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Sam Harris on Defamation; Comments on David Deutsch and Others Defaming Me

This is part of a series of posts explaining the ongoing harassment against me from David Deutsch and his associates and fans.

Sam Harris in his Response to Controversy post (from 2013):

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the charges can be made to stick, the victim eventually seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original calumnies will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on controversial topics and with a philosopher’s penchant for describing the corner cases—the ticking time bomb, the perfect weapon, the magic wand, the mind-reading machine, etc.—in search of conceptual clarity. It literally becomes child’s play to find quotations that make the author look morally suspect, even depraved.

Whenever I respond to unscrupulous attacks on my work, I hear from smart, supportive readers who say that I needn’t have bothered. In fact, many write to say that any response is counterproductive, because it only draws more attention to the original attack and sullies me by association. These readers think that I should be above caring about, or even noticing, treatment of this kind. Perhaps. I actually do take this line, sometimes for months or years, if for no other reason than that it allows me to get on with more interesting work. But […]

These are problems I'm dealing with. Some people think I'm overly reactive, thin-skinned or reputation-focused because I've written too many blog posts about the persistent, ongoing, criminal harassment against me. And I keep using strong, rude words like "criminal" and "harassment".

The harassment has been severe enough – for multiple years – that I've closed free, public comments. They are closed right now. The harassment is affecting me and my community today.

Defending myself by telling my story derails this blog and focuses it away from my usual topics. But not defending myself is awful too. They stalk me to other forums. If I try to use Less Wrong, Twitter, Reddit, Basecamp, Discord, Slack, etc., they can and do stalk and harass me there. And on those sites, I don't have adequate tools to protect myself. On a website I control, I can at least install security tools of my choice that give me a chance to defend myself (that's hard and unreliable, which is why I made a new forum with a paywall, but it works much better than defending myself on other sites).

Twitter (for example) allows you to block users, but that doesn't do me much good. They can and do create many different accounts. They also impersonate beginners, fans or any other group of people I want to talk with. They also post ambiguously hostile stuff, passive aggressive derailing, concern trolling, and other attempts to be unpleasant. They sometimes try to make it negative but ambiguous about whether it might be an actual new person unaffiliated with the harassers. They also mix in extreme, blatant harassment, which makes a toxic atmosphere and alienates people who see it.

Even if Twitter let me see IP addresses of people who talk with me – which it doesn't – that wouldn't be enough. Andy B alone has used over 100 different IP addresses while harassing me. Better security tools are necessary but unavailable.

Impersonating Beginners

Sometimes they pretend to be a beginner who is trying but has negative emotions about my responses. This creates a negative interaction which is alienating to readers who think that they, too, would end up alienated if they had a discussion. But I’m not actually alienating someone who was making a good faith effort; it’s just a fraud. That both creates a toxic atmosphere and wastes my time. It’s also misleading to me when I’m unsure if it’s a real beginner and I just need to try harder to explain, or if it’s bad faith. It makes it harder for me to know how difficult it is to talk with real beginners in positive ways and to figure out what will and won’t work with people who discuss in good faith. When it’s a fake account from a harassers, then no matter what communication methods and friendliness I test, the experimental result I get will be negative: it doesn’t work. Except that’s fake data, and the same communications might have worked great with someone who isn’t sabotaging on purpose.

They try to create a pattern of what appears to be me having negative interactions with many different people interested in my ideas. But it’s fake, and isn’t what was happening in my discussions before the harassment began (some ended negatively, but a much lower proportion). It’s frustrating and unfun for me and it discourages my actual fans from talking with me. Similarly, they’ve used fake accounts to support themselves (both at my sites and elsewhere, e.g. on Twitter or Reddit) to make it look like more people agree with them than actually do.

Beginners often say some partially negative things while making a good faith effort to engage. People are sometimes a bit rude, a bit upset about a controversial idea, or say something illogical. I try to be tolerant and charitable about that stuff. Most people need some tolerance in discussions. But harassers can abuse that tolerance by e.g. making stuff as negative as possible that they think I might tolerate. They can also get worse to be slightly past the line so I want to end the discussion but it’s not obvious to all observers that the discussion is so bad that I should stop tolerating it. Or sometimes they just go past the line into obvious hatred to fake a record of someone starting out friendly and then being very upset by me so that they became hateful.

It’s hard to tell what might be an honest mistake from a beginner, which should be dealt with in a kind, helpful way. So having harassers on fake names wasting our time and charity with dishonest mistakes is a problem. And then when they escalate to make it look like our helpfulness failed, that’s nasty too. Being flamed and harassed – sometimes in extreme ways – is nasty but the ongoing attempts at ambiguity are even worse. They have done over a hundred experiments to find out what’s hard to deal with and to optimize their harassment.

Hateful, Private Gossip

David Deutsch (DD) falsely called me a no contact request breaker to an unknown number of people privately which avoids rebuttal. Accusing me of breaking several no contact requests is similar to calling someone a "racist" or "bigot" like Sam Harris mentioned. Breaking no contact requests is really awful and is currently something cancellable – a lot of people really hate it. Responding to that and defending myself is itself toxic, and DD has a much larger reach than I do. The hate that has been spread against me is so strong that many people who its been spread to are entirely unwilling to speak with me or consider my side of the story. I can't defend effectively against preemptive strikes powerful enough to get total strangers to shut their minds closed and refuse to ever consider my side of the story.

Many associates of DD have been spreading hate about me. I know this for a fact because there have been a few leaks. I’ll give some examples.

In the past, Lulie Tanett repeatedly shared private information with me, e.g. that some of DD’s associates were joking about murdering me (from memory, that was in 2015), which gives some idea of how hateful they were and also that they talk about me in their private conversations.

In 2009, Lulie Tanett showed me Sarah Fitz-Claridge (SFC, DD’s TCS co-founder) lying that I’d violated many requests from her (a very similar lie to DD’s lie, which seems to show a pattern of people bad at differentiating between what they wanted and what they actually requested with words).

Another person told me that, around 2010, SFC’s husband wanted to collaborate on a forum for the purpose of hurting Elliot Temple. I'm told SFC's husband was blatant, not subtle, about his goal: he wanted to shove a (presumably metaphorical) red hot poker up my ass. The person declined because they weren’t interested in harming anyone. The person told me about it, years later, after the Andy B harassment became a big deal.

Another way I got information was people sending me quotes from the Four Strands Google Group. My haters used their semi-private philosophy forum to have multiple discussions about me in which they attacked me. When caught, their response was to kick everyone off their forum who they thought might sympathize with me and to limit new membership in order to better hide their activities. That forum is where Dennis Hackethal lied that I’d threatened him with violence in order to gain clout with other forum members and justify hatred and harassment towards me.

Because the CritRats spread their hate through gossip but don’t write public arguments, it’s hard to answer it. I’ve never even seen most of what’s been said against me, but the effects are visible: I’ve been repeatedly ghosted, and sometimes flamed or harassed, by people I’ve never had a conversation with. The behavior of CritRats differs from any other group I’ve interacted with. And keep in mind that I’m not really a public figure: almost no one has heard of me, but people I don’t know care enough to hate me because of whatever gossip is circulating among CritRats. It seems like the gossip includes lies that I’ve done actions so bad that I must be entirely shunned and ghosted. I’ve seen some of the really nasty lies being told (about violating several no contact requests or threatening violence) but don’t know what else they’re circulating. Someone who repeatedly breaks no contact requests or threatens violence is actually a reasonable person to dislike, ignore and avoid – if that were true. (BTW, Andy B and Rami Rustom both made threats but the CritRats don’t avoid and ignore them.)

Not knowing what’s being said prevents me from targeting my replies well. I have to either not answer stuff or write more and answer more stuff without even clearly knowing it’s the right thing to answer – which some people interpret as me being obsessed because they don’t see the actions of the other side, whereas my actions are public. It’s also more work for me to write about more issues, which sucks.

Meanwhile, many people think that where there's smoke there's fire, or that the evils being done to me are so extreme and nasty that they can't be real (certainly not from the people who appear otherwise respectable). (Other times, contradictorily, I’m told that what’s been done to me is mild and ignorable. Not having any official position lets them make a wide variety of arguments without caring if they contradict themselves.) And people keep repeating and spreading the hate. I wouldn't even care much about the hate if it didn't lead to harassment that limits my ability to have conversations on the public internet, and which follows me around, and which comes to my spaces to harass and DDoS my blog. I have no way to be left alone and ignore them because they use force not just insults.

Like Harris, I’ve tried not responding for long periods of times. The attacks on me actually started in 2009 or earlier and gradually ramped up. I basically ignored it for a decade, and it grew much worse. Even after the extreme harassment from Andy B, I’ve tried ignoring it for months at a time, which hasn’t helped. Sam Harris felt it necessary to respond even though he’s just facing words without direct harassment like DDoSing. That’s perfectly reasonable, and it’s notable that my situation gives more reason to respond because the problems cross major, additional lines. Harris also has the advantage of facing claims made in public which he can quote, whereas the group harassing me acts in a shadowy way.

It’s horrible that – as a person who is not very popular – I have to literally charge people money to be able to discuss with me because it’s the only way I think I may be left alone by the harassers.

I think the best thing I can do is to explain myself rationally. I want to help reasonable people judge the issue by providing the information and reasoning that I can. And I want to show that I’m the one willing to expose factual statements and arguments to critical scrutiny, unlike the other side. I have more posts in progress, and plan to continue writing about this sporadically as long as it’s an ongoing problem affecting my life. If anyone has a better idea, I’m open to it. So far I’ve received no substantial criticism of anything I’ve said about the matter from anyone – my fans, the people who hate me, or neutral third parties. I’m trying to deal with a hard situation in the right way using my limited resources, and I hope people will be sympathetic and supportive about that.

Elliot Temple on May 22, 2021


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