The Deeper Strategy: On PZ’s Grenade

There’s been an uproar recently with regards to numerous accusations and people coming forward to make others aware of those involved in the skeptic movement and its events that are sexual harassers, abusers, predators, or rapists.

Lousy Canuck has a good timeline of major events with minimal editorializing. It should be readable and palatable to anyone who wants to understand the current situation. I’ve seen some objections on Twitter to some entries, but not enough to dissuade me from recommending it.

I also read more from Lousy Canuck, particularly this post on “the web of trust” and why he believes PZ’s post with anonymous sources accusing Michael Shermer of rape, which PZ analogies to a live grenade.

Lousy Canuck presents what I’ve been arguing on Reddit about for the past few days, and more eloquently and comprehensively. One primary objection to these anonymous accusations that he addresses is the idea that they’re equivalent to any anonymous source accusing anyone of objectionable behavior. But that’s a completely unfair comparison.

PZ Myers is putting a huge amount of his credibility and reputation on the line by making that post. And he knows this. To posit that the anonymous person does not exist, or that PZ didn’t vet his source, is to imply he is so monumentally malicious, idiotic, or both that it’s far and away the less likely reality, in my opinion. This is even more true when considering the magnitude of the claim in the context of the unfortunately common sexual misconduct at skeptic conferences. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but this sadly isn’t so farfetched.

But that’s enough of the basics and backstory. I titled this post the “deeper strategy”. So what is it? Lousy Canuck hints at it in “the web of trust”:

There’s “trust implicitly”, there’s “distrust”, and there’s “trust but verify”. And in “trust but verify”, you can know to be wary of certain people without necessarily pointing at them in horror and shrieking “rapist” every time they’re nearby; or throwing them in jail on the least unsubstantiated word.

This is all I, or anyone else fighting for victims rights with regard to rape, have ever advocated. […]

So the best we can hope for as far as repercussions are that because his name is so popular, the accusations against him will give his potential future victims pause against trusting him enough to drink with or spend time alone with him. This might hurt his feelings, but it will not ruin [h]is career or his life.

I’ll go much farther than to say it’s “the best we can hope for”. I think that’s what PZ expected to happen in the aftermath of his explosion. Of course it would continue the trend of more people coming forward to share experiences and warn others of problem people. Of course people would object in all the predictable ways. Of course Shermer was going to lawyer up on him.

But the word is out now. Shermer, even if he suffers no organized consequences and freely attends every conference for the next 10 years, will never coerce, compromise, or abuse someone from now on. People will be aware. No more damage will come from him, and similarly from all others accused by reputable sources. They will be shocked straight and onto thin ice.

And this was the plan all along, I suspect. Or at least the most likely outcome. In this case, I’d say most attention, even objections, to these issues are good for promoting awareness and slowly, but surely, raising the collective consciousness of those in the movement, as well.

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