So Scott Adams has been busy of late getting a reputation as a jackass, and he feels this is unfair, so naturally he published a long blogpost about how everybody is being unfair to him just because he created a sockpuppet account to go on Metafilter and give himself props:
As a general rule, you can’t trust anyone who has a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is like a prison that locks in both the truth and the lies. One workaround for that problem is to change the messenger. That’s where an alias comes in handy. When you remove the appearance of conflict of interest, it allows others to listen to the evidence without judging.
Well, yes, not telling people who you are does remove them of the ability to respond to you, but I have to respect Adams’ ability to try and present lying to people as a positive. People will tend to get offended when you lie to them, and unfortunately just because Adams had reasons for lying to them doesn’t make it not rude to the Metafilterites who honestly engaged his sockpuppet.1 It also manages to conveniently overlook the fact that, even though Adams’ identity was not known by his debate partners, they still disagreed with his points, rendering his “well they would have disagreed with me just for knowing who I was” line of argument basically invalid.
This week for example, I’m the target of Men’s Rights advocates, Feminists, and one bearded taint who is leading an anti-creationist movement. What do those folks have in common? In each case they are using the same strategy. They take out of context something I’ve written, present it to the lazy Internet media who doesn’t check context, and use it to demonize me to gain publicity for their respective causes. That’s how advocates get free publicity. They find a celebrity to target.
Now this deserves honest examination.
Adams portrays himself as the undeserving target of multiple groups, characterizing their anger at him as being the spawn of misunderstanding – either accidental or purposefully created by a nasty third party. The problem is that, for someone who’s complaining about “lazy Internet media,” he’s being awfully lazy in characterizing these attacks. Men’s rights’ activists aren’t pissed at Scott Adams over a misunderstanding: they’re angry at him because he called them a bunch of pussies.2 Feminists aren’t pissed at Scott Adams over a misunderstanding: they’re angry at him because he compared equal work for equal pay to a child wanting candy for dinner and minimized the difference in amount of sacrifice necessary to maintain a job and family that exists between the genders, not to mention the fact that defining weakness by use of the word “pussies” isn’t something feminists traditionally like at all.3 And scibloggers… well, we’ll get to them.
Adams does this regularly: he says something that even an idiot would know is offensive (or at least gratuitously stupid), then gets hurt when people are offended and says “I was only joking” or “it was a thought exercise!” or something else that expresses the general sentiment that it’s everybody else’s fault for taking him seriously when he says something in a thoughtful-seeming tone, even when his actions after the fact make it perfectly obvious that he knows he’s been bad.
Fine, then. Here is a thought exercise. A man repeatedly says things that are obviously likely to provoke people into anger, then, when they get angry, claims that they shouldn’t be getting angry because he was not sincere. Is this A) his fault or B) everybody else’s fault?
The same thing is happening today with a Republican official who emailed some friends a humorous photo of President Obama’s face on a chimp and a punch line about his birth certificate. If your only context is what the Internet says about this story, you assume it’s a typical racist act by a Republican who is already guilty by association.
It’s funny that Scott Adams, in this rant, is complaining about the media being “lazy” by characterizing her as a racist. Why is it funny?
But if I add the context that Googling “George Bush monkey” gives you over 3 million hits, and most of them are jokes where President Bush’s face is transposed on a monkey, you see what’s really going on. Democrats and advocates of civil rights are using the media to further an agenda at the expense of a woman who was probably so non-racist that the photo in question didn’t set off her alarms as being a career-ending risk.
Well, no, it’s not funny because Scott Adams just compared the tired old joke about George Bush having a chimp-like face to the historical racial slur of black people being compared to monkeys, which is a painfully false equivalency because white people also generally don’t get upset when you call them the n-word. It’s because this woman “who was probably so non-racist” has previously defended other people for making racist jokes and statements. It’s a shame Adams didn’t bother to find this out before championing the aforementioned racist, who of course has it just as bad as Adams.4 5
If you wonder how the evolution rumor started, it’s partly because I made the following argument: The evidence for evolution, by its nature, seems fishy to the average non-scientist independent of the underlying truth. That’s a statement about human perceptions, not the objective reality of the theory.
The sciblogger community isn’t pissed at Scott Adams because they think he’s a creationist: they’re pissed at him because he raised a bunch of easily debunked arguments and treated them as reasonable evidence that creationists had a point, then backpedaled and claimed he was only engaging in a “thought exercise” once people pointed out that his arguments were stupid and that all he had done is prove that creationists survive by peddling lies over and over again.6 People don’t get offended by the process of examining why creationism gets a toehold. They get offended when Scott Adams does it really, really badly and in a way which gives unfair credence to creationist arguments.
Besides which, it’s not like Adams ever comes up with anything novel out of these thought experiments.
I will add some context though. Keep in mind that creating the hapless Dilbert character largely in my own image launched a twenty year career of daily self-deprecation. Likewise, about half of what I write outside of the comic is unambiguously self-deprecating. I’m a short, near-sighted, bald, over-the-hill guy with a bad sense of direction and an astonishing lack of competence at 99% of life’s challenges.
Yes, but Adams is also a millionaire many times over, so really, self-deprecation on his part isn’t charming. (Also, frankly it’s amazing that this self-deprecation all of a sudden disappears whenever somebody points out that Adams has said something really dumb, which makes it seem less like humility and more like a minstrel show.)
Let’s take a moment to call back the discussion of how the messenger changes the message. A large number of you are reading my explanation of the evolution rumor and dismissing it as my pathetic attempt at revisionist history. I’m back pedaling! I got caught being a moron and now I’m trying to save face!
See how this works? The messenger with a strong self-interest is automatically non-credible, and should be.
And this is why Adams had to lie about his identity on the internet!
There are some types of information that can only be communicated by an unbiased messenger. And the most unbiased messenger in the world is one that is imaginary, such as my invisible friend, PlannedChaos.
This is simply drivel. An imaginary messenger is by definition biased towards its creator, because that’s how creators roll. “PlannedChaos” wasn’t ever going to give anybody a reasonable, even-handed critique of Adams’ controversial writings, because he was Adams. Of course, possibly Adams will now claim that he was trying to point this out all along and we’re the stupid ones for falling into his trap, but for someone complaining about laziness on the part of his critics, this is the worst kind of argument if it’s intentional, because it’s baiting, pure and simple. We can either assume that Adams is sincere when he initially writes on any topic, or assume he’s full of crap when he writes anything: when you have someone who claims to be baiting people, those are your only two options for dealing with them efficiently.
On the scale of immoral behavior, where genocide is at the top, and wearing Spanx is near the bottom, posting comments under an alias to clear up harmful misconceptions is about one level worse than Spanx.
“HEY YOU GUYS THERE ARE MURDERERS AND RAPISTS AND STUFF OUT THERE SO WHY ARE YOU GETTING ALL MAD AT MEEEEEEEEEEE?”
- His complaint that Metafilter is a “cesspool” is just kind of nuts, because Metafilter is probably one of the most balanced and fair discussionblogs on the interwoobs, but whatever. Maybe Dogbert wrote it. [↩]
- Rightfully. [↩]
- And also there’s the fact that Adams soon deleted the post from his blog, demonstrating that he knew perfectly well that he had written something offensive, and then maintained afterwards that no, that blogpost he hastily deleted was totally cool you guys. [↩]
- Maybe she was engaging in a “thought exercise!” [↩]
- To say nothing of the fact that his argument is just boneheaded. Seriously: who in the hell doesn’t know that you don’t compare black people to monkeys? Like, ever? [↩]
- See also: Adams’ comments on atheism. [↩]