I wanted to take some time out from my usual postings to discuss an event that happened over the weekend in the US. Now, I know that much more important and upsetting events have taken place in the US and to say this pales in comparison may well be the greatest understatement ever published on the internet. This isn't about Puerto Rico or the terrible events that unfolded in Las Vegas. This is far less severe, upsetting and frankly important as those events. That's not to say it doesn't matter though.
Last Saturday at Mythcon Milwaukee, an event organised by Mythicist Milwaukee, an organisation that promotes ideas such as freedom from religious bigotry and hatred, a discussion was held between Thomas Smith and Swindon's most viewed vlogger Carl Benjamin (left), better known by the screen name Sargon of Akkad. Before the event, there was a significant effort to have Carl "deplatformed" which I don't think was the right tactic, but I understand why it happened (and I suspect you will shortly). I don't believe in "deplatforming" in general, my argument for not including Carl was simply "he isn't even remotely rational or what I'd call skeptic" so why should he be there?
The organisers met these complaints by suggesting that Carl is an "entertainer" justifying his inclusion.
Sargon is currently being hailed as the leader of a new skeptical community by his supporters and critics alike, he's massively popular with well over half a million Youtube subscribers and he has over 3,000 Patreon doners paying him almost $9000 dollars a month. This is despite that fact that up until recently Carl was a 9-11 truther, he believes the Pizzagate conspiracy actually occurred and on a recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Show, he repeated an Alex Jones talking point. Namely that chemicals in drinking water are turning frogs "gay". This is the problem with these new "skeptics" they don't use the scientific method or critical thinking. The one time Carl attempted to use a scientific paper he fudged it so comprehensively it was laughable. There was a good case to be made that he failed to even read the first page of the study he cited. He's not alone: Armoured Skeptic, also a guest at the same convention, is frequently criticised for piss-poor research. Youtuber Naked Ape makes laughable videos about voting Trump not because he agreed with a single policy, but because it made him feel good and pissed off "SJWs".
The image below shows how Carl describes his "work" on Patreon. This is how he lays out his storefront.
"Sargon of Akkad is creating arguments" Indeed he is. But skepticism has never just been about creating contrary points. It's about the methodology you employ to do that. The lose definition Carl's supporters use to place him in the skeptical movement, would also be lax enough to also include Ray Comfort, who is creating arguments like "The Banana: an atheist's nightmare" against evolution into the skeptical community.
|Ray Comfort creating arguments|
Let me give an example of how exactly Carl goes about "creating arguments." In June last year, Mr Benjamin decided to respond to Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament in the UK, in response to a comment Phillips had made regarding rape threats she had received online. Phillips was affiliated with a group that aimed to reduce the volume of harassment women receive online, which Carl took umbrage to. Quite why anyone would find the idea of reducing harassment offensive boggles the mind really. Even if you don't think women receive much harassment on the internet, and it isn't really a problem, surely the idea that there should be less is still a valid thing? I mean to most rational people less of any bad thing is a good thing.
Well, not to Carl.
He decried this movement as “social communism” one of a series of phrases that Carl uses without much apparent understanding (Here's the actual definition of "social communism": "Social communism is a system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds the power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people."(1) ) So how did Carl decide to present his disagreement with Phillips' ideals? A well worded and considered blog post? A well researched and argued Vlog? A long social media post, which despite being light-weight made some valid points?
If you answered "yes" or even "maybe" to any of those questions, firstly: don't they're rhetorical. Secondly, you really don't know Carl. Benjamin decided that rather than take any of those courses of action, he would instead tweet Phillips a response.
Yeah, he responded to a woman commenting about rape threats by telling her he wasn't prepared to rape her. To add insult to injury, as normally happens when Carl decides to take issue with someone, it's prefaced by a deluge of sycophantic followers doing EXACTLY the same thing, in this case resulting in Phillips receiving over 600 tweets by morons telling her they would also not deem her attractive enough to rape.
If you didn't already think Carl was a vile little scumbag incapable of making a salient point, he attempted to defend his actions in an interview for the Times (2).
"“I never made any threats,” he says. “It was a classic example of how the regressive left tries to shame and silence anybody who disagrees with them. Any criticism of a woman by a man is called misogyny. It’s ridiculous.”"Whether you consider what Benjamin said a threat or not is somewhat subjective, I personally don't. But that doesn't preclude it from being completely vile, hateful and unwarranted. And yes, it's deeply misogynistic. The irony here is Carl decided in order to counter the comments of a woman who believes talk of rape and misogyny is rampant on the internet, he actively increased the amount of misogyny and rape threats on the internet, therefore reinforcing Phillips' argument.
With enemies like Carl who needs allies?
Now picture that screeching caricature of a feminist there, demanding the rights of others be restricted. Isn't this EXACTLY what Carl is doing with this petition in demanding that university students rights to be exposed to ideas he doesn't agree with? Ideas that are offensive to him?
Hypocrisy thy name is Carl.
If you want an idea of just how facile this petition was, consider Carl never specified which Universities it was aimed at or which courses he objected to. His "letter" explaining these facts suggests that if intellectuals had weight classes, Carl would struggle to make bantamweight. I haven't edited this, below is legitimately his letter to "universities". Quite why they aren't paying attention to him bewilders me.
Its fucking horrible though.
All this should give you an idea of who Carl is so you won't be too surprised to learn that his appearance at Mythcon was pretty shameful. When Thomas Smith raised the subject of Carl's tweets to Jess Phillips, a significant portion of the crowd cheered. Carl proceeded to point to them in appreciation as lamely as one could expect for a rock star from Swindon. Buoyed by the support he stated he didn't care about the reaction people had to his tweets. I think this reaction from the crowd upset Smith as much as it did me.
You can watch that here: https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/914264270740877314
I never thought I'd see the day when a crowd of "skeptics" would cheer the idea of tweeting about rape to anyone. I've listened to arguments from others who've left the skeptical community because they claimed it's becoming toxic, and I've argued against them.
How can I do that now?
Maybe they saw this element growing and I didn't. The fact that many of the people who warned me were women shames me.
That cheer blindsided me.
This support from a vile piece of shit from Swindon, caught me off guard. I genuinely thought he'd be laughed out of Mythcon. That he'd be booed off stage not welcomed as a hero. I'll always be a skeptic, I'll always use critical thinking and the scientific method to assess claims and ideas that are presented to me. But as far as I can make the change, I won't use that label to promote myself anymore. I can't and won't be associated with men like Carl of Swindon.
Little men, with little ideas, little charm, little wit and little intelligence.
More about Carl Benjamin.