Category: Straw Puppy

Sorry, but yes you did co-opt the Sad Puppies…

Comics love nothing more than a crossover event! In a rambling post about the schmozzle that was (comicsgatecomics^comicsgate^gate)! Vox Day is very keen to set the record straight about previous culture-wars hijackings:

“I would, however, like to correct one common misapprehension: I never co-opted Sad Puppies. To the contrary, I was the architect of the Sad Puppies most notorious success and at no point in time was there ever any conflict between the Sad Puppies and me. If you look more closely, you’ll notice that none of the four leaders of the Sad Puppies, from Larry to Kate, have ever made a single accusation on that score. I don’t intend to say any more than that, except to reiterate an absolute fact: I did not co-opt Sad Puppies and anyone who claims I did in any way, shape, or form is wrong.” http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/09/dramagate.html [link for reference, I don’t recommend following it]

Hmmm, no I think it is safe to say that Vox Day really did co-opt the Sad Puppy campaign. Let me count the ways:

  • He used Brad Torgersen’s cobbled together slate to form his own slate.
  • He used the name “Rabid Puppies” to sow confusion between the two campaigns
  • He commissioned a logo for his campaign from the same artist as the logo for the Sad Puppies campaign
  • He manipulated the Sad Puppies into the spectacular own goal of the Tor boycott
  • He mounted a vote stacking campaigns to help ensure that the Sad Puppy nominees swept whole categories…
  • …and then left the Sad Puppies to defend the outcome

To be honest, I’m a little surprised Vox isn’t boasting about it. He very much wants people to believe that he is a master strategist of Batman like proportions and their are very few actual examples of him actually doing anything particularly clever. Yet the manipulation of the Sad Puppies is the one obvious and genuine example – he played them like a fiddle. Yes, they were easy and very gullible targets but still, Vox has no reason for false modesty in this one (and very limited) regard.

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A Philosophical Muddle

The political extremities are always strange places to visit. The far-right of Catholicism (or perhaps better described as the Catholic part of the far-right) in particular has some strange features. Recruiting as it does from the same mélange of social panics and prejudices, the outcomes it preaches fall in the same spectrum as the rest of the far-right: anti-immigrant rhetoric, nationalism, rhetoric against transgender people, rhetoric against LGBTQI people in general and the same confused appeals for free speech for those who wish to restrict free speech.

On top of that toxic soup is a layer of Platonic philosophy: abstractions are things and are real things in a way that actual real things aren’t. Here’s Dragon ‘Award winning author and freelance editor’ Brian Niemeier on the nature of God:

“When Christians–and some theist philosophers like Aristotle–say God, we don’t mean an old man on a mountaintop composing a global naughty/nice list when he’s not conjuring boulders he can’t lift. Such a being would fall into the category of a creature, albeit a powerful creature, existing within the material, temporal order.

What we mean by God is the uncreated, all-powerful, and absolute Being who transcends the created order.” http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/08/finding-god.html

From there he segues into some classic arguments for the existence of god that follow the basic structure of abstract thing can be observed in reality, therefore, the abstract thing must exist as a thing in itself, therefore, some ultimate abstraction of the thing must be a god.

As regular readers will know, I think such arguments are flawed but it is worth acknowledging they are powerful arguments in their own way despite their head-scratching elements. What interests me most about them, is that by their nature they define and limit what kind of thing ‘god’ must be. In Brian Niemeier’s argument, his god is the essence of pure being – it is the thing that is what it is ultimately to ‘be’. Fair enough, imagine such a thing exists — I can take that as a credible belief. Where that becomes laughably absurd is when somebody asserts such a belief AND asserts that the core principle of being that transcends the universe spends its days worrying about whether people are wearing the wrong clothes, kissing the wrong people or not bing prayed at in Latin (obviously far-right Catholicism really needs mass to be said in Latin).

I’m stuck trying to imagine what is more rational. If a person has to believe their religion must validate their petty prejudices about other people would it not be more rational to believe in a petty & temperamental god. Apologies to any lingering Zeus worshipers but I can see how Zeus, as a character, might have strong opinions on such things. Niemeier notes that his god is not “composing a global naughty/nice list” but also believes that without a specific magic ritual, said in the right language, you can’t access the abstract principle of being qua being.

Think about it this way. The abstract number 7 has as much claim to existence transcending mere physical existences as “being” or any other abstraction — perhaps more so as there is the practical and powerful discipline of arithmetic that deals with things like 7 whose conclusions have real world implications. If you wish to take the Platonic* stance on the existence of 7 then I can’t regard your position as irrational. However, if you tell me that the number 7 has strong views on immigration policy** or that you can’t really relate to the number 7 unless you do arithmetic in Sanskrit then I think I’m entitled to look at your beliefs somewhat askance.

‘But that’s just an argument from incredulity’ well, yes it is an appeal to how absurd the idea is but to put it in more concrete terms, if a thing is the pure abstraction of X then its only quality can be X or qualities of which X is a member. Imagine the quality of ‘colour’ as a thing in itself (if that was possible) and call that X. In such a case X can’t be red and it can’t be blue, by being abstraction of colour it can’t be a particular colour. Going closer to the point, consider the abstraction of ‘opinion’. The abstraction of opinion cannot be a particular opinion as it is, by definition, the abstraction of the common qualities held by all opinions.

The above is not an argument for the non-existence of god, its not even an argument against the existence of an ultimately transcendent god (although I don’t believe in either). What it is that you can rationally have some ultimate transcendent principle of principles in a Platonic hierarchy or you can have a god that thinks about things and cares about what is going on but those two things can’t be the same without promoting absurdities.

*[Platonic here refereing to ‘Platonism’ in the mathematical philosophy sense that is derived from Plato but which doesn’t neccesarily reflect what Plato said.]

**[Although if 7 did have strong views on immigration policy then I’m sure they would be very compassionate and progressive views]

 

She-Ra Leads to Scrappy-Doo Distemper

I will concede a massive bias in favour of the work of Noelle Stevenson, artist and writer and genius behind one of my all time favourite webcomics Nimona, as well as the quirky Lumberjanes. So I’ve been anticipating the project she has been working on: a Netflix re-boot of 1980’s cartoon She-Ra Princess of Power.

For those who may have forgotten, She-Ra was the girl-version of the oddly sanctimonious He-Man & The Master of the Universe. Like He-Man, it wasn’t great but wasn’t entirely terrible either by the admittedly weak standards of 1980s kid’s cartoons but like any children’s media it carries with it nostalgia and affection as an idea in the hearts of many who grew up with it.

Now, the series doesn’t start until November, so I don’t know if it will be good, bad or mediocre but I do know that what will decide that will be the quality of the story telling and based on Stevenson’s track record I’m definitely going to check it out.

Now something else I’m pretty confident of based on track records: the assorted rabid puppies and scrappy-doos of rightwing science fiction have never shown much interest in, affection for or nostalgia for the original She-Ra cartoon. It is also safe to assume that regardless of the art style, that barring a more risqué anime re-boot of She-Ra, they wouldn’t be tuning in regardless of the character design.

However, orders must have come on down the line from somewhere (Moscow? Skeletor?) and with the kind of unanimity that only aggressively authoritarian individualists can muster, howls (barks?) of protest about She-Ra’s new look have emanated from the usual quarters.

The gist of the argument is, in essence, that She-Ra does not have big enough boobs but it is dressed up in quite odd rhetoric about the world being robbed of beauty because She-Ra looks a bit boyish.

Here is our old pal Brian Niemeier posting a very confused rant about the whole thing: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/07/the-sjw-turkey-shoot.html

There’s a lot there about Netflix’s precarious business model which he then muddles in with stuff about SJWs. Now note HE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE the original She-Ra (for reasons so obvious that they can be summed up by the pronoun in the character’s name).

On Twitter, former Gamergater and Castilian House blogger Jasyn Jones aka “Daddy Warpig” also had a good old rant about She-Ra because…well again, he pretty much ALWAYS has a rant about female characters in current mainstream media unless they are anime characters. It’s so inevitable that only the immediate rationale changes, suffice to say a genre media property with a female lead will have a “grassroots” campaign from the same tiny cadre of extremists regardless. If the character design had been more stereotypically feminine then Brian and Jasyn would be using that to claim she couldn’t lift a sword or some other nonsense.

Why then even mention their nonsense? Mainly for example number a thousand and something, that despite their protestations to the contrary, they only care about how media conforms with their factional ideology and have zero interest in what story it tells. Yes, yes, I know you all knew that all ready BUT this way I also have a pretext to point out that there’s a Noelle Stevenson led cartoon coming to Netflix in November and it looks really great! 🙂

The Bortsworth Mysteries: The Case of the Shifting Genre

It was a dark and stormy morning and our protagonist was about a mission both dangerous and of great import.

“Wake up!” said Timothy the Talking Cat, a highly intelligent cat with a piercing intellect who was looking very dapper that bright morning in a yellow bow tie that deftly coordinated with his purple, velvety fur.

“I am awake,” said Susan.

“It is so hard to tell because you sleep standing up and also last night I painted eyes on your eyelids which was funny at the time but now I regret because when you close your eyes it looks like you are staring at me in a really angry way like you are about to stomp on me,” replied Timothy loquaciously (who was briefly surprised that of all the words the meat robot hadn’t spelt incorrectly “loquaciously” was one of them).

“That’s how my regular eyes look,” explained Susan.

“Oh,” said Timothy, backing away nervously and eyeing up possible escape routes.

“So what do you want on this dark and stormy morning,” asked Susan.

“It’s not dark or stormy,” observed Timothy cautiously turning to look outside the garage door where he could see the early sun shining on the meadows adjacent to Felapton Towers.

“I know, I was referring to the obviously incorrect opening sentence,” said Susan.

“Why do you sleep in the garage?” inquired Timothy whose keen powers of observation had settled on the salient fact that Susan, a relatively small triceratops but objectively large being was residing in one of Felapton Towers’s many garages.

“I don’t. I wasn’t asleep. I was looking for paint thinner to clean my face with because somebody painted eyes on my eyelids last night and when I catch the small mammal that did that I will indulge my desire to learn how to play Australian Rules football by using him as the ball.” said Susan.

“Before you act on that desire let me explain a couple of things. One, when I said that I painted eyes on your eyelids I meant ‘i’ in the sense of ‘Straw Puppy did it’. Two, I’ve an exciting publishing proposition for you that would be definitely impaired if I was to be unjustly used as a game piece in some antipodean excuse for anti-cat cruelty.” said Timothy speaking both in a hurry and in a voice that he felt sounded like a lawyer but which was based on that one time he watched Rumpole of the Bailey whilst simultaneous playing Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney on a Nintendo DS which he had confiscated from a student at Bortsworth High School during an unpublished chapter of his adventures when he was a substitute French teacher. I should add the episode of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ was in French and Timothy was showing it to a class of Year 9 French students (as in students of French, the students themselves were English because the class would have been redundant if the students were French, although the students all had a timetabled lesson called ‘English’, which is around the point when Timothy left the school because it was all too confusing and also he got sacked for playing video games in lessons.)

“I’m all ear openings,” said Susan.

“Said Susan sardonically” add Timothy who was growing increasingly aware of the relative size of the text after things he said compared to the text after things Susan said and was increasingly uncomfortable with it, not out of a misplaced sense of inequity but because it felt like a foreboding omen of sudden violence that would most likely be directed at him. Controlling his desire to inquire why Susan had said ‘ear openings’ rather than ears and deciding that it was probably a dinosaur thing and then realising for the first time that birds don’t have visible ears and getting mildly freaked out by the fact, Timothy continued: “Well, I’ve been thinking about genres and where all the money is…”

“I’m not being in a romance novel written by you or your improbably grass-based dog friend,” stated Susan.

“No, no! Not romance! Gosh, I may be a vicious beclawed predatory monster with a gun fetish and the ethics of a shark that quit eating fish and became a hedge fund manager, but even I don’t have the fortitude to survive the cutthroat world of romance publishing.” exclaimed Timothy, shaking his tiny (by fang-filled) head at the thought.  He may have faced down space vampires, zombies and monstorous squirrel hegemony but he did not have the stomach to face down the trademark wars of the battle-planet known as ‘Romance Publishing’.

“Well if you haven’t got the guts for Romance then you clearly aren’t thinking of going into the Thunderdome-like lawless zone of YA publishing either,” observed Susan.

“Exactly! No, my plan is to ditch all this SF stuff and fourth-wall breaking stuff and go into COSY MYSTERIES!” said Timothy.

“Cosy mysteries?” said Susan curiously, “Is that like when a T-rex falls out of a tree, narrowly misses a triceratops and instead lands on a pile of sleeping marsupial proto-badgers, thus cushioning his fall but nobody knows why?” Susan was intrigued by the notion of a sub-genre that she was, as yet, unfamiliar with. What new possibilities might this engender for her taxonomic project of classifying all dinosaurid literature into a single universal scheme?

“Cosy mysteries like Midsummer Miss Fisher Murder on the telly! It occurred to me only the other day! We have the perfect setting already! A stately home in a small town in rural southern England! An eccentric collection of characters! Some sinister looking people who probably would murder somebody for complicated but petty reasons – like Mrs Brigsly for example who strikes me as the murdering kind.” enthused Timothy.

“I see and, if I may speculate, you need an odd-couple pairing as the main characters. You see yourself as the sharp-witted but debonair detective and me as the apparently dull but actually astute ‘muscle’ who often provides the key insight for solving the mystery. Our contrasting characters and modes of operation providing both a source of banter and also a way of diverting the plot into many false leads and red herrings with the final conclusion resolved more by fiat than actual detection?” said Susan.

“Yes!” said Timothy.

“It is a terrible idea and after much reflection, I prefer my original plan of using you as the football in a game of Australian Rules,” said Susan.

“eep,” said Timothy running swiftly out into the morning which actually had turned both dark and stormy in the intervening time thus proving the opening sentence correct, if a little premature in its description of the prevailing weather conditions.

Must we? Apparently.

Prominent former leaders of the Sad Puppies campaign have completely moved on from that whole business. So much so that it seems like a week can’t go by without one of them offering a new revised history of events.

This week it’s Sarah Hoyt.

Now I’m a lazy but forward thinking man and over two years ago I decided to save future me sometime. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/the-potted-responses-of-camestros-felapton/

But there are a few points in Hoyt’s post I didn’t cover there but most I’ve covered in later posts. So in order, here is a reply to Hoyt’s post:

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/the-potted-responses-of-camestros-felapton/#5

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/the-potted-responses-of-camestros-felapton/#27

Sarah Hoyt promised that Sad Puppies 5 would be a way of recommending books – it never eventuated. Running a divisive campaign to try and make others reshape the Hugos into something Hoyt wanted but couldn’t be bothered to do herself is not a great endorsement of the Sad Puppy campaign -even assuming Hoyt is being honest here.

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/the-potted-responses-of-camestros-felapton/#47

The Wikipedia article in Sad Puppies doesn’t even use the word ‘supremacist’ and doesn’t call Sad Puppies “white supremacists” or propagate any lies about them: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sad_Puppies

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/the-potted-responses-of-camestros-felapton/#52

“Then how did we think we could achieve our goals?” That’s not even a clever strawman.

“It starts with their being enormous racists.” [sigh] a few sentences ago, Hoyt was arguing that the Sad Puppies couldn’t be racist because some of the leading figures were members of ethnic minority groups. Many noted opponents of Sad Puppies were members of ethnic minority groups therefore one of both of Hoyt’s claims is false (hint: its both).

“They think they’re helping “minorities” and “the oppressed” by telling minorities and the oppressed how to think and feel, ” now I can’t say I’ve ever had much success telling people how to think and definitely not how to feel. Hoyt blithely assumes “minorities” are like easily led children and then lectures everybody else about racism…

“They assume that people of color (any color, even my spun-gold) can’t compete with standard white people.  They assume that women can’t compete with men.  They assume that gay people are fragile flowers who’ll be destroyed by the wrong word.” – I know that isn’t true about most of the so called “SJWs” than I know. However, I do know Brad Torgersen thinks PoC and women writers who have won a Hugo could only do so via ‘affirmative action’ https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/youve-probably-forgotten-about-brad-torgersen-by-now-so-apologies-for-reminding-you/

“Academic jobs” – https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/hugos-for-academics/

“If you follow all those assumptions and you have some experience in Academia, you know that the left insists on giving awards on the basis of race, sex, etc, because that helps with university jobs.  (To be fair most of them also work in academia.)” – a special Hoyt combo move! Nope – firstly Hugo winners are generally not academics (I can think of two in recent years), a Hugo award wouldn’t help them much, the person who thinks women and PoC can’t compete is Sad Pup Brad Torgersen who keeps calling such wins “affirmative action” and denies that they are wins on merit.

“Ignored in all this is indie, of course, because you know, it doesn’t fit in the academic career plan.” – The Hugos rewards independent publishers and authors: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/awards-and-independents/

“So, you know, you can’t keep anyone from writing.  And with indie you can’t keep anyone from publishing.” True and yet notable Sad Pups have claimed that people with even less power over what gets published (including little old me) have been trying to sabotage careers. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/was-antonelli-set-up/

“Ignored in all this too is the fact that writers write.” Then WRITE! Literally nobody on the left hand side of things is stopping or can stop Sarah Hoyt from writing.

The Alt-Right and Traditional Far Right

If you wander through the comment sections of rightwing blogs, as I do, you probably will have noticed repeated references to free-speech in England or even the end of England itself. Lots of histrionics, lots of ranting about injustice. John C Wright has pronounced that “England has fallen”, and elsewhere our old pal Phantom is getting agitated by events too.

So what the flip is going on? The answer is that these various people are super, super upset that some people accussed of quite appalling crimes haven’t been set free due to a mistrial. Cue paroxysms of rage at that statement from that same quarter. True, that isn’t what they THINK they are getting upset about but yes, that is ACTUALLY what they are getting upset about. It is yet another case of people on the right 1. forming opinions based on limited and biased sources and 2. not thinking things through. Reality the conspires to make them look like fools.

So first to the specifics. Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon aka Paul Harris aka Stephen Lennon but better known as Tommy Robinson is a convicted fraudster with a long history of violence including football hooliganism, as well as other crimes such as entering the USA using a false passport. He has also had a long association with a British far-right group called the English Defence League or EDL. The EDL is interesting as an example of changing patterns in extremist politics – it is something of a transitional group between the far-right neo-nazi thugs of groups like the British National Party and the more recent (and more international) Alt-Right. The set of racist, authoritarian and violent views are similar in all cases but the emphasis shifts. The EDL was specifically more overtly anti-Islamic to the extent of being nominally pro-Israel, whereas the BNP had tended to attack Muslim communities in the UK based on ethnicity (often targeting Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities).

Robinson’s current attempt to find celebrity and relevance is to highlight ‘Muslim rape gangs’ – i.e. cases of sexual abuse committed by ethnic minorities (while ignoring cases by non-ethnic minorities). A relevant case is being tried in England currently. England has strong limitations on reporting cases as they are being heard. Why? Because the civil right to a fair trial is an important one AND public claims about defendants PRIOR to a verdict can lead to a mistrial. n addition to this, cases involving child witnesses have even tougher reporting restrictions to protect the victims of crimes. Apparently people like Wright or our old pal The Phantom regard this as objectionable*.

Robinson has previously attempted to broadcast from the courtroom of a different case and was held in contempt of court (but not at that point detained). His sentence was suspended for 18 months. That means he didn’t go to prison but intead there was an 18 month period in which he could be sent to prison if broke the law at all in that time. Suspended sentences may look like an easy escape but they are tougher than they look.

Now let’s be quite clear what his actions were at that point: he was sabotaging a court case and that sabotage could only make it more likely that the defendants would be found not guilty. Whatever his intentions were, and whatever sympathies his supporters might have, that is the actual, factual core of the issue here. The best spin anybody could put on this who has thought about it for more than a minute is that Robinson was only thinking of his own self-publicity rather than the consequences of his actions.

Having been charged by the court of contempt, Robinson apparently had not learned his lesson and returned to outside of a court holding a trial with reporting restrictions, caused a disturbance, was arrested by the police and BECAUSE he was still within that 18 month period of the suspended sentence ended up in gaol. Something he knew would happen,

There is a lengthy breakdown of the events here: https://thesecretbarrister.com/2018/05/25/what-has-happened-to-poor-tommy-robinson/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

Rightwing extremists then used these events to portray Robinson as a martyr, eben though 1. he’s a convicted fraudster and 2. his actions could well have led to guilty people avoiding a conviction.

Now all of that is not is what is interesting.

What is interesting is the collision of worlds here. Robinson and the EDL (more history here https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Tommy_Robinson ) are a slightly updated version of how the far-right has been in the UK: a mix of semi-plausible spokes people at the tob (sometimes trying to get electoral respectability) above a movement of street thugs and football hooligans. Moseley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, the National Front in the 1970s, the BNP in 1980s and 90s – the template is similar but the names change.

However, the EDL did three things. Firstly, they repackaged their targetting of immigrant communities in the UK as an attack on Islam, secondly they toned down their anti-Semitism (it’s still there but less public) and thirdly they started making links with US rightwing groups. That last step isn’t new in itself but whereas in the past British far-righ groups tried to court similar white supremacist groups in the US, the EDL targetted the Tea-Party and vocal anti-Islamic activsist in the US.

The long term impact of the courtship is a channel of propaganda from the ‘traditional’ far-right in the UK to the pseudo-libertarian right in the US. There’s no conspiracy there, it’s just where different groups tap into for memes, propaganda and news. And hence why somebody like John C Wright is busy pushing a garbled account of events in the UK around a football hooligan fraudster finding himself in gaol for attempting to sabotage a court case.

*[Again, they’ll say they don’t but this is the actual reality they are objecting to rather than their private fantasy.]

How big is a mob anyway?

While I had more important things to post about today, I couldn’t let this post by Brad Torgersen go by without some comment. Having said that, this isn’t a Brad bashing piece. Rather, some of his comments got me thinking about some of the language we use (as well as touching on some questions about truth and evidence which is very much my briar patch).

Brad, somewhat late to the party, discusses Larry Correia’s disinvitation as Guest of Honour at Origins Game Fair. He summarises the problem as this:

“What’s concerning is that conventions — indeed, almost all institutions of various descriptions — are being placed in the position of either bending to the will of what are essentially mobs, or facing threats of both bad PR and, potentially, painful legal annoyance. In each case, the institutions almost always take the path of least resistance. It’s far easier to eject a guest who has attracted the mob’s attention, than stand your ground and endure the mob’s ire; as a “defender” of the alleged wrong-doer.”

‘Mob’ is doing a lot of work here. It is partly a way of making those who complain faceless & depersonalised and partly a way of making them seem irrational, angry & threatening. It is easy to characterise groups of people doing something as a ‘mob’ – for example, it would have been easy to call Sad Puppies ‘a mob’ or the Tor Boycott the action of a mob but the ease with which it can be done also demonstrates why it is largely an empty term.

But what about something like Gamergate? I can see why people use a term like ‘mob’ there but I am still worried that the term clouds issues more than it describes actions. The actual decisions made by people in Gamergate (or if you prefer some leftwing incident of many people acting on social media) were not those of an actual mass of people in physical proximity but rather many separate individuals making distinct decisions over long periods of time. I’m not trying to play dictionary definitions on the word ‘mob’ but rather trying to point out that ‘mob’ creates a misleading impression of the psychology and the community dynamics here.

In the case of the Origins Game Fair, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of a mob of any kind. Larry Correia himself is blaming one person as the source of complaint but I’ve seen evidence of other, quieter concerns raised to the con.

“Mob” as a term primarily obscures. It hides the way social media forms out of individual action both negatively and positively. An individual who is told they were part of a social media mob can look back at their actions and think “No, I just made that one comment and it was a reasonable one” and yet the subject of the comment may genuinely feel mobbed. At the Gamergate end of this spectrum, direct, individual acts of malice are made to look like individual responsibility played no part.

The (often genuine) feelings of being mobbed comes from the volume and the individuals making comments are often unaware of how they contribute to that volume.

An examples that crosses the Puppy/Puppyologist divide would be the recent brouhaha concerning the Romance author who is attempting to trademark the word ‘Cocky’ for her book series. I’ve written about it and Mad Genius have written about it and I don’t think there is much of a difference between our views on the issue. I’m sure the author concerned is feeling mobbed by the sheer scale of the response. It is unlikely she has read the Mad Genius posts on the topic and even more unlikely she has read my post but to some extent those posts all contribute. If our answer is ‘well she deserved it’ then I can see how that is a reasonable conclusion but that feeds into a different issue.

Brad raises other questions:

“None of this — in 2018 — happens without social media, of course. One might argue that Social Justice Zealotry could not exist without the anonymity and virility that social media provides. Pick your target from behind the safety of your keyboard, light the digital torch, rally your friends to the cause, and off you go to pillory whichever offending party suits your fancy this week. Proof? A preponderance of evidence? P’shaw!”

I’m not going to pick through the obvious hypocrisy of Brad’s complaint there — if we lived in a world in which Brad reflected on the faults he sees in others and whether they applied to themselves, then I’d have far fewer blog post topics.

Rather, it is worth asking about standards of evidence. Rather absurdly, Brad compares the con’s decision to the work of a military ‘seperation board’:

“Thank goodness separation boards don’t rely on the mob’s methods. Because when I am sitting down with my fellow officers to review a case, we’re all poignantly aware of the fact that we’re holding somebody’s career in our hands. We are not a court martial, so we can’t determine anyone’s guilt or innocence of a crime. But we can determine if the evidence of misconduct — not necessarily criminal in nature — does warrant severing the servicemember, and what the character of that severing should be. Because any discharge below honorable carries potentially life-long, negative consequences for the servicemember in question. And when something’s going to stick with somebody for the rest of their lives in a bad way, there better damned well be plenty of proof that it’s necessary, and justified.”

Again, self-reflection would probably help Brad see that, no, the standard of evidence that people should feel they need to have before commenting on social media about a con’s choice of guest should NOT be required to be of the same standards of evidence as a board convened to determine whether somebody should lose their full-time job. But that does not imply we should have no standards of evidence or truth.

Baseless accusations are not a good thing but we also can’t hold all truth claims to some sort of court-of-law standard either or even the standards of a HR function of a major institution*. To shift contexts slightly, there is a problem of regress here – imagine a company with some sort of grievance policy. The policy has to have at least two standards of evidence:

  • The standard used for the company to act on a complaint by one employee about another.
  • The standard used by the company to regard an employee’s complaint as reasonable.

The second standard has to be less than the first standard because employees need to be able to make complaints without undertaking the same due-process/evidence gathering/discussions that the complaint process uses. Indeed, there needs to be a third standard: the evidence needed for the company to regard a complaint as malicious or frivolous.

The same is true for reporting something to the police. It’s unreasonable to demand that somebody reporting something to the police should have ascertained the level of evidence needed for a trial. It’s unreasonable (indeed absurd) for the police to need that level of evidence to decide whether to investigate a possible crime. However, there has to be SOME standard because people make malicious complaints to harass others and there are obvious (and sometimes deadly) instances of the police acting on the basis of very poor quality information and/or prejudice.

There’s no easy answers at the end of this. To not just be truthful but to be concerned about the truth is a moral imperative. To consider the collective impact of our individual actions is also a moral imperative. That there are social consequence for bad (but not illegal) behaviour is part of how societies work. That there is no one-size-fits-all standard for evaluating the truth of a claim before commenting on the claim is a logical necessity.

*[Only afterwards did I see that calling the US Army a ‘major institution’ was a pun.]