Ok, so this has been going on for a while but I finally have the time to talk about it. Richard Carrier has left Freethought Blogs — at least temporarily — because of accusations made about him that resulted in his getting banned from Skepticon. Carrier’s first post discussing the situation is here. P.Z. Myers’ first comment on it is here. The statement from the Ethics Committee at Freethought Blogs is here, which includes comments from Myers about Carrier threatening to use, based on personal conversations that he won’t tell us about directly, but will instead make lots of insinuations about. Carrier’s comments on the departure are here.
For those who don’t care for FTB or Carrier or the Social Justice/Atheism+ banner, this situation would certainly cause a fair amount of schadenfreude. From my perspective, though, all I get is irony overload. Carrier relies so heavily on promoting “ethical polyamory” is being accused of, well, seeking that out unethically. FTB seems to be heading straight into pretension theory by having an “Ethics Committee” that’s supposed to judge … something, I guess, because it’s not really supposed to be about content, but then that means that all it’s doing is judging the actions of people when they aren’t on the network and using that to make decisions about their participation. At least Thunderf00t was arguably tossed for things he did on the network, not his later actions. Also, we have an “Ethics Committee” that didn’t include the person who has written formally about ethics. And the person who was their best example for someone who could demonstrate that you can be good without God … wasn’t good without God. On the other hand, the only reason they consider him to be acting wrongly is because he was looking for sex and a lot of the comments — for example, issues over why a young woman would want to have sex with a man of Carrier’s age — aren’t really sex positive, although Greta Christina points out that being sex positive doesn’t mean allowing anything. Still, many of the comments seem to be saying that it’s creepy that he asked at all, and not just that he asked badly.
Those who were hoping that those on the Social Justice side would be more forgiving of Carrier than of others didn’t really get their wish. Sure, some were more willing to give Carrier some leeway, but for the most part they came down hard on him as well. This, though, ought not have been a surprise considering that Social Justice Atheists have consistently been putting their Social Justice values first, and excluding people who don’t conform to them, which includes the idea that if someone — well, okay, a man — makes a woman uncomfortable, then that’s wrong and harassment. Now, the counter that Carrier can make in these cases, though, is that they were only made uncomfortable because of a society impression that sex is some kind of special thing that ought be talked about in hushed tones and obliquely, which is bad for society. He could concede that he might have pushed it too far — he did that in one case already — and accept that he needs to do better, but point out that the problem is really society, not him. And a discussion could ensue over that except that it’s clear that all sides of the Social Justice grouping are generally unwilling to discuss anything that disagrees with their ideas, so that’s out.
But there’s a lot here to talk about, including if someone who inadvertently makes someone uncomfortable is the one who has to seen to be at fault, and is at fault even if the person made uncomfortable tries very hard to hide their discomfort from them. There’s also an issue if these sorts of harassment things are inadvertently sexist, in that even if they are written in a gender-neutral manner in practice they put all of the responsibility on men and take it all away from women because men are the ones who are expected to make sexual/romantic moves first, and especially ones that are more explicit (the same issue arises with “enthusiastic consent”). There’s also the question if the codes themselves are biased towards recognizing what women feel makes them uncomfortable while ignoring certain sorts of flirting or even dress that make men uncomfortable. If, for example, I said that I found how a woman dressed to imply someone overly sexual even while acknowledging that she didn’t really mean it that way, the reaction would be that the problem was with me, and that I was attempting to control her … but in certain contexts overly sexual clothing should be as much of a problem as overly sexual speech. And so on.
What we know for certain is that Carrier violated the agreement he had with the organization to not hit on students, and did so repeatedly. Carrier, however, is certainly of the mind that he doesn’t need to follow rules that he things stupid, and so wouldn’t let that stop him (which is, to my mind, a problem for his morality). For everything else, there’s lots of irony to go around.