Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The inevitable Thunderf00t, unexpected idiot #1

Thunderf00t has recently squandered a lot of good will due to clueless and classless idiocy.  He made this post then this post then this post.


He began with:

Now first let me say from a strategically point of view sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue (and if reading that has just pushed some buttons, I want you to calmly unplug those emotions and put them in a box, then take a deep breath, relax and read the rest of this reasoned argument)… breathing calmly yet? good!, then we can continue….

And in the later points entirely abandoned the idea of being calm, unemotional and reasonable. He used lots of capital letters and bold and accusations that people who don’t agree with him can’t read.

His arguments so far have been beyond stupid. What’s wrong with you man?  You used to be cool.

Let’s start with his statement above. I’m all for dispassionate discussion, but I’m not a fucking Jedi. I’m not convinced that emotion is irrelevant. Some of the decisions I make about charity donations, for example, are influenced by emotion. I don’t think TF wants us to put those emotions in a box. He just wants to explain in a hopelessly patronising fashion that anyone who has an emotional connection to this particular issue should put that in a box. Because they should listen instead to his reason, which is more important.  Let’s see.

Let’s start with harassment being a non-issue. To be fair, TF is talking from a ‘strategic’ point of view.  I’ve already found a problem. What strategy is this?  It’s the sort of thing you have to make clear before telling everyone what we should do to implement that strategy. TF doesn’t do this.

indeed to a large degree the conference scene is mostly redundant.  A large conference is a couple of thousand people.  In terms of viewership, a mediocre channel such as mine would pull in several tens of thousands of views for a video.  Then of course many of these lectures are repeated from conference to conference, and virtually all of them are available online. 

Conferences are not redundant because they are not only about listening to lectures. They are about networking and about being…well….energised.  About reminding oneself about why you care about this kind of thing in the first place.

Put simply if your primary focus is on the conference scene, then in the internet age, it’s probably misplaced

Doesn’t that depend on what you want to get out of your participation in the community?  I rather think it does.  Misplaced how? How would that effort be better used, exactly? TF doesn’t say.

Further it’s my personal experience that sexual harassment affects only a very significant minority of attendees.  Indeed I personally know prominent women who went to TAM last year who said from a harassment point of view, it was the cleanest TAM yet (battle fought and game won?).  So the full scope of the problem is a minority of a  minority.  As such do you really think this is the priority target where you will get best bang for your buck in terms of focusing hard won resources, or focusing the attention of the online community?

There’s a fallacy here.  We see it all the time in politics.  The opposition party always takes the government to task for dealing with an apparently trivial thing because there are more important things in the world. As though they can’t deal with more than one thing at a time. Why are you worrying about poor educational standards when there are UNICORNS DYING?

The issue is a priority because of the harm it does to (first) people and (second) everyone’s fun if we don’t address it.  If women don’t feel safe, they don’t feel safe and no clueless deciding that this isn’t really a problem is going to change that.  It’s a priority target because we want everyone to have fun at our conferences.  If people don’t feel safe, they aren’t going to have fun.  I’d have thought that was obvious.

Thunderf00t also says:

Now this is not to say that conferences are obsolete (they clearly still have functional roles to play), or that sexual harassment isn’t a bad thing. Sure it exists, I’ve seen it, although it seems to me that such acts overwhelming happen in the bars outside the conference.  I’ve seen some of this first hand, and was happy to help try to resolve the matter in an appropriate and mature fashion.  My personal estimate would be, of the things that aren’t just people being social clutzs, something like 1 guy in 100-1000 (and maybe the odd girl too!) causes almost all of the problems.  My straw poll estimate from half a dozen such meetings is that the ‘harassment’ that goes on in the bars at such meetings is little different from that you would find in practically any other bar in the country.

Well this is just entirely made-up shit and I don’t see how it’s helpful.  Well, it certainly is helpful in setting the scene for TF’s later idiotic assertions, which I’ll get to.

But for now let me finish with this:

… and such problems can of course be dealt with quickly and discretely without spoiling the fun for everyone else (the modus operandi of most nightclubs).

There’s some ambiguity about what ‘such problems’ might be, but also a bigger problem.  TF says that nightclubs have a sort of proto-policy when they maintain the right to kick people out if they want.  He seems to think this is adequate protection for vulnerable people and defends it by saying that the nightclubs are commercial enterprises and know what they’re on about.  But lots of bad shit goes on in nightclubs. People get raped in nightclubs, of course, but I suspect that’s not all that common. But people get groped. People get attacked.  People who are just out for a drink and a dance get harassed into drinking and dancing with particular people.  In many cases, these are not things the victim could report to staff because they wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t care because there is no legal implication and because if they admitted responsibility they might be liable.

I’d like to think conferences can do better than that. I’d like to think they can say how complaints will be dealt with. I’d like to think they can say how complaints – and the way they were dealt with – can be publicised so that people can make more accurate risk assessments about attending those conferences.

Tomorrow’s post (if I get time, it might be the day after) will be about how having an anti-harassment policy is the exact opposite of spoiling everyone’s fun.

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