The Husband Stitch: Thoughts On Mythicist Milwaukee
In her brilliant essay “What I don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch,’ ” which is about Carmen Maria Machado’s possibly even more wonderful short story “The Husband Stitch” (you should read them both), Jane Dykema says, “This is not an essay about the husband stitch. It’s an essay about believing and being believed.” What follows is a long overdue blog about what took place leading up to and at the Mythicist Milwaukee convention, but it’s not really about Mythicist Milwaukee. It’s about believing and being believed.
So, like the narrator of “The Husband Stitch,” I’m obligated to tell you a story. And, ironically, it is one that you will believe. Because I’m well spoken, because I’m a little bit famous, and because I am a man.
So mythicism, within atheism, is largely a response to a movement of apologetics made popular by William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel in the early 2000’s that sought to historically legitimize the Gospels, especially in regard to the resurrection. And while what is required to debunk the resurrection is the fact that human beings don’t come back to life, mythicists sought to debunk the existence of Jesus Christ entirely. Now, I should point out that mythicism, historically and academically speaking, is not well regarded. It has reasonable proponents like Richard Carrier, whose work in mythicism is largely based on debunking the gospels with what may occasionally be considered some embellishment and reaching, but mythicism also contains out-and-out loons who believe that Jesus Christ was invented by the pope in the 4th Century.
The legitimacy of mythicism as an ideology is actually beside the point. I leave that to historians; the point is that mythicism created a group within atheism that was passionate, unified, and (most importantly) had a proclivity for not caring about the truth. The mythicists were, in short, the perfect group to be infected by the anti-social justice vein in the atheist movement.
We promoted their largest convention, Mythicist Milwaukee, on our shows last year, as well as their movie. We met the organizers, Sean and Brian, at our Live God Awful movies in Chicago, and they were both eager for bigger things in 2017. They asked us and Cognitive Dissonance if we’d appear at the con and we said we were open to the idea. Shortly after this request, Brian followed up to see whether we could finalize so that they could announce our appearance. Looking on their website (as I always do when we’re asked to go somewhere) I noticed that they had invited two YouTubers who didn’t quite fit in with the rest of their line up: Shoe0nhead and The Armoured Skeptic.
Shoeonhead, whose real first name is “June,” is an anti-feminist who has moved further left in recent years but is known to me for her video “How Many Genders,” a video mocking three people describing their gender identities. Through grapevine of grapevine of grapevine I’m told that she regrets this, has demonetized the video, and apologized. I don’t follow her work closely enough to say anything other than that I believe her. She spends as much time tweeting about TERFS as she does about feminism, and I don’t think there’s much else I can say about her beliefs other than that she feels more comfortable using racial slurs than I think she should.
Armored Skeptic, whose real first name is “Greg,” is another character altogether, in my mind. He seems to be a true believer in the YouTube movement against social justice and is either wrong or dishonest on such a regular basis that, unlike June, I find it very difficult to attribute good faith to his intentions.
I don’t know either of these people but I spoke to both of my partners, as well as Tom and Cecil, and we decided that we would rather not share a stage with them. We did not tell Mythicist Milwaukee this. Both June and Greg have smaller audiences than ours and de-platforming them through withdrawal or threat of withdrawal wasn’t something that interested us.
I did, however, maintain personal interest in the convention because Thomas Smith of the Serious Inquiries Only Podcast had been scheduled to interview Dave Rubin. Now, as I’ve said before, I disagree with Dave Rubin on a lot. I liked him better when he did a Golden Girls fan show, but I thought that the interview was just what the atheist community needed. We are divided along the lines of social justice, and I still believe that the conversation between Dave and Thomas would have been fruitful.
Sadly, because of family obligations Rubin pulled out and the organizers replaced him with a YouTuber named Sargon of Akkad whose real first name…is Carl. Sargon is a different beast entirely than June and Greg. In the conversations surrounding Mythicist Milwaukee the three have been grouped together, and I think that’s a mistake. I believe Greg and June to be wrong about many things. I’d even go so far as to say that Greg has demonstrated dishonesty. But they aren’t spiteful or victimizing. Ignorant? Yes. Too famous for their own good? Almost certainly. But they are NOT Sargon. Firstly because Sargon, unlike Greg and June, is not an atheist or skeptic YouTuber who shifted to an anti-social justice platform. He’s an anti-social justice youtuber who Atheism has shifted towards.
His content has always been about social justice. He rose to YouTube fame on the back of Gamergate. His first videos were about Anita Sarkeesian and he acquired his following as a sort of YouTube Kaiser Soze who was willing to say things to her and other feminists that other critics weren’t, with fans who were especially vicious. Most famously, in response to an online anti-bullying campaign Carl tweeted to the member of parliament behind it, a sexual assault victim herself, “I wouldn’t even rape you.” And that incident wasn’t a one-off. He has publicly praised and been praised by Richard Spencer, calling him /our guy/, which is 4chan speak for a fellow white supremacist, or at least an ally. He’s the inventor of Kekistan, a satirical country that internet trolls claim makes fun of all identity politics, but that is really a barely concealed dog whistle to white supremacists. However, despite a reasonably large platform of 700,000 subscribers, at least some of which are probably real, he, June, and Greg are fairly unknown in mainstream atheism. They aren’t part of the atheist movement because, as their channels, social medias, and own words attest, they are anti-social justice advocates who HAPPEN to be atheists. In the age of Trump, their videos are about feminists and YouTubers they disagree with, and their atheism is about as core to their brand as the color of their hair.
I could, and probably will, write an entire separate blog about why we shouldn’t let people like this discourage us from participating in organized atheism, but the reason I point this out is that the Mythicist Milwaukee conference organizers have admitted themselves, in several interviews, that they ONLY invited these YouTubers because of the size of their platforms. To put butts in seats.
It’s what happens AFTER these invites are extended that made me think of “The Husband Stitch” and the idea of being believed, because it was as the news of these speakers’ invitations grew that women, people of color, and other minorities in our movement asked Mythicist Milwaukee to uninvite the speakers and, failing that, for the other speakers and guests Seth Andrew, Matt Dillahunty, and Aron Ra to pull out in solidarity. And as it became clear that Mythicist Milwaukee organizers not only didn’t care about the terrible things their guests had said but actively enjoyed the attention they were getting from the controversy, this pressure shifted onto the latter.
Which is where I come in. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, even my self-hating own imagination, the villain of this story. Where I stand on social justice issues, I like to think, is fairly clear. However, I have a weakness for debate. As I’ve said on this blog, I am the sucker and ignoring the voices of the people I claim to fight for I publicly supported the conversation between Carl and Thomas, as I believed it to be in good faith. I supported the choice of the invited speakers to attend because I believed that it would be an opportunity to expose bad ideas for what they were, but more importantly I believed that I knew better than the people who were asking me to help them.
I wrote a status in support of the convention and the conversation. I acknowledged the fears about the speakers, but I dismissed them. What I should have done is listened. What I should have done is gotten on the phone and asked the people involved, whose ear I had to change things. What I did instead is ignore the people who were warning me and left the asking to people who are, if I may be bold, absolutely terrible at asking.
Look, I really don’t want this blog to get bogged down in who said what to whom. It was a failure of our community. Suffice it to say the people who were right where I was wrong did not do a good job of convincing people who should have been on their side. The conversation quickly turned from the abhorrent behavior of the invited speakers to the good guys fighting amongst ourselves and I, like many people, tuned out.
And I wasn’t the only one. Filling the cracks of all of this discussion of the convention, who had been booked, and who had said what to whom, was the undercurrent of a herd of white male atheists like myself asking, “What?” On every post, comment, and video one of us had to volunteer “I don’t know much about Carl but I don’t know…seems like it’s just more drama.” And this was compounded by the infighting on the pro-social justice side. It seemed like drama because we we’re so busy attacking each other that what we were fighting about got lost in a hail of insults and thus, underneath every comment and post asking for help, there seemed to be a mirror of myself asking why we should care.
I like to think, given the behavior of the organizers since, that I would have been on the right side of this thing if I had been aware of their true intentions; that I would have listened. But If I’m honest, I don’t know if that’s true. As Machado’s narrator says of her husband, “He is not a bad man, and that, I realize suddenly, is the root of my hurt.” Which is why what happens next is so much worse.
On October 30th I’m in Salt Lake City, living on the other side of the atheist movement. The experience that so often blinds me. Flown across the country on the dollar of listeners who have paid REAL money to see me while Thomas was debating Sargon, I was eating lunch with Mark and Dan of Thank God I’m Atheist, Noah, and Heath, all of whom I have no business sharing the stage with, but I saw posts from people who were there and they were…off. There’s a kid wearing a Kekistani flag. There are dozens of “Make America Great Again” hats.
And then, I’m texted a link to a Facebook post of a ten-second video clip. I watched Thomas bring up the quote to Carl — “I wouldn’t even rape you”…and the crowd…cheers. At an atheist conference. On the bill with a debate about the future of Islam moderated by Matt Dillahunty and the screening of a movie about the historicity of Jesus, there is a cheering ovation for mocking a sexual assault victim.
I froze when watching the clip. Literally froze. Oh god, what if a rape victim is in the audience? How must that have felt? How could this have happened? How could I have let this happen? How could WE have let this happen?
And sure enough, that night, there it was. All my fears realized. A little YouTube channel. She likes my shows. I’ll call her CC. On Twitter, shared by a friend. “I watched this and broke down in tears. As a rape victim I will never forget this. It’s devastating. And I will never forgive it, either.”
Look, when I joined Scathing Atheist it became very clear to me that I wasn’t going to be as smart as Noah or even as funny as Heath. But I could take the platform they gave me and use it to fight for the things I was passionate about. I could let people know that they are welcome here. That they are safe and loved here. That EVEN the dick joke puppy rape movie guy was there for them. That we were different. And when it comes to Mythicist Milwaukee, I failed.
And before you come to my defense or tell me my heart is in the right place, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to her. I’ve talked before about being a bully as a kid and what I learned from that is that now doesn’t matter. There is no magic spell when you hurt someone. You live with it. You live with it forever. And no matter how many people pull me aside to tell me how much my show means, or how much I’ve helped them, I didn’t help her. It doesn’t change that night where she and all the other people who didn’t tweet about it sat at home, feeling alone.
Because we didn’t listen. Because I didn’t listen. See, here’s the thing: the people who fought to stop this thing have hearts and minds in the right places, but they either lack my power or my charm. So the only voices people heard were the extreme ones. The ones who didn’t ask nice enough. And no, you shouldn’t have to ask nice, of COURSE. You shouldn’t have to ask at all, but I’m good at asking nice. I could have helped. I could have stepped in with the good guys before the name calling and the infighting started. Before everyone on the right side of this thing was too busy fighting amongst ourselves to stop it. Fuck, I probably could have offered Mythicist Milwaukee a goddamn live show. I have to believe I could have helped. People asked me to help. And I didn’t listen.
And this was the major disappointment of the whole Mythicist Milwaukee incident for me. Not the invitation of assholes as speakers. Cons accidentally invite idiots all the time. Bigotry and anti-intellectualism is having its day with President Trump and Shitlordcon was inevitable. That is not what bothered me. What bothered me is what I saw from the uninformed when they, personally, became educated enough to see that these speakers didn’t deserve a platform.
On one thread in particular I saw as a response to the “I wouldn’t even rape you tweet” a comment from, surprisingly, a white guy saying, “Don’t you see? You’re giving him so much more attention. I’m going to go watch his videos now.” In response…to SEEING the “I wouldn’t even rape you” tweet. On another thread someone said, “Can someone sum this up in a single sentence for me?” and when someone did his response was, “Don’t see what the big deal is. If you don’t like the speaker don’t go.”
Hell, this whole blog is necessitated by the fact that I could NOT write it without telling the story. If I began this post here, if I just talked about why we, as a community, need to start listening and believing when the people who pay attention to this poison tell us something or someone is dangerous, I would get a dozen comments asking me what the fuck I was talking about. We considered talking about it on Scathing but realized that it would not only be giving attention where we didn’t want it but that we’d have to devote 20 entirely non-humourous minutes to the subject just to prevent 10 thousand emails, comments, and tweets of motherfucking whataboutery.
Look, all the things we expected to learn are being learned from this disaster. Everyone has come out against Mythicist Milwaukee who even begins to matter. There is NO member of organized atheism who will touch them with a ten-foot pole. Hell, they pissed off Andy Wilson. Andy Wilson. From Merseyside Skeptics and the organizer of QED. The nicest human on the planet. You know what I would do if Andy Wilson wrote a facebook status about what a piece of crap I am? I’d will myself inside-out with shame. They lost 12,000 dollars, and then used a GoFundMe fundraiser to get it back through shitlords who will NOT do that again — a fundraiser, by the way, that will very likely lose them their nonprofit status because of fundraising laws and disclosure. And every conference organizer I’ve spoken to in the last 3 months has said, “We don’t want another Mythicist Milwaukee.”
But this will happen again if we, as the secular community, cannot learn to listen. We need to release the worship of our own skepticism and understand that “I don’t know about all that” does not mean that NOBODY KNOWS. Does not mean that you get to be neutral to people’s requests for help until you’ve made your own personal decision. I hope we all learn that when the vulnerable members of our community tell us that someone is a predator, or a racist, or a misogynist who will make this community unsafe for them and others, our answer can’t be skepticism. And look, of course you are not obligated to memorize every YouTube asshole and Twitter moron, but if we want to be a welcoming community, if we want to be a humanist movement, you ARE obligated to listen to the people who do.
And that’s where I failed. That’s where I failed you, where I failed myself, and where I failed CC. And so CC, I’m sorry. I should have done what I could. I should have smiled big and asked nice and stopped this thing in its tracks. I should have listened when you asked for help. And you deserved better.
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