isn’t saying much, some prominent sceptics will say global warming is real, just as many anti-vaccination campaigners will say they support vaccinations – it is the ‘but’ that follows where the issues lie). That might mean 67% or there about of 34 believe in gun control but a safer conclusion is no less than 35% do (12/34) and no more than 82% (28/34). Given how granular this data is, hoping the estimate is in the middle isn’t supported.

This is why I call it theatre. It is the wrong methodology applied badly. It illustrates methodological snobbery. Synthesising the complex views of a small group of people is exactly where qualitative methods work better. It is a domain where you need to put on your humanities hat and apply those humanities skills. Shermer is using sciencey film-flam by presenting a pointlessly anonymous survey and presenting the results as percentages as if there were proportions of the whole group.

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely LOVE applying basic quantitive methods to things and place where they don’t always make sense. It’s very much my hobby but even on this less than 100% serious blog I’d throw more caveats at better numbers than Shermer is using.