Brian K. Dalton (aka Mr Deity) has stepped in it bigtime. As a SUBTLE JAB (pfft) at all these issues in the skeptical community with regard to accusations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and general predation, especially the accusations of such leveled against his friend Michael Shermer, he’s slipped into the end post-credits of his latest video (here, starting at 5:24) some interesting parallels. Like all “subtle jabs” predicated on a lack of understanding of a situation, however, they have all the subtlety of a hand grenade in a bucket of paint, and they fall apart under any degree of scrutiny.
Trigger warning for discussion of rape tactics and victim-blaming.
Transcript via John Morales:
I want to take this time today to answer this question I get a lot: why don’t I believe in the gospels.
Um — the first big problem I have with the gospels is that they are anonymous — a lot of people don’t know that, but it’s true.
Um, and no good skeptic, atheist, freethinker should ever accept any anonymous report just offhand; aah especially when we’re talking about something truly awful — I mean, the gospel writers have Jesus doing some pretty ugly stuff. Umm, killing a tree for no reason, which makes him look completely insane; they have him claiming to be God, which would have been a major blasphemy within Judaism at the time; and they have him turning water into wine, which we all know is just a tactic to get the ladies drunk — right? — I mean, no-one turns water into wine for any reason that’s not just completely nefarious!
But if you’re gonna talk [whoopee noise] about someone like that, you can’t do that anonymously — and if you do, what is that? What are we talking about?
That’s nothing more than gossip.
And I think that as good skeptics, atheists, freethinkers, we should all know how absolutely toxic, disgusting and beneath us it is to repeat and or report mere gossip.
[Person with wine bottle approaches wineglass-holding Mr. Deity: “would you like a refill?” “Um, no. Thank you.”]
Now. See how easy that was?
Here’s another little tip: if you find it hard to say no to the refill, you can just leave the glass full! Don’t take another sip!
That’s my friendly little piece of advice to those of you without a backbone, or any sense of personal responsibility!
The other problem with the gospels is that these anonymous reports are made years after the fact; some scholars say decades. Ah, that gives Jesus no opportunity to refute the claims — I mean, there isn’t a decent justice system in the entire world that doesn’t give the accused the right to confront his or her accuser. That’s just basic justice.
And in many cases, even the witnesses of the witnesses are anonymous.
Really?! C’mon! We’re skeptics! We don’t take stuff like that at face value!
The other problem here is confirmation bias: the tendency to see only what we wanna see.
That’s clearly what the gospel writers were doing here; they wanted a hero (or a villain, depending on your perspective), and they found one!
But, as good skeptics, we should all know the power of confirmation bias — I mean, for heaven’s sake, they found witches in Salem, and Joe McCarthy found the communists under every bed — as skeptics, we need to stand up to these anonymous gossipal authors and those who would repeat such gossip and say “have you no sense of decency, Sir! At long last, have you left no sense of decency.”
Of course, if you’re completely divorced from the skeptic community, I don’t expect you to understand these basic principles — but the rest of us should know better!
Remember: “do unto others”
Anonymous reports of extraordinary things, like those found in the Gospels, are in fact untrustworthy because they describe events that would take absolutely extraordinary evidence to prove, and they involve people who cannot be interviewed because they’re long dead.
Reports of rape, on the other hand, describe events that are depressingly common. While the specific people reporting these assaults are anonymous TO YOU AND I, they are NOT anonymous to the people bringing them forward. I explained why I trust the accusers who brought forward the allegations of rape against Michael Shermer, via PZ Myers — because PZ is measured enough to verify that his trust in the people coming forward is not misplaced, and he has a lot of reputation at stake if he trusts the wrong person with a grenade like that. AND, it’s not like PZ’s account is the only one we have on record — there are no less than five accounts given by five separate people so far.
Given that the outcome of this is not likely Shermer behind bars, but rather the public understanding that it’s well possible that people’s trust in Shermer is misplaced and they no longer drink around him, I have no problem with trusting that these rapes likely happened on balance of probability of the perfectly ordinary claim, and that women should likely be warned in advance. But that’s not to say legal action against him should happen, unless it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
And that’s where it’s different from the gospels, which describe implausible scenarios as truth and demand that you believe it and take drastic action accordingly, despite lack of evidence. Rather than tentatively trusting the gospels and verifying before taking action, you’re expected to go all-in. And if we were asking for extraordinary drastic measures to be taken against Shermer, for him to be put behind bars over this, and if we were doing so with significantly less evidence than what we already used to establish a pattern of behaviour by Shermer, then yes, it would be a good analogy. But we aren’t, so it isn’t.
As for his side-swipes at drinking, and on not “having the backbone” to stop drinking, thus getting drunk enough to be raped, I have to point out that there’s some serious misunderstanding in this discourse about the risk factors for being raped, and that Dalton is well guilty of these misunderstandings.
Drinking alcohol inherently comes with some risks. Some of these include impaired functionality, impaired judgment, vomiting, blackout periods, and long-term damage like liver and kidney functionality issues. Acute intoxication could lead to poisoning, and death.
Being around people who rape others also comes with some risks. Those risks include having your bodily sexual integrity violated, including but not limited to non-consensual sexual activities and having orifices penetrated or otherwise violated in various manners with various body parts or instruments.
The means by which they might ply someone into a situation where they might more easily rape them without resistance can include alcohol, used as a date rape drug. Psychological tricks can be applied to keep a potential victim drinking and to keep them unaware of just how drunk they’re actually getting. Keeping them sitting, refilling their glass for them constantly so they never realize they have lost count, keeping the conversation going the whole while so a victim doesn’t realize how drunk they really are til they start to stand up and are wobbly. Or til they fall asleep and are rendered insensible. I seriously doubt any of these tactics involve actually ASKING the person if they want more — and that’s not what the reports suggested Shermer was doing.
But the fact that they’re insensible doesn’t automatically allow for or entail rape. Having an orifice penetrated against your volition is not a side-effect of over-drinking, and damn you for making me use the passive voice in this sentence.
Drinking is a social experience. We choose who to trust with our less-than-sober selves based on our past experiences with a person. Since most rape is acquaintance rape, it involves violating a built-up level of trust which can be used to help put the victim in a state where they cannot legally consent to anything — especially if they’re unconscious.
So, the risk factor for being raped is not alcohol. The risk factor for being raped is being around someone who rapes people. The alcohol, while under normal circumstances an enjoyable social activity, is actually employed as a tool of the rapist’s trade. And the trust engendered by popularity, while normally integral to any social experience in any community, is also a tool of the rapist’s trade.
People like Michael Shermer may very well be “doing unto others” things that they have not asked for consent before rendering them incapable of giving consent. Minimizing this shit is damaging — not only to the victims of rape, but to the fabric of our community, and to the efforts to stamp out this sort of disgusting, unbecoming, predatory behaviour. And my description of such behaviour is crafted without even assuming any rapes actually occured!
In order to prove with some finality that Dalton has completely fucked this one up, I present two comments he reportedly left on Ashley Paramore’s video:
I witnessed this assault, and it was so bold and blatant that I and several other good men stood around because we couldn’t imagine that it wasn’t just the two of them playing around. None of us could imagine that someone would do such a terrible thing in a room full of people. We all felt so bad that we didn’t understand what was happening and stop it. Men, don’t make the same mistake. Until you know otherwise, don’t hesitate to step in. I adore you, Ashley, and I’m so sorry I didn’t do more.
It is good that you’ve recognized that not every terrible act results in an appropriate response. Imagine for a moment how the victim of such an assault might respond. Or imagine for a moment how someone who idolizes a “big name” in this community might react if they are star-struck by the fact that they’re having a long conversation with them and their wine glass keeps magically refilling without them noticing.
Are you getting the impression at this point that perhaps your dismissive comments in your own most recent video were tone-deaf, and if you were aiming for comedy and parody, you skewered not only these alleged victims of assault within our movement, but also everyone who’s ever experienced a similar sort of assault historically? Including Ashley Paramore, whose video got more than its share of argumentation identical to what you just put forth about your friend Michael Shermer. Your account therefore carries no more weight than those of the anonymous-TO-US accusers bringing allegations about Shermer forward.
And given your own revelation that you could hardly believe what you saw, maybe your comments about selection bias — “only [seeing] what we want to see” — are really fucked-up accusations to level against the people who are seeing a morass of sexism and abuse? Why would ANYONE want to see that?
You’re not a mind reader. But you have to admit, that would be pretty damned crazy of me, right? I’ve spent the last seven years building something valuable to me — it’s how I make my living — but now I’m going to risk all of that (including my financial stability) just to lie about some incident for the sake of a cause I’ve shown absolutely no interest in? I’m not just some guy sayin’ x, y, and x. People know me and could ruin my reputation based on this.
PZ Myers built a reputation for being honest to a fault over the past ten-ish years, to the point of being off-putting to many for his bluntness. He is putting the entirety of his reputation on the line over accusations made by people whom he, himself, trusts. Remember, PZ Myers “divorced” the skeptic community, not skepticism, over churlish juvenile behaviour and dismissiveness of serious ethical breaches. I’m absolutely certain he viewed these claims with skepticism and weighed them carefully. He is doing everything you just said you were doing. And you’re calling those accusations that he brought forward “gossip”, “toxic”, and “beneath us”. And yet here we are, with you putting the trust we have in YOU on the line that your account of witnessing Paramore’s assault is true.
Why is it not “gossip”, “toxic”, and “beneath us” to believe you about what YOU say you saw there?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe you. (Provisionally. We’re SKEPTICS, after all.) I’m even going to make a point to put your corroboration on my timeline post. But I also believe other witnesses and corroborations on that timeline just as provisionally, and the numerous instances of predatory behaviour about Shermer came with multiple corroborations.
Maybe you should look over this timeline again. Get a real handle on the scope and breadth of what you’re denying here.
Then come back and apologize to the alleged victims whom you both said were simply “toxic” rumours, and simultaneously “had no backbone” and fell prey to predatory behaviour. And apologize to those people angry about this bullshit for saying that we’re “seeing what we want to see”.