I suppose this could be viewed as a response to Michael Nugent’s recent finger-wagging at PZ, and in a way I suppose it is. Really, though, his post is just a nucleation point for a number of thoughts that have been swimming around.
The important thing to remember is that, if you want to control how a problem is addressed, you have to address the problem effectively. If your actions are ineffective, your methods are undermined. If you try to control the way people address problems from a position of inaction, you have exactly zero moral authority. You have even less moral authority than that if you were in a position of power and/or influence when you declined to fix the problem.
This blowup has been entirely predictable from the start. Even if no one knew about the multiple allegations against Michael Shermer before last August (and at least JREF leadership knew), people have known for the last year. In that time, D. J. Grothe invited Shermer to be a keynote speaker at the JREF flagship event. A presentation at that conference provided reasons to doubt reports of acquaintance rape. Edwina Rogers appointed Shermer to her Global Secular Council project.
During the period when Shermer was almost certainly aware that Mark Oppenheimer was writing his article on the allegations, Richard Dawkins tried to use his influence behind the scenes to get people to stop talking about the allegations. Nugent attempted to use his influence directly to get PZ to stop talking about them. Dawkins took the idea that date rape is “lesser” rape for a test drive on Twitter.
After the allegations were printed, Dawkins compared being raped to driving drunk. He also said no one should report being raped while severely intoxicated. He, oh, so subtly called the blog network that broke the news of various allegations “Feedingfrenzy Thoughtpolice Bullies”. Michael Nugent took his complaints about PZ public.
Is every one of those events aimed at shoring up Michael Shermer in response to the harassment and assault allegations? Maybe. Quite possibly not. Some of them probably would have happened anyway, and the people behind them mostly aren’t answering the questions.
However, there are enough of them that it looks an awful lot like the powerful closing ranks to protect one of their own. It particularly looks that way given that none of those people supported the push for conference anti-harassment policies, and some openly opposed them.
If you think that’s not applying a spark to a powder keg, you haven’t been paying attention. You didn’t pay attention to what happened in the Catholic Church. You didn’t pay attention to what happened in the Boy Scouts of America or the Society for Creative Anachronism. You’re not paying attention to what’s happening now in science fiction and fantasy fandom or in response to what’s been revealed by Operation Yewtree in the UK.
This blow up? This–yes–outrage? This noise and protest and anger? This is what happens in cases like this.
There’s a good reason why it happens too. Yes, a lot of people rally around their friends when those friends are accused of wrongdoing. Many of them even continue to deny wrongdoing in the face of multiple credible allegations. What they don’t do, what they don’t have the power to do, is change the world to make their friend’s action okay.
People who lead groups, who speak from stages, who have, say, a million people subscribed to their every utterance–these are the people who have the power to change the world through their own actions. The rest of us “little people” are left with numbers and passion and volume. We’re left with revolt.
If you want these things dealt with in a manner that suits your notion of decorum, you have to keep things from reaching the point where the “little people” revolt. If you want to quiet the people demanding changes, you have to fix the problem or persuade them that it’s not a problem worth fixing. (Pro tip: That last is not an option when the problem is sexual harassment and assault. It just isn’t going to happen.) If you want to persuade them their concerns aren’t valid, you have to demonstrate enough respect to address them directly instead of talking to the air.
That’s the only way you get control how problems are addressed–to address them. Everything else leads to greater numbers, more passion, and more noise. Not only is this entirely predictable, but some of us have been telling you this for years.