Social Justice The PZ Way

As far as I’m concerned Social Justice is a good cause, and one aspect of it that’s still needed is Feminism. There are injustices against women in many areas of interaction with men, and often at work: about work and in personal interactions at work.

The disputes and claims of harassment can be pretty tough to untangle. The people involved may have ‘history’ (that vague term clearly covers many complex possibilities), and often there are few, if any, witnesses to incidents, but often plenty of opinion and gossip. Work is just like that. It’s a freaky combination of professional and social life where the barriers aren’t always clear.

So this is one situation that requires some level headed treatment, the suspension of judgement, and calm reflected analysis all round – especially since those directly involved are likely to be emotionally charged about the conflict.

Librarians Value Social Justice Too

This happened recently:

Team Harpy – Apologies and retractions

It’s an apology from two harpies (their term) for making false accusations about librarian Joe Murphy (no relation). They accused him of sexual harassment, with nothing to go on but hearsay. The original offending blog posts appeared back in 2014, and the above apology and out of court settlement was announced recently, in March 2015.

Both ‘nina de jesus’ and ‘Lisa Rabey’ start with something similar:

I apologize for the false and damaging statements that I have made about Joe Murphy. I ask you to please read the following statement for details from my perspective. …

Here’s Joe’s page on the background, and the outcome:

MY PUBLIC STATEMENT CONCERNING MY LIBEL CLAIM AGAINST NINA DE JESUS AND LISA RABEY #TEAMHARPY.

Joe signs off on this with:

Now, I don’t know any of the people involved in this stuff. I have some vague recollection of ‘librarians’ and ‘harassment’, but up until this latest announcement I wouldn’t have remembered where I saw it initially.

It did come back to me – but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s have a look at how some librarians dealt with this.

One Librarian’s Response

Other people had something to say at the time, some fellow librarians, some not. Have a look at this link. I’m actually linking to the comment by Natalie Binder (as tweeted by Joe) who makes a few good points.

Natalie Binder’s comment, on the post ‘Update: Librarians Embroiled in Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Harassment’

  1. “I’ve seen a lot of people use their impressions, opinions or gut feelings in place of the facts.”
  2. “Joe Murphy, a colleague, was the victim of a public slander that was pretty shocking in its content as well as deeply damaging and painful for all involved.”
  3. “With so many of us living public lives, we are all vulnerable to rumor, innuendo and even malicious lies. “
  4. “..nobody wants to re-victimize (or libel) someone who was abused by calling her a liar.”
  5. “I think (hope?) that is why more in the library community did not speak up earlier [to re-victimize or libel the abused]. It’s why I didn’t say anything until more information came out. Now I feel like that was a mistake.”
  6. “Anyone can be a victim and everyone deserves due process. It should absolutely be safe to say you’ve been victimized, but the accused should also be protected from personal and professional repercussions until the facts are established. That’s true no matter how successful we are, what gender we are, what age we are or even what our reputations are.”

Now, it seems to me that in some quarters I’ve seen plenty of 1, sometimes expressed in terms of 5, or even just outright acceptance of the accuser’s story; and I’ve seen little consideration given to the other important points that Natalie makes. And I’ve seen categorical rejections of any concern with the last sentence in 6 when it comes to the accused.

Some more points well made by Natalie:

  1. “I think that efforts to blame Mr. Murphy for what happened, or condemn him for seeking legal relief, should stop. It is not a SLAPP when someone defends himself against actual libel.”
  2. “What you think or believe about Mr. Murphy’s behavior, personality or job, it doesn’t justify libel.”
  3. “Finally, we don’t get to make a person a scapegoat for a diffuse and difficult social problem like sexual harassment. This is especially if there is no evidence that he did anything wrong, but it’s true even if he (or she or they) did.”

A-fucking-men!

Read the rest of that OP and comments to get a feel for the problems with sexual harassment that seem to be of genuine concern. I know nothing of their world of librarianship and I don’t know any of the characters. But one thing is pretty clear:

This false accusation will not have helped the genuinely harassed, but it may have helped the falsely accused. That isn’t a balanced result, if you think there’s far more harassment than there is false accusation.

Another Librarian

Whistleblowers and what still isn’t transparent, by Meredith Farkas.

  1. “I don’t take back or regret anything I said about my personal interaction with Joe [see below], but I was horrified by the way he was tarred and feathered — by people who had no first-hand knowledge of him or his alleged crimes — on social media.”
  2. “It’s been no secret among many women (and some men) who attend and speak at conferences like Internet Librarian and Computers in Libraries that Joe Murphy has a reputation for using these conferences as his own personal meat markets. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. I’ve known these allegations since before 2010, which was when I had the privilege of attending a group dinner with him.”
  3. “He didn’t sexually harass anyone at the table that evening, but his behavior was entitled, cocky, and rude. He barely let anyone else get a word in edgewise because apparently what he had to say (in a group with some pretty freaking illustrious people) was more important than what anyone else had to say. The host of the dinner apologized to me afterwards and said he had no idea what this guy was like. And that was the problem.”
  4. “When Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus (AKA #teamharpy) wrote about behavior from Joe Murphy that many of us had been hearing about for years, I believe they though they were acting as whistleblowers, though whistleblowers who had only heard about the behavior second or third-hand, which I think is an important distinction.”
  5. “That said, that this information comes second or third-hand does concern me. I don’t know for a fact that Joe Murphy is a sexual predator. Do you? Here’s what I do know. Did he creep out women at conferences? Yes. Did he behave like an entitled jerk at least some of the time? Yes. Do many people resent the fact that a man with a few years of library experience who hasn’t worked at a library in years is getting asked to speak at international conferences when all he offers is style and not substance? Yes.”
  6. “While all of the rumors about him that have been swirling around for at least the past 4-5 years may be 100% true, I don’t know if they are. I don’t know if anyone has come out and said they were harassed by him beyond the general “nice shirt” comment that creeped out many women.”
  7. “As anyone who has read my blog for a while knows, I am terrified of groupthink. So I feel really torn when it comes to this case. Part of me wonders whether my dislike of Joe Murphy makes me more prone to believe these things. Another part of me feels that these allegations are very consistent with my experience of him and with the rumors over these many years. But I’m not going to decide whether the allegations are true without hearing it from someone who experienced it first-hand.”

So, basically there’s this guy that some people find cocky and rude; and maybe some people have been all too eager to prop up rumours, maybe enhance them through the reliable process of gossip – reliable in muddying waters not clarifying them. What these two women did was not whistleblowing. That was rumour mongering.

And, “I’m not going to decide whether the allegations are true without hearing it from someone who experienced it first-hand.” – Good call.

A couple of comments from Meredith’s post:

Chris – “I’ve been following this. I have read both Lisa’s tweets and Nina’s blog posts and neither has first-hand knowledge of Joe’s actions. Rather, they have heard about his actions from others and are “spreading the word.” I have also met Joe Murphy. I was not impressed and thought he was a rude jerk, but he did not harass me. At the risk of being unpopular, I don’t believe this is a clear cut “Lisa and Nina are victims and must be supported against the big mean Joe Murphy.” While it is true that our justice system is unfair at an aggregate level, this is an individual case and for all I know it could be an outlier.”

Anonymous Librarian – “I agree this is sad for everyone. There’s a lot of discussion about this topic so I don’t feel too bad hijacking here… So, “Nice shirt” is creepy now. I don’t know what is safe to say to a coworker anymore. I remember recently saying I liked a coworker’s new hairstyle, and now I’m paranoid I’ll get called into the HR office any day now. When this drama first came out, I immediately stopped personal conversation with my coworkers. It’s strictly professional, now. Not even a “Hey, cool bag!” Because sexual harassment is very serious and, as Meredith points out, there’s often little evidence and things devolve into a case of “he said-she said”. Most might dismiss this as extreme/paranoid, but who can afford to have their career ruined by a misunderstanding? I’d rather my coworkers think of me as impersonal, boring, and overly-serious than a creep.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but all that seems like decent people dealing with a very tricky problem, and actually speaking out about their reservations. They really do want to support victims of harassment, but aren’t prepared to join a lynch mob.

A Lynch Mob

This is an example of a lynch mob:

Librarians, too?

Myers:

“I love librarians, they always seem to be the most sensible people, and here it comes, a familiar story.”

Any chance a leaf might be taken out of their many sensible books?

OK, so Myer’s is sort of just reporting the issue here. Or so it seems. But he’s not normally shy about actually calling people out directly himself. Is he being circumspect about his own view for the same reasons as the good sensible librarians above? Balanced justice? His reticence can’t be anything to do with the fact that he’s been called out several times by many people for explicit but unsupported accusations? Does he warn his pack of hounds to maybe wait for more information? Not quite:

Myers:

“Battle on!”

A true Social Justice Warrior!

And battle on his pack do, in their usual style. Myers no longer needs to expose himself to criticism for libelling or smearing someone, he only has to set the bait. Nice move. I can’t see Joe Murphy suing Myers for this.

Pieter Droogendijk:

“What a reprehensible slimeball. If the ladies lose this, my faith in humanity will be officially gone.”

Guilty! Doesn’t matter if the ‘ladies’ lose this because they lied, made shit up, spread rumours and elaborated. Guilty.

Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

“I suspect if the two get enough funds for discovery to happen, the lawsuit will go the way of the great auk. It’s one thing to try intimidation, it’s another to battle the truth and show it is lies, with plenty of witnesses saying you are sexual predator. Good enough for lawsuits, where the preponderance of evidence, not beyond a shadow of doubt, supposedly wins…..”

Plenty of witnesses indeed. How do you know there are plenty of witnesses? A classic theologian’s move: God inspired the Bible. How do I know? Because the Bible told me so. Well, the two harpies told him so?

Tony! The Queer Shoop:

“And this: [lawsuit] is the sign of an asshole trying to silence women. Fuck you Joe Murphy.”

Ah, Tony. Where would PZ be without Tony to do the dirty work. As reliable as ever. So, Tony, nobody starts a lawsuit because they are innocent?

YOB – Ye Olde Blacksmith:

“Fuck you, Joe Mrphy. Money sent.”

And I hope you think well spent.

echidna:

“The blogpost comments include a remark that he bragged on youtube, creating his own evidence.”

So, echidna (step 1) says the comments include a remark (step 2) that he bragged on youtube (step 3) – hearsay, three steps from the supposed source, not counting any other intermediaries hidden and not yet revealed by the source of the ‘remark’. OK, evidenced based commenting at its best.

thelastholdout:

“Well, you know what they say. The easiest defense against a libel/slander allegation is the truth. In a just world, all they should need to do is bring forward multiple women who have been harassed by this fucker and/or emails and other correspondence between women instituting the buddy system and other measures they’ve taken to protect themselves from this assclown, and he would be laughed out of court.
Then again, it’s hardly a just world for women. :(“

Yeah, fuck it if there possibly, maybe, might have been actual libel, let’s just focus on doing the right thing, for the accuser presumed victim!

Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought (love theromantic names the FtB commenters give themselves):

“Seconding Alex in #18. What the fuck? It’s absurd that Joe Murphy can do this.” – [about the injustice of being sued]

There are problems when rich people get better access to the law. But WTF, a librarian can’t defend himself if he thinks he’s wrongly accused?

Remember that with all this, it’s not about whether Joe Murphy was actually guilty of harassment, or that the two women made shit up based on rumour – though of course to him that was what it was about.

What I mean is: This is about other people that know fuck all about the case making the accused guilty on the internet.

But, luckily for Joe Murphy he doesn’t live in this world:

Officials: Woman Beaten to Death for Burning Quran Was Wrongly Accused

Yeah, lucky Joe.

Summing Up

Well, where’s this going? In the words of Lisa, one of the two retractors:

“Myself, and I assume everyone involved, want to move on. Please respect that wish.”

I’ve not seen an update from Myers and co, so I guess he must be respecting that wish. Yes, that must be why they’ve not wanted to admit they were wrong to presume the accusers were telling the truth and the accused is guilty. I mean, had Joe’s case gone ahead and failed (yes, simply failed to prove libel, not that Joe had actually harassed) then they would have been all over this like a rash.

The trouble is, outside this crappy behaviour most people think that PZ Myers is probably a good guy – No, Pitters, really, he is. He wants to do the right thing, and he often does. I still read his blog. It’s good enough often enough, when he isn’t a) being a shit of an ideologue with his brand of feminism, b) being a shit with anyone that doesn’t meet his ideal.

Yes, you can still be a good guy while being a bit of a shit from time to time, or when you’re a bit obsessive about unreasonable standards of perfection – ironic given how much grief he gives people for being a bit of a shit occasionally, or simply for persisting in calling out his smears.

That sort of hyperbole just has so many people looking at Myers right now and thinking, WTF?

This is the shit that shows that someone that has a desire for social justice has turned into an ideologue – a Social Justice Warrior!

9 thoughts on “Social Justice The PZ Way

  1. Sarah Houghton’s involvement as part of Team Harpy should not be ignored. Sarah did not apologize to Joe and has been quiet on the issue. That does not mean everyone else should give her a pass.

  2. SafeLibraries,

    Welcome, and thank you. I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with the people involved – I have no connection with any of the librarians mentioned in this post. My purpose was to draw attention to the way in which jumping on the bandwagon of internet blaming and shaming can go so wrong.

    So, being so ignorant of the librarian scene I didn’t know of Sarah Houghton until your comment. For anyone else interested this is Sarah’s FAQ on Team Harpy:

    http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/team-harpy-faq/

    From a simple site search that does indeed look like her last comment on the matter, on her blog at least.

    1. Okay, thanks. She was not a party in the lawsuit. However, she acted as “treasurer” for Team Harpy and also acted as a witness of sorts to what turned out to be major fakery. She has not apologized, I have learned.

      Okay, you are unfamiliar with the people involved. So get this. Sarah Houghton, who assisted Team Harpy in “jumping on the bandwagon of internet blaming and shaming,” and who had not apologized for having done so, is also the American Library Association’s top expert on another fakery, namely, the false claim that Internet filters in public libraries do not work. For example, when ALA publishes its fourth edition of its “Intellectual Freedom Manual,” this Team Harpy faker who has not apologized will be the author of two sections on how library Internet filters do not work.

      So, quite literally, the ALA’s top expert claiming Internet filters do not work is the very same person as the Team Harpy member who did not apologize. Can you believe? Imagine the effect if this were a court of law and she was your expert. How far would you get with convincing people of her veracity and how fast?

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