Brian Dalton called me a bigot

Okay. That title isn’t completely fair. But it’s also not as short as “Brian Dalton responded to a comment I made on his most recent Mr. Deity episode and reluctantly said that a statement I made was bigoted.”

I hope the slight satire of the title in the face of my calm, non-sensationalist discussion will be excused. If people don’t read this post to see my balanced, fair treatment of the issue, that’s their shame! Either way, I feel obligated to respond to this issue in a format that doesn’t get buried and allows me to expand beyond 500 characters.

Okay, some context. I already wrote about what’s been going on the secular movement lately. People have come forward, some anonymously and some not, to accuse various individuals of sexual misconduct, harassment, and most notably, rape. The last one has caused the most stir, perhaps obviously, and has been the subject of much discussion.

Dalton, in his Mr. Deity episode, included, in place of his normal humorous begging segment for donations, a long metaphor comparing the believability of the round of accusations to the believability of the gospels. He espoused use of skeptical principles to doubt the claims made. He referenced the claim made by one individual that the person accused of rape (Michael Shermer) showed predatory behavior elsewhere by constantly refilling her wine glass, presumably to make her more intoxicated. He said that woman had no backbone or sense of responsibility.

I made the following comment objecting as succinctly as possible in the character limits:

Brian. This… isn’t okay. There’s a lot wrong with your comparison, but the biggest, most GLARING error comes down to the magnitude of the claim. The Gospels being true is a massively extraordinary claim. A person being sexually harassed or far worse is sadly all too common at conferences in the skeptical movement.

There are numerous reasons for remaining anonymous that I doubt you understand or have considered. Perhaps listen to what women say about these issues and expand your perspective.

And he responded:

Ross, I truly don’t mean to come after you. But I find your comment extremely bigoted. I have talked and listened to many women regarding this topic and their perspectives are as varied as one can imagine — even as varied as men’s (spoiler alert!). Regarding your first point, the extraordinary nature is irrelevant. If you disagree, can you please tell me what anonymous third-party claim (regardless of its extraordinary nature) you accept at face value?

I absolutely stopped to consider what I had said. But I don’t believe it was bigoted towards him. His fights in the past for women as he describes in his second video (which I’ll address momentarily) do not erase or excuse what he says now. Deriding a woman who has perhaps a social anxiety (and blithely portraying the situation) is showing you lack perspective. Ignoring trends or casting unnecessary doubt on claims that fit those trends is lacking perspective. And again, not taking into account the numerous reasons why someone making an accusation of this nature would want to remain anonymous cements the fact of your myopic view.

Dalton could perhaps have an explanation for each of these individually, but I believe it paints a picture of someone who is a bit ignorant of the prevalence and severity of sexism in our movement.

I further explained my point in another comment:

I’m saying that there are numerous accounts of sexual misconduct in this movement. Private groups of women alerting others to problematic individuals. Recent ones fall into an established trend, and more people come forward to corroborate.

This claim is anonymous to us, but NOT to PZ. We aren’t listening to a random voice from the void. We’re getting this from a major participant in the movement, like him or not. And you would have to think PZ a monumental idiot to lie or be tricked about this.

No response to this one, but Dalton posted another video clarifying his positions and intent on certain sections. This one was a mix of some good (an understanding of victim blaming and its problems) and mostly bad (an unchanging position on the vast majority of his commentary).

Most obviously problematic was his “clarification” of the wine-filling incident. He says that he was referring to only that situation (which did not end in rape) and did not retract his “backbone” and “no sense of personal responsibility” comments. He says that he is not victim blaming the rape accuser, as she only says she was “put into a situation where she could not consent”, which he says he doesn’t understand anyway.

Well, the issue with that claim is that it’s entirely likely the exact same technique was used on her. If we have an example of what Shermer is accused of doing, that makes it the most probable case for other situations. And that means everything Dalton says about this woman, or more generally to those who succumb to social pressure or intimidation, applies to this victim. Any other potential actions that he thinks might excuse his comments (other drugs, intimidation, threats) don’t paint Shermer in any better light, either.

Furthermore, Dalton doesn’t even make a point. Just because she didn’t get raped doesn’t mean that it’s fair game to insult her for falling prey. The exact same story could have ended badly, and absolutely has an untold number of times all over. Dalton is simply fortunate the woman got away to offer a facade of cover for his disrespectful statements.

Dalton also mentions his supportive comments on another video where Ashley Paramore describes her sexual assault. While that is laudable, his refusal to do so when the person wishes to remain anonymous (relying on the reputation and legitimacy of another prominent member of the movement to vouch for and support her story) is the opposite. Especially in the face of what he claims to understand are very real reasons to remain anonymous.

So many things Dalton says follow all the same lines of objection that I hear from MRAs. She didn’t come forward in a timely manner. The accused has a right to face the accuser, even in the crime is one of the most personally violating, dehumanizing, and triggering ones possible. The anonymity. The ignorance of social pressure and anxiety. Even with the best intentions, at a certain point it’s his responsibility to explain how he is different from victim-blamers, hyper-skeptics, and anti-feminists. He passed that point and even planted a flag.

Now, from his response video, comment to me, or even the original begging segment itself, I could have been justifiably outraged. I could have been much more forceful, angry, and demanding. But I chose not to be. To be clear, I’m aware of my privileged position of being able to put the emotions aside to talk rationally and level-headed about these issues. I don’t have a personal attachment with these kinds of horrific acts, social abuses, or constant sense of unease at conferences or in general.

I bring up my calm attitude instead to emphasize and make perfectly clear that I care about the truth. What is accurate. I’m not trying to sensationalize either position, because I believe that’s when people start talking past one another and things become counterproductive. I want to be productive and create an ever-expanding and inclusive movement. And if I don’t listen to and understand perspectives that are not my own, that will be impossible.

I’m not sending this to Dalton. The exchange was over a week ago, and I’m not interested in stoking the fire further. And frankly, I’m just a blip on the radar compared to his consistent presence creating many entertaining and insightful videos in the past few years. But I wanted to make my point, my stance, clear and known to anyone who cares to hear what I have to say.

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