Censorship, Justification, Youtube and Business Vs Individual Rights

6219961958_f51291fba0_oAlright, let’s do this as a blog, rather than a video as the internet is still playing up and it might be better to do this in this format.

Introduction

In the wake of the recent Youtube demonetisation scandal – a surprise to some, not to others – abrupt in its revelation and unexpected in its extent, a lot of my fellow sceptics, atheists and members of that broader community have reacted on two poles. One group, much like me, treats this as another example of creeping online censorship of social media. Another group seems to brush this off and to claim is isn’t censorship, disturbingly echoing many SJW arguments as they do so.

While some people in the first group may be overreacting, people in the second group are just flat out wrong. Some of this is down to not understanding the principle of free expression or the meaning of censorship. Some of it seems to be ideological, where free market, economic libertarianism seems to come into conflict with the principles of individual rights and freedoms and they seem unable to negotiate the clash between the two.

In large part I tend to blame the dominance of the American First Amendment over these kinds of discussions. It turns these arguments into legalistic and governmental ones, when the right to free expression is a universal human right, enshrined in but not deriving from documents like the US constitution, the United Nations declaration on human rights and many, many others.

The discussion and argument is far, far bigger than American law.

What is Censorship?

The Oxford English Dictionary is about as definitive a guide to the meaning of the English language as you can get, and defines censorship thus:

The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

In other words, anything that reduces or eliminates expression, on any basis – legitimate or otherwise – is censorship. Anything. The argument is usually not whether something is censorship, but whether said censorship is justified.

The ACLU has a noteworthy, modern understanding of censorship and describes it thus:

Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period.

Freedom of expression is, meanwhile, perhaps best expressed in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

To reiterate. Your right to free expression is that to hold and impart opinions without interference, through any media, regardless of frontiers. Clearly a great deal interferes with that, some justified, some not, but that’s the ideal. Anything that does interfere with that is censorship. That censorship can come from government but also from private groups, companies, individuals and even from oneself, either through free personal choice or under pressure and duress (it can be hard to disentangle the two).

When the government bans and prosecutes child pornography it is justified on the grounds of protection of children. When the government bans pornography created by and for consenting adults it is, arguably, not justified.

When a pressure group, such as those operated by former campaigner Mary Whitehouse tries to shut down ‘lewdness’ and ‘immoral content’ on television they’re largely unjustified, but are engaged in attempted censorship. When a pressure group has indisputable evidence that certain content can harm the development of children they may justifiably argue for censorship or constriction. Pressure groups on campus no-platforming speakers are engaged in censorship. Again, anything that suppresses or prevents speech is censorship. The threats of violence from Islamic extremists against cartoonists, causing them to self-censor – again, censorship.

All of this is censorship.

The only good justifications for censorship are under the harm principle:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” – JS Mill, On Liberty.

Can we, then, say that what is going on at Youtube is censorship?

That it is a private company makes no difference here. Censorship does not require government involvement to be censorship. Youtube does censor certain content, but this has been deemed reasonable by most of the community (nudity etc is disallowed). I would disagree there too, but that’s a different argument. Youtube has not outright banned any additional content, so it’s not outright censorship, it has ‘merely’ removed monetisation on the basis of some rather opaque and vague criteria.

This loss of monetisation, which is tied to ‘controversial topics’, politics, news and other forms of content may not be outright censorship but it is ‘suppression’, refer back to the definition. Content that can’t make creators money will become less common, the livelihoods of people who produce Youtube content full time will be threatened. Certain forms of commentary and news coverage will be affected as will support organisations, charities, fiction of certain types, tutorials and more. ‘Controversial topics’ is particularly contentious, I’ve had perfectly lucid, explanatory videos on ‘Gamergate’ demonetised.

That people the sceptic/atheist/anti-SJW community have beef with have also been censored doesn’t make the problem less of an issue, it just means it’s affecting more people. That they’ve had their demonetisation reversed (Laci Green) while others have not does lend some weight to this being a political bias, or at least fear on Youtube’s part of bad publicity from some quarters and not others.

Whatever the specifics, yes it’s censorship as it is suppressing certain forms of expression.

Is it Justified?

It’s censorship, but since anything that suppresses or bans speech is censorship the question is whether it’s justified or not. So where’s the harm being done?

Ostensibly this censorship is being made at the behest of the advertisers, but why?

Youtube only benefits from more people using and watching their platform. It costs them very little to host any particular person’s content and the more there is and the more variety the more people are likely to watch. The more creators and the more content they put out and promote, the more to watch. It’s in Youtube’s interest to have the least amount of restriction possible.

Users do not have their experience improved by the censorship, they are harmed by it (less content, less entertainment). Some may say they’re harmed by seeing expression they don’t like, but the solution is simply not to watch it.

Creators are harmed directly by the censorship. Some might say they want it – there was a push against ‘roasting’ and other response videos recently, but again the solution is simply not to watch it.

Advertisers are supposedly the ones asking for this as it is ‘advertiser friendliness’ that is the excuse given. How could an advertiser be harmed here? The kinds of content being targeted are clearly popular and draw a lot of eyes, which is what the advertiser is paying for. This is not sponsorship, there is no direct link between the product and the content and while seeing adverts for Barbie showing next to ‘Uncle Anaconda’s Underage Trouser Power Hour’ might be amusing, nobody except the basest moron would associate the one with the other unless there was sponsorship. Advertisers already advertise around news programmes, edgy comedy shows and more on television. What’s the difference here, if there is any? None.

Nobody appears to gain from this and everybody is harmed – even the advertisers who end up with less exposure.

There’s no justification for it that holds up under scrutiny.

Are we then, those who protest, justified in seeking to exercise control over a privately owned media platform?

Youtube is not like an art gallery. It has – essentially – unlimited space to host content. A gallery could justify turning you away based on limited space or lack of talent or not fitting their remit. The cost/benefit is in favour of them. On Youtube however it costs them virtually nothing (per individual case) to host content and they gain. There’s not much of a defence there on economic or practical grounds.

Moral grounds? This becomes more tricky. If they don’t want certain kinds of content then to an extent that’s their prerogative. However, we live in interesting times. The public square is privately owned and the hard won freedoms we have when it comes to things like free expression, that protect us from the government, do not protect us – at least not in law – from private companies. This becomes an issue in the case of social media giants like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook because they now own the public square and their censorship has a massively deleterious effect.

There’s precedent for the state (acting as the will of the people) stepping in to protect people’s rights form private entities. Some of these are obvious – regulation on dumping waste, not being allowed to make false claims in advertising and so on, others are less obvious or more contentious. Is it right that we step in to protect a homosexual couple’s access to services for their weddings, or should we allow private businesses to be conducted according to their own conscience? What if they want to turn away blacks, or women? Is that OK?

This appears to be the sticking point for many, especially the economic libertarians, anarcho capitalists and so on. The abuse of power that comes in a wholly free market appears to be inevitable and this kind of censorship is an example of that – albeit a mild one. This is especially a problem when the company in question – such as Youtube – has such a de-facto monopoly.

This is where our argument and discussion should be occurring. Where individual and business rights collide, how monopoly status and the cheapness of digital storage interfaces with that.

Some Practical Solutions

1. First I suggest that anyone who runs into advertising on Youtube make a note of who is advertising and then contact them later. Express – politely – the issue with demonetisation and that blame is being placed on the advertisers. Tell them you prefer Youtube as a free speech platform and you do not want to support a company that suppresses free speech. If enough people do this to enough companies (explaining that advertising and content is divorced) then there may be some traction and a shift.

2. Give advertisers the freedom to advertise on ‘edgy’ content if they wish. Flag content as ‘limited monetisation’ if you wish, but let the advertisers choose if they want their adverts to run there or not, rather than simply demonetising. Many advertisers probably don’t care. Many would probably like to advertise next to very popular, controversial and topical content as it may fit their product profile better. Advertisers that don’t want to do so wouldn’t have to, advertisers that did would benefit, creators and viewers would continue to benefit from monetisation.

3. Allow Youtube Red to apply to the content you’re limiting. This would allow ‘edgy’ content to get money as if advertising were present, coming from the Red subscription. It would also encourage creators to encourage their followers to support Youtube Red, with a knock-on benefit for Youtube itself.

Conclusion

It is censorship. It’s not justifiable under the harm principle. Holding Youtube (and similar companies) to uphold free expression is a controversial and arguable point – an interesting discussion to have – but there were other ways to deal with this problem, and better ways than springing it on people.

People need to understand that censorship is more than governmental. That free speech is not limited to the US constitution. That the media landscape has changed and that rights and legislation need to catch up.

Pax.

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How Free Speech was Actually Threatened

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Political comics aren’t just limited to newspapers. You also find them online, related to various issues. This one’s been doing the rounds lately and while all such political cartoons are simplistic, this one is particularly terrible. I don’t think I’ve seen one that misrepresented the issue of free speech so badly since the somewhat notorious XKCD one. That was a shame, as XKCD normally has something of a level head. This one, however, is just ludicrous.

It is, of course, alluding to various online spats from Gamergate to ‘Ghostbros’ to the regular Hugo Awards side show, but it utterly misrepresents.

Panel 1: Title – Ironically, it may well turn out to be accurate rather than sarcastic.

Panel 2: The idea that feminism attacks free speech is meant to be seen as ridiculous, but it does – indeed – happen. There are any number of examples from building moral panics about video games (now the idea is that they cause ‘sexism’ rather than ‘violence’) to collusion with government to ban forms of pornography (Gail Dines and the UK kink porn production ban) to No-Platforming and Safe Spaces. It’s not just limited to feminism, but it is found across a swathe of people who – ironically and laughably – consider themselves progressive even as they attack people’s free expression, sex lives and other fundamental human freedoms they should be fighting for.

Panel 3: Case in point. ‘Calling out sexism in video games’ doesn’t mean that there is sexism and ‘criticism’, coming from the likes of Anita Sarkeesian or Jonathan McIntosh is not ‘criticism’ in the sense most people would understand it. This is not “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work,” or even “the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.” This is claiming that these things do harm and should not exist. It is not presented as a matter of opinion or a disagreement that can be discussed, but something that ‘is’, and something that is ‘bad’. It is a bald assertion and any attempt to discuss, debunk or otherwise counter that claim is treated as confirmation of that claim and as a crime or violence in and of itself.

So ‘feminist criticism’ is, indeed, a threat to free expression because it’s not criticism, and it presents calls to action to change, remove and to force artistic works and other expression to change or be removed. If you think censorship is limited to governmental action, this kind of ‘criticism’ works there too, but even so, the ACLU has a fairly up to date definition which includes:

Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.

In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.

This isn’t differences of opinion. They are presented as facts, beyond question and to reiterate – since its important – any rebuttal is treated as confirmation and as an ‘attack’ of its own.

It’s also important to note for later that these kinds of ‘critics’ seem genuinely incapable of telling the difference between thought and action. So they will see a cultural artefact that includes – say – violence against women as violence against women (and approving of and encouraging it). This also works in reverse as we saw in the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It allowed many people – even artists and writers – to refuse to commemorate and support Charlie Hebdo because they could not see a meaningful difference between Charlie Hebdo’s criticism of Islam and the ’emotional pain’ it caused, and the violent, actual, physical backlash they suffered.

Panel 4 & Panel 5: One of the great things about social media is that it empowers people to criticise, comment and debunk. This is, of course, not popular in some quarters which is why many sites of various kinds, but tending to have common ideological slants, have taken to removing comments sections or even up and down votes. This stifles the ability of people to point out problems in the assertions directly and such ‘fighting back’ is often conflated with the trolling etc that goes on, making a handy excuse to dismiss, deflect or drown out criticism. The irony here of course is in ‘critics’ lashing out at things people love and then recoiling in terror when they get the same kind of treatment in return. When their ideas are picked apart and tested – as they should be.

Panel 6: Here we see the conflation of criticism and trolls. Anyone and everyone who posts a controversial opinion of any sort online will get blowback and everyone gets trolled. Some people seem to advertise their soft-spots to trolls though, and yet still act surprised when they get attacked on it. A fat acceptance activist will be attacked for their weight, a feminist will receive trolling masquerading as misogyny, black people will receive trolling masquerading as racism. Trolls are not sincere, that’s the definition of a troll – someone who says something horrific or controversial simply to get a response. There are genuine crazies as well, of course, but – again – what happens is that all criticism and rebuttal gets lumped in with the trolls, and the trolls treated as sincere.

Panel 7-8: Nobody is being actively silenced here. They are deciding for themselves to stop speaking. All they have had is disagreement, sometimes strident, online from people they have insulted and tried to censor. The people coming at them have no ‘institutional power’ to do so, while in the reverse you will often find people going to authorities (see earlier) or abusing site rules, DMCA rules etc to silence people. In this instance there is no censorship going on. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone amongst the enemies of these ‘critics’ who advocates that they should not be allowed to speak or present their views. Rather they’re happy to have a free exchange of views, a ‘marketplace of ideas’. This is a very real and important difference. If they truly believed in their ‘criticisms’ they should be willing and able to stand by them, argue for them in the teeth of criticism. That instead they run, hide and attempt – again – to censor dissent suggests that their ideas are indefensible.

Panel 9: Indeed they did. They didn’t silence anyone, they stood up against people who attacked them and forced them to retreat. To any rational and reasonable onlooker who genuinely understands the terms and the differentiations, this is a victory for free expression – just couched in sarcastic terms by someone who knows nothing about it.

The Kristi Winters Challenge!

Is Feminism Still Needed in The West?

No, because here at least its supposed goals have been achieved.

If you said ‘no’, please answer the following questions.
1. List all the nations you define as constituting ‘the west’.

The West has different definitions depending on context. So this is a deliberately contentious issue and attempt to muddy the waters by taking an informal set of argumentation and to try and turn it into a formal one. Given that one of the definitions of ‘the West’ is egalitarian, industrialised democracies with gender equality and that that definition would fulfil the criteria and render the rest of the discussion pointless, it seems a slightly unfair – and tautological – one to use.

Let’s use the following then.

The EU, North America, The Scandiwegian nations, Australia & New Zealand. You could expand this to include some South American states and some states in the Far East, but this is a middling ground that makes a reasonable amount of sense.

2. Identify the metrics you are using to to determine women’s equality and sources.

Can women participate in the political process? (Vote and hold office).
Is there anti-discrimination legislation in effect?

3. For each nation write the day women achieved equality on each metric, citing your sources.

This is a lot of countries to go through and is intended to be a tedious barrier. So I’ll meet you halfway.
Here’s the list of full suffrage dates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_suffrage
In most cases right to vote also meant right to stand for office, women were electable before universal suffrage in many nations though so it’s an imperfect guide but I’m not inclined to go to that much effort on what’s a dishonest question.

Here’s a list of anti-discrimination legislation:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti-discrimination_acts

With these three things in place (vote, hold office, can’t be discriminated against for merely being women, equal pay for equal work by law, etc) full equality of opportunity and representation is achieved. What you do with it is, of course, up to the individual.

If women have achieved equality in the west this should be
a) Easy and
b) Everyone should have the same answers.

It was, but expecting everyone to have the same answers when concepts of ‘the west’ and ‘equality’ vary is ludicrous.

Why I don’t Care About Your Feelings

OK, that’s not exactly true. In the moment I may well care that you’re upset, distraught, angry or whatever else you might be feeling. However, when it comes to deciding on a course of action, then I’m afraid, your feelings count for fuck all.

Consider the above video, which is – of course – an absurd extension of the point.

The Prime Minister, here, is absolutely convinced that the cause of the mass unemployment afflicting the country is pixies. He believes the pixies to exist, he is sure they are the cause of the problem and he seeks to educate the public on the matter of the evil pixies in order to address the problem.

He feels and thinks that it is pixies, but of course, we know there’s no such thing as pixies and – as such – pixies are extremely unlikely to be responsible for mass unemployment. No amount of effort expended in the pursuit of stamping out ‘all manner of goblinry’ is likely to have any discernible effect on the unemployment figures and the whole enterprise is a massive waste of time. His feelings about the pixie threat, his personal – subjective – experience makes no difference.

Useful action, with any chance of success, has to stem from good and accurate information. It’s not always going to be as obvious (as pixies are) that an analysis of a situation is wrong, but we must always start from a basis of truth. In that situation, the only truth your feelings can illustrate is how you feel, not what’s objectively, actually true.

So when I ‘don’t care about your feelings’ it’s NOT actually that I don’t care about your feelings, it’s just that if we’re dealing with a real problem, they’re about as relevant – in the fact of facts – as pixies.

Good talk.

Regressive Left: Laurie Penny on Cologne

Laurie Penny wrote an article in the New Statesman which exemplifies many of the stark issues with the Regressive Left, particularly with regard to Cologne and the broader rape crisis across many European countries, made worse by what appear to be deliberate, politically motivated cover-ups and fear of PC backlash for investigating and prosecuting racial minorities.

I am absolutely bloody furious about the cover-ups, the moral and ethical cowardice of our nations in relation to these issues, and the fact that the febrile atmosphere the SJW cult has created has made it so hard to go after criminals in ‘protected’ groups. That probably comes across in this article.

Her article, titled “After Cologne, we Can’t let the Bigots Steal Feminism” is not only years too late to prevent that happening – the worst bigots I’ve ever encountered have been feminists and SJWs – but is precisely the kind of thing that is feeding the problems behind responses to Cologne (and other less famous incidents) and Rotherham, as well as demonstrating horrific levels of hypocrisy. It’s telling that even relatively ‘moderate’ (or at least less boat-rocking inclined) outlets like the Rubin Report and The David Packman Show have picked up on Penny’s comments – amongst others – and not just easily dismissed right wing or ‘manosphere’ sources.

Why can’t we always take sexual assault as seriously as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators?

This seems a peculiar question to ask, but you have to put it in context. Over the last few years there have been many flimsy accusations, several high profile false accusations and numerous dubious, or at least questionable, changes to various university policies and legal standards. With concepts like ‘stare rape’ being seriously bandied about and ‘manspreading’ being seriously warned against the situation iss the inverse, but no less laughable, than the Republican ‘real rape’ nonsense of a few years ago – indeed almost making that seem like a legitimate question.

In comparison to all that, the attacks in Cologne are what appears to have been a coordinated set of attacks on hundreds of women, not only sexual assault and rape, but theft and good old regular violence as well. Furthermore similar attacks seem to have been reported across Germany and other countries and similar stories of cover-ups – for fear of fuelling racism and right wing parties – have come out.

So why is this taken seriously? Because it’s actually serious and because it is so serious and undeniable it has brought up a lot of problems and revealed issues around the fears of racism accusations or feeding the right wing, which overrode the duty of care governments and police have to the people. There’s even reports of victims not wanting to come forward or report attacks because they were similarly afraid or didn’t want to feed the narrative.

The end result? The stories broke anyway and the far right has made far more hay of it than the otherwise might have because of the cover ups and because in many cases they’re still the ones admitting there is a problem and offering (bad) solutions

In a perverse sort of way, it’s progress. After months of dog-whistle xenophobia, European authorities have finally started to treat migrants as they would treat any other citizen. They have achieved this by choosing not to make a fuss when migrants are accused of raping and assaulting women.

Well, no. That’s not progress. Rather than being treated like anyone else these presumed migrants, immigrants and refugees – sharing a cultural attitude and religion but not necessarily much else – have been extended the benefits of gunshy legal authorities, cover-ups and protections – even media reticence – that stand in stark contrast to, for example, the overzealous willingness to accept and go after those implicated in the Rolling Stone/UVA scandal or the attacks on unconvicted, alleged offender James Deen. With reports and prosecutions up and sex offences down, along with the public pillorying of anyone even accused of rape it’s very hard to characterise Western societies as ‘rape cultures’, especially in contrast to the cultures implicated in these events.

The police and the press were initially slow to react, and the Mayor of Cologne reacted to eventual protests by suggesting that women should adopt a code of conduct in public and keep an ‘arm’s length’ distance between themselves and strange men. 

It should be noted that this was the progressive mayor of Cologne, the one stabbed for being so welcoming to refugees prior. It should also be noted that this kind of hypocritical apologism is not limited to them. Numerous supposedly progressive newspaper and magazines have engaged in similar behaviour, excusing the behaviour of the attackers. It seems ‘cultural differences’ is the acceptable version of ‘she was wearing a short skirt’.

It is the first time in recent history that the right-wing press has not joined in the condemnation of these wanton strumpets who dare to think they might be able to have a good time without worrying what ‘invitation’ they’re sending to men. Instead, the right wing blames… liberals. Who apparently caused all this by daring to suggest that refugees should be able to come to Europe in safety. 

It’s not just the right wing raising concerns. The liberal left, the genuine liberal left, has been raising concerns about these issues as well for just as long – if not longer – than the right has. Anyone genuinely progressive voice that has spoken up with concerns over cultural clashes, Islamic beliefs and their consequences, has been shouted down as, ridiculously, an ‘Islamophobe’ or even more ridiculously as ‘racist’.

The right wing is, to an extent, correct to blame the Regressive Left (or however you want to term them) as they have made reasonable, measured discussion on these topics impossible. One need only review the encounter between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show to see this in action. Calm, measured, evidenced, rational discussion met with wild and spurious accusations that subvert and prevent a decent debate being had.

It isn’t that what caused this was suggesting that refugees should be able to come to Europe, it’s that this febrile and ‘J’accuse!’ way of going about the debate has led to fear and unease, even bringing up reasonable concerns and issues is to invite reputational damage and ‘greenwalding’ that can be impossible to put to rest.

It’d be great if we could take rape, sexual assault and structural misogyny as seriously every day as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators.The attacks in Cologne were horrific. The responses – both by officials and by the armies of Islamophobes and xenophobes who have jumped at the chance to condemn Muslim and migrant men as savages – have also been horrific. Cologne has already seen violent protests by the far-right anti-migrant organisation Pegida, a group not previously noted for its dedication to progressive feminism.

It’s absurd to pretend our societies in the West don’t don’t these seriously. Indeed the contrast in feminist reactions to these attacks and their day-to-day screeds and sermons couldn’t be more stark. Faced with a genuine case of an actual patriarchy and rape culture, an actual case of a culture with structural misogyny – that actually exists – the cowardice of the previously strident feminist lobby has been breathtaking.

What word would you use other than ‘savage’ to describe what has occurred and why are there not slutwalks, op-eds decrying the attacks, redoubled efforts to bring feminism to Islamic cultures (where it’s actually needed) and so on? Why instead are we seeing these screeds trying to shout down the people and groups – not all far right by any means – who are condemning what happened and are demanding solutions are simply being decried, wholesale as racist.

The far right is cleaning up, because they’re listening and offering those (terrible and broadbrush) solutions, while the Regressive Left, such as Ms Penny, seem far more concerned with making excuses and refusing to offer solutions or to wholeheartedly and unreservedly condemn the attacks.

This is what worries me. Because we cannot have this conversation and because elements of the Regressive Left are more fixated on preserving their narrative and ‘being right’ than admitting reality or doing what is right, the right wing are then free to dominate the discussion and to pass off their conspiracy theories and racist nonsense as truth, relatively unchallenged because other sources have lost trust.

It’s a miracle! Finally, the right wing cares about rape culture! Finally, all over the world, from Fox News to 4chan, a great conversion has taken place and men who previously spent their time shaming, stalking and harassing women are suddenly concerned about our rights! And all it took was a good excuse to bash migrants and Muslims and tell feminists they don’t know what’s good for them. 

This is a classic misdiagnosis. People have always been concerned by rape culture, where it actually exists, not where it does not. The accusation has not been taken seriously as it applies to Western culture because it’s patently ridiculous. Accusations of stalking, harassment etc have been gendered when they’re not, and have been wildly overblown. That’s the objection, not that these things aren’t bad – the outrage at Cologne etc is real – but that these issues are being trivialised and conflated with ‘trivial bullshit’ and hyperbole.

Personally, I just love it when random men on the internet tell me what my feminism should like, because gosh, you know, this whole resisting oppression thing is really hard sometimes and it’s great to have people who know what they’re talking about take over for me so I can get on with the ironing. These people have repeatedly demanded that I ‘condemn’ the attacks in Cologne, which is a lazy way of implying that somebody doesn’t really care about an issue.

And this article is a strenuous way of demonstrating you care less about this issue than a few mean words over Twitter that can’t possibly hurt you, but which somehow demand meetings at the UN while Saudi Arabia gets to sit on the Human Rights Council. You can’t simultaneously try to claim Feminism is Egalitarianism, and that it’s good for men too, while denying men the right to speak and argue. Anyone can read a definition, observe actions and notice a disparity between the two. Criticism is how ideas are tested and hardened.

So let me be clear: sexual violence is never, ever acceptable. Not for cultural reasons. Not for religious reasons. Not because the perpetrators are really angry and disenfranchised. There can be no quarter for systemic misogyny. And if we’re serious about that, there’s not a country or culture on earth that won’t have to take a long, hard look at itself.

Which sounds great, until the last sentence. If you want to try and remotely equate genuine patriarchal and abusive structures in the Middle East with possibly having less seat room or blocking a troll, then you’re out of your mind. Also while you might – finally – have come around to saying that, others in the Guardian, Independent and elsewhere have made myriad excuses and your first instinct was to condemn anyone who was concerned or who pointed – rightly – to cultural issues as a racist. That has to change and trying to water down what happened with disingenuous comparisons won’t get you off the hook.

The sensible thing to do in response to the Cologne attacks would be to call, as many German feminists are doing, for a far more rigorous attitude to rape and sexual assault across Europe. Instead, the solution on the table seems to be to clamp down on migration.

We already have rape laws and a rigorous attitude towards it. In social terms possibly too rigorous since a mere accusation means ruination, a fact which should perhaps lead us to consider anonymity for the accused in such cases. What would be sensible would be to simply hold these groups to the same standard, rather than granting them special status – perhaps with deportation and barring from entry as an additional threat to motivate them.

If there ever was a case where ‘Teach men not to rape’ wasn’t a purely insulting load of old nonsense, it might be in the case of immigration from Middle Eastern and North African cultures coming to much more permissive European and Nordic/Scandinavian cultures. Indeed these are already happening in Norway.

Instead of dealing with the actual problem, people like Ms Penny seem to react to perfectly valid concerns about immigration from particular cultures by bemoaning it as racism, only to turn around and blame all men, nearly 50% of the global population, as being the problem. If bemoaning a particular culture is bigotry, then how much worse is bigotry on an even broader basis?

I actually can’t believe I’m having to explain this right now. I thought we covered this in kindergarten. Those of us who have moved beyond that level can, if we really try hard, understand that it’s not either ‘sexism is exclusively practised by Muslim men’ and ‘sexism is exactly the same everywhere.’ This is what we call a ‘false dichotomy’ when we get to big-kid school. 

Here’s the actual difference.

Our nations in the west are liberal democracies in which egalitarian law and permissive social attitudes have been in place for over half a century. Our genuine sexists are limited in scope and power, despite being imagined to be everywhere. We have full legal equality of the sexes – indeed a cogent argument can be made to say the pendulum has swung the other way in the battle of the sexes. On race too, we have full legal equality though issues of class/wealth often get dressed up as racial issues. When it comes to LGBT issues we still have a ways to go, but the fact that we are not stoning homosexuals to death or hurling them off buildings speaks volumes to our progress and relative pursuit of human happiness. We have broken the back of religious influence on most of our nations (a handful excepted) and we are now secular, be it explicitly or implicitly so. Despite protestations to the contrary, we are not systematically sexist, racist and homophobic as a culture.

The same cannot, broadly, be said of the cultures from which these people are arriving. They are still mired in prejudices we haven’t had at such a vicious level since before germs were discovered. Homosexuals are regularly killed across these cultures or forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery – at best. Women are not only constricted by ‘voluntary’ obedience to religious mores, but their inferiority is codified into law, implicitly or explicitly influenced by the Koran and enforced by vigilantes, the populace, religious police and/or the regular police. These are places where a girl of fourteen can be whipped to death for the crime of being raped.

There is no comparison to be made. These are genuinely male-oriented, patriarchal, theologically dominated, sexist rape cultures. Everything that Feminism claims to be against and projects onto our – not just relatively – but genuinely benign culture.

Yet there’s this paralysis in addressing it, examining it or dealing with it. We must – somehow – be as bad, culpable, we must find excuses for them it seems. It’s good that Ms Penny finally came out against it and decried the excuse-making of her fellow Regressive Left members, but these false equivalences and demands that our culture be considered just as bad will not wash.

It’s not a matter of our sexism ‘being different’, it’s like comparing morphine with homoeopathy.

The oppression of women is a global phenomenon because patriarchy is a global phenomenon. It’s embedded in the economic and social structures of almost every nation and community on earth. Sexism and misogyny, however, look different across boundaries of culture and religion, as well as across divides of race and class and between generations.

Bullshit conspiracy theory, false equivalence and delusion.

The UK, for example, enacted this.

In Saudi Arabia on the other hand (and note how government is involved in these) the situation is this.

For all that these people claim to hate ‘Islamic’ sexual violence, it seems to fascinate them. In the past three years, I’ve lost count of the white men – and it is almost always white men- who have emailed, tweeted and sent me doctored pictures sharing their graphic fantasies in which feminist harpies like me are stoned to death, fucked to death, genitally mutilated, whipped, burned and gang-raped – not by them of course. By those awful Muslims.

I condemn it, but I think I know why. They’re trying to get you to acknowledge and see what actual rape culture looks like. What an actual patriarchy looks like. That our culture is not even slightly, remotely, one scintilla as bad and that the groups you’ve been excusing and defending are everything you claim to be against, while concentrating your ire on art, commentary and mean tweets. It’s a crude, horrible way of saying “Maybe you should give a shit about this?” as well as the death of patience for being treated as though they were acting like these people.

I’ll be blunt. I think some people out there are very excited by their conception of ‘Islamic’ violence against women. It allows them to enjoy the spectacle of women being brutalised and savaged whilst convincing themselves that it’s only foreign, savage men who do these things.

If I’ve learned something valuable over the last two years it’s to try not to project my own biases and interpretations on what people are telling me from my political opposition. Most of the time they’re sincere, they just have a different ‘read’ or set of ideas about the nature of what is going on.

I put it to you that people are not excited by Islamic violence against women simply because it is brutal and horrifying and goes against our culture of equality, liberation and tolerance. They hate it when women are genuinely abused and harmed and this might also be why they treat ‘trivial bullshit’ with contempt as it devalues and undermines genuinely horrific events.

The point is that misogyny knows no colour or creed, and perhaps it’s time we did something about that. We’re used to a society where a basic level of everyday sexism, sexual violence and assault is accepted. So if you’re saying this act of violence isn’t entirely different from all of those, and if you’re saying that refugees should be treated the same as European citizens, you must be saying that everyone should get a free pass to treat women like walking meatbags, right?

Genuine, actual misogyny might not – but it is a term that has been worn gossamer thing by inappropriate overuse. However it’s certainly more common amongst particular creeds, embedded within them and that needs to be addressed. We’re not used to a society with a basic level of everyday sexism and that’s why we’re outraged by this. What people are saying is that this is not acceptable and that yes, they should be treated like European citizens, like everyone else, held accountable for their actions, prosecuted and punished. Not let off or covered for because they happen to pray to Mecca or be browner than the average Swede.

Men and boys of every faith and none must learn that they are neither entitled to women’s bodies nor owed to our energy and attention, that it is not okay, ever, to rape, to assault, to abuse and attack women, not even if your ideology says it’s okay. That goes for the men’s rights activists, the anti-feminists and fanatical right-wingers much as it does for religious bigots. 

Here’s the thing. They already know. It has taken cultural indoctrination for men to think otherwise and outside those cultures this is not a remotely widespread attitude. No MHRA I have ever met is pro-rape, no anti-feminist I have ever met is pro-rape. Not even the most fanatical right-wingers I’ve ever met – and I consider rhetorically beating up ‘white genocide’ nuts a hobby, has ever expressed any pro-rape views. This passage says much more about you Ms Penny, than anyone else.

If we want to hold up Europe as a beacon of women’s rights, that’s fantastic. Let’s make it happen.

It already is. You can’t legislate mind control or censor people’s opinions and a minority of people with the ‘wrong’ opinions, powerless and marginalised are all that’s left. So much so that more and more reasonable and moderate ideas are being attacked and nonsensical things are being rebranded as misogyny and sexism from sexy computer games to sitting with your legs apart. You’re living on another planet if you can’t acknowledge the gulf of difference at work here, but you can never seem to celebrate what we have and what we’ve achieved, only spread these masochistic fantasies to try and make us seem as bad as the worst the world has to offer. It won’t wash and you’ll only alienate people with this unreasonable outlook and outrageous demands for authoritarian control.

It’s easier to pin misogyny on cultural outsiders than it is to accept that men everywhere must do better – but any other attitude is rank hypocrisy.

It’s easier to point to actual, genuine misogyny and rape culture where it actually exists, than to manufacture it where it doesn’t.

It’s also, apparently, easier to hurl spurious accusations of racism and to avoid the real issues, than to discuss them. That’s where the far right will step in, bolstered by conspiracy theories about media censorship, and where they’ll gain purchase.

That too, will be your fault.

There is an appalling moral and ethical failing on the Regressive Left to tackle this issue and it may well be too late to be able to offer a more balanced approach, or even one brave enough to admit that a society and culture that condemns and punishes rape and sexual violence is objectively a better society and culture than one which explicitly permits and even demands it.

Instead, even trying to field this will result in accusations and distractions.

What can we do? Better screenings. Cultural education. Deportation of criminals. No more cover-ups. Open discussion and debate on the problem interpretations and effects of Islam.

Mack, Cytheria, Stoya, Deen & Rape Culture

I’m often met with a blank, disbelieving stare or outright hostility (and subtweeting) when I tell someone that I don’t believe that ‘The West’ has a rape culture. There’s a variety of reasons for this but several of them can be illustrated by three relatively recent events, all relating to people working in pornography. The main thrust of this article is about the Stoya/Deen situation, but I wanted to place it into context with my reasoning on the rape culture issue, and these two other incidents as this all interrelates.

Christy Mack was beaten, raped and abused by her former boyfriend, an MMA wrestler going by the monicker ‘War Machine’. She was hurt so badly she had to have a bunch of surgeries and the trial for that assault and rape is now in progress. Unbelievably, part of ‘War Machine’s’ defence amounts to the idea that ‘you can’t rape a porn star’ (though put in more legalistic terms than that). The reaction to this has been near universal scorn, derision and horror that someone could even say such a thing. At least in the court of public opinion and the media – our culture – that’s not going to fly and it seems unlikely to fly with the judge either.

Mack’s case received reasonable media coverage, sadly – mostly – due to the involvement of an MMA fighter.

Cytheria suffered a home invasion and sexual assault by three men, who have been subsequently arrested. While Cytheria’s assault received little coverage, despite heroic efforts by fellow adult film star Mercedes Carrera, the authorities at least took it seriously and the trial is – last I heard – in progress.

Cytheria’s case received little publicity and assistance via crowdfunding etc to help her get past her problems and back on her feet. Aid only came via unconventional sources such as Gamergate and support from people like Mercedes, rather than from women’s groups. Her plight was little spread on social media.

Which brings us to Stoya versus James Deen. Over the weekend Stoya – an adult star and former girlfriend of James – tweeted out a two tweet accusation against Deen that he had raped her. In the wake of this Deen lost several positions in several organisations, work on podcasts and websites and fairly instantly became persona non-grata. Since then, others have come out to accuse him, others to support him, others simply to ask for calm, distance and for it to be taken to due process – innocent until proven guilty.

In this case we have nothing to go on but a couple of tweets. The issue may or may not end up in court either as a prosecution for rape, or as a prosecution for libel. Meantime it’s trial by social media.

Now, what’s interesting in each of these cases is that they have all been taken seriously, in Mack’s case by the authorities, media and the public. In Cytherea’s case by the authorities and in Stoya’s case, by the media and the public. This despite each case being different, one an assault within a relationship, one a stranger assault and the last being a social media accusation of a rape within a relationship.

Unlike the other two, there’s little or nothing to back up the claim when it comes to Stoya’s accusation. Just her word, which while it may be good enough for her friends – and I know some people who are her friends, which makes this awkward – is very likely not enough for a court case, or to establish that he really did do what he’s accused of.

There’s something strange going on though. Those who aren’t immediately ‘listening and believing’ what she said, who are entering notes of caution and that people should be considered innocent until proven guilty are being vilified and attacked as though they were calling Stoya a liar or taking James’ side (as some have). While there have been a few people who have claimed she’s lying – something they can’t possibly know either – asking for due process and presumption of innocence is something different.

For those who know Stoya, her word might be enough to believe her – friendship brings trust, but that shouldn’t be enough for anyone else and it shouldn’t be enough for the kinds of consequences we’re seeing. When two tweets essentially ruin a man’s career on the basis of the mere suggestion that he has done something like this, we have a problem – and we don’t have a rape culture (one that excuses and even condones rape) if a mere accusation has such enormous consequences (loss of career, loss of income) then the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.

Arguing for due process and for the maintenance of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as the standard should not be a controversial position, whether it’s a sex crime or any other sort of crime. We hold to it on the sound basis that we do not wish to punish anyone who is innocent and because of logical principles that also guide our work in science and many other arenas. We should not believe things until such time as we have true reason to believe them – solid evidence, and we should not punish people until we’re reasonably sure (beyond reasonable doubt) that they’ve done wrong.

Trial by social media, demanding that people ‘listen and believe’ when they have nothing to go on, ruining someone’s life before you’ve established their guilt. We’ve seen where that takes us with recent, high profile cases that didn’t turn out to be true (as per the Rolling Stone scandal). We don’t know what’s what in this case, I’m not suggesting it’s fake, nor that it’s true. I’m just pointing out the dangers and the lasting damage caused by hounding and ruining people on a basis that may not turn out to be correct.

And harassing someone to ‘confess’, doesn’t do any good either.

Step back, take a breath, leave it for the court and, otherwise, reserve judgement. It’s no bad thing and it’s not something to insult, harm or claim someone is a ‘rape apologist’ over.

Postscript

It’s also worth mentioning that the Stoya situation has been jumped upon by political opportunists in order to attack sex work, adult film work and BDSM. This has no bearing on the case, but it is worth noting that BDSM and film work have much stronger consent culture than the norm – including contracts in the case of film work. That someone works in, or prefers ‘hard’ sex scenes has no discernible bearing on them being more likely to be rapists than anyone else. The idea, seen repeated around social media some, that actual rape may be taking place on screen, is breathtakingly disgusting and opportunistic.

Rape & Fear – What is a Rational Level of Fear?

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NB: Bitter experience suggests I can’t expect people to parse this correctly. The point is, is the level of fear proportionate to the risk? Is it a rational level of fear? What IS a rational level of fear and threat mitigation? Isn’t more harm done by the fear, than the thing itself? I welcome discussion, but not accusations. Nobody is excusing or covering for rape, or trying to say it isn’t bad.

‘Not having to be terrified when walking home at night’ often seems to come up as an example of ‘male privilege’, but is this a rational thing to fear, is the degree of fear rational?

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales men are about 50% more likely than women to suffer any kind of assault against the person, up to and including all forms of sexual assault, yet men do not fear this to anything like the same degree that women do. Why is this? Do men underestimate risk or do women overrate risk?

We also know that 4/5 of sexual assaults against women are from people known to the victim, rather than random strangers in balaclavas, lurking in alleyways.

In England and Wales in the most recent data I could find, there were around 22,000 rapes annually. Even if we round that up to 25,000 to account for Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK population is about 64,000,000 (50% female) making that around a 0.08% chance of being raped, annually, much less in reality since multiple instances often happen against the same person and with our 4/5 stat that a 0.016% chance of a random sexual assault in the street. This isn’t completely accurate as I haven’t accounted for the rapes and sexual assaults of men, but it shows a general level of risk and men’s statistics are hard to come by on these crimes anyway.

Yet this fear is overriding for many woman. Something that guides everything from how they dress, to the choice to carry a weapon, to not go out at all, to pay extra money for taxis and so on. The fear has a much greater negative overall impact on collective female happiness than the act of sexual assault itself. Men do not carry the same level of fear of being assaulted at all, despite – statistically – being at greater risk and being at greater risk of being injured or killed.

Are the women over-assessing their risk, or are the men under-assessing their risk? What level of risk is it rational to so utterly alter one’s behaviour for and to live in fear of?

Compare with the statistics for car accidents. Around 180,000 traffic accidents happen annually in the UK, many times the risk a woman faces of being sexually assaulted. About a 0.3% risk, annually. Yet people do not act with anything like the same level of fear every time they cross the road or get into a car.

There’s a thing colloquially called ‘The Daily Mail Effect’ which is a phenomenon where, despite crime rates having dropped consistently since the 90s, people with a certain kind of media intake believe it has gone up. There are pensioners shut up in their houses, behind locks like a fortress, because of their massive over-assessment of the level of risk and criminality around them. It severely, negatively impacts people’s lives.

I propose that the fear of rape may be a similar phenomenon, a fear that is grotesquely overrated compared to the level of risk, and one that is massively, negatively impacting on people’s lives.

It’s clear that many people are too emotionally invested in this to have a conversation about it, but to me that just makes it seem more important that this sort of thing be examined coolly, calmly and rationally, looking at the facts.

What is a rational level of fear? Rape is something that happens, but rarely. So are car accidents. So are assaults on men. Why do we fear rarer, less deadly events more than more common, deadlier events?

At what level of risk does it make sense to drastically alter your actions and life choices?

Does not this degree of fear, over such an unlikely event, qualify as a phobia?

What do you think, and what’s your reasoning?

NB: Psychology offers a few insights into why we may be so bad at relative risk assessment, at least on an instinctive level:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200712/10-ways-we-get-the-odds-wrong

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-inertia-trap/201303/why-are-people-bad-evaluating-risks

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/wrong-about-risk-blame-your-brain/

http://freakonomics.com/2011/11/23/the-truth-is-out-there%E2%80%A6isn%E2%80%99t-it-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/