A Holdout for Sanity

Last week, I blogged about the Adria Richards saga, and then linked it into similar activities from the ADA Initiative (AI). Days after, people are still divided on who was right and who reacted poorly. One thing almost everyone agrees on is that no one came out a winner.

In the wake of both incidents, there has been a shift to people being overly cautious, watching their wording carefully. Rather than speak freely as they usually do, they obsess over every word lest someone, anyone, take offense and drag them through the virtual mud. One joke that seems harmless or the use of a word that might be a “trigger” to someone, and you may find yourself a pariah, or worse.

I understand the issue, and I sympathize. I truly do. However, I also understand when something goes too far and recognize when overreaction dominates rational thought, as is common in our society after tragedy, or the perception of tragedy. I believe that time is here with the debate around equality in our industry. While my mind was mostly made up, after participating in the Exotic Liability podcast tonight, with guest Violet Blue, more information came out about recent events that angers me more. The BSidesSF incident that saw Val Aurora of the ADA Initiative get Blue’s talk cancelled, was planned in advance. Claims of her talk containing offensive ‘rape’ material was not only wrong, it was used to emotionally manipulate the conference organizer into getting her way.

If Aurora and AI had their way, every talk that might have controversial material would be cancelled or changed, so as not to offend anyone, ever. Worse, someone that has “triggers”, words that may cause them emotional distress, may knowingly attend a talk with such triggers and it is your fault. Basically, they stuck their hand on the hot stove, got burned, and it is your fault because you didn’t make the stove safe for them. They shouldn’t be responsible for knowing what the red light and excessive heat coming from the machine mean.

Moving past the obvious issue of free speech, there is the rational and realistic argument on how to handle all of this. Should the 99%+ majority only utter G-rated material in any public, semi-public, or private venue on the offchance the word “rape” or “clown” or “pancake” offends them? Or should the minority <1% who might be offended at something you said simply avoid a situation that might cause a problem for them?

Forget the stupidly simple and rational course of action for a minute, and think about the level of narcissism it takes to expect everyone else to dance on eggshells around you. Do you really think that any initiative will change society to the degree you want? If equality is what you are after, act like an equal to the masses. The masses aren’t forcing you to travel a thousand miles to a conference and attend a talk that you clearly know may trigger you. Don’t force the masses to be deprived of a valuable presentation that is all about harm reduction, something you claim to support. If pancakes are a trigger, don’t go out of your way to stop and loiter at IHOP or click this link.

While AI and others are pushing this G-rated agenda and demanding sensitivity above and beyond all rational reason, several of us opted to go the other way last night. On the award-winning Exotic Liability podcast, Ryan, Chris, GK, and I refused to cave in. After a disclaimer warning listeners of offensive content to come, we celebrated our freedom of speech, and our freedom to offend. Innuendo lasted all of a few minutes before truly offensive banter found its rightful place at the top. Our guest Violet Blue, a true advocate of equality and education, laughed with us and praised us for adding levity to the situation. She said she desperately needed it after the past weeks, as being dropped from a speaking engagement and not being able to educate was depressing.

By going the opposite direction, we collectively said “fuck you” to Aurora, the AI, and people like Adria Richards. They seem to look for situations in which they can opportunistically take offense, and they ride it. In doing so, they traipse over good people doing good work, typically those with a noble and giving reason. They subjugate the masses to conform to their selfish rules, demanding change that ultimately will not effect the change they desire. So I will do what I feel is right, and nothing more;

You have been warned! Last night’s podcast is offensive. I don’t need to qualify it beyond that, because it is probably offensive to everyone. We did not hold back, we acted like immature kids, and we said whatever came to mind. If bad jokes, bad acts, or laughing at serious topics is a ‘trigger’ to you, don’t listen. If you do, it is on you, not us. We see your crazy, and counter with our sanity. Until you figure a better way to encourage that equality, consider people like us the holdout for sanity. Dare to listen and laugh with us.

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16 thoughts on “A Holdout for Sanity

  1. I listened of the podcast with disbelief. The rad fems are audacious and manipulative. When you prove them wrong, they will go after you, à la scientology. They’ve been doing it in the skeptic conference community for about two years now. Becky Watson et al. A parody twitter account was set up @angrySkepchick and the rad fems then stormed the follower list and attempted to intimidate people into unfollowing it.
    To them, gentle mockery and parody is rape.

  2. You make some good points here, and you’re an admirable person, but I think you’ve overlooked a couple really important issues.

    First, there should have been NO DEATH THREATS. Seriously. Not even name calling.

    Second, NO ONE SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED because of this. I mean, wtf?

    And I think you’re trying to say something similar.

    But pinning this on Adria is bogus – she’s been receiving so many death threats, it’s beyond pathetic. And SHE DID NOT FIRE ANYONE.

    So, yes, the things you are saying are awful are awful. But you’re blaming a victim here.

    In an ideal world, she should have been able to say “ick” or whatever she said, and the other people could have acknowledged that they understood her and if it was against con policy they could have said “my bad” or whatever, maybe an apology – you probably don’t need anything more than an apology for most people even for something like violating a con policy unless they just won’t stop.

    But it’s just silly to blame the blowup on Adria. Maybe she could have been more careful about how or what she said. Maybe the guys cracking the jokes should not have been cracking them. But blaming any of the resulting blowup on any of them is utterly missing the point.

    The people doing the firings were at least as much to blame.

    The people cranking out the death threats or urging them on through name calling were at least as much to blame.

    This wasn’t a “fuck you to people like Adria”. This was a total and utter cave-in to people that think reasonable discussion is cause for moral panic.

  3. The death threats started around the time of, or shortly after my blog. Certainly after I had finished most of it. I did not mention them, or say they were justified or anything of the sort. You can’t equate every event that happened surrounding this with my article when I did not address them or offer commentary / opinion.

    Adria is to be blamed for the blow-up and fallout, in my mind. She took a mostly harmless situation, opted to handle it in the worst way, then tried to make it her cause of the month by equating absurd terms and grandiose ideas behind her actions. It has since come out that she specifically has a history of mishandling such feminism-related incidents, always with the goal of making herself a martyr.

    • It’s quite likely that the threats Adria received in response to that situation happened after you wrote your blog. On the other hand, no one was surprised by these threats, and it’s not like this sort of response is not routine for females. Males may occasionally get death threats but it’s not on the same order of magnitude.

      And, unfortunately, this kind of aspect of our societies is what makes people like Adria feel justified for being upset.

      I will agree with you that you are under no obligation to defend your prior blog post for its lack of treatment of this issue. But at the same time I do not feel comfortable treating your blogging here as complete when you imply that she has no basis for what she said.

      For that matter, I think that there would be some justice if the people sending the death threats lost their jobs (though I imagine a lot of them were too young to have jobs). But they should not have sent those threats, either, so I’ll also stand by my earlier statement that no one should have been fired.

      Also, I disagree with blaming Adria for the blow-up – I cannot bring myself to imagine that what she was doing was any worse than the death threats [for example]. And I certainly cannot blame her for a firing decision made without any attempt to collect facts and get both sides of the story. And, I can’t bring myself to imagine that the problems that precipitated here started here.

      I can agree that there are things that Adria should have done differently, but she’s hardly the only one that should have done things differently.

      Apparently we have a society where death threats against feminists are routine (try google: feminism death threats). So we are going to have some upset women, like Adria. That’s just how things are right now, and trying to shut them up seems to me like the wrong approach – not a solution.

      If any one person is to blame for this blow-up it’s the person that fired the first guy to be fired in this situation (I don’t know names though, so that’s hard to talk about). But there’s so much blame to go around here I’m not even comfortable placing all the blame there.

  4. I understand your point, and I agree about the death threats. Even now I wouldn’t blog about them because it is absurd they are happening, whether they are trolls are not. However, you are equivocating her actions and my response with the death threats, when they have nothing to do with each other in the context of my argument. I don’t ask you or anyone else to consider my two posts as ‘complete’ when they were written at a point in time, and obviously can’t represent or address anything that happened after them. Our comments here make it clear that there are more aspects to this story if anyone wishes to research them.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree regarding blame. I fully put it on Adria, you do not. You are also replying in a way as to negatively color my commentary when you say “I cannot bring myself to imagine that what she was doing was any worse than the death threats”. There is a logical jump and fallacy here that is silly. In saying that, you are implying that I too said it, when I did no such thing. I am also not advocating anyone “shut [her] up” over this. I am advocating that she be entirely more responsible in her handling of such incidents, both in person and in subsequent blogging.

    • Wait, I am “equivocating her actions and my response with the death threats”? I think I do not understand what you are saying here.

      However:

      1) I am not trying to say that you are making the death threats, and I don’t know why you think I was doing that.

      2) I see no basis for me to be blaming Adria for the firings. I understand that you do, but I can’t follow your thought process there.

      I’ll leave the other issues alone for now, because I may have been jumping to conclusions [or maybe not – I just don’t have enough information to say which and am now becoming uncomfortable with categorizing you as someone that wants her to shut up].

      • this conversion sounds like an intelligent version of a do chasing its tail so here is an outsiders view

        if this is wrong please correct it

        she made a dick move and does not have any real reason( that i know of) to excuses her actions

        to me knowledge she is guilty of
        censorship
        and attacking anyone who dosnt agree with her

        as far as i know that’s what i would call a troll in the real world and as such deserves what she gets as long as it stays verbal

  5. The stream of death threats gives some evidence that she had a real reason, though I will agree that taken by themselves it’s not proof. But given that I had been hearing about death threats every time I bothered to look into this kind of issue for myself for months leading up to this incident, I’m tempted to classify a “that I know of” disclaimer as something approaching willful ignorance. Except, of course, for some reason most guys [apparently even the ones issuing the threats] seem to be ignorant of this stuff. I sure didn’t know about it until I went looking for what had so many people upset. So it’s probably not really willful ignorance but some deeper social issue.

    But censorship? I’m sorry, but she did not have the authority to censor anything. Also, to my knowledge not one word that anyone has said has been censored. Also she was not the one that set up the dominos for this chain reaction, that I know of [and I have tried to find out if she had]. Or do you mean that changing people’s minds about things they have not said yet is censorship? If expressing unhappiness about something is equivalent to censorship, how can the death threats not be censorship?

    Finally, isn’t a troll is someone who tries to get people stirred up for the lulz? Even trolls don’t go looking for death threats, as far as I know. Anyways, I think her handling of this was clumsy, and inefficient, but I think “troll” would mean she was insincere, and I don’t think anyone really believes that.

    • Thanks for the responce but it is a little overwelming so here is a responce to it broken down
      “The stream of death threats gives some evidence that she had a real reason, though I will agree that taken by themselves it’s not proof.” –

      “But given that I had been hearing about death threats every time I bothered to look into this kind of issue for myself for months leading up to this incident, “- see own response
      “I’m tempted to classify a “that I know of” disclaimer as something approaching willful ignorance.” -im a student looking to get into the info-sec field and as such have not had the pleasure of dealing with this for a long time
      “Except, of course, for some reason most guys [apparently even the ones issuing the threats] seem to be ignorant of this stuff.” – so people on 4chan?
      “I sure didn’t know about it until I went looking for what had so many people upset. So it’s probably not really willful ignorance but some deeper social issue.”- not an industry insider
      “But censorship?” – from what i heard about violet blue , i would call that censorship
      “I’m sorry, but she did not have the authority to censor anything”- talk pulling isn’t censorship?
      “. Also, to my knowledge not one word that anyone has said has been censored.”^^
      “Also she was not the one that set up the dominos for this chain reaction, that I know of [and I have tried to find out if she had]”^^
      “. Or do you mean that changing people’s minds about things they have not said yet is censorship?”- yes , in the dark ages women who spoke out against the church were witches and burned , that’s censorship
      “If expressing unhappiness about something is equivalent to censorship, how can the death threats not be censorship?” they are but then again i assumed that was just 4chan anon stuff
      “Finally, isn’t a troll is someone who tries to get people stirred up for the lulz?”- i think people are stirred up, cant comment on how many lulz there were
      “Even trolls don’t go looking for death threats, as far as I know.”- 4chan stuff

      • Why would you call Adria’s objections “censorship”? I am not sure what meaning of the word you are using, nor why you feel it’s the right label to describe her actions. Also, what “talk pulling”? I tried google searching to find out what she cancelled or got canceled but all I can find is stuff like this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/deannazandt/2013/03/22/why-asking-what-adria-richards-could-have-done-differently-is-the-wrong-question/ (where someone in the comments mentioned canceling their account).

        The Violet Blue thing? Maybe that could be censorship, yes. But that was a different con. And that highlights a different social issue: People that deal with “sexy” topics are typically way more vulnerable than people rejecting “sexy” topics, and they typically back down when faced with someone that’s opposed. You can see this aspect of society in everything from flirting (which, among other things, is a gradual approach that lets people shy away from things they are not interested in) to obscenity and vice laws (where long dead dirty old men have stuck their foot in it). But hostility to Adria on behalf of Violet? I think that totally misses Violet’s points and reasoning.

        Anyways, I do not know enough about your current community nor the current 4chan community to comment specifically on their most notable facets. I’ll trust your point of view over mine on how things look from there. But there’s a bigger pattern here, where people feel defensive and in the process of being defensive they defend things that probably should not be defended. And I expect that I can find examples of that in both communities. So… if you feel that the death threats were instigated or encouraged by 4chan, I’ll be tempted to believe you, but it’s hardly original to 4chan unless they’ve been using it also against a lot of other women in a lot of other contexts, and if they’re doing that then I think they would be the real “censors” — the instigators of the social pain that motivated Violet Blue to pull her talk. But currently I have no reason to believe that the 4chan community is behind all those other death threats.

        And going into what the catholic church has been doing on these issues is just way too much for a blog topic. Just scratching the surface there, I’d get into catholic family size, pedophile priests, vows of chastity, theology, mitosis and metabolism, community outreach, war, roman conquests, political stability, moore’s law, privacy, anonymity, science, education, printing press, crusades, spanish inquisition, copyright, … it’s just too much. I’ll just say that they’ve done a lot of good [invented the scientific method, for example, and a lot of the philosophy going into why war doesn’t work very well, along with helping and feeding people and so on] and a lot of bad [many wars, for example, and murdering way to many “heathens”]. I’d classify one of their goals though as conquering the world through population growth within their church. And, one aspect of their implementation techniques seems to be having people with no healthy sexual experiences seducing many others into building “appropriate” sized families (big within the church, small outside). But that’s hardly the only thing they’re doing and for every evil thing they’ve been doing they’re probably doing at least five good things, unfortunately some of their repressive decisions are so deeply embedded in society now that they’re hard to be aware of, let alone fix. Anyways… I don’t think we can blame the catholic church on Adria – it’s a shadowy backdrop behind most of our society.

        So… anyways… that’s my current perspective. I don’t know if I’ve addressed the points you feel are important, nor if you agree with me.

  6. I’m all for increasing the number of women in open source software, as AI claims to be their target. But when I received an invitation to apply to Ada Camp (for the reference I’m a woman), organized by AI, I couldn’t help but notice something. They invite a large variety of people, not just hackers. Attendees participating in open source, data and open government, wikis, fan culture, artists, educators etc. Men have their own workshop. The only people who seem to be excluded are women that don’t participate in open source, but would like to learn more, while not being interested in politics. One of the requirements to participants is to share the AI feminist approach. Overall, the gathering looks more like recruiting “soldiers” then anything else. Go figure…

    http://sf.adacamp.org/apply/

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